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See that backpack in your closet? Maybe it’s your old school bag, or maybe it’s a tactically acquired assault pack that never made its way back to supply. Either way, you deserve better. An actual hiking backpack will take care of more than your gear: it will actually leave you without the sore shoulders and aching back you’ll get from generic backpacks. Gear that’s designed for logging miles and pushing horizons is worth the cost of entry. Once you get used to lightweight materials, integrated hydration systems, and functional attachment points for extra equipment, you’ll never go back to bags that were designed for Lisa Frank binders.
These hiking backpacks are specially designed for different purposes, so dig in and see what’s what.
Osprey Daylite Plus
For speed and comfort, it’s hard to beat the Osprey Daylite Plus. Top-tier build quality and a bulletproof warranty make Osprey bags one of the most common sights on the trail. This 20-liter bag makes a perfect day pack and can be attached to larger Osprey packs for extended camping trips. In addition to the main compartment, it offers two smaller zippered areas, two mesh pouches, and an outer panel where you can stash things you need to keep within arms reach. Ventilated panels in the shoulder straps and back support keep temperatures down and add a layer of cushioning that you won’t get from budget backpacks. Add this slick backpack to your gear list to see what all the fuss is about. [Buy]
CamelBak is another major player in the outdoor adventure game, so it’s no surprise to find their Sparta bag on our list. If Osprey and Deuter are a little too granola for your taste but you don’t want to make the jump to a tactical pack, this is the perfect combination. It uses high-quality materials and ample storage compartments to cover serious ground with ease. A laser-cut MOLLE panel adds attachment points but not extra bulk. Since this is a CamelBak, you know it comes with a great hydration system. There are several outlets so you can configure the drinking hose just the way you want it. And don’t worry, there’s even a velcro panel for all your moto patches. This is the pricey one of the bunch, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. [Buy]
Deuter Speed Lite 24
The Deuter Speed Lite 24 does a fantastic job of providing the features you need in a modern design that won’t slow you down when the terrain gets rough. The nylon construction makes it strong and very light. In fact, the whole bag weighs less than two pounds. Ventilated shoulder straps and advanced back support keep air flowing so you can free yourself from the chafing you’re probably used to. Plenty of hiking backpacks have hip belts, but the ones on the Speed Lite 24 are extra wide to disperse weight evenly and include a zippered pouch on each side for small items you want to keep handy. This option is a little larger and slightly more expensive than most bags in this segment, and it makes a perfect crossover into the light camping arena. [Buy]
Orca 40L assault pack
Orca’s 40-liter assault pack is a beefy all-rounder that works just as well as a hiking backpack as it does a range bag or bugout bag. The outer shell is made from heavy-duty polyester you can count on for years of hard use. Reinforced seams support heavy loads, so go ahead and pack this bag with all the gear you can carry. Inside, separate compartments and mesh pouches keep everything organized. There’s also a place for a 1.5-liter hydration bladder. Outside, MOLLE panels cover just about every available surface so you can add attachments exactly where you want them. The price makes this a compelling option that excels just about anywhere you take it. [Buy]
Teton Sports Oasis 1100
For a versatile hiking backpack that leaves enough money for a weekend supply of jerky, check out the Teton Sports Oasis 1100. This bag is more affordable than most, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to skimp on features. The padded shoulder straps are ventilated for comfort and support. A two-liter hydration system is built-in. The 18-liter main compartment offers plenty of storage for a day hike or running errands around town. Mesh pouches and exterior compartments help keep gear organized, and compression straps create a stable load that sits tightly on your back. All of this is built using rip-resistant fabric that can take a beating and wash clean for the next trip. When budget is a factor, the Oasis 1100 has you covered. [Buy]
Eddie Bauer 20L backpack
Sometimes, especially when you’re traveling, space is hard to come by and this 20-liter backpack from Eddie Bauer is just what you need. At a featherweight 11 ounces, you can throw it in a suitcase for hiking when you’re on the road. Rip-resistant polyester isn’t just light, it’s also strong and water-resistant. Plenty of small compartments keep your belongings organized with zippers and velcro closure. The shoulder straps are lightly padded, but they aren’t designed to support as much weight as our other picks. This may not be a hiking backpack for trekking into the backcountry or lugging heavy equipment, but it’s versatile and compact enough to take anywhere you go. The price is also hard to pass up. [Buy]
Types of hiking backpacks
Hiking backpacks are classified by size, measured in liters. Hiking backpacks generally fall between 20 and 30 liters. Anything smaller is more of a day pack, and anything larger is a dedicated camping pack. Beyond capacity, you’ll see different materials and features. Some are built with lightweight rip-resistant fabric, while others use the kind of thick material you’d find on a military pack or plate carrier. Features can include things like adjustable fitment and pouches for specific items.
Key features of hiking backpacks
- Size: The first consideration in choosing a hiking backpack is just how much gear you plan on carrying. Hiking backpacks are smaller than a camping pack or rucksack, but more robust than a typical day bag. Typically, you’ll be shopping in the 20- to 30-liter range.
- Fit: Even the best pack can be a liability if it doesn’t fit right. You’ll want to think about how long you’ll be carrying your hiking backpack and decide how much support you need. Back ventilation, hip belts, and padded shoulder straps all contribute to how your backpack will fit.
- Materials: You’ll basically notice two approaches to making hiking backpacks stand out from everyday backpacks: shedding weight and adding durability. Lightweight packs like those from Osprey and Deuter use superior materials and streamlined design to keep you comfortable. Heavy-duty options like those from Orca use thicker materials and offer attachment points for extra gear.
- Intended Use: Is your hiking backpack going to be the sole place for all your gear or do plan on adding attachments? There’s a difference between hunting and visiting a national park, and there are specialized bags for each. If you’re hard on gear, be sure to prioritize bags with a good warranty.
- Features: Aside from the improved build quality, purpose-built features distinguish hiking backpacks from your fourth-grade bookbag. Look for things like MOLLE attachments, hydration bladders, and waterproof fabric.
Benefits of hiking backpacks
For one, hiking backpacks are less likely to leave you with blisters, bruises, and a sore back compared to a casual backpack. They’re also built to withstand water, dirt, and hard use. You’ll have plenty of pockets and pouches to organize your gear, and some even have built-in hydration packs.
Hiking backpack pricing
Purpose-built equipment like this does come at a premium, but you can still scoop up a bargain and end up with a reliable piece of gear. Entry-level bags start around $20 and are very similar to normal bags. Midrange options come in between $50 and $100 and offer great features, making them a great bang for the buck. Beyond $100, you’ll find premium brands and top-notch build quality. These are strong, light, and pack plenty of features.
Related: 7 ways to upgrade your campsite