8 Best Hiking Backpacks of 2021

Last Updated: January 2021

Quick Recommendations


Here are our top 8 best hiking backpacks for 2020 :


To help you find the right backpack, we’ve reviewed the best hiking backpacks on the market and created a comprehensive buyer’s guide.

A quality hiking backpack is a critical aspect of any outdoor adventure. Whether you’re out on a short day trip or you’re heading into the mountains for a remote expedition, having the right backpack can make a huge difference.

Choose the wrong hiking backpack, though, and you might regret your choice from the moment you step on the trail. With so many hiking backpacks on the market today, it can be difficult to find the one that’s best for your needs.

To help you find the right backpack, we’ve reviewed the best hiking backpacks on the market and created a comprehensive buyer’s guide to know what to look for.


The 8 Best Hiking Backpacks

 Up next, we’ll review each of our favorite models to help you find the right backpack for your future adventures.

Best Men’s Hiking Day Pack - Osprey Talon 22

What We Like: Very lightweight; highly breathable; has a built-in support system.

What We Don’t Like: Expensive for a day pack.

Weight: 1 lb 10.9 oz (0.76 kg)

Compact, stylish, and chock-full of features, the Osprey Talon 22 is our choice for the best men’s day pack. This 22-liter pack is very lightweight, so it’s easy to pack for any short adventure. The Talon 22 features a BioStretch harness and hip belt that help keep you cool, even on hot summer days.

As far as support goes, the Talon 22 has a built-in atilon framesheet. This helps transfer weight from your shoulders to your hip. Additionally, the Talon 22 has an “Airscape Backpanel” with mesh-covered foam ridges. This feature makes the pack both breathable and comfortable for long days in the mountains.

Although it’s marketed as a hiking day pack, the Talon 22 is great for many different activities. The Talon 22 is the right size for short day hikes and your morning commute. Even on an afternoon trail ride on your mountain bike.

While the Talon 22 is a bit expensive for a day pack, it’s fantastic performance makes it well worth the cost.

Recommended Best Alternative

If you want a day pack with the quality of the Talon 22 but not the price tag, the Osprey Daylite is a solid option.


Best Women’s Hiking Day Pack - Camelbak Sequoia 22

What We Like: Comes with a Camelbak reservoir; highly breathable; lots of features.

What We Don’t Like: Expensive and no built-in support.

Weight: 3 lbs (1.4 kg) 

Camelbak designed the Sequoia 22 with the needs of female hikers in mind. It is a solid all-around day pack for regular use. The pack even comes with its own Camelbak 3L Crux reservoir, which provides a high flow rate to keep you hydrated in the mountains.

The back panel of the Sequoia 22 has Camelbak’s “Air Support” system. This uses mesh air tunnels to increase ventilation. At the same time, the Air Support system keeps the weight of the pack toward your back for added comfort.

Other features include a large overflow pocket as well as side stretch pockets for added storage. The pack has a trekking pole carry system. Also, it has integrated compression straps to pack everything down for longer hikes. The main drawback to the Sequoia 22 is its high price, but it does come with a quality reservoir, which has an MSRP of $35.

Recommended Best Alternative

Packed full of great features and more affordable than the Sequoia 22, try the Gregory Sula 24. It is a good budget-friendly option for day hikers.


Best Hydro Pack (Unisex) - Platypus Duthie AM

What We Like: Comes with a great hydration system; very comfortable; highly breathable.

What We Don’t Like: Very limited carrying capacity and expensive.

Weight: 2 lbs 2 oz (0.96 kg)

When it comes to staying hydrated in the outdoors, it’s hard to beat the Platypus Duthie AM. This fully-featured pack comes with a 3L Platypus Big Zip EVO reservoir. This is great for providing hikers with all-day hydration. It has a FloatAir back panel with a highly breathable mesh to wick away sweat even on muggy summer days.

We particularly like the pack’s lightweight wireframe. It provides much-needed support on day hikes. The Duthie AM helps transfer weight off of your shoulders and onto your hips. You can't find this quality in most day packs that don’t have support systems.

The Duthie AM is also particularly well suited for bikers. It has straps that can accommodate a full-face helmet and protective pads. But, it’s also great for hikers since it has a built-in rainfly that can be quickly set up when the weather turns sour - protecting the pack from rain or mud. However, it doesn’t have much storage capacity, so it’s not ideal for cold weather trips.

Recommended Best Alternative

The two drawbacks to the Duthie AM are its high price and lack of storage capacity. So, if you need a pack that’s larger and less expensive, check out the Gregory Nano 18.


Best Men’s Expedition Backpack - Arc’teryx Bora AR 63

What We Like: Waterproof design; lots of pockets and storage areas; RotoGlide hip belt provides all-day comfort.

What We Don’t Like: One of the most expensive backpacks on the market and relatively heavy.

Weight: 5 lb (2.27 kg)

If exceptional performance is your number-one priority in a backpacking pack, the Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 might be what you’re looking for. This top-of-the-line pack is perfect for trips up to a week long, thanks to its 63L capacity.

The Bora AR 63 uses super-durable 420D and 630D fabrics that are waterproof for wet conditions. The pack has plenty of pockets for ample gear storage, as well as ice axe loops for alpine excursions.

Plus, the Bora AR 63 has a unique RotoGlide hip belt. It moves with your body as you hike for a more comfortable experience. The downside?

The Bora AR 63 is one of the priciest packs on the market today. Also weighing in at 5 lbs, it's heavier than many packs in the same liter capacity. Keep in mind the weight comes from the usage of higher denier (D) nylon, which makes the pack stronger and more durable.

Recommended Alternative

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is a classic backpacking pack with a respectable price. It has a whole lot of time-tested features.


Best Women’s Expedition Backpack - Osprey Aura AG 65

What We Like: Anti-Gravity suspension provides lots of load support; seamless construction creates a contoured fit; and many storage features and options.

What We Don’t Like: Rather heavy and large hip belt takes some getting used to.

Weight: 4 lbs 5.44 oz (2.12 kg)

A modern take on a classic expedition backpack design, the Osprey Aura AG 65 is a do-anything women’s backpacking pack. The Aura AG 65 uses Osprey’s Anti-Gravity suspension system to help reduce the load on your body.

It also has a unique seamless construction with a contoured shape to help provide the best fit. Other notable features on the Aura AG include large front and side mesh pockets for water bottles and rain gear. The pack is also easily customizable with a removable top lid, and sleeping pad straps.

The only real drawback to the Aura AG 65 is that it’s quite heavy. Additionally, some people feel that the pack has an exceptionally large hipbelt. This can take some getting used to, especially if you’re new to backpacking. But, all around, the Aura AG 65 is a solid choice for 3-7 day long backpacking trips in the mountains.

Recommended Best Alternative

The Osprey Aura AG 65 is a solid all-around pack. But, if you want one that’s waterproof and highly durable, the Arc’teryx Bora AR 61 is a great alternative choice.


Best Budget Men’s Hiking Backpack - Osprey Volt 60

What We Like: Affordable; fully adjustable back panel and hipbelt; and comfortable for all-day use.

What We Don’t Like: Slightly tricky to pack and center of gravity is somewhat high.

Weight: 4 lbs 4.8 oz (1.9 kg)

The Osprey Volt 60 is simple and affordable, with a classic backpack look. It is a good companion for shorter backcountry trips. The Volt 60 features a one-size-fits-all adjustable torso system that can be fine-tuned to fit any hiker. It also has an extendable hipbelt for dialing in the perfect fit.

Crafted with hot summer adventures in mind, the Volt 60 has a cutting-edge AirScape back panel for breathability. Meanwhile, the pack's LightWire frame helps redirect the weight of your gear to your hips for lasting comfort.

In addition to the main compartment, the Volt 60 has a zippered sleeping bag compartment, hipbelt pockets, and trekking pole attachment points. Plus, it has a built-in rain cover so you can keep your essential gear dry in any conditions.

The Volt is a great budget-friendly pack. But, two things didn’t wow us with the Volt. We’d point out that it’s quite tricky to pack and has a higher center of gravity than most alternatives.

Recommended Alternative

If you want a simple pack that’s even more affordable than the Volt 60, the Osprey Rook 65 is a good option. However, the Rook 65 is quite heavy and doesn’t offer as much load support, so it’s best for shorter backcountry trips.


Best Budget Women’s Hiking Backpack - Osprey Renn 65

What We Like: Very comfortable, highly durable, and spacious main compartment.

What We Don’t Like: Fixed top lid and few external storage features.

Weight: 3 lb 7 oz (1.56 kg)

The Osprey Renn 65 is a simple women’s backpacking pack for hikers on a budget. This pack is one of the most affordable overnight backpacks on the market today. Yet, it doesn’t skimp on quality to cut costs. Osprey designed this pack with a woman’s body in mind. It has shaped shoulder straps and a contoured hip belt to provide maximum all-day comfort.

The Renn 65 has an Airspeed suspension system. This increases ventilation to reduce icky back sweat on warm days. The top lid on the Renn 65 is not detachable from the pack. However, it has zippered pockets for stashing smaller bits of gear. Additionally, the Renn 65 has a spacious main compartment. It is big enough to fit a standard bear canister to maximize your packing space.

Interestingly, you can also attach the Osprey Daylite to the Renn 65 for use as a day pack on longer trips. It has large mesh side pockets and a zippered sleeping bag compartment to help you stay organized on the go. The final notable feature is its integrated rain cover, which is accessible at a moment’s notice.

As a budget-friendly pack, we wouldn’t expect the Renn 65 to be chock-full of features. Indeed, this is one of the main drawbacks of the pack. But, when you consider the Renn 65’s affordable price, it’s tough to complain. For more information, check out our in-depth review of the Renn 50 Backpack.

Recommended Best Alternative

For a budget-friendly women’s backpack that has more features than the Osprey Renn 65, check out the Gregory Octal 55. Although the pack has less carrying space, it has plenty of pockets and features at a reasonable price.


Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack - Granite Gear Virga 2

What We Like: Very lightweight; affordable; roll-top closure for water resistance.

What We Don’t Like: Not for new backpackers and offers minimal support.

Weight: 1 lb 3 oz (0.54 kg)

When cutting weight is your number one priority, a pack like the Granite Gear Virga 2 might be the answer. This lightweight pack from Granite Gear features a frameless design, making it one of the lightest options available. The Virga 2 tips the scales at 1 lb 2oz (0.52kg), so it’s easy to forget that you’re wearing it.

One key feature of the Virga 2 is its roll-top closure, which gives the pack a high level of water-resistance. However, unlike some other ultralight packs, the Virga 2 has a padded hip belt for added comfort.

Additionally, the Virga 2 is hydration-system compatible and has ice tool loops for use in the mountains. It also has stretchy side pockets for carrying small bits of gear and water bottles. Oh, and the Virga 2 uses super-strong CORDURA nylon. This provides lasting durability for years of adventures.

Like many ultralight packs, the Virga 2 doesn’t provide much in the way of load support. So, while this pack is quite affordable, we don’t recommend it for new backpackers, as it won’t provide the support that many people need for heavy loads.

Interested in ultralight backpacking? Learn more in our Beginners Guide to Ultralight Backpacking. 

Recommended Alternative

Ultralight backpacks aren’t for everyone. Yet, if you’re looking for an ultralight pack that has more features than the Virga 2, the Osprey Levity 45 is a solid bet.

The Levity 45 is smaller and more expensive than the Virga 2. But it has a lid and plenty of external pockets for added storage capacity.


Backpack Comparison Table

Backpack

Type

Weight

MSRP

Day Pack

1lb 10.9oz

$120

Day Pack

1lbs

$50

Day Pack

3lbs

$155

Day Pack

2lbs 2.5oz

$89

Hydro 

2lbs 2oz

$150

Hydro 

1lbs

$49.95

Expedition

5lbs

$550

Expedition

4lbs 9oz

$270

Expedition

4lbs 5.44oz

$270

Expedition

4 lbs. 12.8 oz

$549

Expedition

4lbs 4.8oz

$200

Expedition

3lbs 8.3oz

$165

Expedition

3lbs 7oz

$165

Expedition

2lbs 5oz

$209.95

Ultralight

1lb 3oz

$140

Ultralight

1lb 12oz

$250


Hiking Backpack Buying Guide

A hiking backpack is a must-have whenever you head into the backcountry. They are used to carry food, water, and other essential supplies. 

Yet, finding the right backpack is tricky because there are many different models and styles available.  This guide will make it easier for you to find the right backpack for your needs.

Coming up, we’ll walk you through the basics of backpack selection. Also, give you some insight into getting the right fit.

We’ll discuss the features of backpacks and offer our suggestions for the best models on the market today.

Backpack mountain

How to Select a Backpack

A backpack is a critical piece of gear when it comes to hiking. Thus, it’s vital that you fully understand what you are looking for before you buy.

So, when shopping for your next hiking backpack, here are some of the main factors to consider:

Intended Purpose

When we buy a piece of outdoor gear, we usually intend to use it for a specific purpose. In particular, backpacks come in many shapes and sizes. Some of which are best suited for a specific activity.

For example, some hiking packs are for short day trips, while others are best for a long expedition. Others are designed with alpine mountaineering or trail running in mind.

Although each of these pursuits take place outside, they each require different types of gear. So, when you’re shopping for a backpack, ask yourself what you plan to do with it.

By understanding what you plan to use it for you’ll be able to narrow down your list of potential packs.

Hike Duration

A day hike can be as short as half an hour while a backpacking trip can last for months. The length of your hiking trip will have much impact on the pack you choose to use.

Generally, the length of a trip will directly affect the size or carrying capacity of your pack. More on that later. For the most part, longer hikes will need a larger pack while short jaunts in the woods don’t require you to carry much.

Comfort

Comfort is key when it comes to buying a hiking backpack. Keep in mind you’ll carry your pack over varied, uneven terrain for hours on end. You don’t want to purchase something uncomfortable.

Although everyone is different, comfort is a result of lots of padding and smart design. The most comfortable packs have ample shoulder straps and hip belts padding. Plus, they’ll have a robust and supportive frame. This helps redirect weight from your shoulders to your hips.

Capacity

Backpack capacity is traditionally expressed in terms of liters of volume. In general, the capacity of pack that you need is dependent on three things: the length of your trip, the season, and the type of activity.

Short, summer day hikes will require the smallest packs, while extended winter backpacking or mountaineering trips will need more carrying capacity. Seasonality is important here because we need to carry more clothing when we head out in the winter. Thus, during the winter, we generally need bigger backpacks.

Here’s a rough guideline for choosing your pack capacity:

  • Summer day hikes: 10-30L
  • Winter day hikes: 30-50L
  • Summer backpacking trips: 60-90L
  • Winter backpacking trips: 75-110L
  • Extended (14+ day) expeditions: 90-110L

Gender-Specific Models

These days, it is possible to get a women’s specific backpack. Having “gender-specific” hiking packs may seem odd. However, many women’s models are better suited for people with smaller bodies.

A women’s pack will usually have a shorter length, which is better for people under about 5’9” (175cm) in height. Additionally, these packs usually have wider hip belts and curved shoulder straps. These adjustments are to accommodate a woman’s body better.

To see what we mean, check out the CamelBak Sequoia 22 for day hikes or the Osprey Aura AG 65 for longer trips.

However, keep in mind that women don’t have to buy women’s packs, nor are men only allowed to buy men’s backpacks. While gender-specific models do exist, people should buy whatever pack fits them best, regardless of what the label says.

Osprey orange backpack hiking outdoor

Price vs. Value when Buying a Backpack

When it comes to hiking gear, people often question whether the price correlates with the value. As far as hiking packs go, there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between price and value.

While you’re unlikely to find a durable ultralight pack on a budget, there are plenty of affordable, high-quality packs on the market today. That said, specialty packs for specific activities containing lots of features tend to cost more than their simpler alternatives.

Types Of Hiking Backpacks

There are many types of hiking backpacks, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the most common varieties:

Day Packs

A day pack is specially designed for use on short day hikes. Day packs are between 10 and 50L in size, but the most common day packs are 20-30L models.

Here at Opt Outdoor, our go-to for day hikes is the Osprey Talon 22.

They are meant to carry food, water, and spare clothing for a few hours on the trail and little else. Some day packs are only large enough for a rain jacket, water bottle, and a few protein bars.

Keep in mind that winter trips will demand more spare clothing and, thus, a larger day pack. To learn what to pack for a hike, check out our article - How To Prepare For Your Day Hike – Packing List.

Hydration Packs

Hydration packs specialize day packs for use with a hydration system. There are many kinds of hydration packs, each built for a specific activity.

Trail running hydration packs will be large enough to carry your hydration system and some snacks. Alternatively, hiking hydration packs are almost identical to a regular day pack.

However, have a sleeve for your hydration system. As far as sizing goes, the guidelines for day packs also apply to hydration packs, so choose accordingly.

There are a lot of good options for hydro packs these days, but we recommend the  Platypus Duthie AM.

Backpacking Packs

A backpacking pack is a large backpack designed to carry your gear on overnight trips. They are generally between 60 and 110L in size.

The capacity you choose for your pack depends on the length of your trip and the season you’re backpacking in. For example, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 has the capacity to carry enough gear for trips between 4-7 days.

For shorter duration backpacking trips we like the Osprey Renn 50. You can learn why in our in-depth review.

Backpacking packs differ from day packs in terms of size. Yet, you’ll find some features on a backpacking pack that are not included on a day pack. Such as extra straps for sleeping pads. Backpacking packs can be pricey, but for those on a budget, check out the Osprey Volt 60.

Climbing And Mountaineering Packs

Climbing and mountaineering packs are activity-specific day packs. You’ll probably encounter them during your research.

Climbing packs often have specific straps and pockets for carrying climbing gear. This includes rope straps, crampon pockets, and ice axe loops that you won’t need for hiking.

Climbing packs are generally very well made, though, so if you find one that you like, you can also use it for hiking. These 30-50L climbing packs can be great for shorter day hikes, even though they’re technically for mountaineering.

Girl Backpack Mountain

What to Look For When Buying a Backpack

Since there are so many options available today, buying a backpack is no easy feat. Here are some of the top things to keep in mind while shopping for your next pack:

Durability

No one likes to spend money on gear only to have it break after a few trips. Durable packs use thick, quality fabrics that are meant to last a lifetime. They will often be heavier than less durable models. This makes up for the added weight with their longer lifespan.

Weather-Resistance

Unless you buy a specialty backpack, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a fully waterproof backpack. Yet, some packs come with more water-resistant fabrics and zippers, which protects your gear. If you really can’t get your gear wet, consider using a waterproof pack liner, too.

Weight

Since you need to carry your pack on your back, you don’t want to carry more weight than you need to. Some backpacks are quite lightweight. Others tip the scales at over 7lbs (3.18kg), and that’s without any gear!

The Granite Gear Virga 52, for example, weighs in at only 1lb 4 oz (0.57 kg), making it a great ultra-lightweight option.

However, heavier packs are more durable and have more padding. This means they’re usually more comfortable.

field osprey

Hiking Backpack Fit

If a hiking backpack doesn’t fit you, you’re going to have an uncomfortable day in the mountains. Here is some advice on getting the perfect fit.

How a Hiking Backpack Should Fit

A hiking backpack should fit so well that you forget you’re carrying it.

When the pack is unloaded, and the hip belt is fastened, you should have 2 inches (5.08cm) of space between the top of the shoulder strap and your shoulder. This ensures that the pack will sit comfortably on your body when fully loaded.

Plus, a hiking pack should be the right length for your torso. If you find that a pack is too long for your back, you may be able to adjust it at home.

Or, it might be a matter of adjusting the shoulder straps and hip belts to get the right fit.

How to Use Sizing Guides if Buying Online

It’s generally a good idea to try on a pack before you buy it. But, if you buy your gear online, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to try your pack on first.

In this case, you’ll need to rely on a pack sizing guide to get the right fit. These guides will tell you what length torso a particular pack size can accommodate.

Tip: To measure your back, use a tape measure to get the length from the bump on the bottom of your neck to the top of your hips. This is your torso length and what you’ll use to determine your pack size.

Tips on How to Test the Right Fit

Without trying on a pack in person, it can be difficult to ensure the right fit. But, if you’ve bought a pack that should fit, you might need to make some minor adjustments.

Start by putting some weight in the pack to simulate what it will feel like in the mountains. Then buckle and adjust each of the straps until the pack feels comfortable. If it feels too long or too short, you can try adjusting the length of the back panel on some packs.

backpack view

Hiking Backpack Components

Hiking backpacks are surprisingly complex. Before you commit to buying a specific model, it’s good to understand the different components.

Back Panel

The back panel of a pack is the part that sits along your back as you hike. Back panels are generally made from some form of mesh. It's an attempt to increase breathability and comfort while hiking.

Frame

A pack’s frame is what provides support for carrying heavy loads. There are two kinds of frames: internal and external.

These days, internal frame packs are much more common. An internal frame is a built-in piece of rigid plastic or aluminum. This helps transfer weight from your shoulders to your hips. They are lighter and, for the most part, more comfortable than external frame models.

External frame packs are rare these days because they are bulky and heavy. While they do provide a lot of support and breathability, they are not practical for most hikers.

Shoulder Straps

The shoulder straps are what keep the pack attached to your body. They are usually padded and adjustable for added comfort. Look for packs with well-padded straps if comfort is a concern.

Hipbelt

The hip belt is the part of the pack that tightens down around your hips. This is an indispensable pack component. It allows you to transfer weight from your shoulders to your hips as you walk. Without the belt, your shoulders will be incredibly in pain while carrying heavy loads.

Pockets

Modern packs come with a variety of pockets for gear storage. Many will have side pockets for water bottles - also, a front pocket for quickly storing spare jackets on the go.

Hydration System Sleeve

A pack that is hydration system compatible will have a sleeve inside. The sleeve is for storing the reservoir along the back panel of the pack. These packs will also have a hole for the hydration system tube and a clip for the system mouthpiece.

Lid/Brain

Some hiking packs come with a brain or lid that covers the top of the pack. This is an ideal place to store small essential items, like maps, headlamps, and snacks for the day.

Side Zippers

Depending on the pack, there may be a side access zipper. These allow you to reach into the middle of your pack. You can pull out that extra jacket without completely unpacking from the top.

Adjustment Straps

Modern backpacks have many adjustment straps, each with a unique purpose. On the sides, you’ll find compression straps for tightening everything down. Also, load-lifter straps at the top of your shoulder straps can adjust the weight balance of your pack.

Pack Liner

If you live somewhere with a lot of rain, you can choose to buy a pack liner to waterproof your pack. These are large dry bags that act as a second layer of protection for your gear. They are separately sold and in different sizes to fit your pack.

Pack Cover

Some packs come with a pack cover to protect your gear from the rain. Pack covers are a piece of ripstop nylon. They attach to the outside of your pack for added weather protection. While some backpacks come with a custom pack cover, you can always buy one separately.

Backpack man mountain view

Best Places To Buy Backpacks

If you’re looking for a good place to buy a backpack, here are some options:

  • REI: A world leader in outdoor gear, REI has a wide range of pack models available. You can buy one online or go into a store for a custom pack fitting
  • Backcountry.com: It doesn’t have any retail stores, but you can order a variety of packs from their website. They also offer seamless returns, which is great if your pack doesn’t fit right.
  • Steep and Cheap: Steep and Cheap is Backcountry.com’s “garage sale” website. You can often find gear on here for up to 70% of its retail price. The options are limited but Steep and Cheap is a good place for discounted gear.
  • Amazon. You can buy pretty much anything on Amazon and hiking packs are no exception. The main advantage of buying from Amazon is the free 2-day shipping if you have a prime membership.
  • Local stores. It’s hard to beat the service you’ll find in a local outdoor store. When you shop at your local retailer, you support small businesses, and you can get a custom pack fitting to ensure a quality fit.

The Bottom Line

A hiking backpack is a must-have piece of gear. You must find a hiking pack that fits well and is suitable for your needs.

Finding the right backpack involves a good understanding of what to look for in a pack. Also, having the ability to adjust a pack for the perfect fit.

Remember, if a pack isn’t comfortable when you try it on, it won’t feel any better after a long day of hiking.

Now you know how to find the best hiking backpack for you.

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