Man isn’t meant to stay indoors — our weekly “Trekking” column can attest to that. It’s a column dedicated to the adventurer inside of all of us, the one pining to ditch the office humdrum for a quick surf session or seven-week jaunt in the Grand Tetons. One day we may highlight an ultra-light stove and the next a set of handmade canoe paddles. Life doesn’t just happen inside the workplace, so get outside and live it.
There’s no piece of equipment more important when backpacking than… well, the pack itself. And while long-form, external backpacks have recently made a comeback thanks to films such as Wild, it’s tough to ignore the ergonomic design and intuitive features afforded by a modern offerings. They lack the rustic appeal and, instead, opt for a more streamlined design that often comes outfitted with sternum straps, hip-belt pockets, and other components better suited to accommodate your wealth of gear (and your back). The best of them even include small enhancements, such as hydration ports and trekking pole loops, while keeping weight and cost to a minimum.
Below are three of our favorite packs for 2016, each of which is just as poised for a 5-day excursion in the desert as a thru-hike of epic proportions. Now you just need to pick the right size and select a destination, which, frankly, never seems to get any easier.
REI Flash 65 Pack ($200)
The folks at REI know their way around a pack, especially when you consider the company sells the biggest brands and manufactures its own gear. The new REI Flash 65 is a lightweight, budget-friendly option that utilizes REI’s suspended mesh panel, which helps it better conform to your body and adds comfort without sacrificing breathability. It’s also extremely versatile, lined with both 100- and 420-denier nylon ripstop, and features an adjustable torso that’s designed to fit a range of back lengths. Twin tool loops and a bevy of easily accessible pockets, including an ultra-convenient j-zip pocket on the front, just ensure you have plenty of room for your sleeping pad and other gear.
Exped Thunder 70 ($289)
The larger the pack, the heavier it typically is. The same can’t be said of the Exped Thunder 70, though, given the behemoth backpack weighs a mere 3.5 pounds. It still manages to provide an admirable set of features despite its lightweight design, however, including an adjustable single aluminum stay and a lavish hipbelt that furthers stability alongside the pack’s tapered build. A welcome array of pockets line everything, from the extendable lid and hipbelt to the the sides and internal compartment, the latter of which is quickly accessible via three individual access options. Velcro webbing even keeps all the compression straps and other components in check, so you don’t have to.
Osprey Atmos AG 65 ($260)
Comfort is not something most people associate with backpacking — I mean, how can strapping 50 pounds on your back be anything other than painful? That’s precisely where Osprey’s Atmos AG 65 excels, however. The central component to the pack is its AV (anti-gravity) suspension system, which is comprised of a network of non-stretch mesh that provides complete contact with length of your back, thus eliminating pressure points and helping with balance, airflow, and load transfer. The unique pack additionally benefits from robust storage space and excellent adjustability — namely in the hipbelt and torso — as well as a removable top lid, four compression straps, a trekking pole attachment system, and ice axe loops for frigid mountain ascents.
Deuter ACT Lite 40 + 10 ($180)
The Deuter ACT Lite 40 + 10 doesn’t showcase a wealth of bells and whistles, though the lack thereof actually functions as the pack’s strong suit. It features a classic internal design with a set of dependable features that come only second to its innate versatility, which takes advantage of adjustable torso length, anatomical shoulder straps, and comfortable mesh paneling that hugs the body in all the right places. A lightweight, aluminum frame and embedded ventilation channel deepens the level of comfort and improve airflow, while both wet and dry storage compartments give you ample room to house your gear alongside the exterior gear loops and cavernous bottom pocket.