The Osprey Talon 22 is our pick for the best hiking backpack. This pack has so many features which make it ideal for hiking. These include easy access to your hydration system, an adjustable harness length to guarantee the perfect fit and a weight of 27 ounces. Available in a range of bright colors as well as classic black, the Osprey Talon 22 is ideal for day hikes.
For our step-up pick, we’ve selected The North Face Litus 22. Combining a supportive back panel and shoulder straps with plenty of compartments means you will be comfortable using this pack all day. You’ll also easily be able to access all your gear. Another great feature of The North Face Litus 22 is the pockets on the hip belt, perfect for your phone and some snacks.
Our budget pick is the Marmot Kompressor 18. This affordable pack has many features designed to make your hikes easier, including a quick closure main compartment and one easy access zipper pocket. The Marmot Kompressor 18 is a very lightweight hiking pack, perfect if you enjoy short day hikes and don’t need to carry too much equipment.
|Product||Top Pick: Osprey Talon 22||Step-up Pick: The North Face Litus 22||Budget Pick: Marmot Kompressor 18||CamelBak Rim Runner 22||Gregory Zulu 30|
|Support||Padded and contoured shoulder straps and hip belt||Padded and contoured shoulder straps and hip belt||Padded shoulder straps. No hip belt||Padded and contoured shoulder straps and hip belt||Padded and contoured shoulder straps and hip belt|
|Ventilated back panel||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Hydration Compartment||Separate||Separate||No||Separate. Hydration system included||No|
|Loading style||Panel loader||Panel loader||Top loader||Panel loader||Panel loader|
|Size and fit||Available in two different sizes with adjustable torso length||Available in two different sizes||One size||One size||Four sizes|
|Best for||Regular hikers looking for a quality, adjustable pack||Regular hikers looking for a quality pack||Occasional short hikes||Regular hikers looking for a quality pack with hydration system included||Regular hikers looking for a quality, adjustable pack with rain cover|
- 1 A Little Background
- 2 How we picked
- 3 Type of material
- 4 Support
- 5 Capacity
- 6 Ventilation
- 7 Hydration sleeve
- 8 Rain Cover
- 9 Loading style
- 10 Size and fit
- 11 Choosing the perfect backpack for you
- 12 Flaws but not dealbreakers
- 13 The competition
- 14 Wrapping it up
A Little Background
Heading out on the trails for a hike is a fabulous experience. As well as seeing some amazing scenery, you get to test out your navigation skills, disconnect from your electronic devices and really soak up being surrounded by nature, fresh air, and friends.
With that said, selecting the best equipment is also a vital part of a successful hike. If you love hiking, then you’ll know that the wrong pack can ruin even your favorite trail. If you’re yet to start hiking seriously but haven’t completed many trails yet, then the choice of the best pack is pretty important. Choosing a pack that is not designed for hiking can make your shoulders and back sore, especially if you’re carrying a lot of gear.
Heading out hiking is a great way to stay fit and see your local scenery. But making sure you have the best pack for your needs will make your hike even more enjoyable.
If you don’t have the best outdoor gear with you, then a pleasant hike can quickly become a day you’d rather forget. As well as the right sort of pack, don’t forget to include other essentials such as local maps, sunscreen, extra layers, sunscreen, and snacks. Choosing a pack that’s custom made for carrying these essentials will make your hike a lot more pleasant.
This means that deciding to purchase a pack that has been designed especially for hiking is a wise move. There are many different features you choose from, even some that can confuse a seasoned hiker! From hydration sleeves to rain covers, loading style and capacity, there’s a lot of options to choose. Luckily, there are a lot of great brands out there making some of the best packs for hiking, so you’re spoilt for choice.
And remember, your hiking pack can easily double up for many other purposes. They’re perfect for use as carry-on luggage for a flight, and even for your morning commute if you bike to work. But if you’re looking for a simpler backpack, more suited for college or overnight trips than hiking, head over to our review of the best backpacking backpack.
To help you make your choice, we’ve rounded up a selection of the most popular backpacks of 2018, as well as some of our personal favorites.
How we picked
Selecting the best hiking backpack can be a little tricky, as there are so many features to choose.
It’s worth considering each feature and how important it is to you before you rush out and buy a pack. The type of hiking you do, which season you hike in, your packing preferences and even your height can all make a difference to your choice of pack.
First of all, let’s take a look at some of the features you can expect from the best hiking backpack. These include:
- Type of material
- Hydration sleeve
- Rain cover
- Loading style
- Size and fit
Now let’s look at each of those features in a little more detail.
Type of material
You want your pack to last for a long time, so the type of material will play an important part in this. Be sure that you check the strength of any fabric, by looking for something called the “denier.” The denier is shown with a number and a “D,” so, for instance, my backpack is made out of mostly 400D nylon. The higher the number, the stronger the material. But remember, you can’t compare these numbers if the fabrics are different. Most packs are made from nylon these days, so look for higher numbers if you’re after a strong and durable pack. You may also find that a stronger denier is used for high wear areas, such as the base and sides.
The supportive harness is a crucial feature of any best hiking pack. Look for padded shoulder straps and hip belts which will help to distribute your load evenly. Contoured straps are also a nice touch, and you may find these more on the best packs designed specifically for women. Most packs these days come with a sternum strap, which attaches across your chest. Again this helps to support the weight of your pack.
The well padded shoulder straps on this pack help to distribute weight more evenly. The sternum strap also helps support your pack to allow you to move freely.
The best hiking backpacks come in many different sizes, which is usually given in liters. Deciding on what capacity of the pack to choose can depend on a few different factors. Things to keep in mind include the season you’ll be hiking in. If you hike more in winter, then you’ll probably be carrying some extra layers such as a warm down jacket to pop on when you stop for a rest. The number of layers you’ll need for summer hiking will be less, and as a result, you could consider a backpack with a smaller capacity.
As a general rule, when selecting the best hiking pack for your needs, you’ll be looking at those with a capacity of between 15-30 liters. You might already have the perfect older backpack that you’re looking to replace. In that case, you probably know roughly what capacity pack you’re looking for. If not, I generally like a pack with a capacity of around 20 liters. I find this to be the best capacity because it gives plenty of room to pack everything I need, but not so much extra space that I feel the need to add unnecessary items just because I have the extra capacity to do so! If you’re going on a multiday hike and taking a tent, you’ll want to consider a pack with a much larger capacity.
This 18 litre pack is the perfect size for a day hike in warm weather. Enough room for our ten essentials without weighing you down.
The majority of the best packs now come with some ventilation system on the rear of the back panel. The ventilation system allows for a flow of air between the pack and your body. Living in a hot country, this is definitely a plus for me, and I always prefer a backpack with a good amount of ventilation.
Take a look at the back of the pack, and those with the best ventilation will most likely have raised padded sections, with mesh panelling in between. The raised sections are designed to reduce the surface area of the pack making contact with your back, which allows a breeze to circulate through this area. Cheaper packs are unlikely to have sophisticated ventilation systems but more expensive packs definitely should.
Hydration systems are really popular these days, so if you use one, you’ll want to make sure that any backpack can accommodate this. Many of the best hiking packs have a dedicated sleeve to store your hydration system, as well as a port and ties for the tube.
If you prefer water bottles, you might want to select a pack with roomy side pockets for easy access. Many of the best packs can fit a liter bottle of water into each side pocket, but it can be worth checking this.
This 18 litre pack has an internal pocket for your hydration system. Some more expensive options will have a dedicated exterior sleeve which protects the rest of your gear in case of leaks.
Not all of the best backpacks come with a rain cover, but many packs designed for use in wet conditions will often have one tucked away in a small side pocket. I found this to be an invaluable feature when living and working in the humid rainforest of Costa Rica. Being able to protect my pack against both high humidity levels and tropical storms meant that I could keep my gear safe and dry at all times.
If your pack didn’t come with a rain cover, you can buy one separately. If you hike in wet weather then they are a great option for protecting your gear.
The main difference in choice here is whether you select a top loading or panel loading pack. Top loaders have one main opening at the top of the pack. A disadvantage of this is that if you want something at the bottom, you need to remove all the items on top of it to get it! While this can be annoying at times, it also means your pack is much easier to protect from the elements – simply pop a liner inside, and your gear is waterproofed.
Panel loaders usually have a long zip which runs either side of the pack, so you can select which section you need to open. Panel loaders make it much easier to find what you’re looking for without having to remove other items, but the compromise is that it’s harder to protect your gear from the elements due to the longer zips.
You’ll find that whatever style you choose, most of the best packs come with some external pockets, both zippered and elasticated. These can be used to store items you want to access quickly, like water bottles, snacks, and rain jackets. I prefer a panel loading pack as I find it much easier to both pack and access my gear this way.
Some packs come with a padded hip belt, and these usually have small pockets for storing things such as your phone, a snack or lip balm. If you like to have quick access to these items but don’t want to store them in your pockets, then look out for a pack with this feature.
Small pockets on a padded hip belt are really useful for storing small items including sunscreen, a phone or a snack. It means you can easily get to these items without taking off your pack. This Macpac pack has an open mesh pocket and a zipped pocket.
Size and fit
Don’t be tempted to buy a backpack without first thinking about how your body shape and height will affect the fit of your pack. The most important measurement here is the length of your torso. Here’s how to measure that (you’ll need a friend to help!):
- With your chin resting on your chest, run your hand along the back of your neck to locate your C7 vertebrae. This is the most prominent bump along the back of your neck
- Next, locate your hip bones. Place your index fingers on your hip bones and align your thumbs as if you’re trying to get them to touch in the middle
- Ask your friend to measure the distance between your C7 vertebrae and where your thumbs would meet
- That’s your torso length!
Make sure you select a backpack designed to fit your torso length. They tend to come in four different sizes:
- Extra Small – for torso lengths up to 15 ½ inches
- Small – for torso lengths of 16 – 17 ½ inches
- Medium – for torso lengths of 18 – 19 ½ inches
- Large – for torso lengths of 20 inches and over
Many of the best packs come in different sizes; some others have an adjustment system on the back which you can adapt to fit your size. Relatively cheap packs do not always have this feature, so you might have to compromise between comfort and price before deciding which is more important to you.
This pack has nicely padded shoulder straps, and a basic webbing hip belt. It is lacking the ventilated back panel and padded hip belt of more expensive models.
The weight of any pack will make a difference too as if a pack is relatively heavy before you even pack any equipment, which will mean you have to carry more weight. Again, it’s likely to be a compromise between weight and comfort. Heavier packs usually have a more supportive system of back panels, shoulder straps, and hip belt, which means it may well be more comfortable to carry that heavier load than with a lighter pack that offers less support.
Choosing the perfect backpack for you
Now we’ve taken a detailed look at each pack and their respective features, let’s move on to an analysis of how they compare with each other. If you’re finding it difficult to choose whether weight or support system is more important to you, we can help you make the decision.
Sometimes it can be hard to choose which pack might be best for you. For instance if you’re trying to decide between the Osprey Talon 22 and the Granite Gear Virga 26, you might look at the weight of each pack and decide the lighter Granite Gear Virga 22 is a better choice. But, if you plan on taking a reasonable amount of heavy gear with you, then our top pick of the Osprey Talon 22 might still be a better choice. Here’s why.
The weight of your pack is an important consideration. The majority of heavier packs have a much better support system, including padded shoulder straps and hip belts. The advantage of this is that it can make you feel as though your heavy load is actually lighter than if you were using a pack which weighs less but doesn’t offer the same level of support.
As a general rule the heavier the pack, the larger the capacity. The only exception to this rule is the two CamelBak packs we tested. Both of these come complete with a full hydration system. This is removable, and when we took it out the weight of both these packs reduced to a similar weight of other packs with the same capacity, such as the Osprey Talon 22 and The North Face Litus 22.
For the majority of hikes in reasonably good weather, a pack with a capacity of 15 – 30 liters should suit your needs. The only pack we tested with a capacity below this was the Fjallraven Kanken Classic, with a capacity of 11 liters. We wouldn’t recommend this for regular use as a hiking specific pack, but as a crossover style for the occasional hike it fits that purpose well. With the larger packs, you will be adding extra weight before they’re even packed. These are a good option if you’re looking for a pack which you can also use for multi–day or winter hikes.
Most of the medium sized packs we tested, of around 22 – 30 liters come with compression straps or a daisy chain webbing strip. This means you can attach extra layers of clothing to the exterior of your pack without having to consider the extra capacity these may take up.
The compression strap to the front of this pack can be used to safely secure extra layers of clothing, without taking up space within the pack itself. We love storing our down vest like this for easy access!
Our choice for the best hiking backpack goes to the Osprey Talon 22. This pack combines many different features with a streamlined and stylish design in a range of colors to suit almost everyone. This Osprey Talon 22 has a capacity of 22 liters so is large enough for winter hikes yet light enough so that you don’t feel weighed down. Despite its light weight of just 27 ounces, the comfort of this backpack is still optimized. The ventilated back panel is designed to allow a breeze to circulate over your back, helping to cool you down on hot days. The best thing about the padded harness and hip belt is that they provide a great deal of support. The hip belt also has a handy zippered pocket on each side, perfect for stowing smaller items such as snacks, lip balm, and a survival knife, for easy access.
The Osprey Talon 22 comes with dedicated storage for your hydration system, separated from the rest of your gear. Separating your hydration system in this way allows for really easy refilling while also protecting the rest of the gear in your back from accidental spillages. If you’re planning on heading into some rough terrain and are bringing some additional safety equipment, then the Osprey Talon 22 makes this a breeze. Using Osprey’s “stow-on-the-go” attachment system for trekking poles makes it easy to attach your poles to your backpack when you need your hands free. Likewise, the ice tool loop allows you to secure ice picks and other equipment safely and easily. Overall, the Osprey Talon 22 is packed with all the features we think the best hiking backpack needs, in a stylish design. Osprey also offers a lifetime guarantee which protects you against damage or defects.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
There are a few small flaws on the Osprey Talon 22, but these should not worry the majority of users. Despite these, we still think it’s the best hiking backpack out there. Let’ take a look at those now. The hip belt of this model does seem to run quite small, so depending on your size, that’s definitely something to bear in mind if you’re hiking in winter and planning to wear this backpack over a few layers. The Osprey Talon 22 doesn’t have the most number of zippered storage compartments, so if you like separating your gear into some different sections that’s not possible with the Osprey Talon 22.
For our step-up pick, we’ve selected The North Face Litus 22. This hiking backpack has a well-padded and comfortable combination of shoulder straps and hip belt, meaning it’s easy to wear The North Face Litus 22 all day without feeling tired. The back panel of The North Face Litus 22 is made of a combination of plastic and foam which gives a great deal of support while also allowing ventilation. This backpack has a capacity of 22 liters and a weight of 27 ounces, making it one of the heavier packs in our review. The extra weight is due to the excellent structure and padding, so it’s not something that you’re likely to notice. I have always found that a slightly heavier but supportive backpack will always feel more comfortable than a lighter but less well-made pack. And if you’re planning on hiking all day, then that’s definitely an important consideration.
This backpack combines plenty of storage options, with two pockets on the hip belt, two elasticated side pockets, one rear pocket and the main compartment. This arrangement means you’ve got plenty of room for all your essentials. Compression straps to each side mean you can optimize weight distribution if you’re carrying a lighter load, for instance after you’ve eaten your snack. Another good feature of The North Face Litus 22 is the durable taped seams and good quality zippers, which means you’re likely to be using this pack for a long time to come.
For our budget pick, the Marmot Kompressor 18 ticks all the boxes. If you’ve just started hiking and are looking for a relatively cheap hiking backpack that’ still packed full of features, the Marmot Kompressor 18 is the best choice for you. The Marmot Kompressor 18 has lightly padded shoulder straps and a thin back panel, which is great as it cuts down on weight, meaning that the Marmot Kompressor 18 weighs just 10 ounces. You will find that this backpack is easy to load using the top loading opening.
Another good feature of the Marmot Kompressor 18 is the fact that you can also use it as a compression sack for a sleeping bag, which gives this pack a great dual purpose. Simply remove the soft foam pad from the back panel first. The capacity of this backpack is 22 liters, meaning you have plenty of room for all your gear. This space is split between the large main compartment and one small zippered pocket. While the Marmot Kompressor 18 doesn’t have separate storage for a hydration system so you’ll either need to place this in the main compartment or use water bottles instead. The Marmot Kompressor 18 comes in one size but six different color choices. For a budget backpack which is still full of useful features, the Marmot Kompressor 18 is one of the best choices we’ve seen.
Best hiking backpack for women
If you’re looking for the best hiking backpack that’s built specifically for women, then the CamelBak Sequoia 22 is perfect. The best backpacks designed for women will usually have shoulder straps which are closer together and shaped with more of a curve. The CamelBak Sequoia 22 comes with hip belt pockets for small items such as your phone and sunglasses. Another great feature of the CamelBak Sequoia 22 is that it comes with a hydration reservoir, which allows for easy access to your drink and helps keep you hydrated. I have always found this to be a really useful thing to have, especially as I hike in hot countries and need to make sure I drink a lot.
The CamelBak Sequoia 22 is constructed from a durable 200D nylon ripstop fabric, with harder wearing areas in 400D nylon. With an interior capacity of 19 liters, you can also fit an additional three liters of gear into the outside pocket, meaning this backpack is roomy enough for day hikes in any season. This women specific backpack has some of the best shoulder and hip straps with plenty of padding, which is great for supporting your back and shoulders. The CamelBak Sequoia 22 is one of the heavier models, coming in and 37 ounces but as this is due to the additional padding for comfort, it’s probably a compromise worth making. The CamelBak Sequoia 22 is relatively expensive, but if you enjoy hiking frequently and are looking for a high quality backpack with great women-specific features, plus a hydration reservoir, this is the best option.
Best lightweight hiking backpack
If you’re looking for the best lightweight backpack for hiking, the Granite Gear Virga 26 is a great option. Despite having a roomy 26 liter capacity, this backpack weighs only 16 ounces. Unlike many other backpack options, this doesn’t have a padded panel on the back. This lack of padding does mean that the way you pack your gear into the Granite Gear Virga 26 is more important as any sharp objects packed too close to the back of the pack will likely become uncomfortable. A good feature of the Granite Gear Virga 26 is the large mesh pockets on the front and sides. If you like to stash snacks, water and an extra layer on the outside of your pack, this is a great design feature.
The Granite Gear Virga 26 also comes with tool loops and webbing compression straps. Despite its light weight and streamlined design, this pack is relatively expensive. This backpack has small pockets on the shoulder straps as well as a simple webbing hip belt to help with weight distribution. If you love hiking but are considering lightweight or ultralight backpacking as well, it makes sense to consider a backpack such as the Granite Gear Virga 26.
Best classic backpack
If you enjoy the occasional hike but would also like to use your backpack for other uses, then you might be after something a little more classic looking than your average hiking backpack. And for that use, the best we’ve found is the Fjallraven Kanken Classic backpack. With a capacity of 15 liters and a weight of just 11 ounces, this backpack can easily take you from the trails to the city.
One issue with choosing a backpack for its looks is that you will usually compromise comfort. And that’s true of the Kanken Classic. The shoulder straps are made of a simple webbing, with no padding. There is no hip belt, so heavy loads are likely to be a bit more uncomfortable than when using a pack with a hip belt. With that said though, the fabric of this pack is very good quality and should last a long time. The side pocket will only fit a small half-liter water bottle, so it’s not really suitable for longer hikes either.
Best waterproof hiking backpack
Our pick for the best waterproof hiking pack is the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry. One of the features that make this backpack pretty special is the waterproof main compartment. Made using OutDry fabric technology, this means that your gear is protected from the elements. This inbuilt protection means no more scrabbling to attach your rain cover or tie a garbage bag over your backpack. Available in nine different colors, the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler is both stylish and practical. The 30 liter capacity means you’ll have plenty of space to store all your gear, yet this backpack weighs in at just 27 ounces.
The Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry comes with a hydration sleeve which also has drainage holes in case of leaks or spillages. The Mountain Hardwear Scrambler OutDry comes with three exterior pockets – one zippered compartment on the top for easy access to small items, and two on either side which are best for water bottles. The padded shoulder straps and ventilated back panel help to distribute weight evenly but also provide comfort. The hip belt is stowable, so if you’re carrying an exceptionally light load and decide you don’t need it, it’s easy to tuck away. The Mountain Hardware Scrambler 30 is an easy to use and versatile hiking pack made from a tough and durable fabric.
Best large backpack for winter hiking
The Kelty Redwing 50 backpack is perfect if you’re looking for a pack with a larger capacity. The Kelty Redwing 50 can carry 52 liters of gear, which is great if you’re heading out in winter and need extra room for warm layers, a hot drink, and some high energy snacks. Another great feature of this pack is the fact that it has a hybrid loading design. The arrangement means it combines the best of both loading styles – top and panel, so you can easily get to all your gear. If you love organizing your gear into separate compartments, then the Kelty Redwing 50 will suit you perfectly. Given the large capacity of this pack, it’s no surprise that it weighs in at a hefty 56 ounces. That’s definitely something to bear in mind if you plan on heading out without it fully loaded as you will be carrying a lot more weight just with the pack itself.
In addition to the main compartment, it has zipped pockets to the sides, large pockets to the front and top of the pack and water bottle pockets too. It also has a daisy chain webbing strap for attaching items to the exterior of your backpack, as well as an ice pick attachment. The grab handle on the front of the Kelty Redwing 50 makes it easy to grab your pack quickly. Another great feature of this backpack is the soft shoulder straps and hip belt, which offer you excellent comfort and support. The padded back panel provides you with great ventilation so even when you’re hiking through tough winter conditions, you won’t feel uncomfortable.
Best hydration system backpack
The CamelBak Rim Runner 22 is the best option if you’re looking for a hiking backpack with a hydration system included. The CamelBak Rim Runner 22 has a capacity of 22 liters and weighs 32 ounces. As well as the main compartment, this pack has a total of six additional pockets, which is great if you like to organize the contents of your pack for easy access. One of the best features of this pack is that it comes with a CamelBak hydration system already included. This is great if you need to invest in both a new hydration system and backpack, as the price of the CamelBak Rim Runner 22 is excellent value for money when you consider you’re getting both a well-made hiking backpack and a very good quality hydration system.
If you like to be able to quickly stow your jacket or extra layers once you start to warm up when hiking, you’ll like the back pouch of the CamelBak Rim Runner 22 where you can quickly and easily stuff extra layers without having to open up the main compartment of this pack. Additional features of this backpack include wide and supportive shoulder straps which will help you feel comfortable. The padded back panel gives you a good level of ventilation as well.
Best hiking backpack with a rain cover
The Gregory Zulu 30 backpack is the best option if you’re looking for a backpack with an integrated rain cover. If you love hiking in humid or rainy conditions, then a rain cover can help protect both your pack and your gear from the elements. This backpack comes with an integrated rain cover with a dedicated storage pocket. The integrated rain cover will fit your pack perfectly, and it is easy to put on and remove. As well as this, the Gregory Zulu 30 has a lot of other great features, including many different pockets for your jacket, water bottles, and other small accessories.
With a capacity of 30 liters and a weight of 44 ounces, you can fit a lot of gear into the main compartment as well. Another excellent feature of this pack it that it is available in four different sizes, to fit different torso lengths. This amount of choice makes the Gregory Zulu 30 suitable for youths, women and men alike. The updated suspension system on this back makes it easy and pleasant to carry, allowing great ventilation between you and the pack. Another feature of the Gregory Zulu 30 is the attachments for trekking poles and ice axes, meaning the Gregory Zulu 30 is perfect if you enjoy winter hiking.
Many hiking backpacks didn’t make it onto our shortlist of the best, for a number of reasons. Some are made of a cheaper and lightweight material which rips easily, especially if you’re hiking in rocky terrain. Others do not have enough storage compartments, including some side pockets which are too small to fit bottles of water. The lack of sufficient padding on the shoulder straps, hip belt and back panel is also another reason to discount some less expensive packs. A hiking pack should be so comfortable to carry that you can sometimes forget it’s even there.
With the right pack on your back, you’ll feel ready to take on any hike!
Wrapping it up
We believe the Osprey Talon 22 backpack offers the best combination of features and value for money. While it is not the cheapest pack in our line-up, the comfort and adjustability it offers are second to none. Combine that with Osprey’s lifetime guarantee, and you can trust this pack to help make every hike a great one.