When loading the men’s Xenith 88 (the Xena 85 is the women’s model) with nearly 60 pounds of family gear and food for a six-day, 45-mile family hike in Sequoia National Park, I cringed, expecting my hipbones and hip flexors to protest loudly when I put it on. But the moment I shouldered the pack, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. And it remained comfortable throughout several hours of hiking every day.
What’s the explanation? There have been impressive design innovations to make backpacks more comfortable, stable, and lightweight in recent years. But when you’re carrying a big load—50 pounds or more—comfort boils down to the pack’s foundation: the frame and hipbelt. The Xenith and Xena’s plastic framesheet and peripheral aluminum rods bend toward the base of the pack, transferring most of its weight to the hips (despite the lack of stabilizer straps, the straps normally found where the hipbelt connects to the packbag). Meanwhile, the hipbelt sports bodacious padding and molded-plastic reinforcement to maintain its shape under a monster load. The frame holds the pack close to the hips and shoulders while allowing air to pass through a gap between my spine and the back pad, keeping me much cooler. Plus, the packs come in three sizes, all adjustable for five inches of torso range, with four sizes of harness and custom-moldable hipbelt for both men and women. So you can really fine-tune the fit—also a big deal with a big load.