The North Face Chugach Backpack might be the best side-country/slackcountry pack out there. It’s so good, in fact, I felt obligated to highlight the improvements TNF had made over last year’s pack. First, they changed the basic design of the pack, offering better options for where you keep your rescue gear vs. where you keep the rest of your equipment. In the Fall ’11 pack, the outermost (and smaller) compartment has specialized spaces for your probe and shovel. The other compartment has ample room for the rest of your gear. Although this distinction seems small, it can pay a big difference in a rescue scenario when you need to be able to get to your rescue gear, without fumbling through other gear.
Second, they changed the ski/board carry system from an aesthetic standpoint. The straps can now be conveniently tucked away in small pockets when not in use. This way, you don’t end up looking like a jackass/captain extremeo when you’re in the tram or trucking it through the airport trying to catch a flight. While the old system assumed you’d store the straps on the ski/board system when not in use, these often came loose and would dangle around. It’s nice to be able to store these out of the way when not in use or, alternatively, you can just leave them dangling so everybody knows how extreme you get/are going to get.
Other than these two changes, it’s the same old, bomber pack. It comes in 12L and 16L, based on your adventure. The 16L will fit a pair of skins and a lunch, while the 12L is a bit more minimalist and better for bootpacks and half-day trips. Both are low-profile, and will last for years to come.