TAKE THE WEIGHT OFF
our pick of the finest in bombproof backpacks from The North Face, Arc'Teryx, Lafuma, Marmot, Osprey, Gregory, Kelty, Lowe Alpine, and Dana Design. INSIDE: The coolest backcountry toys and amusing accessories by Colorado Boomerangs, iBocce.com, Wham-O, A.A. Knopf, and the World Footbag Association.
BACKPACKING HAS hauled itself into the new millennium quite nicely, thank you, so let's try to put the memory of days spent sweating under awkward external-frame packs orworsesupportless internal-frame packs behind us, permanently. Hell, if they can make freeze-dried shrimp Creole taste like, well, shrimp Creole and not like crustacean-flavored oatmeal, then they can make packs that suit our space needs without knocking us about and crushing a few disks in the process. Put simply, with the new generation of close-fitting, load-mastering packs, you no longer have to martyr your body in order to free your spirit in the wilderness.
That is, if you have the right pack for the job. Buy one too big and you'll cram it full of heavy gear you don't need. Buy one too small, and you'll end up lashing stuff all over the outside, overloading the suspension and screwing up your balance. As a guide: Packs in the 4,000-cubic-inch range do nicely for three-day weekends or longer trips in warm weather; packs that are 5,000 cubic inches and bigger are suitable for more epic expeditions. Alpinists and skiers (or bushwhackers, for that matter) need flexible packs that move with the body, which means a minimal framejust a pair of stays, really. Heavier loads require more rigidity so the frame can transfer most of the load to the hips, where it belongs. For big trips, look for HDPE (high-density polyethylene) framesheets attached to the stays, and possibly a pair of load-transfer rods as well.
We've done some of the heavy lifting for you by testing nine standout packs in the 3,000- to 6,000-cubic-inch range. But with backpacks, fit is perhaps more important than quality, so find a shop that's willing to spend two hours, not two minutes, selling you one. And then get out of town.