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
Kelty Big Bend
Great pack, durable and flexible. I think I got this pack when the model was discontinued. At least I think it was discontinued, but the lack of offerings in the current catalogs supports this theory. I have owned a pile of packs in my life and have retired all but three. This is probably the one I now use the most for actual hiking. It is rated for 75 liters with a ten liter extension sleeve.The maker classifies it as an "expedition" pack. What they mean by that I cannot say. The pack carries well… Full review
Proven design. I owned and carried one of these for years, as did a college roommate. It was quite a number of years ago but the new models seem essentially the same. It was basically the first aluminum external readily available anywhere. Other makers quickly followed when the market became obvious, but Kelty was there first and for many, including me, the proven and well reviewed design sold me. It cost an impoverished college student a pile of money for those days. I probably ate less for a… Full review
Deuter Aircontact 75+10
Awesome pack! This shares with my Kelty 75 the honor of being the best pack I have ever carried. Bear in mind that I have owned and carried a vast number of packs, so that is saying something. Now I have not carried loads north of maybe 35 pounds, but this pack is designed for much more. The maker designates this as an "expedition" pack, whatever they may mean by that. The sleeve gives another 10 liters and both measurements seem accurate. The design is sophisticated and can hardly be improved… Full review
Lowe Alpine Contour IV 90+15
Great price, tough pack. I am a big guy and long waisted to boot. I wanted a big pack when I got back into backpacking and this is the one I bought new (I picked up a second at Goodwill for less than $4). My older three season sleeping bag is a synthetic fill and it is bulky, as is much of my older gear. The suspension is well designed, the waist belt is wide and comfortable, it rides about as well as any pack this size could. The lumbar pad is awesomely thick and comfy. But...this is more pack… Full review
Gregory UM21 Backpack
Still relevant. Do you abuse gear? Do you hike off-trail, through brush, over rocks and don't want to worry about a branch tearing a hole in the latest, lightest and most expensive nano-fabric? Have you passed through the ultralight gear stage and want a pack (or in addition to UL) that lasts longer than two seasons (wasteful) and doesn't require kid gloves treatment? Are you patriotic? Do you want to reduce your visual footprint with badass three-color desert or woodland camo options? Do you need… Full review
This is a great pack for 10 days in the mountains. I like the 3 L water side pouch that you can fill up with the Playtpus 3 L bag. Frame pack makes it easier to get on over your head. Holds a lot of weight. I used this pack while hiking Philmont Scout Reservation. It did the job for 10 days on the trail. External frame held up in the rugged environment. Easier to get on than the internal framed. Lot less bulk when empty to carry restock supplies at camp then repack. The zippers seemed to stick but… Full review
Macpac Cascade 65
Disappointing necessity. Thought we would buy a well known quality pack to do the Milford and Kepler tracks back to back. Selling point was the fact they were supposedly waterproof. That means the pack is slightly heavier to start with, but is then not affected by rain. Bad mistake. Packs suck water like a wet and dry vacuum. Sleeping bags and clothing got wet. Packs became heavier. Between tramps had to purchase a pack cover each (pain in the arse) and some dry bags. My wife's fitted OK, but my… Full review
Osprey Stratos 24
I'm really happy with this purchase, and it has made my day hikes far more pleasant. Fit When I bought this pack, I was over 300 pounds with a 54" waist. This pack juuust fit comfortably. Now that my weight has come down quite a lot (thanks to all that hiking), it fits even better. Comfort This pack is really adjustable and it took just a minute or two to get it really dialed in nicely. It just feels like part of my body when I'm hiking now. And I really love the ventilation. I don't arrive with… Full review
VauDe Asymmetric 42+8
The pack fits wonderfully well and is well adjustable the straps are comfortable but thin and could use more padding. They work, but they could use some improvement. I am 5'5" and 130 pounds and it fits me comfortably and can carry 35-pound loads, but not more without being uncomfortable. I bought this pack because I was sizing down from my 65 liter Osprey and its worked out well. It holds all my gear enough for three days (minus sleeping bag, I don't use one). After a fifteen-mile day on the PCT… 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.