I can still remember the first hiking backpack I ever bought. I saved up from a summer job and ordered the cheapest backpack I could find on eBay.
That backpack has to be, to this day, one of the worst backpacks I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering.
In order to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes, let’s look deeper into what you should look for to find the best hiking backpack for your needs.
When it comes to a backpacks for hiking, whether you’re out for the day or overnight, it’s critical to buy quality. While quality doesn’t necessarily mean name-brand, it does mean well built.
Properly sized and padded hip belts, lightweight internal frame and the proper materials go a long way toward making a good pack.
Quick Answer: The 7 Top Rated Hiking Backpacks For 2018
- Gregory Men’s Baltoro 65 Backpack
- Kelty Coyote 80 Backpack
- Osprey Atmos 65 AG Backpack
- The North Face Terra 65 Exploration Pack
- TETON Sports Scout 3400 Backpack
- Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry Backpack
- Outdoor Research Isolation Pack
Let’s take a look at the top hiking backpacks, then we’ll talk about how to choose the right one for you in our buying guide below.
Best Hiking Backpacks
Hiking Backpack Reviews
Let’s dig into what makes a great hiking backpack and how you can choose the best one!
Gregory has been making great backpacks for years. This one is no exception. You’ll find some of my favorite features, like hip belt pockets, air mesh back panel, and ergonomic shoulder straps.
Overall, this lightweight backpack meets my preferences more than any other on our list. The important features are present and refined.
I really like that they minimized the bells and whistles externally for a sleek and balanced looking pack.
The materials are lightweight, and they got rid of unnecessary zippers, pockets, and straps. Everything a lightweight backpack needs and nothing it doesn’t.
I’m a huge fan of the top entry main pocket. This allows the pack to be optimized for loading without needing to worry about separate compartments for each item. Plus, it’s easier to use a pack liner.
In my opinion the Gregory Baltoro is the one of the best backpacking backpacks on the market, highly recommended.
Kelty has been making great outdoor backpacks for years. Today, like most manufacturers, they primarily make internal frame backpacks.
These packs are slimmer, sleeker, and help hikers balance better on uneven terrain as compared to older models of backpacks. Internal frame backpacks are ubiquitous these days and you’ll be hard pressed to even find an older model of camping backpack.
The Kelty Coyote is an 80L backpack with ice axe loops (which most of you won’t need unless your rock climbing), hip belt pockets, several outer pockets, and a large brain.
The brain is what hikers call the top part of the backpack which covers the pack and can be strapped into place. There’s a stretch panel storage pocket on the back for rain gear or any other quick-grab items.
Of all the pockets, zippers, and features they loaded on to this pack, the hip belt pockets are by far the most versatile and helpful.
Video: Overview of the Kelty Coyote 80.
While most people won’t use all the bells and whistles on this backpack, it definitely has plenty of features to allow you to learn what you do and don’t like.
At a weight of 5lbs 5oz when empty, it certainly isn’t lightweight! That’s okay, though because the rugged build is meant to carry large, bulky gear and handle heavy loads for extended hikes into the backcountry. The Kelty Coyote is my pick for the best hiking backpack for the money.
Women’s Model: Kelty Coyote 70 Women’s Hiking Backpack.
Osprey is my favorite overall manufacturer of backpacks for hiking. You’ll find their trekking backpacks in every store and they’ve done a good job over the last few years of making something for everyone’s needs.
Many of their hip belts, for instance, are heat moldable. That means they can be baked in an “oven” in the store, molded to fit the exact shape of your body, and then hold that shape forever. This is an awesome feature that I love!
On top of innovation in the field of manufacturing, Osprey is also making leaps toward improving other areas. The Atmos back panel is made from a suspended mesh which holds the pack away from your back while you walk.
This helps to reduce that nasty buildup of heat and sweat along your back. On top of this, they’ve lightened up their materials, and streamlined their designs.
Video: Overview of the Osprey Atmos 65.
While the Atmos is not an ultralight backpack, you will find many lightweight features incorporated. Osprey removed a lot of the unnecessary outer pockets and zippers to lighten the bag overall.
They’ve also included a massive sized brain on the pack with tons of adjustability. While the Atmos is listed as a 65L bag, it’s flexible enough that you could probably carry 45L without a problem. Osprey Atmos 65 is probably the best camping backpack available.
Women’s Model: Osprey Women’s Aura 65 AG Backpack.
If you’ve ever been in a sporting goods store, then you’re familiar with the North Face brand. They’re synonymous with outdoor gear. This 65L bag is top entry and side entry, featuring a large zippered side pocket much like the Kelty Coyote.
Generously sized hip belt pads have integrated zippered pockets which, as you know, I love in a bag. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of the padding and ergonomics they chose with regards to the back panel.
Three large chunks of foam provide most of the structure and support for the back panel and, in my experience, this usually is less comfortable than other methods.
What I do like is the easily adjustable torso length. Today’s backpacking packs are getting smarter and more adjustable each year. While not listed as a waterproof backpack, it would take a lot rain to get water into it.
With the Optifit system, you can quickly and easily change the torso length on the bag. Of course, you’ll probably only ever do this one time, but it’s still nice to be able to do so easily and intuitively.
Overall the internal frame backpack has minimal unnecessary features and is offered in three great colors. I’d take a shot at this bag if you need a 65L backpack! In my opinion the best hiking backpack under $200.
If you’re looking to buy your first expedition sized backpack at a killer price, this is the one. For getting started, you won’t find a bag much more affordable. On top of that, the pack space is quite large, at 55L it’s plenty large for a 3-4-day trip for most hikers.
Like most bags these days, this backpack has an adjustable torso length so you can dial in the fit. However, I’d say the biggest downfall of the bag is the lumbar padding and hip belt.
There’s not much adjustment here, simply bulky thick hip pads. Luckily, the requisite load stabilizer straps are in place. As are water bottle holder pockets and two external pockets.
While you’re not going to get Osprey-level adjustability and fitment from this pack, it is lightweight and inexpensive for the budget backpacker. In my opinion the TETON Sports Scout is the best hiking backpack under $100.
At 30L this bag is just barely big enough for minimalist overnighters. For most of us, however, it makes a good companion for long day hikes or hiking in with gear.
If you’re pulling off a technical day hike with ice axes or climbing gear this is the bag for you. There are two rack loops at the bottom of the bag for your climbing protection and gear. On the back are two ice axe loops for those technical parts.
Under the lid is a rope strap, too. That way you can keep the rope tucked safely away until you need it on the hike up.
Did I mention that the bag is also waterproof? That’s a serious bonus for those nasty surprise bursts when you get caught with your pants down and can’t get off the face before you get soaked.
Best for technical ascents and keeping that gear perfectly dry while you get to safety.
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t a hiking backpack by itself. This is a peak bagging backpack that gets you up and down from basecamp in a lightning flash!
If you’re not familiar with peak bagging, it’s a common technique for conquering tall mountains from a lower base camp. You pack your 80L backpack for a week long trip and throw your peak bag in which is small and light.
Then you use the bag, in this case the Isolation Pack, and few essentials to make a quick trip up the peaks after you make a basecamp.
This bag is just big enough for essentials like rain gear, wind layers, lunch, and a few pieces of safety equipment. However, it’s light enough to carry into the backcountry.
As a side note I will say these lightweight stuff sack style peak bags make great around-town carriers or gym bags when you’re not in the mountains!
If your looking for the best day hiking backpack for taking on quick trips or using when you’re deep basecamp and need to make a fast ascent, the OR Isolation Pack is a good choice!
Hiking Backpack Comparison Table
|Gregory Baltoro 65 Backpack||65 Liters||4.9 lbs||Top||Water Bottle Pocket||4.7 / 5.0|
|Kelty Coyote 80 Backpack||80 Liters||5 lbs||Top||Hydration sleeve||4.8 / 5.0|
|Osprey Atmos 65 AG Backpack||65 Liters||3.9 lbs||Top||Hydration sleeve||4.7 / 5.0|
|The North Face Terra 65 Exploration Pack||65 Liters||4.3 lbs||Top||None||4.5 / 5.0|
|Teton Sports Scout 3400 Backpack||55 Liters||4.5 lbs||Top||Hydration sleeve||4.5 / 5.0|
|Mountain Hardwear Scrambler||30 Liters||1.6 lbs||Top||Hydration sleeve||4.3 / 5.0|
|Outdoor Research Isolation Pack||18 Liters||8 oz||Top||None||4.4 / 5.0|
How to Choose the Best Hiking Backpack – Buyers Guide
- How Long Will You Be Out?
- How Big of a Pack Do I Need?
- Rain Covers
- Adjustability and Fit
- Ease of Use
- Ultralight Backpacks & Frameless Packs
- Backpack Fabric Materials
- Water Bottle Pockets
- FAQs For Hiking Backpacks
- Best Backpack Brands
How Long Will You Be Out?
This is an important question that all too often gets overlooked. When we start talking about hiking backpacks, really, we could be looking for a pack to carry snacks for a day or food for a week. Be sure to set reasonable expectations for your backpack and what it can handle.
For a day hike, any small day backpack will do. These usually resemble super fancy school backpacks. Look for a lightweight hip belt and ergonomic shoulder pads.
If you’re heading out for an overnight with a light load of gear, a 30L pack will suffice. Of course, if you are planning to carry everything including the kitchen sink a set of cast iron skillets, then go bigger.
For multi-day and weeklong expeditions, you’ll want something between 60-90L depending on your experience, time of year, and how much space you need.
If your just getting started, see my beginners guide to backpacking.
How Big of a Backpack Do I Need?
We talked about this a bit above, as it relates to the duration of your trip. Other factors will also influence your decision on pack sizing. If your looking for more of travel backpack, you can see my reviews here.
Let’s dig into these a bit more.
Some factors which would cause your decision to err on the side of “larger pack” might include:
- Less experienced backpacker
- Most of your gear is bulky
- You’ll be traveling many days between resupplies
- You’re not certain how much food or water you’ll need
On the other hand, you might choose a small day backpack if:
- You’re an experienced hiker with a refined gear kit
- You’re an ultralight backpacker
- You’re only out for a light afternoon hike
- You’ll have easy access to supplies
The secret to finding a trekking backpack that is comfortable is making sure it is the right size, which is where the suspension of the backpack comes into play.
Suspension, for those that are beginners in the backpacking world, is defined as the adjustable nature the backpack holds in order to make it perfectly fit your back and torso.
Suspension is important in the same way that comfort is, as it will allow your hike to be the best it can be because you feel your best. If a backpack doesn’t form to your back, you’re going to spend the majority of your hike wishing you didn’t have it.
You’ll want to pay special attention to sizing and fitment. If you’re a new backpacker, save yourself some time and a lot of hassle by heading to the local outfitter and getting sized properly for your new pack.
Sizing involves measuring, adjusting, and fitting the correct hip belt, shoulder straps, and torso length.
Getting this wrong can be uncomfortable, painful, or even result in raw sores where the pack rubs improperly against your body when hiking.
As I mentioned I have mixed feelings on rain covers. If you have anything you don’t want getting wet, then your going to want one.
Unless you think you will be hiking in the rain for extended periods of time you probably wont need one because most backpacks are naturally water resistant. If you really want a waterproof backpack the ONEPACK Hiking Backpack is 100% water proof.
Adjustability and Fit
Adjustability and fit has to do with the same concept as suspension, which is why it’s important to consider the ability to fully adjust the straps to fit your body comfortably.
Making sure your backpack fits you the best way it can is critical to being comfortable on your hike, safe on the trails, and not too sore after you finish the at the end of the day.
Some backpacks have the ability to adjust the way it rests on your back while others don’t, so understanding the difference between the two and taking that into consideration when backpack shopping is important. Look for shoulder padding and adjustable straps.
Ease of Use
How easy the backpack is to use is more important for beginner hikers that aren’t interested in complicated suspension or pockets they can’t seem to work. Some backpacks are too simple, while others are cumbersome.
This may include some side pockets, waist band pockets, a hydration bladder or the ability to house one, bungee cords and much more. Think about what you want on the trails and then look for features that are going to need.
Ultralight Backpacks and Frameless Packs
In the backpacking world the “ultralight” movement has gained massive popularity. Essentially this is the pursuit of some hikers to minimize the amount of weight carried on the trail.
For those who manage to hit the trail with 20 pounds or less in their backpack, an ultralight backpack might be a good choice. However, they’re uncommon and won’t be sold by any major stores. You’ve got to forge your own path in this world!
Ultralight packs come in frame or frameless. If you manage to get way down on the scales to 10-15 pounds or so you might be able to go frameless.
Backpack Fabric Materials
When it comes to fabric used in making a backpack, there are two common materials and one uncommon material.
- Cuben Fiber
Nylon – is durable and water resistant in most forms. It’s a great choice for backpacks because it’s highly abrasion resistant and affordable. No matter what material you pack is made from, always look for a thick nylon or Cordura patch on the bottom where you normally set the pack down.
Polyester – is less common but sometimes used for pack bodies. It has a different texture and feel, but as a fiber it’s less stretchy.
Cuben fiber – is crazy expensive and uncommon. This fabric is 100% waterproof and insanely lightweight. However, it’s relatively prone to puncture damage and only used by specific companies for making ultralight gear.
Water Bottle Pockets
I hate water bottle pockets that don’t work. And it’s surprising how many backpacks have cruddy water bottle pockets!
You may encounter these two problems with water bottle pockets on your backpacks:
Many water bottle pockets are poorly designed so that when the backpack is stuffed full of gear, the pockets are stretched so tight you can’t get a bottle in! This is the case far too often.
You can somewhat solve this problem by putting the water bottle in the pocket before packing the bag. But when you pull the bottle out later, contents inside the pack just all down and take up the space.
Look for a backpack with large water bottle pockets that are still spacious enough for your bottles after the pack has been filled.
Water bottle pocket shape is the other oft-overlooked problem with packs. Many packs have tall, square cut pockets. These are impossible to get bottle in and out of while hiking. You have to stop, take off the bag, drink, and then put the bag back on.
FAQs For Hiking Backpacks
Q: I’m going out for the day, what size bag should I carry?
A: For your normal daily use when you’re hiking the local park you’re likely to only need something about 15-20L in size. Fortunately, these bags make perfect sizes for everything from gym use, biking, hiking, or daily travel. They’re very versatile so there’s usually little need to buy one for each specific activity.
If you’re heading out and trying to smash a 20 mile day from 7am until 9pm you’ll need something closer to 20-25L unless you’re really fast and light. Especially if you’re going to tackle remote, harsh areas you’ll need more safety equipment like GPS, PLBs, or other backups. When this happens look for a bag with the capacity to handle the extra gear.
Q: Should I spend top dollar on a large overnight backpack?
A: I think this depends a lot on how often you plan to be backpacking.
When you start heading out for 2-3 nights at a time or more then you’re going to need a 40-60L backpack. Cheap ones will be very heavy. It’s not uncommon to find 4-6 pound backpacks on the cheap end.
4-6 pounds is a ton of weight when you consider that 20 pounds can get many lightweight hikers a 4-7 day supply of gear (including food, pack, and everything else!) However, if you’re only going out once a year and you can handle the extra weight, maybe save the money? It’s up to you.
For $200-$300 you should be able to find a good sized backpack to cover most of your needs with a weight in the 2-3 pound range which is reasonable.
Q: Do I need a hydration pack?
A: Hydration backpacks are the ones that can fit a little Camelbak or similar water bladder with the hose and bite valve setup.
These are handy little doodads for ultra runners, cyclists, and other extreme sports users. They’re really quite inconvenient for overnight hikers, however.
It’s difficult to get the water bladder out of a full backpack when you stop to fill up. Then getting it back in is a nightmare. On top of that, holding on to it while you try to fill it from the trailside is a real pain in the ass. Then, after a few weeks of hiking you’ll find that the hose starts to get nasty and needs cleaning.
All around these packs are ideal for those who can go home at night and refill it or clean it. Otherwise they make relatively hassle prone setups.
Q: Where does my sleeping bag go?
A: In many backpacks there’s an extra little pocket at the bottom. Usually it’s isolated from the main pocket and often has its own zipper for access.
Honestly, I have no idea why these exist. It’s a great way to get your sleeping bag wet when you set your backpack down during any rain. The extra big ol’ zipper is usually quite heavy and adds an unnecessary extra compartment to most backpacks. Manufacturers: quit doing this, please!
Instead, your sleeping bag should be in it’s own (very) waterproof stuff sack somewhere near the middle of your backpack. Particularly if you have a down sleeping bag it’s very important to keep it dry and therefore it should be packed with care and caution.
Q: How do I adjust my backpack?
A: Good question!
First undo all the suspension straps and compression straps. This means the shoulder straps, load lifters, stabilizers, and hip belt.
Now, put the pack on and tighten the hip belt until it’s snugly sitting on top of your hips. Precisely, this means on top of your iliac crest. Not around your waist or down around your butt.
Next, snug up the shoulder straps. They should sit a finger’s width above your shoulders. The purpose of these straps is to keep the pack from falling away from you as you walk. There should be little or no weight on your shoulders at all.
Now tighten the stabilizers (they attach the hip belt to the backpack near the sides around the water bottle pocket usually).
Finally, tighten the load lifter straps which sit above the shoulder straps and pull the top of the pack in toward the back of your head. They should be snug and supporting any load near the top of the bag.
Best Backpack Brands
I have always been a fan of Osprey backpacks, they don’t make anything but packs so they are quite good at it. Gregory is another manufacturer that only makes packs and hydration bladders so as a result, when you only do one thing you can do it really well.
Kelty is a well known for making quality outdoor equipment like tents, sleeping bags and of course backpacks. The North Face probably the most well known brand on my list, they have a solid reputation for making outdoor equipment, its hard to go wrong with anything from them.
You cant go wrong with any of these brands.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best hiking backpack to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a backpack I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.
Have fun and be safe out there!