A hiking backpack is by far the most important piece of gear for any serious hiker. So choose your companion wisely. In fact, choosing the best backpack is like choosing the right car: it should be comfortable, able to carry all your essentials, and aesthetically pleasing. And, just like cars, the choices are seemingly endless. Our picks for this year’s best hiking backpacks will guide you in making the right choice for your next trip in the wild.
There are several important criteria to consider when buying a hiking backpack. Some of these include volume, weight, comfort, durability, and features. As we take a look at each category’s best pick for 2021, we’ll review the backpacks with these factors in mind.
This year, the crown goes to Osprey’s Aether 55 Backpack for success in all those categories. Now, without further ado, here are the best hiking backpacks in 2021!
our top hiking backpacks, reviewed
Best all-around hiking backpack
Osprey is renowned for making some of the world’s most ergonomic hiking backpacks. In particular, the Aether 55 Backpack speaks to the brand’s greatest strengths. With a 55L carrying capacity, this pack is equally suited to a year-long tramp around the globe as it is to a weekend glamping trip.
Features unique to Osprey, like their custom Fit-on-the-Fly hip belt and shoulder straps, allow for better weight distribution and more stability. This translates to a substantial increase in comfort. The torso length is also adjustable.
A built-in hydration sleeve makes water easily accessible, while a DWR-treated rainfly is always ready for a downpour. The LightWire frame also means a lower base weight, which even ultralighters can get behind. Overall, the Aether 55 Backpack has something for everyone.
Best hiking backpack runner-up
In second place, we have the Mystery Ranch Scree 32L Backpack, which boasts less space than the aforementioned Aether, but more specificity when it comes to serious adventuring. If you’re looking for an all-around midsize daypack or a light overnight backpack, the Scree fits the bill.
Long days require ample agua, so the Scree is both hydration compatible as well as offering easy-to-reach water bottle pockets. For smaller essentials you want to keep organized, there’s a spacious zip pocket built into the lid as well as on the waist belt. An internal HDPE frame sheet offers rigidity and support throughout your entire hike.
- Less suited for long treks
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 60 for women and Baltoro 65 for men offer complete, versatile solutions for extended travel.
The 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. The internal hydration sleeve doubles as a removable day-pack when all you need are the essentials. Plenty of pockets and attachment points give you the freedom to customize your carry.
- Sturdy build
- Great support
- Full frontal 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 only 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 Alpha AR 35 Backpack excels.
The face fabric is made with durable and weather-resistant ripstop nylon, while the brain pocket features a water-tight zipper.
Best Backpack for Day Trips
Skimming it down to the bare essentials, the Deuter Speed Lite 20L Hiking Backpack is the perfect companion for a day on the trail.
With a weight of just 490g (just over a pound), the Speed Lite will go nearly unnoticed on your back. But, with its 20L carrying capacity, you'll have plenty of space for your day's necessities, from water and snacks to your camera and puffy.
- Surprisingly durable
- Not for long trips
Best Backpack for Weekend Trips
The last thing you want to be thinking about during a weekend trip is stuff like work and taxes. Equally, you don’t want to be distracted by how big, heavy, and cumbersome your backpack is. That’s why the Fjällräven Bergtagen 38 S/M Backpack is an ideal choice, offering a perfect balance of volume and comfort.
As the name implies, it has a 38L carrying capacity, in addition to a supportive wooden frame. Yes—wooden.
The Bergtagen offers plenty of features, too. From its waterproof nylon shell to its removable top lid. It also has attachment points for skis, trekking poles, and/or ice axes. Best of all, it's got that chic minimalist flair only Fjällräven can pull off.
- Ample but not excessive space
- Many features
- Not for long 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 their All-Mighty Guarantee.
- Too minimal for some
- Fewer pockets
Best Backpack for Trail Running
While not quite the same beast as hiking, we'd be remiss not to mention our top choice for trail running. The Trailblazer 10 Backpack by Salomon is a perfect companion for a fast tramp through the woods.
It's lightweight and compact, with enough space for water in the hydration sleeve, a Cliff bar, a basic first-aid kit, a few extra garments, and even an attachment for a hiking pole.
- Seriously ultralight
- Fast-drying and breathable
- Very specific use-case
Best travel hybrid backpack
For a backpack that meets both your trek and travel needs, Osprey’s Farpoint Trek 75L is the perfect choice. Here, you’ll find many of Osprey’s signature hiking specs, in addition to convenient suitcase features. The most striking feature of its hybrid design is the combination of a top-loading mouth and suitcase-style opening.
Inside, you have a padded laptop sleeve as well as a scratch-free sunglasses-cum-electronics pocket. If you’re caught in the rain, simply deploy the built-in Aircover rainfly. 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.
Tired of unisex backpacks? Specifically designed with the female physique in mind, the Mammut Trea Spine Backpack 35L is considered one of the most comfortable backpacks for women.
The Active Spine Technology supports the natural female gait, while the suspension system is customizable to suit your height. Plus, who doesn't love purple?
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 home base 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.
For the best all-around backpack, check out the Osprey Aether 55 backpack. Of course, nothing beats trying on a hiking pack in person. Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge you need, it’s time to get out there and do some field research.
Reading online reviews is another great way to get honest opinions about the pros and cons of each pack. We hope we’ve been able to steer you in the right direction so you can find the perfect pack for your next adventure!