The Best Backpacking Backpack Review

We took eleven of the highest rated and most popular packs on the market and tested them side-by-side for over five months. 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 trips (yes, we used some of these packs on trips that long). The packs 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. Most importantly, we took them out on real world trips, lived out of them and took notes along the way.

See also our: Women's Backpack Review

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Chris McNamara

Top Ranked Backpacking Backpacks Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Read the Review
Video video review
Gregory Baltoro 65
Gregory Baltoro 65
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Aether 60
Osprey Aether 60
Read the Review
REI Crestrail 70
REI Crestrail 70
Read the Review
Gregory Contour 60
Gregory Contour 60
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $449 - $450
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Varies $285 - $329
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Varies $213 - $260
Compare at 7 sellers
$239
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $225 - $279
Compare at 7 sellers
Overall Score 
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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80% recommend it (4/5)
Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Super comfortable, awesome suspension, easy to pack.Super comfortable, awesome suspension, easy to pack.Super comfortable, good suspension, good price.Durable, carrys well, lots of pockets.Excellent packing system for the organized outdoorsman, Light-weight frame, Comfortable with plenty of adjustment potential for ideal fit.
Cons Expensive, doesn't come with ice axe loops.Heavy.Some people thought it needed more pockets.None.Somewhat over engineered. Pocket and zipper access can be limiting in some situations. Material ripped easily. Uses
Best Uses Backpacking, mountaineering, extended trips.Backpacking, mountaineering, trekking.Backpacking, mountaineering, trekking, multi-day ski touring, some Alpine climbing.Backpacking, trekking, mountaineering.Short to medium duration backpacking trips, Trekking. Not ideal for climbing / mountaineering.
Date Reviewed Nov 09, 2012Nov 28, 2013Sep 30, 2011Nov 10, 2013Apr 09, 2014
Weighted Scores Arc'teryx Altra 65 Gregory Baltoro 65 Osprey Aether 60 REI Crestrail 70 Gregory Contour 60
Comfort - 23%
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Weight - 24%
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Suspension - 23%
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Ease Of Use - 15%
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Adjustability - 15%
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Product Specs Arc'teryx Altra 65 Gregory Baltoro 65 Osprey Aether 60 REI Crestrail 70 Gregory Contour 60
Weight 2.2 kg / 4lbs 13 oz 5lbs 10 oz/2.55KG 4lbs 15 oz 4 lbs 13 oz 4 lbs
Volumne 65L/3966in 65L/3966in 60L/3700in 70L/4271in 60L/3700in
Access Top & Front Top, Front & Bottom Top & Front Top & Front
Hydration Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials High tenacity nylon w/ silicone, EV50 Foam, Spacermeshà 210D double diamond ripstop, 210D x 420D HD flat weaveà nylon (210D), nylon pack cloth (420HD) nylon pack cloth (420D), SilSeal Cordura nylon (100D), UTS coating
Warranty Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime
Sleeping bag Compartment No Yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Osprey Aether 60
$249
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Osprey Exos 58
$220
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Gregory Z65
$230
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REI Crestrail 70
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REI Flash 62
$190
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Mountain Hardwear South Col 70
$270
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Gregory Contour 60
$279
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Deuter Air Contact 65+10
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REI Flash 65
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Kelty Coyote 80
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Backpack testing in the Oregon Cascades.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Selecting the Right Product
First, a note about volume. We mostly choose to review 60-65 liter packs because this is the volume most people carry on camping trips from two to eight days. Most of these packs also come in different volume models that come in both larger and smaller sizes(55, 70 and 75-liter sizes are also 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 over all design, frame, shoulder straps and waist belts are the same. So if you read our review of the Arc'teryx Altra 65, you can assume that the Altra 75 will be just about the same.
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Side-by-side backpacking pack comparisons with a REI Flash 62 shown here in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
Best Backpacking Packs
In this review we compared the best and most popular men's backpacking packs. 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 choose 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 actives. 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 The Best Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing Backpack Review highlighting the best packs for that purpose.

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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 backpacks and instructing and in in North Cascades.
Credit: Ian Nicholson
What volume 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 2-3 nights. For 3-5 night trips we would recommend 50-75L packs. Lastly for most people for trips one week or longer we would recommend 60-85L packs. The reason we focused our review on 60-70L packs is because those are the most popular overall volume because it tends to suit the most people for their needs.
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While we give recommendations on what volume packs work for the majority of people for what length trips, everyone is a little different. Here tester Ian Nicholson baking pizza from scratch deep in the backcountry.
Credit: Rebecca Schroeder
Pack Fitting 101
Also be sure to check out our buying advice article: How to Choose the Best Backpacking Backpack for far more in-depth tips, recommendations and advice on how to properly fit a backpack pack. 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 manufactures 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 (Illiac 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 wearers 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
When we tested these eleven packs we compared them in five different categories:

Shoulder Strap and Hip Belt Comfort
Shoulder strap and hip belt comfort was exactly that, how the waist belt and shoulder straps felt after long days and heavy loads. OutdoorGearLab Editors, their friends, and climbing partners (thanks guys) tested these packs 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 packs 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 the Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Arc'teryx Altra 65 tied for most comfortable in this category. Both of these packs use high quality foam, that is a nice balance of support and comfort. Equally as important as the foam is these pack's well-designed and articulated shoulder straps that matched the shape of most of our testers the best. Not far behind the Altra and the Baltoro was the Deuter Air Contact and the Osprey Aether 60. The Osprey Aether 60 wasn't as comfortable as the two packs listed above, but it wasn't very far behind either. For medium and lighter weight loads of around 35-45lbs we noticed even less of a difference. The fabric Osprey uses on the inside of the shoulder straps of the Aether 60 was our favorite on bare skin and their shape and articulation of the Aether was second to none. A lot of people ask about the heat mold-able waist belt featured on the Aether? After extensive testing we think 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) and 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 Altra 65 and Baltoro 65 and the Air Contact's padding was noticeably bulkier, hotter, and the shoulder straps were not shaped quite as nice for most of our testers. If you feel like you carry more than that on a regular basis we would recommend the Altra or the Baltoro. We did love how the Osprey Aether 65 felt as long as we didn't over-load it, for example it felt as good as our OutdoorGearLab Editors Choice Altra and Top pick up to around 40lbs but above 50lbs it was noticeably less comfortable.
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Comparing the buckles on two backpacking pack;s waist belt. 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

Frame Comfort
The Frame comfort 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. In addition, we compared the foam used and the articulation as well as how well the packs were to carry against our backs. The Gregory Baltoro, Arc'teryx Altra and the Deuter Air Contact all performed fantastically. The Altra just barely edged out the Baltoro and the Aircontact because of how nicely the the pivoting waist belt transferred the load to our hips. It makes the pack "feel" lighter. That said we did like how supportive and comfortable foam on the Baltoro was and most testers agreed that they loved the superior lumbar support the Baltoro provided. 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

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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
Ease of Packing
Our ease of packing category includes how easy to pack and access the main compartment of a backpack as well as the usefulness and placement of smaller pockets, sleeves, and lids. 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 all of our categories for "Ease of Packing" we broke down on the level of usefulness of each feature, because if the pocket or access point didn't help, its only adding weight. Lastly we favored packs with straps for crampons, ice axes, sleeping pads or other items because we felt it added to the packs versatility.

Organization
For folks who like a lot of compartments and pockets for organization, the Gregory Baltoro 65 has by far the most pockets and access points of any pack in our review. This makes it a great option for folks who really like a lot of organization and access but it also makes it one of the heavier packs in our review. The Deuter Air Contact had nearly as many pockets but we felt that they weren't as useful and neither were the access points.
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Pack testing in the North Cascades, Washington.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Top Lid pocket
There weren't a lot of features that every pack had, but one of them was a top lid pocket. This exceptionally common feature is one of the best places to get to small items that the users might want like , sunglasses, sunblock, bug spray among other things. Of all the packs we tested our favorite The Arc'terx Altra 65 and 75 had the best lid pockets; stuff didn't fall out when someone unzipped it while you were wearing it. While the Altra didn't feature as many pockets as some others, it had very useful ones and had the best access of any pack. This is an impressive feat considering it is also one of the lighter packs in the review.
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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

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 users. 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. While no one likely disagrees on having more or easier access in principle, on the other side of the argument access zippers add weight, that isn't physically essential, just convenient and this is a delicate balance that anyone purchasing a pack must weight. So consider your tendencies before just 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 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 backs we tested we loved the Arc'teryx Altra 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 for an excellent pack for anyone "backpacking" through Europe, Southeast Asia or anywhere else where access is the most important.
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The zippered access panel on the Gregory Z 65 pack.
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.

Pack Weight
The lightest pack in our review was the Osprey Exos 58. It straddles the line between a backpacking pack and an ultra-light minimalist pack. Not far behind it in weight is the REI Flash 62. For a lighter but still rugged and fairly comfortable pack we would choose the Gregory Z65. It hits a nice balance of light weight but still being comfortable. Among more full-featured packs, the the Osprey Aether 65 and the Arc'teryx Altra 65 are the lightest at 4 lbs. 13 oz. The Gregory Baltoro 65 weighs in at 5 lbs. 10 oz. and the Deuter Air Contact tips the scales as our heaviest pack reviewed at 6 lbs. 3 oz. We were impressed with how light the Altra was for how comfortable it was.

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. Its best to lighten your over-all 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. Once your kit is below around 30lbs then its more okay to start looking at "ultra-light" frameless packs. If you have a 10+ year old burly backpacking pack, it likely weights around seven or eight pounds, where as most modern backpacking packs weigh in the four to six pound range.

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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
Adjustablity
The more adjustable you pack is and the more sizes it comes in translates to a better fit. Most packs we tested have the ability to swap out shoulder straps and waist belts for different sizes, something that many stores offer for free or you can specify when you order (for example if you want a medium frame and a small waist belt). The Deuter Air Contact had the most adjustability as far as where you want the shoulder straps to sit. We also liked the adjustment of 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 Osprey Aether had nearly as much adjustment as the Aircontact.
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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:
Editors' Choice Winner: Arc'teryx Altra 65
The Editors' Choice winner by a good margin is the Arc'teryx Altra 65. It's over-all performance was spectacular. The Altra 65 was among the most comfortable packs we tested even with heavier(60lbs) 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 where all among the bets in our review. The Altra has excellent access with the perfect sized and useable pocket. Really it's the ultimate multi-day backpacking pack, the only bummer……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, we have no evidence to back up this hypothesis of a lack of durability and ours is still going strong.
Arc&#039;teryx Altra 65
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Credit: Arc'teryx.com

Top Pick for Comfort and Features: Gregory Baltoro 65
The Gregory Baltoro 65 had some of the most usable features and when it came right down to carry a bunch of weight (more than 60lbs) it was straight up the most comfortable pack in our review. It's heavy but if you need to carry a lot of weight the Baltoro should certainly be on your radar. We found these pack to be super burly, and $100 less expensive than the only pack in our review that scored higher: the Altra 65. Again the only downside to the Baltoro is the weight; it is one of the heavier packs in our review. But if you you know you are going to need to carry a lot of weight, need a lot of support or just like this packs comfort features and toughness and don't mind the ounces the Baltoro adds, then you should take a hard look at this pack. It will last(nearly) forever and gives you a ton of features for your money.
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Gregory Baltoro 65
Credit: Gregory.com

Best Buy Award: Osprey Aether 60
The Best Buy winner is the Osprey Aether 60 because it combines comfort and performance at a great price. The only packs that scored higher are the Gregory Baltoro and Arc'teryx Altra. Comparatively the Aether is $145 less expensive than the Altra and nearly as lightweight. Most of our testers found the Aether to be just as comfortable as either of our other top scoring packs as long as we kept the weight down under around 40lbs. So for folks who don't tend to go on super extended trips or just can keep their load at a reasonable weight, the Aether can be almost equally as good of a choice at a better price. The Osprey Aether especially appeals to people who appreciate simplicity: not tons of extra pockets or pouches; just the essentials. The Osprey Aether 70 is essentially the same pack, shoulder straps, and frame that is only slightly heavier with more capacity.
Osprey Aether 60
Osprey Aether 60
Credit: Osprey

Top Pick for Best Lightweight: Osprey Exos 58
The Osprey Exos 58 was the lightest pack in this review and yet is 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). Its a great stepping stone for people who either want to get into "ultralight" backpacking but can't get their load down to the 20-30lbs where most people find it comfortable to use a one to two pound(pack itself weight) frame less pack. Or its good for people who go fairly light already but want a little more suspension and comfort than any frameless pack provides.
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An Osprey Exos 58
Credit: Osprey Packs

Best Pack by Application Type
Overall best: Arc'teryx Altra 65
2-3 day trips or less than 30 pounds: Osprey Exos 58
2-3 day trips with less than 40lbs: Osprey Aether 65
4-10 day trips or 30-70 pounds: Arc'teryx Altra 65
4-10 day 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 also find The Best Women's Backpacking Backpack Review helpful as well.

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

by Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
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