Osprey Aura AG 65

Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs

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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.

 

BackpackPriceVolumeWeightSizesCarries Up To...Features
Arc'teryx Altra 65$47565L/3,967 c.i.5 lbs.2 men's and women's50 lbs.Zipper accessing main compartment, 7 pockets, pivoting hipbelt
Arc'teryx Bora AR 50$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
Gregory Baltoro 75 and Deva 70$31975L/4,577 c.i.6 lbs.3 men's and women's50+ lbs.Zipper accessing main compartment, 8 pockets, pivoting hipbelt, hydration bladder/daypack, removable lid pocket/fanny pack
Gregory Stout 45 and Amber 44$16945L/2,746 c.i.3 lbs. 9 oz.2 men's and women's35 lbs.5 pockets, durable fabric, integrated rain cover
Gregory Wander 70$18970L/4,272 c.i.3 lbs. 10 oz.1 adjustable25-30 lbs.4 pockets, adjustable torso length and hip pads, removable daypack
Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65$26065L/3,967 c.i.4 lbs. 11 oz.3 men's and women's, adjustable45-50 lbs.Unique harness, 9 pockets, poles attachment
Osprey Exos 58$22058L/3,356 c.i.2 lbs. 8 oz.3 unisex25-30 lbs.Removable lid, 9 pockets, poles attachment
REI Flash 45$14945L/2,868 c.i.2 lbs. 14 oz.2 men's and women's, adjustable 25-30 lbs.unique compression system, 6 pockets
The North Face Banchee 65$23965L/3,967 c.i.3 lbs. 12 oz.2 men's and women's, adjustable40+ lbs.Floating lid, 9 pockets, sleeping bag compartment
The North Face Fovero 70$29070L/4,272 c.i.5 lbs. 7 oz.2 men's and women's, adjustable45 lbs.Zipper accessing main compartment, 9 pockets, adjustable torso length and hip pads

 

Arc'teryx Altra 65

Arc’teryx Altra 65

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.

 

Arc'teryx Bora AR 50 backpack.

Arc’teryx Bora AR 50 backpack.

High-Tech Comfort, Tough, and Waterproof
Arc’teryx Bora AR 50
$499, 50L/3,050 c.i., 4 lbs. 13 oz.

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 50.

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

 

Gregory Baltoro 75

Gregory Baltoro 75

Big-Load Hauler
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.

 

Gregory Stout 45

Gregory Stout 45

Good Value
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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Gregory Stout at backcountry.com or rei.com, or an Amber 44 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.

 

Gregory Wander 70

Gregory Wander 70

Gregory Wander 70

Gregory Wander 70

For Kids and Small Adults
Gregory Wander 70
$189, 3 lbs. 10 oz.

Two types of people often have trouble finding a backpack that fits them: young teenagers and small adults, especially women. Both my teenage son (five feet, four inches, 110 pounds, 15-inch torso) and a woman friend (five feet, one inch, 107 pounds, 14.5-inch torso) found the Wander 70 comfortable for backpacking. Gregory’s Versafit suspension adjusts for torso lengths from 13 to 18 inches, and the movable Aeromesh hip pads can be repositioned to fit a wide range of smaller waists. Barely north of 3.5 pounds, it’s light enough for weekend trips and spacious enough for weeklong outings, with good organization, including a U-shaped front panel zipper that provides instant access to virtually everything inside.

Read my complete review of the Gregory Wander 70.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a Gregory Wander 70 at moosejaw.com or rei.com.

 

See also my review of another favorite kids backpack, the Osprey Ace 38, 50, and 75.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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12 Responses to Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs

  1. Aaron Martin   |  September 21, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    For someone that is beginning to the transition into lighter gear but wants a pack for weeklong trips, would you suggest the Altra or Atmos? From this I can’t quite tell which you think is more comfortable.

    • Michael Lanza   |  September 21, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Hey Aaron, good question. When you say “lighter gear,” your pack choice will depend on what you really mean by that in terms of total weight. You could have a total pack weight of 25 pounds (or less), including food and water for a weeklong trip; certainly under 30 pounds isn’t hard to achieve. The Altra and Atmos are both very comfortable with 45+ pounds, and that’s what they’re made for. If your regularly carrying that much weight, I would try them both on loaded with some weight and see which feels better on you, and also consider which feature set you prefer.

      When choosing a pack, I always tell people to find a few options that look good and try them on. See my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack:” https://thebigoutside.com/5-tips-for-finding-the-right-backpack/

  2. Joey Alcala ن (@JoeyDoulos)   |  August 30, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Which of these packs would fit as a carry on?

    • michaellanza   |  August 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Joey, I’ve used the REI Flash 45 as a carry-on; its frame is flexible. I think the Gregory Stout 45/Amber 44 might be borderline, but would probably fit on larger jets. Exped Thunder 50 is probably a little too large, but I haven’t tried it. The rest are bigger packs.

  3. Brad   |  April 18, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Where are the lightweight packs made by smaller companies? I would not buy any of these packs. They are all overpriced and weigh too much. Hyperlight Mountain Gear, Gossamer Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, ZPacks and ULA are making the best backpacks. My big HMG pack can handle the weight that these packs do, and weighs less and feels better.

    • michaellanza   |  April 20, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Hi Brad, those are good brands, I’ve used packs made by some of them and may test and review a pack from at least one of these companies in the future. Then I’ll judge whether it deserves to be on this list, which covers the best packs for backpacking that I’ve used so far. I’ve tested and reviewed dozens of backpacks over the past two decades, and I’ve liked some ultralight packs; but they may not be as ideal for many users as they are for you, based on my personal experience and the clear demands of consumers.

  4. Joe   |  March 30, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the article. I recently purchased an AARN pack and found it excellent, was wondering where your thoughts lay with this brand of backpack,

    Many thanks

    • michaellanza   |  March 30, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      Hi Joe, I’ve seen AARN packs but haven’t had the opportunity to try one out yet. So while I can’t really comment on that brand specifically, I did, for many years, use sizable front packs for carrying camera equipment, which is a setup similar to the way AARN packs distribute weight front and back. I eventually decided that I don’t like having a fairly large pack on my chest, because it’s hot and obstructs my view of where I’m walking. By the way, I now carry my camera equipment and small incidentals (like a map and snacks) in a Ribz Front Pack, which is much less obtrusive: https://thebigoutside.com/gear-review-update-ribz-front-pack/

  5. Garry Hall   |  March 30, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I like Ospery Aether, Xenith packs they just Carrie much better than the packs you have on your list I have been to EMS stores and REI and many of the packs that you list have a lot of returns but Aether and Xenith packs are the ones they push and I must say I tried the packs you talked about but after days hiking with them I always go back to the Ospery Aether ,Xenith these packs just feel so much better on my back they make the weight disappear and after days of hiking that is the key to enjoying backpacking .

    • michaellanza   |  March 30, 2016 at 9:31 am

      Hi Garry, I’ve used both the Aether and Xenith (and reviewed the Xenith here: https://thebigoutside.com/gear-review-osprey-xenith-88xena-85-backpacks/). Yup, they’re very good. The Xenith is obviously built for heavy loads, and there’s no reason to carry a pack that heavy for lighter loads. I think Osprey has improved on its harness technology with the AG harness in the Atmos and Aura packs, which can handle pretty substantial loads. The other packs reviewed here have a variety of strengths and are designed for different loads and styles.

  6. Rob McKay   |  December 22, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Re Rod’s comment on AARN Packs – another New Zealand success story.

  7. Rod Myers   |  December 21, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Nice packs but AARN packs are the bes

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