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Updated Aug 12, 2021 8:37 AM

Hiking gear means much more than solid hiking boots and merino wool socks, and finding the best hiking backpack for your outdoors style will instantly, and continually, improve your time and experience outdoors. Weight and waterproofing matter, but the real differentiating factors in backpacking backpacks are design, support, straps, and fit. Here’s what you need to consider before buying.

The Best Hiking Backpack Is All About the Fit

Hiking backpacks are not one-size-fits-all. Prioritize fit with your hiking backpack as much as you would with your hiking boots. It should be easily adjustable so it will be comfortable no matter what you’re wearing, from a T-shirt to a parka. Look for shoulder straps that are cushioned, breathable, and that won’t strain the neck, as well as hip and/or sternum straps to evenly distribute the weight. 

Nothing will keep you off the trails like back problems. The pack must be the right size for your body. The frame and support must not compress your spine while you’re carrying the pack. (Again, hip and sternum straps, properly fitted, are your best friends here.) And the lighter the pack—not just the backpacking gear but the backpack itself—the less weight to haul around on your back.

If you’re in rain-prone climates, pay close attention to the materials and look for good waterproofing, and/or purchase a compatible backpack rain fly that can keep everything dry.

Do you need a hiking backpack for day trips?

The duration of your hike is perhaps the most important consideration in finding the best hiking backpack. A backpack for short-term hikes must comfortably contain all the supplies you’ll need to cart along— water, food, extra clothing layers, any emergency supplies or sun/bug supplies — but without adding any unnecessary bulk or weight. Look for easily accessible compartments and pockets so you can get that water bottle, energy bar, cell phone, or insect repellent quickly and easily.

Best Day Trip Backpack: Gregory Miwok 18L Daypack

Technical and performance features you typically only find in much larger packs. Gregory

Gregory packs are highly regarded, and the 18-liter size backpack is a great size for most day hikes—not too small, and not too large. An ATS suspension system plus the foam back panel and shoulder straps make this hiking backpack a dream to carry, and the breathable paneling everything the pack touches your body — including the cushioned hip straps — only add to that comfort (ditto the sternum and compression straps), while gear compartments and attachments for sunglasses, a hydration reservoir, bike light, helmet, trekking pole, and more make it super versatile.

Do you carry a lot of gear?

Every consideration you make for hiking gear you probably carry out to the nth power in terms of weight and practicality. And the longer the trip, the more supplies you’ll need, so you’ll consider every single ounce you’ll be hauling around. You need a backpack that can not only hold it all, but distribute the weight proportionately and comfortably.

Look for a comfortable, well-fitting hip strap and sternum strap, as well as compression straps to keep the load from shifting around—any unwieldiness or weight pulling away from your center drastically exacerbates back strain and discomfort. Gear attachment straps, clips, and compartments also improve functionality.

Backpacking and camping backpacks are designed and sold by gender and size, and, whether or not you adhere directly to those monikers, pay extremely close attention to these measurements. Before any return window is over, make sure the internal framing and all adjustable aspects can give you a perfect fit.

Best Camping Backpack for Men: Osprey Men’s Atmos AG 65

Endless adjustments and options allow for a truly perfect fit with no unnecessary bulk. Osprey

The Osprey pack has an anti-gravity suspension system with a breathable mesh panel that actually holds the pack slightly up and away from the back for an ultralight carrying experience with no unnecessary drag. It has abundant, adjustable, and often removable gear attachments and compartments, so you can get a customized, streamlined pack, with easy-adjusting hip and sternum straps for just as custom of a fit. The recommended load range is 30 to 50 pounds.

Best Camping Backpack for Women:  Osprey Women’s Aura AG 50

It has an adjustable harness and hip belt, and is designed to reduce felt weight. Osprey

Like the men’s Osprey Atmos, the Osprey Women’s Aura AG 50 can be adjusted to provide the perfect fit, along with plenty of gear pockets and attachments. It is designed to carry from 25 to 40 pounds of gear.

Do you only need to bring the essentials?

If you’re jaunting off from your campsite or the trailhead for a few hours, there’s no need to overdo it, and a larger pack (like a larger dinner plate, or larger suitcase, or larger shopping cart) likely just means you’re going to find a way to fill it, no matter how unnecessary. Well-designed small hiking backpacks can fit more than you think, just not so much more than you’ll need.

Best Small Hiking Backpack: Osprey Daylite Daypack

All the support and storage you need for a hike with an extremely thoughtful, compact design. Osprey

This hiking bag has 13 liters of storage space, and holds a hydration reservoir and two water bottles. The shoulder strap structure keeps stress out of your neck, while side compression and sternum straps hug the pack to you so you can move more naturally and without weighing down your spine.

Do you need to carry a baby or dog in a backpack?

Sometimes the things you need to pack for your hike aren’t just snacks and sunscreen, they’re the littlest members of your household. Specially designed hiking backpacks can let you carry them along, so no change in family size has to limit your outdoors habits. (And yes, dogs are great at hiking on four feet, but they might not have the endurance of their human pals, and certain breeds and ages of dogs need a lift in active, endurance-demanding situations.)

Best Baby Hiking Backpack: Osprey Poco Child Carrier

Go hiking as far as you want, not as far as your baby or toddler’s attention span and endurance will allow. Osprey

With a built-in UPF 50+ sun shield, removable foot stirrups, and the ability to carry up to 48.5 lbs, this kid-carrying hiking backpack — with a kickstand-like frame to balanced ground placement — will get you and your offspring on the trails early, often, and with peace of mind coming from a highly reputable backpack brand like Osprey.

Best Dog Hiking Backpack: K9 Sport Sack Rover 2

An easy way to carry your canine on the train or the trails. K9 Sport Sack

If your dog is skittish or aging—or if you need to take the pooch on some form of transit that doesn’t allow uncontained dogs (including your friend’s new car), K9 Sport Sack makes extremely well designed hiking backpacks for carrying dogs, with a particular eye to safety — consider the collar carabiner, adjustable side straps and mesh panels, leg holes, etc. And once your dog is out and walking, it wears like a normal backpack and can contain your gear.

Budget Hiking Backpacks: What You Get for Under $25

As it goes with gear, price does correlate to performance and durability with hiking backpacks. Lightweight, durable materials for outdoor gear generally don’t come cheap, and performance is also dependent on thoughtful design — and attention to quality in small components, such as zippers. 

While knock-off hiking backpacks may look vaguely like those from quality brands, the aesthetics don’t necessarily translate to performance. That said, you can still find an entirely serviceable backpack for cheap. If you don’t plan to use it for the long haul and are not too particular about performance, then a budget pick may be just fine.

Best Cheap Hiking Backpack: Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Hiking Backpack

A large, lightweight backpack that will also feel light on your finances. Venture Pal

At 40L, this budget Venture Pal hiking backpack is not wanting for capacity. Side compression straps can rein it in for smaller hauls, and various interior pockets (including one to store separate wet goods) keep things organized. There’s no hip strap, so you’ll want to keep things light to avoid pressure on your neck, shoulders, and spine.


What are the best backpacks for hiking?

The best backpacks for hiking are ones with the right amount of storage capacity for your trip duration, good back support, strategically designed hip, sternum, and compression straps, equipment attachments, and compartments, and without any unnecessary bulk. Backpack brands like Gregory and Osprey consistently make top-notch hiking backpacks.

How should a hiking backpack fit?

A hiking backpack should fit close to the body, as the more it pulls away the more it will throw you off balance and strain your back. Some hiking backpacks are built with suspension systems that actually lift the pack’s weight up and away to alleviate strain, but without making things unwieldy. You want the shoulder, sternum, and hip straps to be comfortably snug and evenly distributing the weight — and fairly high up on your back (think of it as hugging the upper arc of your rib cage).

Which brand of rucksack is the best?

Osprey packs and Gregory packs are well respected by experienced backpackers.

The Basics for Finding the Best Hiking Backpack

When you’re backpacking, it’s all about the journey, so fit comes first in selecting your best hiking backpack. Then think about what you’ll need to carry, and how far and long you’ll be carrying it all. Look for adjustable support elements, particularly hip straps, sternum straps, and side compression traps.