Best Hiking Backpack

If you are looking to purchase a hiking backpack this summer, the High Sierra Appalachian is definitely one the best ones on the market. This hiking backpack offers the highest amount of essential features for the best value and will ensure you are able to bring everything you need and have a comfortable, virtually weight free hike regardless of the distance you plan on hiking.

The Best Hiking Backpack: High Sierra Appalachian

High Sierra Classic 2 Series Appalachian 75 Frame Pack
Jen’s Top Pick: High Sierra Appalachian

For most backpackers, the High-Sierra-Appalachian-Internal-Mercury offers all the features that are essential for a successful hiking trip. Reasonably priced, and featuring molded foam back panel and air flow channels, your back will stay cool and dry, regardless of how long and intense your backpacking trip is.

Step-Up Pick: Kelty Redwing 44

Kelty Redwing 44 BackpackStep-up Pick: Kelty Redwing 44

If you are looking for something with extra features, and don’t mind the idea of spending a little bit more, the Kelty-Redwing-44-Backpack-Black offers a similar back panel as the High Sierra Appalachian, but with more organization options and a smaller size. The Kelty is geared towards hikers who choose to hike more extreme terrains and consider themselves to be minimalist packers.

Budget pick: OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack
OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

If the High Sierra Appalachian and the Kelty Redwing are both unavailable, or if you are looking for a cheaper alternative for a hiking backpack, the OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack is also a good choice. The OutdoorMaster hiking backpack is about half the size of the High Sierra Appalachian but is an effective choice, with similar features, for infrequent backpackers who pack light or only hike short trips.

Table of Contents

How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

When choosing the type of hiking backpack you are going to buy for a hiking trip, there are a lot of things you need to take into consideration. You don’t want a hiking backpack that is too big as you’ll end up over packing, or with your load shifting while you walk which can cause irregular weight distribution, not to mention, throw you off balance. If the bag is too small you won’t be able to pack all your necessities, which may leave you without something you need. If you choose the wrong material, your stuff could end up wet when it rains, or you could end up with a tear depending on the terrain you are hiking through.

When you are in the process of making a decision on hiking backpacks, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind. First, remember to get a hiking backpack that is a little bigger than what you plan to pack. Never pack a bag to capacity. If you decide to add anything to it during your trip, you won’t be able to. Fifty to eighty liters is the most popular size of hiking backpack, but consider the details of your trip when making your decision. A trip that is only going to be a couple of hours long won’t require nearly as much equipment, whereas a trip that is going to extend over 2-4 days will require more equipment. Another option for a long trip is to pack a smaller, packable backpack in your large backpack. This way if you are able to leave your larger pack somewhere safe, you can take just the smaller bag out with you. This assumes that you are planning on sleeping in the same location each night.
Next, make sure you choose a hiking backpack that is going to be durable. Look for good stitching on the straps and good quality zippers and buckles. You don’t want any of the zipp0ers of buckles to look fragile or flimsy. Try the zippers and buckles a few times to get a good feel for them.

You don’t need your hiking backpack to be a complex piece of equipment with hundreds of pockets and compartments. You want something that is light, durable, holds what you need it to hold and comfortable to carry.

Why is the Frame of a Hiking Backpack Important

Having a hiking backpack with a frame is a great choice if you plan on carrying more than ten to fifteen pounds of weight, and even in a lot of instances where you are carrying less than ten to fifteen pounds, you will find hiking backpacks with a frame to be more comfortable if you are going to be hiking for any longer periods of time.

While some frameless hiking backpacks come with a waist strap, most do not. This means all of the weight tends to sit on your shoulders and there is very little weight distribution. Even with a waist strap, most of the weight tend to end up on your shoulders as there is nothing holding the weight to your hips.

Hiking backpacks with an internal frame are typically the best choice for a hiking backpack. An internal frame in your backpack allows for greater mobility. The backpack will better form to your body, which allows for more overall balance and control while you are hiking difficult terrains. Internal frames allow for more weight distribution over their frameless counterparts and the frames tend to be significantly lighter then backpacks with an external frame. While hiking backpacks with external frames used to be very popular, they have become virtually obsolete in the last decade or so. There are no hiking backpacks with external frames in this review, as they tend to be heavier, bulkier and more expensive than backpacks with internal frames.

Why are the Straps of a Hiking Backpack Important?

When it comes to the straps of your hiking backpack you need to consider the shoulder straps, hip belt, and the sternum strap.
These straps are important as they control the weight distribution of your backpack across your body. You want straps that are padded and preferably made of a material that promotes airflow. You also want to consider how adjustable each of the straps are. Ultimately, the straps should allow your hiking backpack to feel like an extension of your body.

Shoulder Straps: The shoulder straps are going to carry a significant amount of your pack weight, and you want them to do this in a way that isn’t going to cause pain to your shoulders or back. You want to ensure that the shoulder straps are well padded in a way that they aren’t going to dig into your shoulders. You also want to make sure they are well spaced so they aren’t digging into your neck and to avoid chafing and pressure points.

Hip Belt: This is definitely the most important strap to consider. The hip belt is meant to hold most of the weight on your hips and distribute it down into your legs. This is to help keep your shoulders from tiring and your back from being strained. Hip belts should be adjustable and comfortable. They should also be able transfer the weight of your pack without slipping around. There should also be no pressure points or pinching around your waist while you are walking.

Sternum Straps: Sternum straps give you the option of connecting your shoulder straps across your chest. This allows for a more secure feel to your shoulder straps, minimizing the feeling of them slipping or moving around. Many sternum straps also feature a safety whistle so if you fall or are hurt you are easily able to call for help and be heard across long distances.

How Should a Hiking Backpack Fit?

The fit of a backpack is one of the most important factors to a hiking backpack that is going to be worn for long periods of time. A hiking backpack should be fitted to your body, and feel comfortable when loaded down with weight. You want to ensure you have straps that sit comfortable on your shoulders and hips. When you try it on, walk around a bit to ensure there are no pressure points or awkwardly sitting straps.

To determine where the hip belt should fit, place your hands on your hip bones. With your fingers pointed forward and your thumbs facing back, you can see an imaginary shelf where your pack will rest. The hip belt should fit right where that imaginary shelf is. Measuring the circumference of your hips can help ensure that you buy a hiking backpack that adjusts to fit you.

The shoulder straps should be flush with your shoulders and your upper back. There should be very little space between the straps and backside of your shoulder. The shoulder straps should also be far enough apart that they aren’t squeezing your neck.

To make sure you have the right height to your backpack it is important to know your torso length. To measure this, you want to measure the length of your spine. Tilt your head as forward as it will go and feel along the base of your neck for the bony bump that sticks out, this is known as your seventh cervical vertebra. Ensuring that you are standing straight, have a friend measure from this spot to the spot where your imaginary hip shelf meets your spine. This is your torso length.

If you plan on sharing the responsibility of carrying your hiking backpack with a spouse or friend, it is important to get a backpack that has an adjustable torso length and adjustable straps to ensure you are both going to be able to carry it comfortably.

Some tips for those new to hiking

In most areas, summer is the best time to hike as this is when you are going to find the most enjoyable temperatures. If you live in a desert, however, you may want to consider hiking in the spring or fall when the temperatures aren’t as severe. By choosing friendly weather, you are giving yourself one less thing to worry about while you are learning what your limits in hiking are. As you gain experience, and learn what your body can handle, you can start going hiking when the seasons are less friendly, such as in the winter.

Another good idea is to start out hiking in a group, or at least with someone who has experience with hiking. Being with someone who has some experience will allow you to learn what to expect and they will be able to help you out if you are faced with a situation you don’t know how to handle. Hiking is a great opportunity for a chance at solitude, after you have gained some experience.
Start with short hikes and work up to longer ones. If your muscles or your feet aren’t accustomed to the terrain, this will give you a chance to build them up and avoid unnecessary suffering on your part. It will also help you gauge how much water and other necessities you are going to need to pack for various distances.

Choose appropriate footwear and clothing for your hike. Don’t use your first hike as an opportunity to break in new hiking boots. Wear shoes that you know are comfortable, and dress in layers that are appropriate for the weather and terrain you are hiking in.

How We Chose our Top Picks

When we began our search for the best hiking backpack, there were four things we felt were important enough to take into consideration. The four main things we considered were the weight of the hiking backpack, the capacity the backpack was capable of holding, how adjustable the backpack was, and the cost associated with the backpack.

Weight – The base weight of your hiking backpack is very important. Since it’s going to be filled with equipment that is going to add to the weight, you don’t want to start with a high weight.

Capacity – The volume of the backpack determines how much you can carry in it. The capacity of the bag you choose should be geared towards your personal needs.

Since bigger bags tended to weigh more than bags with a smaller capacity, we ensured all the hiking backpacks were using the same measurements, in this case liters for the capacity and pounds for the weight. We then calculated the liters per pound each bag was capable of holding, to determine if one bag was better or worse than another.

Fit – Any backpack you want to use for hiking should fit well on your body. We chose backpacks that were adjustable and had good padding on the straps as well we good airflow on the straps and the backside of the backpack where it would be up against the person wearing it. A good fit is very important, but no one wants to be drenched in sweat when they take their hiking backpack off.

Cost – The most important factor to our rankings was the cost of the backpack. A good backpack can last many years if it is well taken care of, but that doesn’t mean it should be outrageously priced.

Based on the factors above we compared nine hiking backpacks to determine the best overall hiking backpack, the best lightweight hiking backpack and the best packable hiking backpack to ensure you got a good representation of all your options.

The Best Hiking Backpack Overall: High Sierra Appalachian

High Sierra Classic 2 Series Appalachian 75 Frame Pack
Jen’s Top Pick: High Sierra Appalachian

The High Sierra Appalachian was without a doubt our top choice for overall best hiking backpack. The main compartment of the High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack has a gusseted drawstring closure and a top lid that is adjustable. Also adjustable is the single contoured aluminum frame bar, allowing for the best fit for the shape of your back and ensuring optimal comfort.

The High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack features an Ergo Fit shoulder harness and a high density foam padded waist belt. Both the shoulder straps and the waist belt are constructed with advanced Vapel mesh AirFlow, which is a man-made material created specifically to be breathable and durable. This hiking backpack also features an adjustable harness strap as well as side and bottom compression straps to guarantee your gear is secured and the weight is well distributed.

Your gear is easily managed with the High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack’s drop bottom sleeping bag compartment, an internal hydration sleeve with dual exit ports for the tube, a removable media pocket, mesh pockets for water bottles and a tuck away rain cover in the bottom pocket in case of inclement weather.

The High Sierra Appalachian features a 75-liter capacity, and weighs 4.15 pounds. It has an internal frame that features dual, contoured aluminum frame bars that can be adjusted to get the best fit possible.

Flaws but Not Deal Breakers

Like anything, the backpack has its flaws, but we found these flaws to be unimportant when considering the hiking backpack as a whole.

This hiking backpack was one of the heaviest we considered, but also had the largest capacity. The High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack had the best liter per pound measurement and also has sufficiently thick padding on the hip and shoulder straps, which enables there to be a good weight distribution and makes the added weight from the backpack itself unnoticeable.
Another small flaw is that because this bag is so large, you won’t be able to take it as a carry-on bag if you travel by plane with it. It isn’t the end of the world to have to check this bag though, as it is so durable, it isn’t likely to suffer any damages.

Step-up Pick: Kelty Redwing 44

Kelty Redwing 44 BackpackStep-up Pick: Kelty Redwing 44

A more expensive option to our main pick is the Kelty Redwing 44. The Kelty Redwing 44 hiking backpack is more expensive than our top choice. It offers many of the same features as the High Sierra Appalachian hiking back pack, such as the padded straps and great airflow, but also more storage options such as a place for maps, electronics, pens, and other essentials. The hydration sleeve is also compatible for a laptop, and there is also a place for an ice axe or trekking poles to be stored. The Kelty Redwing 44 hiking backpack is smaller than the High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack, weighing 3.2 pounds and having a capacity of just 44 liters. This is a great choice if you don’t mind spending a little bit more and feel that the added features are worth the extra cost.

Budget Pick: OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack
OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

If neither of the two options above are available, the OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack is a great back up choice for a good hiking backpack. The OutdoorMaster hiking backpack holds 50 liters and weighs 2.6 pounds. While it also got great reviews, it didn’t make our top pick simply because the back and straps of the hiking backpack aren’t as padded or made to be as breathable, although they are breathable. The straps are also thinner, and the internal frame isn’t made with the same high quality steel as the High Sierra Appalachian and Kelty Redwing 44 hiking backpacks. It is a good choice, but you will definitely be missing out on a couple features that the more expensive bags offer.

Best Lightweight Hiking Backpack: Osprey Daylite Backpack

Osprey Daylite Backpack
Osprey Daylite Backpack

If you are looking for a hiking backpack you can use for day trips, the Osprey Daylite Backpack is top in its category. With a 13-liter capacity and weighing just one pound, the Osprey Daylite hiking backpack has side mesh pockets for water bottles, and an easily accessed main compartment with a large zippered panel. The Osprey Daylite hiking backpack has a foam frame sheet with a center stiffener to spread the weight of the load across the entire mesh back panel. This hiking backpack also features an adjustable sternum strap, padded shoulder straps and a removable 20mm pack stabilizing hip belt for maximum comfort.

Best packable Hiking Backpack: Hikpro Unisex Ultralight Packable Backpack

Hikpro Unisex Ultralight Packable Backpack

If you are planning on having a base camp on your hiking trip and making smaller trips from your base camp every day, the HIKPRO-Unisex Ultralight Packable Backpack is exactly what you need. Able to fold down and fit into a pocket, it doesn’t take up any extra space and it is available when you want a smaller pack to take just the necessary equipment for a short day trip.

The Hikpro Ultralight Packable Backpack is made with high quality water and tear resistant material. It is reinforced in more than fourteen places with bar tack. Bar tack is a series of stitches that are used to reinforce areas of a sewn product that are going to be subjected to stress or additional wear than the rest of the product. Weighing less than half of a pound and with a 20-liter capacity, it is perfect for day trips, or side trips off a main trip. The Hikpro has three zippered compartments and two large side mesh pockets perfect for water bottles or an umbrella. The shoulder straps are wide and made from a breathable mesh material. The only thing the Hikro is missing is a hip and sternum strap, but since this bag is only recommended for use on short trips, that’s hardly a factor. It’s easy to see why this is our top choice for a packable hiking backpack.


TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backbackv
Sports Explorer Internal Backpack

Another great option for a hiking backpack is the Sports Explorer Internal Backpack. The Sports Explorer 4000 features an adjustable torso length, accommodating for any from five foot one-inch-tall to six foot four-inches-tall. Also offering padded shoulder straps, a padded waist belt and adjustable shoulder straps you are sure to get a great fit from this hiking backpack. The Sports Explorer 4000 also features a bladder pocket that can hold a water bladder up to 3 liters in size. It also features a variety of pockets and two spots to hold walking sticks. The only real downfall to the Sports Explorer 4000 hiking back pack is that it weighs 5 pounds and holds 65 liters giving it one of the worst weight to capacity ratios.

Osprey Packs Talon 22 Backpack
Osprey Packs Talon Backpack Medium

Featuring an exterior hydration compartment and gender specific built in hip belt and harness, the Osprey Packs Talon Backpack is another great choice in hiking backpacks. Weighing just 1.4 pounds with a carrying capacity of 22 liters, the Osprey Packs Talon hiking backpack comes in two sizing options, one specifically for men and one specifically for women. The Osprey Packs Talon hiking backpack also features two zippered hip belts as well as a patterned reflective graphic. This hiking backpack also features lid lock, which allows for a helmet to be secured to the hiking backpack if you are planning on a hike that calls for biking and walking. The largest downfall to this bag is that it is at the higher end of the price scale and doesn’t really offer any features to make it worth the added cost.

Sunhiker Outdoor Light
Sunhiker Outdoor Light

Another option in the lightweight hiking backpack category is the Cycling Backpack Sunhiker Resistant Lightweight. Made of waterproof fabrics, this hiking backpack is suitable for all outdoor activities. While the shoulder and hip straps are very well padded and comfortable, the frame of the Sunhiker hiking backpack is flimsy and not very supportive. Weighing 1.65 pounds, with a capacity of 25 liters, we wouldn’t recommend this backpack for any long distance hiking, but it could be a good choice if you are looking for a hiking backpack for short easy trails.

Sea ro Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack
Sea Summit Ultra Sil

A second hiking backpack in the packable hiking backpack category is the Sea Summit Ultra Sil. Weighing just a quarter of a pound and holding a capacity of 20 liters, this hiking backpack is another great option for one that can fold up in your main hiking backpack for day trips that you don’t want to bring your main backpack on. The Sea and Summit Ultra-Sil hiking backpack features siliconized Cordura as well as bar tack reinforced stitching on all stress points, which gives it strength and durability. With similar features to the Hikpro Ultralight Packable Backpack, the only thing stopping this backpack from being our top pick was its price tag.

Wrapping it up

With summer fast approaching, more and more people are looking for ways to spend their holidays. Hiking is great exercise and a fun way to enjoy the outdoors.

A hiking backpack is an important piece of equipment, regardless of whether you plan on spending just a couple hours on a hike or a couple days. A hiking backpack enables you to make sure that you have all the equipment necessary to enjoy your hike, alone or with family and friends.

The High Sierra Appalachian hiking backpack is a great choice if you are looking for a hiking backpack that is adjustable and comfortable while providing maximum airflow. If you don’t need the size that the High Sierra Appalachian offers, or if you are looking to also hike in the winter and need a place to be able to store your ice axe or trekking poles, the Kelty Redwing 44 is a great option.

Finally, if you are on a budget but still want to be able to get out and enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer, the OutdoorMaster hiking backpack will provide everything you need without breaking the bank.

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