Traveling is one of the best experiences you’ll ever do. It gives you the chance to throw yourself headfirst into other cultures, to try exotic foods, meet like-minded people, and enjoy a taste of freedom you don’t get back home. Whether it’s a short getaway or if you’re in it for the long haul you’re bound to come back refreshed and invigorated and – at the risk of sounding like every cliche traveler ever – totally changed, dude. It’s not enough to just go there with an open mind, though. You need to be prepared, and the smartest place to start is by taking your pick from the best backpacking backpacks.
We’re talking about ones that are both heavy duty and elegantly lightweight. Ones you can trust to carry your whole life around for 1, 2, 6, 12 months, and beyond. They are backpacks which will make excellent makeshift pillows during layovers, and ones that – as much as you might dread putting them on after you’ve just gotten used to a break bus and plane hopping – you’ll eventually miss once you get back to reality.
The Best Backpacking Backpacks
Our top pick is the Granite Gear Crown 2 60 Backpack. An excellent example of the ultralight backpacking packs crucial for easy, comfortable travels, it weighs in at a mere 2.34 pounds, allowing you to pack everything you need for year-long-plus travel without exceeding the airplane weight limit.
Even if you’re not traveling for a long time, it’s still a quality pack to select. Its weight makes it perfect for summer hiking, and it has enough space you’re not cramming everything you need. In fact, there’s so much capacity you may even struggle to fill it, especially on shorter trips and day hikes.
Dual density shoulder harness with load lifter and removable sternum strap
Re-Fit fully adjustable between 28 – 40 inches
Roll-top main compartment for easy access and compression
Removable lid with DWR treated zipper compartment
- BrandGranite Gear
- ModelGranite Gear
- Weight2.34 pounds
Those who want internal frame backpack for all travel scenarios without spending too much will find a lot to love with the TETON Sports 3400 Internal Frame Backpack. A spacious option at 55 liters, you’ll have enough room to carry everything you need, and perhaps some things you don’t need, in total comfort and with complete ease.
However, even with this space, it’s still not too large it feels cumbersome and off-balance. This is true even when you need to take advantage of the external storage options and bungee cords to save space. If you’re backpacking on a budget, you can also get away with this as carry-on luggage so long as you don’t over pack.
Open cell foam lumbar pad and molded channels for comfort and airflow
External storage options and sleeping bag compartment
Bungee storage to reduce internal bulking and save space
Integrated rain fly to keep gear dry
- BrandTETON Sports
- Weight4.4 pounds
A backpacking pack which is sleek and smart for the modern traveler, the Gregory Mountain Baltoro 65 Liter Backpack is a high-range lifesaver for infamous over packers yet is still comfortable enough to keep your back and shoulders feeling fresh, even after long hikes.
It boasts ergonomic pockets with easy-access convenience including a hipbelt for your wallet and smartphone. This isn’t just convenient though, and as much as we’d love to trust everyone everywhere, travelers are a target so it keeps your valuables safe at hand, or waist, but still.
TPU-coated hipbelt for safe and easy smartphone and wallet storage
Top-loading design opens from top to bottom for rapid access
Raincover stows in the dedicated mesh pocket
Mesh drawstring accessory pocket for loose items
- Weight6.05 pounds
A heavy duty and robust option, the Kelty Coyote 65 Hiking Backpack is one of the largest in our selection, and one of the most reliable, too. What we most love about it at first glance is the amount of pockets – some of which you’ll discover and rediscover long after you’ve first worn it. These pockets give you the chance to keep everything secure and also well organized for fast access on the trail.
It’s also well built, with durable clips to secure the top lid and zips which won’t burst at the seams if you feel like packing a few more things than needed. Its side pockets are also large if you struggle to keep everything within the bag.
Top lid converts into sling pack for quick days out
Hex mesh back panel and shoulder straps ensure comfort
On-body adjustment system to find the right fit for you
Sleeping bag compartment keeps gear organized
- Weight5.1 pounds
The Osprey Atmos 65 AG Backpack uses an anti-gravity suspension system to provide much-needed ventilation and comfort even in the most humid places in the world and feels like the pack is floating above your back. This is an excellent design and is crucial for any large backpack worth purchasing and giving you the best backpacking experience possible.
Even though it can hold a mammoth 65 liters, it’s still lightweight, with Osprey’s trademark material making this weigh under 4 pounds. Again, this adds to comfort but also makes it a perfect option for anyone who loves to go ultralight.
Side compression straps stabilizes load and serve as external gear carrying options
Anti-gravity suspension provides comfort and ventilation
Extendable and removable folding top lid to accommodate oversized loads
Dual front zippered pockets for additional storage options
- Weight3.9 pounds
Serious hikers, travelers, and backpackers should stop and look no further than our premium choice: the marvelous, effective, and reliable Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 Backpack. Unlike other backpacks, it’s perfect for any environment, capable of getting you through heat waves, monsoons, and sandstorms with all your gear intact.
This is possible with hybrid materials, developed to ensure the most successful hike of your life again and again. It’s ideal for both long hikes and short hikes and is prepared for every occasion whether you’re a casual hiker or one who knows their way around a trail or two.
Capacity for trips up to 7 days long
Multi-day and multi-environment design to keep everything dry and secure
Thermo-molded Tegris frame sheet and aluminum stays
Top loading design with side access zips
- Weight4.7 pounds
The waterproof backpack is an essential requirement for those venturing far across the world, but for novice backpackers, it’s something they forget because they’re going to exotic countries or there’s just so much other stuff, it all gets overwhelming.
Either way, getting caught in a storm and realizing your gear is soaked through is one of the worst parts of traveling, but the Mardingtop 65L Internal Frame Backpack ensures that doesn’t happen. The inner lining is 600D polyester, which keeps moisture out at all costs, but if you’re still not convinced, the supplied rain cover can ease your worries.
Water-resistant 600D polyester with included rain cover
Side pockets for water bottle or camping and survival gear
Molle webbing to hang other items from including tents and hiking poles
Top lid can store easily locatable small items
- Weight5.6 pounds
A travel backpack that speaks for itself, The North Face Banchee 50 Backpack boasts eight practical pockets, including easy to access stretch side pockets for your water bottle or snacks or you can take advantage of the hydration sleeve for fast fluid access.
The dual lash points allow you to attach your tent or sleeping bag in a hassle-free way, which unlike some backpacks won’t affect your balance. The T6 aluminum frame ensures superior load control and delivers freedom of movement, even when you feel just slightly over-encumbered. If you don’t need to fill the full 50 liters, it’s still able of maintaining its shape without putting you out of sync.
Adjust to smaller load while maintaining shape and balance
Trampoline back panel provides breathability and comfort
Dyno Lite System for on-the-go adjustability
Reflective webbing offers visibility in low light
- BrandThe North Face
- Weight1 pounds
If you’re not so much of a long haul hiker and just need the best backpacking backpack for quick jaunts up and then back down again, the MOUNTAINTOP 40L Hiking Backpack is a fantastic, lightweight, and compact choice that comes at an excellent value. It boasts 6 straps that allow for easy, hassle-free adjustment and helps you carry your slightly larger travel items including sleeping bag and tent.
It’s ideal for those who like to pack light, while still allowing enough space if you want to fill your bag with souvenirs and gifts for all the buddies you abandoned at home to live the 9-to-5 life. There are also plenty of pockets on the outside to keep smaller items for fast access while a hidden pouch gives you the perfect place to slip your phone and wallet in to keep them safe.
6 adjustable straps to accommodate tent, sleeping bag, hammock, and mat
Bladder compartment for easy hydration access
Small enough for carry-on luggage
Breathable molded foam back panel
- Weight2.1 pounds
Using a Mountain Frame that work alongside carbon fiber stay for excellent suspension and support, the Mystery Ranch Stein 62 Backpack is a great option for backpackers who can’t quite decide what they want to do. It’s designed in a way that is easy and comfortable to carry through the jungle, over hills, and across deserts (with bustling big cities somewhere in between) even if the end of the trail doesn’t look close.
At less than 5 pounds, it’s lightweight enough for these long treks to not be an issue, while the streamlined design ensures you keep your balance in more precarious scenarios. This is supported with a pared down compression system that reduces bulking (despite you fitting your whole life in there) and saves you from becoming the bane of every passenger on the bus.
Mountain Frame with carbon fiber stays for suspension and support
Lightweight and streamlined for long-haul treks
Simplified external pocket configuration for easy access and secure carrying
Pared down compression system reduces bulking
- BrandMystery Ranch
- ModelMystery Ranch
- Weight4.8 pounds
The Fjallraven Kaipak 28 Backpack is our final hiking backpack before we head back down the trail and rest our weary feet. With just a 28 liter capacity, it’s not designed for long trips into the wilderness, but it’s durable design with robust G-1000 construction and practicality make it an excellent day pack or overnight bag.
The top-loading design makes it easy to pick gear in and place it back with no need to rummage through too much, and the fixed top lid gives you a little more space and a storage compartment for smaller items you need to grab in a hurry. The waterproof cover keeps everything dry while the straps and loops give you somewhere to hang your hiking poles from.
Top loading design for short trips and day hikes
Robust G-1000 Heavy Duty Eco S construction
Fixed top lid, zippered front pocket and attachment points for hiking poles
Easily detachable hip belt for everyday use
- ModelF27084-Pine Green
- Weight1.32 pounds
Backpacking Backpack Buying Guide
Features To Look For In Best Backpacking Backpacks
Frame - Experienced backpackers know what kind of frame they like, but for newbies, you can choose between internal and external. External frames are heavier while internal frames are full back or with stays. Frame stays are more ergonomic and are the most lightweight option, which is ideal for those who want to keep the weight down.
Capacity - The capacity determines how much you can fit into the backpack. Large capacity backpacks are perfect for long haul trips, but if you’re just taking a few days out, then you won’t need too much. Remember, more capacity means more weight, so you don’t want to over pack.
Weight - Lightweight hiking packs are perfect for easing some of the strain of your backpacking demands while also giving you a little more freedom when taking them on planes.
Padding & Support - A comfortable backpack is what all backpackers dream of, so search for one with ample padding and support. This keeps your shoulders and back in top condition during long hikes and means you won’t dread putting your backpack on every morning.
Adjustability - Adjusting your backpack on-the-move should be easy, and you’ll find this with some of the best backpacking backpacks. This is convenient as it saves you stopping and holding everybody up while also allowing you to still adjust if it’s not right.
Fit - Find the right torso size for your backpack otherwise you will hate every second of your travels. This is not something to overlook, so measure, measure, and measure again.
Loading - An easily loadable backpack will make storing and retrieving your gear much easier. Top loading packs allow you to pack in rows and help you create a center of gravity to balance it correctly but can be harder to find gear if you don’t pack it correctly. U-shaped loading backpacks that open like a suitcase would make this easier but may be more difficult to achieve the proper balance.
Exterior Pockets - Multiple exterior pockets mean you don’t need to rummage around in your bag whenever you need something. They should be easy to access with tough zippers and be discreet.
Compression Straps - Backpacks will bulk up once they are packed, but with compression straps, you can reduce this bulk to make it easier to carry and not knock into people. As a bonus, you can also use these compression straps to hang oversized gear from if you run out of space.
Ventilation - All the best-rated backpacking backpacks offer excellent ventilation to keep you cool on your journey. In humid climates, your back and shoulders can get very sweaty, but good ventilation prevents this, keeping your clothes dry and you comfortable.
Water Protection - A waterproof hiking backpack is a must and while most backpacks are waterproof (or resistant, at least) not all of them are. They will, however, come with a rain fly, but these are not always too reliable, especially in tropical downpours.
Backpacking Backpack FAQ
Q: How to fit a backpack?
A: An ill-fitting backpack can cause discomfort and pain which is the last thing you want on the trail and during your travels. When buying your backpack, you need to remember these key factors:
- Torso size - if there’s space between your shoulders and the straps, the torso size is too large
- Hip belt length - this needs to sit comfortably on your hips, if it is too high or low, it’s not the right length
- Shoulder straps - look for padded straps that shift the load to your hips to prevent shoulder and backache
- Sternum strap - should be on your sternum, not at your neck
Larger packs also offer load lifters to carry heavy loads, you won’t find this with all packs, though.
When trying your packs, it’s advised to fill the pack with a load similar to what you’ll be traveling with to get an idea of how comfortable it will be.
Q: How to keep your backpacking gear dry in the rain?
A: Rain is an inevitability wherever you go, but backpacking backpacks for travel are designed for rain. Built-in rain covers are stowed in compartments and can be brought out when you feel the first drop to ensure you keep everything dry.
Some backpacks will also use waterproof material in their construction, which is a further defense against the elements.
Q: Can you bring an external frame backpack on a plane?
A: We can’t say for sure, because different airlines have different rules, and while people have taken external frame backpacks on a plane before, that may not apply for every company. Before your flight, it’s best to check with the airline directly.
If you do, remember they are heavier than internal frame backpack, which if you’re trying to keep light won’t be ideal.
Q: How to properly pack a backpacking backpack?
A: Packing a backpack is an art, and if you get it wrong, you’ll not enjoy your trip as much as you could. To make it easy, consider your backpack as having 3 zones to make it perfectly balanced.
Base Zone - ideal for your bulkiest gear you won’t need to access until you get to camp or the hotel
Center Zone - best for more dense and heavier items to provide balance
Peak Zone - use this for the larger essentials you may need to access quickly
You can also take advantage of the side and top pockets and any straps and loops on your backpack. The pockets can hold essentials you need to get to quickly such as snacks or a compass while you can attach oversized items to the straps and loops such as sleeping bags and tents.
Q: Is there any difference in backpacking backpacks for men and women?
A: The best backpacking backpack for men isn’t that different from the best women’s backpack aside from a few differences. Women’s backpacks are shorter on the back to better fit the shorter female torso. Some backpacks will also have ergonomically designed hip belts to make them more comfortable and add further support while wearing it.
Q: How do I clean a backpacking backpack?
A: If you want to get the most from the best backpacking packs, you must keep it clean after months of roughing it through hostels, cities, and the wilderness. You can do a deep clean or a light clean, either way, you’ll need:
- Fragrance-free soap
- Clean sponge or cloth
- Soft bristled brush like a used toothbrush
Remember to empty the bag before cleaning and shake out sand or dirt that’s gotten in there. Do not use a washing machine to clean it and use warm but not hot water. To prevent that gross mildew smell, air it out in a well-ventilated place but not in direct sunlight.