Group backpacking photo
The GearJunkie team backpacks through the Colorado desert; (photo/Eric Phillips)

The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2022

Head into the backcountry with one of the best backpacking backpacks of 2022. From budget-friendly options to ultra-comfortable picks, we’ve got you covered.

Whether you’re going on a short overnight trip or a months-long thru-hike, finding the best backpacking backpack is fundamental to success. It not only needs to hold all your necessary gear, but it should also be comfortable enough that you don’t spend the day fidgeting or thinking about your pack.

After loads of research and miles upon miles of rigorous testing, we found the best packs for every use and budget. Because no single pack works for everyone, we’ve broken the list into categories to help you find the perfect fit. If you find you need more help choosing, be sure to check out the buyer’s guide at the end of this article.

In this article, we focus on larger capacity backpacks. If you’re looking for more of an everyday hiking backpack, check out our review of The Best Daypacks. Additionally, if you’re looking to hone in on the perfect backpacking setup, be sure to head over to our Best Backpacking Tents and Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags reviews.

The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2022

Best Overall: Osprey Aether & Ariel 55

Osprey Aether & Osprey Ariel 55

The Osprey Aether ($270) and Ariel 55 ($270) are recently updated versions of two of Osprey’s bestselling styles. Packed with features and thoroughly well-designed, the functionality and comfort of the Aether and Ariel make them our first choices for the best backpacking packs.

Although these packs are classic-style top-loaders, a large front zippered access point allows you to get into the depths of your gear without having to fully unpack. For heavy loads, the burly materials and easy, on-the-go adjustability make the Aether and Ariel strong and reliable carriers.

We like that the Osprey has combined some tried-and-true backpack design elements with clever and innovative features of its own creation. For quick access to bits of essential gear, these packs offer dual-zippered hip belt pockets, stretch-mesh water bottle pockets, and a front “shove-it” pocket.

This pack offers the ability to fine-tune the fit for a variety of different shapes and sizes, including an adjustable torso length, as well as Osprey’s Fit-on-the-Fly hipbelt and shoulder straps.

Other noteworthy features include an internal hydration bladder sleeve, dual ice axe loops, and a versatile compression system that offers additional exterior storage.

Although Osprey also makes a 65L version of the Aether and Ariel, we like the 55L version for its compact profile and slightly reduced weight. For long weekend trips, these packs will offer plenty of space for most users.

They can also handle longer trips with some thoughtful packing. Yes, the Aether and Ariel are heavier than many other packs of their size, but they are ultrareliable and feel stable and balanced on the trail. If you’re looking for a burly, reliable pack that will last for years, this may be the perfect fit.

Specs:
  • Weight: 4.83 lbs. (S/M); 4.87 lbs. (M/L)
  • Volume: 55 L
  • Material: 420HD nylon packcloth, 210-denier nylon Diamond (Bluesign-approved)
  • Outside storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 dual-access stretch mesh side water bottle pockets, ice axe attachments, and fabric-reinforced front shove-it pocket.
Pros:
  • Customizable sizing
  • Extremely durable
  • Lots of options for outside storage
Cons:
  • On the heavier side
  • Not a lot of upper-body mobility

Check Aether 55 Price at REICheck Ariel 55 Price at REI

Runner-Up: Deuter Aircontact Lite — Men’s & Women’s

Deuter Aircontact Lite

This versatile, expandable backpacking pack ($200+) from Deuter is functional and durable (our staff tester has had hers for over 4 years). What really makes this pack great is the expandable section below the brain that can add up to 10 L in volume.

There’s a bungee closure at the top, a layer of extra fabric, and three adjustable compression straps that allow you to adjust to whatever extra gear you decide to carry. In testing, we also loved the closure straps underneath the brain — it’s the perfect place for securing a bladder or water reservoir, or a first-aid kit for quick access.

Our other favorite parts of this pack are the deep mesh side pockets, inner and outer brain pockets, and double hipbelt zip pockets. Deuter’s Aircontact Lite back panel and load support system are effective, providing extra comfort with plenty of strap length to fit a variety of waist sizes.

Factor in features like the padded hipbelt, adjustable sternum strap, and adjustable back/torso length, and you’ll see why the Deuter Aircontact Lite is an ideal choice for women and men of various sizes. This series comes in both men’s- and women’s-specific models in 35+10, 40+10, 45+10, 50+10, 60+10, and 65+10 pack sizes.

The weight of this pack (about 4 pounds) puts it in the middle of the market in terms of weight. It’s not ultralight, but it’s also not too heavy considering the internal frame and overall design. As a versatile, durable pack for all-day comfort, this model is one of the best backpacking packs on the market, and should suit those looking for a lighter bag that will still survive the rigors of long, rugged trails.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 14 oz.
  • Volume: 45-70 L
  • Material: Nylon/closed-cell foam
  • Outside storage: External zippered lid pocket, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 stretch mesh side water bottle pockets, ice axe attachments, front shove-it pocket
Pros:
  • Very durable
  • Comfortable and well-padded
  • Slightly lighter than average
Cons:
  • Not quite as breathable as other options

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Best Budget: REI Co-op Flash 55 — Men’s & Women’s

REI Co-op Flash 55

REI has been selling backpacking gear for decades. The Flash 55 ($199) is extremely popular, and for good reason. This pack is light, customizable, and highly capable of the rugged demands of backpacking.

The Flash 55 is a modular pack, and various features can be added or removed to increase storage or shed weight. With all the organizational features included, this pack weighs around 2 pounds, 10 ounces.

By removing all of the modular features, the user can reduce the total weight by almost half a pound. Importantly, removing these features does not affect the Flash’s suspension system or carrying comfort.

At the top entry point of the main compartment, a roll-top, dry bag-esque closure system helps keep the pack compressed and the contents dry. Thanks to this roll-top, users can also choose to leave the pack’s top lid behind when preferred. Other useful features include a front mesh pocket, hydration bladder capability, and an ice axe attachment loop.

For a backpacking pack, the Flash’s 100-denier ripstop nylon body feels thin and potentially fragile. Although this pack doesn’t seem to wear or tear faster than other packs in its class, users should avoid rubbing the sides of the pack against rock and rough surfaces. On the bottom of the pack, burly 420-denier nylon offers supreme protection from the ground.

At $199, the Flash 55 is one of the best values on the backpacking market. If you’re looking for a reliable, durable pack that won’t break the bank, this could be the bag for you.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 10 oz.
  • Volume: 55 L
  • Material: 100-denier ripstop nylon main body; 420-denier nylon bottom
  • Outside storage: Removable hipbelt pockets, 2 side water bottle pockets, 2 larger side mesh pockets, ice axe attachments, breathable mesh front pocket
Pros:
  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to customize
Cons:
  • Not quite as durable as other models
  • Doesn’t carry heavy loads as well as other models

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Extra Breathable Backpanel: Gregory Men’s Katmai 55 & Women’s Kalmia 50

Gregory Men's Katmai 55 & Women's Kalmia 50

The Gregory Katmai 55/Kalmia 50 ($280) is a comfort-first backpack with well-padded straps and belt, as well as a suspension system that adjusts to your natural movement when walking, especially under load. Flex panels and rotating shoulder straps move independently with the shoulders and waist while walking.

With its FreeFloat 360 ventilated back panel, it almost eliminates the inescapable problem of lower back sweat. Gregory even added Polygiene odor treatment to the moisture-wicking back panel, so if you do sweat through it, your pack will stay smelling fresh.

The Katmai has side and bottom access zips to the storage for quick access, which also help you see inside more of the bag. That’s a bit of a love/hate feature, but we leaned toward love. The lid has a large zippered pocket on the top and a smaller one inside for stashing valuables away from the elements.

A large, shallow, front compartment makes a good place to store meal packets, maps, or guidebooks, and is covered by a stretchy mesh pocket for a layer. Additionally, it has long-trip essentials you’d expect, such as a hydration sleeve with a hanger, trekking pole loops, and a sleeping bag compartment.

The shoulder harness and hipbelt are easy to adjust and stay in place. It has an adjustable steel alloy internal frame, ranging from 18 to 22 inches in the M/L size (15-19 inches for the S/M).

If weight isn’t your biggest concern and you’re looking to maximize comfort on the trail, the Katmai 55/Kalmia 50 could be a great addition to your arsenal.

Specs:
  • Weight: 4 lbs., 9.8 oz. (S/M); 4 lb., 10.9 oz. (M/L)
  • Volume: 55 L
  • Material: 210-denier 40% recycled nylon/420 denier 45% recycled nylon
  • Outside storage: Hipbelt pockets, 1 side mesh pocket, 1 SideWinder water bottle holder that can be put away when not in use, ice axe/trekking pole attachments, front shove-it pocket, large zippered front pocket with mesh divider
Pros:
  • Extremely breathable
  • Comfortable design carries heavy loads well
Cons:
  • On the heavier side
  • Only one side mesh pocket

Check Katmai 55 Price at REICheck Kalmia 50 Price at REI

Best Women’s Backpack: The North Face Banchee 65

North Face Banchee 65

The Banchee 65 ($250) is a very comfortable pack. Our first impressions: it’s really lightweight for the volume, and it carries loads extremely well. It can easily haul 30-40 pounds of gear, and it didn’t show any signs of wear on a week-long backpacking trip.

Our second point of praise for this pack: pockets. Everywhere we looked there were more and more pockets. With a volume perfect for multiday trips and some new features, the Banchee is a popular pack that performed better than we expected.

Compared to the prior model, we noticed better pocket placement — specifically, the side stretch pockets — and improved design of the exterior vertical zippered compartments.

In terms of features, this pack has a sleeping bag compartment, designated hydration sleeve, and hipbelt pockets. The pockets on the hipbelt are perfect for stashing the items you want readily available on the trail — chapstick, Clif bar, sunscreen, phone, map, you name it.

It has a women’s-specific fit around the hips and shoulders, which we found comfortable and accurately placed. This pack also has load lifters (a standard feature nowadays), and we found them to be easily adjustable while in use.

If lightweight pursuits are your main objective, this may not be the best option, but for gender-specific, all-day comfort in the mountains, the Banchee 65 fits the bill.

Note: For taller women (above 5’6″), we recommend jumping up to the M/L size pack. The Banchee is also available in a 50L capacity.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 3 oz.
  • Volume: 65 L
  • Material: 70-denier IronLite nylon, non-PFC DWR finish (face fabric), 210-denier IronLite nylon, non-PFC DWR finish (bottom panel)
  • Outside storage: 2 zippered front panel pockets, 2 stretch side pockets, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, ice axe attachments, front shove-it pocket
Pros:
  • On the lighter side
  • Carries heavy loads comfortably
  • Easy-to-adjust hipbelt
Cons:
  • Extra compression straps are somewhat unneeded and add extra weight

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at evo

Best Ultralight: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

For an ultralight pack, the 2400 Southwest Pack ($320-340) from Hyperlite Mountain Gear strikes a rare balance between comfort, weight, and durability, making this our top pick for an ultralight setup. This pack is built almost entirely from Dyneema — a super strong and incredibly light material.

Although Hyperlite makes similar packs with larger capacities, many users prefer the 40L size of the 2400 Southwest Pack, which weighs in at a featherlight 1 pound, 14 ounces.

Most ultralight backpacks simply are not as stable or comfortable as heavier packs. The Southwest Pack manages to break the mold. Even with a full load, this pack is quite enjoyable to hike with.

A ¼-inch back panel pad adds significant cushioning that prevents the pack’s contents from poking into the user’s back. Structural support comes from removable aluminum stays, which help distribute the pack’s weight evenly across the user’s body.

Like most ultralight gear, this pack is minimalist and basic in its tube-like design. Aside from the main compartment, the pack features three exterior pockets and two zippered hipbelt pockets.

The roll-top system seals with a Velcro closure and fastens to the pack’s sides with buckles. Apart from a simple hydration bladder sleeve, there are no internal zippered pockets or organizational features.

In addition to various size options, the Southwest Pack is also available in two different Dyneema fabrics. The 50-denier version is white, while the 150-denier version is black and costs $20 more. Most users report great durability, even with the thinner version.

For the ultralight backpacker looking for a pack that will survive the rigors of a thru-hike and beyond, it doesn’t get much better than the 2400 Southwest Pack.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 14 oz.
  • Volume: 40 L
  • Material: Dyneema: White (DCH50 – main body, DCH150 – bottom); Black (DCH150 – main body and bottom)
  • Outside storage: 2 side pockets, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, ice axe attachment, front shove-it pocket
Pros:
  • Quite durable given its ultralight construction
  • Stable and comfortable compared to other ultralight models
  • Side and front external pockets have drain holes and reinforced bottoms
Cons:
  • Minimal features
  • Expensive
  • Center ice axe loop can be awkward to use, as there is no higher attachment for the shaft

Check Price at REICheck Price at Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Best Comfort Ultralight: ULA Circuit

ULA Circuit

ULA continues to lead the way in thru-hiking and ultralight backpacking with their simple, efficient designs and killer comfort. Weighing in at just over 2 pounds, it’s hard to find a pack that boasts such high load-carrying capabilities at such a minimum weight.

Though not the lightest ultralight option on the market, the Circuit’s ($280) extra features add a level of comfort that justifies its extra weight, making this our top choice for a comfortable ultralight pack.

Letting the stats speak for themselves, Halfway Anywhere’s annual survey of PCT hikers has rated the 68L ULA Circuit as one of the most popular, if not the most popular, packs used by thru-hikers for the past several years.

Despite its low weight, the Circuit does not skimp on features, with plenty of outside storage and lashing capabilities. The pack carries heavier loads comfortably with its contoured shoulder straps and padded back panel.

Its roll-top closure makes the volume of the pack highly adjustable. This is prime for thru-hikers, who will often load up for long stretches between towns and then can roll the top down to about 35 L as they empty the pack.

The pack carries extremely well, featuring a 1.2-ounce carbon fiber and Delrin suspension hoop, coupled with a dense foam frame and single aluminum stay. This unique design provides great load control, rigidity, and back support without compromising on weight or impeding range of movement.

As a minimalist pack, the Circuit has a relatively simple design but does cover pretty much all the bases of what a long-distance backpacker would want. With two side water bottle pockets, two zippered hip-belt pockets, ice axe/trekking pole retention loops, and a large front shove-it pocket, it provides plenty of storage options without adding unnecessary weight.

The one complaint with this pack, however, is that the side pockets are constructed at a pretty steep angle, making them really only useful for storing water bottles. It’s a small detail, but notable compared to some other models.

Though not the lightest of ultralight packs, the ability to carry larger loads while still cutting down on weight makes the ULA Circuit an ideal option for those just breaking into ultralight backpacking.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2.28 lbs.
  • Volume: 68 L
  • Material: ULA 400-denier Rubic
  • Outside storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 adjustable side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket, ice axe/trekking pole attachments
Pros:
  • High carrying capacity given its low weight
  • Extremely comfortable as an ultralight pack
Cons:
  • On the heavier side of ultralight packs
  • Somewhat limiting side pocket design

Check Price at ULA Equipment

Best of the Rest

Granite Gear Blaze 60 — Men’s & Women’s

Granite Gear Blaze 60

The Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($270) is a lightweight pack that can easily carry heavy-duty loads. It’s difficult to find a pack that remains comfortable even when fully weighed down with a week’s worth of gear, but with tons of classic and innovative features and pockets, the Blaze 60 is one of the true gems of the backpack market.

At 3 pounds, this pack is slightly lighter than average for its capacity. Although it performs well across the board, the most striking characteristic of the Blaze 60 is its phenomenal suspension system.

No matter what you need to carry, this pack will handle it with stability and grace. The internal frame that enables the pack’s stability is designed with effective airflow channels that help keep your back cool. Of all the packs with breathable back panels out there, the Blaze 60 stands out.

The shoulder and hip straps are mesh-free and tend to feel a bit sweaty. This pack features durable material in high-wear zones, and it saves weight with thinner fabric in areas of less concern.

The ROBIC fabric that covers much of the pack’s body is both light and tear-resistant. For backpackers that plan to carry full and heavy loads but don’t want an ultra-bulky pack, the Blaze 60 is a top pick.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs.
  • Volume: 60 L
  • Material: 100-denier ROBIC high tenacity nylon with Barrier DWR (main body); 210 denier ROBIC UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) triple ripstop nylon (reinforcements)
  • Outside storage: 2 side pockets, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, front mesh stash pocket, ice axe attachments
Pros:
  • Lightweight for its carrying capacity
  • Well-ventilated
  • Carries heavy loads comfortably
Cons:
  • Takes some time to figure out how to adjust shoulder straps and hipbelt

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Zpacks Arc Blast 55

zpacks arc blast 55 ultralight backpacking pack

This backpack ($375) from Zpacks was made specifically for the ultralight backpacking crowd. At just 1 pound, 5.3 ounces, it really doesn’t get any lighter than this for a pack with 55 L of storage.

In just about every way, this is a minimalist piece of gear. Mesh-free hip and shoulder straps are simple and thinly padded, and the hip straps do not have pockets.

Few external pockets exist on the entire pack, although it does have ice axe loops and trekking pole holders. Simply put, this is not the pack to buy if you are looking for robust padding and maximum extra features.

Instead, what you get with the Arc Blast is a world-class tool for fast and light backpacking. Although it is rated to carry upward of 30 pounds, this pack really shines with sub-25-pound loads.

The five-piece carbon frame is integrated into the pack itself, and we do not recommend trying to remove it. The user can shape the frame to create a gap of airflow between your body and the back panel, and a rectangle of mesh further helps keep your back distanced from the body of the pack.

The Dyneema fabric of the Arc Blast’s body is super-lightweight, water-resistant, and abrasion-resistant. A Velcro roll-top closure keeps water out — even in gnarly storms.

Because this pack is specialized and expensive, we don’t recommend it to beginner backpackers or casual weekend hikers. Instead, this is a minimalist tool that is best suited for a light and fast thru-hiking mission or alpine traverse.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 5.3 oz.
  • Volume: 55 L
  • Material: 3.1 oz./sq. yd. Dyneema Composite Fabric
  • Outside storage: 2 side pockets sized to fit 1L or 1.5L water bottles, front mesh shove-it pocket
Pros:
  • Water-resistant
  • Lightweight frame
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • No hipbelt pockets
  • Front mesh pocket not very stretchable

Check Price at Zpacks

Helly Hansen Resistor 45 & Capacitor 65L Packs

Helly Hansen Resistor 45 & Capacitor 65L Packs

The Resistor ($210) and Capacitor ($290) backpacks from Helly Hansen share many aesthetic and functional characteristics. The smaller Resistor is an excellent compact option for quick and light trips, while the larger Capacitor can easily handle long multiday expeditions in the mountains.

While Helly Hansen is a long-established maker of high-quality alpine outerwear, the Resistor and Capacitor are new additions to the brand’s lineup. Both styles have a large top-loading main compartment, hydration compatibility, and a floating top lid with zippered pockets.

At the top of the main compartment, extendable collars provide versatile options for expanding the internal capacity and protecting the contents from the elements.

Both the Resistor and the Capacitor include an adjustable back panel and customizable torso length. And 3D mesh across the entire back panel helps keep your back cool and ventilated while hiking. A thickly padded hip strap also comes equipped with a breathable mesh lining.

While these nice-looking and highly capable packs aren’t especially light or innovative, they are reliable workhorses that will perform exactly as a good backpack should. If a durable, compact pack is on your wish list, the Resistor and Capacitor would be a perfect option.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 4 oz. (Resistor); 4 lbs., 3 oz. (Capacitor)
  • Volume: 45 L (Resistor); 65 L (Capacitor)
  • Outside storage: 2 side pockets, 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, ice axe attachments, front shove-it pocket, small front zippered pocket
Pros:
  • Good ventilation
  • Comfortable padding
  • Durable
Cons:
  • On the heavier side

Check Resistor 45L Price at Helly HansenCheck Capacitor 65L Price at Helly Hansen

Osprey Exos 58

Osprey Exos 58

Osprey’s Exos 58L pack ($165 on sale) has been a top ultralight pick for long-distance backpackers and weekend hikers for years. Offering an extremely well-built, breathable design, the Exos is packed with thoughtful features but has managed to keep the pack’s overall weight surprisingly low.

Coming in at almost half the weight of many traditional backpacking bags, and approaching the weight of some of the frameless, ultralight models, the Exos delivers supreme comfort in a lightweight, simple package.

The Exos uses Osprey’s AirSpeed suspension system, which keeps the pack’s weight off your back and maximizes ventilation with an alloy frame and a tensioned, breathable-mesh back panel. The beefy, perforated shoulder straps and seamless, layered mesh hipbelt contribute to the pack’s comfortable, breathable feel.

The suspension system is quite robust on the Exos, despite its minimal weight, and it carries loads of up to 35 pounds quite well. Beyond that weight, it may feel less comfortable and capable.

Some other helpful features of the pack include a removable lid with an integrated flap protecting gear when the lid is off, Osprey’s Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment system, and ice axe attachments with bungee tie-offs.

To achieve the low weight, however, the Exos is slightly less durable than other models and not quite as adjustable. It also lacks hipbelt pockets.

For the weight-conscious adventurer seeking the lightest possible setup without skimping on comfort or moving to a frameless model, this may just be the perfect pack.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2.63 lbs. (S); 2.65 lbs. (M); 2.68 lbs. (L)
  • Volume: 58 L
  • Material: 100-denier high-tenacity nylon (main body); 210-denier high-tenacity nylon (bottom)
  • Outside storage: 2 side stretch mesh pockets, front shove-it pocket, removable sleeping pad and side compression straps, ice axe/trekking pole attachments
Pros:
  • Extremely comfortable for its weight
  • Super breathable compared to other ultralight models
Cons:
  • No hipbelt pockets
  • Not as adjustable as other models

Check Price at REI

Osprey Rook 65

Osprey Rook 65

In the spirit of affordable minimalism, Osprey has delivered a modest, durable, and relatively functional pack with the Rook 65. While it will get you from point A to point B, it doesn’t perform quite as well as others we’ve tested, and though it is lighter than a lot of other models in this size range, it seems to be pretty heavy given its lack of features. If basic function that’s easy on the wallet is what you are after, the Rook could be a great match.

Costing only $165, this pack’s value is really where it shines the most. While it lacks some of the comfort and technology of Osprey’s other models, it is undeniably durable, and is on the lighter end of the spectrum given its slimmed-down design.

At that price point, it could be hard to find a pack that will hold up to the wear and tear of the trail like the Rook will. Additionally, it still does offer some of the great features we have grown to love in Osprey’s other models, such as impressive ventilation, adjustable torso sizing, and solid suspension. Compared to other models, the Rook doesn’t carry loads quite as well, but you can’t ask for too much when paying significantly less.

The comfort of this pack is what could use the most improvement. The shoulder straps, while ergonomically shaped, don’t offer quite enough padding for loads over 40 pounds, and carrying comfort seemed to diminish significantly after around 35 pounds. For lighter loads, however, the suspension system worked well, and we felt like the hipbelt was adequately comfortable. Though it doesn’t boast all the bells and whistles of other packs, it gives you essential features such as compression straps on the side, two dual access water bottle pockets, and hipbelt pockets.

As a durable, affordable backpack, the Rook 65 would be great for the adventurer on a budget looking for a reliable and functional workhorse for long missions in the mountains.

Specs:
  • Weight: 3.52 lbs.
  • Volume: 65 L
  • Material: 600 denier polyester (main), 450 denier polyester (accent), 1000 denier nylon packcloth (bottom)
  • Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 dual access stretch mesh side water bottle pockets
Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Relatively lightweight given its durable design
Cons:
  • Minimal features
  • Not as comfortable as other models
  • No front shove-it pocket

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Backcountry

Why You Should Trust Us

The GearJunkie team is made up of all sorts of backpackers. From weekend warriors to seasoned thru-hikers, we’ve collectively spent many years on the trail.

This list of product recommendations results from thorough field testing. When testing packs, we pay careful attention to ease of use, long-term durability, comfort, and overall value. Impressive-sounding features might look good on paper, but they don’t always translate to actual performance. Our testing aims to determine a pack’s true utility.

Every year, design updates and new products roll out across the market. We make sure to keep our finger on the pulse of the backpacking world and test out any new style that has the potential to be great. This list of recommendations is always in flux — it represents the best of the best at any given time.

A group of backpackers on trail.
The GearJunkie team testing packs in western Colorado; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Backpacking Pack

Purchasing a backpacking backpack — especially for the first time — can be a challenging process to navigate. Reliable gear is the foundation of a successful backpacking trip, and a good pack may be the most important item in your whole kit.

While hiking, the ideal pack should feel balanced and comfortable. In camp, a well-designed pack helps keep your systems organized and efficient.

In this how-to-choose guide, we will go over all of the important considerations that will help you choose the right pack. Everything from padding and water protection to sizing and capacity is explained here in detail. By the end, we hope that you’ll feel confident about choosing the perfect pack to support your backpacking adventures.

a female tester wearing the blue Osprey Aura 65L pack
Testing the Osprey Aura AG 65; (photo/Kyle Nossaman)

Pack Sizing

When deciding which pack size is right for you, you’ll need to complete a few quick self-measurements. Because torso size can be very different even for two people of the same height, you should not choose your pack size simply because you are tall or short. Instead, you’ll want to determine your torso and waist measurements.

Torso measurement is the most important factor for pack sizing. To figure out yours, you’ll need a friend and a cloth tape measure. If you don’t have one, a length of rope or string and a measuring stick will also work.

Begin by resting your chin against your chest and have another person locate your C7 vertebra at the base of your neck (it’s the one that tends to protrude more than the others). Place your hands on your hips so that your hands are sitting on top of your hip bones and your thumbs are pressed against your lower back.

Ask your friend to measure the length between your C7 vertebra and the center point of your spine at the level of your thumbs. This distance is your torso measurement.

Your waist size is the circumference of your waist at your iliac crest, which is the highest point of your hip bones. The middle of your backpacking hip straps should be positioned directly on top of your iliac crest. While hiking, 80% of your load should be carried by the hips and lower body, so it is essential that your hip straps fit properly.

If you are unable to find a pack that fits both your torso and hip measurements, you will likely be able to find one with replaceable hip straps. Some packs are more adjustable than others, and it is certainly a good idea to try a pack and ensure that it properly fits before purchasing.

Capacity

Most backpacking packs are labeled according to their capacity.
The Osprey Exos has a 58L capacity; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Backpacking packs come in many different sizes and capacities. When deciding the best pack capacity for you, there are several factors worth considering. For longer trips with multiple overnights, you’ll need more space to pack the appropriate kit.

In cold weather, you’ll need more space for clothing and warm sleeping gear. Food and water are also important considerations. If you need to carry several days’ worth of food and/or water, you’ll need to be sure that your pack can handle it.

The most common length of a backpacking trip is 2 to 3 days. For these short trips, a pack between 50 L and 70 L will likely provide enough capacity for most people.

On a single overnight trip, a smaller pack of around 35-40 L may be sufficient. For extended trips over 3 days long, you’ll want a larger pack that holds at least 60 L — especially in cold weather.

Pack Weight

Contemporary backpacking packs are designed to be both lightweight and capable of carrying heavy loads. Most packs come with a recommended range of how much weight they can hold. Pack features that contribute to weight capacity include the frame, suspension system, and padding.

When these features become more robust, maximum load capacity increases. For this reason, bulkier packs tend to be best for carrying the heaviest loads. Still, many modern options, such as the ULA Circuit, stand out as impressive haulers even though their baseline weight is relatively low.

Some manufacturers provide load ratings for their packs. It is a good idea to estimate the total weight of the loads you plan to carry before purchasing a pack.

Suspension

A shoulder strap on a backpacking pack.
A good suspension system greatly improves comfort — especially while hauling heavy loads; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Suspension is a system of frames, hipbelts, straps, load lifters, and harnesses that keep you securely connected to your pack. Overall, a pack’s suspension system transfers the weight of your gear onto the appropriate structures of the human body.

If fitted properly, a good suspension system allows the wearer to move freely and maintain a natural sense of balance while hauling the pack. Effective suspension relies on a combination of fit and design to maximize comfort and efficiency while hiking.

Different pack manufacturers utilize slightly different suspension features. Generally, your pack should be carried by the structure of your hip bones and the strength of your legs and lower body.

The remaining weight should be transferred between your chest, shoulders, and other parts of the upper body. Fitting your pack properly is all about fine-tuning the suspension system.

Breathability

This pack has a large mesh back panel.
Many packs aim to increase breathability with a mesh back panel; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Because your pack will be in direct contact with your body during strenuous physical exercise, it’s important that it breathes properly. Without sufficient breathability, you are likely to sweat uncomfortably and potentially overheat while hiking with your pack.

The two primary areas of a pack that should have effective ventilation are the back panel and the hip straps. Your back panel conforms to your back, and there should not be too much negative space between the panel’s surface and your back. Some contemporary packs feature a fully suspended mesh back panel that maintains airflow along the length of the back.

Other packs simply utilize a pattern of offset mesh and foam panels to create channels of airflow across the surface of the wearer’s back. Generally, suspended mesh back panels will allow for more ventilation than the offset mesh/foam styles.

Hip straps should also be designed to allow for breathability and airflow. Excessive sweating beneath a hip strap can lead to discomfort and blisters.

Organization

Not all backpackers have the same organizational preferences. There are many ways to organize a pack, and certain styles will be better suited to certain users based on these preferences.

Main Compartment

The main compartment of a backpack is the largest storage space. Some backpackers prefer a simple pack that doesn’t have more than a giant singular main compartment, and others prefer packs with lots of separate pockets and pouches. Usually, the main compartment is where your bulky and heavy items will go, including a tent, sleeping bag, and clothes.

Nearly all backpacks have a large opening at the top where users can access the main compartment. Some packs, such as the Osprey Aether & Ariel 55, have additional entry points into the main compartment, allowing users to access items within the pack without removing everything on top.

Hipbelt Pockets

A backpacker pulls a phone out of a hipbelt pocket.
Hipbelt pockets are ideal for storing items that must be readily accessible, like a phone or granola bar; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Many packs include some small pockets integrated directly into the hipbelt. These are convenient places to store items that you will want to access without removing your pack, like lip balm, granola bars, or a GPS device.

Top Lid Pockets

A backpack is shown with open top lid pockets.
Top lid pockets are perfect for carrying a map, sunscreen, hydration tablets, and snacks; (photo/Eric Phillips)

A pack’s top lid usually sits above the main compartment access point. Zippered top lid pockets are a good place for lightweight items that you will want to easily access, including a headlamp, rain layers, or a lightweight puffy jacket.

In most cases, you’ll need to remove your pack to access top lid pockets, or you can always ask your hiking buddy to help you out.

Hydration Pocket

Some packs come with an integrated hydration pocket. Typically, a hydration pocket is a sleeve-like space where a water bladder or hydration pouch will fit easily and stay out of the way of your other gear.

A thoughtfully designed pack will also have a simple way to secure and access a water bladder drinking tube. If you prefer to drink out of bottles while hiking, look for a pack with exterior water bottle holders for easy access.

Compression Straps

Compression straps help compress the load in your pack and keep the bulk of the weight close to your body. Without properly tightened compression straps, a pack can swing and sway while hiking, which will throw off your balance.

Each time you put on your pack, cinch up the compression straps to ensure a stable load. Also, small items can be clipped to or stored underneath your compression straps for easy access.

Rain Cover

When backpacking, you’ll need to be prepared to keep your kit dry in case of rain. Many backpacking packs come with a rain cover, which is usually a form-fitting piece of waterproof nylon with an elastic perimeter. The cover should fit over your entire pack and cinch securely in place.

When not in use, the rain cover can be stored in an accessible place such as the pack’s top lid pocket. Certain styles also have fully integrated rain covers that are sewn or stitched directly into the pack.

Many backpackers prefer to use a waterproof pack liner instead of (or in addition to) a rain cover, as a rain cover leaves the back of the pack open to water seeping through to the gear inside. This method works best with backpacks with only one big, main compartment.

This is the best, and cheapest, way to ensure that your gear stays completely dry. And you don’t have to waste time desperately fitting a rain cover over your pack as a freak storm sweeps in, as the inside contents are already protected.

While you can just opt to use a burly trash bag, many manufacturers have come up with more durable, backpacking-specific pack liners that are designed to last for months.

The two most popular waterproof pack liners are Nylofume bags, such as this one sold by Waymark Gear, and polyethylene bags, such as this one sold by Gossamer Gear. Both of these options are extremely durable alternatives to trash bags or rain covers, and also help serve as odor barriers when tied off securely at the top.

Ultralight Backpacking Packs

Some backpackers prefer to shed weight from their kit by just about any means necessary. Because packs are one of the heaviest items in a backpacking kit, the ultralight crowd has developed and popularized a range of super-lightweight backpacking packs.

Though it sounds great to reduce weight and feel lighter on the trail, ultralight packs certainly do come with some drawbacks. Most of these models have reduced storage space, minimal padding, and a less substantial frame.

Also, an ultralight pack’s general construction will probably be thinner and less robust, resulting in a less durable pack overall. Still, for those who are all about going light and fast, ultralight packs are a viable option.

Packing Your Backpack

Gregory Katmai 55
Always take the extra time to pack your pack properly — it just might fit more than you expect!

Though backpacks vary in design and construction, there are a few reliable methods of efficiently packing any backpack that will maximize comfort and load distribution on your forays into the mountains. A well-packed bag will feel a lot lighter than a poorly packed bag. And it will help reduce stress and discomfort over the long haul.

Starting at the bottom of the pack, it’s a good idea to pack lighter, fluffier items such as a sleeping bag. This creates something of a pillow on your lumbar, on top of which the heavier items can sit.

Additionally, you probably won’t be needing your sleeping bag until the end of the day when you are setting up camp, so there is no problem with shoving it to the bottom.

On this same note, it’s helpful to put the other elements of your sleep system, such as a sleeping bag liner and sleeping pad, in the bottom of the pack. These items are also relatively lightweight and won’t be needed throughout the day.

Next, you want to pack the middle section of the bag, which will house the heaviest items in your kit. You want to pack this gear (such as your food bag, cooking system, and tent) as close to your back as possible.

By putting these items in the middle of your back, you alleviate a significant amount of stress from your shoulders or lower back. You can also use spare clothes that you probably won’t need throughout the day to fill in the gaps between these items. This will keep them from shifting around while you are hiking.

Finally, at the top of your bag, you want to pack lighter items that you may want to use throughout the day, such as a midlayer or rain jacket. Once the main compartment is filled, you can put smaller items that you may want to easily access in the outside compartments of the pack. This could include a headlamp, first-aid kit, or maps.

While packing your bag, you want to think of what you’ll need throughout the day, how the weight is distributed, and if you can quickly protect all of your gear from sudden changes in weather.

If you use a rain cover as your primary protection, every pocket will be protected. But, if you rely on a pack liner, you need to make sure that the items in external storage are in additional waterproof containers or dry bags.

Value

Backpacking packs vary in price and value. High-quality options range from around $200 to well over $500. More expensive packs may include higher quality materials or extra features, but sometimes simpler is better when weight is the biggest concern.

With ultralight backpacking rising in popularity, and lightweight, durable packs coming out to match the demand, the comfort-to-weight ratio is a big deciding factor for many backpackers. The Osprey Aether & Ariel 55 are loaded with features and are extremely durable.

However, many hikers would opt for the more fragile, simpler Zpacks Arc Blast 55 as a lightweight alternative for fast missions in the mountains, even though it may not last as long as the Osprey.

As you think about which pack to get, consider what you need it for, and the level of comfort you want for the trips you have in mind. Are you bushwhacking through dense underbrush for an extended weekend? Maybe a heavier, durable pack is the best option.

Are you trying to clock big miles on an established trail through the Cascades? A lighter, simpler model may be the best fit. A good pack can last for many adventurous years on the trail, so consider your pack to be an investment.

A backpacker wearing the Osprey Aether.
A backpacker wanders the desert with the Osprey Aether; (photo/Eric Phillips)

FAQ

What Is the Best Backpacking Pack?

The best backpacking pack is the one that fits your body and your backpacking objectives. We’ve included lots of excellent packs on this list.

For most people, comfort is paramount. You’ll be hiking great distances with your pack on, and you don’t want to dread doing what you love because of uncomfortable gear.

Measure your torso length and waist size carefully before choosing a pack. Determine a capacity range that allows you to pack everything you’ll need on your backpacking trips. If you like certain features or have organization preferences, seek them out when it’s time to make a purchase.

What Is a Good Size Backpacking Pack?

The ideal size of your pack depends on your own dimensions, as well as on the amount of gear that you plan to carry. For trips up to 3 days, a 50-70L pack is usually enough. For longer trips, look for a pack that can carry at least 60 L.

Is a 40L Backpack Big Enough for Backpacking?

Some backpackers have truly mastered the art of thinning down their kit to the bare essentials. However, for most people, a 40L pack will not be large enough for trips longer than a single overnight.

How Should I Pack My Backpack?

Packing your backpack properly will help you maximize your pack’s capacity and ensure that you feel balanced while hiking with a heavy load. The more organized your initial packing process is, the less you will have to rummage around, looking for stuff during your trip. Knowing how to properly and efficiently pack is an essential part of a successful adventure.

Generally, you’ll want to pack items that you won’t need while hiking near the bottom of your pack. This includes your sleeping bag and extra clothes. The middle of your pack is where you should keep heavier items like food and water. The closer the heavy items are to your back, the better.

Keep frequently used items like rain layers and toiletries near the top of your pack where they will be easily accessible. In your hip strap and top lid, you’ll want to keep things like maps, lip balm, a GPS device, etc.

For more information about how to pack a backpacking pack, check out our complete guide on how to pack a backpack.


Testing trekking poles while hiking near Moab.
The Best Trekking Poles of 2022
We tested the best trekking poles of 2022 with options for every adventure and budget. Top picks include Black Diamond, REI, and more! Read more…

hiker wearing hiking boots through stream
The Best Hiking Boots of 2022
If you're looking for the best hiking boots, look no further. We've tested dozens of hiking boots over hundreds of miles to help you stay happy and comfortable on the trail. Read more…