As we made our way uphill, kids trickled out of mud-brick houses and fell in behind us, scarves wound around their wind-burned cheeks, thick wool socks under their flimsy plastic shoes. Before long there were two dozen of them, ages 10 to 15: Afghan boys carrying homemade skis—wooden planks with rubber foot straps on top and scrap aluminum nailed to the underside. I kicked the toes of my boots into the frozen mud beneath the snow, making stairs on the slippery ridge. To my left rose a gently sloping alpine face called Kasa Dugh, or the Yogurt Bowl. Across the valley, I could make out a crevice flanked by two steep snowfields. Locals call this the Open Book, for its resemblance to a Koran on a reading stand. Towering above the ridge to our south was the 15,500-foot summit of Mir Shah Khoja.
Q: The Best Hydration Pack: Hiking
There are dozens of hydration packs out there. Which ones are best for specific activities, such as mountain biking, running marathons, or a weekend hike?
A: On a day hike, you want a hydration pack that carries plenty of liquid, but also has room for all the gear you need—extra clothes and food, first aid kit, headlamp, sunglasses, and so on.
Osprey’s Manta 30 ($149) is just the ticket. First, it’s an excellent hydration pack, with a 100-fluid-ounce bladder that fits against an anatomically contoured plastic sheet so that it rides comfortably. The bladder has a large mouth for easy cleaning and refill, and the drink valve pivots so you can sip from either side.
The Manta also is an excellent daypack. It has a light alloy frame and contoured shoulder straps so it carries well even when jammed full of stuff. And with 1,600 cubic inches of capacity in the small/medium size, there’s plenty of room for gear.
BEST FOR: Mountain-biking or hiking in hot climes. THE TEST: With internal pockets designed especially for bike tools, and attachment points for a light and helmet, the 20-liter Escapist was made for long-distance mountain biking, but it was so comfy and cool—the back panel and shoulder straps are mostly airy mesh—that it became one of our favorite daypacks, too. Plus, whereas the Summit Rocket eschews almost all creature comforts, the Escapist retains several. The hipbelt has a bit more structure, and the shoulder straps and back panel are well padded. These features and others (tuck-away rain cover, tons of pockets) add weight, but the Escapist is still a respectable pound and a half. THE VERDICT: We defy you to find something you can’t use this for.
Q: What Are the Best Packs for a Family Trip?
My wife and I are taking our two teenage kids on a trip to Europe. We’ll be traveling for 15 days and to avoid hassle, we’ve decided to carry only backpacks. How do I choose the right packs?
A: Ah, fun! Putting everything on your backs may be a bit ambitious, but it’ll certainly streamline your luggage footprint. You will, however, need to decide whether you want to check your bags or carry them with you when you fly. Carrying-on will require smaller luggage.
For you and your wife, I’d suggest fairly large packs to allow room for any common gear (maybe a toiletries kit), or any souvenirs you purchase. If you’re okay with checking your bags, then look into the Osprey Meridian Wheeled Convertible Pack ($329), a nicely designed piece with 4,600 cubic inches of volume. Features include a main compartment with an organizer pocket; a removable daypack; and the ability to switch between a pack and a wheeled suitcase. That last feature might come in handy.
Q: Help! I need a pack for my photo gear
I’m a photographer and cinematographer, and I’m looking for a backpack that can double as a photo bag for hiking, skiing, and mountain climbing. I’ve found that Lowepro bags are too small. What do you recommend?
A: I’ve put a lot of miles on Osprey’s Aether 70 ($279). It’s a bit larger than the Altra, and excellent suspension, with a hip belt that can be custom-molded in some retailers. It comes with sleeping bag compartment, room top pocket, and plenty of tie-down points and gear loops. It doesn’t have quite the build quality as the Arc’Teryx, but it’s a great pack for the money.
Osprey Ozone Series: If you’re schlepping stuff around, it’s hard to beat Osprey. We’ve been big fans of the company’s technical packs and travel luggage for years. If you’re looking to upgrade you current, old, and heavy roller, you might wan to hold out for Osprey’s new Ozone series of luggage. Osprey says that the new bags, available in sizes suitable for carry-on or checking, are the lightest rolling luggage on the market. And Osprey didn’t sacrifice features to keep the weight down—Ozone bags have plenty of organizer pockets inside and out. Available fall 2012.
Osprey’s Verve 10 Hydration Pack ($84; ospreypacks.com) is a special-edition, women’s-specific pack perfect for hiking, mountain biking, or trail running. It comes with a three-liter reservoir and plenty of room for bike tools and extra clothing. Osprey will donate four dollars from every purchase to the Breast Cancer Fund (breastcancerfund.org), and the company screened the front pocket with breast cancer prayer flags.
There are a lot of toddlers running around the Outside Magazine office these days. Which, naturally, means we’ve field-tested quite a few kid-carrying packs. But since Osprey makes some of our favorite regular packs, and it appears as is the Pock has all the features (and then some) we’ve come to expect on a top-of-the-line pack, we can’t wait to test it out in the field.