There is something thrilling about an exhilarating hike – it may be a day hike or it may be a longer excursion. The physical exercise, comradery with friends, and stunning scenery is all part of the purpose of hiking. If you have done any amount of hiking, you know that the backpack you carry is critical.
You need the best hiking backpack that is roomy enough to carry what you need but not so big that you bring along too much; especially for long hikes where you will need the stamina to stay the course.
The backpack will need to be able to distribute the weight across your shoulders, back, and waist in order to keep from putting undue strain on any one part of the body. Another key characteristic is the weight of the pack itself; getting a lightweight, yet durable pack will decrease the weight you will carry.
Location of the pockets is also a key feature; easy access to your water bottle especially is critical so you don’t have to take your pack off to get a drink. It will also be important to try the pack on for a good fit so you do not develop pressure spots.
Depending on your hike, you need a pack that can accommodate the gear you are going to bring. Daypacks are very different from those used on longer trips where you may be carrying a bedroll and tent. In this article, we are going to review several of the top backpacks available for thru-hikers.
We will compare similar features in each including weight, volume, suspension, compression straps, pockets and compartments, and other pertinent features; hopefully, you will find your favorite from out list of the best backpacks for hiking.
Suspension Systems to Save Your Back
A backpack suspension system is what balances and stabilizes and distributes it across the hips so your back does not carry all the weight.
The suspension should also place the load over the center of gravity to help with balance; this is especially important on hilly, rocky inclines or declines where it might be easy to lose your balance. There are different suspension systems that you should be aware of so you can choose the right system for your body.
Full Contact Back
Just as the name implies, this system sits right next to your back. There is typically a ventilation tunnel to help you keep a stable temperature.
Being tight to your back does give you more heat and therefore this type of system may be more suitable for colder, winter activities such as cross-country skiing. But this is a versatile system and can be used for climbing, biking and everyday use.
Full Ventilation Suspension Systems
These systems have netting that keeps the pack from lying on the back. It creates an air pocket for ventilation; perfect for use in warmer climates by hikers and backpackers.
Trekking Suspension Systems
This system typically has an internal frame; it gives great support, comfort and ventilation. They are excellent for heavy loads over extended periods of time. These systems are padded and usually adjustable. This type of system gives a more custom fit and added comfort for the hiker.
Water, I Need Water – the Pack Hydration System
A hydration system is built into the pack specifically for water. It includes a reservoir and a sip tube. Some packs come with the hydration system, others have a space for it but you need to purchase it separately.
There are different volumes of reservoirs which you will choose depending on your activity. For thru-hiking and mountaineering you may want the larger reservoir. It is recommended to drink at least one liter of water for every hour of activity.
A large reservoir of about 3 liters weighs 6.6 lbs.; you need to take this into consideration when choosing your hydration system. The benefits of having a hydration system are simple: you don’t have to stop to take out a water bottle to drink – just sip from the tube.
It makes drinking simpler and you tend to drink more spread out over time. In addition, you may want to consider a water filter so you can replenish your water supply as you go.
Impression of The Compression Straps
Compression straps are also important; they help condense the load so you can keep it over your center of gravity for better balance. There are a few things to look at when it comes to straps.
- Quick release buckles: no one wants to fumble with buckles
- Length: make sure the straps are long enough to accommodate items you may carry in or on your pack.
- Even spacing: look for packs that have at least three compression straps down each side; this will go a long way in squishing and stabilizing your pack.
- Blocking: make sure the straps do not block access to pockets and pouches; you do not want to undo a strap just to get to your sunglasses.
- Stitching: make sure the stitching is heavy duty especially at anchor points.
And Now for The Backpacks
Osprey Packs Exos 48 Backpack
Weight: S – 2.23lbs.; M – 2.31 lbs.; L – 2.41 lbs.
Capacity: S – 45.1 liters; M – 48.1 liters; L – 51.1 liters
Dimensions: S – 26h x 14w x 12d in.; M – 28h x 14w x 12d in.; L – 30h x 14w x 12d in.
Load Range: 20-40 lbs.
Best use: Superlight backpacking &thru-hiking
Specific features: Osprey Packs Exos 48 Backpack has a removable lid; mesh side pockets with InsideOut™ Compression which allows for more secure loads in the side pockets; ExoForm shoulder straps and hip belt with zippered pockets; sleeping pad straps; integrated FlapJacket™ which provides compression and protection from the elements; stretch mesh front pocket; tool attachment; extra tie-off points for extra gear.
This lightweight pack is made of state-of-the-art, high-tenacity materials, and an aluminum frame. The AirSpeed Suspension provides stabilization and ventilation – the perfect combination. This pack comes in three sizes, S-M-L, to assure a better fit. It is an open bucket style so bigger items such as a bedroll could be stuffed inside.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40L Backpack
Weight: 1.85 lbs. (black); 1.76 lbs. (white)
Capacity: 40 liters
Dimensions: Top circumference – 37 1/2″; bottom circumference – 33 1/2″; height fully unrolled – 30″; back width – 10 1/2″
Load Range: 20-40 lbs.
Best use: Ultra-light backpacking & thru-hiking
Specific features: Three external mesh pockets line the front side; perfect for ventilation and visibility of contents.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40L Backpack features Dyneema® Hardline shoulder straps including closed cell foam for extra comfort; hip belt and hip belt zippered pockets. The compression system includes roll top with vertical compression, side compression and finally a top Y strap to secure gear.
This lightweight pack is made with waterproof Dyneema® fabric and proprietary seam sealing that will keep your gear dry. Removable aluminum stays add extra support when needed. This pack comes in four sizes, S-M-L and Tall. It is an open bucket style to accommodate all types of gear. Extra straps for tying on bed roll or tent.
Accessories: DCF8 Stuff Sack Set #1 4 bags in set ($70); DCF8 Stuff Sack Pillow ($45); Echo II Ultra-light Shelter System ($695)
Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack
Weight: Regular – 2.125 lbs.; Long – 2.25 lbs.
Capacity: Regular – 60 liters; Long – 65 liters
Dimensions: – Fits Torso: Regular – 18 to 21 inches; Long – 21 to 24 inches
Fits Waist/Hips: Regular – 26 to 42 inches; Long – 26 to 42 inches
Load Range: Up to 35 lbs.
Best use: Ultra-light, multi-day backpacking
Specific features: Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack is made of Cordura® 100D & 210D Nylon for a lightweight, yet durable pack. Utilizes a Vapor Current frame with ventilation channels for evaporative cooling. It has a roll top and 3 expandable exterior pockets, hydration ports and sleeve.
This pack is large and yet versatile. Built for balance and stability, this pack will go the extra mile with you, staying at your center of gravity so you can go the distance. This pack comes in four sizes to accommodate women and men: short and regular for women and regular and long for men. The pack has a removable frame making the pack an ultra-light for day hikes with lighter loads.
Accessories: LineLoc Lid
REI Flash 65 Pack
Weight: S – 3 lbs. 8 oz.; M – 3 lbs. 10 oz.; L – 3 lbs. 12 oz.
Capacity: S – 63 liters ; M – 65 liters; L – 67 liters
Dimensions: Fits Torso S – 17 to 19 inches; M – 18 to 20 inches; L – 19 to 21 inches
Fits Waist/Hips S – 30 to 40 inches; M – 32 to 42 inches; L – 36 to 46 inches
Load Range: 35-45 lbs.
Best use: Backpacking
Specific features: This pack utilizes REI UpLift™ compression technology that hugs your body for better balance and stability. Features a sculpted, padded hip belt for better fit. The back panel is made of REI Packnit™ mesh for great ventilation. There is a key clip under the lid to keep your keys safe.
This pack is perfect for the long haul trip. The compression system keeps the load balanced and stable. The back panel is ventilated to keep the hiker cool. The aluminum internal frame and peripheral stay give this pack the stability hikers are looking for.
A dedicated sleeve for a hydration system is exactly what hikers need to stay hydrated on the trail. Multiple easy access pockets round out the features of this pack. This pack has three sizes: S-M-L, with an adjustable torso to ensure a perfect fit. Open bucket style, with 8 exterior pockets including a separate large front zippered pocket. Also has tool loops and lash points.
Accessories: CamelBak Antidote Reservoir – 100 fl. oz. and Duck’s Back Rain Cover ($25)
Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpacks
Weight: S – 4.39 lbs.; M – 4.58 lbs.; L – 4.92 lbs.
Capacity: S – 62.1 liters; M – 65.1 liters; L – 68.1 liters
Dimensions: S – 31h x 15w x 15d in; M – 33h x 15w x 15d in.; L – 35h x 15w x 15d in.
Load Range: 30-50 lbs.
Best use: backpacking &thru-hiking
Specific features: 3D anti-gravity suspension. Loaded with pockets – 5 exterior zippered pockets and 3 slip pockets. Adjustable harness and torso and Fit-on-the-Fly adjustable hip pad belt extends up to 5 inches. Inside hydration sleeve. Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole accessory. Internal and external compression straps.
Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpacks is equipped with top to bottom mesh that helps the pack contour to the hiker’s body giving it a better fit for balance and stability. The pack has a removable lid; the lip can expand to carry a bigger load or can be removed to lighten the load. Equipped with sleeping pad straps and tool loops.
This pack has three sizes: S-M-L. In addition, the adjustable straps, torso and belt make for a perfect fit. Flap Jacket can be used instead of the lid for a lighter pack.
Osprey Xenith 75 Pack
Weight: M – 5.2 lbs.; L – 5.4 lbs.; XL – 5.58 lbs.
Dimensions: M –35h x 14w x 15d in.; L – 35h x 14w x 15d in.; XL – 36h x 14w x 15d in.
Capacity: M – 75.1; L – 79.1; XL – 83.1
Load Range: 51-71 lbs.
Best use: Backpacking and mountaineering
Specific features: LightWire™ suspension and dual side compression straps keep the load near your center of gravity for a balanced, stable trip. Has separate sleeping bag compartment. Interior hydration sleeve. Mesh front pocket for extra visible storage. Side compression straps and Stow-on-the-Go attachment for trekking poles.
Osprey Xenith 75 Pack is loaded with pockets, tool attachments, and zippered compartments and to help keep the hiker organized and efficient. Made from high tenacity nylon, this pack will stand the test of a long journey. Moldable harness and hip belt incorporated for carrying ease and comfort. This pack comes in three sizes: M-L-XL. This large pack can hold enough gear and supplies to last a full week. The removable lid converts to a lumbar pack offering more versatility/
Osprey Packs Volt 75 Backpack
Weight: 4.06 lbs.
Capacity: 75 liters
Dimensions: 33h x 14w x 14d in.
Load Range: 30-50 lbs.
Best use: Backpacking and mountaineering
Specific features: LightWire™ peripheral frame; side compression straps; Fit-on-the-Fly adjustable hip belt; adjustable torso up to 5 inches; mesh back panel for ventilation and comfort; front and side mesh pockets; hip belt pockets’ separate sleeping bag compartment; Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole accessory; internal hydration sleeve.
Osprey Packs Volt 75 Backpack is a simple backpack with no extra bells or whistles, but all the durability, stability and organization any hiker could want.
Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro 65 Backpack
Weight: 5.5 lbs.
Capacity: 65 liters
Dimensions: 25.2″ x 15.0″ x 9.5″
Load Range: up to 50 lbs.
Best use: Backpacking
Specific features: Response A3 suspension technology; vented back panel; SideKick ultra-light removable daypack; top loading; u-zip panel for easy access; SideWinder stowable water bottle.
Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro 65 Backpack comes with an ultralight day pack that can be disconnected from the main pack and used for short day hikes away from the campsite. It also has interchangeable shoulder straps and hip belts to accommodate different sizes. This pack has three sizes: S-M-L. Dual bucket design, extra tool loops and lash points.
Accessories: Rain Cover
Let’s Put Some Miles on That Backpack
There you have it; 8 top-of-the-line backpacks that are perfect for ultra-light day trips all the way to thru-hiking and mountaineering.
Of note in each of these packs are the lightweight, durable fabrics that are utilized. Although each brand has their own unique fabric, the fabrics as a whole are made to be both breathable and moisture resistant. Another characteristic is the pockets.
Pockets will help you stay organized so you do not have to dig into the main compartment unnecessarily; pack smaller items that you will need frequently in outer pockets.
With all the features we have looked at there is no replacement for trying it out. If possible see if you can borrow a pack or even rent a pack before you invest in your own backpack. As you can see from the pricing, you will make an investment – but it will be well worth it if you get the right pack.
You will need to start with measurements of the length of your torso and the circumference of your hips. The length of the torso will determine the frame size.
They are sized in a range; for example, if your torso measures 18 inches, you would try out a medium/regular frame that has a range of 18 to 19½ inches. Some packs come with interchangeable belts, which is great.
Your hip measurement will indicate which belt size your need; for example, if you hips measure 35 inches, you would take a large belt with ranges between 35 to 39 inches. This all seems so technical, but many backpack stores will help you with the measurements and adjustments to make sure you get a pack that fits you perfectly – it can make or break your trip.
Find the right pack, join up with some experienced friends, determine what trail you will take and start out on your adventure – sporting that new pack.