Beasts of burden that shoulder the load for you.



outside buyers guide

Osprey Aether AG 70 pack. (Osprey)

Osprey Aether AG 70 ($310)

Gear of the Year

It seems like every pack this year is trotting out a creative new spin—from a sliding waist belt to a cinching design that turns an expedition loader into a daypack. Nowhere is that progress more blissfully apparent, and comfortable, than with the Aether AG (and its sister pack, the Ariel AG 65) and its trampoline-like back panel. The suspended mesh dispersed weight over every lumbar contour and made a 40-pound load feel like helium. That panel pushes weight a smidge away from the center of gravity, but not enough to tip us backward. And that’s just the start of Osprey’s master class in design: side pockets stow tall, narrow bottles and chunky Nalgenes. Shoulder straps add thickness where you need it (collarbones) and not where you don’t (rib cage). The lid converts into the most fully realized summit pack we’ve ever seen. Think of the Aether as the Escalade of packs—big, blinged out, and badass. 5.2 lbs (men’s) / 4.9 lbs (women’s)

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outside buyers guide

Gregory Paragon 58 pack. (Gregory)

Gregory Paragon 58 ($230)

Best For: Lightweight weekends.

The Test: The Paragon is a sizable pack without the heft you’d expect. Built to carry loads on long weekend comfort-camping trips, it slides in at just under four pounds—and that’s with the external-access sleeping-pad compartment, integrated rain cover, and hydration sleeve that doubles as a summit pack. For a hauler with a capacity close to 60 liters, the waist-belt padding is on the thin side, but we loved the well-aerated back panel, roomy side pockets, and sturdy, easily adjustable suspension. The details are spot-on, too, like the sunglasses and trekking-pole loops that pull double duty keeping the compression straps from flailing around. 

The Verdict: Where most lightweight packs compromise in load stability, ease of use, and creature comforts, the Paragon stands firm. 3.9 lbs

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outside buyers guide

Arc'teryx Bora AR 50 pack. (Arc'teryx)

Arc’teryx Bora AR 50 ($499)

Best For: Dynamic missions in frightening weather.

The Test: Lots of packs are equipped with a pivoting hipbelt, but the Bora has a trick up its ripstop-nylon sleeve. Reach for a handhold or lean under a tree and the belt slides up a track in the back panel, leaving the pack’s mega-thick pads comfortably locked on your hips. Beyond that, both the men’s and women’s Bora are fully waterproof, indestructible top loaders with a convenient front-entry zipper and brilliantly adjustable, awesomely sturdy carbon-fiber suspension, delivering a locked-in, stable feel under loads upwards of 40 pounds. One drawback: the narrow cargo hold means efficient organization is a must.

The Verdict: For smart packers who move a lot, the Bora is a work of art. 4.8 lbs (men’s) / 4.7 lbs (women’s)

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outside buyers guide

The North Face Drift 65 pack. (The North Face)

The North Face Drift 65 ($179)

Best For: Entry-level pack rats.

The Test: First-time hiking is so much more appealing when it’s comfortable, which means having a gear toter with abundant padding, lots of pockets, and a hull that can swallow bulky cargo. That’s where the women’s Drift 65 (shown here) and the men’s Drift 70 excel. It has swollen hip and shoulder pads, suspension that can handle a yeoman’s load, and straps for a thick, rolled sleeping pad. The abuse-ready 600-denier polyester fabric is water-resistant, and the narrowly spaced shoulder and waist belts carried well on testers. We’d have liked more adjustability, but sometimes that’s the price for being a newbie on the trail.

The Verdict: The ideal starter pack. 4.7 lbs (men’s) / 3.8 lbs (women’s)

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outside buyers guide

REI Flash 45 pack. (REI)

REI Flash 45 ($149)

Best For: Bringing along just enough.

The Test: The Flash wasn’t the lightest of the lightweights, but it was the most well balanced, stable, and comfortable when it came to weekend backpacking trips. It boasts a whole menu of nice details that make it a joy, including an adjustable torso, a floating top lid, a stretch stash pocket, and a proprietary strap that pulls the load directly onto the frame to keep the pack from sagging. Amply padded shoulders paired with a nicely contoured waist belt made for a stable, confident carry of under-three-day loads. Our gripes were minor, like the fact that the side pockets lack compression straps, so tent poles have to go inside. And the waist padding stopped right at the edge of many testers’ hip bones, so check the fit before you buy.

The Verdict: A big, smart pack in a compact package. 2.8 lbs (men’s and women’s)

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outside buyers guide

Granite Gear Crown2 60. (Granite Gear)

Granite Gear Crown2 60 ($200)

Best For: Ultralight through-hiking.

The Test: It feels like cheating to hoist a 60-liter pack that tips the scales at only two pounds. The Crown2 hits that feathery weight by ditching most of the structure in its suspension, resulting in a flexy, floppy minimalist with lightly padded waist straps, thin 100- and 210-denier nylon fabric, and narrow ten-millimeter webbing. There are no side­entry zippers or other fancy amenities here, just a simple, cavernous rolltop with a zippered, floating lid. Don’t think of loading it up with more than 30 pounds, though, lest the flexy polypropylene framesheet buckle. We love that the waist belt is gender specific and can be adjusted on the fly, but unfortunately the torso is a fixed length. Size appropriately.

The Verdict: Our pick for extended trips where low weight means everything. 2.1 lbs (men’s and women’s)

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outside buyers guide

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor. (Sierra Designs)

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40/60 ($200)

Best For: Mixing it up.

The Test: The Flex Capacitor is a Proteus that can shape-shift between 40 and 60 liters via a pair of compression straps that encircle the main compartment—a novel approach that kept our load stable and ­secure no matter what the volume. Unlike the flimsier Granite Gear, the Capacitor’s suspension effortlessly totes up to 50 pounds, and it pivots in a way that lets your shoulders swing independent of your hips. (Although the back and lumbar pads could have been a bit comfier.) We loved smart touches like the shoulder pouch, which fits a 20-ounce water bottle or a canister of bear spray. We didn’t miss a floating lid, as the zippered top opening provides easy gear access.

The Verdict: An ultralight companion with best-in-class versatility. 2.7 lbs

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outside buyers guide

Fjallraven High Coast Trail 26 pack. (Fjällräven)

Fjällräven High Coast Trail 26 ($125)

Best For: Trail fashionistas who want just a touch of technical.

The Test: The High Coast is a snazzy-looking town piece that can handle a day in the woods. While it’s built for style, with cool waxed poly-cotton fabric and retro leather logo details, this simple clamshell day pack hides a surprising amount of extra features, including an integrated rain cover, side compression straps, hydration sleeve, and stowable waist strap. The expandable side pockets are better suited for a bottle of vino than a Nalgene. Two quibbles: that cool-looking fabric gets soiled quickly, and the unusually stiff, flat back panel makes for an awkward fit in the shoulder straps under a big picnic load.

The Verdict: A dash of trail moxie in casual form. 2.5 lbs

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outside buyers guide

Black Diamond Blitz 28 pack. (Black Diamond)

Black Diamond Blitz 28 ($100)

Best For: Alpine assaults.

The Test: There’s almost nothing to the Blitz—and that’s a compliment. It’s a minimalist, top-loading climbing pack made of bomber Dyneema fabric: tough, sleek, and devoid of a single unnecessary gram. There’s just a removable stabilizing waist belt, two ice-tool attachments, and a small zipper pocket. We loved the novel one-handed closure system—pull the drawcord and a flap swings over to seal the opening, which itself cinches shut for added security. The flexible, removable framesheet is just thick enough to soften the hard protrusions of a climbing rack, but a fully packed load pulls the straps away from your back, costing some shoulder mobility unless you loosen them. 

The Verdict: A daypack for those whose day involves summiting a gnarly peak. 1 lb

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outside buyers guide

Low Alpine Tensor 23 pack. (Lowe Alpine)

Lowe Alpine Tensor 23 ($95)

Best For: Mellow day hikes.

The Test: The Tensor takes the basic ­clamshell design and ratchets it up a few notches, with a foamy, well-ventilated back panel, bottle-ready side pockets, hydration sleeve, four side compression straps, and interior and exterior stuff pockets. We loved the smart trekking-pole stow system: a simple Velcro strap and two retractable tabs that hold the tips. The waist belt is for stability only, not providing much help with substantial loads, and the framesheet is more protective than weight-bearing—limit this pack to cargo in the 20-pound range for sustained carries. Bonus: those side compression straps can even haul mid-fat skis in winter.

The Verdict: Comfort combined with a rich suite of features. 1.3 lbs

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Travel

The Best Summer Hiking Boots of 2017

We tested dozens of boots last season. These 10 stood out for their versatility, durability, and comfort.  La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX ($200) La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX. (Courtesy of REI) (Pictured above) The lines separating specialty hiking boots from one another got sharper this year. Looking to set a fastest known time up a Colorado fourteener? There’s a shoe for that. Carrying a 50-pound pack through the Montana wilderness? There’s a shoe for that, too. Of course, there are still good old dependable hiking boots that refuse to be pigeonholed. Take the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX. We

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Travel

The Best Women's Hiking Gear of 2017

The perfect assortment for all manner of out-and-backs.  Grayl Ultralight purifier. (Courtesy of Grayl) Grayl Ultralight Purifier ($60) This sleek dual-canister filter basically French-presses viruses, bacteria, and protozoan cysts from your water in just 15 seconds. Simply fill it, press down on the inner cylinder, and drink up. Buy Now Marmot Knife Edge jacket. (Courtesy of Marmot) Marmot Knife Edge Jacket ($225) Despite its gauzy weight (just 11 ounces), this waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex PacLite shell kept us dry in dreary Minnesota sleet. And the details are spot-on, like an adjustable hood with an elastic drawstring. Buy Now

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Travel

The Best Summer Jackets of 2017

Layers of every stripe.  Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds (Courtesy Helly Hansen) Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds ($400) Gear of the Year There is a glut of jackets out there, many of them highly refined tools designed for very specific pursuits. Take, for instance, a Gore-Tex shell that thinks it’s a fleece, or an athletic midlayer that you can wear every day for three straight months. Of course, there are also some do-it-all workhorses, which brings us to the Odin 9 Worlds. It shrugged off everything we could throw at it, then laughed in our faces. With classic

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Travel

The Best Dog Gear of 2017

Everything you and your pal need for the best summer ever.  L.L. Bean Pillow dog bed. L.L. Bean Pillow Bed ($79) This 3-by-2.5-foot lounger is plenty big for your dog to stretch out, and the removable polyester cover sheds hair with a spin in the washing machine.  Buy Now ​ Mountainsmith K9 pack. Mountainsmith K9 Pack ($60) This is the only bag our dogs look comfortable wearing. Spandex in the straps allows for uninhibited movement, and the 24-liter capacity fits food and a few treats for longer hikes. Buy Now Buff

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Travel

The Best Summer Sleeping Bags of 2017

Sacks for a comfortable night’s sleep, wherever you lay your head. Kammok Thylacine. (Kammok) ​Kammok Thylacine ($627) Gear of the Year  Ten years ago, the biggest difference between sleeping bags was their stuffing: slight variations in synthetic or down insulation. Today things have changed—a lot. Head into a gear shop and the offerings include comforters and oversize down jackets. Zippers run in many directions or are left out altogether. Some bags change shape. Of the 20 we tested in conditions ranging from the beaches of Mexico to early-season snow in Canada’s Coast Range, the Kammok Thylacine proved the most

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Travel

The Best Multi-Tools of 2017

Sidekicks for any scenario.  Gerber Center-Drive (Courtesy Gerber) Gerber Center-Drive ($119) The four-inch screwdriver provides tons of torque on stubborn screws and can easily squeeze into tight nooks. At 9.5 ounces and nearly five inches long when closed, the Center-Drive isn’t suited for long expeditions, but after we used it to change out a busted headlight on a decades-old Camry, it earned a permanent spot in our glove box. Buy Now MSR Stake Hammer (Courtesy MSR) MSR Stake Hammer ($30) Yes, you can use a rock to pound tent stakes into the ground. But this

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Travel

The Best Summer Tents of 2017

Shelters for wherever the trail takes you. (Read more of our in-depth tent reviews.)  MSR Access 2 tent (Courtesy MSR) MSR Access 2 ($600) If you haven’t upgraded your hiking shelter in a while, you’re missing out. Weights are tumbling, while living space, durability, and feature sets continue to grow, making for tents that perform year-round. MSR’s Access 2 is at the extreme end of this trend. Until it came along, most options fell into one of two categories: three or four­season. Take a light three-season shelter winter camping and you’ll be cold and miserable. Four-season tents,

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Travel

The Best Bouldering Gear of 2017

Work your project from the ground up. Petzl Alto Crash Pad. (Courtesy of Petzl)  Petzl Alto Crash Pad ($300) With three layers of dense foam, the Alto has plenty of cushion for big falls. What’s more, the hingeless design means you can sandwich gear between the two halves before zipping it up—handy when schlepping from rock to rock. Buy Now Edelrid Boulder Bag 2. (Courtesy of Backcountry) Edelrid Boulder Bag 2 ($30) This cavernous container holds all the chalk you could need for weeks of climbing, and the twist closure mitigates spillage. Buy Now

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Travel

The Best Lights of 2017

We’re experiencing a renaissance in camp lighting. Renewable power sources are adding versatility, LEDs continue to push efficiency to new levels, and materials are getting lighter, making it easier than ever to walk away from our outlets at home. Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 (Courtesy of Goal Zero) Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 ($80) The trend toward lanterns that integrate other features, like backup power, extends to two beautiful new pieces of green tech. Goal Zero’s Lighthouse 400 (400 lumens) can be juiced with solar panels like the Nomad 7 ($89), by USB, or, in a sunless pinch, with

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