The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2017

The Best backpacking pack review
There are hundreds of backpacking backpacks, from ultralight to ultra comfy. We researched 65 packs and bought the 12 best for 210 hours of tests in the mountains of Patagonia and the Pacific Northwest. Today's backpacks are more feature-rich than ever, but it's hard to distinguish what's useful and what adds weight. We'll find you the right model for a 2-8 day trip, whether you're a minimalist or want the feeling of luxury every time you clip your hip belt. Since no pack fits everyone perfectly, our mountain-guide-led testing team got fit feedback from friends and clients to accurately score comfort and suspension. Read on to pick your perfect pack.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara

Last Updated:
Friday
March 10, 2017

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Updated April 2017
Our 2017 review update includes new award winners, charts, and graphs. It's easier to see how each pack excelled or flailed in each metric. The Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 review includes a comparison summary for the snazzy new model and its predecessor, the Altra 65. While Arc'teryx continues its reign, many new award contenders emerged, especially for value and weight. The packs keep getting better and the competition tighter.

Best Overall Backpack


Arc'teryx Bora AR 63


Arc'teryx Bora Editors' Choice Award

$548.95
at Backcountry
See It

Very supportive
Awesome pivoting waist belt
Very comfortable
Innovative and effective adjustment system
Best lid pockets
Easily some of the best features of any pack in our review
Average weight
Expensive

Model Replacement
The Bora is the replacement pack for the Altra 65 which we reviewed. The model we tested had a slightly different aesthetic and was $100 less expensive. Arcteryx gave us the low-down on changes such as an updated hip belt and strategically placed weatherproof material mapping.
The Bora AR 63 continues in the legacy of its lineage, winning our Editor's Choice award, just as past versions have repeatedly done so. Even with heavier (50+ lbs) loads, it's still comfortable and light. The Bora has some highly desirable features, like side zipper access as well as an enormous kangaroo pocket. The new RotoGlide hip belt replaced the Load Transfer Disk of the of the previous version: In addition to rotating with the movement of your hips, it glides up and down to compensate for changes in back length, which (according to Arcteryx) is intended to reduce chaffing and improve balance. It has a few downsides, mainly that at $549, it's $200+ more than any other pack reviewed. If you don't need its load hauling prowess (your loads are regularly below 40 lbs), then you could get away with a lighter, less expensive pack. If you're going to spend $549, it will last for a while, and we'll vouch for it. We used the older, less durable version over 120 days (including six Denali trips) and were impressed with its longevity; the newer version is constructed to be even tougher and more water-resistant. Take a look at the full review to see in depth details on the latest update.
Read full review: Arc'teryx Bora AR 63

Best Bang for the Buck


Osprey Volt 75


Osprey Volt 75 Best Buy Award

$199.95
at CampSaver
See It

Great price
Fits a broad range of people
Simple design
Not as supportive for super heavy (50+ lb) loads
The Osprey Volt 75 combines comfort and performance with value. The $200 Volt 75, or the identical but smaller $180 Volt 60, scored high in most categories and scored better overall than several more expensive packs. The Osprey Volt 75 appeals to people who appreciate simplicity: few extra pockets or pouches, just the essentials and an above average frame, padding, and ergonomics. While the Volt 75 is not feature-heavy, it does have all the features that backpackers care about most, like a lid pocket, dual entry water bottle pockets, stretchy beavertail pocket and a lower zippered access point (AKA sleeping bag compartment), among other things. What our testers noticed was the Volt's ergonomic shoulder straps, foam, and face materials, which were all better than most packs in its price range. If you're looking for something smaller, check out the Volt 60.

Read full review: Osprey Volt 75

Top Pick for Shorter Trips


Osprey Atmos 65 AG


Osprey Atmos 65 AG Top Pick Award

$243.00
at Amazon
See It

Very comfortable
Packed full of features
Lots of awesome pockets offering excellent organization
Awesome ventilation
Lighter than average
Sweet adjustable hip belt
Not as supportive for super heavy (50+ lb) loads
Snow can get inside of the back panel
The Osprey Atmos 65 AG loses the Editors' Choice title this year, but it remains a Top Pick for short excursions and comfort. It's one of the best all-around backpacking packs because of its functional features, comfort, and ventilation, all at a lighter than average 4 lbs 6 oz. However, what lost it the best all-around award is its inability to handle heavier loads (greater than 45 pounds) as well as competitors. If you pack lighter or don't embark on extended trips often, this pack is one of the best. What sets the Atmos apart is its luxurious AG suspension that spreads loads evenly across your body and makes your pack seem lighter than it is. For trips where we carried less than 40 lbs, this was the most comfortable pack reviewed for the majority of testers. Another big advantage is the fit, ergonomics, and adjustability of the Atmos, from the frame to the waistbelt. Our testers raved about its refined design: every additional pocket is well placed and sized, with few features our testers claimed to be useless. The only downfall: the Anti-Gravity suspension doesn't carry heavy loads as comfortably as some of our other Top Picks, and it can fill with snow during winter or mountaineering objectives. Want the smaller and lighter version of this pack? Check out the Atmos 50 AG.

Read full review: Osprey Atmos 65 AG

Top Pick for Comfort and Features


Gregory Baltoro 65


Baltoro 65 Top Pick Award

Super comfortable
Carries heavier loads among the best in the review
Dual zippered lid pockets are awesome
"U" shaped opening provides easy access
Slightly heavier than average
Supportive foam can feel stiff initially
The improved Gregory Baltoro 65 is as comfortable as ever and offers improved features and usability while weighing eight ounces less than the previous model. The Baltoro remains the best pack reviewed for carrying loads more than 60 lbs, offering a plethora of features. It's a heavier than other models; at 5 lbs 3 oz, but not much heavier, especially if you need to carry significant weight or access is important to you. It will last (nearly) forever and gives you a ton of features. The Baltoro is also available in larger sizes, like the Gregory Baltoro 75 and the Gregory Baltoro 85. Gregory has also teamed up with Goal Zero with the Gregory Baltoro 75 GZ to provide charging capabilities.

Read full review: Gregory Baltoro 65

Top Pick for Extended Trips


Osprey Xenith 75


Xenith 70 Top Pick Award

$261.31
at Amazon
See It

Super comfortable
Carries heavier loads among the best in the review
Superb external twin zippered pockets
Functional and easy to use stretch mesh zippered pockets
Difficult to search for items in lid pockets
Lumbar pack lid rarely useful
If you frequently participate in long trips (upwards of 5 days) that require a lot of gear or, then the Xenith is the pack for you. It comes in 75L, 85L, and 105L, and is tester Ian Nicholson's favorite pack for heavy loads on Denali. The Xenith series is also a favorite for extended trips among many NOLS instructors. We think it hits the sweet spot of a robust suspension and above average padding and ergonomics while offering features and an assortment of pockets. It remains lightweight for a pack that carries 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 awesome; the only difference between the two came down to slight personal preferences. The Xenith is also available in the Osprey Xenith 88 and the spacious Osprey Xenith 105 to keep you supplied on long trips.

Read full review: Osprey Xenith 75

Top Pick for Best Lightweight


Osprey Exos 58


Osprey Exos 58 Top Pick Award

$220.00
at Backcountry
See It

Lightest pack in the review
One of the lightest framed packs available
Comfortable for loads under 40 lbs
Great pockets and features
Average durability
Not a ton of extra features
Not very adjustable
The Osprey Exos 58 was the lightest pack reviewed by over a pound but remained comfortable for sub-40-pound loads. The Exos blurs the line between traditional backpacking packs and ultralight packs, making it unique. It's almost as light as many frameless ultra-lightweight packs (being only 0.5-1 lbs heavier than most), but still has the essential features you'd expect in a traditional backpacking pack (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 necessary to make a sub 2-pound frameless pack comfortable. Or, it's for people who already pack on the light end, but want a little more suspension and features than most frameless packs provide. If you like the idea of a lighter pack, but want more features and a more substantial frame, consider the The North Face Banchee 65 or REI Flash 65, both 3 lb 10 oz. Looking for a day or ultralight pack? Check out the Exos 38 and Exos 48 to complete your pack quiver.

Read full review: Osprey Exos 58

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Measured Weight Volume Access
94
$549
Editors' Choice Award
4.94 lbs. 65L/3966in Top & Front
92
$260
Top Pick Award
4.38 lbs. 65L/3966in Top & Front
90
$330
Top Pick Award
5.13 lbs. 75L/4577in Top & Sides
88
$300
Top Pick Award
5.19 lbs. 65L/3966in Top, Front & Bottom
87
$240
3.63 lbs. 65L/3967in Top & Bottom
85
$290
5 lbs. 70L/4200in Top & Front
85
$290
4.81 lbs. 60L/3700in Top & Front
82
$200
Best Buy Award
3.75 lbs. 75L/4577in Top & Bottom
80
$199
3.63 lbs. 65L/3966in Top
77
$220
Top Pick Award
2.5 lbs. 58L/3539in Top
76
$220
5.56 lbs. 78L/4750in Top & Front
76
$279
6.19 lbs. 65+20L Top & Bottom

Analysis and Test Results


There is a lot to consider when selecting the right 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. We tested these twelve models and compared them in five independent metrics: Comfort, Weight, Suspension, Ease of Use, and Adjustability. Below we describe the importance of each category, as well as how we tested and scored within each one.

There are many factors to take into consideration when purchasing pack for backpacking. We took almost a dozen of the top models  pitted them head-to-head  and reported our findings here. Photo: Backpack testing in the Oregon Cascades.
There are many factors to take into consideration when purchasing pack for backpacking. We took almost a dozen of the top models, pitted them head-to-head, and reported our findings here. Photo: Backpack testing in the Oregon Cascades.

Comfort


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


We paid attention to how the waistbelt and shoulder straps felt after wearing the packs for long days with heavy loads. We took feedback from OutdoorGearLab Editors, friends, and climbing partners and tested these packs in excess of three hundred days give us a broader perspective when choosing the most comfortable pack.

The importance of your pack's size  volume  and ability to effectively and comfortably transfer weight is directly related to your level of responsibility as the family porter. Here Ian Nicholson puts the Gregory Baltoro 65 to the test along the shore of Lake Chelan  en route to Stehekin.
The importance of your pack's size, volume, and ability to effectively and comfortably transfer weight is directly related to your level of responsibility as the family porter. Here Ian Nicholson puts the Gregory Baltoro 65 to the test along the shore of Lake Chelan, en route to Stehekin.
After extensive testing with 30-40 lb loads, the new Osprey Atmos 65 AG scored at the top for comfort. Its trampoline style suspension spreads loads evenly. Our testers rarely got hot spots on their backs or hips, even after extended travel in warm conditions. For heavier loads, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63, Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Osprey Xenith 75 tied for the most comfort. All three packs use high-quality foam that achieves a balance of support and comfort. Our testers thought that the Bora's pivoting waist belt was the most comfortable reviewed and did the best job transferring weight from our pack to our hips. However, while the Bora's shoulder straps were good, after side-by-side testing, they didn't feel as comfortable as the Xenith 75 or the Baltoro 65. The thinness and ergonomics couldn't match that of the design of the Xenith and Baltoro, which we thought used nicer foam and better face fabric while offering better articulation and a superior design that our testers liked better.

Not far behind the Xenith 75 and the Baltoro was the Gregory Contour 60, The North Face Banchee 65, and Osprey Aether AG 60 and 70L. While these models weren't as comfortable as the two packs above, they weren't far behind. For medium and lighter loads of around 30-40 lbs, we noticed less of a difference between packs, but once we crested 40 pounds, additional weight was challenging for packs to handle.


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

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.
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.

The Aircontact's shoulder straps and waistbelt were comfortable, but not as comfortable as the Xenith 75 and Baltoro 65. The Air Contact's padding was bulkier and hotter, and the shoulder straps were not shaped well for most testers. If you carry more than 40-45 lbs on a regular basis, we recommend the Xenith 75, Bora AR 63, or the Baltoro 65. If you rarely 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 good up to 40 lbs; above 50 lbs, the Xenith and Baltoro were superior.

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".
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".

Suspension


The suspension category encompasses how well the frame transferred the load from the pack into the waistbelt and, to a lesser extent, onto our shoulder straps. The suspension is tied in with overall comfort, but we specified unique criteria for each category. In addition, we compared the foam, articulation, and how well the packs felt against our backs.


The Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith and Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 performed fantastically, while the Xenith and the Baltoro barely edged out the Bora and the Contour because of how nicely the frame transferred loads to the waistbelt and our hips. With these two packs, heavy loads were noticeably not as bad to carry and were both Top Picks for extended trips and monster loads. That said, we liked how supportive and comfortable the foam on the Bora and the Aether were. The Osprey Atmos 65 AG, while comfortable when carrying loads below 40 pounds, wasn't that awesome for heavier loads when its Anti-Gravity trampoline-style suspension felt mushy and less supportive. The Deuter Air Contact was a hair behind the Baltoro; it featured thick, comfortable padding and a supportive frame — some testers thought it felt bulky.

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.
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.

Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System
Trampoline-style or suspended suspension systems use a mesh back panel over a traditional frame. The advantages of this frame are that it allows more air ventilation, making these backpacks cooler, less sweaty and, more importantly, producing fewer hot spots because the weight is spread out or "suspended" over a larger body area. More and more packs are using a similar design at least on the back panel. Our testers like the trampoline style suspension because of this; however, when it comes to massive loads, having the weight closer to your back without a gap will be more comfortable. For example, the Gregory Baltoro 65 doesn't feature a true trampoline suspension system, but that's one reason it carries massive loads effectively. With all suspension style systems, there comes a weight limit where the suspended mesh is pressed so tightly against the wearer that it either bottoms out or causes a hot spot. The ventilation area that's so wonderful in summer can fill with snow during mountaineering or winter trips, making the pack less pleasant to wear.

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. The idea is that instead of having your back right up against the pack  your back is against a mesh back panel that is suspended over a more traditional frame. The advantage 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. It also allows more air to ventilate  making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty. Their only disadvantage: they don't handle super heavy (50+ pounds) as well before they start to feel mushy and the suspension sort of half collapses.
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. The idea is that instead of having your back right up against the pack, your back is against a mesh back panel that is suspended over a more traditional frame. The advantage 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. It also allows more air to ventilate, making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty. Their only disadvantage: they don't handle super heavy (50+ pounds) as well before they start to feel mushy and the suspension sort of half collapses.

Ease of Use


Our ease of use category includes how easy a backpack was to pack and an examination of the main compartment design and additional pockets. We compared the number and location of pockets, how useful the lid (or brain) of the pack was, and how easy it was to access the main backpack compartment. For each pocket, we asked ourselves: "Did that pocket make my life easier, or is it not that useful and adding weight to the pack?" We also looked at access points and evaluated whether they were useful or just for show.


For "Ease of Packing" we broke down the level of usefulness of each feature and evaluated them during real-world use. Our testers feel that if a pocket or access point didn't help, it was 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 pack's versatility.

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.
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.

Overall Organizational Ability
For folks who like compartments and pockets for organization, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith 75, and The North Face Banchee 65 have the best and most usable pockets, while the Baltoro had the best access of any pack reviewed. These packs provide options for folks who like organization or the ability to get inside their pack easily without having to take much out.
Likely our favorite overall feature for use-ability of The North Face Banchee 65 was its oversized dual-zippered pockets. These were great for water bottles  water filters  snacks  a light jacket  or simply anything else we wanted easily accessible.
Likely our favorite overall feature for use-ability of The North Face Banchee 65 was its oversized dual-zippered pockets. These were great for water bottles, water filters, snacks, a light jacket, or simply anything else we wanted easily accessible.

Our favorite collection of pockets came in the Baltoro 65, which is heavier than most packs reviewed, at 5 lbs 3 oz, and the Banchee 65, one of the lighter packs reviewed, at 3 lbs 10 oz (around a pound lighter than average). The Deuter Air Contact has nearly as many pockets as the packs above, but we felt that they weren't as useful and neither were easy to access. It's worth noting that the REI Flash 65 had nearly as many usable pockets and close to as many access points, featuring a "J" shaped opening; the cost is also only $200.

Pack testing in the North Cascades  Washington.
Pack testing in the North Cascades, Washington.

Top Lid Pocket
There aren't a lot of universal features for packs, 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 common feature is one of the best places to store small items, 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 storage spot for small items. Our testers liked this feature, as it's a great place to put items you want access to but not as frequently.

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

Of all the packs tested, our favorite top lid pockets belonged to the Gregory Baltoro 65 which featured two pockets on the top of the pack that made finding items easier and these items were less likely to fall out while we rooted around. The rest of the packs had zippers on the front or back of the pack. None of these packs were as easy to get into as the Baltoro, but not all are created equal. The large zippered lid pockets of the Atmos 65 AG and the Banchee 65 are the next top scorers. They had nearly the same volume as the Bora AR 63 and had a longer than average zipper that made access good, but not as great as the Baltoro.

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.
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.

Pack Access
Pack access is part of our "Ease of Use" category and refers to how easily we could access larger items without having to unpack the pack. While access is nice, its importance depends on you. Ease of access is a useful feature for folks using their backpack for travel, where they might otherwise use a suitcase or a duffel bag, to go "backpacking.". Everyone wants more access, but zippers add weight and aren't always essential. It's a balance. Consider your priorities before saying "I want more access." Is the increased weight from zippers worth it?
The Altra 65 features a giant "U" shaped zipper that extends around the perimeter of the backside of the pack. This was great for accessing any items buried deep and made packing up on multi-day trips easier and more efficient; because of these features  this is a fantastic travel pack for "backpacking trips" through places like Southeast Asia or Europe. The only downside is that when it's really full it takes a little more effort (AKA kneeling) to get the zipper closed.
The Altra 65 features a giant "U" shaped zipper that extends around the perimeter of the backside of the pack. This was great for accessing any items buried deep and made packing up on multi-day trips easier and more efficient; because of these features, this is a fantastic travel pack for "backpacking trips" through places like Southeast Asia or Europe. The only downside is that when it's really full it takes a little more effort (AKA kneeling) to get the zipper closed.


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

The zippered access panel on the Gregory Z 65 pack.
The zippered access panel on the Gregory Z 65 pack.

Extra Features
While not a must, most of our testers appreciated having at least one zippered pocket on the hip belt that was big enough for a small camera or a handful of snacks. 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.

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.
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.

Hydration
All the packs reviewed have a spot for a hydration bladder that fits most brands and models. Rather than use the same brand bladder as the pack, we recommend reading our Hydration Bladder Review and picking the reservoir for your needs and budget. One cool feature among packs we tested was found in the Gregory Baltoro, which came with a removable and functional hydration pack that doubled as its hydration sleeve when used inside the pack.

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.
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.
One of the new features on the latest version of the Altra 65 is twin zippered "water bottle pockets" compared with open mesh ones. Our test team enjoyed the upgrade not only because bottles were easy to retrieve with the pack on  but for folks who mostly use a hydration bladder  these pockets could be used for other items wanted easily accessible.
One of the new features on the latest version of the Altra 65 is twin zippered "water bottle pockets" compared with open mesh ones. Our test team enjoyed the upgrade not only because bottles were easy to retrieve with the pack on, but for folks who mostly use a hydration bladder, these pockets could be used for other items wanted easily accessible.

Pack Weight


The lightest pack reviewed was the Osprey Exos 58. At 2 lbs 8 ounces, it straddles the line between a backpacking pack and an ultra-light pack.


For a lighter but still rugged and more featured pack, we 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). They all hit a balance between being lightweight, comfortable and fairly full-featured.
The Exos 58 is a surprisingly comfortable pack  especially considering its 2.5 pound weight. We thought it was fantastic to 30 pounds  and decent to 40 lbs  but we wouldn't want to carry much more than that.
The Exos 58 is a surprisingly comfortable pack, especially considering its 2.5 pound weight. We thought it was fantastic to 30 pounds, and decent to 40 lbs, but we wouldn't want to carry much more than that.

Among the full-featured packs, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG (4 lbs 6 oz), Osprey Aether AG 60 (4 lbs 11 ounces), and the Arc'teryx Baltoro (5 lbs) remain lighter than average and give up little in comfort, load hauling ability, and features.

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
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

Adjustability and Fit


A pack's ergonomics and the sizes it is offered in typically translates to a better fitting pack. Check out the chart below to see how each pack ranked in the adjustability metric.


A handful of manufacturers will 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 yoke (shoulder straps) positioning, not only helping it fit a wide range of people but also making it a good choice for growing children. Despite this feature, our testers didn't think the either pack had the best overall fit.
The back panel of the Altra 65.
The back panel of the Altra 65.

Our testers liked the adjustment of the Arc'teryx Baltoro . While it didn't have as much range, we loved that the shoulder straps could adjust independently side to side (width-wise), as well as up and down. The North Face Banchee 65, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Atmos, Xenith, and Osprey Aether 70 all had a respectable amount of adjustment. Our testers appreciated each of the packs' ergonomics and gave all of these packs high scores in the "fit" metric.
The Osprey Aether 70 offers around 4" of vertical torso length adjustment by using a velcro flap to attach the shoulder strap that can be slid up or down on the inside of the back panel to adjust the length. This simple design is easy to fine-tune and is super reliable. We have never experienced the pack's shoulder straps slip or slide out of place at any time.
The Osprey Aether 70 offers around 4" of vertical torso length adjustment by using a velcro flap to attach the shoulder strap that can be slid up or down on the inside of the back panel to adjust the length. This simple design is easy to fine-tune and is super reliable. We have never experienced the pack's shoulder straps slip or slide out of place at any time.

Rain Covers


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

Here are a few options:
Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara

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