Eddie Bauer First Ascent Alchemist 40L

Think about it this way: your pack is doubly important because (1) it holds almost all your gear, and (2) it’s literally the monkey on your back. If your hikes are often short, fast-paced affairs, look for a pack like

This shape-shifter might just replace every pack you own. Lashed down, the Alchemist is compact enough for one-day summit bagging. Unzip the top wedge and unfurl the hideaway lid, and it morphs into an entirely different beast—a roomy 55-liter hauler with plenty of space for a multi-day trek in Colorado’s San Juans. Smart features abound, like the simple hook system, which allows you to quickly change load size and distribution; and the pack’s foam framesheet can be removed (shucking almost 11 ounces) and used as a bivvy pad or comfy seat. (The hipbelt also comes off.) Finally, the superthick, abrasion-resistant fabric easily fended off sharp rocks and baggage handlers during four months of testing. Other packs scored higher for specific uses, but for sheer day-in, day-out versatility, the Alchemist proved the best of the bunch. 4 lbs

HAULING COMFORT: 4
VERSATILITY: 5 (OUT OF 5)

Brand: First Ascent $199
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