Gone are the days when backpacking consisted of strapping on a huge external frame and lumbering through the forest with an aching body. Trends in backpacks these days err towards minimalism and thoughtful, ergonomic design. Below are our favorite backpacking backpacks for 2023, from ultralight bags for minimalists and thru-hikers to comfort-oriented options for weekend warriors and extended trips. For background information, see our backpack comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Backpacking Backpack Picks
- Best Overall Backpacking Backpack: Osprey Atmos AG 65 / Aura AG 65
- Best Ultralight Backpacking Backpack: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
- Our Favorite Pack for Hauling Heavy Loads: Gregory Baltoro 75 / Deva 70
- Best Balance of Comfort and Lightweight: Osprey Exos 58 / Eja 58
- Best Budget Backpacking Backpack: REI Co-op Trailmade 60
Best Overall Backpacking Backpack
1. Osprey Atmos AG 65 ($340)
Weight: 4 lbs. 9.8 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D x 500D)
Capacities: 50, 65L
What we like: A standout all-rounder with especially great ventilation.
What we don’t: Pricey and fairly heavy at over 4.5 pounds.
The Atmos AG (and women’s Aura AG) is our top backpacking backpack of the year, deftly balancing comfort, organization, and durability. The attention grabber is the “Anti-Gravity” suspended mesh backpanel, which replaces the protruding foam found on more traditional designs to maximize both ventilation and comfort. But that’s not all the Atmos has going for it: The pocket design is thoughtfully laid out with plenty of options to divvy up gear, the Fit-on-the-Fly harness and hipbelt offer an easily customizable fit, and the premium materials hold up well to rough treatment. Overall, the Atmos is an extremely well-rounded backpack that works great for anything from quick overnight trips to extended jaunts into the backcountry.
With a revamp in the spring of 2022, the most recent Atmos tacks on two side zips for more convenient access to the main compartment, a torso length adjustment, and an integrated raincover. Osprey also modified the pack’s fabrics to prioritize sustainability (like a lot of gear manufacturers, they’ve moved to a PFC-free durable water repellent finish). Subsequently, the Atmos AG 65 also got a price bump, which surprisingly makes it even pricier than the souped-up Aether below. But you won’t find a better balance of weight, carrying comfort, and features for everything from quick overnight missions to week-long backpacking trips, once more earning the Atmos AG 65 a spot at the top of our list. It’s also worth mentioning the new Atmos AG LT 65 ($290; 4 lbs. 1 oz.), which streamlines the design but still offers the same comfort and carrying capacity of the original pack... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Osprey Atmos AG 65 See the Women's Osprey Aura AG 65
Best Ultralight Backpacking Backpack
2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest ($379)
Weight: 1 lb. 15.6 oz.
Fabric: Dyneema (50D & 150D)
Capacities: 40, 55, 70L
What we like: Impressively light but strong and can carry a full load.
What we don’t: Expensive and minimal organization.
A number of ultralight packs are designed for thru-hikers and minimalists, but our top pick is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest. What sets the Southwest apart is its fully Dyneema construction, which offers incredible strength and water resistance at a very low weight. Ounce-counters won’t find a more streamlined yet hardwearing design, and compared to the Zpacks Arc Blast below (another popular UL pack), the thicker body fabric (5.0 oz/sqyd vs. 3.1 oz/sqyd) offers significantly more durability. Tack on a firm foam backpanel and aluminum stays, and the Southwest handles heavy loads with relative ease. For the whole enchilada at just a smidge under 2 pounds, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular UL packs on the trail. And Hyperlite offers a range of other options, with the primary difference being the external pocket fabric—the Windrider, for example, has mesh pockets and is a great choice for those who want to dry gear out on the go.
At 55 liters, the 3400 (for 3400 cubic inches) has the capacity to take on seriously long trips and has become a go-to pack for thru-hikers. In our hands, it has seen duty as an overnight and multi-day backpacking pack as well as a packrafting dry bag. To be clear, the design is undeniably basic, with only the main compartment and a few exterior pockets for organization (notably, the hipbelt pockets are now larger and phone-friendly). And because Dyneema isn’t particularly breathable, the Southwest isn’t our top pick for hot-weather hiking. But it’s still one of the most uncompromised options available, and there’s no denying the trail style you get with that premium Dyneema-white. And if you keep your load to a minimum, it's also worth checking out Hyperlite’s new Unbound 40 ($369), which was purpose-built for serious thru-hikers... Read in-depth review
See the Hyperlite 3400 Southwest
Our Favorite Pack for Hauling Heavy Loads
3. Gregory Baltoro 75 ($360)
Weight: 4 lbs. 15.7 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D & 420D)
Capacities: 65, 75L
What we like: Heavy hauling comfort with a great feature set.
What we don’t: Pretty heavy and overkill for minimalists.
Gregory has earned a reputation for comfort over the years, and their flagship men’s Baltoro and women’s Deva packs carry on the tradition. These bags are intended to haul heavy loads with strong suspensions, firm but supportive padding, and excellent organization. With a fully mesh backpanel, the most recent version is the best-ventilated iteration yet, and the hip-hugging suspension and pivoting shoulder straps keep the pack stable when hiking over uneven terrain. We also appreciate the generous storage layout for shuttling multi-day loads, including nine exterior pockets, U-shaped front access to the main compartment, and massive hipbelt pockets (made even larger in the latest update) that easily swallow a large smartphone.
We tested the revamped Baltoro 75 while trekking in Patagonia, and the pack stayed true to its intentions as one of the most comfortable and feature-rich designs on the market. Along with the changes outlined above, the latest version also includes a highly customizable hipbelt and shoulder straps (great for achieving a perfect fit), drops the built-in Sidekick daypack (not a big loss, in our eyes), and uses more recycled materials. But as before, the Baltoro’s biggest downside is its weight: The 75-liter model clocks in around 5 pounds, which is about twice the heft of the 70-liter Hyperlite Southwest mentioned above. In short, if you aim to keep things light and simple on a backpacking trip, this probably isn’t the pack for you. But if you plan to carry 40 pounds or more, the Baltoro will shoulder the load better than most—and chances are you won’t notice the extra pound or two... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Gregory Baltoro 75 See the Women's Gregory Deva 70
Best Balance of Comfort and Lightweight
4. Osprey Exos 58 ($260)
Weight: 2 lbs. 13.4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 400D)
Capacities: 38, 48, 58L
What we like: Excellent mix of carrying comfort, ventilation, and build quality at a reasonable weight.
What we don’t: Heavy and overly complicated for many minimalists and thru-hikers.
Osprey is a backpack powerhouse known for quality builds, excellent organization, and comfort, as seen in industry-leading designs like the Atmos/Aura above. First released over a decade ago, the Exos (and women’s Eja) was their original take on an ultralight pack, and is still a popular pick in this category. At 2 pounds 13.4 ounces for the 58-liter version, it can’t compete with streamlined haulers like the Hyperlite Southwest and Gossamer Gear Mariposa (both check in just under 2 lbs.), but the additional weight translates to a boost in organizational features, carrying comfort, and ventilation. And with a spring 2022 update, the most recent Exos tacks on a convenient torso-length adjustment and reintroduces hipbelt pockets to the design (surprisingly, these had been removed in the previous version).
If you’re accustomed to a traditional backpack but curious about dipping into the ultralight world, we think the Exos is one of the best places to start. With a robust suspension system and decent feature set, this pack is far from a true UL design, but it’s nevertheless significantly lighter and more streamlined than a pack like the Atmos above. And held up against the similarly intentioned Gregory Focal (below), the Exos is slightly heavier, tacks on a few more bells and whistles (including the adjustable torso length), and features a slightly more plush backpanel. You do trade off a bit of durability compared with burly traditional haulers or pricier ultralight designs (which generally use Dyneema or tough Robic nylon), but we’ve been surprised with how well the Exos’ 100-denier body and base have held up. All told, we’ve found the Exos to be a really nice middle ground for those balancing comfort with weight-savings... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Osprey Exos 58 See the Women's Osprey Eja 58
Best Budget Backpacking Backpack
5. REI Co-op Trailmade 60 ($149)
Weight: 3 lbs. 6 oz.
What we like: Decent performance for just $149; sizing is very adjustable.
What we don’t: Cheap materials and budget-feeling fit and finish.
For value seekers or those just dipping their toes into backpacking, REI’s in-house collection is a really nice place to start. The new-for-2023 Trailmade 60 is far from the most premium pack we’ve tested—in fact, it carries the vibe of a 90’s-era hauler—but it certainly gets the job done: We found the suspension to be relatively comfortable on a challenging overnight trip, and organization was good with a roomy main compartment, dedicated sleeping bag storage, and six external pockets. For just $149, the Trailmade 60 is an excellent pick for beginners or those who get out just a few times a year.
What do you give up by choosing REI’s entry-level pack over the pricier options on this list? In short, the fit and finish is what one would expect from a $149 pack—materials are obviously cheap, the shove-it pockets don’t stretch as well as mesh alternatives, and we expect the squishy foam on the hipbelt, shoulder straps, and backpanel to lose its soft feel fairly quickly. Additionally, the one-size-fits-most torso adjustment (two hipbelt sizes are offered that accommodate S to 4XL) results in a less tailored feel compared to packs that are made in multiple sizes. On the other hand, this adjustability makes this pack a great one to share. Summed up, if you’re a new or casual backpacker in the market for a no-frills pack, the REI Trailmade 60 gets our nod as the best budget design of the year.
See the Men's REI Co-op Trailmade 60 See the Women's REI Co-op Trailmade 60
Best of the Rest
6. Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($300)
Weight: 3 lbs.
Fabric: Robic nylon (100D & 210D)
What we like: Excellent mix of carrying comfort, organization, and weight.
What we don’t: Durability and back ventilation can’t match the Atmos AG above.
The Blaze 60 is Granite Gear’s flagship piece, combining heavy-hauling credentials and functional organization at a 3-pound weight. We took the pack on a difficult trek through the Grand Canyon and were pleased with its overall performance. The pack’s sturdy frame sheet and substantial padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps carried a full load extremely well (it’s rated for 50 pounds), and the zippered opening to the main compartment made it easy to access our gear. Further, the oversized front and side exterior pockets are extremely functional (you can fit two standard water bottles in one side pocket). Most impressively, the Blaze pulls this off while undercutting most of the competition by a pound or more.
What’s not to like with the Blaze 60? The padded backpanel favors comfort and support over breathability, and we found it to be stiffer and warmer than a mesh-heavy design like the Atmos above. Moreover, it takes some practice (and patience) to get the shoulder straps and hipbelt adjusted. In particular, reaching behind the frame sheet to remove and reinsert the shoulder strap clips was a pain. But these are small nitpicks, and the Blaze’s well-rounded build makes it one of our favorite packs on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Granite Gear Blaze 60 See the Women's Granite Gear Blaze 60
7. Gregory Focal 58 ($250)
Weight: 2 lbs. 10.4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 210D)
Capacities: 48, 58L
What we like: If it fits, this is a strong alternative to the Exos above.
What we don’t: No torso length adjustment.
Replacing the well-loved Optic, Gregory’s Focal (and women’s-specific Facet) highlights the brand’s premium ethos in an ultralight package. The pack drops weight with stripped-down features and simple organization, but comfort remains a priority: The body-hugging hipbelt, lightweight aluminum frame, and full mesh backpanel offer significantly more support than the streamlined suspension systems typically found on minimalist packs. You’ll still want to make sure the rest of your gear is appropriately pared down—especially if you’re opting for the 48-liter version—but the good news is there’s no shortage of ultralight tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other UL gear to choose from.
The Focal goes head-to-head with Osprey’s Exos above, which is the long-standing favorite in this category. Both packs come in 48- and 58-liter versions (the Exos is also available in a 38L option) and check in around the same price (the Exos is $10 more for the 58L). But the Focal is lighter by a few ounces, carries just as well, and features a simpler design that’s a bit easier to pack. The potential hangup, however, is that the Gregory lacks any torso adjustability. This isn’t especially noteworthy compared to ultralight designs—packs like the Hyperlite Southwest also feature fixed torso lengths—but it’s an undeniable shortcoming compared to the Exos. Gripes aside, if the Focal fits (it’s available in three sizes), it’s an excellent option for weight-conscious backpackers looking for a step up from a true UL design... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Gregory Focal 58 See the Women's Gregory Facet 55
8. ULA Equipment Circuit 68 ($280)
Weight: 2 lbs. 9 oz.
Fabric: Robic nylon (210D)
What we like: A thru-hiker favorite with functional organization, good comfort, and decent durability.
What we don’t: Not as water resistant as a Dyneema pack.
Utah-based ULA Equipment has gone from a relative unknown to a darling of the PCT and AT in only a few short years. Leading the charge is their 68-liter Circuit, which offers an excellent compromise of weight, durability, and functionality for the thru-hiking crowd and those who keep their loads under 30 pounds. The design is undeniably minimalist but retains good organization with a very large front mesh pocket, zippered hipbelt compartments, and an internal secure stash. We’ve taken the Circuit on multi-day treks in Patagonia and up 14ers in Colorado, and have been impressed with how easy it is to load up, adjust, and even streamline as a day pack when needed.
Although the ULA Circuit doesn’t have that coveted Dyneema distinction, its 210-denier Robic nylon has proven to be very abrasion resistant, and is actually less prone to punctures than the Hyperlite and Zpacks designs (in our experience, Dyneema has a greater tendency to form small holes in between the fibers). What’s more, with a carbon fiber suspension, aluminum stay, and rigid foam backpanel, the Circuit is fully capable of utilizing its generous 68-liter capacity. To top it off, the ULA is offered in an impressive range of sizes, and you can customize the torso length, hipbelt size, and shoulder strap style to meet your needs. If you’re willing to give up the water resistance, slight weight savings, and brand cachet of the Hyperlite, it’s likely you won’t be disappointed with the Circuit—and it’s a great value at just $280.
See the ULA Equipment Circuit 68
9. Gregory Paragon 58 ($260)
Weight: 3 lbs. 9.3 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D, 210D, & 420D)
Capacities: 48, 58, 68L
What we like: Well-balanced design with a useful feature set.
What we don’t: Heavier but no more comfortable than the Blaze above.
It doesn’t get much more premium than Gregory’s Baltoro above, but a strong case can be made for a more affordable and lightweight design like the Paragon. At 3 pounds 9 ounces and a reasonable $250, the Paragon 58 is a great option for smaller loads (it comes in 48, 58, and 68-liter versions) and those looking to save. You don’t get the same level of padding or organization as the Baltoro, but the pack offers easy fit adjustments, plenty of mesh along the backpanel to help you stay cool, and a quality feel overall with sturdy zippers and supportive foam. And the Paragon doesn’t skimp on useful extras either, with features like a rain cover, large mesh front pocket, and a bear canister-friendly wide shape.
With an all-rounder design that finds a nice middle ground between stripped-down UL models and heavy comfort-first haulers, the Paragon goes head-to-head with a pack like the Osprey Atmos above. But while the Gregory gets the edge in weight (it’s almost 1 pound less) and price, the Osprey is the better pack when it comes to comfort, exterior storage, and ventilation. Further, the Atmos has a higher end feel and more durable construction with a thicker body fabric (210D x 500D vs. the Paragon’s 100D). One final note: It’s also worth checking out Gregory’s Zulu 65 ($270), which offers top-notch ventilation but (in our experience) comes up short in terms of carrying comfort... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Gregory Paragon 58 See the Women's Gregory Maven 55
10. REI Co-op Flash 55 ($199)
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 420D)
What we like: Inexpensive, lightweight, and lots of customization options.
What we don’t: Doesn’t carry weight as well as the Exos or Focal above.
REI’s packs are reliably high on value but can be hit or miss in terms of outright performance. The ultralight Flash 55 falls in the former category, featuring a competitively light weight (on par with the Exos and Focal above) and a variety of thoughtful touches, including four large side pockets and a front dump pocket, multiple daisy-chain attachment points, and a convenient roll-top closure. The Flash is also hallmarked by a range of customizable features (REI calls them “Packmod” accessories): Depending on the trip, you can add or remove the compression straps, two hipbelt pockets, and a shoulder strap pocket to shave off up to 7 ounces.
The Flash 55 was updated for 2023, and the most significant improvements include more durable (and recycled) materials and a built-in torso adjustment. The new model comes in four sizes that vary in terms of length and hipbelt circumference, making it fairly accommodating for a range of body shapes and sizes. But while we’ve been very pleased with the Flash’s performance for 2- to 4-day trips, the aforementioned Exos and Focal do have more thoughtfully built harnesses, which translates to improved ventilation and greater comfort with a heavier load (REI lists the Flash’s weight limit at 15-30 lbs. compared to the Osprey and Gregory’s 35 lbs.). That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal among lightweight packs, making the Flash a wonderful option for weight- and budget-conscious backpackers.
See the Men's REI Co-op Flash 55 See the Women's REI Co-op Flash 55
11. Osprey Aether 65 ($320)
Weight: 4 lbs. 15 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D & 420D)
Capacities: 55, 65L
What we like: Great adjustability and a very comfortable pack for hauling heavy loads.
What we don’t: Most backpackers still are better off with the Atmos.
The Atmos AG above is Osprey’s leading backpacking pack, but for heavy hauling and light mountaineering, the Aether offers even more in the way of comfort and features. Updated a couple years ago, the pack dropped the AntiGravity (AG) suspension system for an AirScape backpanel, which is less elaborate but still has breathable foam and mesh to help keep you cool. And you get all kinds of adjustability, including a rip-and-stick system that easily tailors the fit of the shoulder straps and hipbelt, along with ample compression straps and attachment points for ice axes, tent poles, and more. Last but not least, the large J-shaped zipper at the front provides easy access to the main compartment.
The primary downside of the Aether 65 is its weight, which squeezes in just under 5 pounds. On top of that, organization is middling: you only get 5 external pockets (7 if you’re counting water bottle holders) and the hipbelt stashes are oddly placed and difficult-to-reach. For the majority of backpackers, we think the Atmos is the more practical all-around design 6 ounces less, and the Gregory Baltoro 75 above gets you more capacity at around the same weight (albeit for $40 more). But in terms of premium haulers the Aether has a lot to offer, and those lugging heavy loads will appreciate the durable, sturdy build. Keep in mind that Osprey also makes the beefed-up Aether Plus and stripped-down Aether Pro, which could be great alternatives depending on your needs... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Osprey Aether 65 See the Women's Osprey Ariel 65
12. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ($285)
Weight: 1 lb. 15.5 oz.
Fabric: Robic nylon (100D & 200D)
What we like: Superlight with great organization and customization.
What we don’t: Foam backpanel bunches up and design is low and wide.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa has long been a favorite of thru-hikers, and for good reason. What sets it apart is how few compromises there are with this 1-pound 15.5-ounce bag (ours is 2 lbs. 3 oz. with a large frame and medium hipbelt). You get a total of seven external pockets—more than the Hyperlite or ULA above—which make it easy to distribute and organize your gear. And while brands like Hyperlite and Zpacks use Dyneema to cut weight, the Gossamer Gear’s tough Robic nylon (similar to the ULA’s but thinner) keeps cost in check and does a great job resisting punctures (downside: you’ll have to add your own waterproofing in the form of a pack cover or dry bags inside). Finally, Gossamer Gear offers great customization: the standard pack comes in three sizes, and you can order your hipbelt separately to nail that perfect fit.
Comfort-wise, we’ve found the Mariposa has sufficient padding and plenty of support right up to its 35-pound maximum rating. If we were to change one thing, it would be the backpanel: the removable foam padding is prone to bunching and is such an annoyance that we prefer to leave it behind. We’ve also found that the pack rides low and wide, while a model like the Southwest has a bit more of a torpedo shape—some folks might not like the look as much, but for those carrying a bear canister, it’s a really functional design. There’s no shortage of good competition in the ultralight pack market, but the Gossamer Gear is nevertheless a strong contender, and especially for those who like to stay organized... Read in-depth review
See the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
13. Deuter Aircontact Core 65 + 10 ($260)
Weight: 4 lbs. 15.4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (235D & 500D)
Capacities: 45, 60L
What we like: Great comfort and organization for significantly less than the competition.
What we don’t: Only available in one size; limited load carrying.
Germany-based Deuter has been pumping out quality packs since the early 1900s, and their current collection holds court with premium offerings from brands like Osprey and Gregory. The Aircontact Core is the brand’s all-rounder, prioritizing comfort and organization for multi-day backpacking trips. Similar to packs like the Osprey Aether and Gregory Baltoro, the Aircontact Core features a thoughtfully built suspension and harness, adjustable torso length, and no shortage of storage, including dual hipbelt and lid pockets and a handy J-shaped zipper on the front. We took the women’s Aircontact Core 60 + 10 SL backpacking in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness, and were very pleased with its comfort and convenience throughout big days on the trail.
The Deuter is a wonderful value for those who don’t want to fork over $300+ for a backpack, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the aforementioned Osprey and Gregory. The pack checks in at a similar weight as the heavy haulers, but its load limit maxes out at 44 pounds (compared to the competitors’ 55- to 60-lb. limits). Second, the Aircontact Core is only available in one size, which translates to a less tailored feel overall. But if you’re curious about trying something different than the standard fare, the Deuter is well deserving of a closer look, and will save you $60 to $100 in the process... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Deuter Aircontact Core See the Women's Deuter Aircontact Core SL
14. Granite Gear Crown3 60 ($240)
Weight: 2 lbs. 9.3 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 210D)
What we like: A great price for a versatile and lightweight pack.
What we don’t: Lacks a premium fit and finish; does not use recycled materials or PFC-free DWR.
More than any other model, the 60-liter Crown has put Granite Gear solidly on the ultralight map. Now in its third iteration—fourth if you include the old Vapor Trail—the Crown3 is one of the most affordable yet versatile options available. The pack features a plethora of customizable features, including a variety of removable straps, top lid that doubles as a chest or fanny pack, and roll-top closure for securing loads of varying sizes. Unlike much of the competition, the hipbelt can be adjusted to your exact waist measurement with the Crown’s updated Re-Fit system. And to help you maximize all 60 liters of capacity, Granite Gear also offers the option of adding a lightweight aluminum stay to increase the pack’s load limit to 43 pounds (without the stay, the Crown3 maxes out at 35 lbs.).
The recently updated Crown is the most comfortable yet, featuring a compression-molded PE frame sheet and molded foam backpanel. But after testing it on a recent three-day backpacking trip, we have our fair share of gripes. For one, the pack features a very short and squat build, which ends up feeling squirrely when loaded down (the lack of stabilizer straps connecting the hipbelt to the pack doesn’t help). Second, we found the Crown to be almost too featured—we removed a pile of straps (including front water bottle holders and a second sternum strap) before taking it into the field. And finally, it simply lacks the fit and finish of packs from companies like Osprey, Gregory, and Hyperlite, and Granite Gear does not use recycled fabrics or PFC-free DWR. But if you’re looking to save money without compromising on a customizable fit and feature set, the Crown3 is a great value pick... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Granite Gear Crown3 60 See the Women's Granite Gear Crown3 60
15. Zpacks Arc Blast 55L ($375)
Weight: 1 lb. 4.3 oz.
Fabric: Dyneema (3.1 oz/sqyd)
What we like: Incredibly lightweight, ventilated, and water resistant.
What we don’t: Not very durable and doesn’t carry loads as well as the other UL packs here.
Weighing at least half a pound less than the next lightest pack on our list, the Zpacks Arc Blast takes the ultralight crown. The 55-liter model we tested comes in at an amazing 1 pound 8 ounces including optional extras like two hipbelt pockets. In terms of construction, the Arc Blast uses a similar water-resistant Dyneema build as the Hyperlite above but in an even more streamlined form (3.1 oz/sqyd vs. the Southwest’s 5.0 oz/sqyd). This accounts for the low weight but we have found the Zpacks to be less durable for rough treatment and off-trail scrambling (we got a small puncture in the bottom of our pack after putting it down on a particularly rocky section of trail).
The “Arc” in the name comes from the pack’s unique tensioning system that pulls the middle of the bag away from your back, encouraging airflow and alleviating the need for a foam backpanel. Breathability is one of Dyneema’s shortcomings, so this is a helpful design for hot-weather hikers. Combined with a carbon fiber frame, the pack has a solid structure and provides good support for loads up to about 30 pounds. We wouldn’t recommend carrying much more, however, as the padding is pretty minimal (the Southwest and Circuit above are better for thru-hikers carrying heavier loads). All in all, the Arc Blast may not be durable or comfortable enough for regular weekend backpackers, but if you treat it with care, it’s an excellent option for serious hikers and minimalist trekkers.
See the Zpacks Arc Blast 55L
16. Arc’teryx Aerios 45 ($250)
Weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 210D)
Capacity: 15, 30, 45L
What we like: Fastpacking-inspired design is great for moving quickly.
What we don’t: Limiting capacity and minimalist suspension.
Arc’teryx has long been our go-to for lightweight ski and climbing packs, but the Aerios marks their entry into the ultralight backpacking world. We’re big fans of the fastpacking-inspired design, which merges the features of a backpacking pack and a running vest. On the front, you get two stretchy mesh pockets (great for storing soft flasks) in addition to zippered pockets on both the shoulder straps and the hipbelt, allowing great on-the-go access to the essentials. From behind, the Aerios has all of the hallmarks of an ultralight pack, including a cavernous main compartment with roll-top closure, generous dump pockets, and an exterior bungee and daisy chain. There’s no shortage of competition, but Arc’teryx’s UL pack looks very promising.
We tested the smaller Aerios 30 on several day hikes in Patagonia and were blown away by the thoughtful design and high-quality finishes. Many thru-hikers will add fanny packs or other front storage to their setups, but the Aerios comes ready to go and requires no further customization. In fact, after experiencing the merits of the body-hugging suspension and convenient on-the-go access, we found it hard to transition back to a standard pack. It’s true that the 45-liter design is limited for overnight trips, but fastpackers and true ounce-counters will have no issue keeping their load to a workable size. Unfortunately, those carrying larger loads on unsupported thru-hikes or multi-day missions will likely need to step up to a higher-capacity design like the ULA or Gossamer Gear above.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Aerios 45 See the Women's Arc'teryx Aerios 45
17. Mystery Ranch Glacier ($375)
Weight: 6 lbs. 6.4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (500D)
What we like: Premium build quality, super tough, and fantastic carrying comfort.
What we don’t: Extremely heavy and no included hipbelt pockets.
Mystery Ranch is relatively new to the backpacking scene, but the brand can trace the roots of its founder, Dana Gleason, to the legendary Dana Designs packs of the 1990s. From the current lineup, we prefer the heavy-hauling Glacier, which is built to handle rough, expedition-level use and comes loaded with creative design touches. In particular, the floating lid is one of our favorites with its two massive pockets and easy conversion into a functional daypack. And we love the Glacier’s build quality overall—everything from the foam to the zippers has a premium, long-lasting feel.
One of the Glacier’s main competitors is the Osprey Aether above. Both packs offer excellent carrying comfort, durability, and most of the bells and whistles you could want in a deluxe hauler. However, two useful items missing on the Glacier are hipbelt pockets and a large mesh shove-it pocket on the back. The Aether also has better back ventilation, although it can't match the material quality or toughness of the Glacier. Finally, given its impressive hauling abilities, we’d like to see a larger-capacity version from Mystery Ranch. But if those nitpicks aren’t deal breakers for you, the Glacier is a wonderfully built pack that’s made to last.
See the Men's Mystery Ranch Glacier See the Women's Mystery Ranch Glacier
18. REI Co-op Traverse 60 ($229)
Weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (300D)
Capacities: 32, 60L
What we like: Durable materials and a lid that converts into a day pack.
What we don’t: Cheap padding and limited access to the main compartment.
A couple years ago, REI gave their large-capacity Traverse pack a complete revamp. The latest version has a number of thoughtful features, including a top lid that converts into a day pack (it disconnects from the main bag extremely quickly), large and easy-to-access zippered hipbelt pockets, and an included rain cover. REI’s Packmod compression straps and daisy chain system allow you to customize your external organization, and the pack also includes dedicated attachments for trekking poles and ice axes. Finally, the Traverse 60 drops 10 ounces off the previous 70-liter version but retains great durability, with burly 300-denier recycled ripstop nylon throughout.
But unfortunately, that’s all the praise we have for the Traverse, which feels like a step back from the previous generation. Despite REI’s move to sustainable, bluesign-approved materials, the pack has a surprisingly budget feel: there’s no front access to the main compartment (the older model had a large, J-shaped zipper), and the raised foam padding on the backpanel feels like a true throwback to packs of yesteryear. The result is less ventilation than more modern designs and compromised carrying comfort (unlike the Baltoro or Aether above, this is not the kind of pack you want to overload). Added up, the Traverse 60 is a fairly disappointing update to a much-loved pack, and for $229 we don’t think it’s worth the savings... Read in-depth review
See the Men's REI Co-op Traverse 60 See the Women's REI Co-op Traverse 60
19. Kelty Coyote 85 ($205)
Weight: 4 lbs. 14 oz.
Fabric: Polyester (420D)
Capacities: 65, 85, 105L
What we like: Affordable and family-friendly high-capacity design.
What we don’t: Only offered in one size, so it’s hard to dial in the fit.
Kelty generally targets the entry-level end of the camping and backpacking spectrum, but we appreciate the reasonable prices and sturdy builds. The Coyote is their long-running multi-day offering, available in capacities ranging from 65 all the way up to 105 liters. The middle-tier 85-liter model is a great option for family trips or times when you need to haul bulky gear. Organization is a strong suit with lots of exterior pockets—the large zippered storage along the sides is reminiscent of an external frame design—and it’s plenty tough with a 420-denier polyester pack body. At $205, the Kelty easily undercuts high-capacity alternatives like Gregory’s Baltoro 75 ($360).
For short treks into the backcountry with kids in tow, the Coyote is well-equipped, but it can’t match the carrying comfort and build quality of a more premium option. Most notably, the pack is only made in a single size, which makes it hard to dial in a close and comfortable fit. Combined with cheaper foam in the hipbelt and shoulder straps, and the Coyote falls short on extended and high-mileage trips. These compromises push it to the bottom of our rankings, but the Kelty fills an important niche for those looking to maximize capacity and value.
See the Men's Kelty Coyote 85 See the Women's Kelty Coyote 60
Backpacking Backpack Comparison Table
|Osprey Atmos AG 65||$340||4 lb. 9.8 oz.||Nylon (210D x 500D)||50, 65L||Top||8 exterior|
|Hyperlite 3400 Southwest||$379||1 lb. 15.6 oz.||Dyneema (50D & 150D)||40, 55, 70L||Top||5 exterior|
|Gregory Baltoro 75||$360||4 lb. 15.7 oz.||Nylon (210D & 420D)||65, 75L||Top, front||9 exterior|
|Osprey Exos 58||$260||2 lb. 13.4 oz.||Nylon (100D & 400D)||38, 48, 58L||Top||6 exterior|
|REI Co-op Trailmade 60||$149||3 lb. 6 oz.||Nylon||60L||Top||6 exterior|
|Granite Gear Blaze 60||$300||3 lbs.||Nylon (100D & 210D)||60L||Top, front||6 exterior|
|Gregory Focal 58||$250||2 lb. 10.4 oz.||Nylon (100D & 210D)||48, 58L||Top||6 exterior|
|ULA Equipment Circuit 68||$280||2 lb. 9 oz.||Robic nylon (210D)||68L||Top||5 exterior|
|Gregory Paragon 58||$260||3 lb. 9.3 oz.||Nylon (100D & 210D)||48, 58, 68L||Top, side||6 exterior|
|REI Co-op Flash 55||$199||2 lb. 13 oz.||Nylon (100D & 420D)||55L||Top||9 exterior|
|Osprey Aether 65||$320||4 lb. 15 oz.||Nylon (210D & 420D)||55, 65L||Top, front||7 exterior|
|Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60||$285||1 lb. 15.5 oz.||Robic (100D & 200D)||60L||Top||7 exterior|
|Deuter Aircontact Core 65 + 10||$250||4 lb. 15.4 oz.||Nylon (235D & 500D)||50+, 65+L||Top, front||6 exterior|
|Granite Gear Crown3 60||$240||2 lb. 9.3 oz.||Nylon (100D & 210D)||60L||Top||6 exterior|
|Zpacks Arc Blast 55L||$375||1 lb. 4.3 oz.||Dyneema (3.1 oz/sqyd)||55L||Top||3 exterior|
|Arc'teryx Aerios 45||$250||2 lb. 6 oz.||Nylon (100D & 210D)||15, 30, 45L||Top||6 exterior|
|Mystery Ranch Glacier||$375||6 lb. 6.4 oz.||Nylon (500D)||70L||Top, side||4 exterior|
|REI Co-op Traverse 60||$229||4 lb. 4 oz.||Nylon (300D)||32, 60L||Top||10 exterior|
|Kelty Coyote 85||$205||4 lb. 14 oz.||Polyester (420D)||65, 85, 105L||Top, front||7 exterior|
Backpacking Backpack Buying Advice
- Recommended Capacity
- Backpack Load Range
- Backpack Weight
- Backpack Durability
- Padding and Support
- Backpack Organizational Features
- Water Protection
- Backpack Sizing and Fit
Rules about how big of a pack you need are not hard and fast. Multiple factors come in to play such as how many nights your trips will be, what time(s) of year you go backpacking, and if you ever plan to tack on any additional activities (e.g. packrafting or mountaineering). One point should stand out, however: Make sure to match your pack's capacity to the type of gear you'll be bringing. Do you have dated or entry-level backpacking equipment that doesn't compress well, or do you like to bring along a few extras? Then make sure to get a correspondingly cavernous pack. Alternatively, if you've dialed in your kit with lightweight and modern gear, you'll have more flexibility in size options.
The majority of backpackers take short trips—usually around one to three nights—and for those uses, a pack in the 50-70 liter range is most popular. With a design like the Osprey Atmos AG 50/Aura AG 50, you’ll need to keep your packed weight low, stick to the essentials, and be sure to use the aforementioned compressible gear. While at 60 liters and more, you have enough space to take on a few additional items—great for parents with kids in tow. Within each of the ranges we have listed below, you can follow those general guidelines: minimalist to bulky (or a lot of) gear.
Overnight and/or ultralight gear: 35-55 liters
Long weekend (2-3 nights): 50-70 liters
Extended trips (over 3 days): 60+ liters
Backpack Load Range
Looking beyond how much space your gear takes up in a pack, it’s also important to ballpark the total weight. Backpackers often refer to the weight of their gear (minus consumables) as their base weight: Base weights range from 8 or less pounds at the low end to over 20 pounds at the high end. Tack on food, water, and fuel, and you’re looking at anything between 15 and 50 pounds on your back—or more if you’re not careful. We’re big fans of doing whatever we can to keep our gear (and food) light, as this generally correlates to more enjoyment on the trail.
Most manufacturers list a load limit or range for their packs—on our list, these vary from 15-30 pounds for the REI Co-op Flash 55 to 60 pounds for the Osprey Aether 65. There are a lot of factors that contribute to a pack’s load limit, including the materials and construction of its frame, suspension, and padding. If you don’t see a specified load limit, an easy reference point is the pack’s empty weight—as we'll touch on more below, a heavier pack is logically most often capable of hauling more weight, thanks to its beefy frame, tough fabrics, and thick padding. In our opinion, load limits are more of a command than a suggestion: It’s our experience that going over a pack’s specified load limit results in a noticeable drop in comfort.
The backpacks on our list above range from 1 pound 4.3 ounces for the Zpacks Arc Blast 55L to 6 pounds 6 ounce for the Mystery Ranch Glacier 70. Backpack weight is a bit of a mixed bag: On one hand, a heavier pack will add multiple pounds to your back; on the other, these packs generally have robust suspension systems and harnesses that offer an increase in comfort and load distribution compared to more minimalist designs. We’ve found that packs roughly in the 2.5- to 4.5-pound range—such as the Osprey Atmos AG 65 (4 lbs. 9.8 oz.) and Gregory Focal 55 (2 lbs. 10.4 oz.)—strike a really nice balance of weight and performance for loads up to about 35 pounds. If you anticipate a heavier load, it’s worth considering a heavier pack.
Ultralight Backpacking Packs
Weight is so important to many backpackers that a whole category of backpack exists based on this spec alone. Ultralight backpacks cut roughly 2 to 3 pounds off the weight of a standard backpacking pack and feature bare-bones organization (the majority have one main compartment, hipbelt pockets, and a few external dump pockets). Additionally, they shed pounds with thin yet premium materials (Dyneema and Robic nylon are common) and simple suspension systems that generally include only an aluminum stay and foam backpanel. As a result, ultralight backpacks do compromise on comfort, especially when your load heads north of 30 pounds. But for ounce-counters who prioritize a lightweight load, the difference between a traditional and ultralight backpacking pack can be significant (for a deep-dive into this category, see our article on the best ultralight backpacks).
Backpacking backpacks are built to hold up to a whole lot of abuse—after all, what other piece of gear do you routinely rake past sharp branches, throw on the ground, or sit on top of? That said, not all packs are created equal, and some are much more durable than others. The fabric denier (a measure of the fabric's thickness) offers the best clue to a pack's durability—on our list, the packs range from 100-denier to 600-denier nylon, with reinforcements as strong as 1000-denier. As expected, packs are generally reinforced at their base, in addition to common wear points like the front, lid, and hipbelt pockets.
Of course, the main downside to thicker fabric is added weight. As a result, many lightweight and ultralight backpacks sacrifice a bit of durability with relatively thin builds. To maintain the best of both worlds, premium UL backpacks will often feature Dyneema, which is known for its impressive strength-to-weight ratio (and is also very expensive). But while it's worth being aware of a pack's fabric weight and composition, thin fabrics shouldn't necessarily be a deterrent, unless you're incredibly hard on your gear, love to bushwack, or wear a backpack for work (as in the case of guides or trail crew). We've been pleasantly surprised with the durability of packs like the Gregory Focal (100D & 210D) and Osprey Exos (100D & 400D), and consider them to be sufficiently durable for most users.
Padding and Support
All overnight packs feature foam padding in their shoulder straps and hipbelt (and sometimes backpanel), which can vary in terms of thickness and quality. The goal of the padding is to increase comfort, spread out the load, and isolate your body from the sharp contours of the pack or straps. Foam and the fabric that covers it do add ounces, so manufacturers are always trying to find the right balance of weight and comfort. In general, heavier packs offer more padding (and thus more comfort), while lighter and ultralight packs feature streamlined padding (and thus less comfort, especially with a heavy load).
We prefer foam that errs towards firm support rather than being soft and compressible. Excessively soft padding might feel great when first trying on a pack, but it doesn’t offer the long-term support needed for hauling heavier loads. Packs like the Gregory Baltoro/Deva and Osprey Aether/Ariel are great examples of effective use of this type of high quality, firm padding. On the other hand, many modern designs (like the Osprey Atmos or Exos) swap out some padding in lieu of suspended mesh, which achieves a similar effect with less weight (and more ventilation). We were at first skeptical of the suspended mesh design, but after many years of testing various iterations, we’re full converts. With loads under 40 pounds, these airy backpanels offer just as much comfort as the padded competition.
Backpack Organizational Features
When you’re playing the part of a moving van, carrying all your possessions in one place, organization is of utmost importance. As expected, storage options increase with a pack’s weight. Ultralight packs often feature just one cavernous compartment and a number of external pockets, while luxury designs offer a dedicated sleeping bag compartment, multiple access points to the main compartment, a lid, and a few external zip pockets. That said, more isn’t always better: How much organization you need ultimately comes down to a matter of personal preference.
In our comparison table above, we list the number of external pockets for each pack. Most designs feature at least five—three dump pockets and two hipbelt pockets—while many high-end packs tack on a few more. Hipbelt pockets are indispensable for quick access to items like lip balm, a phone, or Lifesavers (a great energy boost on the trail). We’ll almost always keep a layer or two in the front dump pocket, and side dump pockets are ideal for items like water bottles or trekking poles. Finally, most packs also feature a top lid with one or two zippered pockets—this is a great place to store small items like a headlamp or trail snacks, and can be removed for toting essentials around camp. But before you go pocket-crazy, just remember that sometimes, less is more: five to six pockets is just right for us, while nine can be a recipe for misplacing your gear.
Main Compartment Access
Nearly every backpacking pack out there will have an opening at the top that is secured in a cinch cord or roll-top manner, referred to as a top-loader. Additional access to the bottom or middle of the pack via a side zip(s) or u-shaped opening can be a big help, keeping you from having to shovel through a once-meticulously organized pack to find some elusive item. These extra zippers add a little weight, but are often worth it. In cases like the Gregory Baltoro/Deva or Osprey Aether/Ariel, the u-shaped opening is so wide that you can pack and remove items much like a travel suitcase.
Sleeping Bag Compartment
Feature-rich backpacks will often include a dedicated sleeping bag pocket, which is almost always located below the main compartment. This pocket generally opens with a zipper, is large enough to accommodate most sleeping bags (even relatively bulky ones), and includes external compression straps to eliminate dead space. Sometimes manufacturers make it possible to merge the sleeping bag compartment with the main compartment by adding a zipper to the divider. However, all of this adds weight and bulk, and doesn’t result in the most streamlined load. In the end, we prefer designs without sleeping bag compartments, which allow the freedom to stuff our sleeping bag in a compression sack and toss it, along with the tent, at the bottom of the pack.
Water Reservoir (Bladder) Compatibility
Water reservoirs have become our (and most hikers') preferred way of staying hydrated on the trail, thanks to their on-the-go convenience. As a result, the vast majority of backpacking backpacks offer a number of features to accommodate reservoirs. Look for either a dedicated sleeve or clip from which to hang the reservoir, in addition to an exit port for the tube and straps or clips to secure the tube to the shoulder strap. It is worth noting that you'll want to pack your hydration bladder first before loading the rest of your gear into your pack, so that it can hang freely along the length of the backpanel. But don't fret: If you're anything like us and forget about it until your pack is fully packed, you can always rest it on top of your gear. To keep it from sloshing, invert it first and suck all of the air out of the reservoir.
Compression straps tighten a pack from front to back and pull the load close to your body, helping to keep you balanced on the trail. Make sure the pack you’re looking at has these side compression straps at both the top and bottom to aid in load stability, and give them a good cinch each time you put your pack on. These straps are also useful for storing taller items (such as tent poles) along the side of your pack. When used for this purpose we especially like a system like REI's Packmod—seen on the Traverse 60 and Flash 55 packs—which allows you to move the straps to your preferred height via a series of daisy chains (or remove them altogether). And while some compression straps secure tight with a simple plastic cinch, we prefer those with buckles for their ease of use, especially when attaching larger items like a sleeping pad.
Backpanel and hipbelt ventilation is a biggie for some, especially if you tend to run warm or plan on hiking in the heat of the summer. But finding an internal framed pack that breathes well can be a challenge, primarily because the point of a pack is to hug and conform to your body, moving with you as you walk. Most packs have offsetting foam and mesh panels that do a passible job encouraging airflow, but you’ll likely still get sweat art on your back that traces where the foam panels contact your body. On the other hand, designs such as Osprey’s Anti-Gravity (seen on the Atmos/Aura) or Gregory’s FreeFloat (on the Focal/Facet, for example) feature a fully suspended mesh backpanel and hipbelt that cradle the body while still allowing for great airflow. For the most part we love this design and recommend it for those who want to prioritize ventilation, but it does cut a bit into the main compartment’s capacity and won’t hold up to especially heavy loads.
Many items that we store in our backpacks are vulnerable to moisture—including a camera, phone, and down sleeping bag—so we place a high priority on water protection. The good news is that most backpacks offer decent water resistance with hard-face nylon and a durable water repellant (DWR) coating, although expect sustained rainfall to penetrate the fabric. There are also a number of waterproof backpacks on the market, including those made with Dyneema. In fact, we’ve used the 100% Dyneema Hyperlite Windrider as a dry bag (see our in-depth review) and it didn’t let us down.
If you don’t have a waterproof backpack (chances are you won’t), it’s a good idea take a few extra precautions to make sure your gear stays dry. Some packs include a built-in waterproof cover that stows away inside the pack (the Gregory Baltoro/Deva, REI Traverse, and Gregory Paragon/Maven, for example). You can also purchase one separately—REI Co-op's Duck's Back Raincover gets the job done—but keep in mind that they aren’t foolproof and can be hard to trust in windy conditions. Another strategy is to protect items from the inside, either by lining the entire pack body with a waterproof bag or using an assortment waterproof stuff sacks or dry bags. You can even make do with garbage bags: when guiding in British Columbia’s wet costal range, we used a trash compactor bag to line our backpack and always had dry gear.
Backpack Sizing and Fit
One of the most important factors to enjoyment on the trail comes in sizing and fitting your pack correctly. Packs generally come in a men’s and women’s version (for a full look at the women's market, see our article on the best women's backpacking backpacks) and are offered in one to three sizes. These sizes vary most in terms of torso and hip measurements, and are most often differentiated by their torso length. For example, the Osprey Atmos comes in sizes small/medium and large/extra-large, with the former built to fit those with torso lengths of 17 to 20.5 inches. If your hip measurement is not proportional to your torso, it’s a good idea to opt for a pack with a customizable hipbelt or a hipbelt with a large range of adjustment. A number of the packs we recommend include customizable hipbelts, including many ultralight cottage industry designs.
To get your torso length, measure the distance from your C7 vertebrae to your iliac crest. Your C7 vertebrae is the largest vertebrae in the neck and sticks out the most, so it should be easy to find. Moving down, your iliac crest can be located by putting your hands on top of your hips (thumbs at back). Measure from the neck to where your thumbs would meet at the back of your spine (you’ll probably need another person to help you), and voila—your torso measurement.
And once you dial in your size, there is still a lot of potential for adjustment, both before you put your pack on and once it’s loaded. In most cases, you can tweak the torso length by a good margin, and the majority of packs allow you to adjust the height of the hipbelt too. For a deeper dive, see our Backpack Fit and Sizing Guide here.
Sustainability: Recycled Fabrics and PFC-Free DWR
Our impact on the environment has never been of greater concern, and it’s nice to see gear companies step it up with more sustainable practices. The use of recycled fabrics has grown substantially in the past few years, with companies like Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter prioritizing these materials. We're also seeing a lot more PFC-free durable water repellent (DWR) finishes on backpacks, which eliminate the use of perfluorinated compounds (a chemical that’s been linked to a range of environmental and health issues). If you're shopping with an eye toward sustainability, look for codewords like "recycled," "PFC-free DWR," and "bluesign," which indicates materials that have been certified safe for the environment, workers, and consumers.
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