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10 Best Backpacking Packs of 2018

10 Best Backpacking Packs of 2018

What are the best multi-day backpacking packs for thru-hikers, wilderness explorers, and weekend backpackers? 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 backpacks below. Got a question? Leave a comment. We read and respond to all questions and comments on SectionHiker.com.

  1. Granite Gear Crown2 60 Backpack
  2. The Gregory Optic 58 Backpack
  3. Osprey Exos 58 Backpack
  4. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack
  5. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 Backpack
  6. ULA Circuit Backpack
  7. Zpacks Arc Blast Backpack
  8. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor Backpack
  9. Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpack
  10. Gregory Baltoro 65 Backpack

1. Granite Gear Crown 2 – 60L Backpack

Crown2 60L -Mens

The Granite Gear Crown 2 60 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:
REI | Campsaver | Amazon

2. Gregory Optic 58 Backpack

Gregory Optic 58 Backpack
The Gregory Packs Optic 58 is an ultralight backpack with a ventilated frame that helps evaporate back sweat and keep your shirt dry when hiking. Weighing 40 to 45 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 35 pounds. A women’s version of this lightweight backpack is also available called the Gregory Octal 55. Read the SectionHiker Optic 58 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw.comAmazon

3. Osprey Exos 58 Backpack

Osprey Exos 58 Backpack
The Osprey Packs Exos 58 is lightweight minimalist pack favored by weekend backpackers and thru-hikers alike. Weighing 43 ounces fully configured, it has a rigid frame that makes it good for hauling heavier loads up to 35 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 new women’s model is available called the Osprey Eja 58. Read the SectionHiker Exos 58 Review.

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

4. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack

Gossamer Gear Mariposa
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 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. The Mariposa has a lightweight aluminum frame stay capable of carrying 35 pounds comfortably, and interchangeable hip belts sizes are available, ensuring a good fit. While not as durable as other packs, it is very lightweight, weighing just 32.7 ounces. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker Mariposa 60 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Gossamer Gear

5. 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: 
HMG | Campsaver | Backcountry.com 

6. ULA Circuit Backpack

ULA Circuit Purple

The ULA Circuit Backpack 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

7. Zpacks Arc Blast 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:

8. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor Backpack

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor Backpack
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor (60L) is a rugged backpack designed for wilderness backpacking, where your gear can’t fail. Weighing 41 oz, it has a lightweight, but rigid frame that lets you load up the pack to 40 lbs when you need to go heavy. The pack has a unique flip-top lid that makes gear access easy, with a burly compression system to shrink the pack’s volume to 40L for shorter trips. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker Flex Capacitor Review.

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

9. 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 | Campsaver | Moosejaw | Amazon

10. Gregory Baltoro 65 Backpack

Baltoro 65
The Gregory Baltoro 65 is a favorite for extended style adventures or international trips that require carrying heavy 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

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.


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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  1. Do you have any experience with the Exped Packs? I have used the Thunder 70 and an Osprey Exped 48. Both are great, but the Exped is much more flexible and adjustable.

    • I’ve reviewed the Exped Thunder 70, Lightning 60, and Traverse 45. The Thunder is “ok” but not a huge wow. It’s a panel loader and more of a niche product.

      • William M Abene Jr

        Phil when you reviewed the Exped Lightning 60 you liked the amazing load carrying and weight transfer ability. The compression system allowing lots of gear attachment especially great for the winter. All true. Light weight. What you didn’t was the lack of outside storage besides the side pockets and generous hip belt pockets. Well I added the Exped Flash Pocket and now I’m no longer remotely interested in any other packs.

  2. ULA Catalyst is a great pack !

  3. Phil,

    Why the revision of the packs?

    • Pack manufacturers release new models every spring and there were a lot of feature changes to update on the previous list, including the introduction of women’s models. I also added the new Gregory optic because its such a great backpack.

  4. Been looking at the superior wilderness designs long haul. Thought I might see it on your list.

  5. Have you tried out the REI Co-op Trail 70 or Traverse 70? The Trail 70 looks to be well featured at a lower price point than most of the ones that made your list. Thanks!

    • Both of those packs are close to or over 5 lbs in weight. Very heavy and really fall short of the value in the Atmos or the Baltoro. If I was going to carry a 5 lb pack, the Baltoro really can’t be beat. It’s a comfortable and very well appointed ride.

  6. I got the GG Crown 2 for $150 on Amazon and was fulfilled by Camp Saver a couple months back. Such a good deal

  7. Philip, I’m trying to decide between the Granite Gear Crown2 and the ULA Circuit. It would be used for weekend, long-weekend, and occasional week-long trips in the Smokies and wider Blue Ridge, with perhaps a Philmont trip at some point in the future. I’ve read your reviews for both. Can you help me tip the scales in favor of one over the other? Thanks for your help.

    • The circuit is better for heavier loads because it has an internal metal stay, but the crown 2 is pretty awesome because it has an adjustable length hip belt.
      Other than that the two packs are quite similar. If you can get buy with a smaller volume load, I’d encourage you to try the Granite Gear Crown 2 38L. I’ve been using that a lot this spring and really like it.

      • Thanks, Philip. Because of the price differential (especially with the current sales), I’m leaning toward the Crown2. I looked at the Crown2 38L, but photos alone make it hard to tell where on the pack the volume is reduced. Is the main compartment shorter? Thanks again.

      • Just size of the pack bag.

  8. Great writing.

    Love the Osprey Exos and Atmos ventilated packs (both great load carriers within their limits) though hip and shoulder-strap pockets were omitted on the latest Exos models. My shirt got damp but never dripping wet with the Osprey packs.
    The ULA Circuit was a great pack, but just too hot–wet shirt and shorts. Also, Ray Jardine’s pack was simple, great and fast, but also hot and for lighter loads than I started with–wet shirt and shorts also. Still use Ray’s pack for airline travel carry-on.

    Next pack acquisition if ever, zpacks arc blast.

  9. Not sure of the criteria considered in this review, but in my experience the packs rated as #5 thru #7 are clearly superior than the first four. Subscriber beware.

  10. Why no Divide 4500? – Based on Phillip’s review I purchased one and it’s awesome. I sustained a cervical injury a few years ago and this is the only pack I’ve tried that doesn’t make it worse.

    • It’s kind of an niche purchase. There aren’t many people who need to carry a 90L backpack or an eternal frame. I grant you that it’s an excellent pack, but it’s really kind of a specialty item.

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