For the uninitiated, preparing for a long-distance hike is a significant undertaking. First-time backpackers need to acquire a slew of specialized equipment, gear, and supplies. That demands a considerable upfront investment, even when they can get some items borrowed or secondhand.
Of all the outfitting decisions you’ll make, choosing the right hiking backpack is among the most important – and likely the second-most costly after your tent. As you work through your backpack options, you’ll need to consider:
- Your Budget. How much are you willing and able to spend, keeping in mind that you may save more in the long run by choosing quality over sticker price?
- How Long You Plan to Spend on the Trail. The longer your hike, the more cargo capacity you’ll need.
- The Terrain You Plan to Cover. Steep or technical terrain may necessitate specialized equipment.
- The Weather Conditions You Expect to Encounter. A well-ventilated backpack is a must in hot weather, for instance.
- Your Personal Comfort and Convenience. Internal organization and back support can make or break a backpacking experience.
To help you find the right pack for your needs, here’s a look at some of the best hiking backpacks available to U.S. hikers right now.
Best Hiking Backpacks on the Market
Each listing below includes rough pricing for new backpacks purchased directly from the manufacturer or authorized retailers. You may find lower prices on seasonal sale and clearance items, as well as on gently used backpacks purchased in private transactions or through authorized resellers.
1. Osprey Atmos AG 65
Retailing for about $270 at full price and about $200 on clearance, the Osprey Atmos AG 65 is among the best-reviewed hiking backpacks on the market today. A quick glance at its specs and features reveals why.
The Anti-Gravity suspension system offers an unusually supportive experience, thanks to a seamless construction that molds to unique body shapes with no adjustment required. The removable floating top lid’s dual pockets offer extra storage on longer journeys, and when removed, the durable FlapJacket protects the pack’s contents. Front and side mesh pockets effortlessly expand storage for water-resistant gear and supplies.
The Atmos AG 65 comes in three sizes: small (62-liter capacity), medium (65-liter capacity), and large (68 liter-capacity). The Fit-on-the-Fly hip belt and adjustable strap system allow for on-the-go resizing, and the special water reservoir pocket can hold liquid volumes up to 3 liters. The chest strap features an integrated safety whistle, and ice tool loops adorn the exterior – both welcome features on remote or technical adventures. The pack is rated to hold up to 50 pounds.
The Atmos AG 65 is protected by Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee, under which Osprey commits to make free, no-questions-asked repairs to any pack sold in the U.S. at any time, regardless of the cause of the damage or the date of purchase. If Osprey can’t complete a functional repair to a damaged or defective pack, they’ll replace it free of charge.
2. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
Weighing in at just over 2 pounds – less than half the weight of traditional aluminum-frame overnight packs – the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ($225 on Gossamer Gear’s website) boasts an impressive carrying capacity for its weight class and a fantastic internal organization system that makes the most of its slender frame.
This rugged nylon pack is rated to carry up to 35 pounds. Seven pockets, including an external mesh compartment for wet clothing and gear, are a trailhead organizer’s dream; most ultra-lightweight packs have three or four compartments at most. The shoulder straps and hip belt are cushioned for added comfort, and the hip belt has a built-in stiffener for optimal weight transfer. External storage hardware helps secure poles and technical tools outside the main frame.
3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest ($345 on Hyperlite’s website) is an ultralight pack that clocks in at just about 2 pounds. Its 40-pound load capacity is truly impressive for its weight class, and the slender frame makes it ideal for navigating dense vegetation and tight rock formations. On day hikes, roll down the top to squeeze out unused cargo space and compress the pack’s dimensions even further; on multi-day adventures, stretch it back out to take full advantage of the 55-liter interior.
This bag’s Achilles’ heel is poor internal organization. A single compartment dominates the interior cargo space, with only a separate hydro compartment for water reservoirs and external tool loops for differentiation. On the bright side, four exterior buckles allow for easy accessory additions, and the interior is all but watertight, making the 3400 Southwest ideal for soggy hikes.
4. Osprey Levity 60
It’s tough to find a multi-day backpack lighter than the Osprey Levity 60 ($270 on REI.com), which weighs from 1.8 to 2 pounds depending on size (small, medium, or large). With carrying capacities ranging from 57 to 63 liters, depending on size, the Levity 60 isn’t the most spacious backpack around, but it’s more than sufficient for a three-day hike without superfluous gear.
The Levity 60’s petite frame includes a fixed top with expandable zippered compartments, an internal compression strap for maximal storage efficiency, and bellowed front fabric pockets for storing damp clothing and gear. Like the Atmos AG 65, the Levity 60 features a seamless mesh harness that effortlessly conforms to body shape, an adjustable sternum strap with integrated safety whistle, and external tool storage.
5. ULA Circuit
The ULA Circuit ($255 at ULA’s website) boasts a 68-liter carrying capacity, an empty weight just over 3 pounds, and a maximum carrying capacity of 35 pounds. Although it’s not the lightest, most spacious, or most rugged pack on the market, the Circuit scores high enough on all three metrics to appeal to a wide range of hiking personalities.
The ULA Circuit is technically an ultralight pack, but its heavy nylon construction, which adds some weight, makes it more durable than competitors that optimize for low weight. Zippered hip belt compartments and an oversized mesh front pocket offer added external capacity, though ULA cautions against overloading the pack.
6. Granite Gear Blaze 60
The super-light Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($270 on Amazon.com) clocks in on either side of 3 pounds, depending on the size (short, medium, or long), and is rated to carry up to 50 pounds without buckling. A simple but effective cinch-and-roll closure helps compress the pack’s contents and ensure stable weight distribution on tough terrain, a capability that’s further enhanced by specific adjustment points that allow for an unbelievably snug form fit.
The Blaze 60 has a great internal and external organization system featuring an oversized front mesh pocket, dual hip belt pockets, dual fabric side pockets, a removable lid compartment that easily converts to a chest pack, and an ample hydration sleeve with built-in port. Don’t miss the hidden zipper, which offers easy access to contents near the bottom of the pack’s main compartment.
7. Gregory Baltoro 75
The Gregory Mountain Products Baltoro 75 ($330 on REI.com) is a heavy, rugged pack that’s ideal for multi-day thru-hikes in virtually any weather and trail condition. A wishbone aluminum frame supports a 75-liter carrying capacity at just under 5 pounds. With nine external cargo pockets, hip belt pockets, and a dedicated sleeping bag compartment, there’s little left to be desired in the volume department here.
Whenever you don’t need the full carrying capacity and weight of the Baltoro 75, simply snap off the removable daypack and hit the trail. The daypack is a fantastic option for half- or full-day excursions from a static campsite. Other useful features include a removable rain cover (which seems like overkill given the water-resistant construction), a dedicated sunglass sleeve on the shoulder strap, and a super-breathable back panel that’s great in hot weather.
Gregory offers free two-day shipping on all orders – great news for hikers who’ve put off outfitting till the last minute.
8. REI Co-op Traverse 70 / REI Co-op Traverse 65
The REI Co-op Traverse 70 ($249 full-price at REI’s website; about $175 on sale at REI) is a full-size men’s pack that comes in three sizes: small (66 liters), medium (70 liters), and large (74 liters). The comparable REI Co-op Traverse 65 (priced the same) is a full-size women’s pack that also comes in three sizes: small (61 liters), medium (65 liters), and large (69 liters).
All three sizes weigh at or under 5 pounds, and REI’s proprietary UpLift Compression technology scrunches the fully loaded pack’s center of gravity to improve maneuverability and reduce drag – a must for hikers contending with back issues. A padded, pocketed hip belt (perfect for storing small electronics) and padded shoulder straps with body-molded ventilation windows allow for superior breathability. All told, the REI Co-op Traverse 70 and Co-op Traverse 65 have at least 11 exterior pockets, including two double-zippered front pockets for easy access to bulky items. And don’t sleep on the removable daypack, a perfect companion for any day hike or foraging excursion.
REI offers free shipping on this item – and many others – online. It’s also in stock at REI’s physical stores; use the store locator to find the one nearest to you.
9. Kelty Coyote 65
The Kelty Coyote 65 (about $179 on Kelty’s website) is a smaller cousin to the spacious Kelty Coyote 80, which costs about $20 more at full price and holds 15 extra liters at full capacity. Sure, you could spring for the larger pack, but if you’re looking for a lightweight, form-fitting multi-day pack for well under $200, it’s hard to beat the Coyote 65.
The Coyote 65 performs passably or better on all fronts. A proprietary suspension, reinforced waist belt, and on-body adjustment allow for an unusually snug, maneuverable fit. A rugged aluminum frame lets you pack in a few additional pounds – though at just under 5 pounds, the Coyote 65 isn’t even close to lightest in its volume class. Multiple external pockets make for accessible tool and accessory storage.
One drawback for shoulder strap fans is that they’re not included; you’ll need to pay $20 extra for a pair.
10. REI Co-op Flash 55
The REI Co-op Flash 55 comes in women’s and men’s versions (both $199 on REI’s website). It’s a comfortable, super-lightweight pack that clocks in at well under 3 pounds at all three size points (53 liters, 55 liters, and 57 liters). Given its relatively small volume, it’s probably not suitable for week-long journeys through remote stretches of wilderness, but it’s perfectly fine for a long weekend on the trail. If you’re just doing a quick overnight out-and-back, use the roll-top enclosure to compress your half-empty pack’s contents, and remove the Packmod hip and shoulder storage compartments to save 7 ounces.
Despite its petite frame – which is small enough to fit in most airlines’ overhead bins – the REI Co-op Flash 55 has plenty of easily accessible storage, including oversize mesh pockets for dirty or wet clothing. The pocket snap closures are particularly clutch for holding smaller accessories and supplies on technical terrain. Like the Traverse 70, the Flash 55 ships free when purchased online and is typically in stock at physical REI stores.
11. Zpacks Arc Blast 55L
If your top priority is minimizing pack weight, the Zpacks Arc Blast 55L ($325 on Zpacks’ website) could be your go-to companion for low-key, short- to moderate-duration hikes. This ultralight pack (just over 20 ounces, or 1.25 pounds) features a water-resistant roll-down cover and accommodates modular add-ons that, while adding precious ounces, allow you to stay out on the trail even longer. According to Zpacks, there’s enough carrying capacity here for five to six days, assuming you pack ultralight sleeping and safety gear.
The ultralight construction does present some inevitable trade-offs. The Arc Blast 55L isn’t particularly durable, so while its weight makes it ideal for tackling technical terrain at an aggressive pace, it’s not great in downpours or wintry conditions. It’s a fantastic summer pack, but if you do lots of cold-weather hiking, opt for a more rugged backup. And it’s slim enough to fit in most overhead bins, which is great news for backpackers visiting world-class outdoor adventure destinations across the continent or overseas.
12. Granite Gear Crown2 60
The Granite Gear Crown2 60 (about $200 on REI.com) is an ultralight multi-day pack rated to carry up to 35 pounds and 60 liters’ worth of gear, supplies, and equipment. Clocking in at 2 pounds or just over, depending on size (short, regular, and long), this isn’t the most rugged pack on the planet, but Granite Gear’s NeverWet nylon treatment offers above-average water-resistance, giving you priceless peace of mind on journeys that prove soggier than you’d like.
The Crown2 60 performs admirably in dry weather too, thanks to an extensive back ventilation system and a fully adjustable hip belt. On shorter trips, ditch the removable zippered lid to save weight.
13. TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack (65 Liters)
The TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack ($75 to $80 on Amazon) has many of the features you’d expect from a pricier pack: multi-positional torso strap, foam-padded lumbar supports, pass-through side pockets, and multiple storage compartments for multi-day organization. Its sturdy internal aluminum frame pushes the total weight up to 5 pounds, an acceptable but not particularly impressive gross for a pack of this size.
The TETON Sports Explorer 4000 is a perfectly serviceable pack for multi-day journeys – according to TETON, up to five days, though smart, minimalist packers can probably stretch that.
What the TETON Sports Explorer 4000 doesn’t offer is the assurance – and, in some cases, the no-questions-asked warranties – that accompany known quantities such as Osprey or REI. But you’ll certainly save a bundle on your TETON Sports Explorer 4000 and will probably get multiple years of problem-free trail use to boot.
14. MOUNTAINTOP 55L/75L/80L Hiking Backpack With Rain Cover
The MOUNTAINTOP 55L/75L/80LHiking Backpack With Rain Cover is another perfectly serviceable value option that offers an unusually broad range of volume choices. The 80L version (about $85 on Amazon) is ideal for long-distance wilderness hikes lasting a week or more; the 75L version (about $75) is a slightly slimmer version of the same; and the 55L version (about $55) is great for weekend jaunts and minimalist adventures led by experienced trekkers.
The same off-brand cautions apply here: While verified customer reviews indicate that these MOUNTAINTOP packs are decently well-made and -designed, they lack the cachet and durability of better-known brands. If paying less than half the cost of an Osprey or Gossamer Gear pack is worth the uncertainty to you, or if you’re an infrequent backpacker, that gamble is probably worth taking.
15. Gonex 70L/80L Internal Frame Backpack
The Gonex 70L/80L Internal Frame Backpack ($73 on Amazon) is a third low-cost pack that offers everything you’d expect a multi-day hiking backpack to offer. At under 5 pounds, it’s on the light side for a full-size pack, and the rain cover included in the pack’s cost makes it a fine choice for navigating soggy trails or trekking near surface water.
The nylon exterior ranges up to 420 denier, ensuring durable and rugged – if not particularly soft – construction. Though internal organization is minimal, with only a separate compartment for sleeping gear, the front braided belt and waistband pouch come in handy for small, light items such as cell phones and GPS devices.
The avid backpackers in my social circle swear by the same dependable packs they’ve pressed into active service year after year. Their experience is common. With proper care and responsible use, a well-made hiking backpack should endure many seasons of regular use.
“Well-made” is the key, of course. When you purchase a hiking backpack, you get what you pay for. Don’t expect the low-priced options on the list above to hold up as well over time as the premium backpacks, no matter how favorably their users speak of them.
If you plan just one or two multi-day hikes per year, you’ll probably get many years out of whatever pack you purchase, provided you don’t abuse it. But if you’re an avid hiker who craves adventure and seeks out punishing conditions, you may want to spring for higher-quality products backed by extensive warranties.
What’s your favorite hiking backpack? What do you like about it?