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 August 7, 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
Yukon 48 is my fugged-about-it pack. It might not do everything well. However, you can trust the pack to do just about everything. It's the multi-tool of the backpack world. Construction: There's nothing particular unique or exciting about the Kelty frame pack. Humans have been using external frames for thousands of years. For instance, most people will notice Native American cradleboards are essentially small, baby-laden external frames. You have a rigid frame with a bundle attached to it. The… Full review
I'm a bit of a pack rat with packs. I love packs and bags. I've been known to buy one, use it, wear it out, and then just discard it for a younger model. Every so often though, I'll find one that I buy and... It gets used, worn out, repaired, and kept. My wife steals it. I use it for awhile and pass it down to my kids. I'm not sure where this pack fits in yet, but I'm definitely using it. My most common pack activities are: Biking or rucking to the store and filling it with groceries Rucking with… Full review
The most important thing to me was comfort, and this backpack nailed it. I have a long torso so I wanted to make sure it fit properly so it wouldn’t rub when I was walking. I love the color too and the rain fly adds a pop of extra color. First, let me start by saying I am not a “hardcore backpacker”. I camp, I hike, I backpack, and many other outdoor activities. The last backpack I owned was just not a great fit, and I bought it before I had a good understanding of what made a backpack a good… Full review
This is a good pack for day hikes and weekend trips. It has an excellent hydration system. It's well made and fits well, even for a tall person. Probably not good for multi-day backpacking trips. I gave this pack a solid workout this summer—hiking and camping in six National Parks and numerous National Forests, monuments and recreation areas, in 10 states, often at altitudes over 10,000 feet and temperatures over 90 degrees, during a three-week, 6,000-mile road trip in July 2020. Gregory’s… Full review
Lightweight Ventilated Backed by Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee Picked this up on a crazy sale and could not be happier with the price I paid for the pack. It was exactly what I was looking for and despite saying it fits up to a 2-liter hydration bladder, I am able to run my 3-liter Camelbak in it with no issues whatsoever. It actually slides into an open compartment that sits between the main pack and the backpad. So it is easily accessible without opening zippers and going into the main compartment. Full review
This backpack is great for a day hike, even if the heat is high. The backpack is very lightweight and stylish. It is very functional and has many pockets. I came into it thinking it was a small backpacking backpack and I was mistaken. It is just a very large daypack, although I have stretched it into an overnight bag. The frame feels amazing and puts the weight on your hips. It has tons of nice features that you can tell someone put a lot of time thinking about. Overall this backpack is what I… Full review
There are a lot of choices for daypacks and many features and specs to consider. I tend to like my packs with the ability to provide separation of gear based on my style of hiking. The Gregory Pack lines are in my opinion the best at balancing compartments with lighter weight construction making them my go-to. The Citro 24 H20 didn't disappoint. This is my third Gregory pack and it looks like another winner. I mainly focus on mountain day hiking and multiday backpacking. I picked up the Citro 24… Full review
I personally will be using this for scouting and hunting purposes, which is not the usual backpack for that, but it is very comfortable and I did not have a problem with anything. Honestly I have nothing bad to say about this backpack. First of all, I do a lot of hiking, scouting, hunting, and fishing; I enjoy the outdoors a lot. I took this backpack for several scouts before hunting season starts and I am impressed on how this backpack is so comfortable. The shoulder area has padding and keeps… Full review
Great lightweight pack for overnights, or longer, if UL-savvy. I purchased the Exos 48 in 2015 and use it each year on summer overnight and somewhat longer trips where I can keep the load small and light. It weighs only 2.5 lbs with the lid attached. It's not designed to carry heavy loads, but what it does carry, it carries well. With clean lines, the pack has many features I find handy; none are superfluous. I have heard complaints about Osprey having omitted the small pockets on the waist and… Full review