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.
The best backpacks, reviewed and curated by the Trailspace community. The latest review was added on December 14, 2021. Stores' prices and availability are updated daily.
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.
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.
Recent Backpack Reviews
There's not a whole lot to be said about a simple DCF zip pouch. But for the amount of use I've gotten from mine, it deserves a moment in the spotlight. My zip pouch has traveled the world with me, dutifully containing some of my most important items and documents. It's lightweight, durable, simple, and good at being the one place to put the small stuff I can't afford to lose. Background: Just before I traveled overseas to begin my thru-hike of New Zealand's Te Araroa, I decided to add a small Dyneema… Full review
Great basic daypack, large enough to carry all the essentials plus lunch. Would buy again. Hiking with this pack over the last year it has been through quite a bit. It has slid down rock slabs and knocked off a couple ledges and shows no real signs of wear (the spilled soy latte stain is the most noticeable wear). The included rainfly has been used on numerous occasions and is sized very well for the pack, kept all my gear dry every time. Side bottle pockets can hold a 1 liter Nalgene so plenty… Full review
While initially a comfortable, huge pack, the Mountain Scout failed in short order. Padding breakdown, broken components, failed stitching...we had it all. Dick's Sporting Goods had these packs on sale for Father's Day 7 or 8 years ago. I bought them for my son and I. These 65L packs offer lots of storage options, and include a generously-sized "brain" and a rain cover. The pack has a separate bottom pocket accessible from the front and main cargo area accessible from the top. Initial impressions… Full review
Six Moon Designs updated their 2018 Minimalist pack last year with an entirely new version that kept the good parts of the original while resolving some of that pack's issues. Still configurable with removable hip belt and internal stay and sold with optional shoulder harness or vest the V2 is best for light/UL packers looking for day after day comfort carrying lighter loads. If you've read my review of the 2018 Minimalist you know that I really liked that pack, especially for distance hiking. After… Full review
Indestructible, adjustable, and crazy comfortable daypack that falls under Buy Once - Cry Once. I'd heard of Mystery Ranch packs, which are manufactured in Bozeman, Montana, but always thought they were way too heavy for backpacking and maybe a little more geared to the hunting/survivalist/outdoors work market. But I wanted a daypack that would handle heavier loads for winter, some lash options, and could maybe work for a super light overnight with minimal gear. In doing a search I ran across… Full review
Very comfortable pack with up to 35 pounds. Easy to modify to make the pack lighter Bought last year before an AT section hike. I took the shock cord off and the water hydration pocket and wallet pocket to reduce weight. It holds all my winter gear comfortably. Love the stretch pocket. It holds all my essentials plus any wet gear I might have. You can really dial in the comfort with all the adjustments. This year I bought the shoulder water bottle pocket because I had trouble putting my water… Full review
I recently added this 30L backpack to the assortment of other backpacks I own. I initially purchased as added carrying space from a return airline trip, but I found I also liked it as a daypack for local hiking. I can fit all my extra weather gear into this roomy backpack and the compartment type structure makes it easy to access my most needed gear quickly without rummaging through the entire bag in search of what I need. Front view of the 30L pack Inside and top have easy to reach compartments… Full review
Great backpack for anyone. Have been using for years. I have had this pack for a number of years and used it on hiking trips and backpacking trips of up to seven days. It carries gear comfortably and is easy to organize and pack—lots of loops and straps to attach things to the outside and an ample included rainfly keeps everything dry. Full review
A comfortable, well designed pack, which can carry the essentials for a day hike, dog walk, or mountain run, in a stable and unobtrusive way. I chose this pack to replace a very old Pod Sac, from my climbing days. That was a minimal nylon bag, with a thin attachment strap. By contrast, 30 years later, this is a clever and complex design, which offers the potential for all-day comfort, fully or partially laden, during strenuous activity or a gentle stroll. The bag is a roomy 6 litres in capacity,… Full review