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 trips 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 and Backpacking Checklist.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Chris McNamara

Top Ranked Backpacking Backpacks

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Read the Review
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Read the Review
Video video review
The North Face Banchee 65
The North Face Banchee 65
Read the Review
Gregory Baltoro 65
Gregory Baltoro 65
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Aether 60
Osprey Aether 60
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award   
Street Price $260
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Varies $449 - $450
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Varies $216 - $239
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Varies $299 - $328
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$260
Compare at 6 sellers
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100% recommend it (5/5)
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100% recommend it (6/6)
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83% recommend it (5/6)
Pros Very comfortable, packed full of features, lots of awesome pockets offering excellent organization , awesome ventilation, lighter than average, sweet adjustable hip beltSuper comfortable, awesome suspension, easy to pack.Lightweight, comfortable to carry for long periods of time, fantastic suspension, tons of useful and thought out pockets, sweet hip belt adjustmentSuper comfortable, awesome suspension, easy to pack. tons of lower back support.Super comfortable, good suspension, nice features
Cons Not as supportive for super heavy (50+ pound) loads, snow can get inside of the back panelExpensive, doesn't come with ice axe loops.Compression straps are just okay when using the pack half-full,Heavy.Some people think it needed more pockets.
Best Uses Anywhere backpacking but especially good in warmer weather, travel, okay but not awesome mountaineeringBackpacking, mountaineering, extended trips.Backpacking, trekking, mountaineering, and travelBackpacking, mountaineering, expedition climbing , travel, trekking, any trip where you might be loaded downBackpacking, mountaineering, trekking, multi-day ski touring, some Alpine climbing.
Date Reviewed Jul 19, 2015Feb 07, 2015Jul 19, 2015Jul 08, 2015Jul 07, 2015
Weighted Scores Osprey Atmos 65 AG Arc'teryx Altra 65 The North Face Banchee 65 Gregory Baltoro 65 Osprey Aether 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 Osprey Atmos 65 AG Arc'teryx Altra 65 The North Face Banchee 65 Gregory Baltoro 65 Osprey Aether 60
Weight 4lbs 6 oz 2.2 kg / 4lbs 13 oz 3lbs 10 oz 5lbs 10 oz/2.55KG 4lbs 15 oz
Volumne 65L/3,966 65L/3966in 65L/3967in 65L/3966in 60L/3700in
Access Top & Front Top & Front Top & Bottom Top, Front & Bottom Top & Front
Hydration Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials 210D double ripstop Cordura nylon, 210D broken twill high-tenacity Cordura nylon, stretch woven nylon with Lycra High tenacity nylon w/ silicone, EV50 Foam, Spacermeshà 210D double diamond ripstop, 210D x 420D HD flat weaveà nylon (210D), nylon pack cloth (420HD)
Warranty Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime Lifetime
Sleeping bag Compartment Yes No Yes Yes Yes


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 your 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 backpacking backpacks 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. Expedition
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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

Picking the right volume


In our review we mostly choose to review 55-75 liter packs because this is the volume most people will choose to carry on overnight trips from two to eight days which is obviously the length of excursion that makes up of the bulk of most peoples 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 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 pack, 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 mostly shorter 2-3 night trips this review is still highly relevant because most of these pack models are available in slightly different capacities that often come in both larger and smaller sizes. For example most pack manufactures make an extremely similar pack to the 65-75L (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 overall 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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The volume of pack 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 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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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 that are much more comfortable than their heavier ancestors 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 6lbs with most of the packs in our review being between three and a half and five pounds with a few lighter options like the 2lbs 8 oz Osprey Exos 58.
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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. 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 including food is below around 30lbs then its more okay to start looking at "ultra-light" frameless sub 1.5 pound packs. If you have a 10+ year old burly backpacking pack, it likely weights around seven or eight pounds, and then its completely okay to buy a 3-6 pound pack that is obviously lighter but also likely more comfortable and has 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


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 backpacking backpacks we compared them in five different categories:

Comfort


For our comfort category we compared how comfortable and supportive each packs frame, shoulder straps and hip belt was and most importantly field testing each pack for hours…..and days. We compared these packs with mostly with more standard 30-45lbs 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 55-65lbs for maybe a little longer than our hips and shoulders would have liked.

We paid extra attention to how each packs waist belt and shoulder straps felt after long days and 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 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 with normal 30-40lbs loads the new Osprey Atmos 65 AG was the most comfortable pack in our review with its trampoline style suspension that spread out the load very evenly and 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 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 Gregory Contour and the Osprey Aether 70. The North Face Banchee wasn't quite as comfortable as the two packs listed above, but it wasn't very far behind either. For medium and lighter weight loads of around 35-40lbs we noticed even less of a difference between packs.

The fabric Osprey uses on the inside of the shoulder straps of the Aether 70 and the feeling of the Atmos 65 AG was our favorite on bare skin and their shape and articulation of the those packs was second to none. A lot of people ask about the heat mold-able waist belt featured on the Aether among other models of Osprey packs? 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 40-45lbs on a regular basis we would recommend the Altra or the Baltoro. If not we loved how the Osprey Atmos 65 AG and The North Face Banchee 65 felt as long as we didn't over-load it, for example it felt as good as our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick Arc'tyrx Altra 65 to around 40lbs, but above 50lbs the Altra was superior.
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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

Suspension


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. The suspension is obviously tied some with a packs overall comfort, but we specified specific criteria for each category. 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, Contour, Arc'teryx Altra all performed fantastically. The Altra just barely edged out the Baltoro and the Contour 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 and if we had to carry an unbearable amount of weight (Read hear hunters, porters, family Sherpas) we choose the Baltoro for the 70+ pound loads. 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 is 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 for-mentioned 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 Balotro 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 plains causes a hot spot. Lastly for 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, the design of the main compartment and additional pockets, the number and location of additional pockets, how useful the lid (or brain) of the pack is, and the how easy it was to access to the main compartment of a 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 all of our categories for "Ease of Packing" we broke down on the level of usefulness of each feature and evaluating 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 over-all 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
Over-all organizational ability
For folks who like a lot of compartments and pockets for organization, the Gregory Baltoro 65 and The North Face Banchee 65 have by far the most pockets and and in the case of the Baltoro 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. While in the case of the Baltoro 65 it also makes it one of the heavier packs in our review, surprisingly enough the Banchee 65 which most likely had our testers favorite collection of pockets was one of the lighter packs in our review at 3lbs 10oz, around a pound lighter than the avergae. The Deuter Air Contact has nearly as many pockets as either of the for-mentioned packs 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 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, bug spray among other things. Many packs featured a separate smaller pocket on the underside of the lid. Our testers generally liked this feature as its a great place to put those items you want access too but don't need as frequent.

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 two 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. We liked the super large zippered lid pockets of the Atmos 65 AG and the Banchee 65 that has nearly the same volume as the Altra and a longer than average zipper that made access good, but not great, as in the case of the Altra 65.
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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

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 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.

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 at 2lbs 14 oz. For a lighter but still rugged and fairly comfortable pack we would choose The North Face Banchee 65 (3lbs 10 oz) or the Osprey Volt 75 (3lbs 12 oz), or the Gregory Z65 (4lbs 3 oz). They all hit a nice balance of light weight but still comfortable and fairly full-featured. Among more full-featured packs, the the Osprey Atmos 65 AG (4lbs 6 ounces) 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. oz. We were impressed with how light the Altra was for how comfortable it was.

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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 and Fit


A packs over-all ergonomics, the more adjustable a pack is, and the more sizes it comes typically translates to a better fitting pack. 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 online(for example if you want a medium frame and a small waist belt). The Deuter Air Contact had the most vertical adjust-ability as far as where you want the yoke (shoulder straps) positioned making it a good choice for quickly growing children, but our testers didn't think it had the best over-all fit. Our testers did really like 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 North Face Banchee 65, Gregory Baltoro 65, and Osprey Atmos all had a respectable amount of adjustment, their size options and over-all ergonomic gave all three of packs high scoring "fit" amongst our testing team. The Osprey Aether 70 and Osprey Volt 75 fit most of our testers above average and they featured nearly as much adjustment as the Aircontact which also makes them a solid option for growing children.
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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.


Editors' Choice: Osprey Atmos 65 AG


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 4 lbs 6 oz. Basically what sets the Atmos apart is its AG suspension and simply how darn good it spreads the load out even across your body and how it can make your pack actually seem lighter than it is. For trips were we are carrying less than 40lbs this is hands down the most comfortable pack in our review for the majority of our testers. Another big advantage is the fit, ergonomics and adjust-ability of the Atmos from the frame to the waist belt and we found there are very few people that the Atmos 65 AG wont fit well. For the pack itself our testers raved about the Atmos's 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. Its only down falls: the Anti-Gravity suspension doesn't carry super heavy loads (50+ pounds) as comfortably as some of our other Top picks and it can fill with snow during winter or mountaineering objectives.
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Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Credit: Osprey

Top Pick Award Winner Winner: Arc'teryx Altra 65


The Top pick award winner and former Editors' Choice is Arc'teryx Altra 65. It's over-all 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 where all among the best in our review. The Altra has excellent access with the perfect sized and useable full length pocket. Really it remains a strong contented for the the ultimate multi-day backpacking pack, the only bummer……it lacks a few small features that othe racks 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 and ours is still going strong.
Altra 65 in Diablo Red
Credit: Arc'teryx.com

Top Pick: The North Face Banchee 65


The North Face Banchee 65 is one of our OutdoorGearLab Top picks and a contender for our Editors' Choice because it's such a comfortable and supportive pack that likely has our testers favorite over-all pack design regarding features including some of our favorite pockets that we wished a lot of other packs had. Not only did our testers love the design of this very user friendly pack but at 3lbs 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 better a little than our Editors Choice the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, but we thought the Atmos was just enough more comfortable to make it our over-all award winner.
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The North Face Banchee 65
Credit: The North Face

Top Pick for Comfort and Features: Gregory Baltoro 65


The Gregory Baltoro 65 is straight up the best pack in our review for carrying a bunch of weight (more than 60lbs) and we charged with this task it was undeniably 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 this pack to be super burly, and $100 less expensive than the only pack in our review that could nearly carry a 50+ pound load as well as the Baltoro could: the Altra 65. Again the only downside to the Baltoro is the weight at 5lbs 10 oz; 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 stuff, need a lot of support or just like this packs 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.
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Gregory Baltoro 65
Credit: Gregory.com

Best Buy Award: Osprey Volt 75


The Best Buy winner is the Osprey Volt 75 because it combines solid comfort and performance with excellent value. The $200 Volt scored fairly high in most categories and scored better overall than several much more expensive packs. The Osprey Volt 75 especially appeals to people who appreciate its simplicity: not tons of extra pockets or pouches; just the essentials and a slighly 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, dual entry water bottle pockets, stretchy beaver tail pocket, lower zippered access point 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 their in twenties or beyond.
Osprey Volt 75
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. We really liked the REI Flash 62 which was a strong contender for this award but it was edged out by the Exos for comfort and durability.
Click to enlarge
An Osprey Exos 58
Credit: Osprey Packs

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 40-45lbs 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 also find The Best Women's Backpacking Backpack Review helpful as well.
For backcountry meal planning ideas, check out The Best Backpacking Food article.

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 if 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 it 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 on 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 forgoe (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.

You might also find these articles helpful as well:
Backcountry Trip Planning
How to Choose Ultralight Shelter versus a 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
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