Deuter Futura Pro 42
Air-cooled and rock-solid, this pack is a great choice for hot-weather hikes in rugged country. Our tester used it in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains on a trek with 17-mile days and a 30-pound load, and reported he could wear it comfortably for eight hours straight and had no shifting, even while rock-hopping across the Queens River. Credit the wide, well-padded hipbelt and shoulder straps. The backpanel ventilation is effective, but it requires a concave packbag that cuts into payload space (making it best for small-load weekends or overnights). Bummer: The mesh bottle pockets are inaccessible while hiking. $129; 2,550 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 14 oz.
The North Face Terra 40
This bargain top-loader carries like a dream, has plenty of organizational features, and survived rough trips through Utah canyons unscathed. So what's the catch? We haven't found one. "The harness, hipbelt, and backpanel are super comfortable without being bulky or stiff," said one tester. "It was never hot against my back, and the shoulder strap padding felt cushy and smooth even when I wore only a tank top." Stability and load control were impressive even when we loaded the Terra up with ropes and climbing hardware on slot canyon scrambles. The stretchy pockets on side and front are streamlined, so they don't snag. $119; 2,450 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 14 oz.