CAMPING & HIKING

Best Backpack Brand: How to Choose a Trustworthy Friend

Backpack and shoes backpackers
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

When you’re really passionate about your outdoor adventures, you’re also committed to getting top notch equipment. That way you’ll ensure the comfort and safety of your trip, making sure you get to see and do everything you’ve planned. Getting the best backpack brand is, therefore, a must since a backpack is a primary piece of gear.

Without it you won’t be able to fit in all your stuff, nor carry it safely. Plus, a bad backpack can give you a lot of backpain and discomfort, ruining your trip. So if you want to know more about how to choose a sturdy and reliable backpack, keep on reading our piece.

How to choose the absolute best

The best backpack companies offer a plethora of choices, regarding designs and materials, which some people may find a little hard to browse through. That happens even if you’re an outdoor expert, but the paradox of choice becomes all the more overwhelming when you’re new to this.

Backpack on a bench

So how do you make your selection? The factors you need to take into account regard:

Your purpose

In other words, selecting a backpack isn’t the first thing you’ll do. You have to start with knowing exactly:

  • When and where you’re going.
  • The nature of your trips.
  • The things you need.

That’ll give you an idea of how the backpack should look like and if it has the necessary compartments or adjustments to help you fit everything inside.

But what if your trips aren’t that alike to each other? Well, then it’s wise to have multiple backpacks, for each outdoor activity. Since you’ll need different equipment for a backdoor camping trip, a bicycle ride or a winter hike, you should select the size accordingly.

Man with backpack hiking in natural landscape

And the plus side is that many brands offer different models geared at satisfying most of your needs. Take Osprey, for instance, one of the coolest companies on the market now. It manufactures:

  • Less pricey backpacks, which meet the basic outdoor needs for short, half-day or one-day trips, like going for a bicycle ride or a fishing trip.
  • Moderately priced items, you can take on a camping trip since they’re medium-sized and have enough compartments to accommodate this purpose.
  • More expensive backpacks with a lot of features and customizations, so you can go on specialized hiking trips, or even ski.

The benefits in getting all your backpacks from the same brand are:

  • You’ll soon enough get acquainted with their style at a macro level, so you can use their products easily.
  • You can get some discounts if you buy more items from them.
  • You’ll be able to use some extras from one backpack to the other.
  • You can make some of the same customizations to your items.

The disadvantages regard:

  • Getting used to the same company means neglecting some other grade A products on the market.
  • You’re not as eager to do further research about new features or improved technologies developed by other brands.

Size

After you’ve decided your purpose, size is the next factor in line, hence you’ll need:

  • A smaller backpack for shorter trips: less than 20 liters.
  • A medium backpack for versatile hiking and camping: about 35-40 liters.
  • A huge backpack for specialized trips: more than 60 liters.

Apart from the length of your trip, there are other things which influence the capacity you’ll choose:

  • How you’ll be traveling: by foot, by car or by plane.
  • Where you’re going.
  • What the weather is going to be like.
  • If you’re staying mostly around camp, or if you’re going on daily walks nearby.
  • Who’s going to accompany you, especially kids or p

That’s why a backpack used for mountaineering with a whole lot of people is going to look really different from a backpack used for an overnight-only outing with your significant other.

Versatile sizing

But if versatility is your top priority, you should know that grade A companies have thought about that too.

Take Arc’teryxAltra 65 for example. This is a 65 liters product, meaning you can take it on lengthier trips, and it has all the right features and innovations to accommodate this. It provides good back support thanks to it’s pivoting waist belt, and it’s by far one of the most comfortable backpacks on the market.

But its moderate weight and overall aspect render it appropriate for shorter trips too. We admit it has a pretty high retail price, but for this money, you’ll definitely get something tough, with a long lifespan and multi-functional, so it’s really a good investment.

Arc'teryxAltra 65 backpack

Another good tip if you’re going on a lengthier vacation, then frequently leaving camp for day-long hikes is to take two backpacks:

  • A bigger one to fit all your things.
  • A more compact and lightweight backpack, which can easily be folded and packed into the bigger one.

You can also do this if you’re visiting a foreign country and you want to spend most of your time sightseeing.

Sizing it well

You’ll know that you’re getting a top-notch brand if their main concern is user experience, especially when it comes to sizes. That’s why they’ll make proper sizing one of their priorities, so:

  • You’ll be comfortable throughout your trip.
  • The weight of your backpack is distributed well on your body.
  • There aren’t any painful pressure points.

Since proper fitting and sizing is really important particularly for lengthier trips with a bigger load, you’ll see that the most reputable companies offer online info about how your torso length affects the fit. Worse documented research departments and hence worse brands state that your height only impacts the size you’ll get, which is incorrect.

Backpack store

Each manufacturer has different measurements, which is why you should do your research, but the general sizes depending on your torso length are:

  • Small:approximately5 inches.
  • Medium:approximately5 inches.
  • Large:approximately5 inches.

Another thing good companies do when you’re going in for a sizing is using proprietary tools, like:

  • Their own chart.
  • Their own measuring tool.
  • Specialized personnel who know that the torso is measured between the C7 vertebrae and the iliac

But if you’re buying online, you can use ameasuring tape and do the same thing at home.

We also like how trustworthy brands don’t just push you towards one model or size, but let you:

  • Try out different backpacks in their store to see what fits. They even load it for you and let you walk around the place so you’re really sure about how it feels.
  • Allow you to return a backpack you’ve bought online if the sizing isn’t right.

And if you’re mostly doing your shopping online, you’ll see that great companies have a high fit as expected rate, of over 70%.

The interchangeable hipbelt

Apart from your torso length, you should also check for this belt. The reason is that this should support the majority of your weight, not your shoulders, for minimal back problems. So you want to make sure you’re getting the proper fit depending on your waist size.

Backpack belt

What if you have a waist that’s really small or particularly big, so you can’t adjust the built-in hipbelt the way you need?

The best backpack companies have thought about that too, and you can simply ask them to change the belt from one size to the other. REI and Osprey are some of the manufacturers who offer this option, you only have to get in touch with them to accommodate your request.

Shoulder fit

Size is influenced by shoulder fit too because you have to take into account how the weight of your backpack is going to be distributed on the trail.

The natural tendency is to lean forward a bit when we’re carrying something heavy-ish on our backs, and this tendency is even more prominent when we’re hiking on an inclined terrain.

And even if the majority of the weight should be taken by your hips, your shoulders have to do some work too. So make sure the shoulder strap fits you well, it’s what helps distribute the weight evenly on the front and top part of your shoulders.

Man with backpack hiking in the mountains

Weight

At this point, you’ll have to choose between:

  • Lighter backpacks: more comfortable and really portable, but can’t support a lot of weight, so they’re not the best for lengthier trips.
  • Heavier backpacks: not that portable, but built from really durable materials that withstand bigger weights.

But even if that’s the case, in theory, you’ll still find that most reputable brands market:

  • Light enough backpacks that can support heavier loads. Take The North Face Banchee 65, which has a 65 liters capacity, but weighs just a bit more than 3.5 pounds. And it’s still made from top materials, with great suspensions, so it’s really comfortable to wear.
  • Heavier backpacks that are really comfortable and portable, thanks to their great design with suspensions, straps and belts, lumbar support and lots of padding.

The North Face Banchee 65 backpack

So if you feel you have to sacrifice comfort for the sake of durability or vice-versa, chances are you haven’t set your eyes on one of the best products available.

Good adjustment

This factor shows that the brand you’re considering to buy has designed a backpack with your experience and comfort in mind. Good adjustment is synonym with:

  • Pain-free hikes
  • Efficiency
  • Fun

Woman with a backpack walking in forest

Besides, all these straps, cinches and belts shouldn’t become burdensome, they should be easy to tie so that you’re getting a good weight distribution without any effort.

  • Load lifter straps keep your backpack straight on your back.
  • Sternum strapsincrease your stability. Some backpack companies have adjustable sternum straps, or you can buy such standalone straps online.
  • Compression straps help you increase or decrease the volume of your load. Compressing your things makes for a more stable and balanced backpack.
  • Hipbelt stabilizer to make sure the hipbelt is fitted well around your waist, so you’re more stable and balanced.
  • Internal frames to support the backpack well on your back, keeping it rigid enough, but also preventing some items stabbing you in the back during your hike.

Design

There are a whole lot of designs to think about, but the best ones regard functionality, not just looks. The most common designs are for:

Backpacking

  • Used for heavier weights.
  • They have a bigger capacity.
  • You can take them on hikes that last for longer.
  • Have frames and most of the above straps that can easily be adjusted for your comfort.
  • You can fit all your stuff thanks to multiple compartments.
  • Have includedhydration bladders.
  • They can’t easily be adjusted for other outdoor activities.

Woman with backpack walking on rural path

Ultralight camping

  • Have a capacity of about 40 to 50 liters.
  • Don’t have a lot of extra
  • Don’t have many compartments, since that would add to their total weight.
  • The materials used may be less sturdy since they’re thinner.
  • They’re really portable, and can easily be carried without any effort or back and shoulder pain.
  • You can choose the size you need.

Ultralight camping backpack

Women’s wear

  • Have a comfortable, ergonomic fit.
  • The torso length is smaller.
  • The shoulder width is narrower.
  • The waist belt is a bit curved.
  • The chest strap is easily adjusted.

The girl with the backpack walking in the forest

Day-long hikes

  • Extremely versatile for a lot of outdoor activities that last about a day.
  • Their maximum capacity is 30 liters.
  • They come with specific attachments.
  • Can’t carry heavier weights.
  • Are compatible with hydration bladders.
  • Allow good air ventilation and moisture-wicking, so that perspiration doesn’t become a huge pain.
  • You won’t get the advantage of more sizes to choose from with most models.

30 liters camping backpack

Climbing

  • You can take them on longer trips.
  • You can fit most of your necessary food, hydration, and clothing.
  • They have a simple, stout design.
  • They’re built with functionality in mind, above anything else.
  • The biggest available size is 20 liters.
  • You’ll only find this model in a one-size only.
  • They’re low-profile.
  • Their attachments are specifically made for rock climbing, so you can easily reach your rope and carabiners.
  • Don’t have side mesh pockets, since they’re the first to get damaged when you’re rock climbing, plus they add to the overall weight.

Climbing backpack

Mountaineering

  • They’re larger.
  • Have special attachments for ice ax and poles.
  • Have a maximum capacity of 55 liters.
  • They can be used for hiking as well as rock climbing.
  • They have a simple design.
  • They have removable parts, so you can minimize the overall weight you’re carrying.
  • They have a foldable construction.
  • Some of their parts are versatile, like the frame sheets that can also be used as bivy pads.

Backpack with ice axes and trekking poles in the mountains

Skiing

  • Have attachments for shovels or other ski-related things.
  • Their capacity ranges between 20 to 40 liters, depending on the length of your trip.
  • Some of the most expensive such backpacks from innovative brands include airbag packs in case of avalanches. Although they weigh more and don’t have a lot of space inside, they’re real lifesavers.
  • Can’t be used for multiple outdoor activities, so they lack on the versatility scale.

The skier with a backpack

Traveling

  • Consist of a larger backpack, with an included day-pack that can easily be removed.
  • Their handles are padded, for a more comfortable carry.
  • Their zippers can be locked, so no one can search through your things.
  • The shoulder straps are covered for optimal protection on airports.
  • Some of these backpacks are convertible.
  • Can’t be used for a ton of other outdoor activities.

Travel backpack

Materials

When it comes to the best backpack companies, these are bound to offer you products made from the best materials available.

That will provide you:

  • The desired comfort, with a lighter pack, that can be easily carried, and with minimal perspiration problems.
  • Durability and a long life, thanks to optimal stitching and great craftsmanship.
  • Resistance to the elements, especially rain and wind that can damage the contents of your pack.

The best materials used by these companies are:

Cotton canvas

  • On the heavy side, which means you can carry heavier loads.
  • It’s a rough, sturdy fabric.
  • The mix of natural and synthetic makes such a backpack waterproof and sturdy.
  • It’s the least pricey

Hiking man with backpack in nature

Pack-cloth nylon

  • It’s a very smooth fabric.
  • It’s water resistant, and with the proper coating, it can even become waterproof.
  • It can withstand most on-field damages, like scratches and punctures.
  • It’s less heavy than the previous material.

Cordura

  • It’s also a sort of nylon, but air-treated.
  • This is a grade A material when it comes to resisting scratches and tears.
  • It’s the lightest fabric used for backpacks.
  • It’s the priciest material, which is why most backpacks aren’t entirely made from Cordura.

Ripstop nylon

  • Provides a lot of protection against mostrips.
  • It’s waterproof.
  • It’s one of the lightest materials.

Polyester

  • This is the best material if you’re looking for UV protection, so there won’t be any discoloration.
  • It’s not particularly strong to be taken out on constant trips.
  • It’s a really affordable fabric.

Blue polyester backpack

Full-grain leather

  • Looks really stylish, and it’s great for formal occasions.
  • It’s on the more expensive side of the spectrum.
  • It’s really qualitative, and ages well.

Also, don’t forget about the frames and zippers. The most common materials used for the frames are aluminum or stainless steel because of their increased resistance coupled with a low weight, while the best zippers on the market are YKK.

Plus, if you’re selecting a waterproof fabric, make sure the zippers and stitches don’t allow the water to pass through them either.

What will you choose

With that being said, remember that the really good brands have a reputation that precedes them, which mainly translates into awesome online reviews. So make sure you do your research first, but keep in mind all the factors we’ve discussed above because they help sketch out what a good company does for its clients.

Two girls with backpacks walking

And now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. Have we left something out from this article? Do you have other tips for selecting top backpack manufacturers and retailers? What’s your favorite brand?

Did you by chance buy a backpack from a highly-praised company that turned out to be really bad? The comments are right below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Deborah Withers

    Of all my backpacking gear, picking out my backpack took the most research. I remember spending hours online reading about various brands and makes. After all of my research, I was stuck between two brands; Granite Gear and ULA. I eventually settled on Granite Gear. Their specific women’s fit, adjustable hip belt and shoulder straps, and the spacious outer compartments sold it for me. I may in the future consider purchasing the ULA when I want to go super ultra light, but for now, my Granite Gear pack works perfect.

    • Renee Ivey

      Oh, I had been looking at the ULA Catalyst and the Appalachian Ultralight Reacharound. I haven’t even heard of Granite Gear. My main set backs were prices, how is Granite Gear’s price tag? If they have a good warranty and an affordable price, I would definitely consider them. Thanks for bringing them up!

      • Dennis Owens

        Hi Renee! Yes, Granite Gear have great backpacks too, they may not be as popular Ospreys or Appalachians. The price tags indeed are something to consider, then again it is an investment as backpacks are gears that you will be using constantly.

    • Dennis Owens

      Great to hear you were able to find the perfect backpack! It is also great that you really did your research. Backpacks are important as it should be durable and at the same time comfortable. Let me know how it goes once you get your ULA!

  • Renee Ivey

    I have absolutely loved my Osprey Aura. Although recently, the 65 liters and hefty weight have been feeling like a bit much. I have been searching for the perfect companion for a while now. I have been eyeing the Appalachian Ultralight Reach Around. The 11oz and 45L seemed perfect, until I saw the price tag. I have now resigned to keep searching for the perfect pack that’s around 40L.

    • Dennis Owens

      Osprey Aura is really a great bag, but yes I agree that 65 liters is quite heavy. I get your point as well regarding the price tag. However, Appalachian Ultralight Reach Around is great investment, that or Osprey Men’s Aether 60.

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