The best backpacks, reviewed and curated by the Trailspace community. The latest review was added on March 7, 2019. Stores' prices and availability are updated daily.
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.
Recent Backpack Reviews
Gossamer Gear Hipster
This is one tough fanny pack. It can withstand heavy use and abuse, and your sunscreen, camera, keys, or snacks etc. are easy to access. The Hipster is great for hiking and backpacking, whenever you're looking for a little more easily accessible pocket space. Ease of use: The Hipster is simple to use. You just strap it on as desired, under or over the hip belt of your pack, and off you go. The zipper never gets caught when opening and closing and the pocket can fit a phone, camera, bar(s), keys,… Full review
Bought in 1986. Max weight carried for extended trips 87lbs. I bought my D3 in 1986 and used it on several trips from two weeks on down. The earlier models were better than later models. My father bought one in 1977 and he used it for years.My heaviest load was a long trip in Wyoming and pack weighed in at 87 pounds. In the '70s my father carried a 95-pound load with it. Full review
Dana Design Slider
This is an awesome pack. Too bad it's no longer on the market. It fits snug to the body and allows one to carry a snowboard, skis, or snowshoes quite comfortably. I am 5'7" tall. For me it is perfect. I'm not sure how it would fit someone taller. I don't remember if there were sizes. I doubt it. It is a great day pack to fit a first aid kit, lunch, and a change of clothes. It is especially good for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Excellent fit, will stay in place all day whether you're slogging… Full review
Red Rock Outdoor Gear Element Day Pack
This is a great compact daypack that I have used alone on quick hikes for an afternoon and also when I did a four-day camping trip when hiking the Pocono Mountains. It was sturdy and a great size with a pocket for my hydration bladder. The padded mesh back made for a comfortable trip in hot weather hiking. I liked that the shoulder straps were padded and the back was meshed for when I got hot while hiking. I like to go lightweight and appreciated the cinch straps to tighten my load. I am an average… Full review
Patagonia Nine Trails Pack 14L
The Nine Trails 14-liter backpack is a great fit for mountain bikers looking for a pack that will comfortably carry the essentials for a full day of riding. It has plenty of storage compartments, keeping items organized and easy to access. I love the long, low profile shape of the pack. It keeps items snug and centered, allowing me to ride technical terrain without throwing off my balance or range of motion. Testing Conditions: I tested the Patagonia Nine Trails 14-liter backpack as a member of… Full review
Rivendell Mountain Works Jensen
Great design and great construction. Got one of Eric Hardee's current-version Jensens about four years ago. Stupendous pack for backcountry hut touring on skis. The weight stays close to the back (have not experienced a better pack in that regard), and capacity is perfect for about four nights out with no tent and with a light sleeping bag. I do have the optional snap-on side pockets and wouldn't be able to make those trips work without them. Full review
Rivendell Mountain Works Jensen
An aesthetically delightful and comfortable specialty pack for shorter trips in mild weather for the purists. Utterly miserable if pushed beyond its weight/capacity limits. Like the previous reviewer, I lusted after the Rivendell Jensen pack when I was a poor graduate student in the '70s. By the time I could afford that, it was long out of production. Fast forward 40 years, after a very long search I bought a 1970s Jensen pack on eBay. It is the original version with two zippers opening the top… Full review
ULA Equipment Circuit
This pack works for everything. It is the most comfortable pack I have ever used. It has good pockets on the waist belt, good pockets for water bottle that can be reached with the pack on, and an outside pocket for food items and a jacket. I rarely have to open the pack to get what I want from it. I used to carry packs to haul equipment, external frames for long overnight trips, ski packs, day packs, and a hunting pack. Now I just use the Circuit for everything. They come in different torso lengths… Full review
Cotopaxi Luzon 18
Minimalist, single compartment pack with features that promote function and comfort. Outer zipped pocket and internal hydration sleeve with a drawstring top. Makes a great day or summit pack, but enough room for UL overnights. Specs: Capacity: 18L Weight: 11.5oz/327g Bag Material: Ripstop nylon Fit, Comfort, & Ride: The Cotopaxi Luzon 18L is a small pack that rides well on the upper middle portion of my back. I have an oddly long 21" torso for a man of average height and I find the bottom of… 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.
Internal Frame Backpacks
Available as weekend, multi-day, and expedition-sized backpacks, internal frames are popular for their adjustability, ease of movement, and balance.
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.