10 Best Ventilated Backpacks

10 Best Ventilated Backpacks

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.

Make / ModelWeightPriceWomen's Specific Model
Osprey Exos 582 lbs 11 oz$220Osprey Eja 58
Gregory Optic 582 lbs 13 oz$210Gregory Octal 55
Osprey Atmos AG 654 lbs 9 oz$270Osprey Aura AG 65
Gregory Katmai 654 lbs 12 oz$280Gregory Kalmia 60
Osprey Levity 601 lbs 15 oz$270Osprey Lumina 60
Deuter Futura Air Trek 60+104 lbs 12 oz$260Deuter Futura Air Trek 55+10 SL
Zpacks Arc Blast 551 lb 5 oz$349Unisex only
Gregory Zulu 553 lbs 9 oz$200Gregory Jade 53
Osprey Stratos 503 lbs 11 oz$190Osprey Sirrus 50
The North Face Banchee 653 lbs 3 oz$250The North Face Banchee 65

Here are 10 best ventilated backpacks of 2021. 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 Backpack

Osprey Exos 58 Ventilated Backpack

 

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 also available in a 48 liter size. The women’s specific version of this backpack is called the Osprey Eja 58. Read our Exos 58 Review.

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

2. Gregory Optic 58 Backpack

Gregory Optic 58 Ventilated Backpack

 

The Gregory 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 is the Octal 55. Read our Gregory Optic 58 Review and our Gregory Octal 55 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
BackcountryAmazon

3. Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpack

Osprey Atmos AG Ventilated Backpack

 

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 version of this pack is called the Aura 65.  Read our Atmos AG review.

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

4. Gregory Katmai 65

Gregory Katmai 65
The Gregory Katmai 65 is a ventilated internal frame backpack with an adjustable length torso and adjustable length hipbelt so you can dial in a personalized fit. Available in 65 and 50-liter sizes, the pack’s suspension and ventilated mesh back panel are designed to dynamically move with you to help you keep your balance. The pack’s shoulder harness and ventilated back panel are also pretreated with Polygiene, an odor control fabric treatment that inhibits the growth of bacteria, so your pack won’t stink even if you do.  The Katmai is a top loader with a sleeping bag compartment and a side zipper for easy access. An optional day pack is also included perfect for summit attempts or for travel. The women’s version is called the Kalmia 60 or 50.

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

5. Osprey Levity 60 Backpack

Osprey Levity Ventilated Backpack

The Osprey Levity 60 (also available in 45L) is Osprey’s latest ultralight ventilated backpack weighing in at 1 lb 14 oz. It has a 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. Read our Osprey Levity 60 Review.

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

6. Deuter Futura Air Trek 60+10 Backpack

Deuter Futura Air Trek 60+10

The Deuter Futura Air Trek 60 + 10 is a multi-day 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 12 oz is a bit on the heavy side, this pack provides excellent load transfer to the hips, which is why it’s a user favorite. The women’s version is called the Deuter Futura Air Trek 55 + 10 SL. 

Check out the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

7. Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack

ZPacks Arc Blast Ventilated Backpack

The Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack is an ultralight backpack made with a waterproof fabric called Dyneema Composite Fabric. It has a curved perimeter 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. Read our Zpacks Arc Blast Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Zpacks

8. Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack

Gregory Zulu 55

The Gregory Zulu 55 is a ventilated and adjustable length backpack designed for multi-day backpacking trips. It has a comfy mesh ventilation system that spreads the load across your back and torso and is similar to Osprey’s AG (Anti-Gravity) ventilation system. The Zulu has two side water bottle pockets, a front shove-it pocket, a sleeping bag pocket, rain cover, and two hip belt pockets for gear organization. A front U-shaped zipper also provides zipper style access to the main compartment. Weighing 3 lbs 10 oz, the Zulu 55 is remarkably lightweight for such a fully-featured backpack. A 65 liter and 40-liter version is also available. The women’s specific version of this pack is the Gregory Jade 53. Read our Zulu 55 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | Amazon

9. 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 50 and is also available in 36, and 24 liter volumes.

Check out the latest price at:
Osprey

10. The North Face Banchee 65

TNF Banchee 65 Vent

The North Face Banchee 65 has a full-trampoline back panel for breathability and comfort. It has an adjustable torso length that can be modified while you’re wearing the pack to help you get an exact fit. The pack has 8 pockets, including a floating lid, a front beaver tail pocket for drying gear, and stretch side pockets that provide on-the-fly water bottle access. Weighing 3 pounds 3 oz, the Banchee is quite lightweight for its volume. A women’s specific version is also available with the same name and capacity.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | The North Face

Backpack Selection Criteria

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

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 hip belt that’s large enough to cover your hip bones, do yourself a favor and buy a different backpack.

Backpack Weight

The weights of backpacks can vary widely depending on their volume and feature set. Higher volume, multi-day backpacks 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.

Backpack Volume

The backpack volume you need will vary depending on the specific gear you need to carry, weather conditions, and the 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.

Backpack 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 it 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 top of the pack forward if you feel it pulling you back 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.

Ventilated Backpacks

Ventilated backpacks help keep your back and shirt drier by encouraging airflow 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 Closures

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 that 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.

External Attachment Points

Backpacks are designed 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 backpack like foam sleeping pads, avalanche shovels, skis, snowshoes, or tent bodies.

Check Out All of SectionHiker's Gear Guides!

Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on SectionHiker.com, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!

Most Popular Searches

  • ventilated backpack
  • Large Version Ventilated
  • back pack with air flow

19 comments

  1. I’d call the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor pack a “ventilated pack”, but it does it a different way than these packs. It has stiff foam pads on the shoulder blades and lumbar region, but it doesn’t touch your back at all elsewhere. When there’s a breeze, I can feel it running along my back, which you don’t get with packs that just have small foam channels.

    I’d be interested to hear from someone who has a lot of experience with the Flex Capacitor and one of the trampoline-style packs. I feel like the lack of mesh parkin pressing against your back on the Flex Capacitor is nice, but it does have the three points of contact where there isn’t airflow.

    • You did hear from someone with extensive experience of both packs and pack styles. :-) Me.

      • I’ve read your review of the Flex Capacitor, but it just mentioned the ventilation in passing. I was curious how its ventilation stacks up against these trampoline-style packs. Is its ventilation just a smidge better than “normal” backpacks, or is it nearly as good as trampoline-style backpacks, or something in between?

      • The airflow behind the flex capacitor is better than most packs without a mesh back. Yes definitely. But there are ventilated backpacks where the hip belt is also ventilated. That’s the case with the Gregory Katmai that I have right next to me and is characteristic of many of the anti-gravity ventilated packs out there, Osprey’s being a case in point. They really do help dry your sweat faster than a regular hip belt, like the one on the FC. You don’t sweat less, but you chafe less, if you follow my drift. So to answer you – it’s “in between”. But whether you like ventilated backpacks or not is really down to preference. I care a lot more about the fit, features, and durability of the pack bag than ventilation. But that’s just me.

    • Philip doesn’t just make this stuff up. He reviews these packs the old fashioned way by using them. Check out his Flex Capacitor review. He was one of Skurka’s guides you know.

  2. Thanks Phil, for what you do and sharing it with us.

  3. It seems to me that “ventilated” is just another name for the external frame packs we all grew up with – and there’s nothing wrong with that; the old e-frames were ventilated, too, and carried well. I’ve used the Exos and, for the last couple of years, the Levity and have no complaints. But when I study the pack, I see the same basic structure as my old Camp Trails Adjustable II: a metal perimeter frame with a drum-tight mesh backband. Granted, the frame is no longer made from electrical conduit, with big welds holding the pieces together. Now, the grommets and clevis pins have been replace by wrapping some pack cloth around the arrow-shaft aluminum frames (which mostly hide the frame – to make them look like “internal” frames? But, to me, the high-tech ventilated packs are just an updated version of the old e-frames. Comments?

    • Absolutely although the correlation is harder to see these days. When I first reviewed an exos – 2 or 3 pack generations ago, that was the first thing I thought. Although modern ventilated packs do tend to have a deeper cavity, whereas external frame packs are still shaped by backboards.

  4. I was surprised that the Zpacks Arc Haul didn’t make the list (OK… I’m partial, I’ve been carrying one for 3 years). I have since converted my Arc Haul to use the new fixed arc carbon stays that Zpacks use in the new Arc Air line of packs. I would enjoy reading your review of the newly introduced Zpacks Arc Air 50 and 60 liter packs.

    • Evan Eisentrager

      Dana, what size of the Arc Air stays did you use on your Arc Haul? I tried that too with the medium size stays on my Arc Haul pack, and I think they are a little too short. They keep coming out of the holder pockets. I think the tall size Arc Air stays might be too long, but I don’t know.

      • Evan, I have a short frame Arc Haul. I initially ordered short stays and they were indeed too short. This was before the Arc 60L was introduced. Zpacks replaced the short stays with mediums which I had to trim 1 inch to fit my pack. I also used needle nose pliers inserted into the in the middle stay sleeves to stretch the sleeves ever so slightly to get the new square cross section stays thru. The pack works great with the new fixed arc stays and I have had it on several outing since the mod. While not “officially” supported by Zpacks, they worked with me to make the mod happen. This is my third season with the Arc Haul and it gets used regularly and I am quite happy with it. Even more so now with the fixed arc. I came to the Arc Haul from and Atmos 65 AG (which is quite a nice pack as well) for the substantial pack weight reduction what still retaining an arc design.

      • Evan Eisentrager

        Dana, thanks for this info. I will try to exchange my medium Arc Air stays for the longer Arc Air 60L stays. How hard is to trim these things? It also looks like the stays are slightly pointed up at the ends, which I wonder how hard it would be to duplicate that. I like the way the pack carries better without the mesh, and the new stays feel stronger. I had no trouble getting the new stays through the little loop at the midway point.

      • Evan, I used a dremel rotary tool with an abrasive cut off disk to cut the carbon stays to size (measure twice and cut once). I also used the cut off disk to round the edges of the cut end of the stays. Finally, I coated the cut and rounded ends with a coat of superglue to keep them from delaminating. Make sure you don’t breath the carbon fiber dust when you are cutting.

  5. My osprey EXOS 58 is, aside from being well ventilated, is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever owned and I have owned a Dana Designs Terraplane. (But at 7 lbs. 7oz. it later seemed too heavy even for a winter pack.)

    With my EXOS 58 I ended up cutting off the “pole carriers” and the “speed lid” since I always use the top compartment lid. But… I added Mountain Laurel Designs hybrid Dyneema side pockets

    The Levity 60 seems to be a minimalist EXOS 58. It might be worth it for a thru hike.

  6. Interesting that Osprey reigned over this comparison, but the current Backpacker magazine doesn’t mention a single Osprey model in their latest pack comparison. But REI and Kelty made the grade. I guess Osprey did not reach the proper advertising threshold to get mentioned.
    As always, great article. Planning on buying Exos 58 to replace my AT-worn Atmos. It served me well!

    • Backpacker Magazine….don’t get me started. They’ll take anybody’s money to rank their products.

      There is a reason osprey is the number #1 most popular backpack company in the US and it’s mostly because they sell ventilated packs. Deuter may have invented it, but Osprey owns it.

      • I agree with your assessment of Backpacker Magazine. Just got my last issue on my subscription and have chosen not to renew the subscription for the reason you mentioned. Looked at the Exos models but was puzzled by Ospreys decision to ditch the hip belt pockets. Guess folks are using fanny packs instead. Still have my Atmos AG 65 and agree with your comment about Osprey woning the ventilated design.

      • I think they just got tired of people complaining that the pockets were too small and far back on the hip belt to be of any use.

  7. I have and still use 2015 ArcHaul. I had Zacks upgrade my pack a couple of years ago for $50. They did quite a bit of work on the upgrade. All problems fixed. I am on AT with pack now. Still like the way it rides and the cool breeze on my back

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *