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 26, 2022. 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
Clamshell opening and really tough. Survived 28 countries over 5 years backpacking. I loved it. It was my companion for some very exciting and terrifying experiences. The fact you could get into it when locked bothered me a lot. Oh and I ended up setting an 8kg limit on my carry weight as I'm small and want to enjoy travel and not feel like a pack horse. So you need discipline with this bag! But it's FABULOUS to have the hybrid capabilities of duffle, clamshell opening etc. I would like to find… Full review
Spacious and waterproof bag for ultralight hiking. The thing is so light and works great! I love the outside pockets and fold-close top to keep any water out. This backpack is AMAZING. It's CRAZY light It's waterproof (so you don't need a separate backpack cover) All my gear for a week-long backpacking trip fit perfectly The weight was well distributed, but my left hip did become a little sore after a long 10+ mile day If you want to get into ultralight backpacking, this is one of the best packs… Full review
Incredibly comfortable pack for long day hikes. Superb quality, but with bad pocket design. I've used this pack for nearly four years now. It's my everyday pack for work as well as long day hikes. Comfort and Suspension: The suspension system is unbelievable, and even in its maximum load, it makes the weight disappear. I can snugly fit the pack to my back, thus it eliminates any momentum while moving. I experienced no hot spots or too much friction on the waist belt. It's relatively ventilated… Full review
A well made, nice sized pack for everyday and shorter outings. Now that I'm retired I find myself hiking the myriad of single-track trails we have close by daily. I was carrying a 20 oz handle water bottle and nothing else. I'm pretty dialed in to the weather and what to wear, but would sometimes find I wished I had brought gloves or a beanie or a windshirt or a little more water or a snack, etc. I've got a few day packs that would certainly work, but was looking for something smaller. Enter… Full review
This little itty bitty Ditty Bag makes for a useful and sturdy extra pouch for organizing things. Two different sizes and a WIIIIIIIDE spectrum of color options (190 different possible options) meets the needs and desires of many. No frills, just a pouch made of strong materials and a burly zipper. Usage: I’ve used the Cordura Ditty Bag from Nittany Mountain Works for about a year now and find myself wanting (and soon getting) more of them. Initially used to store keys, phone, and wallet in one… Full review
I really wanted to like this pack....but... This is my first poray into lighter weight bear. I was expecting to have design or performance concerns, but that's the reality. I tried this pack on several three-day weekend hikes and found it woefully small for my needs. I carried it on a winter one-nighter, and it still seems smaller than my other 60 L pack. The compression straps are way too long and skinny, and pulling them tight stresses the buckles. I broke one and had to secure the strap with… Full review
Not durable at all. Frames will fail under heavy load. On the fence, did a lot of operations with this pack. Relatively comfortable and fits all body types. I've been debating reviewing this one for a while. A large amount of these packs are on the market for a fair price, so it got me thinking about my experience with them. I received this pack at the basic school circa 2003. It was a lot larger than the medium-sized Alice and I thought it was pretty comfortable for me to put on and carry a load. Full review
Mystery Ranch's Hip Monkey is a roomy, durable, well-made lumbar pack that provides easy access to items on the go. With most of its 8-liter capacity in one large pocket, it's versatile for a wide range of uses year-round. Hiking, snowshoeing, mountain biking, traveling, fishing, and more, if the gear fits, you can carry it for your favorite activity in the Hip Monkey. Mystery Ranch even touts it can hold a six-pack or a set of frisbee golf discs. The Hip Monkey can be worn around your waist or… Full review
Unwieldy, complicated, and awkward. I got one of these when they first came out in the fleet and used it for about two years in the field. Everybody was excited to replace the MOLLE pack, which constantly broke. I remember looking at this thing in both awe, wonder and disbelief when they handed it to me. It just looked awkward. All I ever heard was how it was designed by some fancy mountain pack company to be ergonomic etc. Maybe it's just me, but after using it in the field I thought this was one… Full review