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10 Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019

10 Best Backpacking Backpacks

What are the best multi-day backpacking packs for thru-hikers, weekend backpackers, and wilderness explorers? While individual tastes and needs vary, here are the 10 backpacking packs available that we feel strike the best balance between form, fit, function, and price. There’s no such thing as a “best” backpack, but these are the best-of-the-best that we’ve reviewed and recommend. Check out the detailed hyperlinked reviews for each pack listed below and the list of criteria we use to select and rate the backpacks below. Got a question? Leave a comment. We read and respond to all questions and comments promptly on SectionHiker.com.

Make / ModelWeightVolumes (L)Price
Osprey Exos 5842 oz58, 48, 38$220
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 SW32 oz70, 55, 39,$345
Granite Gear Crown2 6036.7 oz60, 38$200
Osprey Atmos AG 6573 oz65, 50$270
Gregory Zulu 5558 oz65, 55, 40, 30$200
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 6028.7 oz60$270
Gregory Baltoro 6577.4 oz95, 85, 75, 65$300
Gregory Optic 4840 oz58, 48$200
ULA Circuit 6841 oz68$255
Zpacks Arc Blast 5521 oz55$325

1. Osprey Exos 58 Backpack

Osprey Exos 58 Backpack
The Osprey Packs Exos 58 is lightweight pack favored by weekend backpackers and thru-hikers alike. Weighing 42 ounces fully configured, it has a rigid frame that makes it good for hauling heavier loads up to 30 pounds. The top lid can also be removed if not needed, dropping the pack weight close to 37 ounces. Ultralight details and back ventilation make the Exos a good backpack for hiking in hot or humid conditions. A women’s model is available called the Osprey Eja 58. Read the SectionHiker Exos 58 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest (55L) is a streamlined and durable backpack good for any kind of outdoor adventure from thru-hiking and climbing to packrafting. Made with super strong but ultralight Dyneema, it’s effectively waterproof with solid external pockets that are virtually impossible tear on desert scrub or sharp rock. Weighing just 32 oz, it has maximum recommended load of 40 pounds. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker.com 3400 Southwest Backpack Review.

Check out the latest price at: 
REIHMG

3. Granite Gear Crown 2 – 60L Backpack

Granite Gear Crown2

The Granite Gear Crown 2 (60L) is an ultralight-style roll-top backpack that’s well-suited for thru-hiking and multi-day backpacking trips. Weighing 34 ounces, it has all of the features you’d expect in an ultralight backpack including a large mesh back pocket and side water bottle pockets. What makes this pack distinct is its adjustable length hip belt so you get a custom fit, the ability to carry a bear can canister under the top lid, or remove it altogether and go lid-less. The Crown 2 60 has a maximum recommended load of 30-35 pounds. A women’s model of the Crown 2 – 60, is also available. Read the SectionHiker Crown2 60 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Moosejaw| Amazon

4. Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpack

Osprey Atmos 65 Backpack
The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is one of the most comfortable backpacks ever made with a ventilated “anti-gravity” suspension system that wraps around your hips and back. Featuring a lightweight, yet rigid frame, this 11-pocket top loader has an adjustable torso and hip belt, ensuring a personalized fit. While the Atmos AG 65 weighs 4 pounds and 9 ounces (73 ounces), that weight can be trimmed down by removing optional components. Osprey also offers a women’s version of this packs: the Osprey Aura AG 65. The maximum recommended load for the Atmos AG 65 is 45-50 pounds. Read the SectionHiker Atmos 50 Review.

Check out the lastest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

5. Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack

Gregory Zulu 55
The Gregory Zulu (55L) is a adjustable frame backpack that’s loaded with features but still fairly light, weighing in at 3 lbs 10 oz. The Zulu is ventilated with a mesh backing that flows seamlessly over the pre-curved hip belt and gently wraps around your waist, rivaling the Osprey’s Atmos AG (above) in terms of comfort. It also has three forms of access: through the top, a front zipper behind the stuff pockets, and a sleeping bag hatch, so you can locate gear without having to unpack your entire backpack. The women’s version of this backpack is the Gregory Jade 53. Read the SectionHiker Gregory Zulu 55 Review.

Check out the lastest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

6. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack

Gossamer Gear Mariposa
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa (60L) is a great pack for backpackers who are lightening their loads because it has plenty of storage. It’s intuitively organized for a multi-day trips, with plenty of external pockets for wet gear, and lots of covered storage for items you need less frequent access too. Weighing 28.7 oz, the Mariposa has a lightweight aluminum frame capable of carrying 35 pounds comfortably, and interchangeable hip belts sizes are available, ensuring a good fit. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker Mariposa 60 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Gossamer Gear

7. Gregory Baltoro 65 Backpack

Baltoro 65
The Gregory Baltoro 65 is a favorite for extended style adventures or international trips that require carrying 50-60 pound loads. While the Baltoro is a top loading pack with a top lid, the main compartment can be accessed from the back side like a panel loader, providing excellent gear access. Another distinguishing feature is the fit of the contoured hip belt and the shoulder straps, which are available in 15 different sizing combinations, including men’s and women’s models. Weighing 5 pounds 6 ounces (86 ounces), the Baltoro 65 is the most fully featured pack in this top 10 list. A women’s version is also available called the Deva 60. Read the SectionHiker Baltoro 65 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
REIMoosejaw | Amazon

8. Gregory Optic 48 Backpack

Gregory Optic 48 Backpack
The Gregory Packs Optic (48L) is an lightweight backpack with a ventilated frame that helps evaporate back sweat and keep your shirt dry when hiking. Weighing 36 to 40 ounces, depending on how you configure it, the Optic is a fully featured backpack with a lightweight wire frame, large hip belt pockets, an optional speed lid, front mesh pocket, and a max recommended load of 30 pounds. A women’s version of this lightweight backpack is also available called the Gregory Octal 45. Read the SectionHiker Optic 58 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | MoosejawAmazon

9. ULA Circuit 68 Backpack

ULA Circuit Purple

The ULA Circuit Backpack (68L) is a popular multi-day backpack with thru-hikers and weekend backpackers. Weighing 41 ounces, this 68 liter backpack has a load carrying capacity of 35 pounds and is available with men’s or women’s-specific shoulder pads and a unisex hip belt. The Circuit has a roll-top favored by long distance hikers, with a large rear mesh pocket, two large side water bottle pockets, and two large hip belt pockets. Lightweight, but bomber tough, this pack can last through a long distance thru-hike and come back for more! Read the SectionHiker Circuit Backpack Review.

Check out the latest price at:
ULA Equipment

10. Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack

Zpacks Arc Blast Backpack
The Zpacks Arc Blast (55L) is an ultralight ventilated backpack with a hybrid external frame that lets you adjust the amount of curve and air flow it provides. Made with Dyneema Composite Fabric, the 21 oz Arc Blast is a roll top with side water bottle pockets and a front mesh pocket for external gear storage. The torso length is adjustable by raising and lowering the shoulder pads, while the hip belt is available in multiple lengths to let you dial in a great fit. The Arc Blast can haul up to 35 lbs. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker Arc Blast Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Zpacks.com

Backpack Selection Criteria

What makes one backpack better than another? What are the most important features to consider when choosing a backpack? How important is pack weight and getting a frame or hip belt that can be adjusted to fit your personal dimensions. What is the difference between a unisex and a gender-specific backpack and why would you pick one over the other? We answer all of these questions below, and many more.

Backpack Volume

A 6o liter backpack is the sweet spot for most thru-hikers, week-end backpackers, and multi-sport adventurers because it gives you plenty of space for food, fuel, and gear. While you can go lower and higher, this is a good place to start looking, since many packs are available in smaller and larger volume models. When evaluating a backpack, it’s important to find out how the manufacturer calculates their pack volume. Some manufacturers only count closed storage while others add in all of the open pockets too. That can lead to an inflated number that you’ll regret when it starts pouring rain.

Backpack Sizing

The two most important backpack sizing variables are your torso length and the circumference of your hips. Torso length is not the same as your height, but measures the distance between the top of your hip bones and the C7 (bulging) vertebrae on your neck. Tall people can have short torsos and short people can halve long torsos, so it pays to measure this correctly. Hip size is not the same as waist size or pant size and should also be measured separately. Measure the circumference of your body over your hip bones, where a hip belt should rest. Do this while wearing the clothes you expect to hike in. A cloth tape measure is the best thing to use for measuring both of these numbers.

Adjustable Length Torsos and Hip Belts

The majority of backpacks have fixed torso lengths and hip belt sizes, which can make getting a good fit difficult because people’s body shapes and proportions vary so much. Some premium packs let you adjust the length of these components so you can get a personalized fit. While they generally weigh a bit more, getting a well fitting backpack is usually worth it.

Gender-Specific Sizing

Men and women ave very different anatomical needs when it comes to fitting a backpack. Men tend to be taller and broader across the shoulders with squarish hips, while women have bosoms and curvier hips. Some backpack manufacturers make shoulder pads and hip belts that are gender specific and address these differences. For example, many backpacks have J-shaped shoulder straps and sternum straps designed for men that crush female breasts. Most women prefer a S-shaped shoulder strap that curves around their chest and is more comfortable. The same goes holds for hip belts.

Ventilated Backpack Frames

Everyone sweats when they carry a loaded backpack. So many people prefer buying packs with ventilated frames that leave an air gap between your back and the pack to help dry your shirt faster. It’s a comfort thing.

Backpack Frames

There are basically three types of backpack frames. The one you choose will be dictated by the amount of weight you need to carry.

  • Rigid perimeter frames that are internal (hidden) or external and can hold the most weight. These are required if you want a backpack that has load lifters.
  • Frame stays, which are metal rods inside a backpack to keep it from collapsing on itself and prevent objects from poking you in the back. They are very lightweight and good for moderate gear loads. They can usually be removed and bent to match your back shape.
  • Thin and flexible plastic frames sheets that are sewn into the back of a pack, but are not removable. They hold the least weight.

Pockets and Organization

Different people have different styles of packing needs. Some prefer lots of pockets for organizing their gear and others don’t. Some people prefer using a hydration bladder and others prefer using water bottles, as long as they’re reachable while wearing the backpack.

External Attachment Features

Gear can be carried inside a back or attached to the outside using webbing straps or elastic cord. If you have to carry bulky or awkwardly shaped gear like a foam pad, a large tent, a packraft, paddle, snowshoes, trekking poles, and ice axe, or  bear canister, it pays to get a backpack that has special straps or places that you can attach gear to.

Durability

If you plan to hike in tough desert or mountainous terrain or off-trail, it’s best to get a backpack that has as little external mesh (pockets) as possible, because these are usually the first things to get ripped up on a backpack. Zippers can also be a point of failure. Some fabrics are also thicker and tougher than others. When comparing fabric durability, those with higher denier counts (100D vs 210D) tend to be most abrasion and puncture resistant.

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8 comments

  1. I am curious as to why you left off the REI Flash 55. I thought in your review you liked it better than both the Osprey Exos and the Gregory Optic. I haven’t tried on an Optic but I do like the Flash 55 better than the Exos.
    Thank you. I really enjoy your web site. It has lots of good info.

    • I think you took that out of context a little. I said it’s better “if prefer a roll top.” But granted the Flash 55 is a good pack. The thing I also like about the Exos and Optic is that they’re both available in a wide range of volumes.

  2. Hi Philip, I’m currently looking for a lightweight backpack for hiking that can occasionally be taken off trail for short sections through mostly thick woods with underbrush. From several comments it seems you prefer packs by ULA and Hyperlite over Gossamer and Granite Gear as far as abrasion/tear resistance is concerned, is that correct? How do the Zpacks (specifically the Arc Haul) compare to these?

    • Gossamer Gear packs are less durable for off-trail use because they’re just made with relatively thin nylon. ULAs packs use a much heavier fabric. The same holds for Hyperlite and Zpacks, which are made with polyester coated cuben fiber. The polyester breaks down after a couple of years of hard use and UV damage, but it will withstand vegetation strikes off trail with ease. A big factor to consider are the external mesh pockets. They tear like butter on many packs, although ULA’s are quite tough. That is why I use a Hyperlite Southwest 2400 and 3400, because they only have solid external pockets, made with dyneema reinforced gridstop.

  3. Thanks a lot for your reply, much appreciated!

  4. I had a good experience with the Exos 58. I used it for a 10 day backpack thru the Maine AT 100 mile wilderness in 2017. Empty it was 4 lbs lighter than one of a different brand I previously owned making it possible for me to significantly lighten my load. I loaded the Exos 58 to its maximum weight of 35 lbs including food for 6 days and 2L of water before the food drop.

  5. Where does the Elemental Horizons Kalais XT fall on your list?

    • It’s an extremely durable, hand-made, high volume backpack but not one that most people would need and those that do, probably know how to find out about it. I like it a lot, but the adjustable torso length is kind of hard to figure out.

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