The Best Hiking Backpacks of 2018 – Detailed Reviews and Notes

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Whether you are heading to the mountains for a quick hike or for weeks at a time, you need to make sure you have the right gear.

I've been hiking for nearly ten years and have tried out over a dozen awesome hiking packs... This is why I wrote this article on the best backpacks for hiking and adventuring to help you find your soul-pack. 

Trekking is one of my favorite past-times when travelling. To me, getting out of the city and into the woods or mountains is crucial. It helps reset my batteries and feel connected to nature. Plus, it's free! As a broke backpacker, I spend a lot of my time camping out and hiking in the mountains.  

I have a sneaking suspicion you feel the same way   🙂

But unfortunately, choosing the best backpack for hiking isn't easy...

The internet is flooded with outdoor brands, all of which claim to make the 'best' hiking packs. And some of the options on the market are rubbish. 

As a ten-year world traveler and experienced hiker, I've personally tried every one of the hiking backpacks in this post on different hikes and expeditions. 

In this article, I assess the best hiking packs for you. I lay out my top picks for my favorite hiking backpacks, and I'll introduce you to my favourite outdoor gear company. 

With the help of this article, you'll know exactly what to look for when picking out the best backpack for your hiking adventures... 

These are my top hiking backpack recommendations. Let's dive in.

Quick Answer: The Best Hiking Backpacks

  1. Best 'All Rounder' Hiking Backpack - Osprey Aether/Ariel
  2. Best ultralight hiking backpack - Osprey Exos 58
  3. Best small hiking backpack - Deuter Speed Lite 20
  4. Best value hiking backpack - Berghaus Freeflow 35
  5. Most comfortable hiking backpack - Deuter Air Contact  
best backpacks for hiking

Trekking to Mt. Roraima in Venezuela with my Osprey Aether 85 Hiking Backpack

Factors to consider when picking out the best hiking backpack

  • Comfort
  • Cost
  • Weight
  • Durability
  • Frame
  • Volume
  • Material
  • The Cool Factor

Comfort is crucial 

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 kilometers relatively comfortably as I had picked a backpack with a really well designed, well padded, back and hip belt. In my opinion, the most comfortable hiking pack is going to have a ventilated back, a thick and comfortable hip-belt and the ability to adjust in several places.

Next...

You get what you pay for

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!

In my opinion, it's worth spending the extra money and choosing an Osprey hiking pack as that way your backpack will be covered by Osprey's almighty guarantee - meaning they will repair or replace it, no matter what happens.

Go for something lightweight 

You want your backpack to be as lightweight 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 a backpack that's tough

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.

Internal frame backpacks are best

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!

Volume is key

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 economize 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.  Personally, I have one 70l hiking backpack for big expeditions and a smaller 30l backpack for day hikes.

Material can make or break...

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 sexy-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!


#1 Osprey Aether/Ariel 

Best 'All Rounder' Hiking Backpack 

Osprey Aether 70
  • Removable top-lid converts to DayLid daypack
  • Dual access side stretch mesh pockets
  • Lower Inside-Out compression straps


"Compact and easy to carry"

I swear by Osprey backpacks. They simply make the best backpacks around - period. 

Osprey has consistently put out some of the best bags on the market, and the Aether (for men) and the Ariel (for the ladies) are two of Osprey's flagship backpacks. 

The Aether/Ariel have all the advantages of every Osprey pack (all-mighty guarantee, durability, comfort), but the models are slightly smaller which makes it the best backpack for hiking if you are planning a short escapade.

For men - the Aether 85 pack 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 70l backpack on my hikes.

But there's more...

Pros

  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Perfect for hikers or travelers
  • Durable and comfortable

Cons

  • Huge - not ideal for short trips
  • Pricey

Additionally, the Aether and Ariel have plenty of pockets and compartments to keep things extra organized and an AirScape ventilated back panel to keep you cool on the warmest adventures.

If you are going to be camping out and need to carry a tent and a lot of gear, you will need a decent camping backpack and the Osprey Aether will not disappoint.

You can fit a lot of gear into this baby, and attach even more to the outside and still come out smiling as the Osprey Aether is one of the most comfortable big backpacks on the market.

Check out our in-depth review of the Aether here. 

Check out our in-depth review of the Ariel here.

Is the Osprey Aether/Ariel for you?

Osprey has been my go to for years, and for good reason. Their durability and design makes their bags perfect for hiking or traveling, and most importantly they are super comfortable. The Osprey Aether is my highest recommendation. Be careful on Amazon, a lot of the Aether's are overpriced. The links below are the latest price on Aether bags for 2018.

 

#2 Osprey Exos 58

Best ultralight backpack

Osprey Packs Exos 58 Backpack
  • An internal sewn-in backpanel sleeve with clip attachment accommodates up to 3 liters of hydration and Fabric-main 100d high tenacity nylon,accent 100d high tenacity nylon ripstop bottom 100d high tenacity nylon ripstop
  • The Exos peripheral frame is a 6065 aluminum alloy with an internal suspended cross strut providing excellent load carrying support.
  • The ExoForm sewn-in, EVA foam padded harness combines breathability and performance with seamless layered mesh

"Ultralight backpack with excellent comfort and carrying capacity "

If you are in the market for an ultralight, versatile, no bullshit backpack for your next hiking trip or long-term travel adventure, look no further than the Osprey Exos 58 - one of the best Osprey backpacks around!

This is technically a minimalist backpack, weighing in at just 2.7 pounds. However, I would say it is on the larger side of the spectrum for the category. It does not have all of the bells and whistles nor the weight of a hiking pack that weighs 2 or 3 times its size.

The light wire alloy frame offers great support even when carrying loads up to 40 pounds. The AirSpeed 3-D tensioned mesh back panel was designed with the purpose of meeting all of your free-flowing air needs and offers great ventilation to keep your back cool. There are a solid 5 inches of air space between where your back sits and the frame of the backpack! Say goodbye to the swamp back blues!

Pros

  • Not too big!
  • Minimalist - only weighs 2.7 lbs
  • Lifetime warantee

Cons

  • Not big enough for long camping trips
  • Lacks features of the Aether 70 

On the side of the backpack, you have dual access stretch mesh side pockets for storing water bottles and other gear with compression straps. At the bottom area of the Exos 58, you can attach your sleeping pad or tent using more compression straps. These straps are removable in case you are really counting ounces.

And, of course, the backpack comes with the Osprey lifetime guarantee, which is part of the reason my love of Osprey backpacks is so strong!

If you are interested in a lightweight, durable, comfortable pack with a generous amount of space for the ultralight category, then the Osprey Exos 58 is for you.

To find out even more about this awesome pack, check out our in-depth backpack review of the Osprey Exos 58.

Is the Osprey Exos 58 for you?

A bit smaller and a few less features than the Aether 70, the Exos 58 is the perfect backpack for someone who likes to hike quick and light. Also, you just can't beat that lifetime guarantee! The button below has a link to the latest price on Amazon. 

 

#3 Deuter Air Contact 

Best backpack for the long-run

Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Hiking Backpack
  • Engineered with Innovation - Deuter's ACT Lite packs bring together all around versatility and advanced ergonomics to deliver optimal comfort and performance through anatomically-sound construction; Designed to keep the load weight close to the body this pack distributes weight effectively so you can go further without discomfort
  • Maximum Ventilation - Deuter's innovative AirContact ventilation back system delivers a body-hugging fit paired with unmatched breathability; The large open pore structure of the AirContact pads performs a pump effect, whereby every movement prompts the exchange of air moving warmth and moisture away from the body; The result: 15% less perspiration than with other body-contour packs
  • Lighten Up - Crossed aluminium stays create an ultralight, flexible, yet stable internal frame that follows your body movements; The profiled X-frame transfers weight onto the hips; Slim and anatomically shaped hip wings ensure even, comfortable load distribution


Ok, so this is not a super light backpack, however, it made it to the list because it is super comfortable (maybe even one of the most comfortable hiking packs in existence) 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 multi-day backpacks.

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Built for epic hikes
  • Great for carrying heavy loads

Cons

  • Heavy and huge
  • Mixed reviews for repairs
  • Subpar water resistance

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. The Deuter Air offers great value for your money and is the best budget backpack in this size category, plus it's tough as nails and can take a beating on any adventure.

Is the Deuter Air Contact for you?

If you are a dedicated camper, who loves epic hiking - meet your soul match. While it is a bit on the heavy side, Deuters durability and comfort can't be matched and will pay for itself many times over. 


#4 Berghaus Freeflow 20L

Best budget hiking backpack

Berghaus Freeflow
  • Hike in comfort thanks to free flow V fresh air Technology to allow airflow between the pack and your back
  • Stay one step Ahead of the elements if the skies open with the integrated waterproof rain cover
  • Hydration pack compatible Allowing you to stay hydrated on the move

"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 day hikes. 

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 a built-in rain cover.

Pros

  • Great price!
  • Small - great for quick hikes
  • 5 year Plenty of features

Cons

  • Water resistance has mixed reviews
  • No warrantee 

It's the best 20L backpack around and is good for weekends or ultralight hiking rather than long trekking expeditions where you have to carry tents and food. It's hands down one of the best backpacks for hiking at the weekend...

Is the Berghaus Freeflow for you? 

Are you looking for a light bag for quick weekend hikes? The Berghaus might be your soul-bag. Not good for epic camping trips, the quality of Berghaus has made it one of my go-to's for years for both traveling and hiking. The bag is often out of stock, the button below has the best availability on Amazon.

 

#5 Deuter Speed Lite 20

Best Small Hiking Backpack


Deuter Speed Lite 20
  • Lite - The lightest, minimalist back system available from Deuter, the lite backsystem provides carry comfort for light loads with a padded back panel fully lined with ventilated 3D-Air Mesh.
  • S-shaped shoulder harness of ergonomically shaped padding with a soft edge and airy 3D mesh lining
  • Athletic V-cut shape for extensive freedom of movement

"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.

Pros

  • Perfect for day hikes!
  • Athletic design
  • Ultralight

Cons

  • Not good for longer hikes
  • Mixed reviews for women's sizing

The Deuter Speed Lite 20L hiking pack 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.

This is the best value backpack in this size.

Is the Deuter Speed Lite for you?

Not ideal for camping or longer hikes, if you are looking for a well priced super light backpack for hiking, it's hard to beat the Deuter Speed Lite. 

Osprey Aether 85
  • Keep water bottles or other gear easily accessible in the side pockets featuring access from the top or side
  • External hydration sleeve in backpanel simplifies refilling and protects pack contents from spills
  • New hipbelt pockets provide secure storage that's easily accessible while hiking;  Perfect for digital cameras, GPS, snacks, etc.

"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 by 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.

This bona-fide adventure backpack 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... In my opinion, this is the best trekking backpack made by Osprey.

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 an Osprey daypack instead.

National Geographic NG 5160 Earth Explorer Medium Backpack
  • ideal blend of today's protective carrying technology and a traditional 'explorer' look and feel
  • solid brass buckles
  • manufactured from a variety of materials

"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 hiking pack to carry on long jaunts 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.

North Face Cobra 52
  • The North Face

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 and you could definitely use it on a trip around the world.

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 and if you are a North Face backpack fan this is probably the best hiking pack made by North Face.

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 in 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. If you're looking for the best 50L backpack for hiking - the Banchee is a solid choice. 

Fjallraven Kaipak 58
  • Top loaded mountain trekking backpack. Perfect for both shorter and longer, multi-day treks. Made from robust G-1000 Eco HeavyDuty. Supportive carrying system with hip belt. Adjustable top lid with two pockets. Compression straps on the sides. Attachment points for trekking poles or ice axes. Two pockets on the hip belt. Hydration system compatible. Chest strap with whistle. Rain cover included. Large bottom opening. Back length and carrying system specifically adapted to male forms.

This pack is ideal if you are a green trekker. The Fjallravn Kaipak is made from G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco fabric, which means that most of its materials are recycled and super friendly to 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 distribute the weight evenly. If you are an eco traveller you might consider this over one of the Osprey hiking packs... Although, honestly, I'm not sure if it could compete with the almighty guarantee that Osprey places on all of its backpacks.

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?

I swear by Osprey - really there is no competition, Osprey definitely DO make the best packs in the world - the question is, can you afford the price tag?

I will hike with my Osprey Aether 70 litre pack on most multi day hikes 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.

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.


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5 Comments

  • Denise Carroll says:

    I have had an Osprey Tallon rucksack for a number of years, one problem it leaks even with a new rain cover on. It is comfortable but it makes it more difficult to pack if everything has to go into dry bags before packing. I am looking at a Lightwave rucksack as they seem to be more rain resistant and do better sizes for a small woman.
    Denise

    • Will Hatton says:

      That’s a very good point – the Osprey talon is great for weekend hikes but if I was heading on a proper expedition, or into the Himalayas for a couple of weeks, I would go for a bigger backpack with better rain protection for sure.

  • Katie says:

    First of all, thank you for all this information! I am hoping to go to South America for 7-8 months next year and am starting to get very overwhelmed with all the planning and what will work best for me. In 2015, I got the Osprey Farpoint 70 travel backpack. I still use it and was intending on using it for this trip. I would love to get your opinion on that backpack if you have one. If I can avoid buying a new pack that would be great. I plan on doing trekking in all countries I hope to visit and will obviously be exposed to very different climates. (Peru-Ecuador-Colombia-Brazil-Bolivia-Chile-Argentina) Any help would be appreciated!! Thanks! 🙂

    • Will Hatton says:

      The Osprey Farpoint is a SOLID pack, one of my favourites… But it isn’t the best for trekking, I would personally want something with a proper hipbelt and ventilated back.

  • Denise Carroll says:

    I finally bought a Lightwave 55w rucksack in the smaller size. I prefer to carry my sack higher up my back and the longer length, my daughter has one, is a bit long. She is out on the hills camping most weekends and doesn’t need a rain cover after 4yrs of constant use, her partner has had his longer and it is still in nearly perfect order so they will take some punishment too.
    Lightwave are a small British company but you can buy them online and I know Craigdon in Inverness are getting all their rucksacks in on trial soon.

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