One pack to handle two different activities, correct? For light backpacking trips and for hard-core trips in the winter?
That sounds like a pack with about 4,500 cubic inches of capacity. Maybe a bit more or less, depending on how good you are at stuffing in gear. As a side note, remember that the three climbers who died on Mount Hood in Oregon this past winter were all traveling light." Speed can very often equal safety, but sometimes safety equals safety, too, and that might mean some extra stuff.
Given all that, heres an excellent starting point: ArcTeryxs Bora 80 ($350; arcteryx.com). It has 4,700 cubic inches of capacity, which should give you just a little cushion or create the temptation to tuck in a margarita blender. Its a pack with lots of excellent conveniences: side zips for access, a sleeping bag compartment, and a back pocket with a drain hole for wet gear. For the hard-core trips, its suspension can easily handle 50 pounds, so you wont feel like your pack has turned into a python that is squeezing your upper torso. Plus, it has adequate places for tools, climbing hardware, etc.
Osprey is another company turning out really fine packs. Its Aether 70 ($250; ospreypacks.com) is a lightweight but tough pack that carries well and has the technical features you need for winter mountaineering. It has a good suspension and back ventilation. And with 4,200 cubic inches of capacity, it has just the room for what you need while ensuring you travel light. It has been redesigned for 2007; I have an older version and like it fine. Fifty pounds might stress you a bit, but I think youll manage that load well with an Aether 70.
Lastly, Marmots Montisplane ($299; marmot.com) is a new, down-sized version of the classic Dana Design Terraplane (Marmot bought the vestiges of Dana Design two years ago). It has a clean design based on the proven Arc Flex suspension, with about 4,800 cubic inches of capacity, which I tend to think is just about right. Fifty pounds will pose no problem.
So there you go. Have some great trips!
The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.