The best hiking backpack is the one you don’t even realise is there, even when it’s fully loaded. That’s a big ask, especially if you’re carrying everything you’re going to need on a multi-day backpacking trip, but with modern frame technologies and hip- and sternum-belt systems that transfer weight, hauling up to 40lb/18kg of gear should not be painful drudgery.
So, just as when choosing from the best hiking boots, comfort is crucial when you're looking to purchase a new backpack – no matter how good the rest of the design is, if a pack rubs when you’re on the trail, it will make the experience miserable. To add to this, we all have different body shapes, so the best hiking backpack for you might be different to the best option for someone else. For example, the best women's hiking backpacks will have shoulder straps and a hip belt contoured for a women’s body.
You should always consider practicality too. The best hiking backpack should have features to help you pack and organise your gear however you want it. All designers start with a main compartment. From there, each backpacker’s preferences take over. You might prefer a clean, streamlined shape without any bells and whistles, as long as essentials like your best waterproof jacket are readily accessible. That might work for you, but others ask for multiple pockets and attachment points so they can organize their gear just the way they want.
We’ve concentrated on the best hiking backpacks offered by tried-and-trusted brands here, included because they offer durability, comfort and practicality – the Granite Gear Crown2 38 offers excellent performance and features for its svelte weight, while the Salomon Out Week is great for fastpacking. The Osprey Stratos 50 is a classic pack that has been modernised, while the Jack Wolfskin Kingston boasts some top-tier safety innovations.
The best hiking backpacks you can buy today
Granite Gear Crown2 38
Lightweight, load-carrying beast of burden
RRP: $185 (US) / £200 (UK) | Weight: 950g/2.1lb | Volume: 38L / 2320 cu in | Torso Size: 18–21in/46–54cm | Carry weight: 35lb/16kg | Colors: Barro and black/Flint and midnight blue
Backpackers who count every ounce can start with the Crown2 38. One of the lightest multiday hiking backpacks on the market, the Crown2 doesn’t cut features just to save weight. The compression-molded foam back panel, dual density shoulder harness and fully adjustable hip belt deliver all-day trail comfort. You can access your gear through the roll top main compartment, stretch mesh front pocket and the removable lid.
The pack is hydration compatible and side pockets add more room for water bottles. Side and front compression straps keep the load condensed and tight. Once in camp, a removable lid with a DWR treated zipper, gives you a smaller bag for a short hike to the top of a nearby peak or explore what’s over the next hill.
Osprey Stratos 50
An updated classic adds more ways to enjoy backpacking
RRP: $190 (US) / £160 (UK) | Weight: 1.7kg/3lb 12oz | Volume: 50L/3051 cu in | Torso Size: Small–Medium / Medium–Large | Carry weight: 20-40lb/9–18kg | Colors: Sungrazer orange / Black
You might be the exact same height as you backpacking buddy, but that doesn’t mean a pack will fit you in the same way it fits them. People are proportioned differently, and our body lengths will vary. Not only that, even when you have found a pack that fits your body perfectly, the way it sits and feels will change a bit according to what you’re carrying.
Happily, Osprey's Airspeed Suspension helps each backpacker to dial-in the fit of the harness, based on torso length, weight carried and personal preferences. The tensioned mesh back panel and ventilated frame system is easy to customize. When the weather turns, an integrated rain cover protects the pack and a large front panel mesh storage pocket provides quick access to a technical rain shell. Already a logo with many loyal users, this pack’s seamless hipbelt interface, dual sided compression straps, and removable top lid will attract new faithful to the Osprey brand.
Gregory Baltoro 65
This richly featured rucksack is ideal for weekend getaways and even longer hikes with careful packing
RRP: $299.95 (US)/£270 (UK) | Volume: 65 litres | Sizes: S, M, L | Weight: 2.2kg/4lb 13oz | Colors : Onyx black/Ferrous orange/Dusk blue
It would take a very long list and a long time to itemise all the smart, useful features of this spacious backpack from US manufacturer Gregory. The Baltoro and Deva come in three back sizes for weight-saving comfort, although it’s the harness combination of shoulder straps and hip belt that steal the show. Both pivot independently, helping to keep the pack stable however bumpy the terrain – it’s hard to describe but very noticeable on the trail.
Add into the mix really handy, good size waterproof pockets on the hip belt; a main compartment accessible via both the top and a U-zip that runs around the front of the pack for easy access to the heart of the pack, plus a lid with three separate pockets, and the storage solutions are brilliant. The hydration sleeve for a bladder even converts into a minimalist daypack in case you want to dump the Baltoro in the tent and nip out for an evening stroll.
Berghaus Trailhead 65
A great value, entry-level rucksack for backpacking expeditions
RRP: £110 (UK)/€180 (Europe) | Volume: 65 litres | Sizes: One size | Weight: 1.7kg/3lb 12oz | Colors : Deep water/Black
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.
Salomon Out Week 38 + 6
A close-fitting backpack for high-energy outdoor activities
RRP: $180 (US)/£125 (UK) | Volume: 44 litres | Sizes: S/M, M/L | Weight : 0.85kg/1lb 14oz | Colors: Ebony/Citronelle/Mediterranea
Deploying lessons learned from its trail running expertise, Salomon has created a hiking backpack that clings limpet-like to your body. This is evident in the shoulder straps, which anchor both to the underarm area of the pack and the hip-belt zone – most packs simply join shoulder to hip belt. The vented straps are wide and thin to spread the load while maximizing breathability. A mesh pocket on the right shoulder strap can hold a 500ml bottle, while the left shoulder has a zipped pocket, as does the hip belt.
The +6 refers to the removable 6-litre lid; adventure racers might want to take it off to save weight and access gear more quickly. This would still leave a zipped stretch front pocket, two stretch side pockets and the main compartment for stowing kit, although extra loops provide an additional way to attach kit, such as poles, ice axes or even a red light.
Jack Wolfskin Denali 65
A big-load backpacking bag with plenty of storage and a plethora of pockets, which makes it easy to arrange and access your gear
RRP: $330 (US)/£200 (UK) | Volume: 65 litres + 8 litres | Weight: 2kg/720g | Sizes: S–XXL | Colors: Phantom
Developed with mountain guides at the Alpine School Innsbruck, the Jack Wolfskin Denali 65 is a behemoth pack for when you’re out for the long haul. It supports heavy weights and keeps gear organized as comfortably and logically as possible during long-distance hikes and thru treks, when you’re carting big loads.
The ‘X-Transition’ back system features an aluminum honeycomb frame, softened with beefy padding, including thickly padded shoulder straps and a hip belt, plus lower back padding positioned to keep the pack away from your back. A wrapping Velcro strap lets you adjust the torso length by simply moving the shoulder straps up and down.
Access to the main compartment is excellent. The pack unzips like a duffel bag with a U-shaped zipper that lets you peel back the entire front panel. You can also get to gear stored in the main chamber from the top, and via the zippered sleeping bag compartment. The front panel is a deep zippered storage pocket with organizing sleeves inside.
The lid has a triple pocket, and there are two spacious hip-belt pockets. One side pocket on the main pack unzips into a sleeve big enough to hold a liter-sized water bottle, and tubular pockets on each side of the main compartment hold a hydration reservoir, and yet more gear.
Once the pack is half empty (when you have consumed most of your supplies), compression straps on the side, base and under the front flap tighten down to reducing pack volume and keep the weight close to your back.
A removable rain cover that stores in the lid protects the pack against the elements, and in the unlikely event that you can’t fit everything inside, lash points and bungies let you expand the pack’s carry capacity even further, and enable you to strap on tools such as trekking poles.
Although it’s heavy, this is a dynamic pack, which you can customize. The hip belt, which adjusts with a standard sliding buckle, is completely removable. For side trips, the lid clips off completely too, and using the included webbing shoulder straps, you can wear it as a little summit pack.
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 | Sizes: M, L | Weight: 1.53kg/3lb 6oz | Colors : Azure/black
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.
A lavishly featured rucksack for long days of hiking
RRP: $165 (US)/£130 (UK)/€170 (Europe) | Volume: 36 litres | Sizes: One size | Weight: 1.49kg/3lb 7oz | Colors : Midnight-lava/Graphite-black
Name a desirable feature on a hiking backpack 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.
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 | Sizes: One size | Weight : 1.475kg/3lb 7oz | Colors: Baltic sea/Cedar wood/Black
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.
Jack Wolfskin Kingston 30 Pack Recco
An eco-friendly rucksack with the excellent RECCO safety feature
RRP: $112 (US)/£85 (UK) | Volume : 30 litres | Sizes: One size | Weight: 0.93kg/2lb 1oz | Colors : Lava red/Black
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.
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.
Some backpacks are designed for epic thru-hiking adventures, where you'll be carrying all your camping gear from place to place. Designers are now creating packs specifically for the pursuit of bikepacking — an activity that is rapidly growing in popularity. Meanwhile, those who are fastpacking will want something smaller and lighter.
So, the first thing you need to do is consider the kind of hiking you intend to do. Let's think about size first. If you're looking to tackle one of America's best thru-hikes and you're camping along the way, you'll need a backpack with a capacity of over 50 litres. However, if you're trekking between mountain huts in the Alps, you might prefer a smaller pack around the 40-litre mark.
If you're just heading out on day trips, one of the best daypacks might suit your needs better than a larger pack. Intending to run the trails? Then you are going to need to choose a running backpack. There is a massive range of hydration packs out there that contain features to give you quick access to your water and sugar supplies.
While most of the best backpacks come with a waterproof cover that you can whip out when the heavens open, dry bags are also an essential item for making sure valuables don't get thoroughly soaked.
Before investing in the best backpack for you, consider the following...
1. Back system
How a backsack sits 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.
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. This particularly true for adventure runners, who want to be able to grab energy gels and hydration pouches on the go.
3. 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, keys or credit card can prove to be very handy. Some hip belts on larger backpacking rucksacks are designed to swivel with your body movement as you walk, boosting your balance.
4. Pockets and storage
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 best 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.)
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.
The shoulder straps and hip belt should be adjustable to fine-tune the fit and keep the load stable, but bigger packs also come in different sizes for short, medium and tall people. Their carrying capacity is the same, but the length of the back systems is different to create a more personalised fit.
7. Extra features
Additional features typically add weight and cost to a hiking backpack, but can prove to be hugely useful. A rain cover is vital in UK hills and mountains, for example, while a pocket for a hydration reservoir and hole for a hose makes drinking on the fly much easier. Other features include compression straps to maintain a neater profile and keep kit closer to your spine, plus clips and straps for helmets, walking poles and ice axes.
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