Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
By Michael Lanza
Backpacks come in many sizes and flavors for a reason: so do backpackers. Some of us need a pack for moderate loads, others for heavy loads, while still others want a pack designed for lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Some prefer a minimalist design, others a range of features and access. Everyone wants the best fit and comfort they can find, and almost everyone has a budget.
I looked at all the backpacks intended primarily (if not exclusively) for backpacking that I’ve tested and reviewed at The Big Outside, and selected for this article 10 top performers that stand out for reasons that make each appeal uniquely to a certain type of backpacker, including kids of all ages. I think one of them will be perfect for you—possibly even more than one if, like me, you prefer different packs for different kinds of trips.
I’ve listed the packs alphabetically rather than ranking them by some performance metric, because the one you choose will depend most on the type of pack you’re seeking and on your budget. I suggest you narrow your choices to two or three and try them all on. If you’re unsure what type of pack you need, you may want to first read my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack.” The comparison chart below offers a quick look at stats and features that distinguish these packs from one another.
Click on the name of each pack to read its complete review at The Big Outside.
|Backpack||Price||Volume||Weight||Sizes||Carries Up To...||Features|
|Arc'teryx Altra 65||$475||65L/3,967 c.i.||5 lbs.||2 men's and women's||50 lbs.||Zipper accessing main compartment, 7 pockets, pivoting hipbelt|
|Arc'teryx Bora AR 50||$499||50L/3,050 c.i.||4 lbs. 13 oz.||2 men's and women's sizes, adjustable||40 lbs.||Rotating hipbelt, widely adjustable fit, tough, waterproof, 7 pockets|
|Gregory Baltoro 75 and Deva 70||$319||75L/4,577 c.i.||6 lbs.||3 men's and women's||50+ lbs.||Zipper accessing main compartment, 8 pockets, pivoting hipbelt, hydration bladder/daypack, removable lid pocket/fanny pack|
|Gregory Stout 45 and Amber 44||$169||45L/2,746 c.i.||3 lbs. 9 oz.||2 men's and women's||35 lbs.||5 pockets, durable fabric, integrated rain cover|
|Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65||$260||65L/3,967 c.i.||4 lbs. 11 oz.||3 men's and women's, adjustable||45-50 lbs.||Unique harness, 9 pockets, poles attachment|
|Osprey Exos 58||$220||58L/3,356 c.i.||2 lbs. 8 oz.||3 unisex||25-30 lbs.||Removable lid, 9 pockets, poles attachment|
|REI Flash 45||$149||45L/2,868 c.i.||2 lbs. 14 oz.||2 men's and women's, adjustable||25-30 lbs.||Unique compression system, 6 pockets|
|Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60||$200||40-60L/2,550 to 3,650 c.i.||2 lbs. 9 oz.||2 men's||35-40 lbs.||Unique expandable capacity range of 40-60 liters, 5 pockets|
|The North Face Banchee 65||$239||65L/3,967 c.i.||3 lbs. 12 oz.||2 men's and women's, adjustable||40+ lbs.||Floating lid, 9 pockets, sleeping bag compartment|
|The North Face Fovero 70||$290||70L/4,272 c.i.||5 lbs. 7 oz.||2 men's and women's, adjustable||45 lbs.||Zipper accessing main compartment, 9 pockets, adjustable torso length and hip pads|
Everything But the Kitchen Sink
Arc’teryx Altra 65
$475, 5 lbs.
Designers strive to keep gear weights low these days, so rarely do you see a pack loaded with features for backpacking. But if you like all the bells and whistles, plus superior comfort, construction, and durability, look at the Altra packs. The suspension features a flexible framesheet with an aluminum stay for rigidity, and a molded hipbelt mounted on a pivoting disc to rotate with your hips, plus precision fitting right down to the positioning of the shoulder straps. A huge, U-shaped front zipper accesses the main compartment—a feature I love—and there are multiple pockets, from two spacious ones on the extendable, removable lid, to a deep front pocket. Lastly, 210-denier ripstop nylon throughout ensures against tears.
Read my complete review of the Arc’teryx Altra 65.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy an Arc’teryx Altra men’s or women’s pack at backcountry.com.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
High-Tech Comfort, Tough, and Waterproof
Arc’teryx Bora AR 50
$499, 50L/3,050 c.i., 4 lbs. 13 oz.
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 50.
Protect your nice backpack when traveling. See my review of the best gear duffles.
Gregory Baltoro 75 and Deva 70
$319, 6 lbs.
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 sports an independently pivoting shoulder harness and hipbelt that let the pack move with your body, and the thermo-molded back panel and lumbar pad deliver serious cushioning. Features include a weatherproof hipbelt pocket for electronics; a removable, Sidekick internal hydration bladder that doubles as an ultralight summit pack; a lid pocket that converts to a fanny pack; a U-shaped zipper to access the main compartment; and multiple pockets. The Baltoro also comes in 65-liter ($299) and 85-liter ($349) versions, and the Deva in 60-liter ($299) and 80-liter ($319) versions.
Read my complete review of the Gregory Baltoro 75 and Deva 70.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Gregory Baltoro 75 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com, or a Deva 70 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Gregory Stout 45 and Amber 44
$169, 3 lbs. 9 oz.
For a backpacker who travels fairly light, may wander into rugged terrain, and pursues adventures on a budget, it’s hard to beat the men’s Stout and women’s Amber packs. With the support for carrying up to 35 pounds, the Stout 45 and Amber 44 have design features you’d expect in more-expensive backpacks: an ample lumbar pad; an adjustable hipbelt with good rigidity; a steel alloy, perimeter frame; wicking mesh in the back panel, and a curved shape that allows some air flow over your back. The fixed, non-adjustable harness comes in two sizes (not the usual three sizes of other Gregory models). The Stout also comes in 65-liter ($199) and 75-liter ($219) versions, and the Amber in 34-liter ($149), 60-liter ($199), and 70-liter ($219) versions.
Read my complete review of the Gregory Stout 45 and Amber 44.
See also my reviews of two favorite kids packs, the Gregory Wander 70 and Osprey Ace packs.
Ultimate Carrying Comfort
Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65
$260, 4 lbs. 11 oz.
The men’s Atmos AG and women’s Aura AG (lead photo at top of story) 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 an Osprey Atmos AG 65 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com, or or an Aura AG 65 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
Osprey Exos 58
$220, 2 lbs. 8 oz.
When I’m not carrying extra gear for either my family or a gear-intensive trip like climbing, I keep my pack weight, even with food for several days, to around 25 pounds or less (and it’s only that heavy partly because of camera equipment, but also because of personal choices; see my ultralight backpacking tips). But I also walk many miles and hours each day, so I don’t want to sacrifice comfort by getting a pack with no real suspension or support. The Exos series demonstrates that a backpack weighing a mere two-and-a-half pounds can carry 25 to 30 pounds comfortably, thus serving the needs of everyone from weekenders to longer-distance backpackers and thru-hikers. The Exos also comes in 48-liter ($190) and 38-liter ($160) versions.
Read my complete review of the Osprey Exos 58.
REI Flash 45
$149, 2 lbs. 14 oz.
REI’s latest iteration of the Flash 45 does two things rarely seen in a quality backpack: It weighs in under three pounds and costs less than $150. It carries 25 to 30 pounds comfortably, has some adjustability in the shoulder harness, and sports REI’s proprietary UpLift Compression system, ratcheting straps that pull the pack load upward and inward to both make the load more stable and shift it closer to your center of balance. A basic top-loader, it has the capacity for a three- to four-day trip, plus six external pockets. You can find packs that are more comfortable, feature-rich, minimalist, or capable of hauling more weight, but you will be challenged to find one that compares with the Flash 45 at a better price.
Read my complete review of the REI Flash 45.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy an REI Flash 45 at rei.com.
Get the right pack for you. See my “Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack.”
Two Packs In One
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60
$200, 2 lbs. 9 oz.
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—impressive 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.
Exceptional Comfort, Low Weight
The North Face Banchee 65
$239, 3 lbs. 12 oz.
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect a pack weighing under four pounds to carry upwards of 50 pounds comfortably, but the Banchee 65 did that—albeit just for a few hours—when I had to haul extra water for my daughter and myself in the Grand Canyon. While I don’t put it in the same weight class as the Gregory Baltoro/Deva, Arc’teryx Altra, or Osprey Atmos/Aura AG packs, the Banchee 65 certainly hauls 40 pounds quite comfortably all day. A top-loader, it excels for organization, with nine pockets from the hipbelt to two 16-inch-long, zippered front pockets. With its modest weight and good compression, the Banchee 65 is legitimately all the pack you need for trips from overnighters to weeklong wilderness treks, as long as you don’t routinely load more than 40 to 45 pounds inside.
Read my complete review of The North Face Banchee 65.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a men’s The North Face Banchee 65 at backcountry.com or a women’s Banchee 65 at backcountry.com, or the men’s or women’s at moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”
Super Organization For Big Loads
The North Face Fovero 70
$290, 5 lbs. 7 oz.
For hauling around 40 pounds or more, I want a pack that’s built for heavy loads and has a high degree of organization. Backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with my teenage son and two of his new-to-backpacking buddies, I found the Fovero 70 delivered exceptional comfort and access. The adjustable harness in the men’s and women’s models has five inches of range for dialing in a good fit for your torso length, and the hipbelt pads are adjustable. Most distinctively, this top loader has better access and organization than many packs in this category, starting with nine pockets—including on the hipbelt, mesh side pockets, two roomy, zippered front pockets, and a voluminous “beaver-tail” (AKA stuff-it) front pocket. And a J-shaped, two-way zipper runs down one side and around the bottom, giving quick access to much of the main compartment.
Read my complete review of The North Face Fovero 70.
Tell me what you think.
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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.
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