Trekking is one of my favourite past-times when travelling. Usually, it’s free to head off into the mountains for a real wilderness adventure and as a broke backpacker, I spend a lot of my time camping out and hiking in the mountains. When you are in the mountains for weeks at a time, you need to make sure you have the right gear. Allow me to introduce you to the best backpacks for hiking and mountain adventures…
Choosing the best backpack for hiking isn’t easy – the internet is flooded with options all claiming to be the best. I’ve personally tried every one of these packs on different hikes and these are my top picks from nine years of multi-day, sometimes multi-week, treks in India, Nepal, Colombia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Table of Contents
Quick Answer: The Best Hiking Backpacks
- Best ‘All Rounder’ Hiking Backpack – Osprey Aether/Ariel
- Best budget hiking backpack – Berghaus Freeflow 35
- Best lightweight hiking backpack – Osprey Exos
- Best pack for the long-run – Deuter Air Contact
- Best small hiking backpack – Deuter Speed Lite 20
- Jump to –> Hiking Backpacks Reviews
Factors to consider when picking out the best hiking backpack:
- The Cool Factor
The most important factor when choosing a hiking backpack is to pick something that is comfortable. If you are carrying a heavy load in your pack you will definitely 100% need a hip belt so that you can take the majority of the weight onto your hips rather than having it hanging off your shoulders and straining your back. I’ve carried 20kg over eighteen days for hundreds of kilometres relatively comfortably as I had picked a backpack with a really well designed, well padded, back and hip belt.
I’ll level with you right now – the more you spend, the better a hiking backpack you will get. Quality hiking backpacks are not cheap and whilst there are some good value options on the market, it’s best to think of this purchase as an investment. I recommend spending a bit more so that you can buy a hiking backpack with a lifetime guarantee – that way you can be sure it will last forever!
You want your backpack to be as light as possible whilst still being incredibly tough and durable. I once had an ultralight backpack but it broke pretty quickly as it just couldn’t stand the wear and tear of being thrown around. The best backpacking backpacks are lightweight anyway so this isn’t such a big concern. If this is a big concern for you, choose a daypack for hiking instead.
You want to choose a rough and tough pack that can take a beating and still come out smiling. These days, most backpacks are tough but you want to find something that is also water-resistant to keep your stuff from getting soaked during sudden downpours. No matter how tough your pack is it will eventually get damaged if you use it constantly – I live out of my backpack – so again, try to pick a hiking backpack with a lifetime warranty.
I always recommend going for a backpack with an internal frame. The best backpacks for hiking have the rods that support it built into the bag instead of outside of it, which makes it super practical and easy to carry. External frames make your bag heavier and, believe me when you are hiking in the wild, the last thing you want is a bulky, complicated backpack to slow you down. Pack light and you won’t need a big frame!
Contrary to popular belief: go small or go home. It doesn’t matter if you think you are a light packer, if you carry around a big backpack, chances are it is going to be filled eventually with tons of stuff you don’t actually need. Choosing a bag with a smaller volume will help you to economise space and keep your luggage light. If you are hiking in a snowy area you might want to go a size up, but otherwise, the best backpacks for hiking should be between 40-50L.
If you are into hiking, you should know that, eventually, you will need to face the elements. Rain, heat or even snow, everything can happen when you are out there in the wilderness. Therefore, choosing the right material is crucial when you are planning to buy one of the best backpacks for hiking. Light and resistant materials like Dyneema are ideal, especially because this fabric is water resistant. It can be more pricey than other fabrics like nylon, but it is worth the investment, I promise!
The cool factor
If you are already putting some money on one of the best backpacks for hiking out there, at least you want to make you that it looks good on you. There are plenty of options regarding colour and style, so choose one that makes you feel sexy… Well, as sexy as you can feel in the middle of a muddy jungle, but you get the point.
The Best Hiking Backpacks Reviews
“Compact and easy to carry”
I swear by Osprey backpacks. The Aether has all the advantages of every pack of the Osprey brand (all-mighty guarantee, durability, comfort), but this model is slightly smaller which makes it the best backpack for hiking if you are planning a short escapade. The Aether 85 is better if you prefer to carry some extra gear on your trekking trips, but 95% of the time I could easily get away with the space in the Aether on my hikes. Additionally, it has plenty of pockets and compartments to keep things extra organised and an AirScape back panel to keep you cool on the warmest adventures. Another great camping hiking backpack.
“The go-to backpack for short hikes”
I’ve been using my Berghaus Freeflow for three years now as my go-to ultralight backpack for hikes that are under a week long. It’s one hell of a pack and is the best budget hiking backpack I’ve come across. It’s pretty cheap considering the quality and it has plenty of pockets for storage, a padded hip belt, a safety whistle on the chest strap (always handy!) and an in-built rain cover. It’s the best 30L backpack so best for weekends or ultralight hiking rather than long expeditions where you have to carry tents and food. It’s hands down one of the best backpacks for backpacking.
“Super sturdy and perfect for heavy loads”
This baby comes in three different sizes and it is one of the lightest backpacks out there- a great mini hiking backpack. Although it is a lightweight pack, it has a sturdy frame that lets you carry around tons of stuff without causing you a backache. The Osprey Exos is quite affordable and has some really nice features, like its mesh back panel that allows more ventilation on your treks and contours the natural shape of your back, making it extra comfy. And, of course, again, the lifetime guarantee, which is always a big plus and makes it one of the best backpacks for hiking out there!
Ok, so this is not precisely a light backpack, however, it made it to the list because it is super comfortable and well built for longer hikes. The shoulder straps and waist belt are perfect for carrying heavy loads and its ventilation system keeps you cool and fresh, no matter the weather conditions, which makes it one of the best backpacks for hiking. Also, the Deuter Air comes with a detachable rain cover that will keep all your belongings dry and with dual zippered cargo pockets that are super resistant.
I recommend this pack for long trekking trips or for people who like to carry a lot of stuff but don’t want to splash out on the Osprey Aether 85. The Deuter Air offers good value for your money, plus it’s tough.
“Perfect for adventure racing, sports climbing, or trekking tours”
If you are heading into the hills for a simple day hike then you can probably get away with a small hiking backpack and the Deuter Speed Lite is that pack. Designed with endurance athletes in mind, this is a great ultralight backpack, weighing just over 1lbs and is one of the best value small hiking backpacks on the market. It boasts four exterior pockets so there’s plenty of storage as well as a detachable hip belt and a comfortable padded back with an air-escape feature meaning air can get between you are the back of your pack – this will keep you cool and stop you getting sweaty, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for packs built like this when choosing the best backpack for hiking.
More Great Hiking Backpacks
“All-mighty guarantee – Osprey repairs all damage”
Yes, another Osprey, but I can’t help it. This is the exact same backpack that I’ve been adventuring with for nearly ten years now. The best thing about Osprey is that they operate an all-mighty guarantee. This means that they will repair any damage done to your pack, no questions asked, for free. Forever. Osprey packs are expensive but you are effectively buying a pack for life. I’ve had my pack repaired once my Osprey, four years ago, and I will soon be sending it in for some more minor repairs to belt buckles and a ripped external pocket. The pack is extremely tough; in ten years of constant backpacking I have never damaged or ripped the main pack’s body and only minor things have broken (usually after five years!). The Osprey Aether 85 is a big expedition backpack; it’s 85 litres, extremely comfortable thanks to the custom moulder hip belt, is compatible with hydration systems, has plenty of sections for storage and can easily be loaded up with a ton of stuff – I once strapped three tents to the outside and had a fourth tent on the inside plus cooking equipment, sleeping bags, food, clothes, electronics etc… You can fit everything in this pack and it will remain comfortable and manageable. I cannot recommend Osprey enough and this one is a great osprey lightweight backpack. If you want to go for something even smaller, go for the best Osprey daypack instead.
“Keeping all your electronics safe”
I’ve only had this pack for six months but I absolutely love it. Whilst it is not the most comfortable pack to carry on long hikes it is the best hiking backpack for photographers. It is super strong, probably the toughest pack I’ve ever owned, and is beautifully designed with photographers in mind. There are separate sections for lenses, cables, camera bodies etc and plenty of options to attach your tripod to the outside of the pack. Best of all, you can get into the pack from the top and from the front, meaning you can have your camera assembled and ready to go in record time. If you want to truly turn it into one of the best backpacks for hiking, I recommend pairing this with the peak design camera clip so you can carry your camera on your hip or on the chest strap of your bag, making it accessible in seconds. It’s an excellent hiking camping backpack if you are an avid photographer.
If you are looking for the best backpack for an alpine expedition, search no more! The North Face Cobra is one of the best backpacks for hiking because it is specially designed for winter environments. The pack comes with a ski carrying system and a variety of removable components ideal for snowy journeys. It is a great backpacking backpack as well.
The North Face Cobra is ultralight and practical since it has external wand pockets that allow easy access while on the trail. Additionally, it comes with lash points, reflective hits and hip belt padding.
If there’s a perk of this particular backpack is its multiple pockets and compartments. The North Face Banchee is one of the best backpacks for hiking because it comes with 8 different pockets ideally located in the back, the sides and even the hip belt. There is plenty of space to store you traditional hiker gear and even a helmet, in case you want to add a bit of climbing to your adventure.
Despite its spaciousness, the Banchee keeps it light. It weighs 3 lb and 10 ounces and it is very comfortable, which makes it perfect for challenging treks.
This pack is ideal if you are a green trekker. The Fjallravn Kaipak It is made from G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco fabric, which means that most of its materials are recycled and super friendly with the environment. It is one of the best backpacks for hiking not only because it is ecological, but because its padded shoulders and hip belt are ergonomical and help you carry the weight evenly. If you are an eco traveller you might consider this over the best osprey pack.
This ultralight backpack is quite resistant and even waterproof since the fabric is waxed. The fixed torso design makes it quite stable, but less adjustable. The design is quite simple, but it still has enough pockets and compartments to keep all your trekking gears in order.
Conclusion: So, what is the best hiking backpack?
Honestly, it depends on what kind of adventure you are going on – will you be heading into the mountains for weeks at a time or simply going on day hikes? For anything under a week, I carry the Berghaus Freeflow assuming I don’t have to carry a tent and will be sleeping in huts or lodges. If I do have to carry a tent, I will hike with my Osprey Aether 65 litre pack and if I am on a multi-week expedition, I carry my Osprey Aether 85 litre pack, it’s big but I find it super comfortable though so it’s not really a problem for me. If you’re heading off on a multiday hiking expedition, it can be well worth packing a hydration pack, check out Trek Warrior’s post.
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