On the PCT, I tested Mountain Hardwear’s new backpack

My new Mountain Hardwear Women’s PCT 65L ($300) really didn’t need another backpack. I had to chuck my other packs onto the floor due to my overflowing gear wall. (There is also a 50-liter size for women, along with 55- and 70-liter sizes for men.) While my quiver is quite robust, I still stared at my options unconvinced that any of them would be adequate for a backpacking trip. My equipment was difficult to fit into some of the heavy, cumbersome bags; others were lightweight and designed specifically for a particular task. My ride-or-die hauler needed to serve me on sprawling scenic trails or rugged granite peaks was missing.

Having a more selective eye than Goldilocks, I tested the 65-liter, 4.2-pound PCT on a section of the rugged Mt. Hood National Forest in the hope that it would pave the way to my perfect backpack. My go-to pack for multi-day treks through any terrain, including hot, buggy days, has became this pack after 21 miles and three hot, buggy days.

Loading the PCT pack
(Photo: Clayton Hermann)

Unlike most hikers, I don’t take good care of my gear. Rather than worrying about wear and tear, true durability allows you to be in the moment. The 120-denier ripstop body and 420-denier Cordura bottom of the PCT are lightweight, but also tough enough to endure being grabbed by downed trees and being flung after the trek. A bonus is that all components except the base are 100 percent recyclable. To keep materials out of the landfill, Mountain Hardwear worked with its supplier to make cording from scrap yarns.

In addition to its sleek design, the PCT offers a wide variety of compartments. In general, this pack is top-loading, but the front panel can be unzipped to give you easy access to its bottom and middle. My ski touring pack has this unique front-loading design, which I have enjoyed using for years-I can grab items stashed at the bottom without having to unpack altogether-but I have missed this in my backpacking hauler until now. The setup is a snap, and everything else remains neat(ish).

PCT pack lid
(Photo: Clayton Hermann)

One zippered pocket on the underside and two on the top of the removable lid provide a lot of storage space. I was surprised at their capacity when I put them with items I would need on the go, like a headlamp, socks, hats, and a generous supply of snacks. As with the rest of the pack, the front stash pocket is made from 210-denier ripstop material. There was enough room here for bulky items like a warm layer and camp meals without overflowing. In my stash pocket, I tucked dirty, stinky items in the two zippered pockets on the front that have an equal amount of space each.

My phone could not fit in the pockets on the hip belt despite the large main pockets. The pack was too heavy for me to access one of the front zippered pockets, so I couldn’t take photographs of the magnificent Mount Hood views.

Two stretch pockets on each side of the jacket accompanied by a small Croc were a feature I didn’t expect to find so useful. Even though I love hydration reservoirs, I chose bottles this time, and I’m happy I did. (This jacket has a pocket for a hydration reservoir in case I decide to change my mind in the future.)

PCT pack hip belt
(Photo: Clayton Hermann)

I found the hip belt to be the best feature out of all of its performance features. It moves dynamically with your pelvis while hiking since it is tethered to a flexible, springy steel frame. It eases pressure on your joints and makes hiking more comfortable by minimizing weight transmission forward and backward. In the flowing sections of the PCT, I felt no rubbing, minimal fuss, and an overall light feeling. On day three, I felt noticeable back and neck tension as well as some chafing from the shoulder straps, but up until that point, it had been easy carrying my 30-pound load. The belt allowed me to easily maneuver my pack over rocky scrambles across car-sized boulders in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

My tired back and shoulders did not require me to remove my pack hastily at the end of my trip. The trail was so lovely that I wished there was another day to spend on it. With this pack, I was able to keep my belongings organized, pain-free, and, most importantly, to relax and really enjoy my time outdoors.

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