The 10 Best Hiking Backpacks
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in May of 2015. The right hiking backpack can make an outdoor experience infinitely safer and more enjoyable. With a variety of designs available to complement different trekking styles and camping durations, we've gathered the best models to meet any needs based on size, weight, carrying capacity, and comfort. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best hiking backpack on Amazon.
April 11, 2019:
The capacity and ergonomics of the new and improved Osprey Men's Atmos 65 AG shot it up to the top of our list, especially the contours of its hip straps, which create one of the most comfortable carrying experiences you can imagine, even with a lot of gear weighing it down. The company also updated their Exos model, but without the same degree of improvement, causing it to fall from the top three. The internal simplicity of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack caused it to slip a couple of spots, as well, as there isn't much organizational potential to it, and if there's something vital you need to access on the trail, you could find yourself frustrated if not in danger.
Get Your Gear From Here To There: The Hiking Pack
Most are, sure, but some aren't, and wet gear is a great way to ruin a trip.
This, though, is a case where price shouldn't be the leading factor in your consideration.
For the dedicated outdoor enthusiast, a hiking pack is more than just a way to haul gear on a trail; it is a deeply personal piece of equipment that becomes an integral part of your life. The right pack not only feels good on your back, but in fact makes you feel good each and every time you swing it up onto yourself and cinch those straps tight.
And contrary to common misconception, a great hiking pack need not cost a great deal of money. This, though, is a case where price shouldn't be the leading factor in your consideration. A great hiking pack is the pack that's right for you, not one that costs the most and has lots of fancy attributes on paper. If a pack has the right amount of storage space (usually measured in liters or cubic inches) for your needs, a suspension system that appeals to you and suits your body shape, and offers a distribution of pockets you find appealing, then that's the pack for you.
Of course, there are a few details to weigh.
If you're a day hiker who prefers shorter loops, then consider a summit style pack; many hiking packs that distribute loads evenly over your person in fact add weight unnecessarily if all you needed to carry along was a bit of water and a layer or two.
If you're headed into the deep woods for a multiple day trip, however, then a bigger bag is crucial. But consider one that can be adjusted easily to a smaller size as your food is consumed or can be enlarged to accommodate layers of clothing you remove. Keeping your bag tightly packed ensures an even weight distribution that will help keep you balanced.
And to state the obvious, if you're headed into a climate where wet weather is likely, make sure your pack is water resistant. Most are, sure, but some aren't, and wet gear is a great way to ruin a trip.
How To Choose The Right Hiking Pack
Any decent hiking pack is adjustable in several different ways. But not every pack can be adjusted enough for every hiker, so do your research before you buy.
Hiking packs can be adjusted to accommodate various torso lengths, often adjustable as many as six inches. This adjustment usually involves adding or reducing the distance between the shoulder straps and the waist belt. Ideally you can find a hiking pack that fits you perfectly in its middle setting, e.g. a pack that accommodates torsos between 18 and 24 inches while your ideal setting is 21 inches. That's the case because minor adjustments during the course of a hike can shift where you concentrate the load, from waist to shoulders, giving various parts of your body little breaks from time to time.
The waist belt itself is critical, as most of a pack's weight is carried on your hips. Make sure you choose one that fits you comfortably while still offering plenty of opportunity for tightening or loosening.
Also consider the type of padding on the back. Softer pads may seem like a draw at first, but they might also soak up sweat and hold heat, for example.
How To Pack That Pack
The way you load your hiking pack should be dictated by the type of hike at hand. If you're going on an overnight (or multiple night) trek, then you're going to have sleeping gear and a shelter of sorts, and these items will only need to be accessed once a day, thus they can be loaded into the bottom of the bag.
That of course goes for your water supply itself, too, and your camera.
If you anticipate rain, keep your poncho or other foul weather gear easy to grab, as getting wet is both unpleasant and radically increases the risk for hypothermia in all seasons. Water purification systems and first aid gear should always be readily available. That of course goes for your water supply itself, too, and your camera.
But beyond those few items (water, emergency gear, e.g.) that you need to access readily and at times quickly, the most important factor when it comes to packing is weight distribution, not accessibility. You need to keep the bulk of your heavy gear as close as possible to the small of your back. That helps to keep it near your center of gravity, which means better balance. Better balance, in turn, means more safety and less fatigue, both crucial factors when you're out in the wilderness.
If you're hauling lots of extra water, go ahead and load it low in the bag. If you have lots of clothing for layering purposes (or simply because you're out in the cold) get that up near the top of your load, as it's lighter weight. And be sure to give your pack a few good shakes and bounces once you have loaded, and then check its weight distribution again: things shift around as you move, and even a pack that seems properly loaded can quickly become off balance. Take the time to readjust or even repack during breaks; your back, and the rest of your body, will thank you.
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