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The Best Backpacks of 2024

A backpack isn’t just the bag on your back — it's a mobile home, a traveling office, and a ticket to see the world. After shouldering the best — along with the rest — we’ve found the greatest backpacks for any task.
Best Backpacks — TNF Recon Hero(Photo/Nick Belcaster)
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A good backpack is what stands between you and looking like a traveling junk show. And while backpacks come in a blizzard of different shapes, sizes, and uses, the hallmarks of a good backpack are generally the same: comfortable, spacious, well-organized — with a little style thrown in.

Across all disciplines, our experts have tested hundreds of backpacks across a decade of experience — from months-long thru-hikes to minutes-long commutes across town. We packed them full for quick day hikes in the North Cascades, even fuller for backpacking trips in Alaska, and tried to skirt under carry-on limits internationally.

Whether you’re looking for a do-it-all bag, or a specialized pack for the trip you take once a year, we’ve pulled them all together here. During testing, we focused on challenging these bags at what they do best, tested their carrying capacities and long-term durability, and even sought fashion opinions from strangers.

Below is our selection of 12 of the best backpacks from across the spectrum — from blitz-around commuters to backpacking-ready load haulers, urban grocery-getters, and packs made to travel the globe with. If this is a strange new world to you, consider diving into our comprehensive Buyer’s Guide section for the low-down. Our FAQ and Comparison Chart sections will also lend a little light — otherwise, saddle up your bindle and let’s go.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Backpacks guide on May 17, 2024, to add the JanSport Journey Pack as our new Best Budget pick, as well as the YETI Panga 28L Waterproof Backpack — a 100% waterproof pack that doesn’t skimp on comfort to get there.

The Best Backpacks of 2024


Best Overall Backpack

The North Face Recon 30L Backpack

Specs

  • Capacity 30 L
  • Weight 2 lbs., 9 oz.
  • Dimensions 11.6'' x 7.5'' x 19.3''
  • Compartment access Zippered top access to three compartments
  • Material 210D recycled nylon ripstop with non-PFC DWR finish
  • Electronic storage 19'' x 11'' laptop sleeve, internal organizer pockets
Product Badge The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Comfortable and adjustable FlexVent suspension system carries weight well
  • Fleece-lined pocket for sunnies or glasses
  • External compression straps that don’t interfere with zippered access
  • Versatile feature set means the pack can be used for everything from hiking to campus
  • Women's- and men's-specific versions available

Cons

  • When fully loaded, smaller internal pocket robs space from the larger main compartment
  • Laptop sleeve isn’t quite suspended enough for full protection
  • Only comes in one volume
Best Budget Backpack

JanSport Journey Pack

Specs

  • Capacity 28 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 13.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 19.5" x 12.5" x 7"
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material 100% 600D recycled polyester + 1680D ballistic boot
  • Electronic storage 15" laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Compact and clean profile
  • Plush foam back panel and shoulder straps
  • Compression straps on bottom of pack tote around a jacket
  • Smooth-running zippers
  • Good internal organization

Cons

  • Laptop sleeve won't fit some large modern laptops
  • Water bottle pockets sized for slimmer vessels
Best Hiking Daypack

Deuter Speed Lite 25

Specs

  • Capacity 25 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 9 oz.
  • Dimensions 21.6" x 11.4" x 7.4"
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material 100D and 140D high-tenacity 100% recycled polyamide
  • Electronic storage N/A
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Durable
  • Carries weight well
  • Bluesign-certified body fabric

Cons

  • Frame limits packability for travel
  • Shoulder pocket a bit too small to hold phone
Best Travel Backpack

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45

Specs

  • Capacity 45 L (collapses to 35 L)
  • Weight 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Dimensions 22" x 13" x 9.5"
  • Compartment access Back panel clamshell design with #10 zipper
  • Material Weatherproof, 100% recycled 400-denier nylon canvas shell; 900-denier waterproof bottom
  • Electronic storage 16" laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Compresses down to maximum airline carry-on size, and then expands once you’ve hit your destination
  • Burly construction
  • No details are overlooked in the design

Cons

  • Price
  • Side-carry handles are offset in an awkward position
Best Laptop Backpack

Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L

Specs

  • Capacity 24 liters
  • Weight 3 lbs., 1.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 18” x 7” x 11.5”
  • Compartment access N/A
  • Material 840D ballistic nylon 6 exterior with DWR coating, 420D nylon interior
  • Electronic storage 17” laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Super-protected laptop compartment
  • Aluminum stay reinforces the side-carry
  • High-quality materials
  • Interior pockets made to be accessed with bag upright or on the side

Cons

  • Higher price
Best Campus Backpack

REI Co-op Ruckpack 28 Recycled Daypack

Specs

  • Capacity 28 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 12 oz.
  • Dimensions 19.5” x 11” x 9”
  • Compartment access Zippered top access + zippered side access
  • Material Recycled ripstop nylon
  • Electronic storage Minimal laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Bluesign-approved recycled materials
  • Hidden daisy-chain loops stay out of sight when not needed
  • Trail-to-town style is perfect for any type of day

Cons

  • Laptop sleeve is on the lighter-duty side, and requires laptop cover to be used
  • Raincover storage takes up a bit too much internal space
Best Backpacking Backpack

Osprey Aether 65 & Ariel 55

Specs

  • Capacity 65 and 55 liters
  • Weight 5 lbs., 2 oz. (Aether), 4 lbs., 12 oz. (Ariel)
  • Dimensions 33.4" x 15.7" x 11" (Aether), 29" x 15" x 10" (Ariel)
  • Compartment access Top drawstring + access panels
  • Material 420D nylon packcloth; 210-denier nylon
  • Electronic storage N/A
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Customizable sizing
  • Extremely durable
  • Lots of options for outside storage

Cons

  • On the heavier side
  • Not a lot of upper-body mobility

Osprey Aoede Airspeed Backpack

Specs

  • Capacity 21 liters
  • Weight N/A
  • Dimensions 18.7” x 11.6” x 8.6”
  • Compartment access Zippered top access + zippered side access
  • Material 840D ballistic polyester with a PFAS-free DWR treatment
  • Electronic storage 16” laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Unique ‘kickstand’ tech helps the back to stand upright while being loaded or unloaded
  • AirSpeed back panel keeps your back cool
  • Soft fleece-lined pocket keeps phones and glasses protected
  • Interior liner is a mixed mélange fabric that looks great

Cons

  • Weatherproofing covers over some exterior zippers inhibit zipper opening
  • Simple shoulder strap construction, with no load lifters, sternum strap, or hipbelt

Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L

Specs

  • Capacity 32 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 11 oz.
  • Dimensions N/A
  • Compartment access N/A
  • Material 300D recycled polyester with TPU-laminate exterior, 200D PU-coated polyester interior
  • Electronic storage 15” padded laptop pocket
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Impressively burly exterior TPU fabric shrugs off dirt and water
  • Broad access zipper to laptop compartment

Cons

  • Back panel and shoulder straps are just OK
  • Lack of hipbelt at 30+ liters puts strain on shoulders

YETI Panga 28L Waterproof Backpack

Specs

  • Capacity 28 liters
  • Weight 3 lbs., 14.4 oz.
  • Dimensions 12.5" x 7" x 19.7"
  • Compartment access Waterproof zippered top access
  • Material High-density nylon and TPU lamination 'ThickSkin'
  • Electronic storage N/A
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Proven submersible waterproofing
  • Rugged TPU exterior
  • Smooth-running waterproof zipper
  • Pack suspension isn't lacking for a waterproof bag, and has removable hipbelt and sternum strap
  • Exterior daisy chains make it easy to clip kit to

Cons

  • Fairly spartan internal organization
  • A bit heavy due to the materials used

Mystery Ranch District 18

Specs

  • Capacity 18 liters
  • Weight 2 lbs., 9.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 17” x 11.2” x 8.5”
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material 420D Cordura recycled nylon, 200D nylon liner
  • Electronic storage 15” padded laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Very smart quick-access front compartment
  • Main compartment accordion opening is huge, with foam-padded dividers
  • Burly 420D Cordura exterior

Cons

  • A bit heavy compared to other generalist bags on our list

Fjällräven Kånken 17″ Laptop Pack

Specs

  • Capacity 20 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 1.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 16.5” x 11.8” x 7”
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material Vinylon F material on exterior, 70D polyamide lining
  • Electronic storage 17” padded laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Classic style available in many different colors
  • Different-sized packs available for different-sized laptops
  • Removable foam sit-pad

Cons

  • Not much structure to the pack
  • Minimal shoulder straps

Dakine Campus 33L Backpack

Specs

  • Capacity 33 L
  • Weight 1 lb., 10.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 20.5" x 13" x 8"
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material Depending on print type, can be 600-denier recycled polyester, 420-denier recycled nylon, 630-denier recycled nylon, or 1,200-denier recycled polyester
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Cheap price
  • Available in many different fabric prints
  • Unique insulated cooler pocket

Cons

  • Not many travel-specific features
  • Straps don’t pack away

Aer Go Pack 2

Specs

  • Capacity 20 liters
  • Weight 1 lb., 4.8 oz.
  • Dimensions 17” x 11” x 5.5”
  • Compartment access Zippered clamshell
  • Material 210D Cordura crinkle nylon exterior
  • Electronic storage 16” suspended laptop sleeve
The Best Backpacks of 2024

Pros

  • Packable travel-friendly design
  • High-end materials meet beautiful design
  • Luggage handle pass-through loop

Cons

  • Not much structure or support

Backpacks Comparison Chart

BackpacksPriceCapacityWeightDimensionsMaterial
The North Face Recon 30L Backpack$10930 L2 lbs., 9 oz.11.6” x 7.5” x 19.3”210D recycled nylon ripstop with non-PFC DWR finish
JanSport Journey Pack$9528 L1 lb., 13.6 oz.19.5″ x 12.5″ x 7″100% 600D recycled polyester + 1680D ballistic boot
Deuter Speed Lite 25$12025 L1 lb., 9 oz.21.6″ x 11.4″ x 7.4″100D and 140D high-tenacity 100% recycled polyamide
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45$30045 L4 lbs., 8 oz.22″ x 13″ x 9.5″100% recycled 400-denier nylon canvas shell; 900-denier waterproof bottom
Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L$27924 L3 lbs., 1.6 oz.18” x 7” x 11.5”840D ballistic nylon 6 exterior with DWR coating, 420D nylon interior
REI Co-op Ruckpack 28 Recycled Daypack$12928 L1 lb., 12 oz.19.5” x 11” x 9”Recycled ripstop nylon
Osprey Aether 65 & Ariel 55$30065 L & 55 L5 lbs., 2 oz. (Aether), 4 lbs., 12 oz. (Ariel)33.4″ x 15.7″ x 11″ (Aether), 29″ x 15″ x 10″ (Ariel)420D nylon packcloth; 210-denier nylon
Osprey Aoede Airspeed Backpack$14021 L N/A18.7” x 11.6” x 8.6”840D ballistic polyester with a PFAS-free DWR treatment
Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L$16932 L1 lb., 11 oz.N/A300D recycled polyester with TPU-laminate exterior, 200D PU-coated polyester interior
YETI Panga 28L Waterproof Backpack$30028 L3 lbs., 14.4 oz.12.5″ x 7″ x 19.7″High-density nylon and TPU lamination ‘ThickSkin’
Mystery Ranch District 18$15918 L2 lbs., 9.6 oz.17” x 11.2” x 8.5”420D Cordura recycled nylon, 200D nylon liner
Fjällräven Kånken 17″ Laptop Pack$12520 L1 lb., 1.6 oz.16.5” x 11.8” x 7”Vinylon F material on exterior, 70D polyamide lining
Dakine Campus 33L Backpack$7533 L1 lb., 10.6 oz.20.5″ x 13″ x 8″600 to 1,200 denier recycled polyester
Aer Go Pack 2$9920 L1 lb., 4.8 oz.17” x 11” x 5.5”210D Cordura crinkle nylon exterior
Scroll right to view all of the columns
Best Backpacks — Deuter Speed Lite Hike
(Photo/Nick Belcaster)

How We Tested Backpacks

Likely more than just about anything else, GearJunkie knows backpacks. We’ve tested them on the trail, on the train, and on the taxiway. Across our various backpack categories, we’ve likely tested north of a few hundred, and our knowledge comes together here to help guide your next backpack purchase.

The testing team for this guide is led by Nick Belcaster — a multisport athlete based in the Pacific Northwest who has a couple of thousand miles notched on his belt wearing packs of all stripes. His gear closet has now reached critical mass, spilling forth with thru-hike-worn ultralight packs, avalanche airbags, mountain-biking hydration packs, and more.

When we tested travel backpacks, our globe-trotting testers hit the tarmac and racked up their air miles — over 10,000 in the last year alone. They lived out of their packs for weeks on end, stuffing them full and challenging any baggage handler to do their worst.

While testing backpacking backpacks, our Senior Editor Chris Carter led the charge — leveraging his experience as a Triple Crown thru-hiker and boots-on-the-ground testing in Appalachia to find the best pack to disappear for the weekend with. At the opposite end of the seasonal spectrum, Senior Editor Morgan Tilton charges headlong into the snow as our winter categories editor, shouldering ski packs of all kinds in the refrigerated mountains of Colorado.

Similar high praise can be heaped on Miya Tsudome, a seasoned gear-tester stationed at the margins of the High Sierra and contributor responsible for our hiking daypack testing, as well as Meghan LaHatte, the remote worker extraordinaire who put the hours into finding the best laptop backpacks available today. 

In order to better test organization, we assembled an average ‘everyday carry’ — an assortment of daily-used kit — and used it to gauge the small-scale management these packs were capable of. We also loaded them down with the maximum, traded notes on style, and generally tried to run them into the ground in our quest to find the best of the best backpacks.

And as sure as new packs come out every year, we’ll continue to stay on the hunt for the best among them, and add them to our lineup. 

Testing History

For our first foray into the world of backpacks in 2024, we assembled seven of our favorite packs from the major styles: travel, laptop, daypacks, and backpacking. Testing for these bags took place across the country, and with gear testers who considered them against like-bags in their respective categories.

In addition to that, we gathered a number of different generalist packs — bags that do it all and do it well — to round out our look at the broad world of backpacks and provide some options for those who want a daily driver. These bags were tested over a summer and fall in the Pacific Northwest, making runs into dense city centers, co-working spaces, and coffee shops.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Backpack

More than just about anything else, intended use is going to be the biggest consideration when choosing a new backpack. Luckily, there’s a bindle for just about everything these days, and once you’ve nailed down what adventures you’d like to into with it, the pieces fall into place.

While some packs can be used for a number of different things, there’s good use in going with the right design for the activity. Most all will be tailored with something in mind, and when you might be carrying it for hours on end or living out of it while traveling, the little details add up to equal a successful camping weekend, trip to France, or quick run to the store.

Once you’ve hammered that out, you can begin to dig into overall volume (just how much stuff you’ll want to tote around) as well as how that volume is organized, and any added functionalities you’ll need. Below, we’ve dug into the dirty details surrounding backpacks to lay plain what makes a backpack just good, and what makes a backpack great. 

By the end of this guide, it’s our hope that you’ve got the understanding needed to make your next pack purchase a breeze — best to save your energy for the next big hill climb.

Types of Backpacks

Everyday/Campus Backpacks

Best Backpacks — TNF Recon Hallway
Everyday packs try to cover a variety of needs, from campus bookbags to farmers market totes; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Your capital B “backpacks” — everyday packs are made to tote around a little of everything and aren’t too fussy about where you take them. Most often moderate in size, these daily drivers like The North Face Recon or REI Co-op Ruckpack 28 will offer up functionality to appease both hikers and students.

Commuter-styled packs are often styled to be business casual, making use of higher-end materials and a simpler exterior design to fit into your office space. Folks who commute via cycle should look for bike-specific functionality such as blinky light mounts, U-lock harnesses, and waterproof exteriors.

Campus backpacks need to be stout enough to carry a full load of textbooks and binders, but not so cumbersome that you get jammed up in the hallway. They also need to sport a good bit of internal organization, often in what pack manufacturers will call an admin pocket.

Daypacks

Best Backpacks — Daypacks
Both the Arc’teryx Aerios 15 and Deuter Speed Lite 25 hit the high marks we’re looking for in a good daypack; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

While your destination might not always be the same, you can generally rely on the best daypacks as being versatile enough to meet whatever the day brings, whether that’s hiking, biking, trail running, or just kicking around.  

Daypacks are the Swiss Army knives of the pack-o-sphere, typically sporting a number of different functionalities to aid you in whatever you’re getting after. This includes hydration-bladder sleeves and accompanying hose ports, integrated rain covers, trekking pole and ice axe tethers, helmet securing systems, and more. 

Most daypacks land at around the 15-30 liter range, with smaller packs having just enough space for the basic 10 essentials, and larger packs being able to carry more layers for colder climates, or more water for arid ones. While they can be used for shorter hikes, backpacking bags are typically overgunned for shorter day-long excursions.

Certain running-inspired daypacks, known as hydration packs, shrink down the overall volume to only the essential handful of liters needed to carry quick calories, and are often more vest-like than packs. Still, some like the Ultimate Direction FastPack 20 offer up a good amount of space for longer runs. These packs often revolve around the hydration bladder they carry, and are poised to provide hydration quickly through smart hose routing.

Laptop Backpacks

Best Backpacks — Evergoods CPL Laptop
Consider the amount of padding in your laptop pack, as well as the organization of small essentials such as cords or headphones; (photo/Erika Courtney)

The center of the laptop backpack is unsurprisingly, the laptop, and more importantly, the manner in which it’s carried and protected. Laptop sleeves integrated into backpacks are padded areas made to safely port your mobile desktop around, and good versions will suspend the bottom of the sleeve off the bottom of the pack for protection.

Most often smaller to moderate in size, these laptop packs also lean on a good bit of internal organization to keep things tidy, stashing away journals, pens, chargers, and the like. A broad, supportive base is also handy in order to have a pack that stands up on its own, making rifling around in it easier.

Like some commuter bags, travel backpacks typically lean toward the high-polish side of the spectrum, and can be made with durable and good-looking materials such as seatbelt-like webbing, metal G-hooks, waterproof zippers, and durable thick-denier fabrics.

The Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L represents one of the best of the best in our opinion and protects your laptop behind walls of foam, HDPE plastic, and an aluminum stay. The Fjällräven Kånken Laptop pack brings a bit of classic flair to the equation, and our testers greatly appreciated the tech-focused functionality of the Peak Design Everyday Backpack.

Travel Backpacks

Best Backpacks — Peak Design Travel Pack
Travel packs will fall into two general fields: Carry-ons that are close to the maximum legal size, and personal items to fit under your seat; (photo/Erika Courtney)

It’s all about the miles for travel backpacks. Part luggage, part tourism instrument; travel packs have to be modular in order to meet the demands of the savvy traveler, and more often than not are shaped by the parameters placed on them by airlines. You’ve got your carry-ons (almost always near 40-45 liters) and your personal items (closer to 20-25 L). 

Made to also be versatile in their carry, these packs also often sport a variety of different handles, straps, luggage handle pass-throughs, and even strap storage options — meaning you can carry them in whatever way makes sense for the day. They also will be pretty minimal on the exterior, making for a clean profile to get into overhead bins.

Packs like the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L can be collapsed down to a 30L size for daily adventures at your destination and then maxed out to fully take advantage of airline carry-on limits. Comparatively, bags like the TimBuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack and Aer Go Pack 2 nestle in under the seat in front of you.

Backpacking Packs

Osprey Aether 65 Review
Made to carry your home away from home, backpacking packs need supportive frames to tote all of your outdoor essentials; (photo/Emily Malone)

Backpacking packs are built around the load they’re made to carry, whether that’s an ultralight load-out or an entire NOLS-course worth of kit. Typically built from the frame-out, these bags are made for extended overnight travel and are some of the most complex packs out there. From hydration sleeves to suspended trampoline suspensions, floating brains, and internal dividers, the features can be dizzying.

Because the weight you’ll carry in a backpacking bag is more than most any other pack, sizing is much more important, and these packs are offered in the largest size ranges available, as well as in different gendered suspension systems to accommodate different shaped frames. Consider getting sized by a retail professional, or have a friend measure you up to get the best fit.

For most weekend-ready backpacking packs, an overall volume of 50 to 70 liters should be enough to carry everything you’ll need. For single overnights, many can often get away with 35 to 40 liters. Be mindful that often times the number advertised on backpacking packs may only include the internal volume of the main compartment, leaving some additional space in the exterior pockets and floating lids.

Bags like the Osprey Aether 65 & Ariel 55 offer the full complement of features, and sport supportive frames that will carry a fully weighted down pack. We also have found great success with REI Co-op, Gregory, and The North Face packs.

Specific-Use Packs

Best Backpacks — Climbing Packs
Special use packs like climbing or skiing bags will be feature-heavy for their intended use, but won’t be great general bags because of it; (photo/Erika Courtney)

For the outer realms of sport, there are specialty packs that are refined for specific tasks, and while many backpacking packs can often cover a good spread, they often lack the sport-specificity to truly excel in their niche. 

Climbing packs are made to be rough and tumble and tote around heavy (and sometimes sharp) equipment and are often split into approach and on-route packs, with the former aiming to tote your whole climbing rack and rope, and the latter just what you’ll need on the wall.

Skiing is particularly tough on equipment, and packs made for skiing need to be equally tough to make it to the end of the tour. Specific storage compartments for avalanche rescue equipment are essential, and some even incorporate inflatable airbag systems to stack the deck toward survival in an avalanche.

Packing out large ungulates isn’t easy, and the best big-game hunting packs have robust metal frames in order to shoulder the weight. They also need to be made from quiet materials, with silent-running zippers and soft-faced fabrics to keep from spooking your quarry.

Capacity

Best Ultralight Backpacks — HMG Southwest 2400 Donner Pass
40-liter backpacking packs like this HMG Southwest can be used for dialed-in thru-hikes; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Dialing in on the perfect pack size depends on a few things: how much you’re planning on carrying in it, and how far you’ll be traveling with it. Sure, you could commute with a backpacking pack or travel with a daypack, but you’d quickly find yourself greatly under (or over) prepared for the task. 

In our lineup, packs range from the svelte 18-liter Mystery Ranch District to the 65-liter load-hauling Osprey Aether. In general, we’ve found the following breakdown to describe the volumes of most packs out there:

  • 10-20 L: Most daypacks, small personal-item travel bags, and cycling hydration packs. 
  • 20-30 L: Most day-hiking backpacks, daily-driver packs for commuting or campus, and larger daypacks for more intensive adventures. Many laptop backpacks also land in this volume range.
  • 30-40 L: Most overnight backpacking backpacks. Many carry-on travel backpacks will also land in the 40-45 liter range — about the maximum allowed by most airlines. This is also where dialed ultralight backpacking packs begin.
  • 50-60 L: Most weekend-sized backpacking packs, as well as many climbing packs. Sized for 2-3 days.
  • 60-70 L: Appropriate for extended backpacking trips where you’ll be packing extra food and fuel, or winter trips that demand bulkier sleep gear and clothing. Sized for 4-7 days.
  • 70+ L: Most expedition-sized backpacks for mountaineering, equipment-intensive backpacking, or big-game hunting packs.
Best Backpacks — REI Ruckpack 2
An average day-hike loadout will generally need a 15-25L pack to fit all of your essentials; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Many packs of all stripes will incorporate some type of compression system, which both lowers the internal volume of the pack for when you aren’t carrying as much and keeps the load closer to your back where it’s better supported. 

A functionality unique to travel packs is an expandable volume, made possible by zippered gills that add space to a pack to meet carry-on size limits, and then collapse when you’ve hit your destination to be a more manageable day bag. The Peak Design Travel Backpack is an excellent example of this.

Frames and Suspension

While smaller volume (~10-15L) packs can get away with little to no frame, most packs will need some sort of support system to properly carry their load. The simplest frames are found in daypacks and use a sheet of foam to transfer some load from the shoulder straps to the hip belt. Packs like the REI Co-op Flash 22, Arc’teryx Aerios 15, and Fjällräven Kånken all use frames like this to support smaller loads.

As the volume and load increase, so does the need for a more robust frame system. Because many laptop backpacks are moderately sized but often carry heavier tech, they incorporate stronger frames such as those made from HDPE plastic sheets, which not only increase carrying ability but also protect the laptop inside.

Further frame tech comes in the form of tensioned struts, which act as a sort of spring between the hipbelt and shoulder straps to suspend the weight. Packs like the Deuter Speed Lite make use of simple bent wire hoops, compared to the more static aluminum stays of travel and laptop backpacks (like on the Evergoods Civic Panel Loader.) 

Tensioned mesh panel back panels are big in backpacking packs, with Osprey being an early innovator with their AirSpeed and AntiGravity back systems, and other manufacturers following suit. These suspension systems make use of a supportive trampoline as a back panel, which greatly increases ventilation on long hikes.

Some ultralight backpacking packs eschew a frame entirely, instead relying on an ultralight base weight and some creative packing to form the internal structure of the pack. Care is needed to not over-pack these bags, but when your base weight is less than 5 pounds, going frameless opens up a world of possibilities.

Finally, frames and packs can come in different sizes to suit different body sizes. Typically only seen in larger packs (and a handful of daypacks,) different torso lengths help you get the perfect fit, and can be user-adjustable on the pack itself.

In our lineup of best backpacking backpacks, almost every pack comes in both men’s and women’s sizing (save for some of the smaller cottage-industry brands) with the Osprey Aether & Ariel 55 and Gregory Men’s Katmai 55 & Women’s Kalmia 50 packs landing high on our list.

Shoulder Straps and Hipbelts

Best Backpacks — TNF Recon Backpanel
The shoulder straps on the North Face Recon pack are independently suspended, meaning they follow your shoulders when worn; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Just as important as the frames are the shoulder straps and hip belts that interface with it. These straps are the connection between yourself and the pack, and are important considerations when carrying large loads, or carrying the pack for extended periods. Working together; a frame, shoulder straps, and hip belt are a system for support.

Shoulder straps are typically made in three different styles: J-style straps, which are the OG, S-style straps, which fit people with larger chests, and running-vest style straps — typically only seen on trail-running-styled vests and some daypacks (we love their inclusion on the Deuter Speed Lite packs.) Correctly tensioned, your shoulder straps should take the lesser of the load and instead aim to carry more of the weight on your hips.

Load-lifters are straps that run from the middle of your shoulder straps and connect to the top of your backpack’s frame, which aids in pulling the load in closer to your body. Most lower-volume packs won’t need the added support provided, but they add a good amount of relief to larger backpacking packs. 

Hipbelts connect the majority of the load with your hips, where your body will best be able to support the weight. More of a consideration in larger backpacking packs, be sure to size your pack so that your hip belt lands just about at your iliac crest (the top of your hipbones) for the best load transfer. 

Like different torso sizes, straps are also often available in different gendered sizes, with “Men’s” packs suiting folks with broader shoulders and narrower hips, and “Women’s” packs working better for people with narrow shoulders and wider hips. The straps and padding may also be shaped anatomically for the best fit.

Organization

Best Backpacks — Organization Evergoods
Laptop backpacks will be some of the most organized packs out there, with a sleeve, pocket, or pouch for everything; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Some packs are spartan and simple tubes, while others break up the space with a flurry of pockets, sleeves, dividers, secret compartments, and false bottoms. If you are living out of your pack for weeks on end, a good organizational system is paramount to staying sane. Your use case will largely direct how organized you want your backpack to be, but there are a few important things to note.

If you’re looking for some more information on how to best pack a backpack, check out GearJunkie’s How-To where we lay it all out (literally).

Main Compartment

Best Backpacks — TNF Recon Organization
Top loading packs will be accessible through wide zippered openings, but won’t open entirely; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Most every pack on the market will access the main compartment through either an opening in the top of the pack (known as top-loaders) or through panel openings that release a side of the pack (known as clamshell or panel-loading). In the case of packs like the Peak Design Travel Backpack, the U-shaped zipper extends far enough to fully separate the back panel, which can be important for TSA screenings of laptops.

Packs made for daily use (such as commuters, campus, and laptop backpacks) will sport more internal organization than bags made for purely load hauling. These come in the form of divided internal space, frequently of a more simple open compartment, and then one with more pockets and sleeves. Often seen in work or laptop bags, “admin or valet” pockets are meant to harness your pens, chargers, and journals, and generally provide quick access to this kit in an organized way.

Best Backpacks — Deuter Access
Backpacking and day packs generally don’t partition interior space much, leaving room for odd-shaped items; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Travel backpacks are often much more like luggage internally, and will offer up a large internal compartment, along with some sub-dividers and internal compression straps to keep things in place. We greatly appreciate travel packs that offer some type of “dirty laundry” compartment like the Thule Aion or Gregory Border Traveler bags, which make living out of the bag much more civilized. 

While packs designed for backpacking are typically less involved internally to facilitate easy packing, some will feature a dedicated sleeping bag compartment at the bottom of the bag. This helps to keep your bag cleaner and drier, but in most cases, we find the division to be unnecessary and limit our ability to make use of all the space.

Exterior Pockets

Best Backpacks — Deuter Speed Lite
Stretch mesh pockets can be a huge boon for storing sit pads, water bottles, or wet rain jackets; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Made for quick and easy access, exterior pockets are ideal for snagging frequently accessed items such as keys, phones, or wallets. They typically come in a few different variations:

  • Hipbelt Pockets: Located on the waistbelts of larger packs, these pockets are an excellent place to park the items you want to access without taking off your whole backpack. 
  • Floating Lid/Brain: Another feature of backpacking packs, floating lids are affixed to the pack body with straps, and feature a few internal zippered pockets where small items like headlamps, maps, or GPS devices can be stashed.
  • Stretch Stuff Pockets: Stretch or dump pockets on packs make retrieval easy, and can accommodate water bottles as well as wet layers like a rain jacket. Very often seen on outdoors-oriented packs such as backpacking bags and daypacks, but less so on laptop or work bags.

Accessory Attachment

Best Backpacks — Patagonia Black Hole Access
Extensive daisy chain webbing is super versatile, and with a little cord and some carabiners you can rig up pretty much anything; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

For everything that won’t fit on the interior of your pack, there is likely a means of wrangling it onto your pack with an accessory attachment system. One of the most standard is daisy-chain webbing loops, which can be clipped to with carabiners or tied off to fasten gear down.

Other options include elastic cords and toggles for fastening down trekking poles or ice axes, adjustable webbing straps for lashing down bulky kit, or integrated loops for affixing cycling lights. Your use case will greatly influence what attachment systems you may need, so take stock of the items you’re looking to tote around outside of your pack before swiping your card.

Understand also that attachment systems like these will add some complexity to your backpack, and you’ll end up paying a little more for them both out of your wallet and on your back.

Materials and Durability

Best Backpacks — Mystery Ranch District
The CORDURA 420D nylon on the Mystery Ranch District is burly and resists wear; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

We always recommend buying a backpack built with high-quality materials, which will not only improve your day-to-day use but also the pack’s longevity.

The fabric denier — a measure of the density of its fibers — is the best quick measure of durability, with higher numbers reflecting a tougher fabric. On our list, fabric deniers range from 140D to 840D, with reinforced areas of up to 900D. Different areas of packs may receive different applications of fabric in order to up their durability in high-wear areas, such as pack bottoms and back panels.

When packs don’t need ultra-tough materials, such as in lightweight daypacks, they often make use of lighter denier nylons and polyesters in their constructions. These can often be shored up by using different weaving techniques to create ripstop or ballistic fabrics, and we greatly appreciate this in rough-and-tumble packs but don’t see much of a need in commuters and laptop bags.

These fabrics often have a durable water repellant (DWR) finish applied to them, which is most often a hydrophobic coating that resists rain and prolongs soaking your backpack but can also be a polyurethane coating as in the case of the Patagonia Black Hole Backpack, or a waxed canvas. Even if we don’t plan on using our packs in the great outdoors, we still highly prefer a pack with some type of waterproofing.

Consider also that your backpack will need to close in some way, and that’s where high-quality zippers, buckles, and webbing come into play. These are the finer details, but still important and a busted piece of hardware can render your bag defunct. Zippers in particular say a lot about the thought put into a backpack, and going with reputable slides from YKK or Riri will keep them sliding into the future.

In terms of long-term durability, one of the best things you can do for your backpack is to keep it clean. For an in-depth look at pack hygiene, check out GearJunkie’s How-To on the subject.

Sustainability

Best Backpacks — Patagonia Black Hole Pack
The Patagonia Black Hole Pack is 100% recycled, all the way down to the TPU-film laminate; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Finally, be mindful of the impact your new backpack will have on the environment — all the way from beginning to end. A great way to limit this is by purchasing packs that are made with recycled materials, which either use industrial scrap that otherwise would have been thrown away, or source it from post-consumer sources such as plastic waste.

Thankfully, many companies are now going further and incorporating PFC-free DWR finishes into their pack builds. Perfluorinated chemicals — also known as forever chemicals — are particularly nasty to the environment, as well as pervasive, and we’ve found eco-alternatives to be just as good at keeping our packs dry.

Different supply chain certifications can also lend some good insight into what exactly went into creating your backpack, including the labor practices used. Bluesign-certified labels let you know that the materials used met stringent standards for eliminating chemicals of concern and that the factories producing them met emissions and labor safety standards.

Fair Trade Certification is earned by meeting standards set by Fairtrade International, an international nonprofit that works to ensure greater equity for agricultural and textile workers. These standards often require meeting a standard minimum wage, ensuring the right to join in collective bargaining, and that buyers pay a minimum price in order to cover the costs of sustainable production. 

Another under-sold way to limit your pack’s footprint is through brute longevity. Packs that last longer stay out of landfills longer, and investing in a pack that will go the distance (and can be repaired) helps avoid early retirement. The buy once, cry once adage rings true here, and we recommend investing in equipment that will stick with you for many years to come.

Style

When considering the style of the packs in our lineup, we first surveyed our testing team, before turning to the general public and soliciting opinions. Style can be a subjective thing, but we all generally agreed on a few important facets that made certain bags stand out in our testing.

For one, we all found that laptop and campus bags were generally more simple in their exterior styling, while holding a great amount of complexity inside the bag. Backpacking packs are the opposite, with relatively simple interior spaces, but cluttered exteriors. ‘Less is more’ certainly applies here, and for a bag that’ll fly on the metro or in the office, keep it simple. Bags like the Fjällräven Kånken rank high in this regard. 

We also all appreciated high-quality materials in the build of our backpacks, including on the exterior. Waterproof zippers, leather accents, custom buckles, and seatbelt-like webbing all gave a classy look, and it made packs like the Peak Design Travel Backpack look every bit of its $300 price tag. 

Finally, know that some packs will be available in multiple different styles, such as the Osprey Aoede which is offered up in a backpack, a messenger bag, and a brief-pack style of pack.

Price

Backpacks can vary wildly in their intended use, and also in their pricing. Simple around-town bags may only cost you a fistful of bills, but larger volume backpacking bags and certain high-quality travel packs can demand hundreds of dollars. Certainly, you get what you pay for with much of this, but it’s good to understand exactly what you’re paying for.

Budget-Minded Backpacks:

Typically the realm of campus, daypacks, and everyday bags, more budget-minded packs won’t break the bank but may make some concessions in order to hit that price point. First off, there’s no escaping the fact that more material costs more to produce, and thus smaller-volume bags are going to cost less than their larger cousins.

Cheaper packs may also leave out some functionalities found in more expensive packs, such as multiple internal organizers, adjustable suspension straps, and expandable volumes. This keeps the price of these packs at around $60 to $120, and for the money, you’ll see more traditional builds rather than complicated access systems. For example, the Dakine Campus ($75) is a pretty recognizable shape for a school bag, but still gets the job done.

While they typically cost a good bit more, there are still budget backpacking and travel packs, such as the REI Co-op Flash Packs ($199) and the Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack ($170) — both perfectly serviceable in their respective niches.

Mid-Range Backpacks:

Mid-range packs thankfully make up the majority of backpacks and mean that just about anyone can get their mitts on a pack that’ll both do what they need it to, but won’t ask for an arm and a leg in doing so. For about $150 to $200, you’ll get a pack that is specialized for the task at hand: whether that’s commuting, hiking on the weekends, or traveling internationally. 

These packs will make use of quality materials, including often higher denier fabrics in typical wear areas. Adjustability, too, enters the equation at this price point, and that extends to both the suspension system, as well as in volume-expanding pockets and folds that’ll make your pack bigger.

Packs like the Deuter Speed Lite 25 ($120), Osprey Farpoint/Fairview ($185), Osprey Exos 58 ($260), and Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L ($169) all excel in their lanes and come in below the truly spendy versions that jam in all the bells and whistles.

Premium backpacks will often be specifically tailored for an activity, such as the waterproof YETI Panga 28L; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Premium Backpacks:

Because of their feature-packed builds (and the amount of material required to make them), backpacking packs typically command higher price points than other backpack types. The average across all of the packs we tested was ~$270, with some cottage industry packs like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest ($349), and Zpacks Arc Blast ($375) coming in a good bit above that.

High-end travel backpacks with large volumes, too, will cost you more, with the upper crust going for more than $250, though their prices are typically more due to their build quality than total volume. Packs like the Matador GlobeRider 45 ($350) and Peak Design Travel Backpack ($300) both jam in features into smart layouts that leave little to be desired. 

There can also be premium everyday bags as well, such as the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($243) which is made out of ultra-premium materials and is customizable and handmade to spec. If you’re a fan of the best materials possible, this is your pack.

FAQ

How do I choose a backpack?

First and foremost, you’ll need to decide what you’re going to do with it. The form should follow function, and whether it’s a backpacking pack, a travel-ready carry-on, or a svelte daypack, you’ll want a bag that’s been designed for what you want to do.

Once you’ve narrowed in on the style you’re after, begin to consider how much stuff you’re aiming to carry in it, as almost every backpack is available in a few different volumes. Generally, 20-30 liters will suffice for weekend-long adventures, with less than that being ideal for daily carries, and more working better for backpacking adventures.

Finally, consider the small niceties of a backpack, such as the style, color, and accessories offered. These details can help be the tie-breaker in otherwise difficult decisions over which pack to pick up.

What is the best brand of college backpacks?

While JanSport still holds a stranglehold on the educated masses, there are a number of different college-ready backpacks available that we’ve come to enjoy and recommend. 

The North Face has a number of different backpacks that are keen on being used for study sessions, such as the Recon and Jester packs. Both incorporate well-padded back panels, protected laptop sleeves, and a clean look that we enjoy for cutting around campus.

The Dakine Campus is also aptly named, and it doesn’t demand much out of your pocket to boot. And for anyone looking for a classic and stylish bag, the Kånken from Fjällräven would not disappoint.

How much should you pay for a good backpack?

How much you’ll pay for a good backpack will largely depend on the style of the pack. We find that most decent daypacks will run you around $100 to $150, depending mostly on their size, as well as complexity when it comes to the frame system they employ. The Deuter Speed Lite 25 has many die-hard supporters around these parts, as do the REI Co-op Flash 22 and REI Co-op Trail 25.

Laptop and travel backpacks often get a bit more of a luxe treatment, meaning they can demand a little bit more for the high-end materials they are made from. $150 to $200 will generally net you a bag that will stand up to the abuse of constant daily use and international travel. At $185, the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview packs make a perfect travel companion.

And in terms of backpacking packs, $250 is about the bullseye to aim for in terms of packs that will stand up to entire seasons of living outdoors. These packs will sport enough padding and adjustability to be comfortable over miles of trail, and be made of durable enough materials to kick around outdoors without much care.

What is the best size backpack for daily use?

For an average daily-driver backpack, aim for an internal volume of around 20 to 30 liters. This will allow you to store everything that you might need for work, school, or exploring a new city, but also incidentals such as extra layers, or some fresh produce from the farmer’s market.

What size backpack is best for weekend trips?

For weekend trips where you’ve got to carry your home on your back, most will need a backpack between 50 and 70 liters. This provides enough space to lug your sleep system, as well as the food and water you’ll need to support yourself over 2-3 days.

Bunking in the hostel on vacation? You can certainly get away with a pack between 30 and 40 liters — which is enough space to bring along a few extra layers and maybe a book or two.

What makes a good quality backpack?

The quality of a backpack has a lot to do with the materials that it’s made with, as well as how it’s been made. Considering the best packs in each of the respective categories, we looked for builds that emphasized durability in the regular wear zones, had good internal or external organization for the specific use, and had suspensions and padding that fit us well and could be adjusted.

Packs on the lower end of the ‘worth-it’ strata will make some compromises, and typically that comes in the form of left-off features, thinner fabrics, and overall less specification for any one activity. These packs make great do-it-all bags, but they won’t excel at certain tasks. 

The importance of a good warranty also shouldn’t be discounted when tallying up quality. Should anything go awry with your new backpack, certain companies will make it right and get you set back up with a new or repaired bag.

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