A backpack is one of the very first pieces of gear you’ll need to get started hiking. Considering you’ll be wearing it for hours at a time, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right one. The best backpacks for hiking aren’t cheap but it’s an investment to add to your hiking gear list that will last for years.
One of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to make your life easier when it comes to buying outdoor gear. We’ve already told you how to find the best hiking GPS, a good quality camping hammock and an affordable high end camera for traveling. Now, it’s time to talk about backpacks for hiking.
We’ve put together these backpack reviews to help you out with the process. For this article, we stuck to talking about 50-80 liter packs designed for multi-day hiking.
QUICK ANSWER: THE BEST HIKING BACKPACK
- Osprey Ariel
- Arc’teryx Altra
- Teton Sport Scout 3400
- Gregory Baltoro
- The North Face Cobra
- Osprey Atmos
- Deuter Air Contact
- Air Sierra Titan
- The North Face Banchee
- Fjällräven Kaipak
THE BEST BACKPACKS FOR HIKING – A COMPARISON
HIKING BACKPACKS 101
4 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A HIKING BACKPACK
1. TRIP LENGTH – VOLUME CAPACITY
The first question to ask yourself is: What size pack do I need? When it comes to hiking, the longer you plan to spend on the trail, the bigger pack you’ll need. Backpacks are sized by how much they can hold (volume), which is measured in liters.
As a general guide, weekend trips (1-3 nights = 35-50 liters), multi-day (3-5 nights =50-80 liters), long trips (6 nights+ =70 liters+). If you’re planning a trip in winter consider that you might need more room for extra layers and a warm sleeping bag.
2. SIZE – TORSO LENGTH
Aside from choosing the volume capacity of the pack, you’ll need to pick the right size for you (small, medium, etc…). When it comes to packs, torso length matters more than your height.
To find this measurement grab a flexible tape measure and a friend. Tilt your head forward and have him feel along the base of your neck for a bony bump. This is your C7 vertebra in case you wanted to know and the top of your torso length. The bottom of your torso length is at the top of your hip bones. An easy way to find this spot is to put your hands comfortably on your hips, it’s where your thumbs point to on your back. Your torso length is the distance between these two points.
Here’s a general guide for how manufacturers determine the size of the backpack:
- Extra Small: up to 15 ½”
- Small: 16″ to 17½”
- Medium/Regular: 18″ to 19½”
- Large/Tall: 20″ and up
The last thing you should try to cut weight on is the pack itself. I made this mistake when I bought an ultralight pack and tried it out on an overnight trip. The super thin straps dug into my skin and the frame creaked like nails on a chalkboard from the load I was carrying. The first thing I did when I got back was to return the pack. For the few pounds I was saving I was sacrificing my comfort and sanity on the trail.
4. WOMEN & YOUTH SPECIFIC
Many manufacturers make women’s specific backpacks. While it’s true that women can easily wear unisex packs, some women will find these packs fit better and are more comfortable. Female specific backpacks are designed with shorter torso lengths, narrower shoulder widths, and curved waist belts.
If you’re buying a pack for a kid, take a look at getting a youth specific one. These typically have smaller capacities and include an adjustable suspension to accommodate a child’s growth.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/andriano_cz
HIKING BACKPACKS REVIEWS
THE TOP 10 BEST HIKING BACKPACKS
OSPREY AETHER/ ARIEL
“CARRY HEAVY LOADS COMFORTABLY”
The Osprey Ariel is the the pack that I use for all my multi-day hiking adventures.
It’s Osprey’s classic backpacking pack that has all the bells and whistles you’d expect. The Ariel has lots of pockets and compartments which is great for staying organized on the trail.
Its AirScape back panel lets air ventilate through which is great for when you are hiking up steep terrain during warm weather. The best thing about this pack is it’s capable of carrying a lot of weight and still be comfortable. The men’s version is the Osprey Aether.
“HIGH QUALITY MEETS STYLE”
The Arc’teryx Altra is a great choice for multi-day trips or long weekend hikes. One great feature is expands and compresses to the size you want, making it very versatile.
Also, there’s a ton of adjustment straps which allow you to tailor it perfectly to your body.
It’s one of the most expensive packs on this list but keep in mind it’s lightweight and water resistant. If price isn’t an issue for you and you want a great pack, this could be the one for you.
TETON SPORT SCOUT 3400
“GREAT VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY”
The Teton Sport Scout is an affordable backpack with features usually seen only in higher-priced packs. It’s a durable hiking pack with sturdy zippers, mesh lumbar support, and padded waist and shoulder straps.
You won’t believe how comfortable this pack is for the money.
It even includes a rain cover which stays hidden until you need it. There are also gear loops to hang ski poles or ice axes.
“TECHNICAL PACK FOR BACKCOUNTRY ADVENTURERS”
The Gregory Baltoro was designed for backcountry adventure seekers. The Baltoro has won countless awards for being an extremely comfortable, high performance pack.
This backpack is an updated version from the classic Baltoro. The main difference is the suspension has been redesigned to carry heavy loads better and more comfortably than ever before.
Some great features are a waterproof hip-belt pocket that fits a small camera and a clever hydration sleeve that converts into a daypack.
THE NORTH FACE COBRA
“SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE IN HARSH WINTER MOUNTAIN ENVIRONMENTS”
The North Face Cobra was built with expeditions and alpine guides in mind. From its intuitive ice tool and crampon storage to the load-hauling aluminum frame, this durable pack is built to go the distance.
It’s the alpine expedition pack reimagined: a ton of features, athlete tested and fully dialed on every level.
One cool feature is the side pockets are accessible when the pack is on, great for getting to snacks, hats and gloves while on the trail.
OSPREY ATMOS/ AURA
“EXTREMELY COMFORTABLE PACK”
The winner of Backpacker magazine’s 2015 Editors’ Choice Award, the Osprey Atmos was designed with comfort in mind.
It’s Anti-Gravity suspension system helps spread the load out evenly while eliminating pressure points. This system suspends the weight over a larger area, allowing more air to ventilate, something much appreciated for summer hiking.
The Atmos has great adjustability. The four compression straps connect directly to the frame, allowing you to squeeze down and stabilize smaller loads.
DEUTER AIR CONTACT
“CLASSIC, COMFORTABLE & BUILT TO LAST”
The Deuter Air Contact was made with serious trekkers in mind. While it’s certainly not lightweight at 6lbs, it’s rugged and well built.
The zippers are big and strong and there’s plenty of pockets. It’s Aircontact system offers great support for carrying heavy loads and also helps with ventilation, keeping moisture from building up on your back while walking.
The pack comes with a detachable rain fly which is great for keeping your gear dry while trekking in bad weather.
HIGH SIERRA TITAN
“GREAT VALUE BACKPACK”
The High Sierra Titan was made to carry heavy loads with relative ease thanks to its S-shaped Ergo-Fit shoulder strap harness with load-lifters that adjust to fit regular torso sizes.
The pack has a high-density foam padded back panel which provides excellent load support. The large AirFlow channels and uniquely contoured internal frame structure helps keep your back cool and dry.
There is plenty of storage space, lots of big and small pockets, and some very clever access zips. The Sierra Titan is one of the best values for your money on the market.
THE NORTH FACE BANCHEE
“LIGHTWEIGHT & COMFORTABLE PACK”
The North Face Banchee is a lightweight backpack that makes it easy to stay organized on the trail. One of the top features of this pack is that it’s light (3 lbs 10 ounces) while being extremely supportive. It can handle heavier loads more comfortably than most other lightweight packs.
The Banchee has 8 pockets which are strategically located and designed which makes packing a breeze. Climbers will be happy to hear that the lid pocket is big enough to store a helmet.
“HEAVY DUTY, ECO FRIENDLY PACK”
Fjällräven Kaipak is a robust pack perfect for multi-day trekking. It’s made from G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco in recycled polyester and organic cotton, in other words, it’s eco friendly and tough. An added bonus is the fabric has been waxed for water resistance.
The pack has a fixed torso design. What you lose in adjustability you make up for in stability. It has ergonomically shaped shoulder straps and hip belts with two pockets, perfect for snacks and sunscreen.