Innovation usually comes in fits and starts: a zipper here, a strap there. But Arc'teryx dispenses with the nickel-and-dime approach with this revolutionary pack. Any other year its every detailfrom welded seams to dynamic suspensionwould have been noteworthy. In this case the sum is much, much greater than the parts, setting a new standard for blending comfort, durability, and waterproofness. On a trip in the Grand Canyon, with ten testers and ten different packs, every morning started with near mutiny over one simple question: Who gets to carry the Naos today?
Arc'teryx Naos 55 (4.3 lbs, 3,420 cu in) $429 www.arcteryx.com
1. The Naos is constructed from just two pieces of intricately cut fabric. The trick is made possible by new technology that pairs tough 420-denier fabric with a double-sided urethane coating, which allows designers to weld seams and fuse components directly to the pack.
2. The integrated harness-frame-pack design provides efficient, direct load transfer to the hips. Even with 50 pounds aboard and treacherous footing on an after-dark descent of the Grand Canyon's New Hance Trail, the Naos's streamlined suspension proved stable and supportive.
3. Dynamic suspensions are appearing on more and more packs this year, but for head-slapping simplicity, none beats the rotating plastic disk that connects the Naos's hipbelt to its frame. It moves with you on every high-stepping maneuver. As one tester noted, "I could wear this salsa dancing."
4. With its roll-top closure and sealed seams, the pack makes rain covers and drybags obsolete. Not only does the Naos ride out a storm without absorbing any water weight, it's so watertight it floats. Just remember that the outer pocket zips are water-resistant, not waterproof.
5. The narrow profile is phenomenal for mobility, but the tradeoff is no water-bottle pockets (you do get a hydration sleeve inside). There's no concession on durability: We scraped the pack across rocks and had trouble even scuffing the fabric. In a throwaway nation, this is an everlasting pack.