- A good hiking pack is an important piece of gear for day hikes, overnight camping trips, or treks into the backcountry.
- The best hiking backpacks should have these features in common: They allow you to haul all the hiking gear you need, are designed to be durable enough for several seasons, and they remain comfortable to wear no matter how many miles you're on the trail.
- Our top pick, the Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 65, is a feature-heavy pack that's versatile for a variety of wearers, spacious enough for multi-day trips, and one of the most comfortable packs we've ever tested.
Whether you're spending the day on your favorite hiking route or planning to trek the length of the Appalachian Trail, a proper backpack is an essential piece of gear. Out on the trail, a backpack is our lifeline, allowing us to carry all the equipment and supplies we need — which is why choosing the right pack is so important.
Modern packs blend ergonomic design with the latest in lightweight, durable fabrics. As a result, we live in a time when there are literally dozens of good backpacks to choose from. Some come equipped with sophisticated suspension systems to lighten the load and reduce fatigue, while others double-down on thickly padded shoulder straps and hip belts. A few even go to great lengths to push new boundaries of minimalism, shedding unnecessary amenities in favor of cutting ounces, allowing us to go faster and further on the trail.
How to shop for a hiking pack
Like any good tool, it's important to have the right backpack for the job — and especially important to know how to find that. This is often defined by the pack's carrying capacity, which is the bag's volume's as expressed in liters.
Most day hikers won't need a pack with a capacity larger than 30 liters, while weekend excursions will likely bump up to the 35- to 45-liter range. Thru-hikers and serious backpackers often expand into the 45- to 65-liter category, with anything larger than that typically reserved for expedition guides and mountaineers.
There are plenty of gear manufacturers producing outstanding bags, which makes it harder than ever to choose the right one for you. That said, there are definitely a few packs that stand out from the crowd and belong on your shortlist for consideration. Usually, these models offer plenty of nice features while also featuring top-notch design, high-quality materials, and a little something extra that puts them in a category all of their own.
We've field-tested a selection of the latest hiking backpacks from brands like Osprey, Gregory, and REI Co-op to find the best of the current bunch.
Here are the best hiking backpacks:
- Best hiking backpack overall: Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 65
- Best hiking backpack for day hikes: Gregory Citro/Juno 24 H2O
- Best hiking backpack for ultralight hiking: ZPacks Arc Blast
- Best hiking backpack for those on a budget: REI Co-op Flash 45
- Best hiking backpack for women: Deuter Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL
Updated on 10/5/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on how to shop for a hiking backpack, included a rundown of our testing methodology, checked the availability of all featured packs, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
The best hiking backpack overall
Supremely comfortable with great back ventilation and well-padded shoulder straps, the Osprey Atmos AG 65 — along with its female-specific counterpart, the Aura AG 65 — is durable, has plenty of features, and offers lots of carrying capacity for multi-day hikes.
Osprey has a reputation for making some of the best hiking, backpacking, and travel packs on the market, but with the Atmos AG, the company truly outdid itself. This bag is so well made and includes so many great features, that it's easy to recommend it to experienced and beginner hikers alike.
Its 65 liters of carrying capacity makes it a great choice for extended outings, with lot of pockets to keep you organized out on the trail — and there aren't so many compartments or pouches that it gets overwhelming and confusing either.
Thanks to Osprey's excellent Anti-Gravity Suspension system, this backpack is amongst the most comfortable we've ever tested. Integrated into the pack's backpanel and hipbelt, the AG system conforms nicely to the wearer's body, providing support for heavy loads along with an unmatched level of ventilation. Because this suspension is so well designed, the pack actually feels lighter than you'd expect, which is not something you can say about most other bags. This allows hikers to more easily carry a heavier load while maintaining speed and balance.
With a cavernous main pocket, the Atmos 65 easily houses the essential gear necessary for a multi-day hiking trip. Thankfully, there are a number of additional pockets for stashing important items you'll want to quickly find later. That includes a mesh front pocket on the exterior and two side pockets that are perfect for carrying water bottles. Hikers will also find two zippered pockets on the pack's lid, which can be removed entirely if you're looking to shave a few extra ounces from the Atmos's 4.5-pound weight.
Other nice features include padded shoulder straps and hipbelt, as well as an easily-adjustable harness for dialing in the perfect fit. The Atmos also comes with a built-in hydration sleeve that accommodates reservoirs of up to 3 liters, making it easy to stay hydrated on long hikes. A dedicated sleeping bag compartment is another nice touch, as is Osprey's FlapJack cover that protects your gear even when the lid's removed. We also appreciated the stow-on-the-go trekking pole loops, which make it easy to stash your poles when not in use without having to take the bag off.
A truly versatile pack, it's hard to find much to dislike in the Atmos 65. It's a little heavier than some models and is priced higher, too, but thanks to Osprey's great build quality — and a lifetime guarantee — you can expect this backpack to accompany you on adventures for years. If you're looking for one bag that can be used on weekend outings, long thru-hikes, and adventure travel excursions, this one handles the job nicely.
Pros: Comfortable, well ventilated, feels light on your back, and had plenty of organizational pockets
Cons: Pricey and a little on the heavy side
The best hiking backpack for day hikes
Compact, lightweight, and comfortable to wear, the Gregory Citro 24 H2O and Juno 24 H2O manage to include quite a few features in an affordable and well-designed daypack.
Even though a daypack is intended for shorter hikes, you'll still want one that's comfortable to wear on your outdoor adventures. The Gregory Citro 24, and the women's-specific Juno 24, fit that description nicely. Both offer a simple, streamlined profile that's functional and good looking, along with every feature you'd want from a pack designed for day-long excursions.
The Citro's 24 liters of carrying capacity is ample enough even for longer day hikes. It comes with a sizable main compartment and several pockets for keeping your important gear organized and accessible. That includes handy zip pockets that put snacks, a smartphone, or other small items within easy reach. Gregory even includes a clever system for securing sunglasses to one of the pack's shoulder straps.
It isn't all that common to find a good suspension system on a daypack simply because of the size and weight of these smaller models. But Gregory's VaporSpan ventilated backpanel not only excels at wicking away moisture — keeping the wearer drier and more comfortable — it also makes it easier to haul heavier loads. This raises the overall comfort level of the Citro significantly, making it a versatile choice whether you're just heading out for a leisurely stroll or looking to go peak bagging in the mountains.
One of our favorite features of the Citro is that it isn't just hydration ready, but actually ships with Gregory's 3D hydration reservoir, too. This makes it easy for hikers to comfortably carry up to 3 liters of water with them on the trail, which is not an insignificant amount for such a small pack. And since the reservoir is included, you won't have to search for a third-party model that's compatible with the bag, eliminating potential frustration in the process.
The one knock we had on the Citro 24 is that its two mesh pockets, located on either side of the bag, were a bit too snug to accommodate a water bottle, particularly when the bag was packed with gear. This is less of an issue thanks to the included hydration reservoir but bottles can be used to carry alternative beverages such as sports drinks or electrolyte-infused water. The snug pockets make it challenging to get bottles in and out, although they did work well when it came to securing other items that were stashed there.
Pros: Comfortable, good ventilation and suspension, plenty of pockets, and hydration reservoir included.
Cons: Snug side pockets a challenge to get water bottles in and out
Best backpack for ultralight hiking
Ultralight backpackers looking for a great pack that weighs next to nothing will love the ZPacks Arc Blast, a bag that's meant for light-and-fast adventures and long-distance thru-hikes.
Tipping the scales at a mere 1 pound, 5 ounces, the ZPacks Arc Blast is one of the lightest packs on the market. Designed specifically with ultralight hikers in mind, the goal of this bag is to reduce a hiker's pack weight as much as possible in order to increase their speed on the trail. While this approach isn't for everyone, those who are looking for lightweight performance are likely to love what they'll find here.
In order to get the Arc Blast down to its unbelievably low weight, ZPacks uses a material called Dyneema in the pack's construction. This fabric is reportedly ten times stronger than steel yet incredibly lightweight at the same time. Dyneema also has natural water-resistant qualities that allow it to perform well, even when the weather takes a turn for the worse. The downside of this miracle fabric is that it can be quite expensive, which is reflected in this pack's price ($325).
As with most ultralight backpacks, the Arc Blast isn't loaded with many features. You won't find a ton of organizational pockets, gear loops, or suspension systems here, as those kinds of amenities add weight to the bag. Instead, you'll get a single main compartment with up to 55 liters of capacity, along with a mesh exterior stash pocket for storing items for quick access.
Mesh water bottle holders can be found on either side of the pack and they're placed in such a way that they can easily be reached without having to take the pack off. The bag does have surprisingly nice shoulder straps and a well-designed back panel, the latter of which provides excellent ventilation for a backpack in this category.
If the ultralight approach to hiking isn't your cup of tea, this pack probably doesn't make a lot of sense for you. Not only does it cost a considerable amount of money but it also lacks basic features. But if you're a veteran backpacker who counts ever ounce you take with you, chances are you'll love this pack. It's well-built, comfortable, and extremely lightweight. In fact, the Arc Blast is so popular with the ultralight crowd that it's often backordered, requiring a wait time of several weeks. Once you do get your hands on one, you'll quickly realize it was worth the wait.
Pros: Extremely lightweight, weather resistant, and durable
Cons: Expensive, lacks features, not designed to carry a heavy load
The best hiking backpack for those on a budget
Proving you don't need to spend a lot of money to get a high quality backpack, the REI Co-op Flash 45 for men and women is a feature-packed, well-designed option that won't break the bank.
Ideal for weekend backpacking trips or international travel, the REI Co-op Flash 45 is proof that you don't have to cut corners in order to deliver an affordable pack. While not as robust and full-featured as other models in this guide, the Flash offers everything most hikers need, including durable materials and good build-quality — and still manages to sell for less than $160.
With pockets and mesh stash compartments aplenty, a carrying capacity of 45 liters, thick-padded shoulder straps, and a 3D, contoured hipbelt, there's little that feels budget about the Flash. The pack is hydration ready, has a removable top pouch, and water bottle pockets that are angled so they can be reached without having to take the bag off. Those are features you'd expect to find on any high-quality backpack of course, just not necessarily one that sells at this price point ($159).
Weighing in at just 2.5 pounds, the Flash 45 is light enough to fall into the ultralight category, but without the hefty price tag that usually comes along with that label. Because of its lower weight, the pack is only rated to carry a load of about 30 pounds, although that limit can be pushed a bit in a pinch. All things considered, REI should be commended for making a pack that weighs this little, carries so much, and comes in at an affordable price.
An added benefit of such a lightweight pack is that when it isn't overloaded with gear, it's very comfortable to wear and the Flash 45 provides more comfort than you might expect. The bag's design offers solid ventilation, while integrated load lifters help keep weight off your shoulders and distribute it to your hips where it belongs. The excellent hipbelt also assists with this process, keeping the pack firmly in place and providing extra padding that's greatly appreciated on longer days.
Perhaps the Flash's best feature is what REI calls Packmod. This is the ability to strip away excess items from the bag — including straps, hip pockets, and the pack's lid — to cut excess ounces. This level of customization is also not something you'd expect from a pack in this price range, but it enhances its flexibility and versatility even further. Having this level of built-in customizability is refreshing, even on a pack that costs much more than this one.
Pros: Lightweight, comfortable, lots of pockets, affordable, and highly versatile.
Cons: Not designed to carry heavy loads
The best hiking backpack designed specifically for women
Built with female hikers in mind, the Deuter Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL offers a women's-specific fit, generous carrying capacity, and outstanding durability for any backcountry adventure.
For years, Deuter led the way when it came to making packs specifically for women. While some manufacturers were content on simply changing the color of their packs to add appeal, Deuter put a lot of time and effort in figuring out how a woman's body differs from a man's and crafted its bags accordingly. The results speak for themselves, with this brand routinely offering some of the best options for female adventurers.
The Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL is a perfect example of this inclusive effort, which includes reducing the overall length of the pack compared to standard models, as well as making subtle, yet important adjustments to its fit. The bag's hipbelt has also been adjusted to balance heavy loads more fully on the hips, while the shoulder and sternum straps are positioned to be more accommodating to the female form. This level of attention to detail improves comfort while reducing stress and fatigue.
This pack is meant for taking on serous hikes and has the features you'd expect in order to do so. For instance, Deuter's Aircontact backpanel is one of the best on the market, offering plenty of padding, outstanding ventilation, and solid weight management. It's also highly adjustable to fit a variety of body types, giving the bag even more customizability and versatility. Additionally, the pack is hydration ready, has a dedicated sleeping bag compartment, includes numerous organizational pockets, and comes with trekking pole loops. In short, it has what you need for days spent in the backcountry.
On its own, this backpack has a carrying capacity of 45 liters, although a removable lid can be added to increase that capacity by 10 additional liters when needed. With the lid in place, the pack feels a bit tall and somewhat top-heavy, which can make it seem a little awkward at times. Still, the ability to easily add more capacity is a nice option to have and one that helps separate the Aircontact line from its competition.
Thanks to its overall comfort level, ability to carry heavy loads with ease, and its full set of features, the Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL is a top choice for female hikers. Whether you're setting out on a weekend hike, embarking on a weeks-long trek, or traveling to the far side of the planet, this pack makes an excellent companion. Priced at $200, its extremely affordable, too.
Pros: Women's-specific fit, expandable carrying capacity, lots of pockets, and affordably priced
Cons: Can feel tall and awkward with lid installed
How we test
Each backpack featured in this guide went through a series of on-back and on-trail tests to see how they stacked up across these four categories: Fit, versatility, storage capacity, and value. Here's how each category specifically factored into which hiking backpacks ultimately made the cut:
- Fit: An ill-fitting backpack is the difference between actually enjoying the hike you're own and wondering just how many more steps it is until you're back at your car. Thankfully, most modern backpacks take fit and comfort into serious consideration with brands designing their packs from the ground up with this in mind from the start. This means padded shoulder straps and innovative load management systems, as well as breathable back panels that offer support where you need it. This is a clear category for judging, too. Either a pack has features designed to fit you well and keep you comfortable or they don't.
- Versatility: If you buy a hiking pack, it's highly likely you only need it to suffice on hikes, but the added versatility of being able to use it for other activities is a welcome added touch. Maybe you want to use it as an overnight bag or intend to use it as a cycling pack. Though versatility (or lack thereof) isn't a total dealbreaker, it at least worth enough consideration if you're in the market for a bag you don't have to use strictly on the trail.
- Storage capacity: Most backpacks come in a variety of sizes, though when assessing storage capacity, we also looked at how well storage options like gear loops or sunglass pockets contributed to its overall function. We wanted to be able to fit enough hiking supplies for short and long day hikes, but being able to stash keys, wallets, smartphones, or anything else we'd feel compelled to pack along was a necessity, too.
- Value: A hiking pack's value isn't tied entirely to how much it costs as it's more of a combination of the three categories above as well as its sticker price. We often think it's better to spend a little more on a backpack that's of higher quality and designed to last than to spend less more often on something that's second-rate.
Check out our other outdoors buying guides
The best hydration packs
By designing hydration packs with special compartments built to hold flexible water pouches, anyone has the ability to take liters of potable water with them wherever they go. Be it a five-mile day hike, a longer backpacking trek, or even a long-distance bike ride, there's a hydration pack available to satiate anyone's thirst.
The best fire starters
If you're headed out for a camping trip or assembling a disaster preparedness kit, always put a lighter and some emergency matches in there with the rest of the gear. But as lighters eventually run out of fuel or break, and as you can only carry a finite number of matches, it's a good idea to also bring along a fire starter.
The best mosquito repellent products
Effective mosquito prevention requires a multi-pronged approach in which you remove breeding grounds, kill off adult insects, and deploy products that repel these dangerous pests. If you had to choose just one item for your anti-mosquito arsenal, a wise choice would be time-tested OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent with its 25% DEET concentration that wards off mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and more.
The best sleeping bags
A sleeping bag is more than a matter of comfort. In extreme circumstances, having the right sleeping bag can be a matter of life and death. But that's no reason not to find one that's nice and cozy, too. The Hyke & Byke Quandary 15 Degree sleeping bag is warm and comfortable, lightweight and compactable, and it won't break the bank.
The best tents for car camping
When you're car camping, you only need to haul your gear a short distance from the back of your vehicle, so go ahead and bring along a big, bulky tent with all sorts of special features. Choosing the best car camping tent starts with simply considering the size of the tent you need and the environment you'll be in, as well as budget.
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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected]
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