The 10 Best Hiking Backpacks
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2015. The right hiking backpack can make an outdoor experience 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. We've selected choices at various price points, as well, to accommodate a range of budgets. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
July 26, 2020:
Experienced hikers won't be surprised to see that packs from Osprey still come out on top, notably the Osprey Atmos AG and the Osprey Exos, with a 65- and 40-liter capacity, respectively. And while these are both designed for men, like most models from this maker, there are versions sized to fit women, as well. The Thule Stir and the Granite Gear Crown2 remain top choices, too, with the Thule model being especially well-designed for use in poor weather.
As for smaller choices, we kept the Ultimate Direction Fastpack, a pack that fits almost like a trail running vest. Unfortunately, it has a huge logo that will be a dealbreaker for some, although many can look past this thanks to the lightweight mesh, ample pockets, and dual sliding sternum straps. The Deuter Speed Lite 22 is a great choice, as well, that has a sleek profile but plenty of usability features, including wide, breathable shoulder straps.
Finally, we revamped our budget picks, removing the High Sierra Woman's Summit and the OutdoorMaster Waterproof 50L. It's not that these are terrible packs; they're okay for casual use. But we think the Kelty Redwing represents a better value. It's less expensive than many similarly-sized models, and it's built to be stronger and more durable than much of the low-cost competition. Plus, it's versatile, since it has a dual-purpose sleeve that holds a hydration bladder when you're on the trail and a laptop when you're commuting.
April 12, 2019:
The capacity and ergonomics of the new and improved Osprey Atmos 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.
Mountain Hardwear AMG 105 With plenty of thoughtful touches, from reflective accents to haul loops on the hip belt, the Mountain Hardwear AMG 105 helps you comfortably carry even the largest loads. It's on the heavy side at over five pounds, but it's robust and built for the long haul, with an aluminum frame that offers plenty of support. mountainhardwear.com
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 is a well-known favorite for many reasons. For one thing, it is rugged and strong but lightweight at two pounds, and for another, it has large hip belt pockets that help you keep crucial gear close at hand. Plus, it comes with a convenient SitLight pad. gossamergear.com
Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 The Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 is certainly not cheap, but if you struggle to stay comfortable with other packs, it's definitely one to consider. That's because it has a "RotoGlide" hip belt that can actually move up and down, as well as side to side, so that it moves with you and feels natural. It's made to handle rough weather, too. arcteryx.com
Get Your Gear From Here To There: The Hiking Pack
Keeping your bag tightly packed ensures an even weight distribution that will help keep you balanced.
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.
Water purification systems and first aid gear should always be readily available.
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.