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 October 13, 2020. 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
A large winter pack with the option of extending the top collar with 10 more liters of storage space. Great vertical harness adjustability. I needed a new winter pack as my old but very serviceable Dana Designs Terraplane weighed 7 1/2 pounds! After a long search I decided on the Deuter Air Contact Lite 60 +10. So far I'm happy with that decision. Yes, DEUTER borrows heavily on American internal frame pack design with the exception of Deuter's aluminum X frame itself, a unique design. My -20… Full review
A Ferrari with deep flaws. Minimal design that aims to translate in outstanding back support and ergonomics. Has minimal attachment points for gps, knife, pockets or the like. Water bottle pouches’ space on each side will be compromised when packed. The single column construction is easy to load but isn’t well protected by the top as the fabric is hard and allows little adjustments. Enough space for a four-day self-supported trek with food and material. The very impressive Carbon fibre support… Full review
One of the few lightweight packs that can honestly carry 30-40 pounds comfortably. It's a very durable pack to boot. I own a Seek Outside Divide, which I've reviewed here, and love it. It resides on a frame that was designed for heavier loads and larger loads; it's pretty light, but far from ultralight—enter the Flight. The Flight is a new offering from SO, smaller volume and a redesigned suspension. Certainly won't replace their heavy haulers, but for your average backpacker, it's worth looking… Full review
Four-day canoe loop in Algonquin with full 24-hour thunderstorm, this pack kept my gear dry. Would rate 5 stars but the shoulder strap adjustment was a little bit lacking on the longest portages, but it is comfortable wearing while portaging a canoe. I was packed a little heavy for this trip and this pack was a workhorse. I think with some adjustment, the strap adjustments will be fine for me. Outer grab handles and top lug handles are heavy and well placed for tossing in and out of boat. This pack… Full review
Gear for a three-day mountaineering trip to Glacier Peak I want badly to love this pack, but just can’t. I expect a little better from Patagonia. Patagonia made a good backpack when they made the original Ascensionist 35. I’ve had mine for a few years and it's my favorite small pack. Having made three trips with this new 55-liter version I just can’t bring myself to like it over my Gregory Alpinisto 50 (a comparable pack) for anything more than really light mountaineering trips. Best… Full review
I used this pack to take my child backpacking and camping. Due to his age I carried almost all the shared gear. The pack held up well and distributed weight well. Love the look and feel of these bags. Can't wait to see how they hold up with moderate use. Plan to use each bag 6-8 times a year. Full review
The Arc Haul is a super light, nice pack, however it is a little fragile. The pack is light, super light, and the overall layout is really great, love the side pockets, upper pockets...heck the pack is pretty cool... However, on my last hike one of the rods that arc broke, and with a long hike the following weekend I'm out of luck, no chance I can get a replacement in time for the trip. I think there is a reason other manufacturers haven't gone with the arc design Full review
The Deuter Climber is a 22L pack designed for children ages 6 and up. With many features found on adult packs it isn't a toy. Rather, it performs well enough that small framed adults in the 10"-17" torso range could certainly use it, at least for day hiking. For children it also works well for extended backcountry excursions with plenty of room for child sized loads. Deuter's redesign of their Climber produced a child-sized pack that looks and functions like an adult pack, just a little smaller. Full review
Unreal how great this pack is. Filled it up completely, hiked 14 miles up and down a mountain, no pain, not even the day after! First, the video on how to adjust the pack was awesome. With the help of my daughter I got it all set before the trip. But the proof was in actually carrying all that gear up the brutal hike to our destination. I filled it to capacity, 35 pounds, and headed out. One caveat: if you needed to carry more weight, this pack might not be for you. It was FULL. But the pack itself… Full review