REI has kicked up its pack quality a few notches with the Ridgeline series. The women’s version weighs in at a svelte 4lb 4oz, and although they pitch it as a hiking pack it will do quite nicely for light mountaineering duty with its light weight, capacity (3,661ci/60L) and features. The Dixie Chicks could have comfortably carried Earl to the lake in this thing.
The Ridgeline has a nice fitting system with a "rip-and-stick" velcro setup for the torso, narrow shoulder straps contoured around the bustline and a pivoting "ActivMotion" hip belt with a nice two-strap design normally only found on high-end custom packs. Hydration compatible with the oh-so-useful toggle bladder suspension system I’ve raved about in the past.
Access to the main compartment is not only through the top, but also through the side and bottom (see picture). To fully take advantage of this system you must pack accordingly, putting small objects between bigger ones towards the bottom of the pack, for example. One complaint: the top lid doesn’t float and there’s no sleeve, so overpacking is not an option. Also, it could use a few small pockets on the hip belt. Still, if it’s in your target capacity range don’t let REI’s past mediocre packs scare you off: today’s Ridgeline carries like a dream, matches other packs in its class feature for feature, and you’ll find it tough to beat the price.