While specialized and sport-specific packs are still the name of the game for specialty retailers and core outdoor consumers, the one-quiver pack that does it all remains in high demand for the growing ranks of “outdoorsy” customers.
“Light was popular, but now we’re skewing back to packs that do a lot of different things,” said Luke Boldman, product designer for Mountainsmith, pointing to the brand's new Mayhem series of packs that are FAA compliant and can work for a weekend backpacking trip.
For the designers at Patagonia, the motto for the 2016 packs is: “Up for Anything,” defined as “… a core set of products that allow you to do a wide range of activities,” said Corey Simpson, the brand’s communications rep.
On the engineering side, packs are sounding a bit more like apparel with the aim to increase comfort and breathability via new materials, straps, back panels, frames and buckles.
Also look for a renewed focus on supply lines as more attention is given to working conditions in countries where manufacturing is notoriously cheap. Companies are going out of their way to be transparent about where, and who, makes their gear.
“There’s never a product we make where we don’t consider the supply line,” said Simpson with Patagonia. Or, when Osprey moved its manufacturing from Colorado to Vietnam, Osprey owner and founder Mike Pfotenhauer moved there as well to supervise the factory that was building their packs.
>>Patagonia is going for versatility with its 2016 pack debuts. Its mainstay, Black Hole duffel bags go through a serious revision, while its new Headway Collection of backpacks features burlier materials, four sizes and a design built for weekend warriors.
>>Granite Gear’s Lutsen Series (MSRP $200; 45L) is highly adjustable and highly technical, built for multi-day excursions into the backcountry. The packs include an injection-molded polycarbonate frame sheet with adjustable torso and hip belt. The AC frame has molded air channels to keep your arms and back ventilated.
>>Osprey expands its heralded Anti-Gravity Technology, which it introduced in 2014 at Outdoor Retailer and in retail stores this year. The suspension system employs a tensioned, contoured and perforated (read airy) design from the shoulder straps to the hip belt that fits more like a piece of clothing than a pack. It helps disperse the weight of heavy loads, like that of small children in Osprey’s Poco AG child-carrying pack series (MSRPs $250-$330), updated with the tech for 2016.
>> New from Montane this year, the Alpine series features two packs designed for serious mountain climbs. The Ultra Alpine 38+5 (MSRP $199) is for fast and light climbing, while the Fast Alpine 40 (MSRP $229) is built with a little more support and construction. Extra features like the padded hip belt are removable to minimize weight. Also, look for Montane’s new long-distance trekking packs, including one designed specifically for women (MSRPs $198-$399).
>>Mountainsmith “scrapped everything and built from the ground up again,” said product designer Luke Boldman. The brand employs new materials in its pack lineup for 2016 and will present its new line of Mayhem backpacks (MSRP $140; Mayhem 35), aimed at a wide spectrum of uses from attending class to traveling to an overnight camping trip.
>> This isn’t a backpack, per se, but BlackRapid’s Backpack Strap (MSRP $35) turns the customer’s pack into a quick-access camera harness. It connects to backpack shoulder strap pads and allows the photographer’s camera to rest at the side as he or she meanders down the trail. The camera is readily available instead of being buried in the pack.
>>Lowe Alpine completely redesigned its Eclipse and Airzone packs for two different reasons. Designers added breathability and support measures for the Airzone, and it lightened the Eclipse packs, while keeping many of the climber-friendly features intact.
>> One of Black Diamond’s top selling packs, the Speed allows for light, alpine ascents. It gets a refresh for 2016 with a redesigned back panel and shoulder straps for added comfort and breathability. It’s still strippable and comes in four sizes, which allows you to customize it for each trip.