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|
|Gregory Wander 70||$189||70L/4,272 c.i.||3 lbs. 10 oz.||1 adjustable||25-30 lbs.||4 pockets, adjustable torso length and hip pads, removable daypack|
|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|
|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.
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.
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 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.
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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.
See also my review of another favorite kids backpack, the Osprey Ace 38, 50, and 75.
Click the page number button below to read the rest of this review.
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