Choosing the best backpack for hiking isn’t easy because the market is flooded with so many different designs, models, and brands. However, we believe that everyone can make the right choice once they have enough information about the different types of backpacks, their features, and their best use. Discover how to select the perfect hiking and backpacking pack by reading this comprehensive guide. We cover all the key factors to keep in mind, along with our top picks for the best backpacks of 2023 and their standout features.
It’s essential to have a reliable hiking backpack when on the trail. Depending on the duration of your hike and your preferences, you may choose to use a hiking day pack or a large multi-day hiking backpack. Both types of backpacks have their advocates and opponents. Each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages as well.
When selecting the ideal hiking backpack, it’s crucial to think about its primary purpose before focusing on specific features. Are you a frequent hiker who embarks on extended backpacking trips, or do you prefer weekend jaunts? Are you seeking a long-lasting backpack or a simple option for a one-time outing? Answering questions like these is essential before proceeding to the next step – considering certain features such as the load-carrying and volume capacities of a backpack. Then you can move on to evaluating features such as pockets, compartments, materials, weight, closure systems, and ease of use. Above all, your backpack must be comfortable to wear. Choosing the best hiking pack can be challenging, but taking the time and effort to find one that fits properly will make your backpacking trips more fun.
Picking out the perfect backpack can be just as daunting as selecting the right pair of hiking boots, especially given the sheer number of options available. What’s more, your backpack is nearly as crucial as your footwear when it comes to ensuring your comfort on the trail. That’s precisely why we created this article – to assist you in finding not only the best hiking backpack, but also the one that’s best suited for your particular style of backpacking.
Types of hiking backpacks
The weight and size of your hiking backpack depend very much on the trip length for which it is intended, the mode of travel, weather conditions, and the quantity of gear you’d like to bring on a backpacking trip.
Day packs (and our top day hiking packs recommendations)
Day packs are typically hiking backpacks without a frame. Instead, they often feature foam padding or a plastic sheet known as a framesheet, which provides added rigidity to the back panel, particularly in larger-capacity day packs. As day packs lack a frame, most of the weight rests on the shoulders. This typically isn’t an issue when carrying a modest load, which is why day packs, or frameless backpacks, are quite popular among ultralight backpackers.
Aside from serving as a day hike pack, a day pack can also function as a versatile everyday carry bag, summit pack, or even as a companion on long-distance running or biking excursions. However, when carrying heavier loads, frameless packs can become quite uncomfortable, making it necessary to seek out additional support in the form of a rigid chassis and a foam hip belt, both of which are typically found in multi-day hiking backpacks. Framed packs transfer most of the weight from the shoulders to the hips very efficiently.
Most good day packs have comfortable, adjustable, and durable shoulder straps that are well-padded for more comfort. A ton of day packs have fallen apart because of low-quality shoulder straps. The main function of shoulder straps is to help you carry the weight on your shoulders so the straps have to be strong enough. That’s they are usually reinforced where the shoulder straps connect to the sack. Compression straps along the sides of the pack compress the load, secure trekking poles and other gear that won’t fit inside, and ensure a better balance. A waist strap (usually an unpadded hip belt) keeps the pack close to your back and doesn’t allow it to bounce against your back. The top compression strap reduces pressure on the chest and helps stabilize the pack for better balance; it also offers additional help for heavier loads. Padded back panels of ventilated air mesh allow good airflow, reduce the build-up of heat, prevent excessive sweating, and defend your back from sharp and other potentially dangerous objects inside the pack. A multitude of pockets for smaller items allows fitting water bottles, snacks, documents, keys (some day packs feature a special loop to hold keys), mobile phones, and other small necessities. A built-in rain cover stowed away in the bottom pouch is very effective in bad weather and keeps the pack dry when caught in some rain.
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules dictating the volume of day packs, they typically fall within the range of 20 to 40 liters. However, smaller and more compact options do exist, such as the Osprey Hikelite 18. Despite its lightweight and minimalist design, this backpack boasts a range of practical features, including an integrated rain cover, clips on both sides for securing items, and a scratch-resistant pocket. It’s even capable of accommodating up to a 3L reservoir. Offering excellent ventilation and outstanding comfort, the Hikelite 18 is suitable for a variety of activities, from day hikes to everyday use. Although it may not possess the most stylish appearance, this daypack gets the job done and that’s what really counts.
Generally, you can carry comfortably 8-12 kg in a day pack in a variety of settings, while the biggest frameless backpacks are designed for loads up to 14-18 kg.
#1 Osprey Talon 22
See the Osprey Talon 22 See the Women’s Osprey Tempest 20
Introducing our top pick, the Osprey Talon 22, a versatile multi-sport backpack designed for activities like hiking, skiing, biking, and more. This lightweight yet robust pack features a reliable carrying system and an external hydration sleeve capable of holding a 3L reservoir. Crafted with high-tenacity nylon that’s bluesign-approved, the Talon 22 ensures durability and sustainability go hand in hand.
Despite its 22L volume, don’t let the size of the Osprey Talon 22 deceive you – this pack offers an abundance of storage options. With numerous pockets strategically placed throughout the pack, you’ll find ample space to store all your gear for a long day hike or any other outdoor excursion. This pack includes a LidLock bike helmet attachment, stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment, side and slash mesh pockets, and a hipbelt with two zippered hipbelt pockets, all designed for easy access to your essentials while on the go.
The Osprey Tempest 20 is specifically designed with a women’s fit in mind. In terms of its overall features, this daypack shares many similarities with the Osprey Talon 22.
#2 Deuter Speed Lite 21
The Deuter Speed Lite 21 is a remarkable day pack that strikes a perfect balance between lightweight design and sturdy construction. Its compact size doesn’t compromise its ability to hold a considerable amount of gear, including a water bladder, thanks to the multitude of zippered, elastic, and internal valuables pockets. It’s important to note, however, that overloading the pack should be avoided. While equipped with a single-webbing hipbelt, an adjustable chest strap, and compression straps for load distribution and stability, the pack is primarily intended for shorter to medium-length day hikes.
Conveniently, the Deuter Speed Lite 21 features various accessory loops and adjustment points, making it effortless to attach helmets, trekking poles, ice axes, and other equipment. Furthermore, its breathable 3D air-mesh lining ensures optimal ventilation, keeping your back cool and comfortable during hot summer activities.
This day pack is versatile and designed for fast-paced activities in various settings, including running, cycling, mountaineering (as a summit pack), bouldering, and day hiking in three seasons. It can also serve as a travel or everyday carry bag.
#3 Osprey Talon 33
See the Osprey Talon 33 See the Women’s Osprey Tempest 30
The Osprey Talon 33 is a versatile backpack suitable for long day hikes, overnight trips, and travel. While it’s pricier than the Osprey Talon 22, it provides extra space and more features that come in handy both on and off the trail. This streamlined top-loader has a main compartment, multiple storage pouches and pockets, and external hydration sleeve access that accommodates a 3L hydration bladder to help you stay organized.
The Osprey Talon 33 has an adjustable support system that’s well-padded and comfortable, providing excellent load distribution and allowing the backpack to move with the user. The hip belt is spacious enough to accommodate an iPhone or other similarly sized items. The backpack also features a large mesh AirScape back panel, which allows for some airflow to ventilate your back. Additionally, the backpack comes equipped with an ice tool loop that has bungee tie-offs, making it suitable for carrying ice axes and other tools.
The Osprey Stratos 34 is another fantastic choice for day hiking. This robust backpack is equipped with an AirSpeed suspension system, making it ideal for all your outdoor expeditions. While it is heavier than the Osprey Talon 33 (weighing 1.4 kg compared to 1.1 kg), it comes with a rain cover and an internal hydration sleeve with a hose port integrated into the back panel. Moreover, it is constructed from 100% recycled materials.
The Osprey Tempest 30 is the ladies’ version of this premium daypack.
#4 REI Co-op Trail 25 Pack
See the REI Co-op Trail 25 See the Women’s REI Co-op Trail 25
Perfect for a full day in the outdoors, the REI Co-op Trail 25 is a lightweight backpack made from recycled material (specifically, the body and lining fabric are now made from recycled material). Comes with a specially dedicated zippered hydration pocket for a hydration reservoir.
The REI Co-op Trail 25 is officially designed as a hiking day pack, but it works well as a day pack for various activities such as hiking, skiing, biking, and more in both summer and winter conditions. With a 25L capacity, you can easily fit everything you need for your adventures in the backcountry, and accessing the main compartment and multiple smaller pockets is a breeze. The padded mesh back and adjustable shoulder harness provide excellent airflow and ventilation, making it comfortable to wear on hot summer days. The backpack also features an attachment system for stowing trekking poles and dual side compression straps for easy adjustments. The hip belt is minimalist and removable, and integrating with the REI Trail 2 Waistpack is a breeze. You’ll also find a rain cover that stows in its own zip pocket.
The REI Co-op Trail 25 – Women’s is specifically designed for women and features contoured foam in the harness for a more comfortable fit. Apart from that, the backpack offers the same features as the men’s version.
For those seeking a reliable daypack for winter adventures, the REI Co-op Traverse 32 is worth considering. Although it is pricier than the Trail 25, it has all the necessary features for rugged backcountry hikes or minimalist overnight trips. The backpack has plenty of deep and easily accessible pockets, including zippered hipbelt pockets for easy access to phones and snacks. Both the hipbelt and harness are padded for added comfort, and there are attachment points for trekking poles and ice axes. However, one drawback is that the small plastic clips connecting the sternum/chest straps to the shoulder straps could separate during use, which can be uncomfortable and difficult to re-attach. The backpack is available in three size options: S (31L), M (32L), and L (33L).
#5 Patagonia Altvia 36
The Patagonia Altvia 36 is a versatile backpack that’s ideal for day hikes, outdoor sports, and travel. It’s also great for backpacking, everyday use, and as a carry-on for flights. The backpack is made of rugged 100% recycled nylon ripstop, making it durable, functional, lightweight, and comfortable. The fabric is treated with a DWR finish to protect against wet weather, and it also comes with an included rain cover. The only downside is its price, which is quite high. The Altvia 36 features a simple drawstring closure for easy top or panel loading and has plenty of space and useful pockets to store all your essentials, whether you’re going on a long day hike or an overnight camping trip.
Altvia’s adjustment system is simple yet effective, and getting the right fit is easy with a little time and effort. The backpack has a sleek design that fits well, and thanks to the carrying system, it sits comfortably even when fully loaded with gear. The suspended mesh ventilated panel on the back provides better ventilation and all-day comfort during summer day trips. The zippers are sturdy and easy to use, and the pack is compatible with hydration bladders. With zippered hipbelt pockets, small items can be accessed securely. This backpack is available in pack volumes of 14L, 22L, 28L, and 36L.
Multi-day hiking backpacks
Multi-day hiking backpacks are the obvious choice for longer trips because they have both the suspension system adequate to carry the weight with reasonable comfort and the capacity needed to pack all the bulky gear you may need.
There are two main types of multi-day packs: external frame packs and internal frame packs. Both types offer rigidity and comfort, allowing for the transfer of weight directly to the hips, which can handle heavier loads for longer periods compared to the shoulders. This is especially beneficial for winter travel, off-trail scrambling, and when carrying a heavy load. Of course, there are other advantages and disadvantages to consider when it comes to multi-day hiking backpacks. In the following sections, we will discuss these in detail for both external frame backpacks and internal frame backpacks.
From left to right: Daypack, Internal Frame Pack, External Frame Pack
External frame packs (and our top external frame backpacks recommendations)
External frame packs revolutionized backpacking allowing for longer trips over a variety of terrain from gentle and moderate paths to rugged mountainous terrain. The external frame packs have a simple but very effective design allowing much larger amounts of weight to be easily and safely carried. This is done by taking most of the weight off the shoulders and distributing it to the hips. The frames also allow for larger and bulkier items such as sleeping bags, sleeping pads or tents to be strapped on the outside expanding the carrying capacity of the backpack. External frames are usually not adjustable, though some have frame extensions for carrying larger loads while others telescope and come in different back lengths. Hiking packs with external frames excel in carrying heavy and bulky loads and allow for excellent airflow through the back area. Unlike internal frame backpacks, which hug the body, they allow sweat to dissipate. This makes the external frame backpacks suitable for hot weather and summer hiking trips. In general, externals are cheaper so if you are on a tight budget, you may opt for an external frame. The disadvantages of this type of frames are balance and stability. They don’t move with you; on steep descents and when crossing rough ground, packs with external frames can be unstable and may make walking difficult or even unsafe. So, externals are definitely not recommended for off-trail hiking (also called bushwhacking). Moreover, hitting your head on the frame can happen and it can be very irritating, especially when falling on the trail. And falling can happen to anyone who’s walking or trail running. Today, the demand and supply of external frame backpacks are much lower than they were twenty or so years ago. This reflects on the manufacturers who are reluctant to invest more money in R&D for improving the simple designs available on the market. Here are some main advantages and disadvantages of externals:
Advantages of external frame packs
- Good for carrying weight along smooth trails and over long distances.
- Your back doesn’t sweat as much as when carrying an internal frame pack because the external frame allows for some air space between your back and the back of the hiking pack.
- Good for summer hikes.
- It’s easy to strap extra items to the frame expanding the carrying capacity of the backpack.
- As a rule, they are cheaper than most hiking backpacks with internal frames.
Disadvantages of external frame packs
- External frame backpacks can throw you off balance, especially on difficult terrain.
- Though the aluminum frame is lightweight and strong, it can be easily bent.
- Bulkier when traveling because the frame isn’t compact and cannot be folded to occupy less space.
- Not good for winter trips or off-trail hiking.
- Usually targeted at consumers on a budget, which means simple and cheaper designs and reluctance to invest more effort and money in improving them.
The volume of this kind of hiking backpack usually varies as the smallest packs start from about 30 liters while the biggest models can reach up to 80-90 liters. There’s also a lot of space for attaching items such as sleeping bags and pads so the carrying capacity of an external frame backpack can be much bigger than the pack bag volume.
#1 ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
See the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander
The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander is a backpack that is designed to meet the demands of even the most adventurous and extreme explorers, making it capable of enduring harsh treatment in extreme conditions. It combines flexibility with military-grade quality, ensuring its durability. This pack is not lightweight by any means; it is built to withstand real trekking, featuring a solid and sturdy construction. The torso adjustments allow for a personalized fit, accommodating adjustments from 43 to 58 cm or from 17″ to 23″.
With a total nominal capacity of 86 liters, the pack offers ample storage space, including the main bag and numerous exterior zippered pockets. This means you have plenty of room to store your belongings. The pack also features a unique lashing system specifically designed for hauling meat, equipped with heavy-duty straps to secure heavy loads. Even if you’re not a hunting enthusiast, you can utilize this system to comfortably and easily carry other extra-large loads.
Grab this pack and you get many cool features and benefits at a bargain price.
#2 TideWe 5500cu
The TideWe 5500cu is an excellent backpack that offers great value for its price. It features a lightweight metal external frame, making it easier to carry heavier loads. The water-resistant bag has a generous capacity of 90 liters, providing ample space for all your gear. Additionally, you have the option to strap bulkier items, such as a sleeping bag, pad, shelter, bear canister, and trekking poles, to the frame, further increasing the pack’s capacity. This not only allows you to carry more gear but also helps distribute the weight of the load more effectively. The backpack is designed to accommodate 2 or 3-liter hydration systems, ensuring you stay hydrated during your outdoor adventures.
The TideWe 5500 external frame pack features a simple yet effective design, and is made with reasonably high-quality materials. The ergonomic lumbar support plate enables weight transfer to your hips, providing added comfort, stability, and improved carrying efficiency. The pockets are easily accessible, and the included rain cover is a bonus that would be particularly useful for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts who don’t mind backpacking in inclement weather. All of these features come at a price that’s hard to beat – for just over $100, you’ll get excellent quality.
#3 Kelty Trekker 65
See the Kelty Trekker 65 on Amazon See the Kelty Trekker 65 on Moosejaw
The Kelty Trekker 65 may look like an old-school external frame backpacking pack, but it offers much more than that. Its super reliable external frame design is just one of its many features. This backpack is specially designed to efficiently transfer the load to your hips, allowing you to carry significant weights (up to 25-30 kg) with ease and comfort. Its padded shoulder and stabilizer straps are adjustable and provide excellent comfort during your hike. The torso adjustments also allow for a personalized fit (41 to 56 cm or 16”-22”). The Kelty Trekker 65 is high-quality, performs excellently, and is extremely comfortable to carry on less technical trails. The mesh vent back panel keeps your back cool in hot conditions and environments.
With a generous volume of 65 liters, the Kelty Trekker 65 offers ample space for even the longest thru-hiking or backpacking trips. The bag is designed to be hydration compatible, and it features numerous roomy pouches and pockets to accommodate all your gear. Additionally, there is plenty of space below the main bag, equipped with external straps and attachment points, allowing you to easily carry additional items such as a tent, helmet, or any other gear you may need.
You’ll really enjoy the Trekker 65 for many reasons from the comfortable carry to the ease of accessing items to the excellent ventilation it provides.
Internal frame packs (and our top internal frame backpacks recommendations)
The history of internal frame backpacks started some 50 years ago (in the late 1960s) when Greg Lowe designed a revolutionary backpack that featured an innovative internal frame and compression straps aimed to give him more freedom of movement to climb effectively in the mountains. His design is the basis of most of the internal frame packs manufactured today. Hiking backpacks with internal frames are more stable, conform better to the body, and are not as bulky. The construction is more complex, and thus prices are higher. Different manufacturers make different types of internal frames. Whatever the style, internal frames are flexible and thanks to harnesses, straps, and other adjustments they conform to the shape of the wearer’s back, allowing a body-hugging fit that gives excellent stability. The frame is embedded in the pack like a skeleton. It can be made from a wide variety of materials such as aluminum stays, carbon fiber, plastic sheets, and foam. Some internal frames are adjustable to fit a range of back lengths, while others come in specific sizes. There are two different basic designs. The first type is made of two parallel metal bars sewn inside the pack. The other one is made of X-shaped bars sewn inside the backpack. The frame is fitted to your body, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The main advantage is that such a frame ensures excellent balance due to the lower center of gravity of the internal frame backpack. It also allows better mobility and flexibility, which can be very beneficial on longer hikes and difficult terrain. The disadvantage associated with internal frames stems from the fact that the load is contoured to your body, which may not very comfortable in certain situations, especially in hot weather.
Internal frame backpacks are a great option when the balance is crucial, such as when scrambling over rocks or hiking steep terrain. One downside, however, is that the low weight distribution can cause you to lean forward, which can be tiring. Many backpacks offer removable stays as a way to reduce weight for shorter or ultralight trips.
Backpackers wearing external frame pack (left) and internal frame pack (right)
Most internal frame hiking backpacks are designed to be hydration compatible, featuring a dedicated water reservoir sleeve in the main compartment. This allows for a convenient accommodation of a hydration system, which typically consists of a soft and collapsible water bladder with an attached drinking tube. The drinking hose is often equipped with a bite valve, enabling easy sipping while engaging in activities like hiking, running, cycling, mountain biking, and winter sports. While water bladders may require more effort to clean compared to water bottles, they prove to be highly practical in regions with limited water sources, such as desert environments, where carrying a sufficient supply of water for the entire day is essential.
As long as loading is concerned, there are three types of internal frame backpacks. Most packs use top-loading, which can’t always ensure an optimal loading process. Moreover, to get an item that’s on the bottom of the backpack, you have to dig through all your stuff. What’s good about top-loading internal frame packs is that you need to be very organized to pack them properly to distribute the weight more evenly. In addition, they don’t have as many zippers as other types, which makes them more water-resistant.
The second type is panel-loading, which offers a time-saving advantage when searching for specific items. These packs typically have more zippers, which can increase the risk of zipper failure and reduce overall water resistance.
The last type is hybrid loading, combining elements of both top-loading and panel-loading designs. They feature more zippers, allowing easier access to items at the bottom without the need to unpack everything. However, like panel-loading packs, they are more prone to potential water leakage.
Advantages of internal frame packs
- Ensure better balance; suitable for rock scrambling, skiing, and off-trail hiking.
- Suitable and comfortable for both short and long trails.
- Good for off-trail as well as cold weather and winter hikes.
- More compact and flexible.
- Many internal frame backpacks have removable frame stays, allowing you to lighten the pack for day hikes or when you need to reduce your load in general.
Disadvantages of internal frame packs
- Excessive back perspiration as a result of the pack bag and frame being directly against your entire back.
- The carrying capacity of the pack is relatively fixed, as it closely matches the internal volume. It can be challenging to attach bulky or oddly shaped items on the outside since they may not fit inside the backpack.
- In general, internal frame backpacks tend to be more expensive than external frame backpacks.
- Top-loading is the most common and popular method of loading, although it can be slightly more challenging compared to other loading styles.
Internal frame backpacks typically have a volume ranging from 40-45 liters (with some models even below 30 liters) to 80-90 liters, with the largest models reaching up to 110-120 liters. However, there is limited space to attach extra items, so the carrying capacity of an internal frame hiking backpack is generally fixed and closely tied to the backpack’s volume.
Internal frame backpacks offer a convenient solution for hikers, eliminating the need to purchase separate packs for different types of trails. One of their advantages is the ability to adjust the volume using compression straps, allowing the backpack to transform into a compact size when needed. Additionally, these packs feature a narrow profile, making them well-suited for traversing dense vegetation and navigating narrow trails. This multifunctionality and versatility contribute to the popularity of internal frame backpacks among backpackers.
#1 Osprey Atmos AG/Aura AG
See the Osprey Atmos AG 65 on Amazon See the Osprey Aura AG 65 on Amazon
Our top choice, the Osprey Atmos AG (for men)/Aura AG (for women) is a premium backpack that fits like a glove – a combination of comfort, ventilation, intuitive organization, and durability. The Atmos/Aura model is classic and comes with some of the best main features you could possibly find in a backpack including:
- Available in a range of sizes, the men’s version of the backpack comes in S/M (65L) and L/XL (68L), while the women’s version is offered in WXS/S (62L) and WM/L (65L).
- For men’s sizing, the S/M option fits torso lengths ranging from 43-52 cm (17-20.5 inches), while the L/XL option accommodates torso lengths of 49-58.9 cm (19.5-23 inches).
- In women’s sizing, the WXS/S option is designed for torso lengths ranging from 34-43 cm (13.5-17 inches), while the WM/L option is suitable for torso lengths of 40.5-49 cm (16-19.5 inches).
- Excellent suspension distributes the weight and provides stability.
- AG system seamlessly extends the tensioned back panel into the hipbelt.
- 3D back panel with nice breathable and flexible mesh will keep you cool on the warmest adventures.
- An adjustable frame makes it easier to customize the fit.
- Great organization, including side and slash pockets designed to be accessed with one hand on the go.
- Zippered sleeping bag compartment with detachable divider.
- Convenient Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment system and dedicated loops for securely attaching ice axes.
- Integrated and detachable rain cover made with bluesign-approved materials makes backpacking in the rain much drier and more comfortable.
- Hydration sleeve inside – the pack is compatible with up to 3L Hydraulics and Hydraulics LT Reservoir.
- Constructed using 100% recycled materials, making it an eco-friendly choice for environmentally conscious adventurers.
The Atmos AG 65/Aura AG 65 backpacks provide outstanding value and ample space to accommodate all your needs for multi-day hiking and camping expeditions. Weighing in at 2.27 kg or 2.31 kg (5.01-5.10 lbs) for sizes S/M and L/XL respectively, and with a load range of 14 kg to 18 kg (30-40 lbs), these backpacks deliver impressive comfort and reliability. Our final verdict is clear: the Atmos/Aura is an extremely comfortable and reliable backpack that’s worth every penny.
See the Osprey Aether on Amazon See the Osprey Ariel on Amazon
We have a clear preference for Osprey backpacks, and for good reason – they make some of the best ones out there. The Osprey Aether 65 (for men) is our second top choice, as it offers durability and comfort with a capacity of 65-68 liters (depending on the S/M or L/XL size). It’s perfect for thru-hiking, backpacking, alpine expeditions, and travel. For women, there’s the Osprey Ariel 65, which has a capacity of 62-65 liters (depending on the XS/S or M/L size), which is 3 liters less than the Aether. This size allows for packing everything you need for a long backpacking or camping trip. It’s worth noting that many of the features that apply to the Aether also apply to the Ariel. Additionally, the Aether/Ariel is compatible with the Daylite series of Osprey backpacks.
The Aether/Ariel has many fantastic features including:
- A floating top lid with lash points allows for additional storage and the attachment of extra gear or accessories.
- Plenty of compartments and pockets including zippered hipbelt pockets, dual mesh side pockets, and a front shove-it pocket.
- Zippered sleeping bag compartment for storing large items.
- Hydration reservoir sleeve inside the backpack keeps your water bladder securely in place and easily accessible during your outdoor adventures.
- First-class AirScape injection-molded carrying system that transfers pack load effectively.
- Attachment points for trekking poles and other gear, as well as a dual ice axe attachment and removable sleeping pad straps.
- The sternum strap is equipped with an emergency whistle for added safety and convenience.
- An integrated and detachable raincover is included with the backpack, providing reliable protection against wet weather conditions.
With its wide range of features, the Aether/Ariel backpack stands out as a top choice for backpackers seeking unparalleled comfort. Ideal for extended trips and expeditions, the Aether Plus 85 (and its women’s counterpart, the Ariel Plus 85) offers even more capacity, while the Aether Plus 100 provides an exceptional option for those embarking on the most demanding adventures.
#3 Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10L
See the Aircontact Core on Amazon See the Aircontact Core on REI
The Aircontact Core is not just another beautiful and functional pack by Deuter. It’s THE backpack for longer hikes. Extremely comfortable, it’s great for heavy loads.
There are two versions built with the latest anatomical research and ergonomics in mind – one for men (65 + 10L) and women’s version (60 + 10L). Here’s a list of some of the best and most useful features of the Aircontact Lite:
- A sophisticated design that suits the convenience of the wearer.
- Perspiration-reducing Aircontact back system with breathable padding (Air Spacer Mesh) provides excellent ventilation.
- Various adjustment options to ensure a comfortable fit, such as an adjustable back length, ergonomic ActiveFit shoulder straps, adjustable sternum straps, mobile hip fins, and an ergonomic lumbar pad.
- An anatomic Y-frame aluminum back system that evenly distributes the load for optimal load transfer and control. This design is especially efficient for carrying heavy loads.
- The pack collar can be extended, increasing the volume of the backpack by up to an additional 10 liters.
- Generous number of internal and external pockets, allowing for convenient access to your gear. Additionally, it is equipped with accessory loops that provide options for attaching additional equipment.
- Designed to be compatible with a hydration system, accommodating up to 3 liters of water. It also includes a convenient zip-out 1.5-liter bottle holster for easy access to your water bottle.
- SOS label is included for emergency situations.
- Raincover is included to keep your gear dry in wet weather conditions.
The Aircontact Core backpacking pack is specifically designed for extended journeys across diverse terrains. Weighing in at 2.33 kg (5.14 lbs) and with a load range of 15 kg to 20 kg (33-44 lbs), it offers optimal support for heavier loads. Ensure a perfect fit by carefully reviewing the instructions and adjusting accordingly. Once you’ve achieved the ideal fit, you can simply relax and immerse yourself in the joys of your expedition.
#4 Gregory Baltoro 75
See the Gregory Baltoro 75 on Amazon See the Gregory Baltoro 75 on REI
One of the best multi-day backpacks, Gregory Baltoro 75 is a durable, comfortable, and feature-rich pack built for high performance.
What you can expect from this pack? Nothing less than:
- Sizes available for men include S, M, and L, while women’s sizes range from XS, S, to M.
- Built with recycled fabrics.
- Dual-layered bottom panel provides enhanced durability and longevity.
- Comfortable and ergonomically tapered shoulder harness system and hipbelt ensure a supportive and comfortable fit during your adventures.
- Customizable Freefloat A3 suspension system delivers support and comfortable carry.
- Easy sizing according to the wearer’s torso length.
- The AirCushion back panel, structured foam, and mesh on the hipbelt and shoulder harness provide excellent ventilation, making longer trips and heavier loads much more comfortable.
- All suspension components are treated with Polygiene StayFresh Technology, an odor-control fabric treatment.
- Spacious main compartment along with multiple small compartments, pockets, and pouches, providing ample storage options for your belongings.
- Large hipbelt pockets that can accommodate items such as a mobile phone and other valuable items.
- Top loading design and front U-zip access allow easy packing and unloading.
- Custom ComfortGrip molded zipper pulls make zipping and unzipping easier.
- Built-in removable hydration sleeve compatible with Gregory’s 3D Hydro Trek reservoir.
- Interior toggles to connect the Nano 14 daypack.
- Integrated waterproof rain cover included.
Gregory also offers a women’s specific fit version of this pack called the Gregory Deva 70.
For ultralight backpackers, the Baltoro 75 may not be the best option as it weighs between 4 lbs 13.2 oz (2.19 kg) for the small and 5 lbs 3.5 oz (2.37 kg) for the large version. However, we have another recommendation for those looking for a lighter pack – the Granite Gear Blaze 60, which we have reviewed below.
#5 Granite Gear Blaze 60
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The Granite Gear Blaze 60 is a versatile and lightweight pack that is suitable for various backpacking adventures, whether it’s a long weekend or a multi-day trip in the backcountry. Its low weight and versatility have made it a favorite among many thru-hikers. The pack features an A.C. (Air Current) frame with a load rating of 50 lbs. (22.7 kg), so exceeding that weight could potentially jeopardize your trip.
Here’s what else to expect from this pack:
- Available in three different torso sizes, the pack offers a perfect fit for various body types: short (15-18″), regular (18-21″), and long (21-24″).
- The back ventilation on this pack is good, although not on par with some other premium models that offer superior airflow.
- Impressively lightweight, coming in at less than 3 pounds. Specifically, the short version weighs 2 lbs 14.2 oz (1.31 kg), the regular version weighs 3 lbs (1.36 kg), and the long/tall version weighs 3 lbs 1.7 oz (1.41 kg).
- Made with a robust 210D Robic nylon UHMWPE triple ripstop material.
- A.C. frame allows for precise adjustment to ensure a secure and personalized fit.
- The dual-density Re-Fit hip belt of this backpack is both removable and fully adjustable. In the men’s version, it extends from 26″ (66 cm) to 42″ (107 cm), while in the women’s version, it extends from 24″ (61 cm) to 40″ (102 cm), providing a wide range of sizing options.
- The top-lid compartment of this backpack is removable and features a DWR-treated airtight zipper. This allows for convenient access and added protection from the elements.
- Designed to be hydration compatible, with an internal sleeve specifically for holding a water bladder. It also features a hydration port for easy access to the drinking tube.
- The sternum strap of this backpack is removable and includes a convenient whistle buckle for added safety and emergency signaling.
While the Granite Gear Blaze 60 has a lot going for it, one potential downside to keep in mind is the thinner padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps, which means it may not be as comfortable as some of the other models we’ve discussed. That said, it’s worth noting that the Blaze 60 does come in a women’s specific fit.
#6 REI Co-op Trailmade 60
See the REI Trailmade 60 See the Women’s REI Trailmade 60
The REI Co-op Trailmade 60 is not your average backpacking pack. It exceeds expectations with its lightweight design and durability, making it a reliable choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t be mistaken, the Trailmade 60 is not simply a budget-friendly option—it offers so much more. With a focus on comfort and functionality, this pack is well-suited for both weekend getaways and extended hikes. Here are some of its standout features:
- Adjustable torso length to ensure a proper fit for both men and women. For the men’s version, the torso length ranges from 43-53 cm or 17-21 inches, while the women’s Trailmade 60 accommodates torso lengths of 38-48 cm or 15-19 inches.
- Ample padding on the back, shoulder straps, and hipbelt, provides a comfortable fit for extended use.
- Reliable suspension system that effectively distributes weight and ensures stability during your outdoor adventures.
- Dedicated sleeping bag compartment equipped with its own zipper for easy access and organization.
- Numerous conveniently accessible pockets, including front-reach water bottle side pockets, allow for easy access to your water bottles while on the go.
- Hydration reservoir compatible for convenient and hands-free access to water while on the go.
The REI Co-op Trailmade 60 is definitely a great pack for the money and you won’t regret giving it a shot.
Photo by S. Migaj
Features of hiking backpacks
- Suspension systems
The suspension system is the most important feature to consider when choosing a backpack for hiking; it supports the load, and it’s the part of the pack that comes in contact with your body. So, finding a suspension system that is as adjustable as possible can be a huge plus. A quality, properly fitted suspension system will let you carry loads comfortably and in balance. An inadequate or poorly fitted one can cause great pain. This applies even to frameless packs – they still need to be the right length for your back.
There are two main types of backpack frames: external and internal. External frames feature a separate frame structure to which the backpack is attached using straps, clips, or clevis pins. Internal frames, on the other hand, are integrated into the fabric of the pack and are often hidden. External frame backpacks excel at supporting heavy loads, while internal frame packs provide greater stability on challenging terrain.
- Frameless packs
The design is common among schoolbags, day packs, and hydration packs. Frameless packs require minimalist packing and they’re typically made with ultralight materials. Without a rigid structure, most or all of the weight hangs on the shoulders. Even with a modest load, this can become uncomfortable over time.
- Framed packs
The main idea behind framed packs is to effectively transfer the weight of the backpack onto its strong framed construction. There are two types of framed backpacks – internal and external frame packs. Both designs try to effectively transfer the weight through the pack onto the hips. When all of the pack weight is carried on the hips, shoulder straps help only in preventing the backpack from falling backward. It is important that the hiking backpack maintains its shape and remains rigid to prevent the transfer of the load off your hips and back onto your shoulders.
Backpack manufacturers use either framesheets or pack stays to prevent hiking packs from slouching. Although there are different types of framesheets, their main function remains the same: to provide structure and increase rigidity, thus preventing slouching. Backpacks with framesheets offer protection to your back against pokes and hard objects in your pack. Removable framesheets offer more flexibility and functionality, as they can be used for both day hikes and multi-day trips.
Pack stays are typically constructed from aluminum or composite materials and can be utilized with or without a framesheet. Compared to framesheets, pack stays are more effective in offering vertical stability, rigidity, and enhanced comfort, particularly when the pack is curved away from the back to facilitate improved ventilation and airflow.
- The hipbelt
Undoubtedly, the most critical component of any backpack suspension system is the hipbelt, specifically engineered to support loads exceeding 10 kg. A properly fitting and well-padded hipbelt effectively transfers the majority of the pack’s weight from the shoulders to the hips, enabling the backpacker to maintain an upright posture and comfortably carry a well-balanced load for extended periods.
- Shoulder straps
These straps do little more than stop the pack from falling off your back. Many straps are curved so they run neatly under the arms without twisting. The key to a good fit is the distance between the shoulder straps at the top.
- Sternum straps
While sternum straps may feel constrictive, they play a crucial role in stabilizing the backpack. They are particularly beneficial for maintaining stability during activities like skiing or scrambling, as well as for redistributing the pressure points of a heavy load during prolonged ascents. Proper placement of sternum straps is essential; they should rest high up, just below your neck, to minimize pressure on your chest.
- Internal compartments
Many larger hiking backpacks feature zippered lower compartments, although some packs may have a single spacious compartment. Compartments with long zippers that encompass the entire pack or extend down to the lower edges are the most convenient to utilize. While most backpacks typically have two compartments, there are also options available from certain manufacturers that offer more than two compartments.
- Buckles and fasteners
There are several closure systems available for hiking backpacks, with the most commonly used options being buckles, zippers (preferably with pulls for added convenience, especially in winter conditions), hook-and-loop fasteners (such as Velcro), and drawcords with cord locks. Each type of fastener has its own advantages and disadvantages.
- Lids and closures
Lids keep the contents of your pack in, prevent things from moving around, and protect the pack opening from the rain. Ultralight packs often have no lid at all as they usually use buckles, drawcords or a buckle and strap.
The lower compartments of backpacks are always closed by zippers. Sometimes straps run over the zippers to take some of the strain and reduce the likelihood of them bursting. Top compartments usually close with two drawcords. Be careful with seams and zippers because moisture often leaks through these weak points.
A drawstring-fitted pack cover can be a reliable defense against rain and dew. It fits over the backpack to keep it dry in bad weather conditions. However, it’s important to note that pack covers don’t offer protection to the straps and back. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t bring your backpack inside the tent during inclement weather, using a plastic bag can provide extra protection at little to no cost.
Keep your backpack nice and dry in snow and rain with a pack cover
Pockets are useful for stowing small items and things you may need during the day.
External frame backpacks normally come with one, two or three fixed pockets on each side. Internal frame backpacks don’t usually have fixed side pockets because they could cause problems when climbing. Instead, detachable pockets can be fastened to the compression straps.
The side pockets on a backpack can hold not only water bottles but also snacks, fuel bottles, and other items you want to keep outside the main compartment. However, they can cause problems during winter hikes. Once frozen, the pockets may lose their elasticity and collect snow, which can be inconvenient.
In addition, many backpacks feature internal hydration sleeves or pockets that are designed to accommodate water bladders with a tube exit hole for easy access. If you use a hydration system, these pockets are particularly useful, otherwise, they can be utilized to store items such as maps and small clothing items.
The hipbelt of the backpack serves as a convenient storage option for small items. It’s a practical place to keep essentials such as snacks, maps, cameras, sunglasses, and more, allowing for easy access throughout the day.
- Straps and Patches
Side compression straps on hiking backpacks offer versatile functionality, allowing you to secure and attach various long items such as skis, trekking poles, tent poles, and foam pads. Additionally, many backpacks feature one or two sets of straps specifically designed for ice axes, as well as dedicated straps for attaching crampons, typically located on the lid or the front of the pack.
Other factors to consider when choosing the best backpack for hiking
The choice of materials directly affects the weight and durability of a hiking backpack. You may have come across the term “denier,” but understanding its meaning is important. Denier refers to the weight of 9000 meters of yarn and helps describe the thickness of the fabric. For instance, a fabric weighing 400 grams for 9000 meters of yarn is referred to as a 400-denier fabric (or 400D). A fabric with a denier of 1000 is much coarser than a 400-denier fabric. Manufacturers often use denier as a unit of measurement to describe the thickness of popular backpack fabrics like nylon and Cordura. Another unit of measurement used for fabric weight is grams per square meter (g/m2 or GSM).
Most packs are made from a variety of coated nylons and polyesters. These fabrics are hardwearing, nonabsorbent, and flexible. The most common is Cordura, though a few companies have their own proprietary fabrics. All of these materials are strong and long-lasting. Nylons are probably the most widely used fabrics for backpacking backpacks. Ripstop nylon fabric is used because of its excellent tear resistance and low weight.
Dyneema is a renowned brand of ripstop nylon that finds applications in various industries, including textiles, workplace safety, maritime, and law enforcement. It is a highly durable, abrasion-resistant, lightweight, and versatile fiber with low moisture absorption and elasticity. Dyneema is frequently used in the manufacturing of rugged and ultralight backpacks designed for hiking and backpacking. It is worth noting that Dyneema has a melting point of approximately 130-140°C. The manufacturer advises against exposing Dyneema fibers to temperatures exceeding 80 to 100°C (176 to 212°F) for extended periods. Therefore, it is important to exercise caution when near heat sources.
Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) surpasses even Dyneema in strength. DCF is a waterproof, tear-resistant, and lightweight material that boasts excellent water repellency and minimal stretch. However, it tends to be pricier and less abrasion-resistant compared to other materials like Cordura. Cordura, renowned for its durability and exceptional abrasion resistance, has long been favored by the military for a range of applications. It is also commonly employed in the production of outdoor gear, including hiking backpacks, boots, and clothing.
Although many of the fabrics used in backpacks are initially waterproof or water-repellent, the coating that provides this feature can wear off over time, particularly through abrasion. As a result, the seams of the backpack may eventually start to leak, especially during heavy rainfall. To ensure the contents of your pack remain dry, it is recommended to utilize liners and covers. These additional layers of protection help safeguard your gear from moisture and maintain its dryness, even in challenging weather conditions.
The size of the backpack you require depends on several factors, including the volume of your gear, the duration of your trips, and your packing style. For most individuals, a backpack with a capacity of 60-70 liters is suitable for extended weekend backpacking trips lasting two to three nights. Some might need only 50L while others may need as much as 100L. It’s generally more comfortable to have a larger pack that’s only halfway filled, rather than an overloaded smaller pack. When selecting a backpack, consider whether your gear can fit comfortably inside with enough space remaining for food and other essentials.
Backpack comparison (from left to right): 55L, 75L, and 90L
How much should your hiking backpack weigh? How much to carry on a hiking trip? It is reasonable to ask questions like these, especially if you’re new to backpacking. It sucks, but there isn’t a simple answer. Somewhere in the region of 1.5 kg to 2 kg is likely a good choice for many backpackers. A good rule of thumb for estimating pack weight is that the pack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 percent of the maximum total load. However, when carrying 20 kg or more, an extra kilo of pack weight is worth it if you get a more comfortable carry.
- Ultralight packs
They weigh about half a kilo and are designed for loads up to 9 kg. Ultralight backpacks have minimal features – they don’t have frames, back padding or hipbelts.
- Lightweight packs
A lot of backpackers carry on the trail no more than 11-20 kg. Although no traditional pack is needed, more support is needed for such weights than an ultralight pack can offer. Lightweight packs weigh between 0.5 kg and 2 kg and have a 40-80 liters capacity. Capable of carrying loads up to 18-20 kg, these are the ideal packs for most backpackers.
- Standard packs
Most packs fall into the standard hiking backpack category. These packs are sophisticated and complex. Without them, carrying heavy loads would be much more difficult. This category subdivides into two suspension systems based on the frame type.
- Travel packs
Travel packs are preferred for one-bag travel. Derived from internal frame packs, they have similar suspension systems and capacities. However, the frame and harness of travel backpacks are covered by a zippered panel to protect them from airport baggage handlers.
When going on day hikes, you may only need to carry a few kilos of gear, but for multiday backpacking trips, you will require much more. A general guideline is to carry between 15 and 25% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 100 kg, your hiking backpack should not weigh more than 15 to 25 kg. However, there are exceptions, such as winter hiking, which requires more or bulkier clothes and gear, or desert hiking, which requires more water. It’s essential to remember not to carry more weight than you can handle, as it can risk your health. Be sure to eliminate nonessential items and pack only what you need. Before your trip, take the time to adjust and try on your loaded backpack at home.
While top-quality hiking backpacks are generally durable, it’s important to note that many may not withstand several months of continuous use. After enduring months of harsh treatment and constant wear, it’s not uncommon for certain components to eventually fail. Given the complexity of modern packs and the potential for issues, it’s essential to keep the weight of your pack down as heavier loads can put additional strain on it. To ensure your pack is in good condition before a trip, it’s advisable to perform a thorough inspection. Take the time to examine the pack bag for any rips, tears, or signs of stitching failure. Check the hipbelt and various straps for any wear or damage, and inspect all zippers and buckles to ensure they are functioning properly.
Contrary to popular belief, spending more money does not always guarantee a better backpacking backpack. While it’s true that you may often get what you pay for, simply shelling out top dollar for the latest pack doesn’t guarantee top-notch quality. Instead, consider your purchase as an investment and take the time to conduct thorough research. Look for the best value for your money by comparing features, durability, customer reviews, and overall performance. By doing so, you can make an informed decision and find the best value for your money.
When looking at hiking backpacks, pay attention to the little things that get used a lot. Everybody’s preferences will vary so the best hiking backpack for you may be considered crap by someone else. For fast and light trips, a good hiking day pack such as the Osprey Talon 22 carries all your gear with minimal weight and still has features you need. For longer trips or when you need to carry additional gear, a spacious multi-day hiking pack is essential. Our favorite choice is the Osprey Atmos AG 65, which offers exceptional comfort even when carrying heavier loads. Alternatively, for backpacking expeditions that require even more gear, we recommend the Osprey Aether Plus 85. Both packs are designed to provide ample space and ensure optimal comfort throughout your journey.
Since your comfort on the trail can make or break your experience taking the time to find the best backpacking backpack that fits can give you a flying start to your hiking adventures.
How to Pack for a Multi-Day Hike
Ultimate Guide to Planning Hiking Trips
How to Choose and Use Trekking Poles
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8 thoughts on “How to Choose the Best Hiking Backpack for Your Adventures? (in 2023)”
Hi, This article is so useful for me about backpack carrying system. Good job and thank you!!!
Glad to hear you liked our article about the various types of hiking backpacks and their features.
Nice article and I appreciate your work.
I was facing difficulty in getting the right backpack for my needs. This review has helped me a lot in choosing the right hiking backpack for my hiking gear. Thanks for sharing this informative article with us.
We’re glad that we helped you choose a good hiking backpack.
great blog, btw I already choose the perfect bag for hiking for me, I really prefer using military backpacks, I’m using it for hiking for about 3 years, & I’m really comfortable with that bag, it has so much space in it & is easy to carry.
Thanks! Yes, high-quality military packs are renowned for their durability.