Best Hiking Backpacks

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

96 Models Considered
119 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
208 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best hiking backpacks

Last Updated September 2019

If your knowledge of backpacks starts and stops at the Jansport and L.L. Bean backpacks your kids wear to school, we’ve made this shopping guide for you.

Hiking backpacks represent a far different design than those school backpacks. Try wearing your child’s backpack on a serious hike, and other hikers – as well as the forest animals – will most likely laugh you out of the area. A hiking backpack provides tough materials and plenty of pockets for carrying small and large items. It’s designed to be very adjustable, so the backpack can fit your body perfectly for comfortable hiking.

While examining hiking backpacks we consulted with expert Amy Horton, a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge.

You can count on our advice as being free of bias – we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Please continue reading this shopping guide to learn more about hiking backpacks and to select the best one for your needs.

Enjoying your hiking backpack

Horton says the key to having a successful hike is comprised of three aspects of your backpack. Make sure you find a model that fits your needs in these three areas, and you’ll have the best experience.

Capacity

Make sure the backpack you select will hold all of the gear you need to take. This need may vary from trip to trip, so look for a pack that accommodates the largest amount of gear you need to take. “Capacity varies widely between packs, and you should do some research on what you need,” Horton says.

Comfort

No one enjoys a hike when the straps on the backpack are digging into muscles and skin. “Comfort is key,” Horton says. “You'll be carrying it on your back, most likely for a prolonged length of time, with anywhere from a little to a lot of weight.”

Features

Think about how you like to hike or camp, such as whether you’ll be near water or in cold weather. Pick a hiking backpack that gives you features to deal with these conditions. “Features also vary from pack to pack, so do your research on what you think you need and/or prefer to have,” Horton says.

Amy
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.


Amy  |  Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

Capacity of hiking backpacks

Trying to figure out the capacity of hiking backpack you need represents another challenge for hikers. The market offers many different capacity packs – you’ll need to spend some time thinking about how you plan to use the backpack.

When looking for the right capacity of pack, consider the type of gear you want to carry, and whether you’ll be hiking overnight or for several nights.

Understand that different backpack manufacturers list the capacity of the bag in different measurements. Some use liters, some use cubic inches, and some use cubic feet. About 28.3 liters equals 1 cubic foot. And about 61 cubic inches equal 1 liter.

Multiple-day packs

For multiple-day camping trips, you’ll want the largest packs, those that allow a capacity of 65 or more liters.

These packs work great for winter weather gear, as well as tents, food, and cooking gear required for a long camping stint.

You can use this largest capacity pack for specialty gear as well, such as mountaineering tools.

Two-day packs

For a pack you’ll take camping over a weekend, a capacity of 40 to 65 liters is common. These mid-size packs work for carrying a small tent, along with other gear you’ll need for a couple of nights. You can fit some cool weather gear in a pack of this size, but for a lot of winter gear, you’ll probably need a larger pack.

Overnight packs

An overnight pack is identifiable by the tall and thin design. Most of these small hiking backpacks offer between 20 and 40 liters of capacity. This type of pack will work as a hiking pack for a day trip too. Just don’t expect to fit a tent or heavy winter gear in this pack.

If you’d like a breathable backpack, look for one with an internal frame. Because of the layout of this type of backpack, air moves more freely around it.

Features

The Teton Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack isn’t just a multi-functional day pack like some of the others reviewed here. Rather, it’s an internal frame pack, designed for serious trekking. With a capacity of 55 liters, it offers a lot more room than many competitors, including the ones on this list. The fabrics used in its construction are 600D Diamond Ripstop polyester and 600D PU (polyurethane), providing one of the most durable, tear-resistant skins available.

Finding the right fit

Fit plays a key role in your enjoyment of your hiking backpack. If it doesn’t fit correctly, the pack may cause pain while you wear it, says our outdoor expert, Amy Horton.

“It is very important to buy the right size pack, especially if you're carrying any amount of weight,” Horton says. “You need to test out how it feels with as much weight as you will be carrying on the trip to really judge it.”

Measure your torso to find the best fitting hiking backpack. Use a measuring tape, and ask someone to help you. Measure the length from the base of the back of your neck to the tops of your hips. Use this distance in inches to find the proper backpack for your height.

DID YOU KNOW?

Don’t count on a backpack rain cover to keep your gear completely dry. Rain covers may leak around the edges.

Extra features on the backpack

Even after a lot of research on your hiking backpack, upon receiving the bag, you may find a few extras you didn’t know about. Some backpack makers include a few cool features that they don’t publicize well in the product information.

Our expert, Amy Horton, recommends inspecting your backpack carefully after receiving it. Become thoroughly familiar with any extra features so you can take advantage of them on your hikes. Some common features to look for include:

  • Bungee cords

  • Distress whistles

  • External pockets

  • External straps

  • Extra padding

  • Mesh pouches

  • Hidden pockets

  • Waterproof compartments

EXPERT TIP

If you feel your shoulders becoming sore when wearing a backpack, try shifting the majority of the weight in the pack toward your hips.s


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast
EXPERT TIP

As you’re breaking in a new hiking backpack, we recommend short hikes, until you become used to how the bag fits.


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

Other uses for backpacks

Sure, your hiking backpack’s primary function involves carrying your gear. But, as Horton says, hiking backpacks work great for other functions, making them versatile and valuable pieces of equipment.

Backrest

When full, the pack works great as a comfortable backrest, either while in camp or while resting during the hike. “When you're taking a quick break and don't want to take it off, just sit on a rock, stay strapped in, and lean,” Horton says.

Hanging food

If you don’t have a bear container or food bags, you can store your food in the pack and hang it in a tree or on a pole while camping.

Pillow

Soft-sided hiking backpacks work well as a pillow for a quick nap or for sitting on a soft surface, rather than the hard ground. “Just make sure not to sit on your water bladder and pop it,” Horton says.

Storage at home

Organize your clutter by using the pack’s capacity around the house. You can use it to store some of your camping gear, keeping it organized and ready to go, for example.

Sun shade

Place some taller items in the backpack to provide a bit of protection from the sun while hiking. “If it's tall and stuffed enough, it'll provide you some shade on the back of your body, neck, and head while you're wearing it,” Horton says.

When packing a backpack, try to pack items you’ll need frequently in outer pockets. Try to organize your items so you don’t have to unpack the entire pack each time.

FAQ

Q. What are the most common mistakes people make when picking a hiking backpack?

A. According to our outdoor expert, Amy Horton, people tend to pick a hiking backpack too early in the research process. They end up with a model that doesn’t fit properly, has the wrong capacity, or has pockets in the wrong places. Not doing enough research, not getting fitted, not testing the pack out with weight before the actual trip, or buying something with far less or far more capacity than needed are the biggest mistakes Horton says she sees.

Q. What’s the best way to clean a soiled backpack?

A. To wash the entire backpack, remove the metal frame (if it has one). Submerge the backpack in warm water and mild detergent, then scrub it with your hands. Hang the backpack outside in the sun to air dry. If you only want to clean a small soiled spot, use an old toothbrush dipped in warm water with detergent to scrub the spot. If you have a waterproof backpack, don’t clean it often – you could wear away the waterproofing layer.

Q. Can I use the hiking backpack as carry-on luggage for an air trip?

A. As long as the size of the filled backpack doesn’t exceed the carry-on luggage size for your airline, you may use it on an airplane. However, be careful, as hiking backpacks tend to have more outer pockets, zippers, and straps than a typical carry-on bag. These hanging items could become caught in scanning machinery, or snagged when walking through tight spaces.

For a comfortable backpack size, look for one that matches your torso size. Some packs can be adjusted to accommodate a wider range of user sizes.
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