Osprey Aura AG 65

Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs

In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   12 Comments

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. (In addition, I point out below two excellent packs for 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 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
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider$34055L/3,400 c.i.1 lb. 15 oz.4 unisex30-35 lbs.Waterproof, very durable, 5 pockets
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
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60$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
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 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.

 

Protect your nice backpack when traveling. See my review of the best gear duffles.

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

See also my reviews of two favorite kids packs, the Gregory Wander 70 and Osprey Ace packs.

 

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.

 

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.

Ultralight Standout
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
$340, 55L/3,400 c.i., 1 lb. 15 oz.

Many ultralight packs lack the support for carrying more than about 25 pounds comfortably. HMG’s 3400 Windrider handles 30 to 35 pounds well, has the capacity for going several days between resupplies, and weighs much less than some best-selling competitors. 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 any of these links to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com.

 

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

 

Osprey Atmos AG 65 harness.

Osprey Atmos AG 65 harness.

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

Osprey Exos 58

Lightweight Pick
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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy an Osprey Exos 58 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

 

The Big Outside is proud to partner with sponsor Backcountry.com, who supports the stories you read at this blog. Find out more about them and how to sponsor my blog at my sponsors page at The Big Outside. Click on the backcountry.com ad below for the best prices on great gear.

 

REI Flash 45 backpack

REI Flash 45 backpack

REI Flash 45.

REI Flash 45.

Best Price
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.”

 

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack.

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack.

Two Packs In One
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60
$200, 2 lbs. 9 oz.

Flex Capacitor 40-60 front filled.

Flex Capacitor 40-60 front filled.

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.

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 moosejaw.com or campsaver.com.

 

This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.









 

The North Face Banchee 65

The North Face Banchee 65Pound-For-Pound Standout

Pound-For-Pound Standout
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.”

 

The North Face Fovero 70

The North Face Fovero 70

The North Face Fovero 70

The North Face Fovero 70

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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy The North Face Fovero 70 men’s model at backcountry.com or the women’s model at backcountry.com., or the men’s or women’s at moosejaw.com.

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.

 

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 below, 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.

 


Subscribe to the Big Outside

Enter your e-mail address for updates about new stories, reviews, and gear giveaways!



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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Like This Story? Join My Email List Now!

Enter your email for updates about new stories, reviews, and gear giveaways.




Grand Canyon Hiker