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1. Comfort: Go ahead, try and overload it. On treks in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness and even ski touring in the Tetons, testers were unanimous: The Meridian carries like a champ. Credit the firm yet flexy composite frame-sheet that moves with your body, dual-density foam in the hipbelt that cushions…

A quick-connect hose makes these reservoirs easy to refill (you can remove the reservoir without rethreading the hose and bite valve through the pack's hydration port). 48–100 ounces; nalgene-outdoor.com      …

This pack manages what politicians can only aspire to: It really is all things to all people. Numerous testers praised the AT 55 for apparently conflicting benefits, but they were all correct. It carries comfortably even when overpacked for a long weekend yet is compact and light enough to…

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.

Gaping openings make for fast, thorough cleaning. 70–100 ounces; deuterusa.com      …

The company that helped bring ounce counters out of the closet has struck a sweet balance between low weight and high value with the Intuition. The key is matching the stiff suspension—a polystyrene framesheet and aluminum dowels—to a lightly padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, providing all-day comfort with a…

MOST WATERPROOF When Moab's worst rainstorm in years coincided with our weekend plans, the Dryshield prevented a soggy retreat. In conditions that would have soused a lesser pack's contents, the 500-denier, polyurethane-coated packcloth kept our stuff bone dry. Its streamlined features—there's little more than mesh pockets and ax loops on…

The low-key style, almost hidden pockets, and minimal amount of PrimaLoft One synthetic insulation make it perfect for mild days. 1.2 lbs; merrell.com…

If you’re vaguely disturbed by the idea of paying more for a pack that weighs less, REI understands. The latest and largest in its UL line, this pack weighs little more than a pair of trail runners yet has space to stretch a long weekend into a week. Even…

SPEED DEMON Can a running-oriented hydration pack double as a daypack? Yes, if it's designed as well as this one. During trail runs in the mountains above Santa Fe, the Riff's compression straps, foam back panel, and perfectly sculpted harness made for a stable, slosh-free ride. Yet on hikes the…

Serious warmth: baffles overstuffed with 650-fill down and a waterproof-breathable (and crazy light) Pertex Endurance shell. Plus snug-cinching cuffs, double storm flaps, and two large internal water-bottle pockets. 2.2 lbs; outdoorresearch.com…

We would never suggest you limit yourself to just one pack. But if you can’t fit more than one in your tiny Manhattan flat, the folks at Osprey feel your pain—and have the solution. The Aether is light enough—and its ventilated back panel cool enough—for a quick summer weekend…

TAKE IT ANYWHERE Small enough for short jaunts, cool enough for the heat of the desert, and tough enough for the mountains. The Direct 28 does it all, and for a sweet price. The abrasion-resistant 210-denier nylon body—and doubly reinforced bottom—is made for alpine abuse, while an aggressively arched frame…

The PrimaLoft-insulated 4 Pines is a full-featured ski jacket in disguise, complete with goggle pocket, powder skirt, and smart fleece patches that enhance wicking in the back and underarms. 2.6 lbs; cloudveil.com…

Visible technology may be the buzz at most design shops, but on trip after trip, this pack scored top marks because of what you can’t see: two hinges hidden behind the lumbar pad. Each side of the hipbelt swivels independently, allowing it to conform perfectly to your body shape…

LIGHT AND VERSATILE Consider the Talon an experiment in reduction: Every detail has been whittled down to bare essentials, making it a great warm-weather ultralight. But it's no one-trick pony. Thanks to a stiff aluminum/composite suspension, smart external lashing options, and a large stretch-woven shove-it pocket, one tester was able…

During blizzard conditions on a 40-mile backcountry ski race, this 800-fill-down, highly water-resistant shell kept our tester’s core “warm without the bulk of a traditional Michelin Man coat.” Also available in a hooded version called the Catalyst for $20 more. 1 lb; thenorthface.com…

Your perfect weekend: packing a frying pan, camp chair, fishing gear, and 12-pack and marching 12 miles to a secret trout pond. Your perfect pack: the Catalyst. It features a dynamic suspension with a wide, firmly padded hipbelt linked directly to a pivot point in the middle of the…

BEST FOR HOT WEATHER Beat sweaty-back syndrome with the Z 55's ventilated suspension. The frame's concave shape creates a pocket of cooling air between your back and the pack. Most impressive: There's zero drop-off in load support. The perforated framesheet efficiently transfers weight to a perfectly sculpted hipbelt, and a…

On a spring heli-ski trip in British Columbia, this synthetic-filled jacket provided a near-perfect balance of warmth, protection, and breathability. Credit the Windstopper shell, long pit zips, and removable hood. 1.9 lbs; mountainhardwear.com…

Innovation usually comes in fits and starts: a zipper here, a strap there. But Arc’teryx dispenses with the nickel-and-dime approach with this revolutionary pack. Any other year its every detail—from welded seams to dynamic suspension—would have been noteworthy. In this case the sum is much, much greater than the…

OVERACHIEVER This streamlined pack performed above its weight class on every trip, thanks to durable polyurethane-coated nylon throughout and a suspension—framesheet and aluminum stay—that can handle a heavy load. One tester took a larger version (called the Quest, 4,250 cu in, $175) on a weeklong trek in Wyoming's Wind River…

Weight saver: Don't be fooled by this stove's tiny dimensions. It cranks out big heat, adjusts down to a simmer, and has four serrated pot supports that are surprisingly stable for the size. A hingelike joint enables the Flex to fold flat and pack away like a deck of cards.

The fuel miser: It's freezing and the wind's howling—a perfect time to fire up the Reactor, which has a completely enclosed, windproof burner. The integrated pot/burner system puts the Reactor in a class by itself: It's compact, incredibly fuel-efficient, and boils a liter of water in a fast three minutes.

AN ELEGANT BRUISER Imagine the offspring of a Ferrari Testarossa and a Toyota Land Cruiser: precise handling, hard-duty construction. That's the essence of the Alpine Pack 50. It's a no-nonsense, climber-oriented pack with zero bells and whistles to create weak points. The 420-denier nylon—reinforced with 1,000-denier fabric on the bottom—should…

We may buy a small pack with the aim of paring down, but the Massif’s designers know us better than we know ourselves—we’ll still cram it full. And thus they have installed the best load-carrying system we’ve seen in a lightweight pack. Mammut’s aluminum Butterfly frame delivers rigid vertical…

Deluxe two-burner: Are you a stealth car camper? Hide this stove in the trunk. The clamshell design is much more compact than traditional two-burner units yet unfolds into a sturdy, propane-burning stove that rivals your dad's old Coleman for performance. 4.5 lbs; coleman.com      …

CLASSIC WEEKENDER If today's stripped-down packs are a little too austere for your tastes, but full-featured packs are too heavy, you'll find the Ridgeline just right. It's light enough for weekend duty but doesn't require a minimalist approach to packing. Go ahead and throw the espresso maker and extra vino…

If your ultralight pack gets kicked around like a stray dog, buy this Rottweiler. The tough-skinned Endeavor Summit is made with VX07 sailcloth, which is incredibly abrasion- and tear-resistant for the weight. (For the price, the bottom should be similarly reinforced.) The stiff single-stay-and-framesheet suspension is mated to low-bulk…

Ultimate versatility: The Stella+ is light enough for long-distance trips and stable enough for a big group (it'll hold a four-liter pot), plus the remote-canister design allows you to use it with an Outback Oven. Smart: The automatic-ignition switch is located far from the burner, where fingers won't get singed.

POCKETS GALORE Are you forever looking for ways to stash small items, like camera, snacks, GPS, sunscreen, first-aid kit, and more? The Nimble, with no fewer than seven pockets and three storage compartments, is your pack. “It's more organized than my kitchen!” said one tester. Even better, the Nimble still…

Aigle Shems – Midweight Jackets: Reviews   With a soft fleece interior and warm, durable merino wool/nylon exterior, this jacket combines our favorite fabrics in one versatile top. 1.9 lbs; aigleusa.com         Patagonia Pau – Footwear: Reviews (Terry Heffernan) The coolest mocs we’ve ever laid eyes…

Mysteries of the mind-body connection: Why does Willie Nelson make me run faster than the White Stripes? And why do both sound so much better coming out of the Thump Pro? I don't have answers, but I do know that after several trail runs I fell shamelessly in love with…

Planning to book that trip to Laos’s Houaphan province you saw in our Best Trips of 2007 feature? Don’t let a swig of tainted water ruin the journey. Steripen, which pioneered the use of ultraviolet light in portable water purifiers, has created the ultimate drinking companion for travelers. The…

The loss of a climbing party last winter raised a mountain of questions. Namely: What was all the fuss about?

Runners who want to know pace, distance, and calorie output (and nothing more), take note: Silva’s TECH40 Accelerator pedometer watches are accurate and inexpensive. $59; silvacompass.com Tech 40 Full Suspension Granted, insoles are the least sexy piece of gear on the shelf. But…

It's time to take a fresh look at how to make the most of your 48 hours of weekend freedom. From high-adrenaline blasts to ultimate Zen sessions, we've created 37 custom plans to match every mood. Start packing—your adventure starts Friday.

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