2019 Best Backpacks for Backpacking and Hiking

Your trusted guide to finding the best lightweight hiking backpacks on the market

A hiking backpack is the single most important piece of gear that any backpacker will own. As such, there is no reason to settle for a heavy, old-school pack. That’s why this buyer’s guide highlights the very best backpacking backpacks of 2019. Below you will find exceptional and light backpack options for both men and women, and for all types of backcountry adventures and budgets.

Information You Won’t Find Elsewhere

At the end of this Guide we have Pro Tips you won’t find elsewhere. These tips have key information to help you find the best backpack for you. And they’ll also help you get the best performance and enjoyment out of your backpack: either the pack you intend to buy or the pack you already own.

The 3 Hiking Backpack Categories

To help you find your right hiking backpack we divide backpacks into 3 basic categories of features, weight & price. This makes it faster and easier for you to find a fantastic backpacking backpack at the right price that has the features that matter the most to YOU. Use the links below (in red) to jump to the backpack category you are interested in.

1 – Lightweight Hiking Backpacks | 2.0 to 2.7 lb | $200 to $345
These are your bread and butter hiking backpacks. Generally speaking, they’re all-purpose, durable, affordable, and voluminous. They are beginner-friendly, but are also great for experts. Anyone carrying gear in these packs will find comfort and joy for many years on the trail.

2 – Ultralight Hiking Backpacks | 0.9 lb to 1.9 lb | $140 – $325
These packs use technological advancements or outside-the-box thinking to save weight. Some do this with lighter fabrics and hardware. And some by removing features like a frame. Some are crazy light and rugged, others remarkably low cost.

3 – Budget Hiking Backpacks | 1.2 lb to 2.7 lb | $140 to $200
Money should never come between a person and their access to the great outdoors. These packs tend to pass cost savings onto the user with simpler engineering, routine sale pricing, or more affordable fabrics. But they’re all totally legit options.

A two pound pack can do-it-all. Alan’s Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Pack with bear canister, food, camping and climbing gear on a multi-day trip to climb Mt Conness, Yosemite Backcountry

1. Lightweight Hiking Backpacks

2.0 to 2.7 lb | $200 to $345
These are your bread and butter hiking backpacks. Generally speaking, they’re all-purpose, durable, affordable, and voluminous. They are beginner-friendly but are also great for experts. Anyone carrying gear in these packs will find comfort and joy for many years on the trail.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 & 3400 Southwest Backpacks

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack

Alison with her HMG 3400 Southwest Pack (in optional black fabric)

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack

HIGHLIGHTS: Light, Nearly-waterproof, Exceptionally Strong, Good Load Transfer to Hips, Minimalist, Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: Weight 32 oz | volume 56 L | volume/weight 28 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $310 to $345
TECH: Fabric, DCF | Frame, two large vertical Al stays | Back Panel, solid DCF
SIMILAR MODELS: 2400 Southwest, 4400 Southwest

WOMEN’S FIT: The pack is ‘unisex’ but the shorter torso sizes work well for women. Alison swears by hers as do other women backpackers we know.

Our Top Pick: The easily recognizable white and black Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Backpack is the pack most often used by our staff. We’ve used it on some of of the toughest terrain on the planet from Alaska, to technical canyons in the Southwest to Patagonia. This light and durable pack has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The Dyneema fabric is seam taped, making the pack nearly-waterproof, and when combined with pods and stuff sacks we’ve had 100% dry gear for years, even in incredibly wet places — and without the fuss of rain covers or pack liners.  In summary, it’s a supremely functional design and a bomber pack that you can wear for weeks on end.

Its design is classic, simple, light and durable: attach a sturdy, roll-top dry bag to a lightly padded frame and comfy foam mesh hip belt and shoulder strap system; then sew large pockets (10 L total) onto the outside. Thanks to its extremely tough and waterproof Dyneema fabric alongside a frame utilizing two beefy, old-school aluminum stays anchored to the hip belt for great load transfer, you will enjoy many years of delightful back comfort and dry gear storage in the backcountry. Sure, it costs a bit more upfront, but the lifespan of this beaut will pay dividends in the long term. We feel that the 3400 is the most useable/adaptable size in the HMG family. Compared to the 2400, it weighs just two ounces more, but you get 30% more volume.

ACCESSORIES: HMG Pod Stuff Sacks, standard Drawstring Stuff Sacks, and Shoulder Pocket (great for cell phone and more)

GREAT FOR: Hikers, especially those in wetter climates, who want a light, durable, nearly-waterproof pack that carries weight well, eschewing unnecessary features and add-ons. Those that do a lot of off-trail bushwhacking and/or scrambling and otherwise abuse their packs.

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers on a budget, or who want a pack with all the bells and whistles, or those who demand back ventilation (whether a sweaty back is really an issue or not is debatable, and certainly varies from person to person)

OSPREY EXOS 58 (Men‘s) & EJA 58 (Women’s) Backpacks

Alison wearing the Osprey Eja 48.

best backpacking backpack

The Osprey Exos 58

HIGHLIGHTS: Most Accessible, Best-Selling, Affordable, Comfortable, Ventilated AirSpeed Suspension, Bear Can Compatible, Men’s & Women’s version

SPECS: weight 43 oz | volume 58 L | volume/weight 22 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $200 – budget to $220
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, internal | Back Panel, suspended mesh panel for more airflow to help with back sweat

WOMEN’S MODEL: Osprey Eja 48 and 58 Pack. The women’s version of the Exos, these have women’s specific fit, like optimal sternum strap location for women, less bulky shoulder straps and of course an improved female hip-belt design.

Top Value/Features Pick: A thru-hiker’s choice pack and a darling of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. But a pack suitable for all hikers, beginners and experts alike, looking to cut a bit of weight without sacrificing comfort or features.

The Osprey Exos 48 and 58 Pack (Men’s) and Osprey Eja 48 and 58 Pack (Women’s) are easily the best-selling packs on this list, and for good reason: the Osprey name. Here in particular, it’s a lovable, familiar face among smaller brands that you may not be familiar with. And with the Osprey name comes quality, fair pricing, a good warranty, and many happy hikers. In fact, the Exos and Eja are popular among both thru-hikers and weekend warriors alike, so no matter your needs and experience level with ultralight gear, these packs are a good option. Especially so for beginners. They’re also known for an extremely comfortable, weight-distributing frame, and the innovative AirSpeed 3D tensioned mesh back panel to reduce sweat and eliminate lump discomfort.

Compared to the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack Osprey packs are loaded with features. In addition to the Osprey’s famous ventilated AirSpeed Suspension system, they have a removable top lid pocket. Both the shoulder straps and hip belt have lots of ergonomic padding. There are dual strippable compression straps on the sides that cinch up extra pack volume to keep it closer to your body. The only thing missing are hip belt pockets.

The Osprey Exos 48 (and Eja 48) while light will still hold enough gear and food for 7 days (use the large 58 size if you carry more gear). Of course, it has the famous Osprey fit and comfort. It’s fairly durable for a lightweight pack but best of all, at $200 it’s a good deal for a pack of this weight and quality. In summary, Osprey Exos and Eja packs hit the sweet spot of weight, features, comfort and price. Sure, they’re not the lightest packs on this list, but tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of satisfied users would love to recommend that you buy one.

GREAT FOR: Feature, creature comfort lovers; hikers on a budget or who need to get a pack ASAP, beginning backpackers, or those who value back ventilation highly

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Minimalist hikers, or those looking to drop the most possible pack weight. Those that do a lot of off-trail bushwhacking and scrambling and otherwise abuse their packs.

Which Pack is best? HMG Southwest 3400 Pack vs. the Osprey Eos 58

This is Video is a Deep Dive comparison between two of our top packs, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Backpack and the Osprey Exos 58 Backpack.

ULA Circuit Pack & ULA Ohm 2.0 Pack

best backpacking backpack

Alison’s ULA Ohm 2.0

hiking backpack - backpacking backpack

The Ohm 2.0 Pack: Slogging up the Mountaineer’s Route,  Mt. Whitney with a bear canister & 7 days food

HIGHLIGHTS: Thru-Hiker Favorite, Most Volume, Affordable, Most Durable, Intelligent Feature-set, Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: weight 42 oz | volume 68 L | volume/weight 26 L/lb | Max Carry: 35 lbs
PRICE: $255
TECH: Fabric, Robic nylon | Frame, internal foam with aluminum stay | back panel, solid mesh & foam
SIMILAR MODELS: ULA Ohm 2.0 weight 35 oz | volume 63 L

WOMEN’S FIT: The pack is ‘unisex’ but the shorter torso sizes work well for women. Alison used her ULA Ohm 2.0 for an extended trip to Patagonia a few years ago and was quite happy with it.

Runner Up Best Lightweight Pack: If you’ve hiked any section of the PCT during mid-summer, you’ll probably recognize a ULA Circuit Pack for the brand’s signature look: colorful (and extremely durable) Robic grid-patterned nylon with large black external pockets (20L). In fact, the Circuit has been the most commonly used pack on the PCT for three years running; an achievement built on decades of love from the thru-hiking community. And justifiably so. The Circuit is large, lightweight, comfortable, and very long-lasting (they have some of the toughest pocket mesh going). And don’t miss their innovative frame. Constructed with a suspension loop, aluminum stay, and dense internal foam, it easily distributed loads and keeps lumps off of your back. And it handles a bear can with ease with lots of room for your gear! This is a classic ultralight pack that we promise you’ll love.

Ohm 2.0 Love

And if you’re into going lighter,  be sure to check out the ULA Ohm 2.0. It’s a pack we’ve used around the world. Alan used one to hike the Wind River High Route, WRHR and the Southern Sierra High Route, SoSHR, and Alison took hers on an extended trip to Patagonia.

GREAT FOR: Hikers and thru-hikers who value durability, low cost, volume, XL external storage pockets, & versatility

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Ounce counters, or those who value the latest tech over the tried and true

GRANITE GEAR CROWN2 60 | Men‘s & Women’s

HIGHLIGHTS: Durable, Most Affordable, High volume, Top Lid, Fully Adjustable Hip Belt, lightweight

SPECS: weight 37 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 26 L/lb | Max Carry: 35 lbs
PRICE: $200 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, polypropylene sheet | back panel, molded foam pads with airflow
SIMILAR MODELS: Crown2 38 for those that have their light kit dialed-in

WOMENS MODEL: Granite Gear Crown2 60 Pack – Women’s

The Granite Gear Crown2 60 is the most familiar looking pack on this list. That’s because it’s basically a lighter version of what everyone thinks of when they think of a backpacking pack. But at only 37 oz, it’s less than half of the weight of its competitors. Not bad for a $200, 60L pack (the cheapest framed pack on this list). Speaking of, many of the packs on this list skip a removable top lid compartment, but not the Crown2. This beloved feature is fully present and makes accessing knickknacks extra easy. Other features include a fully adjustable and removable hip belt, large outer mesh pockets, and the (get ready, it’s a mouthful) Vapor Current Mark 2 compression molded polypropelene frame sheet. Basically, the frame is made of stiff light foam. With the Crown2, you’re getting a durable, large, comfortable, lightweight pack for a great price. Don’t overthink it.

GREAT FOR: Hikers on a budget, those who value high volume, top lid storage and a highly customizable fit

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Ounce counters, hikers intending to carry very heavy loads, or those who value the latest tech over the tried and true

SIERRA DESIGNS FLEX CAPACITOR 40-60 PACK

best backpacking backpack

best backpacking backpack

HIGHLIGHTS: Adjustable Volume, Affordable, Bear Can Compatible, solid frame and hip belt

SPECS: weight 43 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 22 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $200 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, internal Y | back panel, spaced EVA foam pads with airflow
SIMILAR MODELS: none

No other pack on this list adjusts volume as well as the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor. The unique, lateral gusset system allows the pack to shrink or grow by 20L on demand. A selling point for sure, but the rest of this pack is no slouch. At 2.7 lbs, it’s solidly lightweight, yet still sports a strong and innovative internal, ‘Y’ frame that anchors into massive, padded hip belt. As such, the Flex Capacitor can easily support heavy loads. It has rugged nylon fabric and clean design with not a lot to catch on brush and rocks. And don’t miss key features like the comfortable, EVA foam air flow back panel or large hip belt pockets. The zippered top opening makes for extremely easy access to gear. And we like a pack that comes with a shoulder strap pocket. Plus, it’s co-designed by my fellow backpacking guide and Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year Andrew Skurka. But don’t let the adjustable volume steal the show (though it does steal the location of a front mesh pocket), this really is a great backpack!

GREAT FOR: Hikers seeking one single pack to use on trips of all sizes, and a large pack at that

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers looking to drop the most possible pack weight or those who value a large rear pocket

Alison section hiking the AT in a frameless, 18 ounce ultralight pack, a Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L.

2. Ultralight Hiking Backpacks

0.9 lb to 1.9 lb | $140 – $325
These packs use technological advancements or outside-the-box thinking to save weight. Some do this with lighter fabrics and hardware. And some by removing features like a frame. Some are crazy light and rugged, others remarkably low cost.

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS EXODUS DCF 55L PACK

best backpacking backpack

best backpacking backpacks

Alison section hiking the AT in standard EXODUS 55L (in Dyneema X fabric).

HIGHLIGHTS: Super Ultralight, Tough, Waterproof, Highest Volume/Weight Ratio ~3x higher than many UL packs, Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: weight 17 oz | volume 57 L | volume/weight 61 L/lb | Max Carry: 25 lbs
PRICE: $285
TECH: Fabric, DCF | Frameless | unpadded DCF back panel
SIMILAR MODELS: MLD Prophet DCF 48
LOWER COST MODELS: The DYNEEMA X versions of these packs

WOMEN’S FIT: The pack is ‘unisex’ but the shorter torso sizes work well for women. Alison has happily logged many trail miles in her Exodus. That being said, it’s a frameless pack and as such, as your pack weight goes over about 15 lb, you are going to end up carrying some weight on your shoulders.

Staff Pick Best UL Pack: The EXODUS DCF 55L is a staff favorite and has been on many of our trips. Tough, durable and nearly-waterproof with DCF fabric it weighs only 17 oz. As such, it’s the lightest pack in our arsenal with the single best volume/weight ratio — which says a lot when listed next to the other nine best packs on the market. But these incredible stats come at a cost; the Exodus has no frame. And like all frameless packs, it must be used with other ultralight gear or its wearer will find the load uncomfortable. Frameless packs do not transfer weight to the hips nearly as well. But don’t let these problems deter you. As MLD says, this is a professional level frameless pack, designed for expert ultralight backpackers looking to fully dial in their kit. But expert ultralight backpackers are humans too, so you’ll still find features like comfortable foam shoulder straps and three large pockets with minimal mesh to snag. Pack it intelligently and you may not even miss the frame at all. The Exodus is a great hiking pack that takes ultralight to the next level.

GREAT FOR: Ultralight backpackers with a fully dialed-in kit who are looking to reduce the most possible weight with the best frameless pack money can buy, but also want durability and a nearly waterproof pack.

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Beginner or intermediate backpackers without a fully dialed-in kit, or any trip that necessitates a heavy load, and for hikers that have a low tolerance for weight on their shoulders

* With some intelligent packing you carry a bear canister in a frameless pack with an unpadded back. Guiding in Rocky Mountain Park last summer, Alan carried a rigid Wild Ideas Scout bear canister with 5 days of food and guides gear in his Exodus DCF Backpack, saving himself around 3 to 4 pounds verses a standard UL pack and a Bear Vault BV500 canister.

See more in PRO TIP | Bear Canisters

ZPACKS ARC BLAST 55L PACK

hiking backpack

Alison with her Zpacks Arc Blast 55L. We think it’s especially good for women.

backpacking backpack

HIGHLIGHTS: Ultralight, Best Volume-to-Weight Ratio, Waterproof, Ventilated Back, Best Load Transfer, Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: weight 21 oz | volume 55 L | volume/weight 42 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $325
TECH: Fabric, DCF | Frame, external adjustable | Back Panel, elevated mesh with airflow
SIMILAR MODELS: Arc Zip 57, Arc Haul Zip 64, Arc Haul 62

WOMEN’S FIT: While the pack says ‘unisex’ we think it’s especially good for women. The main reason is its stiff external frame and excellent load transfer to hips. As such, most of the pack’s weight is off your shoulders. A good thing since women’s shoulders are more sensitive than men’s. As such, this is one of Alison’s favorite hiking backpacks.

Runner Up Best UL Pack: The Zpacks Arc Blast 55L‘s stats and features speak for themselves. Thanks to the miracles of carbon fiber and Dyneema fabric, this really is a 21 oz, external frame, nearly-waterproof pack. It’s an engineering marvel. But it’s the ultralight, patented Flexed Arc Frame that makes this unique design truly special. Z-packs does a modern, lightweight carbon fiber reinvention of the external frame backpacks of the 70’s and 80’s. Make no mistake, nothing transfers load to your hips like an external frame pack. Not only does the external frame adjust and distribute weight to your hips incredibly well, it also provides an aerated buffer between your back and the rear surface of the pack, reducing sweat and preventing lumps from digging in. That’s why we think it’s a great hiking backpack for women — but many men may also prefer weight off their shoulders and a more upright stance!

The front and sides are no joke either; there you’ll find 13L of external storage for oft-needed items. To retain a stiff frame but still be light the Arc Blast 55L uses smaller parts, straps, cordage and hardware than most of the packs in this guide. As such, part of what makes it so light is not surprisingly also what makes it a bit less rugged than heavier packs. But we’re guessing that Zpacks designed it to be used with a certain amount of user care. As such, treat this pack with care and love, and it will reward you with many miles of hiking comfort.

GREAT FOR: Hikers, especially those in wetter climates, seeking to dramatically shed pack weight without sacrificing any comfort when it comes to load great load transfer to hips and reduced back sweat

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers who frequently travel off-trail, bushwhack, scramble, haul with ropes, carry very heavy loads, or are generally tough on the gear

best hiking backpack

Alan on the Summit of Mt. Sill Sierra Nevada and sporting an earlier version of the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60

GOSSAMER GEAR MARIPOSA 60 PACK

best hiking backpack

HIGHLIGHTS: Thru-hiker Favorite, Ultralight but Full Featured, Most External Storage, Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: weight 31 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 32 L/lb | Max Carry: 35 lbs
PRICE: $270
TECH: Fabric, Robic nylon | Frame, removable aluminum stay | back panel, removable foam sit pad
SIMILAR MODELS: Gorilla 40 Ultralight Backpack (for those with a smaller kit)
WOMENS MODEL: None | Gossamer Gear claims, “New unisex ergonomic belt shape” and “unisex ergonomic harness for both men and women.”

Runner Up Best UL Pack: For 10 years we’ve used some version of the award-winning Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 on many trips in the High Sierra, both on and off trail. For starters, it is a sub two pound, sixty liter, full featured pack. Those stats alone warrant your full attention. But numbers aside, it also sports some incredible features and construction. Best of all are the gigantic exterior pockets. Of all packs on this list, none have more external storage space, and we love the large hip-belt pockets. That’s in addition to its top zippered pocket; you’ll never go digging for knickknacks again. A signature feature is Gossamer Gear’s removable internal aluminum U frame plus a removable foam back that doubles as your camp sit-pad. This is key to how Gossamer reduces weight while retaining features. Despite its low weight, the Mariposa is quite comfortable and distributes weight well. Sewn with 100 and 200 denier Robic Nylon, it’s also built to last. We especially like the solid fabric on both the side pockets and bottom of the rear pocket reducing snagging and tears (when compared to mesh). Oh, and with it’s huge volume, it’s super Bear Canister friendly. Note that the pack has webbing loops for a compression sytem, but you’ll need to get some cordage and rig it yourself. In summary, this is a great ultralight pack, just ask its 187, five star average reviewers.

GREAT FOR: Hikers who utilize lots of external storage, want a fully featured pack, including a top lid pocket all for under 2 pounds!

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers that abuse their packs, bushwhacking and dragging and hauling it across rock, ultralight hikers that have their kit dialed and don’t need the volume

GRANITE GEAR VIRGA 2 PACK

best backpacking backpack

best backpacking backpack

HIGHLIGHTS: Most affordable, Super Ultralight, Great volume/weight ratio, Highest price/volume

SPECS: weight 19 oz | volume 58 L | volume/weight 49 L/lb | Max Carry: 25 lbs
PRICE: $140 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, 100d Ripstop Nylon | Frameless | back panel, solid nylon
SIMILAR MODELS: none
WOMENS MODEL: none

Value UL Pack Pick: The Granite Gear Virga 2 58 is the most affordable way to save massive amounts of pack weight. At only 19 oz and $140, it has the best cost-to-weight ratio of any backpacking pack on this list. How is this achieved? Simple, first the Virga makes intelligent choices about features you need and features you don’t need. And of course, the Virga is frameless. Like all frameless packs, it must be used with other ultralight gear or its wearer will find the load to be uncomfortable. Frameless packs do not transfer weight to the hips nearly as well. But those who already have an ultralight kit should give this pack serious consideration. With three external mesh pockets and a rolltop closure, this pack in very minimalist — even so it has surprisingly rugged fabric for its weight. But the price is right, so why not give framelessness a shot? With intelligent packing and gear selection, most hikers will find a frameless pack like the Virgo conforms to their back in a way that is surprisingly comfortable. Try something lighter and different. We think you’ll dig it.

GREAT FOR: Ultralight backpackers who wants to try out a frameless pack to reduce weight while saving money

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Beginner or intermediate backpackers without a fully dialed-in kit, or any trip that necessitates a heavy load (unless you have strong shoulders).

3. Budget Hiking Backpacks

1.2 lb to 2.7 lb | $140 to $200
Money should never come between a person and their access to the great outdoors. These packs tend to pass cost savings onto the user with simpler engineering, routine sale pricing, or more affordable fabrics. But they’re all totally legit options.

And yes, you’ve seem a number of these pack earlier in this guide. We re-list them in summary here for your convenience to view all the budget packs in one place.

My Trail Co Backpack Light 50

HIGHLIGHTS: Very Affordable (frequently on sale), High Volume to Weight Ratio, Huge Rear Pocket, Large Hip-belt Pockets. Bear Can Compatible

SPECS: weight 32 oz | volume 50 L | volume/weight 25 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $210 $147 – Budget (it’s frequently on sale)
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, stiffened foam that is somewhere between frameless and framed | Back Panel, fabric, unvented

WOMEN’S MODEL: None

While the My Trail Co Backpack Light 50 lists for $210 it is frequently on sale for much less making it one of the better backpack deals on the market. But there’s a caveat. This pack works best if you can keep your load in the range of 25 pounds or less. That’s because the pack’s “frame” of stiffened foam sits somewhere between frameless and real-frame categories. To carry more than 25’ish pounds in the pack, you’ll need a bit of packing skill (it can be done). All-in-all this is a very serviceable, full-featured pack for those that cary medium load or have the packing skills to increase that limit. And that may not be a big limitation for many hikers.

GREAT FOR: Hikers on a tight budget who want a full-featured pack and rarely carry more than approx. 25 pounds (semi-rigid foam sheet is not as stiff as other true frame designs)

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers looking to carry a large or heavy load, those who want a vented back panel design

Osprey Exos 48 (Men’s) and Osprey Eja 48 Pack (Women’s)

HIGHLIGHTS: Most Accessible, Best-Selling, Affordable, Comfortable, Ventilated AirSpeed Suspension, Bear Can Compatible, Men’s & Women’s version

SPECS: weight 43 oz | volume 58 L | volume/weight 22 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $200 – Budget to $220
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, internal | Back Panel, suspended mesh panel for more airflow to help with back sweat

WOMEN’S MODEL: Osprey Eja 48 and 58 Pack. The women’s version of the Exos, these have women’s specific fit, like optimal sternum strap location for women, less bulky shoulder straps and of course an improved female hip-belt design.

Top Value/Features Pick: A thru-hiker’s choice pack and a darling of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. But a pack suitable for all hikers, beginners and experts alike, looking to cut a bit of weight without sacrificing comfort or features.

GREAT FOR: Feature, creature comfort lovers; hikers on a budget or who need to get a pack ASAP, beginning backpackers, or those who value back ventilation highly.

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Minimalist hikers, or those looking to drop the most possible pack weight. Those that do a lot of off-trail bushwhacking and scrambling and otherwise abuse their packs.

Granite Gear Crown2 60

HIGHLIGHTS: Durable, Most Affordable, High volume, Top Lid, Fully Adjustable Hip Belt, lightweight

SPECS: weight 37 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 26 L/lb | Max Carry: 35 lbs
PRICE: $200 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, polypropylene sheet | back panel, molded foam pads with airflow
SIMILAR MODELS: Crown2 38 for those that have their light kit dialed-in

WOMENS MODEL: Granite Gear Crown2 60 Pack – Women’s

GREAT FOR: Hikers on a budget, those who value high volume, top lid storage and a highly customizable fit

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Ounce counters, hikers intending to carry very heavy loads, or those who value the latest tech over the tried and true

best backpacking backpack

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor

HIGHLIGHTS: Adjustable Volume, Affordable, Bear Can Compatible, solid frame and hip belt

SPECS: weight 43 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 22 L/lb | Max Carry: 40 lbs
PRICE: $200 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, internal Y | back panel, spaced EVA foam pads with airflow
SIMILAR MODELS: none

GREAT FOR: Hikers seeking one single pack to use on trips of all sizes, and a large pack at that

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Hikers looking to drop the most possible pack weight or those who value a large rear pocket

best backpacking backpack

HIGHLIGHTS: Most affordable, Super Ultralight, Great volume/weight ratio, Highest price/volume

SPECS: weight 19 oz | volume 58 L | volume/weight 49 L/lb | Max Carry: 25 lbs
PRICE: $140 – Budget
TECH: Fabric, 100d Ripstop Nylon | Frameless | back panel, solid nylon
SIMILAR MODELS: none
WOMENS MODEL: none

Value UL Pack Pick: The Granite Gear Virga 2 58 is the most affordable way to save massive amounts of pack weight.

GREAT FOR: Ultralight backpackers who wants to try out a frameless pack to reduce weight while saving money

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Beginner or intermediate backpackers without a fully dialed-in kit, or any trip that necessitates a heavy load (unless you have strong shoulders).

best backpacking backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 Pack on the ‘Overland Route,’ Escalante Grand Staircase, Utah

PRO TIPS

These Tips will help you get the best performance and enjoyment out of your backpack. Either the pack you intend to buy or the pack you already own.

PRO TIP | How Big a Pack Do You Need?

It may surprise you, but often times we believe a bigger pack is better. We like packs in the 55L range (assuming you don’t take the extra volume as a license to fill it unnecessary items!) First, more volume makes it easier to pack and unpack. That is, it’s time consuming to try and shove your gear into too small of a space. And it’s just as difficult to unpack or find items in a solid brick-like mass. Second, it’s not good to crush your down bag and jacket, and it takes them a lot longer to loft up if they’ve been crushed to the size of a grapefruit. We use large backpacks and stuff sacks to avoid this. Last and certainly not least, many times the larger volume model of a pack is only a ounce more, e.g. the HMG Southwest 3400 vs. 2400 or the MLD Exodus 55L vs the Prophet 48L. In addition, that extra volume makes it a more versatile and flexible purchase, changing a backpack used for a quick weekend overnight into a week long trip with a bear canister.

So yeah, while a smaller pack may look all pro and sexy on your back, most times the larger lightweight pack is far more practical and user friendly.

PRO TIP | Why Pack Pockets Really Matter

While in general we’re a bit skeptical of unnecessary pack features, we love pockets! Nothing is more time consuming and frustrating than trying to find the need-it-right-now item buried deep in the main bag of your pack. As such, we use all available pockets to store cameras, gear, food and clothing where we can quickly access them during our hike. Hopefully we only go into the main pack at lunch and when we get into camp for the night. We especially like pockets we can access without stopping or taking our pack off. In particular, large hip-belt pockets, and side pockets that are designed so we can reach back and get things out of (e.g. a water bottle or jacket) while hiking. Finally, remember to put the same things in the same pocket all the time!

Mesh Pockets vs Solid Fabric Pockets?

We prefer solid fabric pockets on our packs. That being said, mesh pockets are quite popular on many major brand packs. They have the advantage of being able to see what is in them, and that they allow for wet things like socks to dry during the day. They also are usually stretchy and do a good job of keeping gear snugged up against the pack body. But mesh pockets have the disadvantage of being far more delicate than solid fabric pockets as they catch, snag and tear easily. Most times they are the first things to fail on a pack — especially if you hike on anything but wide open easy trails. Second, they do a much poorer job of keeping dust, spay and other debris off of your gear. Finally while mesh pockets may look lighter, it rarely is much lighter than a solid fabric pocket. As such we get all our packs with solid fabric pockets if possible.

Summary

So yeah, while a streamlined backpack with few external pockets may look slick, leave them to climbers. A backpack with lots of pockets is far more practical and will save you a bunch of time and frustration trying to find things.

For more reading on tips to best use pockets: Efficient Backpacking Tips | Easily Increase Mileage and Fun

PRO TIP | Pack Comfort

No matter what pack you use, unless you are a NFL linebacker, carrying 40 pounds is not comfortable. Or put another way, the total weight of your pack is the most important factor for your bodies comfort — not the packs brilliant design features! As such, the number one thing you can do for “pack comfort” is to shave a bit of weight. Every bit helps!

Yes, a pack with a stiffer frame and a wide, padded hip-belt will help soften the pain of a heavy pack from your shoulders and hips. But that does not equal comfort as your weight goes above 30 pounds. And your hip joints, legs, knees, feet, lungs and heart will feel the full pack-weight every step!

That being said, some packs do a better job of transferring pack weight to the hips and have more comfortable shoulder straps. Osprey packs like the Exos and Eja packs do well in these areas, altho the Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and Z-Packs also do well and weigh less. In our opinion a wide hip-belt with sufficient padding like on the HMG packs works better than more heavily padded and “ergonomically” sculpted hip-belts used on heavier packs.

How to Lower Your Pack Weight

Look at our 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist. This will give you lots of ideas on how to shave weight out of your pack. A 9 pound pack is all you need to be happy, safe and warm. So, if you want to lower your pack weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further than this Lightweight Backpacking Gear List. This Backpacking Gear is suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and even trips world-wide.

Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist

PRO TIP | Pros and Cons of a Waterproof Pack

Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF) packs with taped seams have the advantage of being nearly waterproof. When combined with DCF stuff sacks or other nearly-waterproof sacks you won’t need a rain cover. As such, you pack your pack the same way every day whether it’s raining or not, and you save the weight and hassle of a pack cover. Drier pack and contents with less aggravation equals peace of mind.

One downside of DCF packs is that they are about $100 more expensive than the same pack in standard nylon. This is because the fabric is expensive and hard to procure. And because it requires specialized equipment and processes to make gear from it. The second downside is that for now only cottage and smaller manufactures offer packs in DCF which means limited sources and sometimes a 4 to 6 week wait for your pack. The current exception to this is Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs which are carried by REI. There’s no wait for them.

PRO TIP | Skip the Rain Cover

So most pack covers don’t really keep your pack dry, they weigh about 1/2 pound, and they add cost. And they are a hassle to take on and off and flap in the wind. One way to skip the rain cover is to use a Dyneema pack and Dyneema or other highly water resistant stuff sacks. This was discussed above and is our preferred method but it is costly.

A far less costly and still light way to skip a rain cover is use a light waterproof pack liner. There are a number of options:

  • The lightest (but inexpensive) option is to use 2x Gossamer Gear Pack Liners. Use (1) liner for sleeping bag and insulating clothes and (1) liner for everything else.
  • The lowest cost other option (still light) is to line your pack with a single sturdy trash compactor bag .
  • Finally some pack manufactures sell light a waterproof pack liner, these last a longer but usually cost more.

best hiking backpack

PRO TIP | Bear Canister 101

Bear canisters are becoming part of trail life as more parks require them each year. These are some of the lightest options to meet this requirement

If you want to hike the John Muir Trail, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain Park or many of the Parks in Alaska, you’ll need a bear canister and a pack that can hold it. So, it makes sense to purchase a pack that works well with a bear canister. Almost all of our packs will fit a bear canister, altho the larger packs with a well padded back panel will do better.

A note about frameless pack and bear canisters:With some intelligent packing you can carry a bear canister in a frameless pack with an unpadded back. Guiding in Rocky Mountain Park last summer, Alan carried a rigid Wild Ideas Scout bear canister with 5 days of food and guide gear in his Exodus DCF Backpack, saving himself around 3 to 4 pounds verses a standard UL pack and a Bear Vault BV500 canister.

Which Bear Canister Is Right for You?

Above from left to right: Ursack, Bear Vault, and Wild Ideas

First, check your Park and see which bear storage they require (approved canisters). And fair warning that there is no consistency between parks about what they require so you will need to check the specific reg’s of each park you plan on visiting. The largest certifying organizations are IGBC or Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee , SEKI (Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks) and Yosemite. Many other parks like Rocky Mountain National Park have their own requirements. Yeah, don’t get us started on a unified US certification! Once you know the requirements pick one of the three storage options below:

  1. LIGHTEST if allowed: Ursack Bear Bag (7.6 oz) | The very lightest and the first choice for a bear storage. But only if the Ursack is approved in your park! So check the reg’s.
  2. VALUE: Bear Vault BV450 (33 oz) Bear Vault BV500 (41 oz) | The Bearvault BV-450 and BV500 hit the sweet spot for weight, cost and availability. The only downside is that they are somewhat heavier than Wild-Ideas canisters. We can get ~5 days in a BV450 and ~7-8 days in a BV500 canister.
  3. LIGHTEST RIGID CAN: Wild Ideas Scout (28 oz) or larger Wild-Ideas Weekender (31 oz)

Tip bring compact, calorie dense food: Pack the right food and you can get a few more days out of a smaller bear canister like the Bearvault BV-450 above. Not only will you have less food weight (for the same amount of calories), but the smaller canister will leave more room in your pack for gear. What’s not to like?

For more reading see: Best Backpacking Food | simple and nutritious

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

8 replies
  1. Jaclyn
    Jaclyn says:

    Hi Alan,

    Your site has been invaluable for understanding gear in preparation for my section hike. I’m going to try the hammock camping on the AT!
    I appreciated your article about the Mantis. The ship date is after my hike starts. I need to put together my beginner hammock kit. Pack is Silnylon Burn 13oz. I prefer a larger fly since I’ll likely experience heavy rains.

    I’m looking for information about easy and intuitive suspension – what suspension should I source that is intuitive and easy?

    I’ve narrowed down my choices of hammock:

    Dutchware Half Zip with Net 15.5 oz Whoopie Hook Suspension w/ 4ft Huggers – prefer this brand
    Blackbird 15 oz Whoopies w/Dynaweave Straps – $200 – the inner shelf seems useful

    Tarp is Blackbird Superfly $135 – I’m willing to take the weight
    Kelty TripTease Lightline
    Kungix Stakes 7″ Aluminium

    I’d love to hear what you would try for suspension as a beginner. My hike starts in 5 weeks!

    Thank you for all your contributions to the community :)

    Jaclyn

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Jaclyn, super excited you are going to hammock camp on the AT. The Dutchware Half Zip is a great choice. If you want a very simple, beginner friendly suspension system I would get the “Mantis Complete Suspension (Includes the following: 2 – 12′ spider daisy chain straps, 2 – mantis).” Doesn’t get easier than this. BUT one thing you should consider is the Dutchware COMPLETE NETTED HAMMOCK PACKAGE for only $280. It’s way easier and less expensive than piecing together your own kit. Hope this helps and wishing you a great AT hike. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Jaclyn
        Jaclyn says:

        Thank you Alan! That complete kit saves me a lot of time and potential mistakes.

        If I get the Sil Poly Xenon Tarp I’m concerned it will soak in water weight on rainy nights. Part of the reason I feel confident doing the AT is because of your awesome 5lb baseweight method! I know you recommend the Cuben Fiber Hex Tarp for your 5lb pack.

        Do you think I’ll have additional weight with the Silpoly Xenon during rainstorms? Is it worth the weight savings to upgrade to the CF Tarp? Ideally I thought the CF Winter Palace would be amazing protection for the AT, though it is incredibly pricey for my budget I will be using a CF pack because I would like to avoid additional weight during rainy weather.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Jaclyn, I guess the Q is how often is the tarp going to be saturated on the AT, that it is still soaking wet in the morning when you pack up? My guess is not all that much, e.g. even in an overnight shower it will likely be fairly dry in the AM — and then how often does it rain? Then weigh that information, against the cost of a DCF tarp (more than the entire Dutchware package). If cost were no object, then the DCF tarp has advantages in weight, no-stretching when wet, and low water absorption. BUT frankly, most nights I do not setup a tarp and it sits in my pack for a just in case I get a random (unforecast) rainshower at night. Hopefully this will give you some perspective to better decide. Best, -alan

          Reply
          • Jaclyn
            Jaclyn says:

            Thanks Alan, saving the money is definitely a big consideration. You and Alison are an inspiration, a true hiking couple :)

            Does this logic on cuben fiber tarps for the AT apply to the Cuben Fiber Packs? The MLD Burn CF pack is $55 more then the Sil – is there significant advantages? I’m skipping the hip pockets / stow pockets / shoulder pockets because of cost, just going to use a basic fanny pack for my daily use gear.

          • Alan Dixon
            Alan Dixon says:

            If it were me, I would get the DCF Exodus with all the pockets and skip the DCF tarp. The DCF Exodus is definitely worth the cost. In fact, the Exodus is what I usually bring when hammock camping on the AT as the down (top and bottom quilts) takes up a lot of volume. A waterproof pack is always a great thing with all that down — and pockets are also great. And with how light you seem to be dialing in your kit at, I am guessing that that the Exodus could handle the weight for you. Then you can put all your gear into one highly-water-resistant place. See excerpt below from the pack guide. Best, -a

            PRO TIP | How Big a Pack Do You Need?

            It may surprise you, but often times we believe a bigger pack is better. We like packs in the 55L range (assuming you don’t take the extra volume as a license to fill it unnecessary items!) First, more volume makes it easier to pack and unpack. That is, it’s time consuming to try and shove your gear into too small of a space. And it’s just as difficult to unpack or find items in a solid brick-like mass. Second, it’s not good to crush your down bag and jacket, and it takes them a lot longer to loft up if they’ve been crushed to the size of a grapefruit. We use large backpacks and stuff sacks to avoid this. Last and certainly not least, many times the larger volume model of a pack is only a ounce more, e.g. the HMG Southwest 3400 vs. 2400 or the MLD Exodus 55L vs the Prophet 48L. In addition, that extra volume makes it a more versatile and flexible purchase, changing a backpack used for a quick weekend overnight into a week long trip with a bear canister.

            So yeah, while a smaller pack may look all pro and sexy on your back, most times the larger lightweight pack is far more practical and user friendly.

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