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 17, 2019. Stores' prices and availability are updated daily.
Recent Backpack Reviews
Very nice lightweight pack with plenty of room, at a reasonable price. I had been wanting to shed some weight from my pack for some time, and previous attempts involved carrying a smaller capacity pack, which isn't always practical. When I had the opportunity to acquire a like-new used Granite Gear Crown VC 60, I grabbed it. I'm glad I did. At 34 oz (29 oz without the internal frame), it's about 2 lbs lighter than my other similarly-sized pack. The VC 60 may not be able to handle as much weight… Full review
This bag is spacious enough for all of your books/gear, it has plenty of organization, and many great features. This bag is perfect for students, for going to work, or for traveling. While its best use is around town, it easily accommodates an active lifestyle. Disclaimer: I do not own the most recent version of this bag. I purchased my Osprey Nebula four years ago. This bag is great for work or for traveling. It is a well organized pack that can be used on the trail if need be. I recently took… Full review
Great all-around pack for anything you can do in the mountains. Comfortable and supportive, yet extremely light. Fits very well, and is very adjustable. Very comfortable for such a light and packable pack. I am glad the design includes a padded waist strap. This makes it useful as an all-day pack or as a summit pack on multi-day trips. I have finished climbs only to realize I was wearing this the whole time, when I meant to leave it at the bottom Fits a sufficient amount of gear for one day. I have… Full review
Best bug out bag you could get! Been putting packs together bug out bags for over two years now. This is the best pack I have found for it. I filled it easily with ammo, tent, sleeping bag, food and water, fire starter, knives, para-cord, fishing kit and cloths; still I had room and it was at least 7lbs lighter than my lightest pack with the same stuff in it. Full review
Decent pack. On my second as a zipper broke, great customer service. I've had this pack since 2015(ish). It's held up well. Have put many miles on it, but unfortunately on the last trip one of the side pocket zippers broke. I contacted Teton and they asked for a few pics and proof of purchase. They sent a new one within a week. New one hasn't been trail yet, but looks to be good to go! Full review
Fit: Sizing is usually true to size. UltrAspire's website offers a fitting guide for those who are unfamiliar with their products. Comfort: No issues with chafing from the pack even when loaded to full capacity. Have used this pack for up to 11 continuous hours with no chafing or discomfort. Would always recommend a Body Glide type product if doing multi-hour or full day outings where you would be wearing a vest. Capacity: Fluid capacity without a bladder is what makes this a very good vest… Full review
I started out with external frame packs in the '80s, joined the internal frame craze in the '90s, and joyfully returned to external frames with this pack about nine years ago. It is an eternally adjustable, heavy-load-eating comfort-monster. This pack can be tweaked endlessly to find that perfect fit. The frame itself can be shortened or lengthened, the pack body lowered or raised on the frame, the hip belt and shoulder straps replaced. To that end, I am a slender man, and found the factory-installed… Full review
A great backpack that is comfortable and roomy. Has multiple points of access and a good range of adjustment. I bought this backpack after a lot of research and hemming and hawing. I'd used the same Camp Trails external frame backpack since the early 1970s and loved it. But it's too small, the padding in the straps and belt dried up, waterproofing gone. I was able to get a set of replacement shoulder straps and hip belt (from Kelty) but it was only a matter of time before the zippers failed. When… Full review
First proper civilian hiking bag. Uses: light hiking/sightseeing, cycling, travel. I am giving it 4 stars because it is that comfortable and fills the bag role for multiple activities. So I gave it more stars than the number of Cons would suggest, but I don't think those cons have a big impact; excepts to say for one. First, my only purpose-built hiking and camping bags have been a Spec 82 Canadian Ruck Sack and a T-62 (Spec 62) Canadian Ruck Sack from the '50s/Korean War Era. Both were canvas,… Full review
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.