Whether you’re trekking for five days in the backcountry or on a two mile jaunt up a local trail, you’re going to want a reliable backpack. In fact, you’re going to want know what the best backpacks are, which is precisely why you’ve landed on this article.
Below we summarize the best backpacks for backpackers based on our in-depth research and product testing. Keep in mind that there are many different kinds of backpackers — we’ve split them up into four distinct Backpacker Types, and highlight the best backpacks for each Type below. We also know how much budget factors into your decisions, so our recommendations are broken down into three price-based categories: Budget, Classic, and Premium.
The Best Backpacks for Backpacking
Wilderness Backpackers are those who sleep overnight in the wild, hike with a fully loaded pack, and aren’t overly concerned with weight. There are an almost endless number of elements to consider when selecting a wilderness backpacking backpack. To make matters simple, the backpacks we picked for wilderness backpacking have a few things in common.
The backpacks we recommend for Wilderness Backpackers are 65 liters. This number sits right in the middle of the field — 80 is the upper limit these days, and 40 is the lower limit. Most Wilderness Backpackers want a backpack that can haul gear for up to 5 days in the backcountry, but also work for a quick overnight. This volume should be more than enough to fit old sleeping bags, tents, and pads, which many of us still have.
All the backpacks we recommend are adjustable in the torso length. Fitting a backpack to your body will help you carry the load with less pain, which allows you enjoy the backcountry a lot more. Being able to dial in a specific fit is the best way to do this, and backpack torso adjustments and adjustable hip belts are the best way to do that.
Top Lids and Compartments
We’ve selected packs with top lids and multiple compartments for wilderness backpacking. This allows easy access to on-trail items (like food or maps), and keeps your pack organized. It also means you can stuff more in between the top lid and main pack for those extra bulky comfort items.
Our Recommended Backpacks
Arc'teryx Altra 65
At a Glance
- Weight: 4 lbs 15 oz.
- Volume: 65 L
- Retail Price: $475
- Unique swivel hip belt that rotates as you walk. Helps reduce strain and is very comfortable.
- Great storage. U-shaped main storage opens like a suitcase for full access to items, and a large exterior zippered pocket fits a jacket, food, and anything you need, even a DSLR camera!
- Heavy. It weighs 4 pounds, 15 ounces, and feels like it.
- Expensive. It costs $475 MSRP, which is way more than most backpacks.
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
At a Glance
- Weight: 4lbs 9 oz.
- Volume: 65 L
- Retail Price: $260
- Anti-Gravity suspension breathes incredibly well (no sweat while hiking!), distributes the load evenly, and is just plain comfortable.
- Hip belt and torso are adjustable to dial in the perfect fit.
- Well designed water bottle holders, two massive external zippered pockets, and a durable mesh pocket. Plenty of storage.
- You'll see a bunch of these on the trail, if you care about that.
- Top lid doesn't convert into a day pack, even though it could with a simple additional strap.
Deuter ACT Lite 65 + 10
At a Glance
- Weight: 4 lbs 6 oz.
- Volume: 65 L
- Retail Price: $209
- Adjustable torso provides two full inches of customization.
- Standard, solid features in every part of the pack.
- Extra 10 liters of spaces if you need it.
- Not the comfiest pack out there, mostly due to suspension that is lacking.
- Materials are not as high-end as the others listed here.
The Best Ultralight Backpacks for Backpacking
Ultralight Backpackers have a proclivity to obsess over gear and reduce pack weight to a bare minimum. The backpack market for Ultralight Backpackers has sky-rocketed in recent years, and there are some seriously excellent contenders out there. To make our selections simple, we focused on three key elements:
Weight is the most important factor in any ultralight backpacking setup. An ultralight backpack means your other items need to be ultralight, because these backpacks can’t carry as heavy a load as the more traditional ones. All of our recommended backpacks hover around the 2 pound mark and can carry 20-25 pounds comfortably. These packs are an excellent introduction to the ultralight mindset and will function excellently for any Ultralight Backpacker.
The volume of the backpacks we selected for Ultralight Backpackers are all 55-60 liters. This may seem large, but every pack features roll-down closures, allowing you to easily adjust the size. It’s better to have more space than not enough space, especially if you’ve got a few bulky items you haven’t found smaller (and lighter) versions of yet. Many Ultralight Backpackers use 40 liter packs for multi-day trips, and the packs we recommend also come in that size, or a variation comes in that size.
Your run-of-the-mill ultralight backpack is all well and good, but we wanted to make sure each selected backpack had a unique feature. Whether it’s tons of storage, waterproof-ness, or a cinch system that rocks, it’s nice to have a backpack that outperforms.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz.
- Volume: 55 L (3400 in3)
- Retail Price: $330-350
- Made with Dyneema Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber). Space-age material that's waterproof and tough as nails.
- Deluxe foam. The hip belt, shoulder straps, and back panel just feel good.
- Three very large external pockets for easy stashing, all with drain holes.
- Only three pockets. The rest of the pack is one long tube, and at 55 liters it's a very long tube. Hard to get stuff out of, so you need to be efficient and organized.
- Cost. Dyneema fabric is expensive, and $330 is not chump change for a minimal backpack.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Volume: 60 L
- Retail Price: $255
- Seven total pockets, all designed with functionality in mind. Unheard of storage on an ultralight backpack.
- Removable back support that doubles as a sit pad.
- Many features in familiar package makes this a good transition pack for those new to the ultralight method.
- Pack material is decent, but not as durable as Dyneema or other, heavier backpacks.
- Pack panel gets sweaty easily and doesn't vent well.
- Top closure doesn't work well if you have more than 50 liters stuffed into the main compartment.
Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 2 oz.
- Volume: 60 L
- Retail Price: $199.95
- Can be found in large retail stores to try on in person. Other ultralight backpacks, not so much.
- Removable internal frame shaves weight and changes the fit and carry of the pack.
- Line-Loc tightening system allows serious compression for a compact carry.
- The padding is not the most comfortable, and you'll notice the difference on this versus the other two ultralight backpacks we recommend.
- The plastic internal frame isn't comfortable to some users, but it's also removable. For those who need firm support but want serious comfort, this might not be best.
The Best Day Hiking Backpacks
Anyone who hikes, whether it’s a quick mile or a 13-mile trek to hidden waterfalls, is a Day Hiker. Due to this variety, it’s hard to select the “best” backpack, because conditions change depending on your group size, how far you want to go, and your hike’s level of difficulty. We focused on key features in day hiking to ensure versatility.
The size of your day hiking backpack depends on distance and weather. The smallest pack we recommend is 22 liters, and the largest is 28. These volumes will be more room than you need for a small day hike for a single person, so take them with a grain of salt. However, most people are hiking for longer or carrying gear for two or more, and this pack size ensures you have the room to carry what you’ll need. Also, the packs we recommend are offered in smaller (and larger) sizes.
A hip belt is not required for day hiking backpacks, but we’ve found it to be helpful. Even if the hip belt isn’t a full belt with padding and pockets, it’s important to be able to distribute the load, especially for longer hikes. They may seem corny, but the moment you have a couple liters of water, food for the day, emergency gear, and layers, you’ll find it useful.
If there’s one thing you’ll need on a day hike it’s water. Some people only bring a water bottle — we prefer the hydration bladder for on-the-go water drinking in addition to a pocket for water bottles. The more the merrier, as a lot of people take a hydration bladder for normal water and a water bottle or thermos for coffee, tea, or electrolyte infused water.
Osprey Manta AG 28
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz.
- Volume: 28 L
- Retail Price: $165
- Anti-Gravity suspension is arguably the most comfortable back support out there. Great for hauling heavy loads.
- Plenty of space for extended treks or hauling multiple people’s gear. Could even go on an overnight if you had ultralight gear with this pack!
- Included rain shell, Hydrapak hydration bladder, and countless pockets make it a fully featured Day Hiker backpack.
- It’s quite heavy for short day hikes, and may be overkill for people who don’t take much.
- Magnet on sternum strap (for the hydration pack) can throw off a compass. Pay attention!
- Compression straps work, but aren’t placed in the most strategic position.
Osprey Talon 22
At a Glance
- Weight: 1 lb 8 oz.
- Volume: 22 L
- Retail Price: $100
- Lightweight, airy suspension allows sweat to escape while molding the pack to your back. Very comfortable and supportive.
- Adjustable torso length with velcro shoulder straps. Very few day hiking backpacks have this, and it makes it usable by multiple people and allows for a super custom fit.
- Intelligent design with external water bladder sleeve, panel-loading main zipper, and spacious hip belt pockets.
- Big enough to carry more than it can handle. Maximum recommended weight is 20 pounds, but you'll start to really feel it around 18.
REI Trail 25
At a Glance
- Weight: 1 lbs 8.5 oz.
- Volume: 25 L
- Retail Price: $69.95
- Large volume works well with the U-shaped zipper. You can fit a lot in this backpack, and you can reach it all easily.
- Seven pockets, all well-placed. The Trail 25 can hold water, small items with easy access, and even has a zippered pocket with an included rain cover.
- Simple back panel that breathes and carries the load well.
- Many places to clip items, but we didn't find this very useful. There are also no compression straps, which would have been handy.
- Doesn't have a robust hip belt, yet has trekking pole loops. Usually if you're using trekking poles, you'll want a hip belt too.
The Best Backpacks for Urban Hiking
Unless you’re living in the woods permanently, you have a few pieces of technology and city items that need hauling. Urban hiking backpacks prioritize things differently, and it’s all about a comfortable city trek. The backpacks we picked for urban hiking have a few things in common.
Padded Laptop Sleeve
The laptop is quintessential for urban hiking. Whether it’s a 10-inch Chromebook or a 15-inch Macbook Pro Retina, you want to be able to carry your digital life around with you and need a backpack that can do it securely. All our Urban Hiker backpacks feature sleeves (padded or regular) specifically designed for a laptop. A bonus: these sleeves double as hydration bladder compartments if you want to swap in some water.
A plethora of pockets is necessary for the Urban Hiker. Some items you’ll need to store: wallet, smartphone, keys, chapstick, gum or mints, cables or cords, a spare charger, larger electronics like a tablet or laptop, extra layers, lunch, etc. An urban hiking backpack needs to have enough thoughtful storage to manage this list, and our picks have ’em.
Most people trekking around the city don’t think about how comfortable their pack is, just if it fits what they need. We think that’s a shame. Comfort is critical to walking around a city and the backpacks we picked for uban hiking available have excellent support.
Mission Workshop Sanction
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz.
- Volume: 20 L
- Retail Price: $205
- Stylish as they come. Not just pretty, but an intelligent design with smartly placed pockets, laptop sleeve, and vertical carry.
- Water resistant zippers on all pockets and military grade materials make for a bomb-proof backpack.
- Padding on shoulder straps and back is high quality and very comfy.
- No water bottle pockets. A bummer, we know. They fit fine in the backpack itself, but this will turn off some people.
- Cost. Only the extravagant will spend over $200 for a city backpack. If that's you, by all means. If you want to get some a really nice gift, this is a good choice!
The North Face Borealis
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 12 oz.
- Volume: 28 L
- Retail Price: $89
- High quality fleece-lined sleeves for laptop, tablet, and small objects like your phone. Protect your electronics!
- Many organization pockets and an external bungee tie-off allows you to carry anything you'd need for a day in the city.
- Solid water bottle pockets with straps that allow you to secure them to the pack.
- Back panel is nice, but takes some getting used to. Large square pads might not work for some people.
- Fairly heavy. You can also load a lot in the backpack, so you run the risk of the overall weight of the backpack being too much for a comfortable carry.
The North Face Jester
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Volume: 26 L
- Retail Price: $65
- Fully featured for a budget backpack. Enough pockets, zippered areas, and external bungee to store and organize what you need.
- Durable and oversized handle for lugging it around on buses and metros.
- A baby brother (or sister) to The North Face Borealis, so for those that want a legitimate backpack that costs a good deal less, this is a good option.
- The water bottle pockets are too small to be functional. They fit a small bottle of water, but not a Nalgene.
- No specific protection for the laptop sleeve (like fleece or a cover), leaving your electronics rather bare.
How to Buy a Backpack
When it comes to buying a backpack — or any piece of outdoor gear — there is one key concept to remember: It has to work for you.
We have spent countless hours researching and testing backpacks, and we absolutely stand by each of our picks. They’re what most people will want in a backpack, broken down by the type of trip you’re on and your budget. That said, you may not be “most people”. When it comes to buying a backpack there are a couple specific things to look for to make sure you’re buying the best backpack for you, not simply the best backpack on the market.
Fitting a Backpack
Your body is unique to you. Every manufacturer has a certain fit in mind when designing a backpack, so it’s important to check if your body fits their overall pack line. A good example are two backpack manufacturers: Gregory and Osprey. Both are top of the line, both have years of experience, both have die-hard loyal fans, and both have incredible warranties. Osprey packs historically fit a slimmer physique, while Gregory historically fits a stockier physique. Their fits are simply different, and therefore work better for different people.
The best way to determine fit is to go into a store that has the model you’re eyeing and try it on. Load the pack with weight and walk around. Is it comfortable? Does it pinch? Is there unnecessary strain on the shoulders?
If you can’t find the exact pack, you can try other backpacks from the same manufacturer. Typically a manufacturer’s backpacks will fit similarly.
Determine the Size of Your Backpack
Backpack size, or volume, was a huge consideration in our picks. We chose our backpack sizes based on what is most common for each backpacker for that activity, but each person is unique.
The best way to determine what size backpack you need has to do with the rest of your gear. Get a backpack that will fit everything you need for your trip, and then a little extra room for emergencies or random luxuries. If you have your gear dialed in to the ounce, you will know your exact pack size. If you have no idea how much room and weight your gear takes up (most backpackers don’t), follow the general chart we made below. It can also be found in our Backpack Guide:
- <10 Liters: A very small backpack meant for running, cycling, or other sports. It typically has a hydration system included if it’s a sports pack. It could also be a very minimal around town pack.
- 10-20 Liters: A small pack that can fit basics for a day hike or day-long adventure. Also a good-sized exercise pack for extended trails or roads.
- 20-30 Liters: A standard backpack size for day hikes, urban transport, or college. This size can typically fit lunch, a jacket, emergency/survival items and a water bottle or two if you’re hiking. If in a city or college, this size pack can typically fit laptops, binders or work papers, a change of clothes, and electronics.
- 30-40 Liters: A larger pack that has a lot of uses. It can be an oversized day hike pack if you want to bring a lot of food, cold weather clothing, blankets, or are carrying for multiple people. It can also be also be an oversized commuter bag if you have to make deliveries, haul video or other electronic equipment, or a second set of clothes for a long day. Finally, this size can serve as a small, lightweight backpack for ultralight backpackers.
- 40-50 Liters: This pack size is typically for wilderness backpacking or international travel. In the wild you can expect an overnight or two day trip to fit in a pack this size. This is also a standard size for ultralight backpackers who thru-hike long distances. This size pack can sometimes fit on airplanes, and works well for traveling over multiple countries and different transportation systems. It often holds everything you need for these activities, but not much extra.
- 50-70 Liters: This is a 20-liter range because it’s the classic range for backpacking backpacks. Typically you can can fit gear for an overnight, a week, a month, or months, depending on how long you want to go and how you pack. Most backpacks you’ll see in the wilderness are this size, with 65-70 Liters being the sweet spot. This size also works for international travel, but you’ll have to check a bag this big.
- 70-80 Liters: These are extremely large packs for hauling lots of weight for weeks on end. Works just as well for wilderness overnights or a few days, but is overkill in most cases. Also a good size for months-long travel in foreign countries when you need a single pack to hold everything.
Should I Buy a Backpack Online?
Beyond fit and size, the biggest question most backpackers ask is if they should buy a backpack, especially a discounted backpack, online.
The answer: Yes.
But you should do your best to try on the pack in a store. If you can’t do that, try another pack that is similar from the same brand in a store. If you can’t do any of that, check to see what the return policy is on gear (discounted or full priced) from the retailer you’re buying from, and lean towards those that would allow returns.
Your best bet is to do some research on the kinds of backpack you’re looking to purchase beforehand, then keep an eye out for when that model (or a model like it) goes on sale.
Almost every outdoor online retailer and manufacturer has yearly sales. It is common to find the exact backpack you want for 30% off — this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the pack. It usually means there’s a warehouse overstock, or a new rendition of the product is coming out and the retailer or manufacturer is getting rid of the old ones.
With patience and research you can buy all (or most) of your backpacking gear at a discounted price.