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
Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
Super lightweight with Osprey quality and detailed pack. Just bought the Osprey Stuff Pack in my search for a lightweight packable summit/day pack. From a backpacking base camp or thru-hike, I like to leave my tent and HMG large pack and explore. However, I always take essential gear such as first aid kit, water, rain jacket, etc. This is a super light and well designed pack that folds into an inner pouch, has two zipped storage areas, and a small interior pouch with Velcro that is its own storage… Full review
U.S. Military ALICE Pack
Primitive, heavy, and outdated, an Alice Pack would never make it into my gear collection. We used these in the NZ Army back in the '80s. Like a lot of the gear back then it was 1960s Vietnam era.Back in those days the gear was so bad that soldiers would go out and buy their own gear, mostly civilian issue. SAS soldiers used to go out and buy MacPac and Fairydown backpacks. The Alice Packs were just not capable of carrying sufficient load comfortably and I can only suggest they are basically rubbish. Full review
U.S. Military ALICE Pack
Not a bad pack as long as you are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the design. The as-issued ALICE does the job and holds up well to rough use, but it lacks the comfort of more modern designs and the refinements and fashionable trends of civilian products. However, upgrade the straps and the waist belt with MOLLE II replacements and you've got one solid feeling pack that is comfortable and does just about anything you want a pack to do while remaining simple in nature. Consider adding the… Full review
The North Face Rolling Thunder
Terrific bag! Sturdy and tough. Nice product!! A great carry-on suitcase for air travel. Slim profile allows easy lifting to overhead bins. Three sturdy handles for lifting into trunk of auto! Wheels are smooth and sturdy. Collapsible handle works with one touch! Full review
The North Face Snow Leopard Pack
That is so funny. I have the same pack. I used it and my Gregory from the mid 1980s. I too loved the Snow Leopard. Mine was also bright blue with yellow straps. I dropped it off at the North Face shop today because the weatherproofing was flaking off on the inside of the pack. I am not sure what they will do. It is a strong comfortable pack with easy access to all parts.It has been all over the mountains of California and southern Arizona with a trip to New Mexico, Colorado, and Kenya. It never… Full review
Outdoor Research Ultralight Compression Sack
Does the job it was meant to do. I purchased the OR compression sack when I got a new sleeping bag You can see why. It packs up small and leave it in with the bag 8lt pouch I’ve been using this one about 15x a year for about 10 years and it is showing no signs of wear. Works very well. I have had cheaper models that seem to bulge at the sides (what’s the point?). That is not the case with the OR. The four straps allow you to evenly cinch down the contents to what my kids call a big jelly… Full review
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
My size small base camp duffel is a favorite for short work trips and toting small amounts of extra gear to and from a trailhead. It is built to withstand harsh punishment, easy to carry, and easy to access the interior contents. Cost is the only negative. Available from carry-on size to trek-swallowing massive, the base camp duffel might be the most indestructible and comfortable way to get your stuff from one place to the other. Mine is a size small, and I use it primarily for air travel, national… Full review
I, literally, lived out of this pack for four years. It was spacious, had plenty of room for everything I needed. I'm 6'4" and was grateful for the longer frame. When packed right, it was good for the long haul and routinely took me several miles down the road or trail. Having started off with milsurp packs, the Rainier was a dream to own. Full review
Osprey Atmos AG 65
Amazing pack! The most comfortable pack I have ever had with tons of extra features and storage. It's not the lightest but the comfort and versatility make up for it. The pack is made for men, but I am very short. The small size fits me and the shoulder straps are very adjustable and the torso belt can also be adjusted. The venting is amazing thanks to the mesh that surrounds the pack. The small is about 62 L and that is plenty enough for me. I don't end up filling all the pockets and I always… 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.