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
Gregory Baltoro 65 (Women's Deva 60)
At a Glance
- Weight: 5 lbs 8 oz.
- Volume: 65 L
- Retail Price: $299
- Tons of features, including a built-in day pack that doubles as a hydration bladder, U-Zip front panel for easy access, and included rain cover.
- Many pockets for easy storage and placement of everything you may need.
- Incredible comfort for heavy loads.
- Quite heavy by itself, and overkill for shorter trips or lighter loads.
- No adjustable torso, but hip belt can be swapped out to get the right fit.
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.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
At a Glance
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz.
- Volume: 40-60L
- Retail Price: $199.95
- Adjustable volume helps to keep load centered on your back as you lose and gain weight with more consumables.
- Surprisingly strong frame allows for large carrying capacity, 35-50 pounds, while remaining ultralight.
- Not many pockets, so you have to pack everything in one long chute. Some like this, others don't.
- Not many points to tie off gear or last it to the outside.
- Not quite as light as other ultralight backpacks. Best for those just starting to go ultralight, or who want a solid frame.
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.