Gregory Contour 70L/Cairn 68L
$299, 4 lbs. 5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S, M, L (fit torsos from 16 to 22 inches), women’s XS, S, M (fit torsos from 14 to 20 inches)
Whether on a family backpacking trip with young kids or a hike of more than about four days, you’re carrying a lot of stuff. In either scenario, I like a pack that can handle a big load and allows me to organize so that I can access items quickly. It doesn’t hurt if the pack is almost a pound lighter than many top competitors. That sums up the Contour 70L (and women’s version Cairn 68L, 58L, and 48L) in a nutshell. I carried the Contour 70L with up to 45 pounds in it on three family trips: skiing to a backcountry yurt (hauling the pack one day in and one day out); three days backpacking Utah’s Coyote Gulch; and five days backpacking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness.
The Contour, which also comes in 60L and 50L versions, derives its big-load comfort from a wishbone-shaped wire-frame suspension and hipbelt wings that pivot independently to prevent the pack shifting when you hike, especially on steep or rugged terrain. Mesh foam in the hipbelt, back pad, and shoulder straps kept me cool hiking uphill with a heavy load—including on some hot, dusty, windless August days in the Eagle Cap.
Beyond comfort, though, this pack has incredible organization. I’m a big fan of a zipper accessing the main compartment, so you don’t have to pop the lid off every time you want to get inside, and the Contour 70L has a side zipper nearly the length of the pack bag. A wide mouth and bright interior make top-loading a cinch. The front stuff-it pocket will hold a rain jacket, and there’s an equally roomy, zippered front pocket behind the stuff-it with two more compartments inside it. While wearing the pack, you have within reach two roomy hipbelt pockets, two side pockets, and a zippered stash pocket on one side. And the highly water-resistant lid pocket—with a waterproof zipper and sealed seams—doesn’t skimp on space, fitting hats, gloves, headlamp, and numerous other accessories. The integral rain cover came in handy during a thunderstorm downpour. One minor complaint: The angled bottom that helps shift the pack weight onto your hips prevents the pack from standing up.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.