Capacity: 60-75 liters if you’re carrying much of the group’s gear and might need extra space to take some weight from a tired Scout’s pack; 50-55 liters if your Scouts will carry all their own gear; possibly smaller if you and your Scouts are going ultralight.
Features: Ample organization will be useful — specifically multiple pockets, mostly on the exterior (the pack’s lid, front side and hipbelt) for quick access. A long panel zipper opening the main compartment is convenient for, say, yanking out a tent as the rain begins.
Comfort: This is the most important aspect when you’re spending hours on the trail. Buy a pack with a suspension and harness that’s built for the load you will carry and fits your body. Load it up and wear it around the store before buying.
For hauling loads of 50 pounds or more, few packs compare with the men’s Gregory Baltoro 75 and the women’s Deva 70 ($320) for comfort, support and features. Independently pivoting shoulder straps and hipbelt allow the pack to move with your body; an internal wishbone frame of 7075 aluminum provides support for 60 pounds; and the back panel and lumbar pad deliver incredible cushioning. Features include a weatherproof hipbelt pocket for electronics; a removable internal hydration bladder that doubles as a summit pack; a U-shaped zipper to access the main compartment; and multiple pockets, including a large front pouch. 5 lbs., 8 oz.
If you prize organization, The North Face Fovero 70 ($290) boasts superior access, starting with 10 pockets — including two on the hipbelt and the sides; two in front with zippers; and a large, breathable front stuff-it pocket for a wet jacket or rainfly. A J-shaped, two-way zipper extending around one side and the bottom opens up the main compartment. An adjustable harness with 5 inches of range allows you to achieve a precise fit. The suspension — a perforated plastic framesheet, spring steel wire perimeter frame and two aluminum stays — delivers excellent support carrying 40-50 pounds. 5 lbs.
For comfort, plus good capacity and organization, the Osprey Atmos AG 65 ($270) offers unbeatable value. Osprey’s cutting-edge Anti-Gravity suspension uniquely hugs your torso while allowing air movement across your back. Available in three sizes with an adjustable harness and hipbelt, it comes loaded with features, including nine pockets and a nifty attachment on the left shoulder strap for tucking away trekking poles on the fly. And at fewer than 5 pounds, it’s the lightest among packs that carry 45-50 pounds with supreme comfort. 4 lbs., 8 oz.
For those disciplined about keeping pack weight below 30 pounds, there’s likely no better value than the REI Flash 45 ($149). Available in men’s and women’s sizes, it carries 25-30 pounds comfortably, thanks to a steel internal perimeter frame with one horizontal stay and a contoured hipbelt. REI’s proprietary UpLift compression system stabilizes the load by pulling it up and in, closer to your center of balance. A basic top-loader with six external pockets and the capacity for a three- to four-day trip, the Flash 45 has little competition at this price. 2 lbs., 12 oz.
Sometimes you need a big pack; sometimes you need a small one. Your answer: The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor ($200). A gusset system expands and contracts the capacity from 40 to 60 liters. That’s far more range than you get with packs that have a “floating” or extendable lid — plus, the Flex Capacitor expands so it doesn’t get top-heavy. With a lightweight Y-shaped internal stay and a pre-curved hipbelt that comes in four sizes, the Flex Capacitor rides comfortably with 35-40 pounds — pretty good for a pack this light. The downside: very few pockets. 2 lbs., 9 oz.
If you’re packing light, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider ($340) stands out for several reasons: It carries 30-35 pounds comfortably, has space for a weeklong trip and comes in four sizes — plus, the tough Dyneema Composite Fabric is fully waterproof — all rare qualities in a sub-2-pound pack. The minimalist roll-top design includes three large external mesh pockets and roomy, zippered hipbelt pockets. 1 lb., 15 oz.