The Best Packs of 2013

osprey xenith 88 gear of the year summer buyers guide

Osprey Xenith 88    Photo: Inga Hendrickson

Osprey Xenith 88 Pack

With bigger packs, it’s all about suspension and fit. Testers raved about how easy it was to tailor the Xenith to their bodies: the pack comes in three sizes, and you can choose between four shoulder-harness and heat-moldable-hipbelt options. The result is downright clingy—in a good way. “She held on to my hips and didn’t let go,” raved a lonely) tester. Little details like a removable top lid, to save weight on day jaunts out of camp, were smart and svelte additions, as were side zips for easy access, roomy hipbelt pockets, and an external hydration sleeve, so you don’t have to wrestle a bladder into a crammed pack. Add it all up and it somehow doesn’t balloon quite as much as you’d think: despite the huge capacity and full array of features, the Xenith still weighs a few pounds less than some of its competitors. 5.5 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 5
VERSATILITY: 3

Arc’teryx Altra 85 Multi-Day Pack

Arc’teryx Altra 85 Gregory Contour 60 Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15 best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
Arc’teryx Altra 85, Gregory Contour 60, Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Gear-intensive adventures.

THE TEST: You could carry the kitchen sink, the blender, and even the microwave in this (relatively light) 85-liter beast of burden. Aluminum stays bolstered by a foam back and pivoting hipbelt carried the load with the aplomb of a frame pack, even when crammed to capacity. And the Altra can take a beating: silicone treatment on the ripstop-nylon fabric and straps shed rain and snow like a champ.

THE VERDICT: Expensive but also extremely well built and absolutely humongous. If you can’t fit everything you need in the Altra, you have serious gear issues. 5.7 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 4
VERSATILITY
: 2

Gregory Contour 60 Multi-Day Pack

Arc’teryx Altra 85 Gregory Contour 60 Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15 best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
Arc’teryx Altra 85, Gregory Contour 60, Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: The highly organized.

THE TEST: The wishbone wire suspension system on this lightweight, versatile pack kept the payload close to our tester’s back during a hairy traverse in Rocky Mountain National Park. And at 60 liters, the Contour easily carried all the basics for a long weekend, plus a bear canister, fly rod, and inflatable pack raft. But what really sold us was the organization system, which separates the pack into three main vertical zones. The first is for stuff you want to grab without removing the pack—water, snacks. The second is for layers and other items you put on and take off frequently during breaks. And the third is for big items you won’t need until you find a campsite.

THE VERDICT: Go vertical and you’ll never go back. 4.3 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 5
VERSATILITY: 4

Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15 Multi-Day Pack

Arc’teryx Altra 85 Gregory Contour 60 Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15 best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
Arc’teryx Altra 85, Gregory Contour 60, Deuter Aircontact Pro 70 +15   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: The heftiest loads.

THE TEST: The Aircontact Pro weighs a bit more than other packs here, but it’s also the most adept at mitigating oversize loads. The secret is in the padding, which hugs the torso but breathes exceedingly well; it’s the same material found in a Mercedes-Benz carburetor—and another reason to believe in German engineering. “Most breathable big pack I’ve ever worn,” said one tester. Little extras—a lid that transforms into a summit pack, a rain cover, trekking pole straps, hipbelt pockets—made a big difference on long outings.

THE VERDICT: The most comfortable suspension system we tested. 7.3 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 5
VERSATILITY: 4

Millet Axpel 42 Overnight Pack

Millet Axpel 42 Mountainsmith Lookout 50 MHM Flatiron 42 summer buyers guide best packs of 2013
Millet Axpel 42, Mountainsmith Lookout 50, MHM Flatiron 42   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Alpine scrambling.

THE TEST: Pivoting hipbelts have become the norm, but the Axpel brings that pivot up out of the belt and further up the back. The design enables torso-hugging stability when you’re executing athletic moves on technical or uneven terrain. The French climbing guides who tested it for Millet found it 20 percent more comfortable than packs with traditional rotating hipbelts; our data wasn’t as precise, but it was overwhelmingly positive. “Feels extremely nimble,” said one tester, “even when just cruising down the trail.” We also liked the cooling mesh windows in the hipbelt and the removable aluminum stays (we took them out often for smaller loads).

THE VERDICT: The most dynamic pack here. 3.4 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 5
VERSATILITY: 3

Mountainsmith Lookout 50 Overnight Pack

Millet Axpel 42 Mountainsmith Lookout 50 MHM Flatiron 42 summer buyers guide best packs of 2013
Millet Axpel 42, Mountainsmith Lookout 50, MHM Flatiron 42   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Weekend backpacking and hut trips.

THE TEST: There’s nothing fancy about the Lookout 50, but that’s a good thing. It isn’t as agile as the Millet, but it’s more versatile, in terms of both adjustability (the Millet’s torso length is fixed) and carry capacity: an expanding lid allows the Lookout to increase in size to 64 liters (read: bring the candles, wine, and kite). An easy-to-adjust, breathable suspension system rounds out this solid pack.

THE VERDICT: Well priced and designed. 4.4 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 3
VERSATILITY: 5

MHM Flatiron 42 Overnight Pack

Millet Axpel 42 Mountainsmith Lookout 50 MHM Flatiron 42 summer buyers guide best packs of 2013
Millet Axpel 42, Mountainsmith Lookout 50, MHM Flatiron 42   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Rugged minimalism.

THE TEST: On paper, the Flatiron is the same size as the more streamlined Millet. In practice, not only were we able to cram in more stuff, but the Flatiron just felt bigger. It’s a pound heavier than the Millet, but you get more of just about everything: more gear loops (eight), more pockets (three in the lid alone), and more padding (the shoulder straps are noticeably plusher). It’s also easier to get at the bottom of the pack, thanks to a zipper that runs the length of one side. Despite those bells and whistles, the Flatiron is still respectably light and impressively tidy. Remove the lid and cinch down the straps and it could easily double as a daypack.

THE VERDICT: A little big pack. 4.5 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 4
VERSATILITY: 4.5

REI Flash 22 Daypack

REI Flash 22 Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon Black Diamond Equipment Bolt best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
REI Flash 22, Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon, Black Diamond Equipment Bolt   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Quick jaunts; traveling.

THE TEST: The Flash doesn’t look like a whole lot. It also doesn’t take up a lot of space. Remove the foam back panel and it rolls up smaller than a bottle of wine. But unlike most ultralight packs, it’s surprisingly capable, with a tiny lid, two good-size mesh side pockets, and 15 gear loops. Just pack wisely: the shoulder straps have virtually no padding, and there are no side compression straps to cinch down small or awkward loads.

THE VERDICT: Considering how much you get out if it, it’s the best $50 you can spend. 1 lb.

HAULING COMFORT: 2
VERSATILITY: 4.5

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon Daypack

REI Flash 22 Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon Black Diamond Equipment Bolt best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
REI Flash 22, Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon, Black Diamond Equipment Bolt   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Four-season adventures.

THE TEST: First, be aware that actual bacon is sold separately. What you do get is an impressively versatile and technical 28-liter pack; there are retractable tool loops for ice axes or trekking poles, and the side compression system can even carry skis. Of course, we found it performs just as well on mellower excursions. The hipbelt is more substantial than the REI pack’s but is removable. The only odd feature: when you cinch the hipbelt, the mesh pockets are virtually impossible to access.

THE VERDICT: Goes across continents as well as it goes up mountains. 1.4 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 3
VERSATILITY: 5

Black Diamond Equipment Bolt Daypack

REI Flash 22 Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon Black Diamond Equipment Bolt best packs of 2013 summer buyers guide
REI Flash 22, Eddie Bauer First Ascent Bacon, Black Diamond Equipment Bolt   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Athletic endeavors.

THE TEST: The Eddie Bauer and REI packs are extremely pared down and packable; the Bolt is cut from different cloth. With a full suspension system, including an aluminum stay, the Bolt is ideal for fast-moving technical forays like slot-canyon exploration, peak bagging, and even mountain biking. And thanks to a smart set of features that include ice-ax and trekking-pole loops and a bike-light clip, it does everything equally well.

THE VERDICT: Overkill for mellow day hikers, but awesome for just about anything else you can do in a 24-hour period. 2.1 lbs.

HAULING COMFORT: 5
VERSATILITY: 5

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