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10 Best Ventilated Backpacks 0f 2018

10 Best Ventilated Backpacking Packs

Ventilated backpacks, also called suspended-mesh backpacks, keep you cooler and drier when backpacking in hot or humid weather or when you’re carrying a heavy load. First invented by Deuter Packs, they’re one of the most sought-after backpack features by backpackers. While many backpack manufacturers claim that their backpacks are ventilated, it’s important to differentiate between backs with trampoline-style backs that have large air gaps between the mesh and frame to encourage air-flow, and those that have marginally effective “foam air channels.” The performance difference is significant.

Here are our top 10 picks of the best ventilated backpacks of 2018. Many of these backpacks are available in multiple volumes and for men and women, as noted below. These are the best-of-the-best ventilated backpacks that will keep you drier and comfortable on the trail.

1. Osprey Exos 58

The Osprey Exos 58 is an ultralight style backpack that weighs 2 lbs 11 oz. It has a top lid, side water bottle pockets, a front shove-it pocket, and removable sleeping pad straps. The top lid is removable and can be replaced with a speed lid to lighten the pack. The ventilated mesh back panel is quite comfortable with excellent air flow to keep you dry. The men’ s Exos 58 is available in a 48 liter size. The women’s specific version of this backpack is called the Osprey Eja 58 and 48.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

2. Gregory Optic 58

The Gegory Optic 58 is a multi-day, ventilated backpack that weighs between 40-45 oz depending on how you configure it. The Optic is a top loading backpack with a removable top lid. It has a pre-curved hip belt with durable hip belt pockets, a front mesh stuff pocket, and side mesh water bottle pockets. The wire internal frame provides excellent support with a maximum recommended load of 30-35 pounds. The Optic is also available in 48 liter size. The women’s specific version of this pack are the Octal 55 and 45.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

3. REI Flash 65

The REI Flash 65 is a top loading, multi-day pack that provides a side zipper for easy gear access. Weighing 3 lbs 10 oz, it features an adjustable length torso and unique compression system that pulls the pack load up and in, closer to your center of gravity, to improve your balance and stability. A pre-curved hipbelt with foam padding hugs your hips for all-day comfort, while a center zip front pocket provides fast gear access for frequently used items. A lower volume Flash 45 is also available (2 lbs 12 oz) that’s more suitable for lightweight backpacking trips. A women’s specific Flash 60 and 45 are also available.

Check out the latest price at:
REI

4. Osprey Levity 60

Osprey Levity Ventilated Backpack
The Osprey Levity 60 (also available in 45L) is Osprey’s latest ultralight ventilated backpacks weighing in at 1 lb 14 oz. It has very lightly padded hip belt and seamless mesh back for extra comfort on the trail. A top loader, it’s laid out like many of Osprey’s packs with an open front shove-it pocket, two side water bottle pockets, and pockets in the top lid. While the pack does have side compression straps, it’s otherwise very light on features to shave every ounce of gear weight possible. The women’s version of this pack is called the Lumina 60/Lumina 45.

Check out the latest price at:
Campsaver | Amazon

5. Deuter Futura Vario 45+10 SL

Deuter Futura Vario SL 45 Ventilated Backpack
The Deuter Futura Vario 45+10 SL is a multi-day women’s backpack with an adjustable length torso and a floating, padded hip belt pivot to match your movements for greater comfort. This top loader has a front zipper for easy gear access and a sleeping bag pocket for better gear organization. A floating lid, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, and a rain cover complete this ventilated backpack’s feature set. While the weight of 4 lbs 14 oz is a bit on the heavy side, this women’s specific pack provides excellent load transfer to the hips, which is why it’s a user favorite.

Check out the latest price at:
Campsaver | Amazon

6. Zpacks Arc Blast 55

The Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack is an ultralight backpack made with a waterproof fabric called Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly called cuben fiber). It has a curved perimeter wire frame with a mesh panel, only it’s exposed with a user-adjustable curve angle, unlike the other ventilated backpacks listed here where the curve angle is fixed. The Arc Blast is a roll top backpack with a front mesh pocket and side water bottle pockets. Each Blast 55 is made to order and can be customized with numerous features. Weighing just 21 oz, this is a popular ultralight backpack with long distance thru-hikers.

Check out the latest price at:
Zpacks

7. Osprey Atmos AG 65

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is a multi-day backpack with a seamless mesh ventilation system that spreads the load across your back and torso. If you’ve never tried the AG (anti-gravity) system, it really is remarkably comfortable. This pack also features an adjustable length torso and adjustable length hip belt to help you dial in a great fit. The pack has two side water bottle pockets, a front shove-it pocket, a sleeping bag pocket and two hip belt pockets for gear organization. The top lid can be removed and a speed lid used to cover the top of the main compartment instead. Weighing 4 lbs 9 oz, the Atmos AG 65 isn’t ultralight, but it is ultra-comfortable and provides an enormous bang for the buck. The Atmos AG 65 is also available in a 50L volume. The women’s specific versions of the pack are called the Aura 65 and Aura 50.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

8. Osprey Stratos 50

Osprey Stratos 50 Ventilated Backpack
The Osprey Stratos 50 is a mid-volume multi-day backpack that’s loaded with high-end features. In addition to a top lid, it has a side zipper that lets you access gear from the main compartment, while a separate sleeping bag pocket provides additional gear organization. Weighing 3 lbs 8 oz, it has a front shove-it pocket with zippered pockets on its exterior, two pockets in the top lid, and two side bottle pockets. Large hip belt pockets and a seamless suspended mesh panel round out the pack’s feature set. The Stratos is available in multiple volumes including 50, 36, 34, and 24 liter sizes. The women’s specific version of this pack is named the Osprey Sirrus and is available in 50, 36, and 24 liter volumes.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

9. REI Traverse 70

REI Traverse 70 Ventilated Backpack
The REI Traverse 70 Backpack is a highly configurable backpack with an adjustable torso length and interchangeable men’s and women’s hip belts and shoulder straps so you can get a perfect, gender-specific fit. The Traverse features has a unique compression system that pulls the pack load up and in, closer to your center of gravity, in addition to a pivoting hip belt so you maintain better balance over uneven terrain. Two zippered pockets on the front hold gear you need to reach quickly, while a stuff-it pouch holds wet gear. Weighing 4 lbs 14 oz, the Traverse 70 is on a heavier side for mutii-day backpack, but the fit of this pack is hard to beat if you’re hard to fit. A Men’s Traverse Backpack is also available in an 85 and 35 liter size, while the Women’s Traverse is available in a 65 and 35 liter size. 

Check out the latest price at:
REI

10. The North Face Banchee 65

TNF Banchee Ventilated Backpack
The North Face Banchee 65 Backpack is a multi-day backpack capable of carrying heavier loads. It has an aggressively curved backpanel to accommodate its trampoline mesh panel, with an aggressive lumbar pad at the rear of the hip belt. The front of the pack has an open kangaroo pocket with two tube-shaped pockets on its exterior that are good for storing snacks, hats, gloves, or gear that you want easily accessible, but which must remain dry in transport. Large hip belt pockets, side water bottle pockets, and a top lid round out the packs storage system on this 3 lb 10 oz backpack. Both men’s and women’s models are available in a 65, 50, and 35 liter size.

Check out the latest price at:
Moosejaw |Backcountry.com

Backpack Selection Criteria

These are the most important variables to consider when buying a backpack.

SIZING: The two most important dimensions for sizing a backpack are your torso length and your hip belt size. Measuring your torso and matching it to pack sizes is pretty straightforward. Measuring the hip belt size you need is a little more obscure because the hip belt specs published by backpack manufacturers have nothing to do with your waist size or hip bone girth. When trying on hip belts, make sure the padded portion of the hip belt covers the front of your hip bones. If it doesn’t, the hip belt is too short and more of the load will rest on your shoulders and less on your hips. If the pack you’re interested in doesn’t have a hipbelt that’s large enough to cover your hip bones, do yourself a favor and buy a different backpack.

WEIGHT: The weights of backpacks can vary widely depending on their volume and feature set. Higher volume, multi-day back packs over 60 liters generally weigh in at 4-5 pounds, while packs 50 liters and less weigh in at 2-4 pounds. There’s no hard and fast rule that limits acceptable pack weights; just remember that a heavier backpack will be harder and more tiring to carry and let that be your guide.

VOLUME: The backpack volume you need will vary depending on specific gear you need to carry, weather conditions, and number of days you need to hike between resupply points. Generally speaking, daypacks range from 15-35 liters in size; weekend backpacks range from 30 liters to 50 liters, while multi-day backpacks range from 50-70 liters. Expedition sized packs are much higher volume and can range from 70-110 liters in size.

POCKETS: Most backpacks have a combination of open and closed pockets. Open pockets are useful for storing gear you want fast access to without having to open the main compartment of your backpack. They’re also good for stashing wet gear in order to keep if separate from the dry or delicate gear you store in closed pockets.

LOAD LIFTERS: Load lifters are straps attached to a backpack frame, above the shoulder pads, that let you pull the the top of the pack forward if you feel it pulling you backward onto your heels. They’re a standard feature on high volume backpacks but aren’t as important on smaller volume packs intended to carry lower gear weights.

VENTILATION: Ventilated backpacks help keep your back and shirt drier by encouraging air flow behind your back and faster evaporation of perspiration. They’re also called suspended mesh backpacks or trampoline backpacks. Largely a comfort feature, they have a minor impact on hiking speed or performance.

TOP CLOSURE: Backpacks typically have top lids or roll top closures to prevent rain from draining into the main compartment. Both closure systems have different merits. Top lids usually have one or two internal pockets which provide additional gear storage for gloves, hats, maps, and navigation equipment. Roll top closures are simpler and faster to use with fewer straps and provide excellent top compression.

ATTACHMENT POINTS: Backpacks are designed in to carry gear internally and externally, attached to the outside of the backpack. External attachment points or straps are helpful when you need to carry bulky gear that can’t fit inside your pack like foam sleeping pads, avalanche shovels, skis, snowshoes, or tent bodies.

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10 comments

  1. Philip is #2 a Gregory?

  2. Phil,
    What was the criteria is numbering 1-10. Was it based on your experiences since I know test drive everything. Or was it with input from other users of that brand.

    • It’s just a list of 10. If I’ve written a review about the pack, there’s a link to it. But I use or try a lot of gear I never write about too. That might be hard to imagine, but I’m a curious fellow and like to bring the best stuff or (worse stuff to avoid) to the attention of my readers. The reason it’s just a list is because there’s no such thing as a perfect or best backpack for everyone. Different people have different needs and preferences. I put the ones that I know this audience cares about (lighter weight packs up near the top) but these are all good backpacks.

  3. I store my tents poles in the water bladder pouch so some of these packs with arched backs don’t work well for me.

    • Of course someday ill probably retire my cedar hiking stick and get some hiking poles and perhaps a n UL tent that uses them.

  4. “No perfect backpack for everyone” +1,000,000.

    One comment about ventilated “trampoline” packs with curved pack compartments – odd-sized or long rigid items can be harder to store inside. I searched for a panel-opening 30-40L pack with the ability to fit a large camera equipment padded insert (11 x 15 x 7″), to be used as a primary DSLR camera backpack that could accommodate long telephoto lens, multiple lenses, ancillary stuff like flashes. Only one out of several similar trampoline-ventilated packs (small or extra-small) was suitable (Gregory Jade 38). It is also a nice general use pack. Lovely in the god-awful Missouri summers.

  5. The problem with these, especially for women is that it shifts the center of gravity away from your body – I’d love to see some sort of scientific study about the real and perceived benefits from wearers. compare the feel of the load in these to a different pack that sits closer in –

    • Just a quick question. How does one do a scientific study on how a pack feels? If it sits on a body, and one does not notice it is even there, then that is all that matters. What is nice about the Zpack is the arc can be adjusted to the user. But as stated below, it is best to put the arc into it, then pack it up.

  6. Just a note for the zpak users; if you arch the pack “before loading” it realky helps with the cord slippage. Since doing this I no longer have issue with the cords loosening. Love my arczip frontloader!!!!

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