For 10 years, I've traveled with a black Lowe Alpine daypack. It's a teardrop-shaped nylon bag with a foam-padded back, two side pockets for water bottles, a front pocket for strapping in a camp shovel and one zip pocket in the lid, just big enough to hold a wallet and sunglasses. When I went to Costa Rica for a week in February, that bag -- about the size of a college student's book pack -- and a large camera bag was the sum total of my luggage. These days, the rucksack is a little on the ratty side. The hip belt is held together with two knots, the zipper closes only partway, and, frankly, it never really fit that well. ¶ This past spring I began looking for a replacement. First and foremost, I wanted a bag that fit my 6-foot-3 frame. I wanted it to be versatile -- big enough to carry gear for two nights in the bush or a week in Costa Rica, but small enough that it could work well for a day hike. I wanted it to have water bottle pockets and an interior pocket for a hydration pouch. I also wanted it to be fairly low-profile -- I like that my simple black daypack doesn't call attention to itself. Here are the contenders:
$100; available at www.golite.com.
The Jam-2 came closest to my ideal for its versatility. First off, it comes in a large size for long torsos, and it fits mine perfectly. It is the lightest pack I tested, at 1 pound, 5 ounces. Water bottle pockets? Check. Hydration pouch? Check. Low profile? Nope. My tester was a vivid sky-blue check that echoed the pattern on a bad golf shirt. (What's wrong with forest green or black, people?) Still, I can live with the color. Even without a frame, the pack worked well. Careful packing ensured a comfortable hike in my tests, even with 25 pounds. The capacity is 3,100 cubic inches (big enough for days of ultra-light backpacking) but the compression straps converted it into a suitable daypack, as well.
GRANITE GEAR PRECIPICE
$155; available at www.granitegear.com.
Based in Two Harbors, Minn., Granite Gear provided the local flavor. The Precipice is one of the company's staples: A 2,800-cubic-inch pack with integral frame, hydration sleeve, floating lid pocket and lots of loops; it's a classic alpinist's daypack or a bag for overnights in the bush. It did a fine job as a roomy carry-on on a trip to Mexico, as well. This pack weighs a little more at 3 pounds, 4 ounces, but the suspension system with well-padded straps carried heavy loads very comfortably (and it fit me well). Hats off to Granite Gear for tasteful color schemes. The Precipice is basic black with silver highlights.
$119; available at www.gregorypacks.com.
The high-tech 1,800-cubic-inch Z30 has been blessed as "best all around" daypack in this year's Backpacker magazine gear guide. The frame system is feather light and lets air flow over your back. The pack itself is streamlined, but has an exterior front pocket for easy access to lunch, sunglasses and sunblock. At 2 pounds, 12 ounces, it's pretty light, but structured enough to tote more than 20 pounds. The bad news: It only comes in small and medium. This one did not fit me; the hip belt clipped at my bellybutton, even with all straps fully extended. If you're 5-11 and under, give it a shot. If not, don't waste your time.
MARMOT EIGER 35
$99; available at www.marmot.com.
The well-designed Eiger 35 is an excellent all-around daypack with a large main compartment and a floating lid pocket. The large version (with a capacity of 2,300 cubic inches) fit me like a glove. The Eiger 35 has a number of innovations that make it notable. One is the single clamp holding the lid-pocket for one-handed opening and closing. Another is the way the ice-ax loops and ski holders hide away very unobtrusively. No fashion frou-frou and lower priced than the competition.
RICK STEVES VELOCÉ
$79; available at www.ricksteves.com.
This pack is designed for the obsessive-compulsive overseas traveler. The pack has 11 pockets, eight with zippers (my tester was forest green and black). I used it on a trip to visit relatives in Kentucky, and my biggest complaint was that I had to look in several pockets to find whatever it was I was looking for. I liked the laptop pocket and the extra internal straps, but I didn't like the lack of a hip belt, which would have helped bear the surprising weight of this 2,400-cubic-inch bag. It weighs at least as much as the serious alpine bags but without any structure; all those layers of nylon and zippers are hefty. This bag doesn't come in a large size, either.
Chris Welsch • 612-673-7113