Best Backpacking Backpacks


With so many choices available to adventurers, finding the best backpacking backpack can be a challenge to say the least. Variations in capacity, fit, storage compartments, padding, attachment loops and chains, and waterproofing can have you questioning your buying options, so we set out to develop a guide to help narrow down the best day, multiday, extended trip, value, and tactical backpacks available.

Before anything else, our outdoor team reviewed pack fit and adjustment options. Pack design heavily focused on human anatomy and weight distribution was considered paramount in the classification of our top picks. We then moved on to general purpose accessibility features including access panels, pockets, gear loops, compression straps, and storm protection. Packs with a greater combination of these features were ranked higher due to greater versatility for users. More activity specific features were considered for each individual pack category. Material of construction, seam stitching, and hardware were reviewed in part by our team, and in part by consumers with on-the-trail knowledge of the packs that made our list.

After careful review, our #1 top pick and Editor’s Choice/Best Hiking Backpack is the Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack ($150-180). It’s a full-featured multiuse day or multiday pack with an excellent combination of utility features, and the incorporation of its torso, sternum, and shoulder adjustments helps to keep any load well-balanced and comfy even on demanding trails.

Best Backpacking Backpacks

How We Choose

Comfortability is without a doubt the most important aspect to a backpacking backpack. Great manufacturers understand how critical fit is, and a commitment to awesome ergonomic design is demonstrated by top notch gear. The best backpacking backpacks come in both male and female variations to accommodate smaller and larger builds, offer torso adjustment features to reposition packs to the appropriate height based on torso length, feature load adjustment bands on the shoulder straps, and have an adjustable sternum strap to keep gear tight against the wearer.

Dense fabric should be used in areas of high wear, and double or triple stitching should be visible where high-stress seams meet. Fabric durability can be measured by its denier count (a good minimum for fabric sections is from 200 to 450D), and Ripstop Nylon coupled with Nylon Packcloth is a common combination of construction for most well-made packs. Ripstop nylon differentiates itself from standard nylon in that the weave is reinforced to increase durability and decrease the likelihood of tears and rips. Packcloth is a standard, coarse nylon used in manufacturing.

Access panels and pockets should be well laid out around the bag, offering a good amount of gear organization without compromising the main compartment’s utility. One main access panel on the top of the bag and another on the bottom works well for most backpackers. We also like packs that offer a sleeping bag compartment. Stretch mesh front and side compartments remain a favorite for keeping water bottles at the ready, or stowing awkward gear that needs to be accessed regularly.

Compression straps are a great feature for multiday and extended packs, in that they allow hikers to stow sleeping pads and other bulky gear without a lot of hassle. Gear loops and paracord rigs are helpful for backpackers that carry hiking poles, especially if you’re in need of storing poles while working your way around technical details in the trail. One more thing, we love our rainfly – having an added layer of protection incorporated into the bag is an easy bonus that helps keep gear dry and protected in storms.

Why You Should Buy a New Backpacking Backpack

Day hikers, weekend backpackers, survivalists, athletes, and cross-country explorers all require specific gear to comfortably work through unique challenges. It’s not only important for your body that a pack is constructed and sized properly, but using an inappropriate pack can hinder efficiency when it counts most.

Another thing to consider are the advances that have been made in construction techniques, as well as recent additions of components meant to alleviate common issues while backpacking. Newer packs tend to last longer through heavy use, accommodate a wider range of gear storage possibilities, and compliment anatomical features more fluidly.

A great backpack should last through years of heavy use and should be selected carefully. Our team is happy to answer any technical questions you might have about these packs, or others, in the comments below. With all of that in mind, let’s get on to the best backpacking backpacks list for this year.

#1 Pick Editor’s Choice/Best Hiking Backpack – Osprey Kestrel 48

Our Editor’s Choice/Best Backpacking Backpack

Price: $179 | Storage Capacity: 48 L | Weight: 3.68 lbs  | GR’s Durability Rating: A

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Kestrel 48 is an absolute wolf among sheep in the world of backpacking backpacks. It’s killer!

Osprey’s Kestrel 48 sports a suspension frame which helps to evenly distribute the pack’s load from the harness to the hip belt, and an Atilon framesheet spreads the load across the entire backpanel. A unique, mesh-covered foam on the backpanel allows airflow to ventilate between your back and the pack while still keeping everything tightly secured to your body. Padded mesh reduces shoulder and back fatigue, and the backpack’s adjustable straps and torso harness help keep long treks comfortable even when trails demand frequent core work.

Notable features include a sleeping bag compartment, adjustable and removable sleeping pad straps, zipper access to the main compartment through side panels, a full-length vertical side pocket for organizing gear, integrated rainfly, an external water reservoir sleeve, “stow-on-the-go” trekking pole attachments, and zippered hipbelt pockets for quick access items.

The Kestrel 48’s main body is constructed from 210D Nylon Double Diamond Ripstop material (double diamond indicating a superior reinforcement material interwoven during the ripstop manufacturing process), while the accent areas and bottom portion are made from 420HD Nylon Packcloth for extra durability – Gadget Review’s Durability Rating: A-

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#2 Pick Best Travel Backpack – Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack

1484438955_905_best-backpacking-backpacks Best Backpacking Backpacks

A day hikers dream come true

Price: $94 | Storage Capacity: 44 L | Weight: 2.60 lbs  | GR’s Durability Rating: A

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Ready to hit the open country? The Redwing 44 is our top pick as the best travel backpack.

Our pick as the best travel backpack, the Kelty Redwing 44 backpack is built with a high-density polyethylene frame sheet which helps to distribute weight while keeping empty pack weight low. A hex mesh back panel allows for adequate ventilation and support during extended treks, and integrated shoulder, waist, sternum, and load lifter straps ensure a comfortable fit with proper gear weight distribution even on uneven terrain.

Noteworthy features of this pack include its top lid sling pack conversion, zippered side pockets, an organizational front pocket, stretch mesh front pouch, and an interior sleeve for hydration vessels. It’s carry on compatible (just don’t stuff it to the max), and it weighs less than three pounds unpacked.

The body is constructed from 420D Nylon Packcloth – Gadget Review’s Durability Rating: A

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#3 Pick Best Hiking Backpack for the Money – TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack

1484438955_568_best-backpacking-backpacks Best Backpacking Backpacks

The best hiking backpack for the money

Price: $66 | Storage Capacity: 55 L | Weight: 4 lbs 6 oz  | GR’s Durability Rating: A

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: An epic value backpack that’s one of the highest rated Amazon buys out there.

The best backpacking backpack for the money, the TETON features bendable aluminum stays and padded shoulder straps which help keep loads distributed while adjustable hip, chest, shoulder, and torso segments ensure a tight and comfortable fit. It’s worth mentioning that the TETON Sports Scout 3400 is the best-selling backpack on Amazon, and hundreds of five-star reviews from satisfied customers can’t lie. It’s well made and includes most of the core features consumers look for in a pack.

Notable features include a sleeping bag compartment, multi-directional compression straps, multiple compartments and pockets for easy organization, mesh storage pocket, integrated rainfly, and an interior pouch for water bladders.

The shell is constructed out of 600D Diamond Ripstop – Gadget Review’s Durability Rating: A

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#4 Pick Best Day Hiking Backpack – Gregory Salvo 24

1484438955_336_best-backpacking-backpacks Best Backpacking Backpacks

Day and multi-day hikes get even better when you’ve got a Salvo on your back

Price: $115 | Storage Capacity: 24 L | Weight: 2.4 lbs  | GR’s Durability Rating: B+

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Gregory Salvo 24 is an awesome day hiking pack that offers exceptional storage features.

Adjustable shoulder, sternum, and waist straps ensure a tight fit and well-balanced load while backpacking. Padding lines the shoulder straps and the lower back for support, and hexagonally webbed netting allows airflow between the wearers back and the bottom of the pack for ventilation.

Features include a front accessory pocket with special lining to protect electronics and valuables, side stretch mesh pockets, dual hip belt pockets, side and bottom compression straps, strap management system, safety light lash, and a shoulder harness for easy access to things like sunglasses.

The pack is constructed from 210D Nylon with a polyester lining – Gadget Review’s Durability Rating: B+

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#5 Pick Best Tactical Backpack – Maxpedition Zafar

1484438956_546_best-backpacking-backpacks Best Backpacking Backpacks

The best tactical backpack on the planet

Price: $211 | Storage Capacity: 28 L | Weight: 3.6 lbs  | GR’s Durability Rating: A+

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Bug out what? If you’re looking for one of the best tactical bags on the market, the Zafar is it.

The Maxpedition Gear Zafar pack is the ultimate tactical and survivalists backpack. It’s finished with a triple coat of polyurethane for maximum water resistance and then followed up with a coat of DuPont’s Teflon Fabric Protector for an added bonus. Stress points are reinforced with composite thread and careful attention to seams are given to ensure that this bag holds up under the most demanding conditions. An internal sheet frame and aluminum stays help keep this bag rigid and support stowed gear.

YKK zippers and slides, Duraflex buckles and hardware, compression straps, exterior gear compartments, mesh compartments, an interior sleeve for water bladder and ports for drinking tubes are some of the excellent features included on this backpack.

The Zafar is constructed using 1000D Nylon (a seriously dense weave) – Gadget Review’s Durability Rating: A+

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Key Factors

Torso Length Adjustment

  • A well-fitted pack’s shoulder strap harness should align with the base of your neck. If it’s too tall the harness will create a bulge between your shoulders and the backpack and the bag’s center of gravity will be too high.
  • Too low and the bag might feel more balanced, but continued hiking with a pack that doesn’t fit properly will quickly create unnecessary fatigue. A torso length adjustment feature helps users ensure the pack is centered against the wearer’s back.

Storage Capacity

  • Pack size, based on use, was reviewed to ensure capacity requirements were met for each specific category.
  • Generally, a decent daypack offers around 30 liters of storage space, which is just enough to hold essential gear plus a tiny bit more. If you’re carrying extra gear, or going on an extended hike you’ll most likely need something a bit larger.

Frame Type

  • All of our picks are either internal-frame backpacks, or frameless packs. Internal-frame packs ensure that hikers can stay balanced while trekking through uneven territory and still keep gear relatively close to their body.
  • Frameless backpacks are usually preferred by those that prefer to hike as lightly as possible. External-frame backpacks are a third option, especially if you’re planning to carry heavy gear in. They’re a bit heavier, but they offer excellent storage and organizational features.

Access Openings

  • It’s important that you can access what you packed without removing everything from your bag. Multiple, zippered access panels on both the top, bottom, and sides ensures that gear doesn’t have to be strewn about just to get at one thing.

Padding

  • Even lightly packed packs will wear and rub against hips and shoulders. Ensure adequate padding is present to protect from soreness and maintain comfort. Nothing sucks worse than being uncomfortable while hiking.

Features to Look For

Ventilation

  • Breathability ensures that both you and your pack’s contents stay dry. Adequate ventilation between your body and the pack is often attained by the use of a mesh bridge which allows airflow through side pockets and downward between shoulder straps.

Pockets

  • Plentiful pockets and zippered compartments help backpackers organize gear so that everything stays neat and tidy.

Included Daypack

  • Some multiday backpacks include a daypack that separates from the primary pack. These are ideal for hikers on extended trips in scenarios in which leaving most gear at basecamp and hitting the trail with a lighter load makes sense.

Attachment Loops

  • Easy to incorporate as part of a packs design, attachment points help keep gear organized and at the ready. Great for attaching lights, climbing gear, ropes, or hiking stakes.

Rainfly

  • A rainfly is a separate, sometimes included, cover that can be removed from a storage compartment and used to cover the entire bag in inclement weather.

Hydration Sleeve

  • Many packs, especially multiday and runner packs, include an interior pocket for storing a water bladder. Usually these packs also have ports to route water tubing through too.

Load Lifter Straps

  • Load lifter straps are incorporated into shoulder straps and allow a pack user to adjust the load sitting angle while positioned on their back. For anything that’s meant to support a hiker for longer than a day, we highly recommend the inclusion of this feature.

Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t Go Too Cheap!: Well-made packs are engineered to take a beating and keep heavy loads secure. Stitching and hardware quality should be examined thoroughly to ensure a pack will last through whatever it is you plan to use it for.

Storage Versatility: Attachment points, compression straps, and mesh compartments are all great features that help organize gear and leave fewer wishes for more storage options on a pack. If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll soon realize after a few trips that you prefer gear stored specific ways. Having multiple options on your pack allows for some flexibility.

What Else You Should Think About

Having the best backpacking backpack is just the first step. No matter what your preferred activity is, you’re going to need more gear. If you’re a multiday backpacker, consider checking out our review of the best camping tents of 2016. If you’re all about lightweight overnights, check out our review of the best backpacking tents of 2016.

The Osprey Kestrel 48, our Editor’s Choice/Best Hiking Backpack, is a quality pack with just the right number of features to keep new and experienced hikers pleased for years. Ergonomic design was clearly a critical concern with the bag and it shows. Have you had experience with any of these packs? What pack do you currently use?<


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