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Great for a weekend backpacking trip with a couple friends sharing gear, Sierra Designs reentry into backpacks is pretty spot on. A single aluminum stay runs down the center of the pack mimicking a human spine and allows the pack to twist with your body; the hip belt articulates for added comfort, too. The 50 Liter Revival 50 and women’s Jubilee 50 are top entry packs with additional access through the front pocket. Ventilation against my back was better than many other packs I’ve used as it only contacted me at the shoulders and hips. For a touch of novelty, SD added a bottle opener on the shoulder strap—though beer isn’t necessarily the most weigh efficient camping beverage. One nuisance for people accustomed to larger packs: it doesn’t have a separate sleeping bag compartment, which means you’ll have to unpack everything when you get to camp.
As a lightweight extended-day pack, the unisex Hornet 32 has just about everything you’d need and nothing you don’t. As evidenced by the removable top pocket in case you don’t need the full 32 liters of storage, the Hornet is a feature-rich lightweight pack. But even with the top panel—which adds protection in case you find bad weather—the roughly 20-ounce pack is far from heavy. Slotted-foam shoulder straps, minimalist buckles and adjustment straps, and a lightweight, yet durable nylon help it shed ounces. And ice axe loops, side compression straps, water bottle side pockets, gel pockets in the shoulder straps, and zippered pockets on the hip belt round out the features. It has a single main pocket closed by a cinch cord as well as a front stretch pocket for smaller items you need more often. You can easily fit a hard shell, mid-layer, digital SLR camera, water and snacks in it with room to spare, but we found that the weight threshold was around 20 pounds. There’s little back ventilation as the pack uses a foam frame sheet for support, but a pack like this isn’t meant to be burly.
Setting up camp for a few nights (or longer), but need a pack for a summit push? The Arc’teryx Cierzo 25 is a great choice. Super lightweight—one ounce shy of a pound—and minimalist, the unisex Cierzo can easily haul a down puffy, outer shell, lunch, a camera, sunscreen, climbing harness, extra pair of shoes and more. It has plenty of lashing options including ice-axe loops and a compression cord that wraps the entire bag and pulls the load close to your body. Plus, the entire pack stuffs into its top lid, compressing down to the size of a football. The thin foam frame sheet is removable to make it even lighter and less bulky—though you sacrifice back comfort—or, as the company touts, it can be used as an emergency sleeping pad. But it is a minimalist pack. That means neither an internal bladder hanger nor hose port, and no external water bottle pockets like you’d find on more full-featured packs.
Made for all-day adventures when you don’t need much gear, the unisex Deuter Speed Lite 15 (15L) is compact and comfortable. As a good-sized daypack, you can fit a couple mid layers, a water bottle, sunscreen, a couple Clif Bars and a camera. A thin piece of foam is sandwiched between mesh on one side and nylon on the other for the shoulder straps, a lightweight hip belt—which isn’t meant to support weight—a sternum strap, two pretty small mesh pockets on either side, as well as a main pocket and a small pocket are the extent of the features. But it’s comfortable, has a bladder pocket/hanger/port and durable. Bump up to the Speed Lite 20 and you’ll gain side compression straps that can double as an A-frame ski carry system.
Designed for mountain biking, the unisex Hydrapak Reyes (5.3L) is a workhorse that can easily hit the hiking trail, too. Big enough for a small hand pump, a spare tube, tire levers, and other important quick-fix tools as well as a light mid-layer or lunch, the Reyes is big enough for a half-day ride or hike. Its hip belt and adjustable sternum strap are both removable, but they provide needed stability for bumpy mountain bike rides. Unfortunately its quick-access front shove-it pocket isn’t accessible while wearing the loaded pack, but it’s nice to have so you don’t have to dig through your pack every time you stop. As with all of Hydrapak’s packs, the Reyes comes with a reversible reservoir that has a simple slide-lock closure: think cross between a fold-top dry bag and Ziploc bag. Plus, the hose easily disconnects from the reservoir for cleaning/filling.