For climbers, access isn't just about convenience: When you're high on a rock face, you can't afford to drop your headlamp or water bottle, and there's often no room to set down your pack and burrow for something. This pack makes gear-grabbing quick and easy for people in precarious situations, like when one tester needed a jacket while on an icy ledge on the Papillion Arête in France. "It took me eight seconds flat to grab a shell from the belly of the pack, and then I was climbing on," he says. Here's how it works: Slip off the shoulder straps (keep the hipbelt fastened), rotate the pack in front of you, tilt the top forward to expose the 20-inch-long zipper on the backpanel, and open it up to reveal the contents.
Two thick, curved pads run from shoulder straps to the hipbelt wings, straddling the spine. The thin, low-proﬁ le cushioning, combined with the mega-wide shoulder straps (4 inches at the shoulders) and hipbelt (5 inches wide at the hipbone), supports 20-pound loads without adding bulk or weight.
The X Alp lacks compression straps, but we don't miss them: The clean, low-proﬁle shape hugs the back with no shifting or ﬂapping.
Cool feature: A stiffly padded oblong crampon pouch is hidden in the lumbar area. One end zips completely open for garage-door-style loading; on snow-less hikes we used the protective pouch for camera gear and lunch.
$150; 1lb.20z; 20 liters; salomon.com