While pack makers continue to experiment with new suspension and ventilation systems, fit is still the most important factor. Go to an outdoor specialty store and try on several. Load up with at least 20 pounds, adjust them, and walk around. Take time to fiddle with all the straps and buckles. The best packs feature dynamic suspensions that distribute weight, provide some airflow, and actually move with your body. Decision time? Take a look at the pockets. A well-designed packwhether it's an urban messenger bag or a multi-day backpackfeatures pockets that make sense for the activities you do. Pick one that allows easy access to gear while you're on the move.
When it comes to comfortably carrying big loads, it really is all about the hips. And while Black Diamond isn't the first company to attach the hipbelt to the frame via a ball joint, BD does it better than anyone else. Unlike traditional waist belts, the 3,050-cubic-inch Infinity's actually pivots, allowing the pack to hug your back and balance the load. OK, OK, the shoulders matter, too: Because the Infinity's innovative shoulder straps are connected by a low-friction cable that runs through the bottom of the pack, they're able to continuously change lengths as you swing your arms and stride down the trail. And then there are all the user-friendly features like retractable trekking-pole loops and removable sleeping-pad straps. The only caveat: Adjusting the suspension requires an Allen wrench (included), which some testers worried could get lost on the trail.
3.9 lbs; blackdiamondequipment.com
Versatility: 4.8 (out of 5)