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Updated Aug 8, 2022 4:15 PM

A backpacking backpack is different from an everyday pack in that it’s designed to hold everything you need to survive while you’re out in the field. But if you start researching the top backpacking packs, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed with options. That’s where we can help. 

The gearheads at Task & Purpose are outdoors-loving maniacs, and have spent lots of time hiking, backpacking, rucking, and camping across the states and around the globe (sometimes at the order of Uncle Sam, of course). Our experts found the best waterproof backpacks for you, as well as provided a complete breakdown of the best tactical backpacks. Now, we’ll help identify the best backpacking backpacks to fit the needs of your specific outdoor adventure.

Best Overall

The main body of the Atmos AG 65 backpack is made of 210D honeycomb recycled nylon, so it is durable, tear-resistant, and eco-friendly. The Atmos boasts Osprey’s AntiGravity suspension system (that’s what the “AG” stands for), which optimizes weight distribution in a way that maximizes comfort even with heavier loads. It comes in two sizes (S/M and L/XL), so you’ll want to follow Osprey’s measurement guidance provided on their web page, or (better yet) get properly measured at an outdoors store.

Almost everything about the Atmos is designed to provide comfort and easy-to-use organization, which is great when you need to dig through a lot of gear in your pack. Hip belt pockets and side water bottle sleeves make it easy to get snacks and water (of course it also comes with a hydration port for use with a water reservoir). Also useful is the “stow-on-the-go” trekking pole loop, which lets you hang your poles easily from one front strap if you need your hands free. An integrated rain cover tucked into its own compartment on the back is another nice feature. When you need it, simply pull it out and drape it over the pack, then replace it when the rain stops.

Most of the material used in the Atmos is bluesign-approved recycled material, which means the nylon and waterproofing used are from sustaining and environmentally-friendly sources. This commitment to sustainability, combined with the overall quality of the Atmos AG 65, made it the clear winner of the overall best category.

Having said this, however, even this quality pack has a couple of quirks that pop up regularly enough that it seems prudent to call them out. One complaint is that the hip belt pocket zippers are easily opened with one hand, but difficult to close that way. I can attest to this, as well. Another issue some have reported is that the internal metal frame can squeak. Of those that have identified this, most seem to think it’s not a huge deal, but it’s noticeable. Neither of these are critical problems, but something to be aware of.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4.8 pounds (L/XL)
  • Product dimensions: 34.65 x 15.35 x 14.17 inches
  • Volume: 68L (L/XL) 65L (S/M)
  • Materials: recycled 210D nylon, PFC/PFAS-free DWR
PROS

Connected integrated rain cover

Side access ports, hip belt pockets, water bottle sleeves, and hydration ports put everything you need at your fingertips without pulling everything out

Adjustable frame

Lifetime guarantee: Osprey will “repair any damage or defect…free of charge”

CONS

Hip pocket zippers are difficult to close with one hand

Some report “squeaky” frame

REI’s Trailbreak 60 is a solidly designed backpack which offers all the essential features one expects from a modern pack, but at an affordable price. And while it’s true that the Trailbreak doesn’t offer too many frills, it’s not exactly stingy on the features it does possess.

The internal frame allows for adjustable torso length, so it can be easily fitted for more than one person. The top-loading main compartment is made of ripstop nylon, and the bottom has a sleeping bag compartment. The hip belt and upper adjustment straps help to lock in a good fit too, while the side water bottle sleeves and hip belt pockets allow for access to tools and water. Some buyers have stated that more pockets would be ideal, but for a starter/value backpack, the Trailbreak 60 still has plenty to offer.

At $149, the Trailbreak 60 is a fantastic backpack for beginners or really frugal backpackers. One of the biggest potential drawbacks is that REI notes that ideal loads are no more than 25 to 35 pounds which, while plenty of weight for most people, may not be sufficient for more heavy-duty trips or long-distance hikes. (I can hear the ultralight backpackers howl in laughter).

Product Specs
  • Weight: 3 pounds 13 ounces
  • Product dimensions: 30 x 13 x 13 inches
  • Volume: 60L
  • Materials: ripstop nylon
PROS

Adjustable torso length

Ideal features and design for beginners or frugal backpackers

CONS

Recommend no more than 35 pounds for comfort

Not as many pockets as you’d like

Best Eco-Friendly

Standing on its own merits, the Vaude Astrum Evo appears to be a solid backpacking pack. It has a generous 85L total volume capacity, which is supported by a proprietary suspension system and aluminum internal frame. The main compartment can be accessed by a zipper that opens the pack like a suitcase, so if you need to get to something deep inside, you don’t have to root around a side pocket or pull everything out. Add to that plenty of pockets, an area for a water reservoir, and easy-access storage in the front for maps or rain gear, and this is a well-designed backpack.

But the thing that truly distinguishes this Astrum Evo, and all Vaude products, is the attention it gives to sustainable materials and eco-friendly processes. Fifty percent of the material of the Astrum Evo is recycled, and all Vaude products are “climate neutral.” The company works with the nonprofit “myclimate” organization to offset any emissions that can’t be avoided during production. Add to that its commitment to fair trade, and Vaude really stands out with its commitment to eco-friendly backpacks.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4.58 pounds (M)
  • Product Dimensions: 34.65 x 13 x 11.8 inches
  • Volume: 85L
  • Materials: Main compartment Polyamide/polyester/400D Diamond Ripstop Polyurethane coated
PROS

Adjustable torso length

Lots of storage space

Can be opened from side zipper in manner similar to a suitcase

Built in ecologically-friendly way with sustainable materials

CONS

No U.S. dealers, must purchase online (so no fitting)

The German company Deuter has been making outdoor packs and bags for over 100 years, and the Aircontact Core 65+10 is as tough as they come. The simple-to-use Vari Slide system lets you adjust for your torso length, and the Aircontact back system, which uses a “breathable padding,” helps keep the pack in place while allowing for breathability and distributing the load.

The Aircontact Core 65 comes with six exterior pockets, including hip belt pockets for convenient access to important/valuable gear. Also nice is the pivoting shoulder harness that works with the back system to ventilate your back (although some backpackers indicate that this doesn’t work as well as the mesh systems used by other backpacks).

The “+10L” is a feature where the top collar can be extended to allow for extra volume. This can be useful, and allows for a lot of gear. Be aware, though, that some reviewers report that under really heavy loads, the padding feels inadequate and the pack uncomfortable. For moderate weight (30 pounds or so), the pack performs fantastically well.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4 pounds 15.4 ounces
  • Product dimensions: 33.1 x 12.6 x 11 inches
  • Volume: 75L
  • Materials: Main – 235D polyamide (at least 50% recycled)
PROS

Aircontact breathable padding back for extra breathability

Vari Slide system allows for easy torso length adjustment

3d AirMesh-lined hip pads make for snug fit

CONS

At almost 5 pounds, backpack itself is a little on the heavy side

Padding may not perform well under really heavy loads

Best for Women

While the Atmos is the best overall backpacking pack, the folks at Osprey shrewdly created the Aura to better fit a woman’s frame. The height is a couple inches shorter and the width a bit more narrow, but the volume capacity is nearly the same (62L/65L vs 65L/68L on the Atmos), and the pack has 11 external pockets and offers top and side access to the main compartment.

The Aura is designed to be every bit as functional and sturdy as the Atmos. With a load range of 30 to 50 pounds, it utilizes the AntiGravity suspension system, which includes the web backing for fantastic ventilation to help keep from getting a sweaty back. It also incorporates similar adjustment straps on the shoulders, hips, and sternum to help dial in a perfect fit.

That said, however, be sure to order the right size, as larger-framed people may find the snug hip belt in particular to be uncomfortably tight and constrictive. In fact, taller or larger-framed people may opt for the Atmos instead. As always, if you have the option, try to get fitted by a trained outfitter. You won’t regret it.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 4.34 pounds (L/XL)
  • Product dimensions: 31.5 x 14.96 x 15.75 inches
  • Volume: S/62L, M/65L
  • Materials: 100D x 630D nylon dobby
PROS

Removable floating top lid

Side access ports, hip belt pockets, water bottle sleeves, and hydration ports put everything you need at your fingertips without pulling everything out

Adjustable frame

Lifetime guarantee: Osprey will “repair any damage or defect…free of charge”

CONS

Like Atmos, some report a “squeaky” frame

Best for Hiking

Utah-based Gregory Mountain Products makes large backpacking backpacks as well as lightweight backpacking and day hiking packs, and the Optic 48 settles right in the middle of these worlds. Most experts will tell you that 50L packs are the largest you’d want for a long hike or one to three days of backpacking, and the smallest size you’d want for longer journeys. So if you’re looking for a pack that can do double duty, the Optic 48 may be for you.

The Optic 48 uses Greogry’s Aerospan ventilated suspension system, which incorporates a mesh backing that helps prevent your back from getting sweat-saturated during those long hikes. This “ventilated FocusFoam” is used in the shoulder harness and hip belt as well. It comes with an integrated rain cover, plenty of adjustment straps, three external pockets, and supports use of a water reservoir (not included). Add to that a trekking pole attachment and glasses quickstow system (to hang sunglasses on the front where they’re easily reached), and it’s clear there’s no shortage of features in this pack.

With a maximum carry weight of 30 pounds, there’s plenty of room and capability for a long hike or a couple days of backpacking. One thing that is missing from this class size is the ability to adjust the torso length, a feature more common in 50L-plus packs. The Optic 48 comes in three sizes: S (fits torso 16 to 18 inches), M (fits torso 18 to 20 inches), and L (fits torso 20 to 22 inches). So you definitely want to be careful determining your torso length before purchasing.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2.47 pounds (M)
  • Product Dimensions: 28 x 12.5 x 11.5 inches
  • Volume: S/45L, M/48L, L/51L
  • Materials: Main compartment 100D/210D HD tenacity nylon
PROS

Lightweight

Integrated rain cover

Removable floating top lid

CONS

Still a little large for a day trip

Torso length not adjustable

Best for Travel

For those whose travels take them from trail to train to the airport and back again, the Osprey Farpoint 55 is a versatile lightweight backpacking pack that is as useful on a plane as it is in the backcountry.

Like a smaller backpack, it has lockable zipper sliders that give access to the main compartment. Inside, it’s well-organized with compression straps to keep things in place and a mesh for small or loose items. The exterior has water sleeves on the sides, an exterior pocket, and lash points to attach other items. Note that some have pointed out that the water sleeves are on the smaller side and difficult to use if the Farpoint is crammed full.

Like a regular backpacking pack, it has a hip belt as well as a light, internal frame to help transfer weight and make hiking or traveling more comfortable. It can carry 55L, so it’s the perfect size to disappear into the backcountry for a couple of days. The Farpoint 55 is a great backpack whether your destination is a hotel, hostel, or campsite.

Product Specs
  • Weight: S/M: 3.75 pounds, M/L 3.9 pounds
  • Product Dimensions: S/M: 24 x 13 x 12 inches, M/L: 25 x 13 x 12 inches
  • Volume: S/M: 52L, M/L: 55L
  • Materials: 210D Nylon mini hex diamond ripstop
PROS

Lightwire frame suspension helps transfer load to hipbelt

Stowaway harness and hipbelt to keep them from catching while checked

Detachable daypack for when you don’t need the main backpack

CONS

Won’t fit in all air carrier overhead bins (S/M more likely to fit)

Some report broken zipper issues on daypack

Side water sleeves hard to use if backpack stuffed full

Things to consider before buying a backpacking backpack

Before you commit to spending $150 to $400 (or more), there are a couple of things you need to consider to help ensure you get the absolute best backpacking backpack for your needs.

First, define what your backpacking goals are so you can better understand your needs. Do you plan on going on a trip to the backcountry for longer than three days? Then maybe a 55L backpack is what you want. Plan on doing the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail? Then you’re going to need something with more volume, like the Osprey Atmos AG 65 or Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10

Second, if at all possible, get professionally fit for your backpack. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now (and do so again below), but this will really help you discover a pack that fits you well. Most outdoor stores can usually do this, where they not only fit you but also let you walk around with weights inside the pack so you get a real sense of how it feels. 

If getting fitted by a professional isn’t an option, then watch videos on how to get your pack dialed in. Osprey has a great site that goes over this, as does REI and other sites. Once you’ve done these, you can be a lot more confident that your backpack will serve you well on the trails. 

FAQs about backpacking backpacks

Q: What is the best backpack brand for backpacking?

A: It’s the one that fits you. I’m not being coy here. Folks tend to think if they spend enough money, they can get the “best” backpack. It’s true that there are quality brands (like all the brands listed above), but take a moment to skim through product reviews of even the best backpacking packs, and you’ll see complaints of all sorts related to fit. Like running shoes, you want a pack that best fits your body type, and the way you find that is either by trial and error or by a professional fitting. 

Q: How big of a backpack do you need for a three- to five-day backpacking trip?

A: Generally speaking, you’ll want to have a 50L backpacking pack for up to three days in the backcountry, and 50L to 70L for longer trips. As you get more experienced and learn to plan and slim down your load, you can find that 50L bags can carry you a long way.

Q: Which is better for backpacking backpacks, Deuter or Osprey?

A: Obviously, it’s a personal choice because both are high-quality brands. The Germany-based Deuter is very popular in Europe, while Osprey rules in the United States. Personally, I prefer Osprey backpacks because they’re a little lighter and packed with features. But I was impressed with the Aircontact Core. Both deserve to be ranked among the best backpacking brands.

Q: Are hiking backpacks worth it?

A: Yes. The best hiking backpacks and the best backpacking packs are designed to distribute the weight of your gear so that you can actually enjoy your time in the backcountry and experience the adventure you’re seeking. You can find some good bargains (like the REI Co-op Trailbreak 60 listed above), but skimp too much and you risk gear failure when it’s least convenient.

Final thoughts

Backpacking is an amazing activity, and together with your tent and boots, the backpack is an essential piece of gear to make sure you can safely and successfully navigate the backcountry. When selecting a pack, remember: This is a personal decision, and a pack that one person raves about might be completely unsuitable for your body type. We stand by our recommendations for all of the award categories in this list, as they are among the top backpacking packs on the market and will last you for extended trips into the wilderness. 

Methodology 

As is typical for our guides, I used a mix of extensive product and user research, expert evaluations, personal experience, and hands-on testing whenever possible. Having some experience hiking and backpacking myself, I looked for true backpacking packs, those that were durable and could carry 25 pounds or more of gear for multi-day trips in the backcountry. (You ultralight backpackers can sit back for a bit, as we’re working on that guide next).

To make sure I wasn’t missing out on current trends, I have also combed through backpacker forums for the past several months (e.g., r/backpacking on Reddit, Appalachian Trail hiker and Backpacker groups on Facebook, etc) to get a sense of what’s popular (and what’s not) with the folks who use these backpacks extensively. I then took this information and started to narrow down contenders for our list. 

I also compared this evolving list to what other experts had created. For this article, I found these “best of” articles very helpful: Outdoor Gear Lab, Clever Hiker, Switchback Travel, and Gear Junkie. There’s a ton of experience that evaluated these, and I found my selections aligned very well with theirs, as well as what I had gleaned from the previously mentioned backpacker social media groups. 

Finally, I went to a few outdoor stores to talk with experts and to get my hands on whatever packs I wasn’t already familiar with (I have an Osprey Atmos 65 now, which probably isn’t a surprise). I was fitted for some, including the Deuter Aircontact Core and the Trailbreak 60, and my wife was fitted with the Aura AG 65. We also got our hands on a couple of other REI Co-Op products (to include a few that didn’t make the list). 

A note on our pick for sustainability. It’s encouraging to note that a number of outdoor gear companies have started adopting eco-friendly processes and materials for their products. Osprey and Deuter both are proud of their efforts to go green. To that end, if eco-friendliness is an important factor for you, now you know you have options. There are certain nonprofit organizations, such as bluesign and myclimate, that certify the eco-friendly materials, processes, and claims to give consumers assurance that a company is being honest with its efforts. Look for those when you choose your backpack. 

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