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 June 8, 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
Designed For The Long Haul. Being a gear junkie you end up going through a lot of different backpacks. After owning and using many styles and brands, I found that the most durable and comfortable packs are typically in the hunting and tactical series. That being said, most of these companies do have an expedition line such as Eberlestock and Mystery Ranch. Kifaru, Kuiu, Exo, Badlands and others make some excellent packs, but in Canada, price and availability create a problem. Having owned six Eberlestock… Full review
I love the External Frame Backpack for the external frame... I don't get up sweaty back it has me walking in a more upright position ultimately it's more stable on the trail. . . ... I disliked your article about external frame backpacks, I can carry a Ultralight gear load or a 4 season gear load...an internal frame backpack will have you walking in a more bent-over position all day...a External Frame Backpack will have you hiking in a more upright position as you walk...My Kelty Trekker has a life… Full review
Light enough, big enough, comfy enough—SO durable. I've had this pack for years now. It's definitely not Ultralight, but it's close. It travels well on the trail, even with a heavy load. It's been a great urban travel pack, and also has been a great air travel pack (I hate suitcases). The tensioned mesh keeps my back cool and less sweaty. This pack fit me well, as designed. Lots of adjustment and tensioning options to settle the load well. I'm tall and lanky, and I have always been happy with… Full review
Impossibly light, too big for the limited weight capacity. The obvious: this bag is impossibly light for the volume. I personally love a bare bones pack that is essentially a stuff sack on straps. If I were to buy again, I would go with Hyperlite, but I would go smaller. I got this pack because you can roll down the excess space not being used. The fact of the matter: 70 liters of gear weighs too much for the straps and dyneema to handle. Unless you are stuffing feathers in here, go for the smaller… Full review
The Vorn Lynx is a high quality specialty backpack for hunters that enables you to carry a rifle in comfort with instant access to it when needed. Anyone who has carried a 10lb rifle mainly on their shoulder for a day knows how uncomfortable it can get after a while. There are many different slings and contraptions to try and make carrying a rifle comfortable while giving easy access and they all work to some degree, but all require some sort of compromise and all interfere with your backpack so… Full review
This is a review of the largest (120 liter) Alpaca, whose primary role will be long trips and transporting my big backpack and gear. Durable fabrics and features mean the bag will last a very long time. It has comfortable shoulder straps and multiple handles for getting around. Top opening is big, a plus for packing. If there is a downside, the removable shoulder straps lack a quick release—takes some work. BASIC INFO Shows how the shoulder straps attach at the top. Dog and starfish not included. Full review
Best lightweight backpacking pack I've used. Definitely recommend for lightweight packing, for those who are not into ultralight backpacking and comfort is still important. Do not recommend for people packing heavier loads. I have definitely found that packing >30 lbs significantly and negatively affects comfort. Normally, my total pack weight is somewhere between 24-28 lbs, food and water included. Fit: 5/5 stars, excellent fit. I am a woman 5'7", 135 lbs. I bought the pack when it was "unisex"… Full review
Phenomenal pack, great for the thru hiker and more. At French Louie's fire pit along the Northville-Lake Placid Trail West Canada Lakes lean-to along the NPT Tirrell Pond area along the NPT This pack is rugged and very comfortable. My husband carried it on the Northville Placid Trail and many other thru hikes with no problems. I would highly recommend it for anyone who needs comfort and durability. We carried gear and food for 14 days. Repacking in the morning was a breeze and no issues with… Full review
Nice size for day hikes or ultralight camping. Suitable also for climbing, running, or cycling. Bought last year and have used it for about 6 months. One of the Youtube reviews for this pack has it thrown off a mountain in Scotland and it survives with hardly a scar. Keeping that in mind you'll know it may be light, but it's rugged. I'm primarily a hiker, but I usually take a DSLR and 1-2 extra lens. With a few drybags, lens pouches, and drawstring pouches it's workable to divide all your kit. Not… Full review