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