Expedition Strength

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Kelty Bigfoot 5200 l $290 l 5,200 c.i. l
After 20 years of internal-frame progress, why did Kelty revert to a semi-external frame for the Bigfoot (top left)? Well, because this frame/harness module can be clipped to any of three pack bags, in 2,300-, 4,300-, and 5,200-cubic-inch sizes. So instead of purchasing separate packs for different outings, you just buy another bag, saving money and closet space (the 4,300-cubic-inch Yeti bag sells separately for $125, the 2,300-cubic-inch Roswell for just $80). The frame incorporates a U-shaped aluminum stay and an HDPE sheet, plus a central fiberglass rod that clips into the pack—which has its own internal hoop stiffener that transfers weight to the hipbelt. (If you think it's hard to visualize, try disassembling it without instructions.) The result is a multipack system and a frame that mates so closely with the bags that it would be misleading to call it external. It competently handles 45-pound loads in the largest pack; with a weekend load in the midsize bag you hardly know it's there; and, well, it's arguably overkill for the smallest, but you could strap on heavy alpine skis without overloading it. With all that structure, you wouldn't think there would be much flex, but the Bigfoot follows your movements surprisingly well in moderate terrain. The frame does keep the pack bag a bit far from your back, however, so don't be surprised if it sways when you push it hard.

Lowe Contour Classic l $180 l 5,200 c.i.
Check the specs of the Contour Classic (right) and you'll find a healthy list of standard features. Check the price tag, and you'll realize that what you've really found is the blue-light special of the backpack world. For 180 bucks Lowe gives you a dual-density shoulder harness and hipbelt, twin aluminum stays that pop out for rebending, and a big, 5,500-cubic-inch bag with a zip-out interior divider. The harness adjusts in a jiffy for torso length, and the "air-cooled" back pad really works—we know, because we tried it on a 90-degree Arizona day. With no framesheet to stiffen the stays, the Contour quickly runs out of load capacity above 40 pounds or so, but the upside is its supreme flexibility for ski touring or climbing. The bag's excellent compression system means that the load stays tight through any sort of gymnastics you can think up.
Dana Terraplane LTW l $439 l 5,800 c.i.
LTW, that is, "lightweight," might seem an odd suffix to hang on a 6-pound, 9-ounce pack, but the LTW (middle) is a full pound lighter than the regular Terraplane. And when you're dealing with the kinds of loads this 5,800-cubic-inch monster can handle, every bit helps. The Terraplane is the pack of choice when your planned route requires you to tape several topo maps end to end. It's unsurpassed at making a normal backpacking load feel pleasant and an expedition-size load feel almost pleasant. The secret is in the frame, a multitasked trusswork comprising a central aluminum stay, a large HDPE framesheet, and twin carbon-fiber wands that tie the bulk of the load to the optimum balance point at the sides of the hipbelt. And that well-padded, contoured hipbelt is the best in the business at cupping your hips rather than squeezing them. Admittedly, there's not a lot of flexibility in the system—the Dana is better trudging up trails than bushwhacking—but it remains the standard for load-hauling prowess.

Arc'Teryx 800-985-6681, www.arcteryx.com; Dana Design 888-357-3262, www.danadesign.com; Gregory 800-477-3420, www.gregorypacks.com; Kelty 800-423-2320, www.kelty.com; Lafuma 303-527-1460, www.lafuma.com; Lowe Alpine 800-366-0223, www.lowealpine.com; Marmot 707-544-4590, www.marmot.com; Osprey 970-564-5900, www.ospreypacks.com; The North Face 800-535-3331, www.thenorthface.com

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