First Ascent Alchemist
Credit: Gary Davidson

First Ascent Alchemist

($200; 40 to 55 L; 4.2 lb/1.9 kg)

This slick-looking pack has magic up its sleeve. With one pull of a zipper, it transforms from a 40-litre technical day pack into a 55-litre load hauler. Designed by First Ascent’s mountain-guide test team, the Alchemist is built to carry big loads to base camp and then just the essentials past there. Inside the bag is a tough crampon pocket, while strategically placed bombproof fabric adds durability—but also weight—in high-wear areas.
Granite Gear Crown
Credit: Gary Davidson

Granite Gear Crown

($200; 60 L; 2.4 lb/1.1 kg)

Designed for American-style through-hiking, the Crown is a lightweight dream. Thin straps and a rolltop closure eliminate any extra grams. Cinch the top for light overnights or loosen to add up to 15 litres of capacity. The moulded back padding is comfortable and airy, but the heavier you load this simple pack, the more you push the comfort factor of the thin hipbelt, shoulder straps and lightweight suspension system.
Jansport Cienega
Credit: Gary Davidson

Jansport Cienega

($125; 32 L; 2 lb/900 g)

What do women want in a pack? Jansport thinks the answer is small, sturdy and built for a woman’s geometry. Despite its petite size, the Cienega comfortably carries an impressive amount of weight, with well-padded shoulder and hipbelts and a thin frame sheet to disperse the load. The main compartment is only roomy enough for weekend warriors, but a generous top pouch, three outside pockets and a hydration-bladder sleeve make a little more space for trail essentials.
Mountain Hardwear Wandrin
Credit: Gary Davidson

Mountain Hardwear Wandrin

($200; 48 L; 3.1 lb/1.4 kg)

We packed a lot more into the Wandrin than we thought we would. The tent went into the lower partition. The top pocket floats on adjustable straps so we could extend the main compartment or cinch down on a sleeping pad. That still left a pouch and other pockets for quick-access essentials, while the dedicated hydration-bladder sleeve has zip access for hassle-free refills. X-shaped stays support the mesh back suspension, and perforated padding keeps all points comfy and cool.
Osprey Atmos/Aura
Credit: Gary Davidson

Osprey Atmos/Aura

($270; 65 L; 3 lb/1.4 kg)

When it comes to customizing fit, the Atmos (for men) and Aura (for women) reign—dial in the shoulder height and hipbelt to the millimetre with Velcro adjustments. The pack loads from the top, with a zip-access bottom partition, four exterior pockets (two on the hipbelt), a kangaroo pouch for stashing on the fly, and a generous top compartment. The overall design is very breezy, with perforated shoulder padding and a mesh trampoline to separate your back from the pack.