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 February 4, 2023. 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
Great pack. Had trouble finding it as many sites say it's no longer in stock and/or the company is no longer manufacturing them. I'm here to say the company is going strong and as of Feb 2023 they are available. They are now manufactured in one size. Full review
A very tough, versatile, and useful bag, which is impervious to the elements. Not the greatest hiking pack, but it is a roomy weekend bag, grocery getter, canoe pack, or car storage protection for your emergency warm gear. Of course, it will also keep your wet, muddy possessions corralled, after doing the opposite duty all day. I bought this bag in October 2020, along with the 20 Litre version (https://www.trailspace.com/gear/podsacs/waterproof-20l-ruscksack/#review41294) The smaller bag is an excellent… Full review
For the outdoor professional who is compelled to appear as, and travel like, a professional, this "briefcase" is the perfect shoulder bag for meetings. The terminology: The "3 way" aspect of this bag is that it has storable shoulder straps, allowing it to be worn as a backpack, like a kid on their first day of school, grab handles for when you want to carry it like a briefcase, like a grifter about to make the exchange, and a shoulder strap for when it is worn on a shoulder or across the body, like… Full review
A tremendous pack in terms of build and reliability, however, for someone like me that is quite boney and lacking hips and a decent backside, it is incredibly uncomfortable for extended hikes; anything beyond three hours is a problem for me. I have had three other BW packs and they were sublime in terms of comfort and I regularly hiked for 10-12 hours at a stretch with each of them. When I initially tried the Maikoh 70 I admit to having a few reservations about how the shoulder straps and hip belt… Full review
Wanted to point out the differences in the Women's fit versus the regular fit model. I purchased a Massdrop version several years ago, and liked it so much, we got the women's for my wife. In 2018 I hyperextended my knee and injured my back. This prompted me to move to a more ultralight setup. I found a good deal on the Massdrop version of the Crown 2 and decided to try it out. A year later, I bought my wife the Crown 2 Women's fit to replace her 4-lb Gregory Deva. These packs now have a few thousand… Full review
This is a budget foldable daypack that is spacious and organized. It is best for urban travelers who don't care about suitcase weight, but do care about suitcase size (ex. most air travelers). Fit: The pack is essentially a sack, so fit doesn't matter. Comfort: Not comfortable with heavy loads, but otherwise adequate. This pack is comfortable when used properly. It has non-padded shoulder straps that tend to twist under heavy loads. Additionally, the back panel is unpadded, so you need to pack… Full review
A high-quality, supportive, and organized daypack. It is loaded with extremely well designed features, such as an adjustable backpanel, secure and easy to reach bottle pockets, and a rain cover pocket. It is best for day hikers that pack a lot of gear and prioritize comfort and features. Fit: Fits slender males well. The pack fit my 30-inch waist well. The back would fit most people well, with several inches of adjustability. Comfort: This pack is breathable and supportive, contributing to great… Full review
It's light. Juuuuust big enough for overnight or a few days if you go ultralight. This is for the men's version. Mine fits 5.8, should go shorter > taller, so there you go ladies. Great daypack. Great ski/board pack. No complaints. Got all yer belzNwhistles without extra weight (key clip, full pockets, compression, bottle sides, that kinda thing.) Comfortable as any pack I've owned w day loads. Ventilation solid but not superior. I can't speak to this backpacking (really no reason not to use… Full review
Good design. Good adjustable suspension. Plenty of room. Water bottle pockets awkward. Tried on many other competitive packs, some Osprey models to the Zulu but none fit right or dug into my shoulders. Great overall design and construction. I have the gold standard Gregory Shasta 88ltr weighing 6.5 lbs empty for comparison, but needed to cut weight. The Zulu 65 is 3.68 lbs—almost half. Figured Gregory would have good suspension and I was correct. I’ve used this pack on over 100 miles and almost… Full review