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 September 3, 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
Easily the best backpack I've ever had, lots of compartments, spacious enough for an all-day hike, and extremely comfortable as well. This review is based on the 2015 version I purchased at REI that year (the review itself is the one I wrote for REI's website a month or so after purchasing). This bag is much bigger than I thought it would be, and that's a good thing. It's more versatile than I expected. Deuter's website states the two side bellow pockets add a combined 3L to the size of the pack. Additionally,… Full review
A product from European outdoor gear manufacturer Helikon Tex; from their bushcraft line. An excellent pouch to carry immediate necessities for bush, trail, or even around town. Light, of excellent quality, and very affordable. This is an affordable, lightweight chest pack that can carry some immediate necessities where they can be reached easily. The Helikon Tex Numbat is a well designed, well built rig. Front view of the Numbat.There are two stuff pouches ion the front here.There is also MOLLE… Full review
A highly-responsive daypack from Osprey that incorporates some nice features for those with technical needs, but perhaps a little overkill for the average weekend hiker. As a long-time user of the non-Pro version of the Talon pack, I found the Pro version to be mostly the same, with some slight upgrades here and there, with the most noticeable being an improved ride (fits closer and doesn't jostle around). Personal Experience with Osprey Daypacks:I’ve used the Osprey Talon 22 as my primary daypack… Full review
The M48 Ops Ammo Pouch, a knockoff of the military ammo pouches used by our armed forces, is a two-pocket pouch with waterproof linings inside the pockets. Great to store all of your smaller camping gear, can be used as a fanny pack, or a designated pack for first aid. Multiply pouches can be placed on thee same belt, or could be attached to an existing backpack for additional storage. The M48 Ops Two-Pocket Ammo Bag Dimensions: 8" High 6 1/2" Wide 2" Deep Weight: 5.8 oz. Material:… Full review
In short, this is a deconstructed backpack situated into a vest. I call it my Bug Out Vest. Great to use on solo adventure days or weekend trips, to have in your car or truck in case of an emergency, or just as a wearable bug out bag. I have owned mine for over 20 years and it still is in great shape (although a little faded) and have traveled everywhere with it, including on my solo trek overseas traveling across Europe. It has 18 external pockets, including a large pocket located at the lower… Full review
This is a great International Carry On sized piece of luggage for the serious traveler. Mine had a minor failure, hence the three stars. If you get one with no issues, the design and function of this little pack could be excellent for business and pleasure. I’m a backpack man. From my first overnight at my grandparents to more recent adventures in Panama and Iceland, I packed a pack that went on my back, no wheeled luggage for me. One of the contributing reasons for my pack preference is a wildly… Full review
Very poor durabiltiy I bought this pack and used it on 4 overnight trips. After the last trip, there are three straps that have come apart from the pack and one of the main shoulder straps is about to come apart completely. When contacted Klymit declined to cover it under their lifetime warranty, and said it was normal wear and tear, after only four trips and less than 60 miles. I give it 1 star for durability and poor customer relations. Full review
The Gregory Juno 30 H20 is a women's fit daypack with integrated 3L hydration reservoir (hence the H20 designation). It is excellent for long day hikes or when you need to carry several liters of water. The shape and moisture-wicking fabric on the back make the pack very comfortable, even with heavy loads. With many compartments and storage areas, the Gregory Juno 30 H20 will keep your essentials, valuables, and extras secure while you climb trails. Gregory also offers this pack in Plus Size, as… Full review
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