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…

Hard on your gear??If the answer is yes, the Deva is your friend. The rubberized bottom and 210-denier ripstop nylon were the burliest of the packs we tested. While the top com­partment of this massive bag transforms into an over-the-shoulder daypack in seconds, the waist belt’s ratch­eting system isn’t…

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…

Give the air pump on the hip a few squeezes and the Summit’s already cushy hipbelt and back panel get even more luxurious. It’s a touch heavy but brimming with handy features like a detachable top panel that transforms into a lumbar pack. 7 lbs, 4,900 cu in;…

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…

Marmot knows how to mold a harness to a woman’s body. The Diva’s hipbelt and shoulder straps conformed to multiple testers’ torsos, and we loved this pared-down pack for long but still fast-and-light hikes. 3.1 lbs, 2,150 cu in; marmot.com…

How do you make the Pacific Crest Trail feel like the Pacific Coast Highway? Let this pack smooth out and speed up the miles. I literally ran the San Juan Mountains’ nine-mile Hope Lake Trail with the Arreba stuffed full. Credit the pre-curved harness, narrow back panel, and Wraptor…

The 3,970-cubic-inch, top-loading Sentinel may not look as sleek and stable as the other packs here. But it’s sturdier than it looks. The traditional suspension system consists of two aluminum stays, while the main compartment includes rear sleeping-bag access and a generous stuffsack. What impressed us were the extras…

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…

Can’t bear to leave anything behind, even on a weekend trip? This sleek pack has the biggest capacity of the bunch, with a suspension that can handle 40-plus pounds and a height that didn’t cause instability when I hiked Colorado’s steep Liberty Bell Trail. The pack is on the…

This was the best multi-day haul pack we tested. In terms of both price and usability, the 3,480-cubic-inch El Lobo hits the sweet spot. “Feels lighter than it is” and “really moves with you” were common tester refrains. Credit the Lobo’s X-shaped chassis and dual-pivot hipbelt, which, as advertised,…

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…

This standout in Deuter’s new women’s line is the pack equivalent of 1,000-thread-count sheets. Like other models here, it has female-specific features—curved shoulder straps, a shorter torso, and a contoured hipbelt. And it hugged our bodies with just-right padding. Plus you can fine-tune fit with the ladderlike Vari-Quick harness.

Cross a whitewater drybag with a technical backpack, and you might get something like the 4,393-cubic-inch Arrakis, this year’s burliest—and priciest—offering. Built with a tough, waterproof, washable nylon fabric, this roll-top beast was unfazed during a torrential rain that eventually saturated other packs. Three exterior pockets let you get…

This pack is like the diet that promises all the ice cream you want—lose weight with no compromises!—except the Ki works. At slightly more than two pounds, it’s as light as legit packs get, yet the padded hipbelt and rigid polyethylene frame, combined with excellent compression and stability, let…

1. No gimmicks here. The North Face’s new X-Radial suspension is the real deal. The secret is a lightweight aluminum, X-shaped frame that’s reinforced on the top and bottom to deal with heavy loads (up to 55 pounds) and actually pivots at the center of the X, which means…

Big-Trip Brawn Thanks in part to a hybrid internal-external frame, this pack is outra-geously light for how much gear it carries (enough for a weeklong trip). But REI made sure not to skimp in the important places—like the wide, cushy shoulder straps and the hipbelt, which is canted for a…

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…

GREEN-MINDED AND OLD-SCHOOL Mountainsmith managed to build the Phoenix out of an impressive 85 percent recycled materials, including 100 percent recycled PET fabric, recycled mesh back panel and zippers, and sustainable biopolymer buckles. That’s about the current eco-limit without compromising the pack’s performance. But there’s much more to the Phoenix…

Weekender The back panel on this space-efficient pack—we carried up to four days’ worth of supplies—closely mimics the curve of a woman’s back, which makes it so comfy, testers forgot they had it on. We love the side zip for getting at buried stuff. 3.7 lbs, 3,112 cu in;…

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…

TAKE IT OFF-TRAIL Like a souped-up Jeep, the Triconi begs to be taken off-trail and over jumbly passes. The reason: The hipbelt and shoulder straps are built into the pack frame with auto-adjusting pivot points. It’s a smart system. The pivots adapt to individual hip curvature and shoulder/torso size, allowing…

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…

LOVES BIG LOADS Can’t decide whether to pack the pinot noir or the grigio? Bring ’em both—and the cast-iron skillet. On a multi-day trip in the Cascades, the Argon’s burly suspension system and memory-foam hipbelt and shoulder straps didn’t flinch at 60-plus pounds. It’s also crammed with tons of user-friendly…

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…

For last ten years I've engaged in yearly two-week backpacking trips in Canadian Rockies with hiking buddy. We carry in all of our food and gear for 10 to 12 days and then emerge, and I'm looking to replace I my six-year-old Arc'Teyrx Bora 95 litre pack, which blew out under one of its lateral tension rods this year, two years after I replaced the harness. –Ed Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

“Not just different. Better.” That tester’s observation sums up this 15-degree bag from Montbell, whose major tech innovation—spiraled baffles—made it the most comfortable and best-functioning bag we tested this year. Far from a gimmick, the spiral baffles drape more evenly over the body, creating…

I'm graduating from a Masters program in May, and planning, possibly, my last great summer get-away before becoming a hard-working stiff in September. My itinerary from mid-May through August includes a hiking/camping cross-country road trip to Sedona, two weeks of camping and hiking in Alaska, volunteering as a fly-fishing instructor in Alaska, and traveling in Asia for three weeks. If you were putting together a recommended gear list (particularly lightweight waterproof jacket, backpack, tent, and sleeping bag) from scratch where would you start?—JosephPittsburgh, PA

I am trying to decide between a Gregory Whitney 95 or the Gregory Baltoro 70 for the best-all around pack for anything from weekend trips to taking on the Appalachian Trail, and hopefully further reaches of the planet. Just trying to decide if the Baltoro offers enough space for the AT or if stick with the Whitney.—DavidOcala, FL

What backpacking gear do you recommend for Colorado trails?—SophiaConcord, New Hampshire

I going on an eight-day ski touring trip in Patagonia requiring a pack with at least 65 liters. Which packs are designed for this use? Devin San Francisco, CA

I'm looking for luggage to use on a ten-day eco-tour of Costa Rica. Do you have any suggestions? Mark Buffalo, NY

I've been using a Gregory Palisade backpack for week-long trips, usually on the AT or in the Whites. But I’d like to purchase a pack made specifically for women. Which pack will provide similar size and features as the Palisade? Kate Boston, Massachusetts

Is there a backpack out there that will house fragile camera gear as well as all of the other essentials for camping? Or do you have any suggestions for packing it so it'll stay safe and is still easily accessible? Ara Wichita, Kansas

I'm going to Nepal for an internship this summer and then to South erica for the Peace Corps next winter. I need a backpack that's durable enough for travel and big enough to hold all of my stuff. But, I would like one that is technical enough for backpacking trips. Any suggestions? Sean Columbus, Ohio

For the past five years I lived out west, but I’m now in Indiana for a year. To make the best of my stay, I’m looking for new goals to tackle and have decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. What is the best backpack to take on that challenge? Charles South Bend, Indiana

My buddy and I are planning a mega-hike down one of Colorado’s mid-length trails during summer 2009. What type of preparation and equipment will we need for a 250-mile hike? What about an overnighter that I'll be doing later this summer? Jason Pace, Florida

I'm planning a summer ascent of Mount Shasta and want to know what you recommend for a backpack and sleeping bag. Is a zero-degree bag warm enough? I lean toward being a cold sleeper and prefer synthetic. I was told by the guide service to have a 4,500-cubic-inch pack. But I’m a petite woman, so isn't that a bit large? Julie Aliso Viejo, California

Do really large (6,000 to 7,000 cubic inch) external-fre backpacks still exist? If so, where can I find one? Lovett Statesboro, Georgia

Classic or skate? Either way you'll go fast with the latest—and best—Nordic gear.

Your Gearness, I keep seeing reviews for sub-5,000 cubic inch packs. Some of us get to wander the wilderness packing extra for the family or scouts, and we need bigger packs. What can you recommend for comfortably carrying 40 to 60 pounds in our beautiful mountains? Andrew Lehi, Utah

I am the project officer in charge of the design, development, and procurement of all Individual Load Bearing Equipment for the United States Marine Corps. We’re currently performing market research on backpacks with approximately 2,500 cubic inches of capacity. Durability and comfort is top priority. I would like to purchase several different styles of backpacks to study the best ideas out there. Which manufacturers and packs should I consider? John Quantico, Virginia

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