We took these backpacking backpacks out on real-world adventures, critically assessing them along the way. We took into account four different metrics: comfort and suspension, adjustability, features and ease of use, and weight.
Comfort and Suspension
We walked a wide range of distances over rough terrain and assessed how we felt during and after each day. The packs were extensively tested for long sections of trail, in rain and shine, hot and cold, and with large and medium weight loads. We took note of any hotspots on our hips and shoulders as well as the quality of the ventilation on our backs.
We tested each one by loading them up past capacity to get a better sense of the range in each of their carrying capacity. With these different weights, we then assessed the quality of each component of a pack's suspension and its ability to appropriately distribute the load across its waistbelt, back panel, and shoulder straps.
Adjustability and Fit
We took note of the range of adjustability of the waist belt and shoulder straps of each pack, and how well each one adapted to different layers we wore and how easy it was to dial in the fit.
Features and Ease of Use
We determined the usefulness, and ease of use of the features on each model. We packed our packs in a variety of ways and attached different gear to get a sense of the versatility of each pack. We assessed things like water bottle pockets, secondary storage pockets, lid accessibility, rain covers, waist belt pockets, trekking pole/ice ax loops, etc.
We weighed each pack and compared it to its comfort and volume to get a sense of how much the weight penalty is for any given model. Some packs are heavy but comfortable while others are light but don't support loads well. Only a few packs bridge the gap and offer good carrying support in a lightweight package.