Get this pack if your “ultralight” load sometimes creeps up to 40 pounds. Unlike the other UL packs here, which employ some variation on the frameless rucksack design, the Exos comes with a full suspension system that provides the lumbar support, stability, and load transfer of a traditional weekend backpack. Testers agree: The improved load control and convenience are worth every extra ounce for hikers who want maximum versatility.
A rigid plastic framesheet and pear-shaped aluminum alloy frame provide category-leading support, enabling one ranger to carry up to 40 pounds of water and gear on rocky, off-trail routes. A mesh panel stretches tightly over the curved frame like a drum, suspending the pack about three inches away from the back for excellent ventilation. Organization-wise, the Exos is also top-class, with numerous pockets, access points, and lash straps. Mesh hipbelt pouches swallowed a GPS, cell phone, and snacks, and side water bottle holsters are easy to reach while wearing the pack. Bonus for desert rats: The interior sleeve accommodates bladders up to three liters in size, but if you’re pressed for space in the main compartment, the bladder can be carried in the exterior slot between the mesh backpanel and packbag (although this negates the ventilation).
Caveat: On cold-weather trips, getting up to four days’ worth of supplies into the main compartment was a squeeze because the packbag and short extension collar don’t accommodate bulky gear.
> Weight 2 lbs. 5 oz.
> Capacity 46 liters
> Price $179
> Sizes 3 unisex (16-22.5 in.)