There are several important criteria to consider when buying a hiking backpack. Some of these include volume, weight, comfort and features. We’ll take a look at the best hiking backpack guide for 2020, measuring each reviewed backpack by weight, comfort, performance, and more. Check out the quick list below, and dive deeper for more details.
our top hiking backpacks, reviewed
This year, the crown goes to Osprey’s Aura AG/Atmos AG 65L for success in all those categories. Without further ado, here are the best hiking backpacks in 2020.
Best all-around hiking backpack
Osprey is renowned for making some of the world’s most ergonomic hiking backpacks. In particular, the Atmos AG and the Aura AG speak to the brand’s greatest strengths. The former is designed for men, while the latter, for women. At 65L (and with a maximum carrying capacity of 50 lbs), these packs are as equally suited to a year-long tramp around the globe as to a weekend camping trip.
Features unique to Osprey like the Fit-on-the-Fly hipbelt, Anti-Gravity suspension, and AirScape back panel allow for better weight distribution, more stability, and increased airflow—and this means more comfort. A built-in hydration sleeve holds up to 3L of water, and all packs come with Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee.
Best hiking backpack runner-up
In second place, we have the Osprey Aether 70 AG backpack, which boasts less versatility than the aforementioned Aura and Atmos, but more specificity when it comes to serious adventuring. If you’re looking for a thru-hiking or alpinism pack, the Aether 70 AG fits the bill.
As usual, you can expect the ultimate in backpacking comfort, stability, and ventilation thanks to Osprey’s patented Anti-Gravity suspension and AirScape back panel. Did we mention that the Aether is actually two backpacks in one? The convertible top can be removed and used as a separate DayLid daypack, allowing you to leave behind what you don’t need as you scramble to the summit.
- Less versatile for low-key adventuring
best backpack for long hauls
For long-haul trips, you’re going to need a pack with lots of space and lots of options. The Gregory Deva 70 and Baltoro 75 offer complete, versatile solutions for extended travel. Depending on your needs, they also come in various sizes, including the Deva 60, Baltoro 65, and Baltoro 85.
Quick-dry straps and harness keep you cool and comfortable. A 3D mesh back panel offers added ventilation, while a built-in rain cover keeps your gear dry when it, you know, rains. The internal hydration pack doubles as a removable day-pack when all you need are the essentials. Plenty of pockets and attachment points give you the freedom to customise your carry.
- Sturdy build
- Great support
- Full front access
- Cumbersome for shorter trips
best weatherproof backpack
Even the world’s driest deserts sometimes see rain. But there are some regions where rain is not just a sometimes event—it’s the norm (looking at you, East Coast). For adventures in notoriously wet places, consider a backpack that prioritizes weather-proofing. In this category, the Arc’teryx Bora AR 61, for women, and the Bora 63, for men, shine.
The 420D nylon face fabric is durable and weather-resistant, while high-exposure areas on the pack are made with powerful 630D nylon reinforced by weatherproof AC² fabric. The top lid is removable and the back panel is ventilated. If 60+ litres seems like too much space for you, size down with the Bora AR 50, for men, and the Bora AR 49, for women.
- Size options
Best backpack for weekend trips
The last thing you want to be thinking about during a weekend trip is stuff like work and taxes. But you also don’t want to be distracted by how big, heavy, and cumbersome your backpack is—the whole point is to appreciate the world around you, not sweat the one you left behind or the one on your back. That’s why the Osprey Talon 44 is an ideal choice for weekend trips, offering a perfect balance of volume and comfort.
The Talon offers plenty of features, from its AirSpace back panel and internal hydration sleeve, to its myriad pockets and trekking pole/ice axe attachments.
- Ample, not excessive, space
- Many features
- Not designed for longer trips
Best backpack for minimalists
The Exos 48L is Osprey’s entry into the minimalist backpacking world. What we have here is as comfortable and functional as any Osprey bag, but with fewer frills and a lighter weight. Though the backpack is unisex, women also have the option of a more ergonomic version, embodied by the Eja 48L.
AirSpeed ventilation and an Exoform harness ensure that the pack is sturdy, comfortable, and well-ventilated. The Exos boasts a weight of just 2.5lbs. If 48L is not quite or more than enough, you can opt for the 38L and 58L versions, respectively. As always with Osprey’s packs, both the Exos and the Eja are backed by the All Mighty Guarantee.
- Too minimal for some
- Fewer pockets
Best travel hybrid backpack
For a backpack that meets both your trek and travel needs, Osprey’s Farpoint Trek 75L is the perfect choice. You’ll find many of Osprey’s signature hiking details, in addition to convenient suitcase features, on the pack. The most striking feature of its hybrid design is the combination of a top-loading mouth and suitcase-style opening.
Inside, you’ll find a padded laptop sleeve in addition to a scratch-free sunglasses-cum-electronics pocket. If you’re caught in the rain, simply deploy the built-in Aircover rain cover. For added security, the Farpoint also boasts (quietly boasts, to be sure) hidden pockets and lockable zippers.
- Hybrid openings
- Rain cover
- Better options for strictly backpacking
With so many options out there, it would be impossible to mention all of the best ones. Here’s a few honourable mentions we’d like to smuggle in before wrapping up.
The North Face Banchee 65L is a stellar pack for multi-day expeditions, not only for its size but for its lightweight construction. The integrated Dyno-Lite system allows you to micro-adjust the pack’s weight distribution for perfect comfort and stability. The Banchee also comes in a 50L version.
While primarily known for their roof racks, Thule is no stranger to the backpack game. Their Capstone 50L (women’s; men’s) is a practical, affordable, and thoughtful minimalist pack, perfect for weekend trips. Also comes in a women’s 40L and a men’s 40L.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A HIKING BACKPACK
Here we quickly touch on some of the main criteria when choosing the right backpacking pack for your needs. For more in-depth coverage on the topic, check out our article, How to Choose a Hiking Backpack.
Choosing the right pack volume has to do with the remoteness, local climate, carry preferences, and duration of your trip. Nevertheless, here is a hard-and-fast rule to make this choice simpler.
- 1-3 Nights: 30 – 50 Litres
- 3-5 Nights: 50 – 80 Litres
- 5+ Nights: 70+ Litres
Knowing where everything is in your pack and being able to have quick access is a must. Having a well-organized, functional pack comes down to the number and layout of the compartments. Below are some compartment types to look for.
Your hiking backpack itself is like a giant pocket, fit for carrying your gear, food, and anything else that needs to stay dry. A top-lid “brain” pocket is a great place to stash items you frequently use (GPS, map, compass, etc.), while outside pockets are designed to keep your water bottles handy (assuming you don’t have a hydration pocket—see below). Finally, hip belt pockets can be used to conveniently store little items (like a Clif Bar and your phone) on your waist.
Similar to laptop sleeves, hydration sleeves are sewn into the inside back panel of the bag. It’s a long, narrow compartment designed to hold something called a “bladder”. The volume of water a bladder can hold depends on the size of the particular sleeve. A hose connected to the bladder passes through a small opening so you can access it directly. This means you don’t have to stop everytime you want to hydrate.
Detachable daypacks are featured on many larger or long-distance hiking packs. They are part of the main body which, when removed, allows you to ditch your hulking load for a smaller pack. This is useful when you’ve set up a homebase and are just heading out for the day, or if you’re summiting a precipitous peak and want to stay light.
Comfort & Support
It’s always best to try out a backpacking pack before buying it. Comfort means you can spend more time enjoying your adventure and less time focusing on that weird new kink in your back. A backpack’s support system translates directly to comfort.
Having a well-padded shoulder strap is important, especially for larger packs and heavier loads. Make sure the straps are comfortably padded and wide enough apart relative to your shoulder width. Otherwise, you might find them chafing your neck and shoulders.
Waist- or hip-belts are essential to proper weight distribution. A hip-belt should offer good support and padding, so as not to cause excessive chafing and pain. Make sure you can tighten the waist straps adequately. If the hip-belt feels loose at its maximum squeeze, consider sizing down.
Osprey has led the revolution in backpack ventilation. Their patented AirScape technology incorporates mesh-covered 3D foam-back panels, which allow air to travel between your back and your backpack, helping you stay cool and dry.
Many other companies have begun to incorporate similar technology into their packs. Just be sure to try the pack on (with a full load) to verify whether the weight distribution is affected by the ventilation gap.
How should a hiking backpack fit?
Finding a hiking backpack that fits well is crucial to your short-term comfort and long-term health. We break down exactly what you need to know about how a hiking backpack should fit here.
FAQs for hiking backpacks
Q: How heavy should a backpacking pack be?
A: This depends on factors like the fabrics used in its construction, the amount of hardware and features, and the size of the pack: the more frills, the greater the weight. To keep the pack’s initial weight as low as possible, take some time to consider exactly which features you need and which you can do without. If you really want to go ultralight, remember that ultralight backpacks have a lower carrying capacity than their heavier counterparts of the same volume.
Q: What is considered a lightweight backpack?
A: There is no precise answer to this, but when looking for the lightest pack on the market, make sure to only compare packs of the same volume (40L to 40L, 65L to 65L, etc.). As a rule of thumb, ultralight packs tend to have fewer features, less hardware, and a lower carrying capacity.
Q: Can backpacking packs be carry-ons?
A: In general, yes. But it’s always wise to check the weight and size restrictions for carry-ons with the airline before you fly. Also, things like hiking poles and gas canisters won’t be permitted on your flight, so ensure that your bag is free of any prohibited items—otherwise, you’ll have to check it.
Nothing beats trying on a hiking backpack in person. Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to make the right choice, it’s time to get out there and do some field research. Reading online reviews is also a great way to get honest opinions about the pros and cons of each pack. We hope we’re able to steer you in the right direction to one of the many backpacks we stock, and that you can find the perfect backpack for your needs!