The Best Hiking Backpacks Of 2018 Reviewed
Hiking is a wonderful experience that allows you to connect with nature and sometimes even live amongst it. However, carrying your essentials with you is usually necessary, even if you are a minimalist hiker that knows his way in nature. Choosing the right backpack requires a lot of experience and research. For this reason, we have gathered all the information about backpacks and we have tested the best hiking backpacks on the market.
Choosing the right backpack is like shopping for clothes. Even if it fits you, it might not be perfect for your style of hiking. In fact, a backpack should not only fit you, but it should not burden you and make you feel exhausted from the trip. It is an important piece of your hiking gear that should make your hiking trip easier and more pleasant.
- Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
- Ideal for long distance
- Osprey Atmos 65 AG
- Great capacity
- Deuter Air Contact 65
- X-Frame design
7 Best Hiking Backpacks
Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
Price: The price of the Bora is one of the main obstacles for many people, as the brand doesn't typically tend to run cheap. However, this is a great pack for someone heading on longer hikes with chances of not-so-great weather conditions.
Breathability: The breathability of the backpack is important because it prevents you from sweating too much and developing back issues because of the constant moisture in that area. This backpack has a highly breathable system that is allowing your back to breathe. This significantly increases the comfort level.
Comfort: The belt of the Arcteryx pack is one of the exceptional features because it has integrated a rotating disc that allows the belt pivot. This allows you the freedom of movement in every direction and it increases your stability. Because this pack is created for the long-haul hike, it is designed to be both sturdy and comfortable.
The GridLock shoulder system allows the straps to adjust their width and height, so that you can customize the fit to a precise fit that suits your comfort level.
The Bora is designed for a longer hike, so it has been optimized for stability and an energy efficient carrying system. The nice thing about this model is that it has been made so that it is ready for almost any weather condition, too. The high performance weather protection will keep you comfortable if the weather should change while on a hike.
This backpack comes with an extra rain cover that will protect your belongings from unexpected weather conditions.
- Incredible freedom of movement
- Great durability
- Breathable and adaptable
- On the expensive end of the spectrum
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Price: The price of the backpack is not in the lower range, however, considering the capacity of the backpack and its features, it has a great value. Its durability is also important since you would use the backpack for years. And it is always better to spend more for a durable item than having to buy one every season.
Breathability: This backpack is developed to ventilate well. Also, this backpack has a floating top lid which is removable and it is slowly becoming a standard feature in this range of backpacks. The purpose of the removable top lid is that the backpack is able to accept a larger amount of load or, the user could choose to use it without a lid which is suitable for bulkier stuff. There are also dual zippered pockets placed on the front that provide the user extra storage and quicker accessibility. However, this feature is not available in all Osprey backpacks.
Comfort: The upper straps are compressing and they feature a more stabilized load. The lower straps however, are cross functional and they are responsible for keeping the external gear safe. Unlike many competitive models out there, this backpack has internal compression straps that are aiding in load stabilization. The anti gravity feature is responsible for the comfort of this backpack. It is integrated in the mesh back panel which is well ventilated and it follows the contour of your body. This lets you have unrestricted movements in every direction and it makes your hike a lot more comfortable. The entire backpack construction is very stable and with great weight distribution.
- Great features and a good amount of pockets
- Durable construction
- A bit on the expensive side
- Fairly low capacity
Deuter Air Contact 65+10
Price: The Deuter Aircontact backpack runs in the average price range, and does give you a durable option in backpack choices. Considering how long the backpack will last, it is a solid investment.
Comfort: Designed with an adjustable lid, the shoulder straps on this backpack are made with extra support and pads for good comfort. You also get plenty of support and stability while you are on the go.
Extra Features: This backpack features an X-Frame design, which helps to bring you stability, and also has an Aircontact system. You’ll get a set of decent pockets for organization along with this backpack as well.
Bulky hip pack
Kelty Coyote 80
Price: This backpack is the least expensive one from our suggestion list. It is made from high-quality materials, and it only lacks comfort when it is fully loaded. If you plan on not using it to its full capacity, the price-features value it offers is quite tempting.
Comfort: Even though this Kelty backpack offers a great support for lighter loads, if you choose to load it fully, it might not present the same comfort results as some of the other suggested backpacks. The design of the straps is comfortable enough for a few hour hiking trip, but if you are heavily loaded you might need few more breaks. However, if you are looking for a weekend backpack, it is ideal and comfortable. The straps design is pretty basic, however, they get the job done. The backpack has shoulder straps that are padded but they cause a bit of sweating in the area and a hip belt that is keeping your backpack stable.
Extra features: The Kelty Coyote is not in the lightweight category, but it compensates for that with its big volume. In fact, it is a bit heavier than most packs in our suggestion list. However, it is very durable because of the fabric used in its production process. An extra feature that might be interesting on the field is that its top lid could be also used as sling package. The side pockets are zippered and there is one front pocket for easier organization and quick access to your stuff.
- Budget-minded performance
- Great durability for the price
- A bit of an older model
- Not waterproof
- A bit less stable than others at full load
Osprey Ariel 55
Breathability: The Aether/Ariel A features a panel of lightweight mesh extending from the upper torso through to the back area for optimal air ventilation.
Comfort: The IsoForm5 harness and hipbelt provide a hiker with an incredibly comfortable fit, especially for especially heavier loads and longer treks. Both are interchangeable to provide you with full customization.
The LightWire frame comfortably transfers pack loads, and the IsoForm hip belt molds to your body through heat. There is also a mesh bridge between pads that pulls into the lumbar area to add comfort.
- Comfortable with heavier loads
- Lot's of packing compartment
- Compression straps for customization
- Some find it a little on the smaller side
Gregory Baltoro 65
Price: Even though it is a bit more expensive than our other suggestion, the fact that it is the best in our list should clearly state why. If this backpack falls into your limited budget, we recommend that you consider getting one for you. It is the most comfortable and high-quality backpack!
Comfort: The comfort this backpack provides is incomparable to any other backpack that we have tested. The shoulder straps are even comfortable if you are having no clothes on your shoulders. However, the comfort it provides is also because of the back support that it features. Although removable, once you try the lumbar support you would not want to replace it with any other model. The shoulder straps and the belt support are what make this backpack so special and the best item is our suggestion list. The straps are allowing you to move unrestricted and they are very comfortable even when your backpack is fully loaded. This is due to the nicely designed straps that are padded with foam and fabric that also lets it breathe and don’t cause sweating.
Extra features: This backpack is very adjustable and it comes with 15 different size combination that fit every body type. It has a removable daypack that would be perfect for small hikes. You won’t even have the need for a smaller backpack. It also has a pocket that is completely weather shielded and it provides the perfect coverage for digital devices. You also don’t need to purchase an extra rain cover since this backpack has included it in the package.
- Excellent build quality
- Fantastic support & stability
- Quite expensive
The North Face Banchee 65
Price: The North Face Banchee 65 runs in the average price range, and for its versatility and ability to handle a lot of stuff, it’s certainly worth the price. You’ll get a long-lasting, durable backpack that will last you for several seasons.
Comfort: Made to be very comfortable, this backpack gives you a lot of versatility and a nice overall system. The harness on it is manufactured with OPTIFIT technology, so this backpack is made to fit just about any person.
Extra Features: This backpack includes a floating lid and a beaver tail so you can add additional items to your pack. Plus, it has a lot of pockets for organization, so you’ll know where to find all of your items.
External lids could be easier to use
Straps could be easier to adjust
The Criteria Used To Find The Best Hiking Backpacks
In addition, we are sharing with you the features we considered for rating the suggested backpacks. It is how we were able to narrow the choice and assist you in choosing the best hiking backpack that will suit you perfectly. That said, in the suggestions bellow there is a backpack for every hiker’s need. There are different styles, sizes and shapes that will match every outdoor activity, regardless of the trip’s length
When deciding on your backpacking materials and design, you need to figure out what type of backpacker you are. As mentioned before, minimalist backpackers could leave of the nature. They are in fact ultralight packers and their essentials are usually not matching the amount of other people essentials. It is not rare that they choose to leave their tent at home and sleep under the stars. Even though most minimalist backpackers carry food with them, they even tend to limit their food and clothing choices as well.
Traditional hikers on the other side, are the typical ones, that pack a normal amount of essential gear in the backpack. You know that you are among this type if in the winter you need twice as big backpack as in warmer weather conditions. If you are inspiring your kids to go along, you are either a traditional or the heavy packer type.
Backpacks that contain more compartments and pockets have more organizational space. If you are wondering whether you are going to need this feature, the answer is yes, it is essential to your hiking trip. If you simply pack all of your stuff in one main compartment, at every break when you need something from the backpack you will be required to unpack and repack. To save yourself this trouble, we recommend choosing a backpack with many compartments that will keep you organized during your trip. That said, your backpack needs to have the following compartments and pockets.
This is the place where you pack most of your stuff. The main compartment can sometimes be accessed from the top or it from the front of it. Professional backpacks often have a special space in the backpack for your sleeping bag so that you don’t have to pack it in the main compartment.
Since the main compartment is usually located on the top of the backpack, it usually has a top lid which has a main function of keeping it safe from rain and moisture in general. In addition, a well equipped backpack could also have front and side pockets. Side pockets are very convenient for bottles of water or other small stuff. However, the most useful pocket a backpack could have is hip belt pocket which is very convenient for items that you plan on using during the whole hiking trip.
The price of the backpacks on our list have all been noted for their value and durability. If you are shopping on a budget, we’ve listed some affordable backpack choices as well that should suit your needs. If you have to watch your spending, then focus on purchasing a backpack that only has what you really need, and then you can save some money.
Choosing pants that don’t fit you might get the work done and cover you, but they won’t be as effective as a proper pair. It is the same with backpacks. If it doesn’t fit you right, you will wish you never took the trip in the first place. For this reason, it is very important to invest some time into choosing the right option for you. A correct sized backpack will be essential to your comfort while you are hiking and it will increase the functionality of the pack itself. Even though you are carrying a significant weight on your back, a well designed backpack should not burden you. In fact, hiking backpacks are specifically designed to distribute the weight throughout the entire body and eliminate the pressure on specific parts of your body. If this is not done properly, the user will suffer back pain or the improper posture could even lead to knee or ankle pains.
For selecting the proper size of backpack for your body you should consider the length of your torso instead of your height. The main reason for this lies in the fact that people come in different shapes, even people with the same height. If this feature is not stated by the manufacturer or the distributor, it is recommended that you contact him before making the purchase in order to check if it fits you right. And if you can’t manage the methods that manufacturers use for measuring the torso, simply use a measuring tape; it works perfectly.
The additional parts of the backpack include aluminum stays, framesheets and a frame. Each one of these parts has its role in providing additional support for your back and distributing the weight properly. Aluminum stays for instance, are aluminum rods that are placed on the whole length of the pack and they provide the shape of the backpack.
Framesheets on the other side, is actually a piece of material that is very thin and lined on the back of the pack. Besides providing it shape it is also protecting your back from sharp objects packed inside that could make you discomfortable throughout the entire trip. Aluminum stays and framesheets are usually used together in order to provide a greater support.
Perimeter frame is in fact the outside construction that is making the contouring of the backpack. The main purpose of the perimeter frame is to prevent the user from sweating on the back. Without it, the backpack will attach to your back completely and cause lack of breathability in that area and it could cause back pain.
Other Things To Consider
The first advice that every outdoor professional will give to you is that purchasing a backpack shouldn’t be your first move, but your last. In fact, you should first decide the things you cannot live without, your essentials, and only after that, select a suitable hiking backpack. The pile of essentials that you need for your hiking trip, will lead you to the right model that you will hopefully use for years. This means that the weight of your gear will be the deciding factor and the place to start with. If you are planning a long hiking trip that will take you several weeks you should probably go for a larger pack that you will be able to pack in. The capacity of the backpack should be suited to your needs.
In order to decide the capacity of your pack you need to have a destination in mind. The reason for this is because the overall capacity is decided by the type of your trip. Let’s say you want to go hiking in another country which would require you getting a plane ticket. This will change the volume of your essential gear and you will have to choose a backpack that will fit the standard size of your favorite flight company.
However, the general rule applies here that if you are planning on spending the night in nature, you will need a backpack with a 35+ liter capacity. If you simply need a backpack that will get you through the weekends a 35 liter capacity will do just fine. However, if you prefer carrying less stuff with you, you might fit into a 20L backpack as well. If you are a heavy packer though, we recommend that you purchase at least a 30L backpack.
- Hip belt and shoulder straps
Even though outdoor enthusiasts who don’t have much experience with backpacks believe that shoulder belts are the most important part of the product, this is in fact not true. The hip belt is the part of the backpack you should focus on, especially if you are planning on purchasing a larger backpack. Around 80% of the entire weight of the backpack rests on the hip belt which makes it relevant feature to consider.
The shoulder straps should rest at an angle from 40-60 degrees, with 50 degrees being the perfect angle. The shoulder straps should rest directly on the shoulders and they should stay there for the entire length of your trip without having to readjust them.
- Load lifters
Load lifters are the straps that are connected to the shoulder straps and their main purpose is to make the backpack lean toward your back. The shoulder strap angle mentioned before is actually the angle between the shoulder straps and the load lifters. If they are missing or they are not functioning properly the entire weight would fall on your waist and this is certainly not a pleasant hike.
- Compression straps
Compression straps have the basic purpose of making your pack less bulky. Even though this might seem insignificant, it greatly influences the weight distribution. They could be loosened up when you have your pack full or you could tighten them up when you are not heavily packed. This will allow you to achieve greater balance and it will make your pack more versatile which is a valuable feature.
- Sternum strap
The sternum strap is connected to the shoulder strap and it also influences the balance. If you are carrying a smaller backpack with lower weight, you might not notice the difference. However, when carrying heavy loads, every little detail, each strap is of great significance as it improves the overall balance and comfort. Once clipped on your chest, the sternum strap will ensure that the pack is leaning to your back and this is particularly important if you are a heavy packer.
Q: How much should a hiking backpack weigh?
A: Since the most important pointer for choosing a suitable backpack for your hiking trip is the weight, this is a frequently asked question. In order to answer this, you need to know the length of your hiking trip. If you are planning on spending the night in nature, 30L won’t be enough, even if you are a light packer. For spending one or two nights in the nature you are going to need sleeping equipment which involves a tent, pad and a sleeping bag. In order to fit all this in one backpack you will need one that weighs from 30-50L.
So called weekend packs on the other side are backpacks for spending two nights in nature with space for an extra layer of clothing. They also have enough space for small cooking appliances and even some luxury items. If you are a heavy packer like this, and you need all this stuff to feel comfortable, a backpack from 50 to 75L will be the right fit for you.
If, however, you are planning on hiking on a long trail and it would take you a week in nature, you will need a bit more space and support from your backpack. Backpacks designed for more than 5 nights in the nature have enough space for winter temperatures gear and some extra space for clothing and cooking fuel. These usually weigh above 75 liters. If you decide of purchasing a backpack such as this one, consider the fact that every feature explained will greatly influence your comfort and support.
Q: How do I properly pack a hiking backpack?
A: When packing your hiking backpack is all about good weight distribution. Without it you will feel unbalanced and this might be dangerous if you are hiking through some rough terrains. It is also important to mention that if you manage to pack your bag right, it will feel more comfortable and possibly lighter. Also, different hikers have different experiences and there are those who have their own way of packing. Nevertheless, most of them agree that the sleeping bag belongs to the bottom of the backpack. It can either be placed inside the backpack or it can also be attached to the frame bellow the backpack.
There are items that are called back breakers. These are the heavy items that are burdening your body and a lot of thought should be put in where to place them. However, there is a general rule that they should be packed closer to your back. This is advised because they are meant to keep you centered and prevent the load from moving from one side to the other. It is important that both sides of the backpack have items with same or similar weight.
There are also items that you need fast access to such as a first-aid kit, a map or a flashlight. These items are usually placed in outside pockets or easy access compartments. However, the most important tip for packing a hiking backpack is compressing the items that can be compressed. This will allow you to place more items in the backpack.
Q: How do I clean a hiking backpack?
A: The good news is that cleaning your hiking backpack is only required to be done once in a season and if you use it less frequently, once a year will do. Even though most hiking backpacks are designed to be washed in a machine, there are those that are not suitable for machine washing. Usually, there is a label attached to the backpack with instructions about washing. However, there are some tips that you must know in order to wash it properly.
Some hiking backpacks have a metal frame that is providing the user extra support. This metal frame should be removed before washing it. If you forget to do so, it might become rusty over time, especially if it is made from a low quality material. It is also important that you use a small amount of detergent when washing it. Although this is recommended for hiking backpacks, it usually goes for all outdoor gear. Regular detergents and fabric softeners are not suitable for this purpose as they might damage the material.
Tumble drying is also recommended to be avoided as the heat could damage the backpack. It is best that dry the backpack naturally, hanged upside down. If you have doubts whether the backpack is fully dried, leave it in the sun for a while longer. Storing the backpack before it is fully dried could cause the formation of a mold and an unpleasant smell that you won’t be able to take off easily.
However, if cleaning is not your favorite activity, you might wipe it down regularly. This will cause less dirt to be built up and you might not have to wash it as often. A liner also has a similar function and it will protect your backpack from spillages which happen rather frequently.
Q: How should a hiking backpack fit?
A: A hiking backpack that fits you right will not pass unnoticed. You will feel it on your back and on your entire body. A good fitting backpack will make you feel as though you were carrying 15 pounds less and it will feel as less of a burden. In order to choose a backpack that fits you must know your torso length. You can discover this by measuring the distance from your hip to the sixth vertebra in your back. In order to decide where your sixth vertebra is, simply bend down your neck and feel the part of your neck that is poking out.
This part is the seventh vertebra and you should orient yourself according to this. Even though there are other critical factors that decide whether the backpack fits you, the torso length is by far the most important one. Other important factors include the waist belt, which is usually adjustable for all sizes. However, the waist belt positioning should be at the right height which is around 1 inch above the iliac crest. The positioning of the shoulder straps also has a great role in the fitting. They should be as close to your back as possible. If not, it can cause too much pressure on some points of your body, therefore create a back pain if hiking for a longer time.
Q: What does “liters” mean for backpack sizing?
Backpacks, duffels and drybags are all measured in Litres – quite literally how much water you can pour into them to fill them up. Brilliantly useful, but hard to understand. So we’ve created a quick list for real-world sizings.
- 10L is a very small daypack for essentials like lunch, phone, wallet, water and a very thin jacket
- 15L is a small daypack or schoolbag which can stash a jacket, lunch and essentials
- 25L is a common daypack size and will take a change of clothes, laptop, camera, lunch and essentials
- 35L is getting on for day-hike territory where a couple of big warm layers, food, water, camera, 1st aid and navigation gear will all fit comfortably. At this point, the weight of the pack will mean that you should be looking at an internal frame to support the load’s weight
- 50-60L is big enough for a vacation, provided you pack light, or a few days backpacking. I took a 65L pack on a 6-month travelling trip and it was perfect. Note that cold weather will increase your need for capacity. If you filled one of these with water it would weigh as much as an adult.
- 70-80L is a small expedition pack and you’ll need excellent load-support, adjustability and comfort in a pack this size or you’ll have trouble carrying it. You often see Gap Year students with packs this size and they look dwarfed.
- 90L+ is a large expedition pack, and you’re in to specialist territory. We’d advise to go to a GOOD backpack retailer and get fitted properly, test a few and talk about your requirements.
Q: What do I need to know about proper weight distribution?
A: A proper weight distribution is much more important than you might assume. It is making your hiking more comfortable and it plays a great role in avoiding muscle injuries and fatigue. Also, even if you get the best one it won’t feel comfortable unless you learn how to pack it properly. This means that bulky stuff should be packed at the bottom of the bag as close to the frame as possible.
The food should also be placed here, except the food that you are planning to eat during the hike which should be placed in external pockets. Clothes should be compressed as much as possible and packed evenly on the sides of the backpack. Basically, you should make sure the weight is balanced on either side. Once you manage to pack your essentials you will notice that your body has a natural reflex to lean forward a bit. This doesn’t mean that the weight is not distributed properly, but it is just a natural reflex.
If you are hiking on a steeper terrain you will notice that your body tends to lean even more forward in order to retain its balance. The straps, however, are very important for a proper weight distribution and they must be the right size. If they are too tight they might cause bad blood circulation which will result in fatigue. If they are too loose, the weight won’t be properly distributed and in the worst case you might end up with an injury. This leads us to the next point of explaining the straps.
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