The 15 Best Hiking Backpacks to Take on the Trail
When gearing up for an outdoor adventure, there’s a lot you’ll need to bring. For a short trip, you’ll want snacks, water, a first aid kit, a camera, and maybe a rain jacket if the forecast isn’t 100 percent in your favor. A longer trip? All of the above plus a stove, a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, food, water treatment, "town clothes" — the list goes on and on.
Knowing just how much you’re going to bring on your hike is really the first step to choosing an ideal backpack. Pack size is determined by carrying capacity (measured in liters), and you’ll want to be sure you have the right size pack for your trip. Too big and you're carrying around extra weight. Too small and you'll have to sacrifice something that could keep your hike safe and comfortable. Having to choose between a tent and a sleeping bag because your pack isn’t big enough is a recipe for disaster, but at the other end, you don't want a floppy 85L pack just to carry around a water bottle and some granola. These top pack choices have been sorted by size — from small to large — to help you choose the right one.
Sometimes, one pack (the Osprey Atmos, for example) will come in different sizes (small, medium, and large), different carrying capacities (50L and 65L), and will also have a women’s version (the Osprey Aura) that includes all of the same features, but is designed to fit more comfortably on a woman’s body.
The best way to find out which specifications best fit your needs is to try the pack on. Reading hiking backpack reviews isn’t as helpful as actually adjusting a backpack and all of its various straps to fit your body and loading it up with some weight, even if that means buying it and having to ship it back or going to a retailer to try it on. You don’t want to regret your pack choice three hours into the trail, and a test run will help make carrying everything you need as comfortable as it can possibly be.
Whether you’re looking for a pack to accommodate a five-month thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail or an afternoon jaunt through the forest right outside your city, these are the top-notch options to kick off your search.
15L Deuter Speed Lite
The simple, thin design of the Deuter Speed Lite allows for full range of motion with your arms, and an ultralight frame allows this pack to maintain its shape. As with all Deuter packs, if you ever run into trouble just check inside the pack for the SOS label which features instructions in case of an emergency.
Weight: 13 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $69.
18L Gregory Miwok
Most packs this size skip the hip belt pockets, but the Miwok kept them, along with a host of other features such as an expandable outside mesh pocket and easy access to use and refill a hydration system. The shoulder straps and hip belt are both attached to the pack with elastic, which lets the Miwok move with your body during active pursuits.
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $99.
24L backpack also available.
Women’s Gregory Maya also available.
20L The North Face Angstrom
Designed for day hikes, the Angstrom has an integrated rain cover and a reinforced bottom so you won’t have to worry about setting it down. The crossed elastic laces make it easy to carry a rain jacket on the outside of the pack, while the hip belt pulls tight from the outside in rather than the inside, to better ensure a great fit.
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $102.
28L backpack also available.
20L Women’s Angstrom also available.
25L Eddie Bauer Bygone
This throwback design is backed up by incredibly durable materials, making the Bygone a great pack for short day hikes or just toting around town. With four different colors ranging from Russet to Midnight Navy, you’ll find one that fits your style.
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
To buy: eddiebauer.com, $60.
30L backpack also available.
28L Eddie Bauer Bacon Pack
Eddie Bauer’s Bacon Pack has a zip-top closure, which opens all the way up, so you can easily access the main compartment of the pack. This pack is designed to keep the weight high and tight, giving you a full range of movement while still carrying what you need.
Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
To buy: eddiebauer.com, $74.25.
30L Fjallraven Bergen
The Fjallraven Bergen has a removable waterproof liner to keep everything in the main compartment dry, especially when combined with the lack of zippers (they have a tendency to leak) and the roll-top enclosure. It also features hip belt pockets that are massive for a pack of this size.
Weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $150.
40L Hyperlight Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider
If you’ve narrowed your gear list down to the bare essentials and want the pack to complement your ultralight load, the Windrider is right for you. The minimalist, waterproof design is capped by a roll-top enclosure, which is great for easily adjusting the size of your pack to suit your load.
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $314.95.
48L Osprey Exos
The Exos is a lightweight pack designed for long-distance travel. To make it even lighter, you can take the top lid off and still keep your stuff secure with the FlapJacket cover. Mesh pockets on both shoulder straps let you keep small items or snacks easily accessible during your hike.
Weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $190.
50L Thule Versant
Thule is a Swedish company known for its roof racks and cargo carriers, but it offers a great pack, too. The bottom third is waterproof, while the top two-thirds can be covered by an integrated rain cover.
Weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $240.
Women’s Thule Versant also available.
50L Osprey Atmos
Previous generations of the Osprey Atmos featured their AirSpeed suspension, but their new Antigravity system has improved on what was already an incredible design. Rather than having your back flush against the pack, the suspended support system helps to distribute the weight evenly over your back, hips, and shoulders. The result is an exceptionally comfortable pack that keeps you cooler when the hiking gets hot.
Weight: 4 lbs.
To buy: ems.com, $230.
65L backpack also available.
Women’s Osprey Aura also available.
60L Black Diamond Element
Previously, Black Diamond aimed their pack designs exclusively towards mountaineering and climbing, but the Element was built from the ground up for hiking and backpacking. With a clean design reminiscent of their more technical climbing packs, the Element’s Swing Arm shoulder strap design helps the pack move with your stride instead of sitting rigidly on your back.
Weight: 3 lbs. 4 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $220.
45L backpack also available.
Women’s Black Diamond Elixir also available.
70L EMS Long Trail
The split hip belt on the Long Trail is built wider than almost any pack you’ll find on the market, resulting in a pack that feels like it’s hugging you the whole time as it transfers the weight off your back and onto your hips. The extra long zipper toggles are a nice touch, making this pack a fine choice when wearing gloves or mittens on a winter hike.
Weight: 4 lb. 12 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $229.
Women’s EMS Long Trail also available.
75L Osprey Volt
With its adjustable hip belt and shoulder strap harness system, you’ll have no problem finding a comfortable fit with the Osprey Volt. A traditional design without any gimmicks makes this pack a great value buy, and at just over four pounds, it won’t add much weight to your load.
Weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
To buy: ems.com, $200.
60L backpack also available.
Women’s Osprey Viva also available.
75L Gregory Baltoro Goal Zero
Gregory’s Baltoro line has long been the Cadillac of packs, with full-featured designs that are comfortable even when carrying heavy loads. The Goal Zero raises the bar further with its integrated solar charger. Previously, hikers seeking to keep their devices charged would have had to attach a solar charger as best they could to the top of their pack, but the Goal Zero has smoothly packaged all of the components.
Weight: 6 lbs. 6 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $429.
Women’s Gregory Deva also available.
105L Mountain Hardwear BMG OutDry
Sometimes you just need to carry everything, and for that, look no further than the Mountain Hardwear BMG. Swallowing an incredible 105 liters worth of gear, this no-frills pack is designed for long and heavy approaches on mountaineering expeditions. The waterproof membrane will keep your gear dry without any need for a rain cover.
Weight: 4 lbs. 11 oz.
To buy: amazon.com, $360.