Beautiful mountain top view with turquoise blue pond

Best Backpacking Backpacks for 2020

Your trusted guide to finding the best backpacks on the market for every type of adventure

A 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 for hiking in 2020. Below you will find exceptional and light hiking backpacks for men and women, and for all types of backcountry adventures and budgets. From the top all-round performers, to ultralight backpacks for thru-hiking we have you covered!

Information You Won’t Find Elsewhere

At the end of this Guide we have Pro Tips you won’t find elsewhere. Based on hard won experience form 50 years of backpacking and professional guiding, 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. How Big a Pack Do You Need?, Bear Canister 101, Increasing Pack ComfortSkip the Rain Cover and more…

Looking to Save More Weight?

A backpack, as one of your heavier pieces of gear, is indeed a great place to start saving weight. But if you’d like to save even more weight here are some of our top gear guides that will help you carry a ton less weight on the trail.

6 Staff Quick Picks

If you’re in a hurry… here are our Staff’s choices for the best backpacks on the market

Best All-around:  Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Backpack | high-tech, nearly waterproof, carries weight well

Best Comfort: Osprey Exos Backpack | Osprey’s signature comfort & ventilated ‘AirSpeed Suspension’

Ventilated Value: REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack is similar in features & comfort to the Exos 48 including a ventilated mesh backpanel.

Best Large Capacity: ULA Circuit Backpack | Easily handles bear canister & large loads. Good value.

Value: Granite Gear Crown2 60 Backpack | Fully-functional light pack for $200. Readily available.
Super Value: MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 Backpack | At $120, Drop version of this pack is a steal (if available)

Best Ultralight:  Zpacks Arc Blast 55L | Only 21 oz for a fully featured pack with a solid frame & ventilation.

new How to Pack your Backpack Like a Pro | Video

It may seem simple, but there’s a lot of tips and tricks here to make your life a lot easier on the trail. Packing your backpack properly, will keep you comfortable and balanced, keep your gear dry, and most important, it will keep you uber efficient on the trail.

 Category 1 — Lightweight Backpacks

2.0 to 2.7 lb | $200 to $345
These are your bread and butter hiking backpacks and likely the first choice for many readers. Lightweight backpacks are your all-purpose, durable, affordable, and voluminous performers. 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

ultralight backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack

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

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 or Junction with a mesh rear pocket

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)

Mt Conness, Yosemite

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

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

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

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.

REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack & Flash 45 Pack M‘s & W’s

REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack

REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack

Removable Packmod Accessories

Removable Packmod Accessories

HIGHLIGHTS: Affordable, Comfortable, Ventilated Non-sweaty Back, Customizable Configurations, Nice Pockets, Men’s & Women’s version

SPECS: weight 42 oz | volume 55 L | volume/weight 21 L/lb | Max Carry: 30 lbs
With no Pack Mods: 35 oz | volume/weight 25 L/lb

PRICE: $199 – budget

TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, internal | Back Panel, suspended mesh panel for more airflow to help with back sweat | Rain-resistant top pocket & shoulder pocket, Packmod accessories allow you to add or remove pockets & features

SIMILAR PACKS: REI Co-op Flash 45 Pack M’s & W’s lower volume similar features, and LOWER price, $159. So if you’re kit is not quite down to 45L this might serious incentive to get there! If you need help getting your pack weight down checkout our Ultralight Backpacking Gear List | 9 Pound

WOMEN’S MODEL: REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack Women’s has women’s specific fit, but is otherwise similar in design and features

Value Ventilated Pack Pick: The REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack is similar in function and specs to the Osprey Exos 58. E.g. it too has a nice mesh backpanel to keep your back non-sweaty, and it has very comfortable pre-curved hip belt. But then it ups the ante. First, that hip belt has pockets! In addition, it comes with a nice rainproof top lid, and rainshield pocket on the shoulder strap perfect for iPhone or small camera. There are forward tilting water bottle pockets above the hip belt (in addition to the regular side pockets) that allow easy access without taking the pack off. And you can put on or take off pack mod accessories (like pockets or trekking pole attachments) to suit your needs. Removing all of them saves about 1/2 pound. And of course it’s backed by REI’s reputation and great return policy.

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

lightweight backpack

ULA Circuit Pack & ULA Ohm 2.0 Pack

Alison’s ULA Ohm 2.0

ULA Circuit Pack & ULA Ohm 2.0 Pack

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

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

 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 polypropylene 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

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

Super Value Version (if available): MASSDROP X GRANITE GEAR CROWN X60

HIGHLIGHTS: Fantastic Deal, Durable , High volume, Top Lid, Fully Adjustable Hip Belt, lightweight

SPECS: weight 40 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 24 L/lb | Max Carry: n/a
PRICE: $100 – Super Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, polypropylene sheet | back panel, molded foam pads with airflow

If it’s in stock, the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 could be the best value in a full featured UL Backpack. Drop (formerly MassDrop) contracts with manufacturers to make a Drop ‘X’ version of some popular gear. They usually make a few tweaks to improve it and then offer it for a much lower price. But this is many times is in a bulk-drop, so it might not always be available.

Drop made some nice improvements to the the standard Crown2 60. On the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 the lid is more versatile and can be detached from the pack and attached to the hipbelt to create a breathable 6-liter lumbar day pack. The side pockets are angled lower for easier accessibility, the front straps are longer to accommodate items like a foam pad, and new removable cords on the shoulder straps give you a convenient way to keep water bottles close at hand. Of course, since the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 is made by Granite Gear and comes with Granite Gear’s Rock Solid Warranty

hiking mountain overlook with scenic vista

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

Category 2 — Best Ultralight Backpack

0.9 lb to 1.9 lb | $140 – $325
These ultralight backpacks 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.

ZPACKS ARC BLAST 55L PACK

ZPACKS ARC BLAST 55L PACK

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

Arc Blast 55L 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.

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

MOUNTAIN LAUREL DESIGNS EXODUS DCF 55L PACK

best ultralight backpack

MLD Prophet DCF 48

Appalachian Trail scenic overlook

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.

Best Super 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

Summit of Mt Sill in Sierra Nevada

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

GOSSAMER GEAR MARIPOSA 60 PACK

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

GRANITE GEAR VIRGA 2 PACK

GRANITE GEAR VIRGA 2 PACK

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).

Gorgeous view hiking Appalachian Trail

Category 3 — Budget Backpacking 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 hiking backpacks 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.

MASSDROP X GRANITE GEAR CROWN X60

Super Value Version (if available): MASSDROP X GRANITE GEAR CROWN X60

HIGHLIGHTS: Fantastic Deal, Durable , High volume, Top Lid, Fully Adjustable Hip Belt, lightweight

SPECS: weight 40 oz | volume 60 L | volume/weight 24 L/lb | Max Carry: n/a
PRICE: $100 – Super Budget
TECH: Fabric, nylon | Frame, polypropylene sheet | back panel, molded foam pads with airflow

If it’s in stock, the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 could be the best value in a full featured UL Backpack. Drop (formerly MassDrop) contracts with manufacturers to make a Drop ‘X’ version of some popular gear. They usually make a few tweaks to improve it and then offer it for a much lower price. But this is many times is in a bulk-drop, so it might not always be available.

Drop made some nice improvements to the the standard Crown2 60. On the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 the lid is more versatile and can be detached from the pack and attached to the hipbelt to create a breathable 6-liter lumbar day pack. The side pockets are angled lower for easier accessibility, the front straps are longer to accommodate items like a foam pad, and new removable cords on the shoulder straps give you a convenient way to keep water bottles close at hand. Of course, since the MassDrop X Granite Gear Crown X60 is made by Granite Gear and comes with Granite Gear’s Rock Solid Warranty

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

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

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

The Granite Gear Virga 2 58 i

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).

View from Escalante Grand Staircase in Utah

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 Hiking Backpack 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 | Hiking Backpack 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.

2x Gossamer Gear Pack Liners.

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.

Ursack bear canister

Bear Vault bear canister

Wild Ideas bear 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.

45 replies
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  1. Darcy
    Darcy says:

    There’s a feature of the ULA packs that you might not have fully appreciated: Their hipbelts! As a short, very curvy woman with a booty, I find it difficult to get a good pack fit, especially the hipbelt. The ULA let me choose the size of my pack, the type of shoulder straps, and the size of hipbelt. I have a small pack and XL hipbelt. PLUS their hipbelt design lets me adjust the top and bottom of the hipbelt to fit my curves.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yes Darcy, ULA does a great job fitting women, and customized fit in general. I was one of the first men to realize that the “women’s” S shaped shoulder straps were actually more comfortable for men too. That being said, there is a great amount of adjustability in the Granite Gear Crown packs. And Gossamer Gear & Zpack both allow you to choose your hip belt size independent of the pack size. Best, -alan

      Reply
  2. Jon Eskelsen
    Jon Eskelsen says:

    Thanks for the post. I found it very interesting. Looking forward to reading more reviews on this site. I’ve seen on several other lists that the REI Flash 55 received positive reviews. Curious if you have taken a look at it and whether you consider it a worthy pack or not? Thanks for your sharing your views.

    Yours
    Jon

    Reply
  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    Great writeup – lots of solid info, especially for those just getting into UL. I have several UL packs, some homemade, some from cottage vendors. But I’ve settled on a relatively heavy framed pack – even for short trips in which I could fit what I need in a UL pack – because the heavy framed pack fits and distributes the weight well that I cannot distinguish a difference when I use it vs a pack that weighs a quarter of the weight. I’m as surprised as anyone could be that I’m saying this. I have absolutely nothing against the packs you mention here – they are all great; maybe I just found that magical perfect pack for my body frame.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Greg, Whatever works. Hike your own hike. Altho, I do point out that the #1 factor for pack comfort is total-pack weight. And after a 20 mile day those extra pounds can really grind you down physically and mentally. For loads under 20 lb, and definitely under 15 lb, my preference is to go frameless without a hip belt. If find this the ultimate in freedom of movement and joy on the trail. To each their own. Best, -alan

      Reply
  4. Ben
    Ben says:

    Hey Alan, have you done a separate review of the HMG pods anywhere? I’ve seen Ryan use them extensively and wondered if & how you use them for packing.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I have not reviewed them elsewhere. I use both pod, roll-top and regular stuffs. Each has its strengths. Pods are really nice if you need to be able to see and find gear in the stuff, and of corse for fitting exactly in the pack’s crossection. For something like a sleeping bag, a standard stuff is actually better. Best, -alan

      Reply
  5. Will Shipp
    Will Shipp says:

    Hi Alan,

    In the “Who is Adventure Alan” YouTube video you are wearing a water bottle holder on the shoulder strap of your HMG SW 2400. Who manufactures that water bottle holder and where can I find it? As you know getting water bottles in/out of the side pockets of the HMG SW can be a chore and I am looking for a better system to access my drinking water while on trail.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Will Shipp
      Will Shipp says:

      And to be a bit more specific I almost always carry Smartwater 1L bottles so the water bottle holders manufactured by HMG aren’t a good fit.

      Reply
      • Ed. C.
        Ed. C. says:

        Will,
        I watched the video and zoomed in on one of the stable shots. It’s an Essentia water bottle pouch. I did a google search and couldn’t find it anywhere.

        If you can’t find it, just do a search for ‘water bottle holder’ or ‘water bottle pouch’ and maybe add in the word ‘backpacking’ and there are many vendors including many of the ultralight tent/backpack manufacturers.

        In addition you can find tons of options for making your own. You can do it using parachord and/or elastic chord (and even hair ties!).

        if using elastic line, just put one strap at the top (just below the cap’s shoulder) and then one at the bottom.

        For parachord, You’d probably have to be a bit more creative to ensure that it holds, but there’s several DIY videos that can show you.

        Reply
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