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. From the lofty, moss-strewn trails of the PNW in the United States to the dusty, blistering heat of the African savannah, the Switchback Team shouldered countless backpacks over just as many miles through all sorts of terrain to narrow in on the list of 19 worthy models below. These are our favorite backpacking backpacks for 2024, 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.

Editor's note: We updated this guide on May 14, 2024, to include information regarding our testing practices and expand some of the sections in our buying advice. We also combed through the guide to ensure prices, colorways, and products were current at the time of publishing.

Our Team's Backpacking Backpack Picks

Best Overall Backpacking Backpack

1. Osprey Atmos AG 65 ($340)

Osprey Atmos AG 65 backpacking backpackWeight: 4 lb. 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 rain cover. 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 Osprey's Atmos AG LT 65 ($290; 4 lb. 1 oz.), which streamlines the design but still offers the same comfort and carrying capacity of the original pack... Read in-depth Atmos AG 65 review
See the Men's Osprey Atmos AG 65  See the Women's Osprey Aura AG 65


Best Budget Backpacking Backpack

2. REI Co-op Trailmade 60 ($179)

REI Co-op Trailmade 60 backpacking backpackWeight: 3 lb. 6 oz.
Fabric: Nylon
Capacity: 60L
What we like: Decent performance for just $179; 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 Trailmade 60 is far from the most premium pack we’ve tested—in fact, it carries the vibe of a 90s-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 $179, 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 are what one would expect from a $179 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 Ultralight Backpacking Backpack

3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55 ($379)

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest PackWeight: 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 55. 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 Haul Ultra below (another popular UL pack), the thicker body fabric (5.0 oz/sq yd vs. 3.3 oz/sq yd) 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 Southwest (which also comes in 40 and 70L versions) 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. The design is undeniably basic, with only the main compartment and a few exterior pockets for organization, and the Dyneema-lined backpanel falls short in terms of breathability. But the Southwest is still one of the most uncompromised options available, and there’s no denying the trail style you get with that premium Dyneema white. Finally, it’s also worth mentioning Hyperlite’s Unbound 55 ($399), which is a touch lighter, less torpedo-like, and offers a few more features (including external daisy chains, stretchy pockets, and a removable, reverse-pull hipbelt), but gives up a little support with just a single stay (compared to the Southwest’s two)... Read in-depth Southwest 40 review
See the Hyperlite Southwest 55


Our Favorite Pack for Hauling Heavy Loads

4. Gregory Baltoro 75 ($360)

Gregory Baltoro backpacking pack (blue)Weight: 4 lb. 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. 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

5. Osprey Exos 58 ($260)

Osprey Exos 58 ultralight backpacking backpack (grey)Weight: 2 lb. 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 remains 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 above or Gossamer Gear Mariposa below (both of which check in just under 2 lb.), 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 practical feature set, this pack isn't 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 boasts a few more bells and whistles (including the adjustable torso length) and features a slightly more plush backpanel. You do trade a bit of durability compared to 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. For an even more streamlined option from Osprey, check out the Exos Pro 55 ($290), which weighs just 2 pounds 1.2 ounces and is becoming a quick favorite among thru-hikers and minimalist backpacks willing to take a deeper dive into the UL space... Read in-depth Exos 58 review
See the Men's Osprey Exos 58  See the Women's Osprey Eja 58


Best Plus-Size Backpacking Backpack

6. Gregory Katmai 65 Plus Size ($310)

Gregory Katmai 65 Plus Size backpacking packWeight: 5 lb. 0 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D & 420D)
Capacity: 65L
What we like: Thoughtful and adjustable design built specifically for plus-size backpackers.
What we don’t: Only one capacity and color option.

Up until very recently, it’s been difficult (if not impossible) to find backpacking gear in plus sizes, which has excluded many from enjoying the outdoors. Gregory was one of the first companies to right this wrong, offering their fully featured Katmai 65 (and women’s Kalmia 60) in two plus sizes. The Katmai 65 Plus Size features extended-length straps, a fully adjustable torso length and hipbelt, and places the hipbelt pockets right at the hips where they belong. Gregory states that the two Plus Size offerings accommodate those who typically fit 2X to 6X clothing, and you can read more about their sizing here.

We were happy to see that Gregory chose the Katmai to bring to their plus-size audience, as it’s one of the most comfortable, fully featured, and durable packs in their lineup. Its padded, rotating harness moves with your body over rocky and rooted trails, and the suspended mesh backpanel keeps air flowing on hot days. Top, side, and bottom access to the main compartment makes it easy to locate items inside, and a front zippered pocket with a mesh divider is a great place for odds and ends. And while Gregory specifies a 45-pound load limit, our tester found that the Katmai deftly distributed the weight of 50 pounds of gear. Finally, if you’re comparison shopping, it’s also worth checking out the Extended Fit versions of Osprey’s Aether and Ariel, which offer similar sizing and features... Read in-depth review (straight-sized version)
See the Men's Gregory Katmai 65 Plus  See the Women's Gregory Kalmia 60 Plus


Best of the Rest

7. Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($300)

Granite Gear Blaze backpacking packWeight: 3 lb. 0 oz.
Fabric: Robic nylon (100D & 210D)
Capacity: 60L
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


8. Gregory Focal 58 ($250)

Gregory Focal 58 backpacking packWeight: 2 lb. 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


9. ULA Equipment Circuit 68 ($300)

ULA Circuit 68 (2024 backpacking backpack)Weight: 2 lb. 9 oz.
Fabric: ULA 400 Robic nylon
Capacity: 68L
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, an internal secure stash, and generous side water bottle pockets. These pockets have been fitted with burly ULA 400 Robic nylon for added durability. 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 400-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 relatively good value at just $300.
See the ULA Equipment Circuit 68


10. Gregory Paragon 58 ($260)

Gregory Paragon 58 backpacking pack (orange)Weight: 3 lb. 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 $260, 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 clear edge in weight (it’s nearly a full pound lighter) and price (by $80), 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 Paragon 58 review
See the Men's Gregory Paragon 58  See the Women's Gregory Maven 55


11. REI Co-op Flash 55 ($199)

REI Co-op Flash 55 Ultralight Backpacking BackpackWeight: 2 lb. 13 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 420D)
Capacity: 55L
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 (great for taller items like a tent or backpacking chair) 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 in 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 two- to four-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 lb. compared to the Osprey and Gregory’s 35 lb.). Their materials also feel like a step up: The Flash’s shoulder straps have a cheap (and noisy) fabric covering, and the front shove-it pocket isn’t as stretchy as we’d like. 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... Read in-depth review
See the Men's REI Co-op Flash 55  See the Women's REI Co-op Flash 55


12. Osprey Aether 65 ($320)

Osprey Aether 65 backpacking pack greenWeight: 4 lb. 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 are still better off with the Atmos; very heavy.

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 five external pockets (seven if you’re counting water bottle holders), and the hipbelt pockets are oddly placed and difficult to reach. For the majority of backpackers, we think the Atmos is the more practical all-around design at around 6 ounces less, and the Gregory Baltoro 75 above gets you more capacity for 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 Aether 65 review
See the Men's Osprey Aether 65  See the Women's Osprey Ariel 65


13. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ($315)

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 backpacking backpackWeight: 1 lb. 15.5 oz.
Fabric: Robic nylon (100D & 200D)
Capacity: 60L
What we like: Superlight with great organization and customization.
What we don’t: Foam backpanel bunches up; 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 lb. 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, especially for those who like to stay organized... Read in-depth review (previous version)
See the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60


14. Arc’teryx Bora 65 ($320)

Arc'teryx Bora 65 backpacking backpack_Weight: 4 lb. 4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D)
Capacities: 65, 75L
What we like: Burly, weather-ready build that’s great for those who mix backpacking and mountaineering.
What we don’t: Less approachable and user-friendly than packs from Osprey and Gregory.

You can always count on Arc’teryx to deviate from the norm, and their Bora 65 is no exception. For starters, the Arc’teryx’s harness and suspension are about as techy as it gets in the backpack world, with features like a rotating track-mounted hipbelt, adjustment grid to customize shoulder strap placement, and lightweight framesheet that’s reminiscent of carbon fiber. The Bora has always been known for its load-carrying prowess (we used to wear a 95L version while guiding mountaineering and wilderness therapy expeditions), and the newest iteration carries the torch despite its more streamlined design. And with a sleek exterior and tough, water-resistant fabrics, it’s better primed for alpine environments than most packs here.

The Bora is similar to our top-ranked Osprey Atmos AG in terms of weight and capacity, but in our opinion it’s not quite as approachable of a backpack. You don’t get the same suspended mesh backpanel that the Osprey is known for, the front dump pocket isn’t stretchy, and both hipbelt pockets use stretch-mesh rather than a zipper closure. We also have mixed feelings about the rotating hipbelt, which can feel squirrely on off-camber terrain and pokes into our hips when carrying a full load. If you’re routinely mixing backpacking and mountaineering, the hardwearing Arc’teryx has its merit (and is $20 less to boot), but most backpackers will be better served with the more convenient and user-friendly Atmos... Read in-depth Bora 75 review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Bora 65  See the Women's Arc'teryx Bora 60


15. Deuter Aircontact Core 65 + 10 ($250)

Deuter Aircontact Core 65 %2B 10 backpacking packWeight: 4 lb. 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 $70 to $110 in the process... Read in-depth review (women's version)
See the Men's Deuter Aircontact Core  See the Women's Deuter Aircontact Core SL 


16. Granite Gear Crown3 60 ($240)

Granite Gear Crown3 backpacking backpackWeight: 2 lb. 9.3 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D & 210D)
Capacity: 60L
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 lb.).

The 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 (women's version)
See the Men's Granite Gear Crown3 60  See the Women's Granite Gear Crown3 60


17. Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L ($399)

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L ultralight backpacking packWeight: 1 lb. 5.4 oz.
Fabric: Dyneema (3.3 oz/sq yd)
Capacity: 40, 50, 60, 70L
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 Haul Ultra takes the ultralight crown. The 60-liter model we tested comes in at an amazing 1 pound 5.4 ounces, and you can tack on modular add-ons like shoulder and belt pockets or a water bottle holder to complete your setup. In terms of construction, the Arc Haul Ultra uses a similar water-resistant Dyneema build as the Hyperlite above but in an even more streamlined form (3.3 oz/sq yd vs. the Southwest’s 5.0 oz/sq yd). This does translate to less durability overall (we got a small puncture in the bottom of our pack after putting it down on a particularly rocky section of trail), but Dyneema is simple to patch and the drop in weight will be worth it for serious thru-hikers and ounce-counters.

The “Arc” in the Zpacks’ name comes from a unique tensioning system that pulls the middle of the bag away from the 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 warm weather and those who work up a sweat. Combined with a carbon fiber frame, the pack has a solid structure and provides good support for loads up to about 30 pounds. However, the complex nature of the Arc Haul Ultra does give us durability concerns—especially compared to the simple Hyperlite. The pack’s abundant straps, buckles, stitching, and add-on components could all be points of failure over time. All in all, it may not be durable or comfortable enough for regular weekend backpackers, but if you treat it with care, the Arc Haul Ultra is an excellent option for serious hikers and minimalist trekkers.
See the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L  See the Women's Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L


18. Mystery Ranch Glacier ($399)

Mystery Ranch Glacier backpacking backpack (red)Weight: 6 lb. 6.4 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (500D)
Capacity: 70L
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


19. REI Co-op Traverse 60 ($259)

REI Co-op Traverse 60 backpacking packWeight: 4 lb. 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 while 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 $259 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


Backpacking Backpack Comparison Table

Pack Price Weight Fabric Capacities Access Pockets
Osprey Atmos AG 65 $340 4 lb. 9.8 oz. Nylon (210D x 500D) 50, 65L Top 8 exterior
REI Co-op Trailmade 60 $179 3 lb. 6 oz. Nylon 60L Top 6 exterior
Hyperlite Southwest 55 $379 1 lb. 15.6 oz. Dyneema (50 & 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
Gregory Katmai 65 Plus Size $310 5 lb. 0 oz. Nylon (210D & 420D) 65L Top, side 7 exterior
Granite Gear Blaze 60 $300 3 lb. 0 oz. 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 $300 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 $315 1 lb. 15.5 oz. Robic (100D & 200D) 60L Top 7 exterior
Arc’teryx Bora 65 $320 4 lb. 4 oz. Nylon (210D) 65, 75L Top, side 6 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 Haul Ultra 60L $399 1 lb. 5.4 oz. Dyneema (3.3 oz.) 40, 50, 60, 70L Top 3 exterior
Mystery Ranch Glacier $399 6 lb. 6.4 oz. Nylon (500D) 70L Top, side 4 exterior
REI Co-op Traverse 60 $259 4 lb. 4 oz. Nylon (300D) 32, 60L Top 10 exterior

About our Testing Process

From gear-intensive, technical approaches to months-long thru-hikes across the country, the Switchback Travel team clocked endless miles in countless different backpacks to narrow in on the streamlined selection of 19 standout models above. Former editor-in-chief John Ellings drew from his romps on local trails in the PNW and innumerable international backpacking trips to curate our initial selection of seven packs back in 2015. Senior Editor Chris Carter picked up the torch in 2024 and has been attending gear shows, bugging the pros, and putting numerous models to the test ever since to stay on top of current trends and the most groundbreaking designs out there. An alumnus of each of the Triple Crown trails in the United States (AT, PCT, and CDT), Chris is an avid long-distance backpacker who continues to trek and explore around the world. Rest assured, no stone is left unturned in the upkeep of this guide. 

We keep a variety of key factors in mind when analyzing the merit of a backpacking backpack. Durability, support, organizational features, and ventilation are all top considerations, and each pack has to stand out in one—or all—of these categories to warrant any real estate above. Finally, we know that the backpack competition is constantly evolving, which is why we've slotted this guide into an iterative update schedule to stay on top of shifts in the market and new innovations as they surface. 

Backpacking Backpacks (hiking in Kenya with the REI Flash 55)
Putting a few packs, including REI's Flash 55, through the wringer on a backpacking trip in Kenya, East Africa | Credit: Chris Carter

Backpacking Backpack Buying Advice

Recommended Capacity

Rules about how big of a pack you need are not hard and fast. Multiple factors come into 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.

Backpacking Backpacks (hiking on the Cumberland Trail)
The ideal capacity will depend on your objectives and storage preferences | Credit: Chris Carter

The majority of backpackers take short trips—usually around one to three nights—and for those uses, a pack in the 50 to 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 to 55 liters
Long weekend (2-3 nights): 50 to 70 liters
Extended trips (over 3 days): 60+ liters

Backpacking with the REI Co-op Traverse 60 backpacking pack
Backpacking in the Hoh Rainforest with REI's Traverse 60 | Credit: Jason Hummel

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.

Backpacking Packs (side compression strap on Osprey Aether)
Osprey's Aether is built to handle a heavy load | Credit: Jason Hummel

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.

Backpacking through valley in fall colors
In general, the heavier the pack, the more weight it can haul | Credit: Jason Hummel

Backpack Weight

The backpacks on our list above range from 1 pound 5.4 ounces for the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L to 6 pounds 6 ounces 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 lb. 9.8 oz.) and Gregory Focal 55 (2 lb. 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.

Backpacking pack (crossing river with ULA Circuit)
Backpacking in Patagonia with the 2.5-pound ULA Equipment Circuit | Credit: David Wilkinson

Ultralight Backpacking Packs
Weight is so important to many backpackers that a whole category of backpack exists based on this spec alone. Ultralight packs cut roughly 2 to 3 pounds off the weight of standard models and feature barebones organization—most have a main compartment, one or two hipbelt pockets, and a few external dump pockets. Additionally, they utilize thin but ultra-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 focused on minimizing weight, the difference between a traditional and UL pack can be significant. Just make sure you have the rest of your kit dialed in before charging into the backcountry with an ultralight model, as an overloaded pack can lead to long-term discomfort or pack failure mid-trip (for a deep dive into this category, see our article on the best ultralight backpacks).

Backpacking pack (Gossamer Gear Mariposa hiking)
Gossamer Gear's Mariposa is one of our favorite UL packs | Credit: Brian McCurdy

Backpack Durability

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.

Backpacking backpacks (crosssing tyrolean with REI Trailmade 60)
Backpacks are a tough bunch and built to hold up to rough use | Credit: Brian McCurdy

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.

Backpacking Backpacks (Deuter Aircontact Core side profile)
Deuter's Aircontact Core has a sturdy 235D polyamide construction | Credit: Jason Hummel

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).

Gregory Deva 70 backpacking pack (hipbelt padding)
The generous padding and lumbar support on the women's Gregory Deva | Credit: Brian McCurdy

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.

Front shove-it pocket on Gregory Facet 48 backpacking pack
Using the shove-it pocket on the Gregory Facet 55 | Credit: Brian McCurdy

Exterior Pockets
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.

Storing olives in hipbelt pocket of backpacking pack
Hipbelt pockets are a great place to store snacks, sunscreen, or your phone | Credit: Jason Hummel

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.

Backpacking pack (front access)
A zippered access to the main compartment makes it easy to grab items quickly | Credit: Brian McCurdy

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.

Backpacking backpacks (REI Trailmade sleeping bag compartment)
Accessing the REI Trailmade's sleeping bag compartment | Credit: Brian McCurdy

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.

Backpacking backpack (hydration exit port)
A hydration port offers easy routing for your reservoir tube | Credit: Jason Hummel

Compression Straps
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 tightly with a simple plastic cinch, we prefer those with buckles for their ease of use, especially when attaching larger items like a sleeping pad.

Granite Gear Crown3 backpack (crossing river)
Compression straps are great for securing bulky gear | Credit: Jason Hummel


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 passable 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.

Osprey Atmos AG 65 backpacking pack (Anti-Gravity backpanel)
Osprey's Anti-Gravity backpanel is highly ventilated and supportive | Credit: Jason Hummel

Water Protection

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.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra backpack (water resistance)
The Dyneema fabric on Zpacks packs offers excellent moisture resistance | Credit: Eric De Paoli

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.

Backpacking pack (Gregory Optic 58 with waterproof pack cover)
Using Gregory's included rain cover | Credit: Jason Hummel

A final strategy is to protect items from the inside, either by lining the entire pack body with a waterproof bag or using an assortment of waterproof stuff sacks or dry bags. You can even make do with garbage bags in a pinch—when guiding in British Columbia’s wet Coast Mountains, we used a trash compactor bag to line our backpack and experienced zero leaks or issues. Regardless of the liner you choose, it will work best with backpacks that feature a cavernous main compartment, like what you get with many ultralight designs. 

Two of the most popular waterproof pack liners are Nylofume bags, such as this one sold by Garage Grown Gear, and polyethylene bags, such as this one from Gossamer Gear. Both are fantastic alternatives to trash bags or rain covers and can also serve as odor barriers when tied off securely at the top. For reference, one Nylofume liner kept a tester's gear safe and dry for an entire three-month thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. These things are relatively cheap, way stronger than they appear at first glance, and add negligible weight to your pack.

Backpacking Backpacks (pack liner for waterproofing)
Using a polyethylene pack liner to keep sensitive gear dry on a rainy backpacking trip | Credit: Chris Carter

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 men’s and women’s versions (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. Hipbelts are generally very adjustable, but if your hip measurement is not proportional to your torso, it might be a good idea to opt for a pack with a customizable hipbelt. 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.

REI Co-op Flash 55 backpacking pack (torso adjustment)
REI Co-op's Flash 55 has an easy-to-adjust fit system | Credit: David Wilkinson

Importantly, some brands have also started to offer their most popular backpacks in extended and plus sizes. Gregory led the charge with their men’s Katmai 65 and women’s Kalmia 60, and Osprey followed with their Aether and Ariel Extended Fit. These packs don’t just increase dimensions; rather, they’re thoughtfully built with a wider distance between shoulder straps, well-placed hipbelt pockets, and lots of room for adjustment throughout (read more about Osprey’s Extended Fit collection and Gregory’s Plus Sizing). The options are still limited, but we look forward to seeing more plus-size backpacks in the not-so-distant future.

Osprey Eja Pro backpacking pack (torso adjustability)
The Osprey Eja Pro offers 4 inches of torso length adjustment | Credit: Jason Hummel

Sustainability: Recycled Fabrics and PFC-Free DWR Coatings

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 some—or at times, all—per- or polyfluorinated chemicals (these “forever chemicals” have been linked to a range of environmental and health issues). With many states stepping up to ban the sale of items that include PFCs, the outdoor industry is seeking better solutions for water- and stain-resistant finishes (you can read more about Patagonia’s take on the issue here). All told, it’s an exciting time for sustainability, and we’re happy to see this reflected in the backpacking pack market.
Back to Our Top Backpacking Pack Picks  Back to Our Backpacking Pack Comparison Table

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