Gregory Baltoro 70
"One of the best packs I've ever carried for a combination of trail practicality, stable ride, and sheer comfort," wrote one tester after hauling this pack on a five-day loop through Colorado's Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. You can transfer 100 percent of the load to the hipbelt, which pivots for all-day comfort. The plush fabric and memory foam used throughout the suspension feel luxurious even when hiking shirtless. The tough backpanel kept even #4 cams from digging into our spines. The packbag has a wealth of streamlined pockets and zips, but light fabrics and fittings keep weight respectable. It's also got dual hipbelt pockets, easy-to-reach wand pockets, and a collapsible bottle holster. Bottom line: An affordable, trail-friendly load monster that's compact enough for weekends. $269; 4,271 cu. in.; 5 lbs. 9 oz.
This top-loader is ideal for ultralighters who want a featherweight pack that can handle occasional big loads. It has the capacity for long treks between resupply, thanks to a floating lid, roomy packbag, and supportive backpanel. Even bulky items drop smoothly into the roomy main compartment, and a cavernous front pocket with waterproof zip can fit storm shells or avalanche shovels. The packbag compresses flat for big-day use, and minimalist fittings let you carry tech tools and toys. Caveat: Testers wished the padded hipbelt wings wrapped farther forward for more comfort; as is, it's easy to overload the Quest with more weight than it can comfortably carry (about 35 pounds). Best for narrow hips. $175; 4,400 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 3 oz.
Editors' Choice Update
JanSport Whittaker LR
This mountain-oriented pack won an Editor's Choice (4/07) for its combination of stability, comfort, and a cavernous ultralight packbag. After another year of family outings in Colorado, winter climbs in the Sierra Nevada, and ski trips in Utah's Wasatch Range, all testers remain stoked. "It's got awesome load capacity, and it's totally stable on sketchy sidehills," said one after humping 60-pound loads on Whitney. "You can put most of the weight on your hips, yet the belt is streamlined enough that you can still high-step on the steeps." Lightweight compression straps run across the front and sides of the pack, so lashing on tools, skis, or snowshoes is hassle-free. Torso length and shoulder width adjust quickly with nylon pegs and slots, and there's no sway from the shoulder yoke. $270; 4,400 cu. in.; 5 lbs.
Mountainsmith Cross Country 3.0
This pack is a screaming deal in more ways than one. It's made with 99-percent recycled fabric, a huge step forward in green design, and is full-featured right down to a sunglasses pocket and a small removable daypack. "It's very stable thanks to the snug harness, and plenty comfortable with up to 50 pounds due to all the padding," wrote one tester. You'll want to custom-bend the aluminum frame stays, but they slide out easily. A massive shaped zipper lets you access any region of the main packbag. Just remember: This pack is about value and sustainable-fabric innovation, not weight savings. $179; 4,302 cu. in.; 5 lbs. 2 oz.