Best Backpacking Backpacks 2022
Without a doubt, the backpack is a backpacker’s single most important piece of gear. And with so many great options available, there is no reason to settle for something heavy and outdated. In this guide we present the very best lightweight & ultralight backpacking packs available in 2022 — with recommendations suiting all experience levels, trails, & budgets. And new for 2022 Challenge® Ultra Fabric Revolutionizes UL Backpacks. 10x stronger than steel, it’s lighter, 4x stronger, and 4x more durable than Dyneema or ROBIC fabrics.
This buyer’s guide is informed by decades of ultralight backpacking experience and three core philosophies:
- Lighter is better
- Too many ‘comfort’ features make a pack uncomfortably heavy
- A backpacking backpack should not weigh more than 3 lbs. (The average pack on this list weighs just over 2 lbs — half as much as the average pack you might see on a trail, but gives up little in function or comfort.)
Our recommendations are based on a combination of field testing and performance stats. Since we have purposefully excluded many popular >3lb backpacks that other “experts” still insist on recommending, we believe that our standards are likely the highest among all mainstream gear review sites.
6 Quick Picks
Short on time? The following are our top picks for each category.
Best Overall: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
Best Value: REI Flash 55
Most Comfortable: M’s Osprey Exos and W’s Eja 58
Most Innovative: Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L [‘Ultra’ fabric]
Best Super Ultralight: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L [‘Ultra’ fabric]
Best Budget: Osprey Rook 65
Best Bear Canister: Which Bear Canister is Right for You?
Lighter, Stronger, More Durable than Dyneema or ROBIC
10X stronger than steel by weight, the New Challenge® ‘Ultra’ Fabrics are waterproof and, by a huge margin, the single best material for backpacks. ‘Ultra’ Fabrics blow away the performance of Dyneema (DCF), the fabric used in many of today’s high-end, ultralight packs. Challenger Ultra Fabric in 3.5 oz/sq yd weight is 4x more abrasion resistant and 3x stronger than Dyneema in a 4.5 oz/sq yd weight, and 4x more abrasion resistant and 4x stronger than ROBIC Nylon 210d in a 4.5 oz/sq yd weight. This is the single biggest fabric innovation story since Dyneema first hit the backpack market as Cuben Fiber in the late aughts.
Two 2022 Packs Using Challenge® ‘Ultra’ Fabrics
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L | We love the Arc Haul’s “old school,” full-external-frame design for an incredible load transfer from shoulder to hips for maximum comfort — but still keeping weight to a scant 20 oz. This year the Ultra 200 fabric makes the pack far stronger and more durable.
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L | We used a 16 oz prototype of this pack in Ecopack ‘Ultra’ Fabric for our recent guiding in Alaska north of the Arctic Circle and in the Sierras with a bear canister. It was fabulous & bombproof with Ultra 200/400 fabrics. My personal favorite pack.
Best Overall Backpacking Backpacks
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack
Best Overall Backpacking Backpack
32 oz | 56L | $355
The iconic white and black HMG 3400 Southwest is the pack most often used by our staff. We’ve taken it off-trail in Alaska, through technical canyons in the Southwest, and on world class circuits in Patagonia. This ultralight and incredibly durable pack has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The Dyneema fabric is seam taped, making the pack nearly full waterproof. 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.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack’s 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. That’s it. And 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 greater load transfer, you will enjoy many years of delightful back comfort and dry gear storage in the wilderness. 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 usable/adaptable size in the HMG family. Compared to the 2400, it weighs just two ounces more, but you get 30% more volume.
Top Backpacking Backpacks
Osprey Exos 58 Pack
Most comfortable, best ventilation, updated 2022
45 oz | 58L | $240
Women’s Pack Osprey Eja
The Osprey Exos (and Women’s Eja) are easily the best-selling pack on this list, and for many good reasons: top of the line comfort and weight distribution, AirSpeed tensioned mesh back ventilation, and perhaps most importantly, the Osprey brand name. Popular among both thru-hikers and weekend warriors, this beloved pack serves the needs of all experience levels. In particular, we love how the back panel system eliminates the possibility of lumps digging into your torso. And what’s more, it’s been updated for 2022 with durability enhancements on the back panel mesh, a customizable torso adjustment system, and bluesign approved recycled fabrics. Our only knock against the Exos/Eja is weight. At just under 3lbs, it’s still far lighter than the average backpack, but heavier than every other non-budget option on our list.
REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack
Great value, good performance
41oz | 55L | $199
The REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack is a well-rounded, well-designed, comfortable lightweight backpack at a great price from a classic seller. It has an airy mesh back panel to reduce sweat, and a very comfortable pre-curved hip belt with large pockets. We love features like the waterproof top lid, forward-tilting water bottle holsters, and rainshield chest pocket. REI isn’t a traditional purveyor of ultralight gear, but we’re big fans of the Flash series and see more and more of them on trails every year. This is a really good backpack at a really good price.
Granite Gear Crown2 60 Backpack
Great value, good performance
38 oz | 60L | $200
The Granite Gear Crown2 60 pack is basically a lighter version of what everyone thinks of when they think of a basic backpacking pack. Weighing only 38 oz the Crown2 still packs lots of features such as the internal frame, compression-molded foam back panel, removable top lid compartment, and massive external pockets. This simple backpack is large, lightweight, user-friendly, comfortable, well-executed, and reminds us not to overthink it.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack
Ultralight, great external storage, clever design
31 oz | 60L | $285
A fully featured 60L backpack at under 2lbs. If those stats alone don’t get your attention, then we encourage you to admire its massive external storage pockets – the largest on our list. But its signature feature is the removable foam back panel/sit pad and aluminum U frame. This is the key to how Gossamer Gear reduces weight while retaining comfort and features like the super durable Robic nylon fabric and large hipbelt pockets.
ULA Equipment Circuit
Indestructible, high volume, great performance
37oz | 68L | $280
If you’ve hiked any section of the PCT during mid-summer, you’ll probably recognize a ULA Equipment Circuit Pack for the brand’s signature look: colorful (and extremely durable) Robic grid-patterned nylon with massive 20L black external pockets. In fact, the Circuit was at one point the most commonly used pack on the PCT for three years running; an achievement built on decades of trail-tested love from the thru-hiking community. And justifiably so. The ULA Equipment Circuit Pack is large, lightweight, very comfortable, and very durable and 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 distributes 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.
Best Super Ultralight Backpacks
Both of our Super Ultralight Backpack choices feature the exciting new Challenge® ‘Ultra’ Fabrics. It’s 10x stronger than steel by weight, and 4X more abrasion resistant and 4X stronger than the Dyneema or Robic Fabrics.
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Backpack
Super ultralight, comfy, high performance, new for 2022
20oz | 60L | $399
The magic of the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Backpack is that you get a full external frame backpack at a super ultralight weight without any sacrifices other than the price tag. The pack is designed with innovative and new-this-year Ultra 200 fabric, so it’s waterproof and even more durable than Dyneema or Robic nylon. We commend the Arc Haul’s old school full-external-frame design for an incredible load transfer from shoulder to hips. The Arc in its namesake refers to the back configuration which keeps the surface off your torso for excellent back aeration while preventing any lumps from jabbing. We can’t stress enough how amazing it is that they’ve designed a full frame, fully-featured backpack weighing only 20 oz, and we’re very impressed by the quality of Ultra 200 fabric. When buying this pack, make sure to add on a pair of modular belt pouches.
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L Pack
Incredibly super ultralight, frameless, updated 2022
18 oz | 58L | $325
Tough, durable, nearly waterproof, and weighing only 18 ounces, the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L Pack is a backpack to behold. It’s my go-to whenever weight savings are critical, and I’ve used it to great success while guiding backcountry trips in Alaska (7 days food + guide’s gear), Colorado, and California (7 days food + bear canister). What makes this pack the lightest in my arsenal is its frameless design, meaning no back panel, no aluminum stays, minimal weight transfer, and a 20-25 lb comfortable load range. As such, this is a professional-grade, expert-level ultralight backpack that is best used with a dialed-in ultralight kit. But if you are confident that your base weight is 10lbs or less, this might be the single best backpack available to you. We love its massive external rear pocket and the exciting new Ecopak Ultra fabric, which is 10x stronger than steel by weight, and more durable and abrasion-resistant than Dyneema and Robic nylon. Plus, it’s highly water-resistant and made with recycled content!
Best Budget Backpacking Backpacks
Osprey Rook 65 Pack
Classic design, high volume, low price, heavy
56oz | 65L | $165
The Osprey Rook 65 Pack for men and Renn 65 for women are classic, large, user-friendly backpacks, from a reputable brand, and at a very budget-friendly price. We appreciate features like the integrated rain cover, tensioned back panel for increased airflow, and LightWire frame which transfers load weight from shoulders to hips. We also applaud the voluminous 65 liter storage capacity, which is especially valuable to beginner backpackers whose overall gear composition may be a bit bulkier. At 3.5 lbs, this is the heaviest pack on our list, and does not qualify as an ‘ultralight’ backpack. But the performance is acceptable and the price is excellent.
Mountainsmith Scream 55 Pack
Lightweight, fully featured, low price
45oz | 55/50L | $160
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 Pack for men, and 50 for women, caught our attention as a sub-3lb pack for only $160. It’s made with incredibly durable Robic nylon, and the EVA framesheet and back panel with aluminum stays ensure a comfortable carry and good load transfer, and large external pockets. Worth discussing are unique features like the “front panel J zipper for quick interior access,” and “double barrel front panel storage pockets.” But to be honest, these just seem more finicky and less useful than a tried-and-true external mesh pocket. We also wonder why the women’s version had to be 5L smaller. But whether or not you appreciate all of the design choices, that’s of secondary importance to the fact that this is a sub 3lb pack for $160. That’s what matters most.
Granite Gear Virga 2 58L Backpack
Super ultralight, frameless, budget friendly
19oz | 54L | $150
The Granite Gear Virga 2 58L Backpack is the most affordable way to save massive amounts of pack weight. At only 19 oz and for $150, it has the best cost-to-weight ratio of any backpacking pack on this list or perhaps in the world. How is this achieved? Simple, the Virga is a basic, frameless, roll-top Cordura backpack whose only notable features are three external pockets. Like all frameless packs, it doesn’t transfer much weight to the hips, and can only be used in tandem with other ultralight gear or it will feel very uncomfortable. That said, this is the perfect backpack for anyone who wants to go ultralight on a budget.
Best Backpack with Vest Harness
Six Moon Designs Swift X Backpack
Most versatile pack with tons of options including a vest harness
36oz | 50L | $270
Most versatile pack with both shoulder strap & vest harness options, durable, proven design — 10 years in production
The Six Moon Designs Swift X Backpack is the only pack in this guide to offer a vest harness. The vest harness has significant benefits. 1) it allows you to move weight forward for a more balance load. So less leaning forward to balance a back-heavy pack. And 2) it gives you a lot more accessible storage. So you have greater access to all your stuff without needing to stop and take your pack off — making you more efficient on the trail. (Checkout our Pro Tip on pack pockets — we’re big fans). The Swift X Backpack is also the most versatile pack in this guide. The pack is adjustable to a number of torso sizes, the hipbelt comes in a number of sizes and designs, as do the shoulder straps, and there is obviously a vest harness with tons of pockets and storage. You can mix and match all of these. And you can choose from three fabrics, Liteskin LS07, X-Pack VX07 and X-Pack VX-21 Amazingly the pack still comes in at just 36 to 37 oz for a fully featured pack with a frame.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. There’s no wait for them.
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.
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 the 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 versus 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 a 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:
- LIGHTEST if allowed: Ursack Bear Bag (7.6 oz) | The very lightest and the first choice for bear storage. But only if the Ursack is approved in your park! So check the reg’s.
- 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.
- 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?