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, some for heavy loads, and others, increasingly, 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, this review covers the best packs in each of those categories.
Each of my picks for the 10 best backpacking packs stands out for different reasons. I also point out two excellent packs for kids and small adults (at the bottom of the Gregory Paragon/Maven review). My judgments draw from many thousands of miles and more than three decades of backpacking and a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—including the 10 years I spent as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Few reviewers have lugged as many packs around the backcountry as me.
I’m confident at least one of these packs will be perfect for you—plus you’ll find the best prices for them through the affiliate links to online retailers below. Purchasing gear through my affiliate links supports my work on this blog. Thanks for doing that.
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 ratings admittedly tend to favor more-featured packs, which are heavier, and that may not meet your needs; use the ratings as a comparison with packs of similar weight. 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 “5 Expert 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.
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The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
|Carries Up To...
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
|1 lb. 15 oz./
|Waterproof, very durable, 5 pockets
|Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL
|2 lbs. 11 oz./
|6 pockets, ventilated suspension, removable lid, gear loops
|Osprey Exos 58, Eja 58
|2 lbs. 14 oz./
|6 pockets, poles attachment, ventilated suspension, removable lid
|2 men's and women's, adjustable
|The North Face Banchee 50
|3 lbs. 1 oz./
|On-the-fly torso adjustment, self-equalizing load lifters, 8 pockets
|2 men's and women's, adjustable
|Granite Gear Perimeter 50
|3 lbs. 3 oz./
|Unique adjustable harness, removable lid, 8 pockets
|2 unisex and women's, adjustable
|Granite Gear Blaze 60
|3 lbs. 4 oz./
|Versatile load capacity, 6 pockets, adjustable torso length and hipbelt, zipper accessing main compartment
|3 unisex and 2 women's, adjustable
|Gregory Paragon 58 and Maven 55
|3 lbs. 8 oz./
|6 pockets, poles attachment, ventilated suspension, removable lid, rain cover included
|2 men's and women's
|Mystery Ranch Coulee 50
|3 lbs. 12 oz./
|Unique three-zipper access, 8 pockets, highly durable
|4 men's and women's, adjustable
|Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65
|4 lbs. 11 oz./
|Unique harness, 9 pockets, poles attachment, durable
|3 men's and women's, adjustable
|Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60
|4 lbs. 14 oz./
|Dynamic shoulder straps and hipbelt, ventilated back, zipper accessing main compartment, 9 pockets, highly durable
|3 men's and women's, adjustable
Tough, Waterproof Ultralight
When the 3400 Windrider was delivered to my house, the box looked much too small to contain a backpack. Like 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.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest ($379, 55L/3,400 c.i., 2 lbs., four sizes) is virtually identical to the 3400 Windrider except that it replaces the durable, tearproof mesh used in the external pockets with a more durable, Dyneema Hardline fabric—same as used in the zippered hipbelt pockets on both packs.
Read my complete review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com or a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest backpack at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com.
Want an ultralight pack with more total capacity than the 3400 Windrider and seven external pockets, that weighs and costs less? See my review of the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, or other parks using my expert e-books.
Ultralight With Extras
Among several seemingly similar, mid-size, lightweight and ultralight backpacking packs, Deuter’s Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL distinguish themselves from some competitors for their adjustable, comfortable fit and smart design details that make a difference in your experience carrying them, as I found using the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL on a five-day, late-summer backpacking trip in the Wind River Range and a three-day hike on the 22-mile Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow Loop in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early October.
The Ultra 45+5 SL—essentially a smaller unisex size of the Ultra 50+5—carried comfortably with up to about 35 pounds inside, thanks to a spring steel perimeter wire frame and a framesheet that flexes slightly. Deuter’s torso-length adjustment system provides about two inches of fit range and is one of the easiest adjustment systems to access and change I’ve seen. The perforated spacer mesh in the back panel, lumbar pad, shoulder straps, and hipbelt delivers nice ventilation and cushioning. The Aircontact Ultra’shipbelt, while flexible, features a little structure to add support and the shoulder straps have a little rotation where they attach at the top of the back panel. Six external pockets provide good access to these top-loaders.
Read my complete review of the Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 backpack at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL backpack at backcountry.com or rei.com.
See my review of another outstanding pack with the same price, weight, and basic design, though differences, the Gregory men’s Focal 58 and women’s Facet 55.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips”
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
On a nine-day, nearly 130-mile hike through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail, I found the updated-for-2022 Exos 58 keeps what has made it a classic since 2008 while getting even better. Now with improved comfort, thanks to an adjustable suspension with a four-inch fit range, and made with 100 percent recycled materials, the Exos and Eja come in two torso sizes and three capacity sizes. As before, the LightWire perimeter frame carries 30 to 35 pounds comfortably, while the perforated-foam hipbelt and shoulder straps distribute that weight nicely. And the trampoline-style back panel provides great ventilation across your back.
Made a bit more durable through little design improvements, the redesigned Exos 58 and Eja 58 have the capacity for weeklong trips and ultralight thru-hiking. At under three pounds, they have smart features like a removable, floating lid with two pockets, spacious pockets on the front, sides, and hipbelt, Z-style side compression, and a handy trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap. The Exos and Eja also come in 48-liter ($240) and 38-liter ($220) versions.
Read my complete review of the Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase any men’s Osprey Exos backpack at osprey.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, or any women’s Osprey Eja backpack at osprey.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.
Be comfortable on your hikes. See “The Best Rain Jackets For Hiking and Backpacking.”
‘Almost Ultralight’ Standout
TNF’s 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—as I discovered on a five-day backpacking trip in Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon area. 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, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase the men’s or women’s The North Face Banchee 50 or Banchee 65 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
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Uniquely Adjustable Fit
When I loaded the Perimeter 50 with about 12 pounds of water on the first day of a 45-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite—bumping the pack’s weight over the 40 pounds that Granite Gear rates it to handle—I was pleasantly surprised at its comfort. That seems like a bonus for a backpack with a customizable fit and high functionality that carries a modest weight and price.
Granite Gear’s Perimeter series packs feature adjustability for both torso length and shoulder width, easily accomplished by resetting the position of a clip behind each shoulder strap. A spring steel rod lends the pack an ergonomic shape plus rigidity along the vertical axis and some horizontal flex, while a PE board cone disperses weight. A top-loader, it has eight external pockets, including a removable, floating lid pocket and a bottom zippered flap that can also carry a sleeping pad, and tough, Robic high-tenacity nylon fabric.
Read my complete review of the Granite Gear Perimeter 50.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a unisex or women’s Perimeter 50 at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com, or a unisex or women’s Perimeter 35 at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com.
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How many pounds can a lightweight backpack carry comfortably? At just a half-pound heavier than some ultralight packs, the Blaze 60 hauled 40 pounds comfortably on a rugged, six-day, 74-mile backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon, and up to 35 pounds on a four-day, more than 40-mile backpacking trip that crossed four passes near and over 11,000 feet in the Wind River Range.
The Air Current framesheet flexes slightly, allowing the pack to move with your torso, especially in steep or difficult terrain. The ventilated back panel fits closely but has channels for air circulation and the Re-Fit hipbelt felt great even on long, arduous days. 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 zipper into the main compartment, and six external pockets. It comes in three unisex and two women’s sizes, all adjustable, and the fabric is bombproof. The Blaze 60 ranks among the top all-purpose backpacks.
Read my complete review of the Granite Gear Blaze 60.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com, or a women’s-specific Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com, or the short version of the Blaze 60 at moosejaw.com.
Hike all of “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest.”
All-Around Good Value
Two very different backpacking trips of 77 miles in five days (averaging over 15 miles and 8,000 vertical feet per day) on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier and a more leisurely, four-day, 36-mile family hike on the Ruby Crest Trail convinced me that, for many backpackers, Gregory’s well-featured men’s Paragon 58 and women’s Maven 55 might offer everything they want in a pack for every kind of trip they take—at a good price.
Updated in 2020, they have support for carrying around 35 pounds comfortably, thanks to an alloy perimeter frame with a fiberglass cross-stay and Gregory’s FreeFloat Suspension System. Adjustable for torso and hipbelt length in two sizes, both packs have breathable mesh and foam throughout the harness and a trampoline-style back panel that allows air flow over your back and hips. They sport six external pockets, including two on the hipbelt and a large, stretch-mesh front pocket, and useful features like shoulder-strap attachments for trekking poles and sunglasses.
Read my complete review of the Gregory Paragon 58 and Maven 55.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Paragon 68, 58, or 48, at moosejaw.com or backcountry.com, or a women’s Maven 65, 55, or 45 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Excellent Fit, Features, and Durability
The race to lighter backpacks often results in compromises in access, durability, and comfort. Carrying this pack backpacking a section of the Arizona Trail along the Gila River and in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon in the first week of April and on the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park and the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route in the White Goat Wilderness in the Canadian Rockies in early August, the Coulee 50 displayed exceptional comfort and a smart design that makes every interaction with it easier—beginning with its supportive frame and well-padded harness, which can handle 35 pounds or more, and five inches of adjustability in the four men’s and women’s sizes.
The three-zipper access completely opens up the main compartment from the top and front, allowing quick access and efficient packing. The eight external pockets exceed many midsize and large packs. Made with 100 percent recycled, 210-denier nylon Robic and a double-layer bottom, the Coulee packs are built to handle hard use. While definitely not among the lightest in its class, the Coulee 50 delivers uncompromised comfort and a unique design that puts convenience first—a pretty fair tradeoff for basically another pound.
Read my complete review of the Mystery Ranch Coulee 50.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 50 backpack at moosejaw.com or mysteryranch.com, or a women’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 50 backpack at moosejaw.com or mysteryranch.com, or any other Coulee model at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or mysteryranch.com.
Get the right tent for you. See “The 10 Best Backpacking Tents”
and my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent.”
These packs feel very different, in a good way, the first time you put one on, and that positive first impression bore out as I carried the Atmos AG 65 on a five-day hike in The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, when I was often carrying 8.5 to 14.5 pounds (four to seven liters) of water; on a four-day family hike (bearing some of my family’s gear and food weight) on the Rockwall Trail in Canada’s Kootenay National Park; and on two treks in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park as well as other backpacking trips. The Anti-Gravity suspension feels more like putting on a jacket than a backpack. Consisting of a panel of lightweight, tensioned mesh extending from the top of the back panel to the hipbelt, it fully wraps around your back and hips while delivering ample air movement.
Adjustable for fit, including the hipbelt, they carry 45 to 50 pounds with supreme comfort and come loaded with features like nine pockets, a convenient trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap, and an integrated cover panel to replace the removable lid. Weighing well under five pounds, they’re 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, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy any model of the men’s Osprey Atmos AG at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, or any model of the women’s Aura AG at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.
Get the right daypack for your hikes. See my review of “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks.”
For carrying loads of 50 pounds or more, I want a pack that’s supportive, comfortable, and tricked out. In every respect, the men’s Baltoro and women’s Deva packs have long filled the big-pack role extremely well, and trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and on the Teton Crest Trail demonstrated that the latest versions of these two packs are only better.
The Baltoro’s and Deva’s FreeFloat suspension system, updated in 2022, has 3D mesh and a foam-free design that improves air flow across your back; more adjustability in the torso length (in three sizes for men and women), shoulder harnesses, and hipbelt (and the latter two pivot independently, enhancing comfort); enlarged hipbelt pockets; an attachment for a bear spray holster; and a lighter carbon footprint with 31 percent less plastic. And the high-strength aluminum perimeter frame delivers serious support.
Features include a U-shaped zipper that opens up the entire main compartment; nine very functional external pockets; widely adjustable compression straps that cross over the pack bag; and attachments for sunglasses, trekking poles, and ice axes.
Read my complete review of the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to buy a Gregory Baltoro 65 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or gregorypacks.com; a Gregory Deva 60 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or gregorypacks.com; or larger versions of the Baltoro at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or gregorypacks.com or the Deva at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or gregorypacks.com.
And don’t miss my popular reviews of “25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories” and “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year, and avoid leaving anything important behind by using “An Essentials-Only Backpacking Gear Checklist.”
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
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 The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.