The North Face has really stepped up their game the past few years, and a great example of the fast and functional gear they're putting out is the Phantom pack. Available in 38 and 50 liter capacities, we looked at the smaller one to see how much performance we could wring out of a lightweight design.
The Phantom 38 is definitely lightweight at just over two pounds, but when we looked for where corners may have been cut we didn't find any. The pack includes plenty of features, starting with being able to remove the hip belt, frame sheet and floating top lid. Need to carry skis? Check. Rope? Check-check. Ice tools? Most def.
TNF managed to squeeze in inner and outer pockets on the top lid, a hydration sleeve with velcro hanger inside, a pocket on the left hip belt and a gear loop on the right. Some small but innovative features include a fabric loop on the cord keep around the mouth to the main compartment; this allows easy grabbing with gloves on to open it and to cinch it shut, a minor but much appreciated convenience. Also cool are the removable straps for holding down the top lid and for compressing over the top of the main bag. Also a minor detail, but it's great to be able to reconfigure the pack for the mission at hand by getting rid of features you don't need. It's not just the weight, it results in a cleaner, more snag-free pack that you can manipulate quickly without straps galore to get in your way.
The Phantom 38 carries very well, thanks to the low profile waist belt – with dual adjustments, one of our favorite things on packs – and the contoured shoulder straps with load lifters. Skis get two compression straps per side, which can also be used to cinch your load if you're sans skis at the moment. The Phantom 38 is a true alpinist's pack, with everything you need, nothing you don't and the ability to configure it to the mission of the day – or the hour. Highly recommended.