Whether you’re setting off on an alpine climb, afternoon trail run, or extended thru hike, you need a pack to carry your outdoor gear and essentials while on the go.
Below you'll find our top picks for the best backpacks for hiking, backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, trail running, and more, thanks to hundreds of independent reviews by real hikers, backpackers, alpinists, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
From field-tested ultralight packs to load haulers to kid carriers to hydration packs, our reviewers have shared their real-world experience to help you select an appropriate, dependable backpack for your next outdoor adventure. Find your pack. Pack your gear. Head out.
Sea to Summit
Priceless than $25
$25 - $49.99
$50 - $99.99
$100 - $199.99
$200 - $299.99
$300 - $399.99
$400 - $499.99
$500 and above
Recent Backpack Reviews
Mountainsmith Tour TLS
No one is arguing that fanny packs make you look cool. But its durability and comfort make the Mountainsmith Tour TLS pack a pretty great choice for day hikes, cross country skiing, and using as a man-purse (or lady purse) around town. Fit: This fanny lumbar pack will fit most adults, although the heavier you are, the less coverage you'll get from the light padding on the hipbelt. I have a 32 inch waist and I might get nervous if I was skinnier than a 30 inch waist. Mountainsmith says it will work… Full review
Cold Cold World Chernobyl
This pack is tough as nails, simple, entirely devoted to functionality. It's meant for climbing, and it is perfect for that. Its single-minded devotion to vertical endeavors limits its usefulness for other applications, but that's not really a drawback. This is a great climbing pack, pure and simple. Fit: This pack comes in two sizes, so it's not exactly adjustable. The small is for torsos from 15 to 17 inches, and the regular is for 18 to 21. If you fall in between, or you're exceptionally tall… Full review
Kelty Continental Divide 5300 (External)
Some people will look at this pack and say it has an identity crisis. It is basically an internal frame bag attached to a narrow external frame. There are pros and cons to this, mostly depending on how you like to pack. This model is out of production, but a lot of folks might find that it meets their needs. This sort of design works great for expeditions with heavy loads, and it could be a great deal for someone who finds it used. No one has reviewed this pack in almost ten years, but I figured… Full review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter
Lightweight, super tough. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter meets all my needs in a backpack. It is very light, the material and stitching are first rate. It handles winter loads well. The strength of the fabric was tested during a trip to the Ventana Wilderness where we spent two days scrambling through some nearly impassable brush. No holes in the fabric and after a quick wash it looked like new. A forty+ pound winter load (mid tarp tent, -20 degree bag, five days food and fuel) was easily swallowed… Full review
Cotopaxi Nepal 65
The Cotopaxi Nepal 65L pack has a number of innovative features, and is appropriate for trips of a few days or longer. While it didn’t work well for my body type and the weight I carry, it’s worth a look due to its design and unique features. Introduction I feel a bit conflicted in writing about this pack. I really wanted to like it. It’s an interesting pack with some unique design features. Also, Cotopaxi commits to contributing part of the proceeds of each product sale to worthy causes. Full review
Granite Rocx The Cascade
The Cascade is an all-in-one convenience pack that delivers on many levels. There is ample storage and multiple compartments to store everything you need, including a cooler that attaches to the outside of the pack. Perfect for day trips to the water or the mountains, the Cascade is a pack that can be used year round, regardless of where you go. Who: Granite Rocx is a company based in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, that specializes in making functional and unique backpacks that are perfect for any day trip. Full review
Deuter Pace 36
The Pace 36 is a weight-shaving daypack with a very light frame and wide mesh hip belt. I applaud Deuter for figuring out how to make a bag this light that is also quite comfortable. The pockets and features are things people can actually use; I would take this along as a winter day/summit bag. The Pace 36 can carry a surprising amount of weight comfortably, but it would not be my choice for consistently carrying more than 30 pounds on a regular basis. The simplicity that helps make this so easy… Full review
I am a member of Team RailRiders. I recently put into use the RailRiders Journey overnight pack. Now upfront I have access to lots and lots of packs that I have gathered over my twenty plus years of exploration. I was also quite skeptical as to whether or not the RailRiders brand who are most noted for being "the toughest clothes on the planet" could deliver an overnight pack. I am happy to report that the pack far exceeded my expectations. I do lots of overnight trips for speaking engagements that… Full review
Lowe Alpine Netherworld 90
I've had this pack since the early '90s and it has served me well. I ended up getting Deuter's Act Lite 65+10 and shaved off about 3 pounds but that pack is already worn through in a few places. I have used the Lowe in the Sierras with 45-50 pounds and in the snow with snow shoes and it seems indestructible. The fit was adjustable with the help of the store personnel. The volume was wonderful. The separate compartment on the bottom served as another storage area without having to go into the main… Full review
How to Choose a Backpack
Like most outdoor gear, choosing the right backpack depends on how you plan to use it and selecting one that fits you, your needs, your budget, and your gear.
Capacity (or How Big?)
Consider the following questions to help determine capacity, or how big of a pack you really need.
- How long are you heading out for: a day, an overnight, a week?
- What's your outdoor style? Are you a minimalist, or deeply attached to creature comforts, or somewhere in between?
- How much and what gear will you bring for specific trips and activities? Don't forget group gear and seasonal items (for example: winter gear will take up more room).
Obviously you need a backpack that fits all your gear. If possible, lay it all out, including food and water, and be honest about what you'll need to fit in your pack.
Backpack sizing varies between individuals and manufacturers, but the following ranges are a basic starting point:
- Day Pack:
less than 2,000 cubic inches
up to 30 liters
2,000 - 2,999 cubic inches
- Weekend and Multi-Day:
3,000 - 4,499 cubic inches
- Week-Long and Expedition:
4,500+ cubic inches
74 liters and up
Pack Tip: Don't buy a backpack bigger than you need. You'll be tempted to fill it and carry more than necessary, or you'll end up with an annoying floppy, half-filled pack.
Fit (Is It Comfy?)
Types of Backpacks
Are designed for done-in-a-day hikes, runs, skis, and (for some minimalists) the occasional overnight. Daypacks may be frameless rucksacks or incorporate a stiff frame sheet or metal stay for support.
Internal Frame Backpacks
Available as weekend, multi-day, and expedition-sized backpacks, internal frames are popular for their adjustability, ease of movement, and balance.
External Frame Backpacks
External frames are also available in sizes suitable for a weekend overnight to a winter camping expedition. More rigid than internal packs, externals typically carry heavy loads well.
Designed for active, endurance pursuits, hydration packs feature space for a hydration reservoir and tube for drinking on the go. Some also have space to carry gear.
Also known as lumbar packs, fanny packs, and hip packs, these small packs allow you to carry a few essentials on short outings, such as gel flasks on a run or a camera on a short hike.
There's no need to leave Junior behind when you hit the trail. Just load him or her into a kid carrier and head on out.
Font packs allow you to carry gear that you want to access immediately on your chest.
Nothing beats the expertise of a knowledgeable pack fitter. Find one at your local outdoor retailer. In the meantime, here are some additional tips to help you choose a backpack that fits you well.
Size a backpack to your torso length. Don't assume you need the tall (or the regular or the short) model based on your height. The sizes of different manufacturers' frames may correspond to different torso lengths. Check each pack's technical specifications.
To find your torso length, have someone measure from the iliac crest at the top of your hipbone to the prominent bone at the base of your neck (the seventh cervical vertebrae). (See how to properly fit a backpack in this instructional video.)
Many pack manufacturers produce women-specific or short torso versions. Women, kids, and others with short torsos can consider backpacks sized for them. On average, these fit the average woman better.
Pack Tip: Don't get stuck on a pack's gender though. Buy the one that fits you best.
Straps and Padding
Shoulder straps, which control the fit of the suspension system, should be well padded and adjustable.
An adjustable sternum strap, which connects the shoulder straps, helps bring the load weight forward and off your shoulders.
Since it supports your pack's weight, make sure the hipbelt provides adequate padding. Some pack makers offer interchangeable hipbelts in different styles and in sizes for both men and women for a better individual fit.
Fitting your gear in the pack is one thing. Making sure it rides comfortably is another. What's the typical weight of your gear? Check that it matches the manufacturer's recommendation, particularly if you're opting for an ultralight pack.
During a fitting, load the pack with weight to see how well it carries. Walk around with the loaded pack, practice taking it on and off, move around, and climb up and down stairs and slopes.
How well is the pack's load distributed? Does it remain comfortable over its carrying capacity and intended uses? Does it feel stable?
Features & Organization
Consider the pack's organization. Is equipment stowed securely? Is it easy to access? Intuitive?
If you'll be carrying any specialty gear, such as ice axes, snowshoes, skis, or a snowboard, look for a pack with features or accessories designed to hold those items, rather than trying to jury-rig them on later.
Depending on your different activities you may need more than one backpack, perhaps a large internal frame pack for multi-day backpacking trips and a small daypack for day hikes.
Find the best pack for you and your activities and you'll be ready to hit the trail.