We split our testing into two categories: evaluation before hitting the trail, and performance while backpacking. For some metrics, it was more useful to assess in just one of these two ways, for example, weight was measured on a scale indoors in order to be precise. Others were more subjective, but our testers have done their best to conduct an objective analysis of these packs.
Suspension and Comfort
We hiked with each pack over varying distances with a range of weights loaded into them. We pushed each pack well into the 40s, but did not break 50 pounds during our testing, simply because none of these packs are meant for heavy hauling. We specifically noted how each of the following aspects of the pack felt: overall suspension, hip comfort, shoulder comfort, and pressure points. We considered each of these after the first hour on the trail, then at the end of the first day, and the end of the trip. This way, we could evaluate if certain packs were more comfortable over shorter periods of time than others.
Features and Ease of Use
This is a largely qualitative metric, and some features can be a plus or minus depending on your intentions for the bag. We spent hours studying and comparing the features and design of each pack before ever stepping foot on the trail. We stuffed our gear in every crack and crevice of the packs to evaluate the usefulness of pockets and ease of packing.
While backpacking, we made note of the accessibility via each opening in the pack. We also determined how much each feature helped us to store the gear that we needed easy access to and whether or not the overall pocket design worked well for us.
Measure weight was very straightforward. We made sure the whole pack was empty and weighed it on a scale. We did not remove the included pack covers before weighing each pack. Some weights were understandably higher or lower because of different feature sets.
We took into account each aspect of the packs that could allow a more customized fit. This included the range of torso lengths, precision of adjustment, and waist belt sizes. We also paid attention to how easy the straps were to locate and tighten in order to dial in the fit.