The best hiking backpack

Camping & Outdoors

Some hiking backpacks include strategically placed pockets, dedicated water bottle compartments, external loops and straps for attaching gear.

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Choosing the right hiking backpack

If you plan on hitting the trails, whether for a leisurely day trip or a multi-day excursion, you need to have the right gear. Unlike the average school or city backpack, hiking backpacks are built to stand up to the harsh conditions they are subjected to in the wilderness. 

Hiking backpacks have many other features that make them stand apart from different kinds of bags. Since they are designed to be carried continuously for long periods, they are built to focus on comfort and offer a high degree of adjustability. Depending on the model, they may have strategically placed pockets, dedicated water bottle compartments, external loops and straps for attaching gear.

This helpful guide breaks down everything you need to know about hiking backpacks so you can make a smart purchase. We’ll also highlight some of our favorite choices to help you narrow down the field.

Things to consider when buying a hiking backpack

Capacity

Hiking backpacks come in a range of capacities, from small 10-liter options ideal for a day outing to 65 liter or larger packs that can hold several days’ worth of clothing and gear. Make sure to select a pack that will accommodate everything you plan on carrying.

If you are unsure how much stuff you will be carrying, it is better to err on the side of caution and choose a backpack slightly bigger than you expect to need. However, you don’t want to go so large that you carry an unnecessarily large and bulky pack for your intended applications.

Frame type

When it comes to multi-day excursion packs, they are available with an internal or external frame. Each of these offers its benefits and drawbacks. Internal frame models are sleeker and more form-fitting. They usually sit close to the body, which makes them feel more stable on your back.

External frame models are bulkier but better for attaching additional gear like sleeping bags, hiking poles, ice axes or other tools that don’t easily fit inside the pack itself. External frame packs hold the load higher on the back, which some find more comfortable. Also, since they sit further away from your body, they tend to offer better ventilation.

Comfort

Comfort is a very personal thing. A pack that fits someone else perfectly may be uncomfortable for someone else. However, there are certain features to look for that pretty much everyone can appreciate. These include strategic perforations or airflow channels, wide and well-padded shoulder straps, a cushioned back and load-stabilizing waist and chest straps. 

Loading style

Hiking backpacks are either front- or top-loading. Front-loading packs have a U-shaped opening that makes them easier to organize when packing. It also allows for quick retrieval of a single item without removing everything else in the pack. 

Top-loading packs are often more streamlined, making them a good choice for those with a small frame. Many are also expandable, allowing you to add extra gear when needed. While both styles are made to be durable, top-loading packs are often made with lighter-weight fabric and materials than their front-loading counterparts.

Additional features

Look at all of the additional features of any backpack you consider and think about how you like to hike or camp. What benefits does each model offer for those scenarios? Some may have segregated pockets for wet items, external webbing or bungees for attaching gear, a hydration bladder compartment and more.

The best hiking backpacks

Best daypacks

Osprey Daylite

Osprey Daylite

A slim and streamlined pack, the Daylite is perfect for those who don’t want anything too bulky. It has mesh pockets on the sides for water bottles and a sternum strap with a built-in whistle for emergencies.

Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Deuter Speed Lite

Deuter Speed Lite

At 22 liters, the Speed Lite is on the larger side for daypacks, making it a good choice for those who take a lot of gear on their hikes. You also get external webbing and bungees for attaching additional items.

Sold by Amazon and Backcountry

Teton Sports Oasis 1100

Teton Sports Oasis 1100

The Oasis is crafted from rugged ripstop fabric that can stand up to much wear and tear. It is easy to load, thanks to a large U-shaped opening on the main compartment, and it has compression straps to cinch it down tight. 

Sold by Amazon

Outlander Ultra Lightweight

Outlander Ultra Lightweight

This basic, no-frills option is excellent for travelers and packs down small into its own attached stuff sack. You can choose from two sizes and a plethora of vibrant colors.

Sold by Amazon

Best multi-day internal frame hiking backpacks

Osprey Atmos AG 65

Osprey Atmos AG 65

With 65 liters of space, you’ll have plenty of room to take along all of your gear in the Atmos AG. The smartly engineered suspension system will keep your load well balanced, and the large pockets on the hip belt are great for keeping essentials close at hand.

Sold by Amazon and Backcountry

Kelty Redwing 44

Kelty Redwing 44

From a company that has been making high-quality outdoor gear for more than 60 years, the Redwing will serve you faithfully in the field. It offers ample organization pockets and has a well-ventilated back panel to keep you cool.

Sold by Amazon

Teton Sports Scout 3400

Teton Sports Scout 3400

The Scout 3400 is surprisingly affordable for the quality yet offers ample capacity and plenty of features. This makes it a solid buy for those who have a tight budget but don’t want to sacrifice things like a sleeping bag compartment and a rain fly.

Sold by Amazon

Everest 8045D Hiking Pack

Everest 8045D Hiking Pack

If you only hike periodically, you may be able to get by with the budget-friendly Everest 8045D. It’s not the most rugged of choices, but it will get the job done and comes in solid or cool camo prints.

Sold by Amazon

Best multi-day external frame hiking backpack

Kelty Trekker

Kelty Trekker

This feature-rich top-loader has an adjustable suspension system, thickly padded straps and dual-density foam on the hip belt to keep you comfortable. As a bonus, the lid converts into a sling pack for those short day hikes.

Sold by Amazon

Alps Mountaineering Zion

Alps Mountaineering Zion

With four side pockets and an ice axe loop, you’ll be able to access your essential gear quickly when carrying the Zio. Plus, its frame is expandable to fit a wide range of users.

Sold by Amazon

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic

Kelty Tioga 5500 Classic

The Tioga has proven itself in the field time and time again, but just in case, it comes with a lifetime warranty to put your mind at ease. It has an enclosed sleeping bag pocket and several lash points for attaching gear externally.

Sold by Amazon

Alps OutdoorZ Commander

Alps OutdoorZ Commander

Hunters will appreciate the drop-down rifle pocket on the OutdoorZ Commander. There is also a freighter shelf and a three-belt strap system.

Sold by Amazon

Brett Dvoretz is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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