(Inga Hendrickson)

The Best Summer Packs of 2018


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Haulers big and small that go above and beyond.

(Courtesy Gregory)

Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60 ($300)

We like our packs one of two ways: stripped-down minimalists that excel at specific tasks, or blinged-out haulers that do everything we need and more. The Gregory Baltoro 65 (men’s) and Deva 60 (women’s) represent the very best of the latter. Both offer a full buffet of features along with excellent load-carrying comfort and very low weight, considering that they include just about every bell and whistle you could possibly hope for. Backpackers will love the U-shaped front panel, which allows you to peel open the pack like a suitcase and access the gear you’ve stuffed into the middle. There are zippered compartments and pouches for everything, including a waterproof hipbelt pocket that fits an oversize smartphone. The hydration sleeve converts to a simple summit or daypack. The 2018 versions drop a quarter of a pound, thanks to a new lightweight aluminum frame and redesigned ventilated back panel. The integrated rain cover moves to the top lid, where it’s easy to access. The frame isn’t super customizable, but the straps connect to the back panel on pivoting wings, so they adjust to match the contours of the wearer’s shoulders. The waist-belt wings also pivot upward, letting the pack weight settle nicely onto the shelf of the pelvis. Both versions weigh near the high end for a 60-ish-liter hauler, but it’s well worth the sacrifice if comfort is your goal. 5 lbs (men’s) / 4.7 lbs (women’s)

Men's Women's

(Courtesy REI)

REI Traverse 35 ($139)

Best affordable pack

A screaming deal for a full-service 35-liter pack, REI’s Traverse has just enough room to hold everything one person needs for an overnight or summer weekend trip (tent, sleeping bag, cookstove, and a couple of days’ worth of food). It has the right mix of features—floating top lid, stretchy front-panel pocket, trampoline-style mesh upper back panel. The water-bottle pockets are set forward of the main cargo hold, so even with the pack completely stuffed, it’s easy to pull out a Nalgene. A load-lift strap pulls the bottom of the pack up and in to draw the weight closer to your center of gravity. Though it’s a nice feature, it makes more sense on big, high-volume packs. That said, the Traverse carries fairly well. A 20-pound load felt stable and rested nicely on the hips, although the lumbar pad rode a little high on the lower back for some testers’ taste. There is, however, a thoughtful cutout in the padding for the lower spine. And we challenge you to find another pack this competent at anywhere near the price. 3.1 lbs (men’s) / 3 lbs (women’s)

Men's Women's

(Courtesy Osprey)

Osprey Levity 45 and Lumina 45 ($250)

Best ultralight weekender

The men’s Levity and women’s Lumina are marvels of ultralight design. Both weigh in at just 1.8 pounds—the lightest we’ve seen with legitimate hauling capabilities. And Osprey achieved that without sacrificing features: there’s an aluminum frame, a fixed top lid, a stash pocket on the front, removable side compression cords, and ample lash points. The 3/8-inch straps, microbuckles, and efficient use of tissue-thin 30-denier fabric keep the weight low. While many packs rest the load on a trampoline-style back panel and above a lumbar pad, the Levity and Lumina use Osprey’s Airspeed back panel, which suspends it across a stretchy mesh that extends down from the shoulders and wraps the hips. Two of these packs had no trouble accompanying a pair of testers during a peak-bagging excursion in Colorado’s Chicago Basin, transporting two nights’ worth of food and lightweight gear. The chief drawback is the fragile fabric Osprey used in the upper half of the pack. Treat these like you would an ultralight tent—baby, don’t abuse. 1.8 lbs

Men's Women's

(Courtesy Jansport)

JanSport Helios 30 ($90)

Best casual tote

A nontechnical daypack, the JanSport Helios has one feature that sets it apart: strap padding. The shoulder straps on the company’s new Moonlift harness are stuffed with a stretchy, mesh-covered foam. It gives them a remarkably soft, even gummy feel that turns a fairly ho-hum hauler into one that’s weirdly fun to wear, even when overloaded. Designed for low-key front-country missions (coffee shop, dog park), the Helios swallows a ton of stuff—it has two enor­mous clamshell openings, a fleecy pocket for shades or a smartphone, a stash pocket for a thin jacket or gloves, and a pair of water-bottle pockets on the sides. The padded laptop sleeve fits a 14-by-12-inch computer. Even when full of layers, food, a guidebook, a brick-like DSLR camera, and extra lenses, the Helios felt comfortable to wear. No back panel means overstuffing causes the pack to grow a bit cylindrical, but the effect isn’t pronounced. For $100, the Helios is twice the price of a simple daypack of similar quality, but you won’t find straps this comfortable anywhere else. 1.5 lbs

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(Courtesy Osprey)

Osprey Aether Pro 70 and Ariel Pro 65 ($375)

Best long-haul backpacker

There are stout, stable backpacking packs, and there are delicate, gram-pinching minimalist packs. The Aether Pro (men’s) and Ariel Pro (women’s) combine elements of both. They’re streamlined and lightweight but built to haul heavy loads and survive extensive field use. We brought along the Ariel Pro for a four-day trip in the Maroon Bells Wilderness in Aspen, Colorado, and no matter how much we crammed into it, the pack felt solid, centered, and balanced. Both versions are made for pros and are suitably spartan—no extraneous pockets, pouches, or doodads. Even so, the lashing options are exceptional. You could hang most of any other backpack’s load from the outside of this one. Gram counters can ditch the top lid and use an integrated flap to lock the contents in place. Osprey’s quick-stash system for trekking poles is an excellent way to free up your hands while on the move. Testers had a couple gripes: the cargo hold barely fits a bear canister. And minimalist vibe aside, an integrated rain cover would have been nice. 3.9 lbs (men’s) / 3.7 lbs (women’s)

Men's Women's