21 Best Hiking Backpacks According to Expert Outdoor Travelers

The 21 Best Hiking Backpacks, According to Expert Outdoor Travelers

Perfect for getting you—and your stuff—outside. 

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The best hiking backpacks can be hard to find. After all, every hiker knows that in planning an outdoor adventure, strategizing on gear can be half the battle. You have that pre-trip list down pat: water bottle, check; sun protection, check; bug spray, check. But the perfect bag to carry it all in? Getting that right can take a little more time. To help you sort through the best hiking backpacks for your next adventure—whether you're headed on a half-day excursion to a nearby state park, or a two-week trek through the Andes—we looked to some of our tried-and-true outdoor brands, and tapped the outdoorsy folks in our world to tell us which bags they love most.

If you're stocking up for a one-off adventure or want to start slow by comparison-shopping our picks, there's a cost-conscious option for you, too. Insta-famous drag queen and outdoors advocate Pattie Gonia suggests going for a rental. “Instead of buying new, there are so many ways to be an environmental queen by thrifting a bag or renting one. REI offers so many fantastic rental options, for day backpacks and bigger backpacking options, and will help fit you to one, just like a ski boot, for the perfect match.”

If you're ready to gear up, find the best hiking backpacks for every level of hiker, from day bags and parent-friendly packs to multi-day workhorses, below, plus answers to some commons FAQs. (And if you’re looking for one specifically designed for a woman’s frame, we have more recommendations here.)

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date. Additional reporting by Megan Spurrell and Meaghan Kenny.


What is the difference between a hiking backpack and a backpack?

Though they might look similar in form and function, the truth is that there’s a world of difference between a hiking-specific backpack and your run-of-the-mill book bag. For starters, hiking backpacks tend to be made of durable, water-repellent nylon that’s woven in a ripstop pattern (meaning that if your rucksack snags on a boulder, the tear isn’t likely to grow).

A good hiking pack will also feature adventure-specific pockets and features for things like a water bladder, snacks, a climbing helmet, trekking poles, ice axes, and/or water bottles.

What are the top three things hikers should look for in a backpack?

When you’re doing research for the perfect pack, it’s key to look at the size, ventilation, and pockets. A smaller backpack for quick day hikes can be ultralight, holding 15–30 liters, and offer space for simple comforts like your water and a jacket. A larger backpack for overnight trekking should be in the 50–70 liter range, have a hip belt to help distribute the load, and will vary in weight, depending on how much support and suspension you desire.

Next, it’s important to think about what kinds of activities you’re likely to be using the pack for. A climbing pack will be streamlined, to avoid snags, with an ice axe and helmet carry system, while a backpacking bag will offer plenty of accessible space for a sleeping bag, tent, and kitchen kit. 

Lastly, think about what climate you typically hike in. If you’re planning to slog uphill on a sunny multi-day in a humid location, consider splurging on a brand with specially-designed ventilation. The extra padding might add weight to a backpack’s design, but it’s worth it for a comfortable carry.

What’s the best size backpack for a three-day hike?

Most hikers will find that a 50–60 liter pack is all that they need for a three-day weekend adventure, unless they’re trekking in wintertime or in a national park that requires bear canisters for food storage. Sizing up to a 65- or 70-liter pack for puffy layers and a large load might be necessary if you’re overnighting in Yosemite or Rocky Mountain; just make sure it’s got a comfy hip belt for that extra weight.

Meet the author:

Emily Pennington is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California. Her work can be found in The New York TimesThe GuardianOutside Magazine, REI JournalBackpacker MagazineAdventure Journal, and dozens of websites like Lonely Planet, The Outbound, and Modern Hiker. She is the author of Feral: Losing Myself and Finding My Way in America’s National Parks, a book about visiting every national park, published in 2023.

Best backpacks for short treks

Osprey Tempest, 20-liter

Bag weight: 2 lbs.

Capacity: 20 liters

Maximum suggested load: 20 pounds

According to freelance adventure writer Heather Balogh Rochfort, the Osprey Tempest 20 is as solid as it gets. “It has lots of pockets and features that make it really easy to use, but it sits comfortably and takes a beating,” she says of the 20L bag that manages to pack two water bottle holders, hip belt stash pockets, and a LidLock bike helmet attachment into its small size. The design also boasts a hydration reservoir sleeve and an external mesh pouch for stowing wet or grimy gear.

REI Co-Op Flash, 18-liter

Bag weight: 9.5 oz.

Capacity: 18L

Maximum suggested load: 15 lbs.

This light, frameless day pack is a favorite of The Venture Out Project's director of operations Travis Clough. “It's so packable that it can fit in your pocket when it's empty. This backpack can literally go anywhere,” says Clough, who has taken it on day hikes, cross-country skiing trips, to the 48 high peaks in New Hampshire, and even to hold six-packs on summer afternoon bike rides to a friend's house. ”I’ve had mine for years and it’s still going strong,” he says.

Cotopaxi Luzon del Dia, 18-liter

Bag weight: 10.6 oz.

Capacity: 18L

You don't have to be outdoorsy to love this Cotopaxi bag, says former Traveler editor Stephanie Wu. You don't even have to reserve it for hiking trips. “My Cotopaxi backpack has become my go-to for any type of adventurous outing. It's incredibly lightweight, and was clearly designed by people who love to travel. There's a compartment for my water bottle on the side, and an off-center zipper on the front that is great for when you need to reach for your passport or phone, and only want to take your backpack off one shoulder,” she says. Plus, every backpack is different—they're made out of leftover bits of fabric, so the colors and zipper liners are unique from one bag to the next.

Best backpacks for full day hikes

Osprey Hikelite, 26-liter

Bag weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.

Capacity: 26L

A super lightweight pack, relative to its volume, Osprey’s Hikelite 26 is as at home on the trail as it is in town, boasting a low-profile design with compression straps, side pouches for water bottles, and an extra-stretchy mesh compartment to separate a rain jacket or microspikes from the rest of your kit. Travel journalist Stephanie Vermillion loves it for its ventilated back panel and scratch-resistant front pocket, adding, “this an excellent addition given I've ruined many sunglasses by stashing them in my pack.”

CamelBak Hawg, 20-liter

Bag weight: 2.5 lbs.

Capacity: 20L

Drinking enough water is crucial, even if your planned adventure is a mellow stroll through the woods. Hipcamp founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio says that she always grabs her Camelbak Hawg hydration pack before heading out on a quick escape. “For overnights to glamping getaways like this one, it’s a comfortable mid-sized pack with lots of functional organization and–most importantly–solid hydration,” she says. Plus, with its padded harness and Air Director back panel, it’s comfy enough for all-day wear too.

REI Co-Op Flash Pack, 22-liter

Bag weight: 14 oz.

Capacity: 22L

Recently redesigned to feature a larger top stash pocket, double cinch straps, and a padded hip belt, REI Co-Op’s Flash 22 is an epic daypack for hikers who don’t want to break the bank. Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro and author of Nature Swagger, says it’s her favorite “all-around backpack for morning to afternoon hikes. As a safety bonus, it even has a whistle.” Other notable features? Mapp says the pack has the perfect amount of room for snacks and light layers.

Osprey Tempest, 34-liter

Bag weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz. (XS/S); 2 lbs. 8 oz. (M/L)

Capacity: 32L (XS/S); 34L (M/L)

Maximum suggested load: 25 lbs.

Ask any group of hikers what their favorite backpack is, and you’re likely to hear a chorus of “Osprey.” That’s because the company, which stitches its goods with Bluesign-approved materials, pairs excellent on-the-go features (think trekking pole attachments, perfectly-sized hip pockets, and external hydration sleeves) with its All Mighty Guarantee—a promise to repair or replace any damage or defect, free of charge, forever. The women-specific Tempest might just be the brand’s best daypack yet, with a lightweight frame, AirScape vented back panel, and top-loading main compartment. It comes in a men’s variety, the Talon.

Deuter Speedlite, 22-liter

Bag weight: 15 oz.

Capacity: 21L

Hiking with kids doesn't just mean an extra person to keep an eye on—it means doubling up on gear as well. Shanti Hodges, the founder of Hike It Baby, swears by the Deuter Speedlite pack. “I use this as my go-to for day hikes, because I am often carrying a lot if I have my kid in tow. This means water for both of us, snacks and lunch, potentially extra clothing, and a first aid kit. This pack is light, but still has a lot of padding in the shoulders so I get the support I need. This bag has been through all kinds of weather with me as well and it always stays dry inside, which is really important if you are hiking in the Pacific Northwest like I am.”

Arc'teryx Brize Backpack, 25-liter

Bag weight: 2 lbs.

Capacity: 25L

For a crossover pack that works as hard in the city as it does on the trails, Shelma Jun, the founder of female hiking collective Flash Foxy, loves the Brize backpack from Arc'teryx. “This bag is the perfect size for day hikes. It has really comfortable straps, and stretchy mesh pockets on each side for water bottles or easy-to-grab snacks. A big top pocket also makes chapstick, keys, and sunglasses easily accessible. I also love the black version for running around the city—I can just hop on my bike, headed for the office, with all of my climbing gym stuff packed in,” she says. (Editor's note: Jun is sponsored by Arc'teryx.)

Gregory Jade Pack, 28-liter

Bag weight: 2 lbs. 15 oz.

Capacity: 28L

Recommended by the founder of Out There Adventures, Elyse Rylander, this bag sits in the middle of the pack, size-wise. Efficient packers can even use it for multi-day adventures—Rylander's sister traveled for three months in Southeast Asia with just the Gregory Jade 28-liter. Adjustable straps help it fit to your torso length, and the OpenAir ventilated back panel increases breathability. This backpack also meets carry-on restrictions for most airlines, making it a great option for those traveling light.

Best backpacks for overnight adventures

Deuter Aircontact Core, 60+10 liter

Bag weight: 5 lbs.

Capacity: 70L

Maximum suggested load: 45 lbs.

Finding the right fit for your torso is crucial when you’re going to be crunching your boots along wilderness trails for days on end, and Rochfort says she adores Deuter for its well-ventilated, smartly-sized packs. “The back panel is super breathable, so I don't feel quite as gross when I'm huffing and puffing up a mountain,” she says of this 60L rucksack that comes with a 10L removable top “brain” pocket. “Plus, the pack is made with 50 percent recycled material and is PFC-free, so it's a bit better for the environment than older backpacks,” she says.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa, 60-liter

Bag weight: 1 lb. 13 oz.–2 lbs. 2 oz. (S, M, L sizes available)

Capacity: 60L

Maximum suggested load: 35 lbs.

When you want to go big, sometimes you’ve got to go ultralight. Weighing in at just two pounds, the Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a time-tested favorite on massive thru hikes like the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Brian Beckstead, adventurer and co-founder of Altra Footwear, loves its “blend of comfort, functionality, weight, and simplicity.” Meanwhile, Jennifer Pharr Davis, author and owner of Blue Ridge Hiking Company, is a fan of the customizable torso lengths and hip belt options so that every hiker can find the fit that works for them.

Gregory Katmai Plus Size, 65-liter

Bag weight: 5 lbs.

Capacity: 65L

Maximum suggested load: 45 lbs.

Jenny Bruso, the founder of Unlikely Hikers, helped create a line of plus-size hiking gear designed to allow every adventurer to take on any trail feeling confident and supported. This Katmai 65-liter pack comes with extended length shoulder straps and hip belts, plus additional fit revisions to accommodate larger body shapes and sizes. Made with recycled fabrics, it has seven pockets, a trekking pole attachment, and a sleeping bag compartment.

Osprey Ariel, 55-liter

Bag weight: 4.8 lbs.

Capacity: 52L (XS/S), 55L (M/L)

Maximum suggested load: 60 lbs.

”I love the 55-liter Osprey Ariel pack. This pack is designed for women (or anyone with narrower shoulders) which means a more comfortable, chafe-free fit. Even better? The pockets on the belt clip are the perfect size for a phone,” blogger Liz Carlson, the founder of Young Adventuress, says. Part of the backpack can also be zipped off and used as a handy day pack, perfect for side trips in the middle of longer journeys.

The North Face Terra Backpack, 55-liter

Bag weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz. (S/M), 3 lbs. 13 oz. (L/XL)

Capacity:  55L

The North Face Terra Backpack is another great mid-size option for weekend-long trips. Its back panel features cushy foam and breathable mesh for extra comfort during long days. The Terra also uses a Dyno Lift System with adjustable load lifters and a pivoting hip belt for a more steady, comfortable hike. 

Granite Gear Blaze, 60-liter

Bag weight: 3 lbs. (regular), 3 lbs. 2 oz. (tall)

Capacity: 60L

Maximum suggested load: 50 lbs.

Perry Cohen, the founder of The Venture Out Project, started using this bag in 2019 and can't imagine switching to anything else. “This is the only all-gender pack I’ve found in this size or quality, and it's fully adjustable to fit many different body types. It’s ultralight, but doesn’t compromise comfort or capacity,” he says. A side zip lets you access your gear without unpacking everything from the top and the top of the pack (or, as some hikers call it, ”the brain”), unclips and combines with the detachable hip belt to create a fanny pack for short day hikes.

Best backpack for photographers and specialty gear

Vanguard Havana 48

Bag weight: 3 lbs.

Capacity: 48L

For a vintage, city-friendly look with loads of thoughtful pockets for your DSLR, laptop, and two to three lenses, the Vanguard Havana 48 is a match made in heaven. “It's like a hybrid camera backpack and hiking pack, with sternum and waist straps that make it easier to carry gear,” says Vermillion. There’s a front zippered pocket to store small necessities (like your passport, SD cards, and charger), plus side pouches specifically designed to securely hold a tripod and water bottle. Best of all? Unlike most packs on this list, the Havana 48 comes with its own removable rain cover.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR, 35-liter

Bag weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz.

Capacity: 35L

Maximum suggested load: 40+ lbs.

When she needs a place to stow away all her climbing gear and head out on a grand adventure, photographer and founder of PNW Outdoor Women Meghan Young turns to her trusty Arc'teryx Alpha AR. “It’s big enough to fit all my gear for a day of alpine climbing and it has plenty of loops and webbing,” she says. “The material is rugged so you don’t have to worry when traversing thick vegetation or squeezing by granite pillars.”

Peak Design Travel Backpack, 30-liter

Bag weight: 3.2 lbs.

Capacity: 27L (zipped up), 33L (expanded)

Thoughtfully designed by camera-toting adventure lovers, Peak Design’s Travel Backpack looks as at home traipsing through downtown Athens as it does on a mountainous trail. With theft-deterrent zipper pulls, a weatherproof shell made of 100 percent recycled nylon canvas, and expandable side pockets for tripods or water bottles, the bag seamlessly blends sensible city features with rugged outdoor necessities. Pair it with a set of the brand’s camera cubes for optimal protection and organization.

F-Stop Lotus Backpack, 32-liter

Bag weight: 3.3 lbs.

Capacity: 32L

If you're trekking with photography gear, this bag will get you and your tripod wherever you need to go. “The F-Stop Lotus is the best adventure camera pack for day hikes and one night trips,” says Carlson. “It’s a bit smaller than their normal Tilopa, which is really designed for those with broader shoulders. With the Lotus, you can also attach plenty of gear to the outside, from a tripod to a sleeping bag to a snowboard (seriously).” F-Stop also sells a system of padded compartments for your cameras and lenses, so you can customize the interior of the bag based on your existing gear.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC, 45-liter

Bag weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz.

Capacity: 45L

For those that need a bigger travel bag that just as smoothly transitions from city jaunts to camping excursions, spanning weekend to week-long trips, Patagonia's convertible model is an easy favorite. ”I just got the Patagonia Black Hole MLC pack and I'm already obsessed—I had trouble finding a midsize pack I loved before this one,” says Faith E. Briggs, a documentary filmmaker and an ambassador for Brown Folks Fishing. ”I love Patagonia in general because they are the most thoroughly sustainable outdoor company: They repair everything, so whenever I buy from them I feel like I have a lifetime guarantee, which justifies the price.” The ultra-durable waterproof body, made from recycled materials, also fits most carry-on requirements and fits easily on the handles of your rolling luggage as it does slung over your shoulder, or strapped on your back on a backcountry trek. Talk about multitasking.