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Best hiking backpack: from packs for awesome day walks, to expedition packs for epic thru-hikes

best hiking backpacks: backpackers ascending
(Image credit: Getty)

We’ve rounded up the best hiking backpacks out there, innovative models that give you supreme comfort and usability on the trails. The difference a rucksack can make is huge, so getting the right one for the adventures you have in mind is vital. Fortunately, there’s never been such a wealth of great options, from ingenious packs can change their capacity depending on the situation to multi-functional models with a pocket for just about everything.

Firstly, the fit of a backpack is essential. Our selection here features backpacks tailored for men, whereas the best women’s hiking backpacks are designed with shoulder straps and a hip belt contoured for the female form. Beyond this, what features you go for will depend on personal preference. Some hikers like a streamlined, clinical pack, while others prefer a pack that has attachment points and routing for items like tents, ice axes, trekking poles and hydration systems.

best hiking backpack: A hiker admiring a mountain view

The best hiking backpack should have features to help you pack and organise your gear however you want it (Image credit: Getty)

The best hiking backpacks included here are the crème de la crème and there's everything from smaller day packs to full on expedition rucksacks. Each one offers durability, comfort and a practical range of features. New additions include the lightweight Montane Trailblazer 44, with plenty of practical storage options; and supremely comfortable and lightweight Exped Lightning 45, perfect for great days on the trails.

The best hiking backpacks for day walks

best hiking backpacks: Montane Trailblazer 44

(Image credit: Montane)

Montane Trailblazer 44

Drawing on Montane's mountain running heritage, this is a backpack for quick-paced adventures

RRP: £110 (UK) | Volume: 44L / 2685 cu in | Weight: 980g / 2lb 2.6oz | Dimensions (HxWxD): 55 x 35 x 20cm / 21.6 x 13.8 x 7.9in | Sizes: One size (adjustable back length) | Fabric: RAPTOR Cross Lite 70 Denier fabric, RAPTOR Resistance 210 Denier base panels

Great value
Practical harness and hipbelt pockets
No lid
Relatively simple back system
Mesh front and side pockets liable to snag

The Trailblazer 44 is an impressively lightweight and functional pack, with a streamlined design that strips away unnecessary weight. However, it doesn’t skimp on features, with plenty of practical pockets offering ample on-the-go storage. The price point is also attractive, and we think this is a great value choice if you’re looking to go ‘fast and light’ on your next adventure.

The simple but effective back system feels stable and comfortable enough with loads of up to about 10kg, and while it perhaps isn’t the most supportive or best ventilated design, it finds a good balance between maintaining a low trail weight and delivering overall carrying comfort. The main compartment is roomy enough to carry a full set of lightweight camping gear, while also being easy to pack and hydration compatible. The roll-top design means there is no lid, which may or may not be a plus, depending on your preferences, but handy front and shove-it pockets plus four harness pockets still gives you plenty of places to tuck away your trail essentials.

best hiking backpacks: Exped Lightnight 45

(Image credit: Exped)

Exped Lightning 45

Lightweight and with a deceptively simple design, the Exped Lightning is a class act

RRP: $100 (US) /£170 (UK) | Volume: 45L / 2746 cu in | Weight: 1164g / 2lb 9oz | Dimensions (HxWxD): 72 x 32 x 25cm/ 28.3 × 12.6 × 9.8in | Sizes: One size (adjustable back length) | Fabric: 210D ripstop nylon, PU coated (1,500mm HH), Oeko-Tex 100 certified with DWR

Stable and comfortable
Well-padded harness and hip belt
No lid
No front pocket
Fiddly compression straps

The latest version of this tried-and-tested pack retains the ethos of functional minimalism that made it so popular with lightweight backpackers in the first place, while beefing up the pack’s overall durability, load-hauling ability and carrying comfort. With an adjustable torso length and various customisable and removable options too, it is a versatile beast for trips ranging from a few days to a few weeks. The top-loading, roll-top design saves weight, and while it makes access to the roomy main compartment slightly fiddly, that is largely offset by the useful deep outside top pocket, twin stretch side pockets and zipped hip belt pockets. For a minimalist pack, it is very stable when fully loaded and comfortable to carry too, with ample shoulder and hip padding as well as plush lumbar support.

best hiking backpack: Craghoppers Classic Rolltop Backpack 20L

(Image credit: Craghoppers)

Craghoppers Classic Rolltop Backpack 20L

A trendy, functional, go-anywhere kind of pack that can be used in the hills AND on the commute

RRP: $73 (US) / £55 (UK) | Volume: 20L / 1220.5 cu in | Weight: 645g/ 1.42lb | Sizes: One size | Fabric: Main: 100% polyester with PU coating / Strap webbing: 100% polyamide | Colors: Blue Navy/ Woodland Green/ Dark Butterscotch

Eco conscious design
Roll top
Water resistant material
Good pockets
Sneaky zips
Not suitable for more technical terrain
No equipment attachment
No technical back panel

The Craghoppers Classic Roll top 20L is a popular choice for those who want a daypack that works for everyday use, and can also be take for an occasional hike. The roll-top strap closure is a handy and well-considered piece of design, with the accent buckle forming part of the pack’s main structure. As well as looking good it’s a functional feature, as its workable even when you are wearing gloves, and doubles as an effective way of compressing items into the pack. 

An expandable side pouch allows for a number of items – such as walking poles or a small water bottle – to be securely stowed inside, whilst a zipped compartment located just below the front helps organize and separate items for separate access; handy for when you want your compass and head lamp to be easy to locate. An additional zip accessible from the padded back panel allows for stowage of important items that require an additional safety protection, such as a 15-inch laptop. An inner pouch allows for items to also be separated, such as a laptop or tablet, which is ideal for those who want their pack to be suitable for commuting/ civilian life. 

The rucksack also has impressive recycling credentials, having been constructed from 11 recycled plastic bottles. As the backpack has a relatively small capacity, it’s light and can be used as a cabin bag when travelling.  The addition of Smart dry eco treatment means the bag will keep items dry during a shower. Finally, for smart commuters the debit cards can be zipped in a RFID pocket, which also has a key attachment.

Best hiking backpack: Osprey Levity 45

(Image credit: Osprey)

Osprey Levity 45

Ultralight framed trekking pack that shaves grams without sacrificing carrying comfort

RRP: $250 (US) / £180 (UK) | Volume: 45L / 2,746 cu in | Weight: 800g/ 1 lb 12oz | Dimensions (HxWxD): 68 x 40 x 30cm / 27 x 16 x 12in | Sizes: S/M/L back lengths | Fabric: Nanofly UHMWPE ripstop x 100D HT nylon/30D ripstop nylon-Cordura

Suspended mesh back panel keeps you cool
Great build quality
Comfortable harness and hip belt
No stretch pockets
No raincover
Translucent fabric
Reaches its limit with loads of 10kg+

Osprey’s first ultralight backpacking rucksack employs the brand’s highly-regarded ExoForm harness and AirSpeed trampoline-style back system, and is available in three back lengths. The suspended mesh back panel is particularly well suited to hot, sweaty hikes, since it delivers excellent airflow. The Levity is stable and comfortable with loads of up to about 10kg. Weight has been saved by streamlining the feature set and utilising a new, superlight-yet-tough ripstop nylon called Nanofly. But you still get a roomy main compartment with a hydration sleeve and top drawcord, a fixed lid with an outer zipped pocket, two dual-access side pockets and a bellows front pocket. 

Daisy chain webbing, top and bottom gear loops and removable side compression cords allow a certain degree of customisation if you want to carry additional kit too. The Nanofly fabric is also tougher than it looks. All in all, the Levity is a capable and comfortable performer for lightweight backpackers unwilling to compromise too much on carrying comfort and load stability. This is the medium-sized version of the pack – the Levity is also available in Small (42L / 2,563 cu in) and Large (48L / 2,929 cu in) sizes.

Best hiking backpack: Jack Wolfskin Kingston 30 Pack Recco

(Image credit: Jack Wolfskin)

Jack Wolfskin Kingston 30 Pack Recco

An eco-friendly rucksack with the excellent RECCO safety feature

RRP: $112 (US)/£85 (UK) | Volume : 30 litres | Weight: 0.93kg/2lb 1oz | Sizes: One size | Colors : Lava red/Black

RECCO locator system
Recycled fabric
Rain cover
No women-specific version

No hiker wants to get lost, but it’s reassuring to know that should you ever lose your bearings or suffer an injury, this pack is fitted with a RECCO chip that will allow mountain rescue to find you more quickly. The system doesn’t need a battery, is always ‘on’, and is widely used by emergency services in the Alps and Scandinavia, as well as the US and Canada. 

The pack itself gets a green tick for being made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s a decent selection of pockets, including a pouch for a hydration bladder, attachments for trekking poles, and a whistle on the chest strap (in case you ever need to use the RECCO in earnest!). A separate base compartment helps keep dirty kit away from clean, the integrated rain cover keeps everything dry, while a ventilation channel between the back pads helps to avoid a sweaty spine.

The best backpacks for general hiking

Best hiking backpack: Gregory Katmai 55

(Image credit: Gregory)

Gregory Katmai 55

Built to carry heavy loads in comfort, the Katmai 55 is a serious gear-hauler, but it’s also been made with sustainability in mind

RRP: $260 (US) / £210 (UK) | Volume: 55L / 3,356 cu in | Weight: 2.12kg / 4lb 10.9oz | Dimensions (HxWxD): 77 x 42 x 32cm / 30 x 17 x 13 in | Sizes: : S/M and M/L torso lengths | Fabric: 210D nylon With PFC-free DWR (40% recycled content) & 420D nylon with PFC-free DWR (45% recycled content)

Stable and comfortable
Can handle heavy loads
Sustainable fabrics and carbon-conscious build
Not the lightest
Slightly fussy design

A fully-featured trekking and backpacking rucksack with Gregory’s trademark carrying comfort, the Katmai 55 has pivoting shoulder straps and a flexible, wraparound hipbelt to keep hips and shoulders happy, even with a heavy load. The suspended mesh back panel delivers good airflow, and has a Polygiene treatment to inhibit odours after long hours hiking on hot, sweaty trails. 

The brand has also employed partly recycled fabrics in the pack’s construction and calculated the overall carbon cost of the product (the equivalent of hiking 89 miles rather than taking a car journey apparently), which means you can offset the environmental impact of your purchase via your next long-distance walk or thru-hike. Boasting a profusion of pockets and different compartments, the Katmai is a deluxe gear-hauler for those who like to stay organised on their adventures.  

Best hiking backpack: Lowe Alpine Airzone Camino Trek 40:50

(Image credit: Lowe Alpine)

Lowe Alpine Airzone Camino Trek 40:50

Astute packing could turn this generously featured daypack into a trekking pack for overnight hiking trips

RRP: £125 (UK)/€140 (Europe) | Volume: 50 litres | Weight: 1.53kg/3lb 6oz | Sizes: M, L | Colors : Azure/black

Flexible capacity
Breathable back AirZone
No adjustability in back length

Any 40- to 50-litre backpack finds itself at risk of falling between stools: too big for a day hike, yet too small for the camping equipment required for a backpacking trip. The Camino, however, puts up a good case for packing carefully for an overnighter, or carrying whatever you want for a day walk. The pack comes in two back lengths, and a huge AirZone in the centre of the mesh padding delivers maximum airflow. 

On the other side a zipped front panel presents easy access to your kit, with the option to split the main compartment into two zones, while water bottles slide into stretchy side pockets. Up top, the extendable lid delivers the extra 10 litres of capacity, and both hip belts have handy pockets. Compression straps pull everything tight to help avoid snagging on rocks and branches, and a rain cover keeps everything dry should the heavens open.

Best hiking backpack: Deuter Trail Pro 36

(Image credit: Deuter)

Deuter Trail Pro 36

A lavishly featured rucksack for long days of hiking

RRP: $165 (US)/£130 (UK)/€170 (Europe) | Volume: 36 litres | Weight: 1.49kg/3lb 7oz | Sizes: One size | Colors : Midnight-lava/Graphite-black

Excellent pockets
Useful attachments
Easy access to kit
Rain cover

Name a desirable feature on the best hiking backpacks and the Deuter Trail Pro can almost certainly tick it off the list. From pole, ice axe and helmet attachments to a lid pocket, two side pockets (one zipped, one stretchy) and an internal valuables pocket, to a wet kit compartment and a rain cover – this pack has it all. A front zip even gives alternative easy access to the main compartment to find gear stowed at the bottom. 

But its smartest feature is arguably the breathability of its porous foam back pads, and the wide ventilation channel up the spine, facilitating airflow without compromising your centre of gravity. The hip-hugging belt fins ensure a close fit, and their generous pockets are ideal for snacks, phone and GPS. All the features come with a slight weight penalty, but it’s a small price to pay.

Best hiking backpack: Vaude Asymmetric 42+8

(Image credit: Vaude)

Vaude Asymmetric 42+8

A perfect pack for hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps or Andes

RRP: $180 (US)/$150 (UK)/€160 (Europe) | Volume: 50 litres | Weight : 1.475kg/3lb 7oz | Sizes: One size | Colors: Baltic sea/Cedar wood/Black

Adjustable back
Easy access main compartment
Good selection of pockets
No rain cover

Multi-day backpacking trips frequently don’t involve tents, sleep mats and all the paraphernalia of self-sufficient overnighting. Networks of huts and hostels, especially in the Alps, allow for long, high-altitude walks with the comfort of a mattress under a solid roof for sleep. 

The Asymmetric 42+8 is ideal for these types of adventures, with enough carrying capacity for mountain kit, without the bulk of an expeditionary pack. The adjustable back system sees the shoulder harness slide up and down to achieve a personalised fit, and the padded shoulder straps and hip belt keep the pack close and comfortable. There’s a long, flat zipped pocket on the front for a map or jacket, zipped entry to the main compartment, and separate pockets in the lid and on the hip belt. The bottom internal compartment can stow dirty kit, or even take a tightly compressed sleeping bag.

The best hiking backpacks for expeditions

Best hiking backpack: Berghaus Trailhead 65

(Image credit: Berghaus)

Berghaus Trailhead 65

This great value, entry-level rucksack is one of the best hiking backpacks for expeditions

RRP: £110 (UK)/€180 (Europe) | Volume: 65 litres | Weight: 1.7kg/3lb 12oz | Sizes: One size | Colors : Deep water/Black

Great value for its size
Customisable back length
Excellent access
Rain cover
Not as lavishly padded as some rivals

The Trailhead  provides everything you need from a hiking backpack at an extremely competitive price. The adjustable BIOFIT back system slides from S to XL to position the harness according to your height, and there’s a good space between the shoulder and upper back pads to create a through-flow of air. 

A ‘diaphragm’ gives the option to create one open main compartment or to split it into two – one for clean kit, perhaps, and one for wet or dirty gear. This compartment is accessible from both the top and from a zip that runs down the front of the pack. Side pockets swallow a map and bottles, while the lid has a pocket large enough to fit a waterproof jacket. There are also external loops to attach walking poles, a channel for a hydration bladder hose, and a rain cover, so pretty much all bases are covered.

Choosing the best hiking backpack for you

There's an almost overwhelming choice out there when it comes to choosing the best hiking backpack. With such a range of sizes, features and applications, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Before investing in the best backpack for you, consider the following...

1. Activity dictates capacity

The approach you take to your hiking adventures will determine the size of backpack you'll need. Bigger packs are designed with camping expeditions in mind and come with all kinds of innovative storage solutions for items like your tent. Medium-sized packs are built with day-long adventures in mind and may have features like trekking pole or ice axe attachments. Smaller daypacks start to cross into hydration pack territory and feature handy pockets for things like water packs.

If you're looking to take to easy trails in just hiking shoes rather than full on boots, you won't want a heavy expedition pack. Likewise, if you're off an an epic thru-hiking adventure, where you'll be carrying all your camping gear from place to place, the best hiking backpack for you will have plenty of capacity.

As a rough guide, smaller packs for lightweight day walks range between around 15 and 35 litres. Medium packs, ideal for hut-to-hut treks or longer days scrambling and hiking in the mountains range from 35 to 55 litres. Above 55 litres and you're into serious expedition territory, with the capacity you need for your tent and camping gear.

Best hiking backpack: A runner with a hydration pack

Smaller hydration style packs are ideal for trail running and fast and light hiking (Image credit: Getty)

2. Back system

How the best hiking backpacks sit against your spine can make all the difference to your comfort and confidence on tracks and trails. Most back systems have some sort of padding to protect your spine from the pack, while deep grooves create air channels that allow sweat to evaporate. 

Other designs deploy a mesh trampoline that holds the entire back away from your spine for even greater breathability and support. This can, however, compromise your balance by holding the weight of your pack further away from your back. If you're weighed down by your camping gear, a traverse of technical ground becomes more difficult with such a backpack.

3. Harness

Shoulder straps need to hug your body closely, sharing the weight of a backpack with the hip belt. This is one of the areas where female hikers will find women-specific backpacks with shaped straps more comfortable. Shoulder straps themselves come in different widths and with more or less generous padding – it’s a personal choice between comfort and weight. 

Some straps also feature a small pocket or hooks on which to hang kit, ideal for items like your compass or multitool. This particularly true on hydration packs designed for adventure runners, who want to be able to grab energy gels and hydration pouches on the go.

Best hiking backpack: A hiker in the mountains

How the best hiking backpacks sit against your spine can make all the difference to your comfort and confidence on tracks and trails (Image credit: Getty)

4. Hip belt

Much of the weight of a backpack is supported by the hip belt, which hugs the core of your body. After a long day in the mountains, a standard hip belt often leaves your sides feeling a bit raw. The best hiking backpacks are designed to alleviate this issue. A bit of cushioning here can make a big difference to comfort, and a hip belt pocket for phone, GPS device or other items of hiking technology can prove to be very handy, especially with quick navigation in mind. Some hip belts on larger backpacking rucksacks are designed to swivel with your body movement as you walk, boosting your balance.

5. Organisation of gear

The fundamental purpose of the best hiking backpacks is to carry kit, so how it distributes this gear is vitally important. How to pack a backpack depends on personal preference. Some walkers (and especially climbers) prefer a tall slender pack, with few external pockets and kit carefully stowed in different coloured stuffsacks inside. Other walkers appreciate a host of lid and side pockets for frequently accessed items, such as drinks, snacks, camera and credit card, while keeping extra layers of clothing and a stove in the main compartment. 

It’s entirely a question of personal choice, but make sure you choose a backpack with a volume large enough to accommodate all your hiking paraphernalia, from your hiking gloves and hats to your binoculars and insect repellent. Be aware, however, that just because you have space for extra kit doesn’t mean you should take it – lugging unnecessary gear up and down mountains is a thankless task.

6. Access

This is particularly important in winter. Fumbling with frozen fingers to open a backpack is a huge frustration, so check you’re happy with the access points. Do they open widely enough? Are the drawcord or zips easy to use, even with gloved hands? Does a top opening work for you or would you prefer a full-length zip along the pack to give instant access into the depths of your bag?

When backpacking in winter conditions, a good tip is to pack away things like your best down jacket and waterproofs unzipped, so that when you grab them from your pack, you've got one less thing to fumble with. Little efficiencies like this mean that you spend less time standing still and more time moving — crucial in the harsh winter environment.

7. Dealing with the weather

Your backpack is going to get wet. This is a fact. Very few backpacks are built to be fully waterproof and those that are can be eye-wateringly expensive. If you know you are going to be out a lot in the wetter seasons, it may be worth splashing out.

Even many of the best hiking backpacks are merely water resistant, which means they will cope with the occasional shower but succumb to longer spells of persistent rain. Most come with an elasticated waterproof cover that can be slung over them when the weather takes a turn for the worse. However, these rarely keep things totally dry.

With this in mind, many experienced hikers use dry bags to not only keep their kit dry, but also compartmentalize. This is particularly useful if you are on an expedition, where you can use one dry bag for wet kit, one for dry clothes, one for sleeping essentials and another for valuables.

Best hiking backpack: A pair of hikers in the desert

The best hiking backpacks have loops and attachments for items like ice axes and trekking poles (Image credit: Getty)