The Best Backpacking Backpack Review

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Pack testing in the North Cascades, Washington.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
We took fifteen of the highest rated and most popular backpacking backpacks on the market and tested them side-by-side for over five months of in-the-field days. We picked versatile packs that an average person would use on trips of two to eight days, but are also capable of going up to a twenty-two day unsupported trip, as proven several times by our field staff during testing. The backpacking backpacks we tested here are more load 'em up and charge type packs, not to be confused with ultralight frameless packs. We tested these packs everywhere from week-long hikes on the Pacific Northwest coast, to cold weather, high altitude mountaineering on Denali.

Also see also our: Women's Backpack Review, the Best Backpacking Food, Backpacking Checklist and Dream Backpacking Gear List. If you lean to ultralight gear, check out our Ultralight Backpack Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Chris McNamara

Top Ranked Backpacking Backpacks

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #5 #1 #11 #12 #2
Product Name
The North Face Banchee 65
The North Face Banchee 65
Read the Review
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Read the Review
Gregory Z65
Gregory Z65
Read the Review
Kelty Coyote 80
Kelty Coyote 80
Read the Review
Osprey Xenith 75
Osprey Xenith 75
Read the Review
Editors' Awards    Editors' Choice Award      Top Pick Award 
Price $240 List | $239 online
Compare at 2 sellers
$260 List | $194 - $260 online
Compare at 7 sellers
$239 List | $120 - $189 online
Compare at 4 sellers
$220 List$330 List | $246 - $330 online
Compare at 6 sellers
Overall Score
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90
Editors' Rating
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable to carry for long periods of time, fantastic suspension, tons of useful and thought out pockets, sweet hip belt adjustmentVery comfortable, packed full of features, lots of awesome pockets offering excellent organization , awesome ventilation, lighter than average, sweet adjustable hip beltRelatively light, nice pockets and access points, killer lumbar suppport.Tons of pockets and access, lots of adjustment.Super comfortable, carries heavier loads among the best in the review, superb external twin zippered pockets, dual directional stretch mesh zippered pockets are super functional and easy to use
Cons Compression straps are just okay when using the pack half-full, external lid pocket isn't as easy to search through as modelsNot as supportive for super heavy (50+ pound) loads, snow can get inside of the back panelFrame runs short, maxes out carrying greater than 40 lbs.Heavy, comfort was only so-so for a pack of its weight.Harder to search for items in lid pockets; the lid that can be used as a lumbar pack might seem cool, but rarely used feature
Date Reviewed Jul 19, 2015Jul 19, 2015Jul 06, 2015Oct 28, 2012May 12, 2016
Weighted Scores The North Face Banchee 65 Osprey Atmos 65 AG Gregory Z65 Kelty Coyote 80 Osprey Xenith 75
Comfort - 23%
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9
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10
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8
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7
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Weight - 24%
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7
Suspension - 23%
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6
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10
Ease Of Use - 15%  
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Adjustability - 15%
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9
Product Specs The North Face Banchee 65 Osprey Atmos 65 AG Gregory Z65 Kelty Coyote 80 Osprey Xenith 75
Weight 3lbs 10oz 4lbs 6oz 4lbs 3oz 5lbs 9oz 5lbs 2oz
Volume 65L/3967in 65L/3966in 64L/3906in 78L/4750in 75L/4577in
Access Top & Bottom Top & Front Top & Front Top & Front Top & Sides
Hydration Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials Ripstop weave nylon (210D), air-mesh shoulder straps and trampoline mesh back panel, foam panels over the lumbar area 210D double ripstop Cordura nylon, 210D broken twill high-tenacity Cordura nylon, stretch woven nylon with Lycra Nylon (210D, double diamond ripstop) Ripstop polyester/polyester oxford High tenacity nylon (210D), nylon oxford (420D & 500D), nylon powermesh (840D)
Warranty Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime
Sleeping bag Compartment Yes Yes No No Yes

  • Review Photos
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



The Best Backpacking Backpacks



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Backpacking backpack testing in the Oregon Cascades.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Selecting the Right Product


There is a lot to consider when selecting the right backpacking pack; whether it's your first bag or you're just adding to the quiver. In this review, we compared the best and most popular men's backpacking backpacks. These packs are the type of packs that most people will be drawn toward and will use for day-in and day-out backpacking. While the packs we chose to review could be used for travel, such as "backpacking" through Europe or Southeast Asia, and most are versatile enough for some general mountaineering applications, these packs aren't necessarily geared specifically for those activities. If you are looking for the best women's backpacking pack review, check out our other review The Best Women's Backpacking Backpack Review. We also have a Best Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing Backpack Review highlighting the best packs for that purpose.

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Side-by-side backpacking backpack comparisons with a REI Flash 62 shown here in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Picking the Right Volume


We chose to (mostly) review 55-75 liter packs; this is the volume most people will choose to carry on overnight trips from two to eight days, which is the length of excursion that makes up the bulk of most backpacker's trips. While a lot depends on experience, comfort level, weather considerations, and objectives, most backpackers will have a little extra room in their 55-75L pack for 2-3 night trips; everything will fit just right for those 3-5 night trips and will work, but might be a little tight for 5-10 night trips.

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There is a lot to consider when buying a backpacking backpack, from how long you think you'll regularly go out for, what type of trips you might embark on, to how experienced you are. In the review below we try to break down the most important factors and considerations when purchasing a backpacking pack. Photo: testing pack comfort with the Osprey Volt 75 and the Dueter near Mt. Baker WA.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

If you tend to go on 2-3 night trips, this review is still highly relevant, as most of these pack models are available in slightly different capacities. Most models will often come in both larger and smaller sizes. For example, most pack manufacturers make an extremely similar pack in the 65-75L range with other similar 50, 70 and 85 liter sizes also being common. We have also tested and used many of the larger versions of these packs and find that different volume sized models perform very similarly and in most cases, the overall design, frame, shoulder straps and waist belts are the same. If you read our review of the Arc'teryx Altra 65, you can assume that the Altra 75 will perform in about the same capacity as the 65.

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The volume of backpacking backpack you purchase should be based on the number of days you tend to go out for, not how long you hope to go out for. These numbers are for average backpackers and depending on your experience, weather factors and objectives it is possible to get away with a much smaller pack.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

What Capacity Pack Should I Buy?


The question "What volume pack should I buy?" is mostly answered with another pair of questions: "How long do you typically go out for?" and "How light do you pack?" While the later of these two questions is less quantifiable, we can give you some solid recommendations for what the majority of people use as a good place to start. 40-60L is a good volume for most people for 1-5 nights. For 2-7 night trips, we would recommend 50-75L packs. Lastly, for most people taking trips one week or longer, we would recommend 60-85L packs. We focused our review on 60-70L packs because those are the most popular overall volume; they tend to suit the most people for their needs.

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What volume pack you should decide to purchase, has a lot to do with how long you plan to go out for, and specifically what actives you hope to use it for. Here tester Ian Nicholson opted for a slightly bigger pack to accommodate glacier mountaineering gear, while testing backpacking backpacks and instructing and in in North Cascades.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pack Weight


Gone are the days of the eight pound behemoths that were the standard 25 years ago. Today, even full featured backpacking packs are much more comfortable than their heavier ancestors and they weigh in at a little over half of that. Even the heaviest pack in our review, the Deuter Air Contact 65 + 10, tips the scales at a little over six pounds, with most of the packs in our review weighing between three and a half and five pounds, with a few lighter options, like the 2 lb 8 oz Osprey Exos 58 or even some more heavily featured models like The North Face Banchee 65 or the REI Flash 65, weighing in at 3lbs 10 ounces.

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While we give recommendations on what volume packs work for the majority of people for a given length trip, everyone is a little different. Here tester Ian Nicholson baking pizza from scratch deep in the backcountry.
Credit: Rebecca Schroeder

A Note on Pack Weight


Everyone always wants to pack lighter, but trying to save a bunch of weight with your pack first, by purchasing say, a sub two pound frameless pack, while still trying to carry all of the stuff you would typically carry is not a good way to go about it. It's best to lighten your overall kit first by focusing on what you really need to bring and leaving behind things you don't, as well as lightening a few key pieces of gear if you haven't already (like shelter, sleeping bag and your clothing).

Check out the Backpacking Checklist for help in packing for your next adventure!

Once your kit (including food) is below approximately 30 lbs, then it's okay to start looking at a "ultra-light" frameless sub 1.5 pound pack. If you have a 10+ year old burly backpacking pack, that likely weighs around seven or eight pounds, then its completely okay to buy a 3-6 pound pack that is obviously lighter, much more comfortable, and outfitted with nicer features.

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Some companies use specific proprietary tools to assist in pack fitting, while nice; measuring tape still works just fine.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pack Fitting 101


For far more in depth tips, recommendations and advice on how to properly fit a backpack pack, be sure to check out our buying advice article. There are a few good fundamentals you should make yourself aware of before purchasing a pack. The first one is frame size; just because you are tall doesn't necessarily mean you should be in a longer or taller size pack. Most pack manufacturers give accurate recommendations as to which torso length should be fit with a corresponding size. How to measure your frame size, you might ask? Measure from your C7 vertebrae (the highest vertebrae that pops up when you lean forward) down to the "pelvic girdle". The pelvic girdle is most easily found by having the person being measured to put their hands on their hip bones (Iliac crest), with their thumbs pointing toward their backs; the line between their thumbs is the bottom end of the measurement.

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Showing proper back measurement; measure from your C7 vertebrae (The highest vertebrae that sticks out when you lean your head forward) down to your "Pelvic Girdle"
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The second fundamental is where the waist belt should sit on the user. While a lot of people might have an instinctual feel as to this location, many do not. Ideally, the top of the wearer's hips should fall anywhere from in line with the top of the waist belt, to anywhere around half way down. The third fundamental is that that once the straps are adjusted, you should ideally see the shoulder straps contouring up and over the wearer's shoulders with very little space or gaps. The load lifters (the upper straps) should be pulling the shoulder straps up at around 45 degrees, but anywhere from 35-60 degrees is acceptable.

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Ian Nicholson showing proper shoulder strap and load-lifter strap fit. Notice there is little to no gap between Ian's shoulder and the shoulder strap. The load lifters (the upper straps) are also around 45 degrees which is ideal, but anywhere from 30-60 degrees is okay.
Credit: Rebecca Schroeder

Criteria for Evaluation


We tested these eleven backpacking backpacks and compared them in five different categories.

Comfort


For our comfort category, we compared how comfortable and supportive each pack's frame, shoulder straps and hip belt were by field testing each pack for hours…..and days at a time. We compared these packs mostly with more standard 30-45 lb loads that most backpackers might carry for up to week-long trips as well as a "load hauler" type loads where we compared each pack with 55-65 lbs for a little longer than our hips and shoulders would have liked.

We paid extra attention to how the waist belt and shoulder straps felt on each pack after wearing them for long days and with heavy loads. We took into account other feedback from OutdoorGearLab Editors, their friends, and climbing partners (thanks guys) and tested these packs in excess of three hundred days to help give us a broader and less single body type perspective when choosing the most comfortable pack.

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What size volume, and your backpacking backpacks ability to effectively and comfortable transfer weight's importance is directly related to your level of responsibility as the family porter. Here Ian Nicholson puts the Gregory Baltoro 65 to the tests along the shore of Lake Chelan, en route to Stehekin.
Credit: Rebecca Schroeder

In the end, after extensive testing with normal 30-40 lb loads the new Osprey Atmos 65 AG was one of the most comfortable pack in our review with its trampoline style suspension that spread out the load very evenly; our testers rarely got hot spots on their backs nor their hips even after extended cross country travel in warmer conditions. For heavier loads, the Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Osprey Xenith 75 tied for most comfortable product in this category. Both of these packs use high quality foam, that achieve a nice balance of support and comfort. Equally as important as the foam, are the well-designed and articulated shoulder straps of these packs that matched the shape of most of our testers the best. Not far behind the Xenith 75 and the Baltoro was the Gregory Contour 60 and the Arc'teryx Altra 65. The North Face Banchee 65 and Osprey Aether 60 and 70L packs weren't quite as comfortable as the two packs listed above, but they weren't very far behind either. For medium and lighter weight loads of around 30-40 lbs, we noticed signifigantly less of a difference between packs, but once we crested 40 pounds, additional weight was exponentially challenging for packs to handle.

The fabric Osprey uses on the inside of the shoulder straps of the Osprey Xenith 75 and Osprey Aether 70, and the feeling of the Atmos 65 AG was our favorite on bare skin; the shape and articulation of these packs was second to none. A lot of people ask about the heat moldable waist belt featured on the Aether among other models of Osprey packs. After extensive testing, there is very little, if any difference, between molding it in a convection oven, or just breaking it in the old fashion way (AKA using it). After side-by-side testing on one molded waist belt and one that had been used for a three day trip, there was almost no difference.

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OutdoorGearLab Editor Ian Nicholson testing packs and leading a group out after a successful trip up on Denali, shown here 3 hours away from the airstrip with a 60lbs pack and a 30lbs sled.
Credit: Brain Muller

The Aircontact's shoulder straps and waist belt were very comfortable, but not quite as comfortable as the Xenith 75 and Baltoro 65. The Air Contact's padding was noticeably bulkier and hotter and the shoulder straps were not shaped quite as nice for most of our testers. If you feel like you carry more than 40-45 lbs on a regular basis, we would recommend the Xenith 75, Altra 65, or the Baltoro 65. If you're not going to commonly carry 40 or more pounds, we loved how the Osprey Atmos 65 AG and The North Face Banchee 65 felt as long as we didn't overload them. These packs felt as good as our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the Arc'tyrx Xenith 75 or Gregory Baltoro 65 to around 40 lbs, but above 50 lbs, the Xenith and Baltoro were superior.

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Comparing the buckles on two backpacking backpack waist belts. The upper uses a redirected strap which is much easier to pull on while the lower is the traditional "push and pull".
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Suspension


The Susension category is simply how well the frame transferred the load from the pack into the waist belt and to a lesser extent, onto our shoulder straps. The suspension is obviously tied-in with a pack's overall comfort, but we specified unique criteria for each category. In addition, we compared the foam used and the articulation, and how well the packs felt to carry against our backs. The Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith and Arc'teryx Altra all performed fantastically, while the Xenith and the Baltoro just barely edged out the Altra and the Contour because of how nicely the frame transferred the load to the waist belt and our hips. With these two packs, very heavy loads were noticeably not as bad to carry and were both our Top Picks for extended trips and monster loads. That said, we did like how supportive and comfortable the foam on the Altra and the Aether were. The Osprey Atmos 65 AG, while super comfortable when carrying loads below 40 pounds, wasn't that awesome for loads above that when its Anti-Gravity trampoline-style suspension would feel mushy, less supportive, and just straight up did not feel as nice. The Deuter Air Contact was just a hair behind the Baltoro; it featured thick and comfortable padding and a supportive frame some testers just thought it felt a little bulky.

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Comfort not only included how well the pack felt on even ground and nice trails, but also how the pack moved with us on difficult cross-country terrain, like bush whacking and log crossings. Comparing packs in the North Cascades, WA.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System
Trampoline style or suspended suspension systems generally use a mesh back panel that is suspended over a more traditional frame. The advantages of this type of frame are that it allows more air to ventilate making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty and more importantly, they tend to produce less hot spots on the users because the weight is spread out or "suspended" over a larger area of the wearer. More and more packs are using a similar design at least on the back panel portion of a pack. Our testers generally like the trampoline style suspension because of the aforementioned reasons except when it comes to very heavy loads when having the weight closer to your back and not having a gap will be more much comfortable. For example, the Gregory Baltoro 65 doesn't feature a true trampoline suspension system, but that's one reason it carries such massive loads so effectively. Also with all suspension style systems there comes a weight limit where the suspended mesh is pressed so tightly against the wearer it either bottoms out or just plain causes a hot spot. The ventilation area that's so wonderful in summer can fill with snow during mountaineering or winter time trips, making the pack much less pleasant to wear.

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The AG or "Anti-Gravity" frame of the Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack. Frames like this one are often referred to as a trampoline suspension or suspended suspension systems. Th idea is instead of having your back right up against the pack, instead your back is against a mesh back panel that is suspended over a more traditional frame. The advantages of this type of frame is that they tend to produce less hot spots on the user because the weight is suspended over a larger area and it allows more air to ventilate making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty. There only disadvantage; they don't handle super heavy (50+ pounds) as well before the start to feel mushy and the suspension sort of half collapses.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use


Our ease of use category includes how easy a given backpack was to pack and the design of the main compartment and additional pockets. In regards to pockets, we compared the number and location of additional pockets, how useful the lid (or brain) of the pack was, and how easy it was to access the main compartment of the backpack. For each pocket we asked ourselves, "Did that pocket make my life easier, or is it not that useful and just adding weight to the pack?". We also looked at access points and evaluated whether they were truly useful or just for show. For the evaluation category, "Ease of Packing" we broke down the level of usefulness of each feature and evaluated them during real world use in the field. Our testers do feel if a pocket or access point didn't help, its only adding weight. Lastly, we favored packs with a handful of straps for crampons, ice axes, sleeping pads or other items because we felt it added to the packs overall versatility.

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After a long day of backpacking pack testing and over 5,000ft of vertical, we are rewarded with an amazing camp, with fantastic views of the Southern Pickets.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Overall Organizational Ability
For folks who like a lot of compartments and pockets for organization, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith 75, and The North Face Banchee 65 have by far the best and most usable pockets, while the Altra 65 and Baltoro had best access of any pack in our review. This makes it a great option for folks who really like a lot of organization or the ability to get inside their pack easily without having to take much out.

In the case of the Baltoro 65, which is on the heavier side of packs in our review at 5 lbs 3 oz, and the Banchee 65, one of the lighter packs in our review at 3 lbs 10 oz (around a pounds lighter than average), our testers' found their favorite collection of pockets with these two packs. The Deuter Air Contact has nearly as many pockets as either of the aforementioned packs, but we felt that they weren't as useful and neither were super easy to access. It's worth noting that the REI Flash 65 had nearly as many usable pockets and close to as much access featuring a "J" shaped opening; the cost is also only $200.

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Pack testing in the North Cascades, Washington.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Top Lid Pocket
There aren't a lot of universal features that every pack has, but one thing that nearly every pack sports is a zippered top lid pocket (Some folks call the lid the "brain" of the pack). This exceptionally common feature is one of the best places to store small items that the users might want like, sunglasses, sunblock and bug spray, among other things wanted close at hand. Many packs featured a separate smaller pocket on the underside of the lid, offering a secondary place to store small items. Our testers generally liked this feature, as its a great place to put those items you want access to, but don't need as frequently.

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Showing the dual zippered top lid pockets featured on the Arc'teryx Altra pack. The Altra had our favorite over all lid design because the two pockets were big, but also opened from the top so our stuff wouldn't fall out and it was easy to search through.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Of all the packs we tested, our favorite top-lid pockets belonged to the Arc'terx Altra 65 and Gregory Baltoro 65; they were just straight-up the most usable. They both featured two pockets on the very top of the pack that made finding items easier. Items were also less likely to fall out while we routed around. The rest of the packs we tested featured zippers on the front or back of the pack. None of these packs were as easy to get into as the Altra and the Baltoro, but not all were created equal. We liked the super large zippered lid pockets of the Atmos 65 AG and the Banchee 65 the best because they featured nearly the same volume as the Altra and a longer than average zipper that made access good, but not great (or at least as good as the Altra 65).

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Our testers loved the dual zippered lid pockets on the Gregory Baltoro 65. These pockets not only helped users stay more organized, but because of their upward orientation they were both easy to access and search through.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pack Access
Pack access is part of our "Ease of Use" category and refers to how easily we could access certain larger items without having to unpack the whole pack. While this is an obviously useful feature for anyone using a backpack, its level of importance depends on the user. Ease of access is an especially useful feature for folks using their backpack for travel, where they might otherwise use a suitcase or a duffel bag, to go "backpacking" through certain regions. No one likely disagrees on having more or easier access in principle, but on the other side of the argument, access zippers add weight that aren't physically essential, but rather convenient. This is a delicate balance that anyone purchasing a pack must weigh; consider your tendencies before thinking to yourself "I want more access". Do you need it because of how or what you pack? Or do you think you want it because it just sounds nice?

All the packs we tested were top loading, and many had side access zippers, sleeping bag compartments, or entire panels that opened to allow access. Among all the packs we tested we loved the Arc'teryx Altra and Gragory Baltoro the most for its huge "U" shaped opening that travels nearly the entire length of the back of the pack. It opened almost as large as a suitcase and makes an excellent pack for anyone "backpacking" through Europe, Southeast Asia, or anywhere else where access is the most important. The REI Flash 65, with its "J" shaped zipper, had very good access and above average for our review, but not quite as good as either of these two packs.

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The zippered access panel on the Gregory Z 65 pack.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Extra Features
While not a must have, most of our backpacking testers appreciated having at least one zippered pocket on the hip belt that was big enough for a small point-and-shoot camera or a handful of snacks like gels, cliff bars, or a small bag of nuts. The North Face Banchee 65, along with the Osprey Volt 75, Xenith 75, and Atmos 65 AG all had some of our favorite hip belt pockets in the review.

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While hip belt pockets are hardly a mandatory feature of a backpacking pack, most of our testers agree that its nice to have one that's big enough to fit either some snacks or a point-and-shoot camera.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Hydration
All the packs in this review have a place for a hydration bladder and just about any brand and model will fit in any backpack hydration sleeve. Rather than use the same brand bladder as the pack, we recommend reading our Hydration Bladder Review and picking the best reservoir for your needs and budget. One super cool bonus feature among packs we tested was the Gregory Baltoro came with a removable and fairly functional hydration pack that doubled as its hydration sleeve when used inside the pack.

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Gregory Baltoro 65 comes with a fairly functional hydration pack that doubled as the bladder sleeve/holder when used inside the pack. A shell jacket and 70 ounce Platypus bladder for size reference.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pack Weight


The lightest pack in our review was the Osprey Exos 58. At 2lbs 8 ounces, it straddles the line between a backpacking pack and an ultra-light minimalist pack. For a lighter but still rugged, and more featured pack, we would like the North Face Banchee 65 or the REI Flash 65 (both 3 lbs 10 oz) and would certainly consider the Osprey Volt 75 (3 lbs 12 oz), or the Gregory Z65 (4 lbs 3 oz). They all hit a nice balance of being lightweight, but still comfortable and fairly full featured.

Among more full featured packs, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG (4 lbs 6 oz), Osprey Aether 60 (4 lbs 11 ounces) and the Arc'teryx Altra 65 (4 lbs. 13 oz) remain lighter than average and give up very little in the way of comfort, load hauling ability, and features.

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Proper pack fit is essential to making any pack feel good. OutdoorGearLab Friend Mark M. putting in his two cents while wearing a Mountain Hardwear South Col on the Northside of Mt. Baker
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Adjustability and Fit


A pack's overall ergonomics, the more adjustable a pack is, and the more sizes it is offered in typically translates to a better fitting pack. A handful of pack manufacturers offer the option to swap out shoulder straps and waist belts for different sizes (for example if you want a medium frame and a small waist belt), something that many stores and websites offer for free. The Deuter Air Contact and the Osprey Volt 75 has the most vertical adjustability for the yoke's (shoulder straps) positioning, not only helping it to fit a wide range of people, but also making them a good choice for quickly growing children. Despite this feature, our testers didn't think the either pack had the best overall fit.

Our testers did really like the adjustment of the Arc'teryx Altra. While it didn't have quite as much range, we loved how you could adjust the shoulder straps independently side to side (width-wise), as well as up and down. The North Face Banchee 65, Gregory Baltoro 65, and Osprey Atmos, Xenith and Osprey Aether 70 all had a respectable amount of adjustment. Our testers greatly appreciated each of these packs' overall ergonomics and gave all of these packs high scores in the "fit" metric.

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Showing a (dirty) GridLock shoulder strap adjustment system featured on both the Arc'teryx Altra 65 and Altra 75 packs.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Rain Covers


None of these backpacks are waterproof. Using a trash compactor bag or garbage bag will get you through in a pinch. But if you are planning on a lot of time in the rain, consider a pack cover designed and fitted for your pack.

Here are a few options:
For advice on packing your backpack, check out How to Pack Luggage Like a Pro.

Ask an Expert: Tricia Hurst


Tricia has worked for the US Forest Service in many capacities over the last 10 years in California, Utah and Wyoming. For many summer seasons she has worked as a backcountry trail crew member and wilderness ranger.

What are the most important things that you look for when buying a new backpack?
The most important thing is fit. Try all brands and styles to find the right fit for you. Then I look at how light the backpack is and compare that to how durable it seems. And then I'll consider its volume.

What special or specific features do you like in your backpacks?
I use a Camelbak or other similar hydration system because I find I stay much better hydrated when I can drink whenever I want. So I look to see if the pack is hydration system compatible. Another thing I like is to have waist belt pockets so I can keep a few things handy when I have the pack on my back. A quick access pouch on the outside is also good so I can stash a jacket if I get too warm, etc.

What do you do if you need a little more space to carry things?
I'll usually extend the lid as far up as it will go and put things between the pack and lid, securing it by strapping the lid down. I'll use the straps on the pack or other straps to secure things to the outside of the pack. I also keep a few small carabineers around to clip small light things on the outside.

What's your strategy for packing your gear in your backpack?
I put my sleeping bag on the very bottom, usually because it's the bulkiest item. Then I go with the heaviest things towards the center of my pack, not too high. Filling up all the little nooks and crannies is important to save on space. I make sure to keep snacks and clothing layers I'll need throughout the day near the top for easy access.

Do you like lots of straps, buckles and pockets, or a more simple design?
I generally like a more simple design but not too streamlined. I like a few straps to help cinch things up and to strap extra things on if I need to. I also like at least one outside pocket for things I need to easily access throughout the day. Although comfort is important, I like a light pack and I don't need excessive padding or size adjusters all over.

What types of accessories do you use with your backpack and what do you consider when buying them?
If I'm backpacking I usually use a Camelbak, so I like to have a hole for the tube to come out and something handy to hold the bottom of the tube near my shoulder. I also use a rain cover for the pack.

Do you prefer a really large pack to make sure you have room for everything, or do you prefer trying to save weight and go light?
I always prefer to go light. The more you backpack, the more you realize things that you are ok going without, making everything lighter and simpler on the trail.

What do you think are the most important things to forgo (or not) when trying to lighten up the weight of your backpack (or general gear)? And what about for durability?
I forgo extra clothing. I only bring the very essentials to stay warm and dry, which is usually one extra set of clothing. Food is very important, but also heavy. So I try to be super accurate about how much I'll eat so as not to have too much extra.

Where are your favorite places that you've been backpacking?
The Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, the Highline trail in the Uintas in Utah, and Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah.

Do you have any tips for what to bring or not to bring to save space or weight?
Forgo deodorant, maybe even a hairbrush. Bring mini everything and try to be creative about things that can have multiple purposes. Crocs make good river crossing and camp shoes. Although most people I know use extra clothing, I bring a small, compressible pillow; it's worth it to me. I bring an extra absorbent hand towel for drying off after creek bathing. I prefer a Steripen to water filter, which saves a lot of weight and space, but that also depends on the water sources you'll be encountering. A few freeze dried or dehydrated dinners save weight.

Editors' Choice Award: Osprey Atmos 65 AG


Editors' Choice Award
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Price:   Varies from $194 - $260
Compare prices at 7 resellers


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The Osprey Atmos 65 AG is our new Editors' Choice for the best all-around backpacking pack because it's packed full of functional features, is ultra comfortable, and ventilates fantastically all at a lighter than average at 4 lbs 6 oz. What sets the Atmos apart is its AG suspension and simply how darn comfortable it is; it spreads the load out evenly across your body and makes your pack actually seem lighter than it is. For trips where we were carrying less than 40 lbs, this was hands down the most comfortable pack in our review for the majority of our testers. Another big advantage is the fit, ergonomics and adjustability of the Atmos from the frame to the waist belt. We found there are probably very few people that the Atmos 65 AG won't fit well. For the pack itself, our testers raved about the Atmos' refined design, which was among our overall favorites in the review: every additional pocket is in the right place, is the right size, with few features our testers claimed to be useless. It's only downfall: the Anti-Gravity suspension doesn't carry super heavy loads (45+ pounds) as comfortably as some of our other Top Picks and it can fill with snow during winter or mountaineering objectives.

Top Pick for Comfort and Features: Gregory Baltoro 65


Top Pick Award
Gregory Baltoro 65
Price:   Varies from $224 - $299
Compare prices at 4 resellers


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The new and improved Gregory Baltoro 65 is just as comfortable as ever and offers improved features and usability while somehow weighing 8 ounces less than the previous model. The Baltoro remains the straight-up best pack in our review for carrying monster loads (more than 60 lbs) and offers a plethora of features. It's a little heavier than other models, but if you need to carry a significant amount of weight or access is super important to you, then the Baltoro should certainly be on your radar. We found this pack to be super burly and more than $100 less expensive than the Arc'teryx Altra 65. The only downside to the Baltoro is the weight at 5 lbs 3 oz; it is slightly heavier than other packs in our review, but not by much. If you know you are going to need to carry a lot of stuff, need a lot of support, or just like this pack's comfort, features, and toughness, the Baltoro remains a sweet pack that will last (nearly) forever and gives you a ton of features for your money.

Top Pick: Best Pack for Extended Trips


Top Pick Award
Osprey Xenith 75
Price:   Varies from $246 - $330
Compare prices at 6 resellers


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The Osprey Xenith 75 is the best pack for extended trips. If you frequent trips of 5-20 days or trips that require you to carry a lot of gear, then the Xenith is the pack for you. It comes in 75L, 85L, and 105L options and the Xenith is tester Ian Nicholson's favorite Denali Pack (which is 22 days of arctic cold weather); the Zenith series ranks as a favorite among many NOLS instructors for extended adventures. We think it just hits the sweet spot of a robust suspension and above average padding and ergonomics, while offering sweet features and a nice assortment of pockets for extended trips. It remains relatively lightweight for a pack that carries so fantastically. While the Xenith was one of the best load hauling packs we have ever tested, it was a toss up as to which pack could carry monster loads better: the Baltoro or the Xenith. In the end, they both proved to be awesome packs; the only difference between the two came down to slight personal preferences.

Best Buy Award: Osprey Volt 75


Best Buy Award
Osprey Volt 75
Price:   Varies from $135 - $200
Compare prices at 7 resellers


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The Best Buy award winner is the Osprey Volt 75 because it combines solid comfort and performance with excellent value. The $200 Volt 75 or the identical, but slightly smaller $180 Volt 60, scored fairly high in most categories and scored better overall than several much more expensive packs. The Osprey Volt 75 appeals especially to people who appreciate its simplicity: not tons of extra pockets or pouches; just the essentials and a slightly above average frame, padding and ergonomics. While the Volt 75 is not feature heavy, it does have all the key features that backpackers care about the most about like a lid pocket, dual entry water bottle pockets, stretchy beaver tail pocket and a lower zippered access point (AKA sleeping bag compartment), among other things. What our testers really noticed was that the Volt has better, more ergonomic shoulder straps, nicer foam, and better feeling face materials than most other packs in its price range. The Volt is also an excellent option for parents looking to buy a solid pack for a younger teenager or pre-teen that will grow with the child until they're in their twenties or beyond. That said, the REI Flash 65 is an extremely strong contender for our Best Buy Award, as it also costs $200 and is couple ounces lighter (it was almost a toss up between these two packs).

Top Pick for Best Lightweight: Osprey Exos 58


Top Pick Award
Osprey Exos 58
Price:   Varies from $165 - $220
Compare prices at 8 resellers


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The Osprey Exos 58 was the lightest pack in this review, yet still very comfortable; it is also one of the least expensive packs we tested. It is almost as lightweight as some of the other frameless minimalist ultra-lightweight packs, but still has the essential features (including a frame). It's a great stepping stone for people who want to get into "ultralight" backpacking, but can't get their load down to the 20-30 lbs where most people find it comfortable to use a one to two pound (pack itself weight) frameless pack. It's also good for people who go fairly light already, but want a little more suspension and comfort that a frameless pack doesn't provide. The REI Flash 65 was a strong contender for this award, but it was edged out by the Exos for comfort and durability. If people like the idea of a lighter weight pack but want a few more features and a slightly more substantial frame than the Exos 58, they should consider the The North Face Banchee 65 or REI Flash 65, both 3 lbs 10 ounces.

Runners Up



Arc'teryx Altra 65


The former Editors' Choice was the Arc'teryx Altra 65; its overall performance remains spectacular. The Altra 65 was among the most comfortable packs we tested, even with heavier (60+lbs) loads, yet was surprisingly lightweight considering its frame and number of features. We loved the comfort and support the pivoting waist belt provided, as well as the nicely articulated shoulder straps, which were among the best in our review. The Altra has excellent access with its perfectly sized and useable full length pocket. It remains a strong contender for the ultimate multi-day backpacking pack; the only bummer: it lacks a few small features that other packs in our review had and the price, at nearly $400, it is the most expensive pack in our review. Something we questioned was the Altra's durability; the fabric just doesn't feel as tough as several other packs we tested, but after literally over 100 days of relatively hard use (including 6 Denali trips), we have no evidence to back up this hypothesis of a lack of durability. Ours is still going strong.

The North Face Banchee 65


The North Face Banchee 65 was a contender for Editors' Choice because it's such a comfortable and supportive pack that was one of our tester's favorite overall pack design regarding features; this pack had some of our favorite pockets that we wished a lot of other models had. Not only did our testers love the design of this very user friendly pack, but at 3 lbs 10 ounces, we loved that is was around a pound lighter than nearly all of our award winners except the Osprey Exos 58. In fact, we liked the pockets and organizational ability of the Banchee 65 a little better than our Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, but we thought the Atmos was just enough more comfortable to make it our overall award winner.

Best Pack by Application Type

  • Overall best: Osprey Atmos 65 AG
  • Overnight trips or less than 30-35 pounds: Osprey Exos 58
  • Shorter trips with less than 40-45 lbs or for folks who like a lot of organizational options: The North Face Banchee 65
  • 10 day trips or 30-70 pounds: Arc'teryx Altra 65
  • 10+ day Extended trips or 60+ pounds: Gregory Baltoro 65

Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List


Check out our Dream Backpacking Gear List to see OGL's "dream" backpacking gear items.

You might find these articles helpful:
Backcountry Trip Planning
How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent Shelter vs How to Choose the Best Backpacking Tent
How to Layer Clothing for Each Season
How to Clean A Pocket Knife
Ten Reasons for Trekking Poles

Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Backpack - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Backpack

by McKenzie Long and Ian Nicholson
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