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 10 best ventilated backpacks of 2020. 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
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.
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.
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.
The REI Flash 55 is a roll-top ultralight style backpack with an optional top lid. It has a ventilated back panel that flows continuously into a pre-curved hip belt providing a seamless that fits close to your core muscles for maximum carrying efficiency. This pack has a pair of additional water bottle sleeves located behind the hip belt that make it easy to reach and replace water bottles, in addition to the two side pockets and the mesh front pocket commonly found on ultralight backpacks. Weighing 2 lbs 10 oz, the pack has removable pockets and straps that let you reduce it to 2 lbs 3 oz in weight. A women’s version of the Flash 55 is also available. Read the Flash 55 Review
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.
The Deuter Futura Vario 50+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 9 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 Futura Vario 45+10 SL. Read our Deuter Futura Vario 50+10 Review.
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.
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 as 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.
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.
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 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 a mutli-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 REI Women’s Traverse 65 is also available in a 35-liter size. Read our Traverse 70 Review.
These are the most important variables to consider when buying a backpack.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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