Gear Guide 2012: Mile High Salute 34 Backpack

This pack offers easily accessible zippers and great suspension for carrying heavy loads comfortably.

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After hauling the Salute up two Fourteeners, through three slot canyons, and on a half-dozen long weekends, our tester estimated that he’d opened and closed the pack no less than 250 times. “The snaking zipper makes zeroing in on the pack’s contents remarkably easy,” he says, “which is key for a father who must stop frequently to supply gummy bears, face wipes, and graham crackers to two young daughters.”

The two-way, S-shaped zipper winds from top to bottom; when fully unzipped, the pack can be laid out flat on the ground. “Not only could I easily access everything,” he reports, “I could also use the platform for sorting gear, organizing a picnic, and even diaper changing.”

Our testers also raved about the pack’s suspension: Contoured blocks of foam and mesh provide a soft backpanel that’s stiffened by a framesheet and lightweight aluminum perimeter stay. The torsionally flexible framesheet, which fit a host of testers with torsos ranging from 16 to 20 inches, is paired with a pivoting hipbelt (the wings are each independently attached via two rotating ball joints)—the combo allowed one tester to carry 35 pounds of gear comfortably. Caveat: The waterproof zipper is grabby where it curves. $199; 3 lbs. 8 oz.; 34 liters;