How you tote your gear when backpacking can make all the difference between an enjoyable and miserable expedition. With the best backpacker backpack, you can trek or hike comfortably for days on end wearing all your essentials on your back. Whether you’re looking for the perfect pack for thru-hiking of the Appalachian Trail, for a backcountry expedition, or for international backpacking travel, we’ve got your back.
Below, we’ve reviewed our top ten favorite backpacking backpacks that are also some of the very best on the market. They excel in carrying comfort, organization, convenience, and are sturdy and durable enough to accompany you on many adventures to come. Our buying guide takes you through selecting a backpacking pack that fits your body, suits your trip, and holds up well.
Ready to get started? Let’s go.
How To Choose A Backpacking Backpack – Buying Guide
The kind of backpack you strap on your back for backpacking expeditions can make or ruin your trips. You’ll be loading it with all your backpacking gear and wearing it for hours at a time covering miles with it on your back. It is very important to choose the right one.
Choosing a backpacking pack requires careful consideration, in fact, to find the best backpack for backpacking, you have to consider the type of expeditions you undertake, how long a typical trip lasts, and the kind of gear you bring along, you will need to look into what each pack offers and whether it suits your requirements.
Below are the most important features to consider and the areas where you’ll need to make choices when choosing a backpack for backpacking so you can find one that fits your body and suits your expeditions:
The first requirement the backpacking pack you end up with should meet is that it should have the capacity to hold all the gear you need to bring along. Thus, the first consideration to make is: how many liters backpack do I need?
This will depend on how long your typical trips last, how much gear you need to carry, and what time of year you backpack. The longer you spend on the trail, the bigger the pack you need. For winter backpacking, you will need to pack heavier and bulkier stuff that occupies more space.
Volume tells you how much a backpack can hold. Many packs come in both small and large capacities. Here’s a general guide to help you determine what volume will suit your needs:
For short one day to weekend trips that last 1-3 nights, 30-50 liters will do. 3 to 5-day trips require 50 to 70 liters. Extended trips that go on for weeks require a minimum of 60 liters of carrying capacity to hold all the food, clothes, and other essentials.
If you want one versatile backpack to suit different expeditions, a 60-70 liter volume is a happy medium. If you’re an avid backpacker, it is a good idea to own a 70l backpack for long expeditions and a smaller 30l backpack for short trips.
An exact volume will help you keep your luggage light. Most experienced lightweight backpackers can easily fit their gear in a 40-50L pack even for multi-day excursions.
Going for a bigger capacity just in case you need to add more stuff isn’t usually a good idea. Such a pack will be larger and it will tempt you to pack stuff you don’t actually need when the goal is to pack only the essentials.
It’s also important to find out how the manufacturer determines their pack volume. Some brands express the volume of the main compartment only while others account for even the pockets capacity.
For a backpack to be comfortable, it needs to fit nicely on your back. This is why you need to ensure you get a backpack whose width and length suits your body size and shape. Many packs come in different sizes to accommodate different body shapes and torso lengths. Some brands even offer gender and youth-specific sizes.
Your torso length and hips circumference determine what size pack for backpacking you need. So the first step to finding the right size is to measure your torso length and hips circumference. You can then check the specifications to find a pack that will fit your body comfortably.
Your torso length is the distance along your spine from the base of the neck (C7 (bulging vertebra) to the top of your hip bones ( where your thumbs lie when you have your hands comfortably on your hips). Torso length is not the same as the height. A tall person can have a short torso while a short person can have a long torso.
Pack sizes range from extra small to large. Extra small suits up to 15 ½” torso length, small suits up to 16″ to 17½”, medium/regular is for 18″ to 19½” torsos while a large/tall is designed for torsos 20″ and taller.
If you’re in between sizes and can’t find a pack to fit your torso exactly, choose one with an adjustable harness that you can modify to fit your torso.
The other size variable you will need to determine is the circumference of your hips, as it will determine which hip belt size will fit you. This is not the same as your hip or waist size. It is the measurement around your body over your hip bones where a pack’s hip belt rests. Measure this while wearing your typical backpacking outfit.
At least 80 percent of the pack’s weight should be supported by your hips. The hip belt should be centered snugly on the crest of your hips and have a comfortably snug grip.
Backpack hip belts usually range from the mid-20 inches to the mid-40 inches to accommodate a wide range of hip sizes. If you can’t find a hip belt tight enough for your narrow waist, you may need to choose a smaller pack size. Some packs accommodate interchangeable hip belts.
If you can’t find a pack that fits both your torso and waist, consider a model with replaceable hip belts. This will allow you to choose the size of the pack you need for your torso and then replace the hip belt with one that suits your waist.
Women and Youth Sizes
Some backpack brands offer women and youth-specific backpacks. Women’s versions feature shorter torso lengths, narrower torsos, smaller frame sizes, narrower shoulder widths, and curved waist belts. These female versions work well for ladies as well as young backpackers. Youth-specific packs have smaller capacities and usually feature an adjustable suspension system to accommodate growth.
When it comes to the weight of the backpack itself, lighter doesn’t always mean better. The best lightweight backpacking backpacks are able to hold the weight of the load they’re designed for and don’t skimp on material quality and important features for comfort such as padding.
Ultra-lightweight backpacking packs are designed for minimalist and ultralight backpackers. A heavier pack can handle more weight comfortably.
Related Review: Lightweight Backpack
As a general guide: A backpack that is 2-3 lb can comfortably handle 15-35 pounds of gear. A 3-5 lb. a heavy pack can handle 30-50 pounds of gear while 5+ lb heavy backpacks can comfortably haul 40-70 pounds loads.
Related Post: Ultralight Backpacking
Adjustable Length Torsos and Hip Belts
It can be difficult to find a pack that fits both your torso and hips perfectly. A backpack with an adjustable length torso and hip belt is the next best thing to having a backpack custom made for your back. You will be able to adjust the fit so that the pack sits on your back just right and feels comfortable.
A pack with an adjustable suspension system gives you a way to modify the pack to fit your torso well. The hip belt is what holds most of your pack’s weight at the hip relieving your shoulders off the load and preventing back neck, and shoulder pain. Hip belts should fit comfortably snug.
Ensure your pick has a well designed and well-padded hip belt offering you a way to adjust the fit in case you lose some inches on the trail. Some packs accommodate interchangeable hip belt sizes while some brands offer gender-specific hip belts.
Another choice to make is whether to go for an external frame or internal frame backpack. This comes down to personal preference, the kind of gear you will be carrying, and the length of the expedition.
Internal frame backpacks are compact, lightweight, and look cool. They feature one huge compartment with a couple of zippered access points and thin, contoured vertical stays that hold the pack in a stable position closer to the wearer’s back, so it doesn’t shift from side to side. This makes them easier to carry and the backpacker is stable even on uneven terrain. Their weakness is that the pack lies on the backpacker’s back hindering ventilation and the thinner, lighter, more flexible frames cannot support very heavy loads. Internal frame trail backpacks are the best for backpacking, mountaineering, backcountry adventures off the beaten trail, compact or compressible gear, short trips, and ultralight, minimalist backpackers.
External frame backpacks are the traditional adventuring packs. The external frame design transfers the weight of the load to the hip belt, which distributes the weight around the hips. This makes carrying heavier and bulkier loads more comfortable. An external frame also allows one’s back to breathe and offers multiple compartments that make it easy to stow gear in an organized way. Its disadvantage is that that it tends to be bulky and the large capacity can encourage overpacking. An external frame backpack is a workhorse that works best for extended expeditions, heavy and bulky loads, and hiking along beaten trails.
Pockets and Organization
When you have to pack all your gear in one place, proper organization is very important. You don’t want to have to pause your journey and unpack everything just to retrieve one thing stashed at the bottom of the pack. The best backpacking packs have a well thought out design with intuitively designed and placed pockets and multiple access points for the main compartment.
You can find a pack that suits your packing needs and preferences. Some backpacking packs have plenty of external pockets to enable the strategic packing of items you reach for frequently and for airing out wet gear. Packs with pockets galore may feature a large front mesh pocket, floating pockets, hip belt pockets, shoulder pouch, side pockets, and a shovel pocket. Some just feature a few pockets on the exterior of the pack.
Your organization’s needs and preferences will also dictate whether an internal frame or external frame will serve you best. Most internal-frame packs are composed of one main compartment with multiple access points. You can also strap some gear on the outside. External frame packs excel when it comes to an organization as they are composed of multiple smaller compartments.
External Attachment Features
Not all your gear will fit in the main storage compartment and pockets. There are some things you will need to attach to the exterior of the pack. It is a good idea to go for a pack that offers external attachment features for long, bulky or awkward items such as your sleeping bag, trekking pole, ice ax, tent poles, or a fishing rod.
Look for a pack with webbing straps or elastic cord, tool loops, gear loops, and a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom of the pack. Depending on how you prefer to meet your hydration needs in the wilderness, look for a water bottle holster or hydration sleeve/port. Compression straps are meant to compress the pack’s content but also offer a place to attach items like tent poles.
When you’re looking to invest in the best backpacking pack, there is no doubt that you want it a reliable pack that will offer you long-lasting service. That means getting a rugged and weather-resistant pack that can handle exposure to harsh terrain and weather conditions in the great outdoors over and over again. There are some things you should assess to ensure that you pick a durable pack.
First of all, ensure that the pack is constructed of thick and tough fabric. The higher the denier count, the better as such a fabric will have excellent abrasion and puncture resistance. Such a fabric won’t tear easily and you can rely on the pack to keep your stuff protected. It is also important that the fabric is at least water-resistant so it can keep your gear dry. The stitching should also be strong to ensure the bag stays in one piece despite the heavy load and hard use.
You will also want to pay attention to the zippers. These can be weak points in a backpack, as they are used over and over again. Heavy-duty zippers are a must-have. Some of the best backpackers backpack have the zippers waterproofed to ensure that moisture won’t seep in through the zippers.
To find out how you can expect a particular backpack to hold up out there, reviews are very helpful. Read user reviews to find out what kind of experiences those who already own it have had. You can expect durability from top-rated backpacking packs.
How comfortable a backpack will feel on your back will depend on how it fits and how you carry its weight. No matter how nice and feature full a pack is, a poor fit means guaranteed misery on the trail.
So how should a backpacking pack fit? To ensure that the backpack you order will fit well, you will want to measure your torso length and waist circumference as explained above. You can then get a pack that suits your body’s shape and size. You will also want to ensure the pack offers adjustability so you can tweak the fit to your desired comfort level.
It is also important to know how to wear your pack correctly and how to adjust it so as to distribute its load weight properly. At least 80 percent of the pack’s weight should ride on your hips. The shoulder straps are for keeping the pack on your back and should only take a little amount of weight. The hip belt should be resting on the crest of your hips and fit comfortably snug. The length of the backpack should suit your torso length.
Women and youth-specific models may offer a better fit for women and youth backpackers. Female-specific backpacking backpacks are designed with shorter torso lengths, narrower shoulder widths, and curved waist belts. Youth have smaller capacities and an adjustable suspension to accommodate growth.
Related Review: Women’s Hiking Backpack
A backpacking pack should be designed with sturdiness and carrying comfort in mind. When evaluating a pack’s design, pay attention to the following aspects of its design:
The first design feature to look at is the frame design. With an external frame pack, the pack body hangs from the frame. The frame transfers the load to the hip belt, which distributes weight around your hips and onto your legs. External packs excel at load transfer and ventilation when you have to pack a lot of gear for extended trips. With an internal frame pack, the thinner, more contoured internal frame is designed to hug and conform to your body, but the pack’s load into a stable position and move with you as you walk.
Adequate ventilation is also important for comfort. To ensure the pack you choose breathes well, look for the back panel and hip belt ventilation, mesh panels and ventilation chimneys that allow heat and sweat build-up to escape and a cool breeze to circulate.
Thick padding in the back panel, shoulder straps, and the hip belt are essential for comfort given that you will be wearing a fully loaded pack for extended durations. Check that the shoulder straps are thick enough and well-spaced to prevent chaffing and pressure. Compression straps that compress the content and pull the weight of the pack closer to your back aiding in load stability and comfort are also a must-have.
Related Review: Ventilated Backpack
A backpack will be exposed to rugged terrain, bushes, and all kinds of weather elements from rain, UV rays, snow, wind, and extreme temperatures. It should be able to withstand these elements and choosing the right material that is tough and resistant is very important. Most backpacking backpacks are made from ripstop high denier nylon or Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). These materials are tough and highly resistant yet lightweight making them ideal for backpacking bags.
Q: What Is The Difference Between A Regular And Backpacking Backpack?
Backpacking involves packing everything in a backpack and wearing it on your back as you hike to great distances. A backpack for backpacking has to have a large capacity to accommodate all the clothes, food, and camping gear for the duration of the expedition.
It should have a streamlined design that makes the load weight easier to carry on one’s back for long durations. It should also be tough to handle backcountry conditions.
When you’re hiking to great distances with a heavy load on your back, support and comfort are essential. A backpacking pack has a frame that supports the load and keeps the pack stable and a hip belt that shifts the weight from the shoulders to the hips.
A regular backpack is meant for general packing and carrying purposes and doesn’t have a frame, special design features for support, or multiple adjustment options that backpacking bags have.
Q: How Should I Clean My Backpack?
Taking proper care of your backpack will ensure it holds up well and serves you for a long time. After spending time in the wilderness, your backpack will definitely get dirty. While out there, regular wiping can help minimize dirt build-up. When it gets really dirty, a thorough cleaning is essential to remove the sweat, salt, oils, and stains embedded into the fabric, zippers, and straps.
First of all, check and follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations and instructions. Some backpacks aren’t submersible or machine washable. Here is how to hand wash your backpacking pack:
Empty the pack and its pockets. If your backpack has a metal frame or removable hip belt, remove these before washing. Loosen the straps and leave the pockets open. Shake it while upside down to get rid of loose dirt and debris. Gently brush it or vacuum seams and crevices in the pockets and inside the main compartment to remove more loose dirt.
Fill a bathtub or large sink with lukewarm water. Add a small amount of mild, detergent-free soap to the water. Dunk the bag and its components and swish them vigorously in the soapy water. Gently scrub the pack and its components with a soft brush or a cloth to remove stubborn grime and stains. If your backpack isn’t submersible, you can use a wet cloth with a small amount of mild soap to clean it.
Drain the dirty water and refill with cool clean water. Rinse the pack thoroughly to remove all soap residue. You can also rinse it under running water or with a hose.
Hang it upside down to dry in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Never put your backpack in a dryer as this can damage it. Confirm that the backpack is completely dry before you store it.
Q: How To Keep Things Dry In My Backpacking Backpack?
Many items you will be carrying in your backpack are vulnerable to moisture. When in the great outdoors where the weather is unpredictable, it is important to ensure your gear is protected from rain and moisture.
Most backpacks offer decent water resistance but aren’t fully waterproof. The best way to keep things dry in your backpack is to purchase a backpack with a built-in waterproof rain cover or purchase a separate rain cover.
When it rains, covering your backpack with this cover will keep its content dry. In addition, pack fragile items such as your sleeping bag, electronics, and other valuables in waterproof containers, ziplock bags, or dry stuff sacks.
Globo Surf Overview
When embarking on a backpacking expedition, your backpack is the most important piece of gear. You will be living out of your backpack and you have to pack everything you need it. Whether you are going away for the weekend or embarking on an extended trip, you need to make sure you have the right pack.
First of all, ensure you pick something that fits you well and is comfortable. The last thing you want is a pack that causes you pain and discomfort on the trail. A good one should also be sturdy enough to hold all your gear without losing comfortability. Such a bag will make carrying your essentials easy.
Take your time and select the best backpacking pack that fits your body and your backpacking style and last years of adventures. With the right backpack, you will find that you enjoy your expeditions more and are able to fully enjoy the wilderness.
More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:
- Hiking Pants
- Hiking Socks
- Shoe Glue
- Backpacking Sleeping Bag
- G Shock Watch
- Trekking Poles
- Tactical Boots
- Backpacking Stove
- Backpacking Sleeping Pad
More Backpack Reviews:
- Dog Backpack
- Osprey Backpack
- Roll Top Backpack
- Hiking Backpacks Under 100
- Budget Hiking Backpack
- Kids Hiking Backpack
- Solar Backpack
- Patagonia Backpack
- Under Armour Backpack
Which of the backpacks on our list is your top choice? We would love to read your thoughts or experience with the backpacking packs we’ve reviewed! Feel free to share in the comment box below.