TOUGH BUT LIGHT
Purists will love the Needle: It's an alpine pack that's been stripped of everything but the essentials. What's left is a supremely tough sack capable of handling your most epic days, but still weighing less than three pounds. The trick is putting the weight where it counts. The Needle's abrasion-resistant 420-denier nylon is reinforced with 840-denier, so there are no weak points, not even in low-wear areas. The supportive suspension—a plastic framesheet backed by an aluminum stay—won't crumple when loaded with skis or tools, or even when the pack is maxed out with overnight gear (it's big enough for summer nights). 2.8 lbs, 2,136 cu in; mountainsmith.com
Bonus: Flying? We liked the Needle for weekend junkets, because it holds a ton yet slides easily into the overhead compartment. (It's a few inches over airline regulations, but who's counting?)
Bummer: The single, top-loading compartment has zero organizational features.