By Michael Lanza

Backpacks come in many sizes and designs for a reason: so do backpackers. Some of us need a pack for moderate loads, others for heavy loads, and still others for lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Some prefer a minimalist pack, others a range of features and access. Everyone wants the best possible fit and comfort, and almost everyone has a budget. But no matter which type of backpacker you are, I’ve found the best packs in each of those categories.

This review covers my picks for the 10 best backpacking packs, covering all types, each one a standout for different reasons. I also point out two excellent packs for kids. My judgments draw from many thousands of miles and three decades of backpacking and a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for 10 years, and now for this blog. Few reviewers have lugged as many packs around the backcountry as me.

I think at least one of these packs will be perfect for you—plus you’ll find some at great sale prices now (and links to those online retailers below).

I’ve listed the pack reviews below in order by weight because that’s the metric that most defines and influences a pack’s design and functionality. The pack you ultimately choose may depend partly on weight, but also on design and on your budget. Each pack review in this article links to that pack’s complete review at The Big Outside.

Not sure what type of pack you need? Start with my “Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack.” See also my picks for “The Best Ultralight Backpacks.”

The comparison chart below offers a quick look at stats and features that distinguish these packs from one another.

If you have a question for me or a comment on this review, please make it in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up for my FREE email newsletter now.

The 10 Best Backpacking Packs

BackpackScorePriceVolumeWeightSizesCarries Up To...Features
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider90%$36555L/3,400 c.i.1 lb. 15 oz.4 unisex30-35 lbs.Waterproof, very durable, 5 pockets
Gregory Optic 58 and Octal 5591%$21058L/3,539 c.i.2 lbs. 7 oz.3 men's and women's30-35 lbs.6 pockets, poles attachment, ventilated suspension, removable lid, rain cover included
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-6085%$20040-60L/2,550 to 3,650 c.i.2 lbs. 9 oz.2 men's35-40 lbs.Unique expandable capacity range of 40-60 liters, 5 pockets
Osprey Exos 58/Eja 5890%$22058L/3,539 c.i.2 lbs. 11 oz.3 men's and women's30-35 lbs.Removable lid, ventilated suspension, 5 pockets, poles attachment
The North Face Banchee 5093%$23050L/3,051 c.i.3 lbs. 1 oz.2 men's and women's, adjustable40 lbs.On-the-fly torso adjustment, self-equalizing load lifters, 9 pockets
Granite Gear Blaze 6095%$27060L/3,660 c.i.3 lbs. 4 oz.3 unisex and 2 women's, adjustable45+ lbs.Versatile load capacity, 6 pockets, adjustable torso length and hipbelt, zipper accessing main compartment
Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 6598%$27065L/3,967 c.i.4 lbs. 11 oz.3 men's and women's, adjustable45-50 lbs.Unique harness, 9 pockets, poles attachment
Arc'teryx Bora AR 5095%$49950L/3,050 c.i.4 lbs. 13 oz.2 men's and women's sizes, adjustable40 lbs.Rotating hipbelt, widely adjustable fit, tough, waterproof, 7 pockets
Mystery Ranch Sphinx 6095%$26960L/3,662 c.i.,4 lbs. 14 oz.4 men's and women's, adjustable45-50 lbs.Unique front zipper access and compression, 7 pockets, highly durable
Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 6096%$30065L/3,966 c.i.4 lbs. 15 oz.3 men's and women's, adjustable50 lbs.Zipper accessing main compartment, 9 pockets, pivoting hipbelt, hydration bladder/daypack
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack in the Wind River Range.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack in the Wind River Range.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider front.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider.

Tough, Waterproof Ultralight

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
$345, 55L/3,400 c.i., 1 lb. 15 oz.
backcountry.com

When the 3400 Windrider was delivered to my house, the box looked much too small to contain a backpack. Comparable to the best sub-three-pound, ultralight packs, the 3400 Windrider handles 30 to 35 pounds well, but weighs anywhere from a half-pound to nearly a pound less than those competitors. It has the capacity for going several days between resupplies. Its tough Dyneema Composite Fabrics is fully waterproof. The fixed suspension comes in four sizes—more than offered by most high-end pack makers—and the simple harness system works.

Three big, external mesh pockets add nearly 10 liters of capacity, and the roomy, zippered hipbelt pockets offer convenience. A top-loader with a roll-top closure, the 3400 Windrider is noticeably bereft of features found on many other packs. But its minimalist design, durability, capacity, comfort, and low weight will appeal to many backpackers who prefer hiking over simply hauling.

Read my complete review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


 

The Gregory Optic 58 ultralight backpack in the Grand Canyon.
The Gregory Optic 58 ultralight backpack in the Grand Canyon.

Ultralight With Extras

Gregory Optic 58 and Octal 55
$210, 2 lbs. 7 oz.
backcountry.com

Gregory Optic 58 front.
Gregory Optic 58.

Gregory’s attention to comfort in its first ultralight backpack is reflected in the aluminum perimeter wire with an HDPE framesheet and leaf-spring lumbar pad, which distributes most of the pack’s load across the hips and delivers support for carrying 30 to 35 pounds; and the trampoline-style Aerospan suspension, a tensioned, highly ventilated back panel that allows air movement across your sweaty back. These are well-designed, comfortable packs for ultralighters who want some organizational features of traditional backpacks.

Backpackers who want to go ultralight without switching to a stripped-down style of backpack will like the traditional design of the top-loading men’s Optic and women’s Octal. They sport six external pockets, including two on the hipbelt and a large, stretch-mesh front pocket, and useful features like a quick attachment on the left shoulder strap for trekking poles or sunglasses.

Read my complete review of the Gregory Optic 58 and Octal 55.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Gregory Optic 58 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, a Gregory Optic 48 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or ems.com, a Gregory Octal 55 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com or campsaver.com, or a Gregory Octal 45 at backcountry.commoosejaw.com, or ems.com.

Want a well-priced, adjustable pack with a good fit and more access and features than these ultralight packs? See my review of the Gregory men’s Zulu 55 and women’s Jade 53.

Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, or other parks using my expert e-guides.

 

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack.
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Two Packs In One

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60
$200, 2 lbs. 9 oz.
backcountry.com

The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 fully loaded.
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 fully loaded.

Many avid backpackers eventually find themselves facing an expensive quandary: the need for a second or even third pack to better handle the range of trips they take. Sierra Designs confronts that challenge with the Flex Capacitor, which changes size in a range from 40 to 60 liters to cover trips from weekends to a week or even a thru-hike.

I found it comfortable carrying up to 35 pounds on the Tour du Mont Blanc—solid performance for a pack weighing slightly more than two-and-a-half pounds—and I suspect many people would find it hauls 40 pounds well. While organization and access don’t match other packs on this list, there are five external pockets, including roomy hipbelt pockets, and it’s durable for its weight class.

Read my complete review of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”

The 2018 Osprey Exos 58 in Glacier National Park.
The Osprey Exos 58 in Glacier National Park.

Ultralight Classic

Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58
$220, 2 lbs. 11 oz.
backcountry.com

Osprey Exos 58 backpack.
Osprey Exos 58.

Redesigned for 2018, the classic Exos still sets standards for ultralight backpacks—and Osprey rolled out a women’s version, the Eja. Available in three torso lengths, its alloy perimeter frame has a pronounced bell shape that helps focus the load more directly onto the hips—an improvement in comfort that’s noticeable, allowing the pack to carry 30 pounds or more comfortably. And the trampoline-style back panel permits cooling air circulation.

The Exos 58 and Eja 58 have the capacity for weeklong trips and ultralight thru-hiking. At just over 2.5 pounds, they have smart features like a removable lid, voluminous exterior pockets, and a handy trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap. The Exos and Eja also come in 48-liter ($200) and 38-liter ($180) versions.

Read my complete review of the Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase any men’s Osprey Exos backpack at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, or any women’s Osprey Eja backpack at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.

Need a pack for a kid or small adult? See my reviews of the Gregory Wander 70
and the Osprey Ace 38, 50, and 75.

The North Face Banchee 50 in Yellowstone National Park.
The North Face Banchee 50 in Yellowstone National Park.
The North Face Banchee 50.
The North Face Banchee 50.

‘Almost Ultralight’ Standout

The North Face Banchee 50
$230, 3 lbs. 1 oz.
backcountry.com

TNF’s updated-for-2019 version of the Banchee 50 falls squarely into a category I’m calling “almost ultralight:” barely over an unofficial ceiling weight of three pounds for ultralight packs, but more tricked-out than ultralight competitors, and with a greater weight-bearing and volume capacity than many. Plus, TNF’s unique new Dyno Lite suspension allows for on-the-fly torso adjustment and one-hand dialing in of the self-equalizing load lifters.

A top-loader, it excels for organization, with nine pockets from the hipbelt to two capacious, zippered front pockets. With its modest weight, abundant features, and good compression, the Banchee 50 may be the only pack you need for outings ranging from weekends to wilderness treks up to about five days (with lightweight, compact gear), as long as you don’t routinely load more than about 40 pounds inside.

Read my complete review of The North Face Banchee 50.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase The North Face men’s Banchee 50 at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com, The North Face women’s Banchee 50 at Moosejaw.com, The North Face men’s Banchee 65 at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com, or The North Face women’s Banchee 65 at Moosejaw.com. You can also support my blog by clicking any of these links to purchase The North Face men’s Griffin 65 at Moosejaw.com, the men’s Griffin 75 at Moosejaw.com, or the women’s Griffin 65 at Moosejaw.com.

The Big Outside helps you find the best adventures. Join now to read ALL stories and get a free e-guide!

The Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack in the Grand Canyon.
The Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack in the Grand Canyon.
The Granite Gear Blaze 60.
The Granite Gear Blaze 60.

Most Versatile

Granite Gear Blaze 60
$270, 3 lbs. 4 oz.
backcountry.com

How many pounds can a lightweight backpack carry comfortably? The Blaze 60 may have redefined that. At just a half-pound heavier than some ultralight packs, the Blaze 60 has the comfort and support to haul 40 pounds or more, as I discovered on long days during a 74-mile backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon. Coming in three unisex and two women’s sizes, all of them adjustable for torso length, it fits nearly all of humanity.

It has the capacity and support for long trips and the compression and low weight for short trips, plus super access with a wide top-loading mouth, a panel zipper into the main compartment, and six external pockets. On top of all that, the fabric is bombproof. The Blaze 60 deserves a place among the top all-purpose packs for trips of any length.

Read my complete review of the Granite Gear Blaze 60.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a women’s-specific Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

Get my expert help planning your backpacking or hiking trip and 30% off a one-year subscription. Click here.

 

A woman backpacker on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.
The Osprey Aura AG 65 on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Ultimate  Comfort

Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65
$270, 4 lbs. 11 oz.
backcountry.com

Osprey Atmos AG 65 harness.
Osprey Atmos AG 65 harness.

The men’s Atmos AG and women’s Aura AG packs feel different the moment you put one on: The Anti-Gravity suspension feels more like putting on a jacket than a backpack. And they carry 45 to 50 pounds with supreme comfort, wrapping around your back and hips while allowing air to move across your back.

These packs are available in three sizes with an adjustable harness and hipbelt, and come loaded with features including multiple pockets and a convenient trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap for tucking them away on the go. And it weighs well under five pounds. It’s a great choice for backpackers who usually carry moderate to heavy loads.

Read my complete review of the Osprey men’s Atmos AG 65 and women’s Aura AG 65.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a men’s Osprey Atmos AG 65 or Atmos AG 50 at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, or a women’s Aura AG 65 or Aura AG 50 at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.

Gear up smartly for your trips. See a menu of all my reviews and expert buying tips at my Gear Reviews page.

 
Arc'teryx Bora AR 50 backpack.
Arc’teryx Bora AR 50 backpack in the North Cascades.

High-Tech Comfort, Tough, and Waterproof

Arc’teryx Bora AR 50
$499, 50L/3,050 c.i., 4 lbs. 13 oz.
backcountry.com

Arc’teryx Bora 50.
Arc’teryx Bora 50.

The generously padded, removable Rotoglide hipbelt in the Bora packs—which come in 63- and 50-liter versions for men, and 61- and 49-liter versions for women—rotates side to side and slides up and down, eliminating fatigue and soreness that some packs cause in the shoulders and back as trail miles accumulate.

The very light, thermo-molded Tegris framesheet with two aluminum stays provides support for carrying at least 40 pounds, while the shoulder straps are widely adjustable for both shoulder width and torso length. Add to that superior comfort features like a wide mouth and bright interior for loading, a huge front pocket, four more pockets on the sides and hipbelt, and bombproof fabric that’s waterproof in high-exposure areas, and you have a high-tech hauler that could be the last backpack you own.

Read my complete review of the Arc’teryx Bora AR 50.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a men’s Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 or AR 50 or women’s Bora AR 61 or AR 49 backpack at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or arcteryx.com.

Get the right tent for you. See my “Gear Review: The 7 Best Backpacking Tents
and my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent.”

The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack.
Testing the Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L backpack in Hells Canyon.

Excellent Fit, Features, and Durability

Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60
$269, 60L/3,662 c.i., 4 lbs. 14 oz.
backcountry.com

The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L front zipper.
The Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60L front zipper.

Three packs on this list fall into the category of big packs for big loads, and it can seem difficult to distinguish one from another. But the Sphinx 60 stands out for its full-length front zipper accessing the main compartment and, most uniquely, coming in four sizes in men’s and women’s packs, along with substantial adjustability to dial in the fit.

Mystery Ranch’s Adventure Frame carries 45 to 50 pounds comfortably. Access is excellent in the top-loading Sphinx 60, primarily thanks to a full-length center zipper that completely fillets the pack bag open, plus seven external pockets, including two deep, large front pockets with two-way zippers.

Two more notable features: dual side compression straps that can mate with buckles on the opposite side, wrapping completely around the pack; and 330-denier Robic fabric in the pack bottom and front pockets. For an extended wilderness hike requiring a week or more of food, parents carrying food and gear for young kids, trip leaders and others, the Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60 ranks among the very best big packs for comfort, access, and features.

Read my complete review of the Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to purchase a men’s or women’s Mystery Ranch Sphinx 60 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.

Get the right daypack for your hikes. See my review of “The 8 Best Hiking Daypacks.”

Gregory Baltoro 65 backpack
The Gregory Baltoro 65 backpack in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

Big-Load Hauler

Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60
$300, 4 lbs. 15 oz.
backcountry.com

Gregory Baltoro 65 front.
Gregory Baltoro 65 front.

For carrying loads of 50 pounds or more, I want a pack that’s supportive, comfortable, and more tricked out than I prefer in a lighter pack. In every respect, from the suspension to the feature set, the men’s Baltoro and women’s Deva packs fill the big-pack role extremely well.

The suspension allows both shoulder straps and both sides of the hipbelt to pivot independently, letting the pack move with your body, while the high-strength aluminum perimeter frame and the ventilated, moisture-wicking mesh back panel and foam lumbar pad deliver serious support, cushioning, and comfort. Features include a U-shaped zipper that opens up the entire main compartment; multiple pockets, including a weatherproof hipbelt pocket that holds a smartphone, and a dual-pocket lid; a removable, Sidekick internal hydration bladder that doubles as an ultralight summit pack; a quick attachment for sunglasses on a shoulder strap; widely adjustable compression straps that cross over the pack bag; and a rain cover included. Other capacity options are the Baltoro 75 ($330), Baltoro 85 ($350), and Baltoro 95 Pro ($380), and the Deva 70 ($330) and Deva 80 ($350).

Read my complete review of the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Gregory Baltoro 65 or other sizes at backcountry.commoosejaw.com, or ems.com, or a Deva 60 or other sizes at backcountry.commoosejaw.com, or ems.com.

Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For Hiking and Backpacking.”

See my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack,” “Video: How to Load a Backpack,” all of my reviews of backpacks at The Big Outside.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.

Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

 

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

Was this review helpful? If so, would you like to support my work by clicking here to leave a tip for The Big Outside? Thank you.