Reviews You Can Rely On

The 7 Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2024

We tested backpacking backpacks from Osprey, Granite Gear, Gregory, REI, Arc'teryx, and more to find the best models
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Best Backpacking Backpack Review (We put the best backpacking backpacks in a side by side comparison test to find the best of the best.)
We put the best backpacking backpacks in a side by side comparison test to find the best of the best.
Credit: Sam Schild
Friday May 17, 2024

Searching for the best backpacking backpack? After a decade of testing over 100 different models, our experts purchased the 16 top packs available today for a meticulous side-by-side comparison. Our team of experts knows what makes a great pack. We've ventured worldwide with these packs on multiple extended trips, from sweaty Appalachian slogs to hot and dry Mojave crossings and alpine rambles. We've measured volume and weight and evaluated the usefulness of every pocket and feature. Each pack in our lineup has its strengths and weaknesses, and we help to decipher all the nuances to simplify your research experience and help you find the best backpack for your needs.

Our reviews can help you select the best backpack, and we'll also help you complete your “Big 3” pieces of backpacking gear: pack, shelter, and sleep system. You can find your pack advice here, and we have had hands-on experience with the best backpacking tents, the best backpacking sleeping bags, and the coziest sleeping pads to complete your trio. If you're looking for a general bag for travel, see our best travel bag review, where we outline our favorite bags of different styles for traveling.

Editor's Note: We updated our backpacking pack review on May 17, 2024, to add updated testing results from the newest version of the Granite Gear Blaze 60, Gregory Paragon 58, and Osprey Exos 58.

Related: Best Backpacking Backpacks for Women

Top 16 Backpacking Backpacks - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $263.46 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$254.24 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$300 List$199 List
$139.29 at REI
$194.89 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
87
83
82
81
81
Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable with heavy loads, perfect pocket combinationAwesome pockets, excellent ventilation, general comfortLightweight, comfortable, supportive, functional feature setLight-weight, comfortable, easily personalized, inexpensiveVery adjustable, comfortable back panel, great pockets, comes with a rain cover
Cons Tiny buckles hard to operate with glovesNot supportive for loads over 40 poundsNo lid, back panel lacks ventilationNot the most durable, low maximum load weightSide compression straps block water bottle pockets, heavy
Bottom Line A lightweight load hauler that is both comfortable and full of featuresA classic backpack design with breathable a suspension and many user-friendly featuresThis pack rides the line as an ultralight bag that's still comfortable to carry, has useful features, and boasts impressive durabilityIt may not be a heavy load hauler, but for moderate loads, this pack is comfortable and has a great set of features, all at an affordable priceThis load-hauling machine is one of the most comfortable and adjustable packs we've tested
Rating Categories Granite Gear Blaze 60 Osprey Atmos 65 AG Ultralight Adventur... REI Co-op Flash 55 Gregory Paragon 58
Comfort (40%)
9.0
10.0
8.5
8.0
8.0
Ease of Use (25%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Weight-to-Volume Ratio (20%)
8.0
5.5
10.0
9.0
7.0
Adjustability (15%)
8.0
8.0
5.0
7.0
8.5
Specs Granite Gear Blaze 60 Osprey Atmos 65 AG Ultralight Adventur... REI Co-op Flash 55 Gregory Paragon 58
Measured Weight 3.0 lb 4.6 lb 2.8 lb 2.8 lb 3.6 lb
Weight per Liter 0.80 oz/L 1.13 oz/L 0.60 oz/L 0.81 oz/L 0.99 oz/L
Advertised Volume 60 L 65 L 75 L 55 L 58 L
Organization Compartments Lid, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets Lid, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets Front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets Lid, front mesh pockets, 2 side pockets per side, hip belt pockets, shoulder strap pocket Lid with interior and exterior zipper pockets, front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, sleeping bag compartment
Access Top, front Top, sides, bottom Top Top Top, side, bottom
Hydration Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sleeping Bag Compartment No Yes No No Yes
Materials 100D robic nylon w/ DWR coating Main Body: Recycled 210D honey comb nylon
Accent: Recycled 210D high tenacity nylon
Bottom: Recycled 500D high tenacity nylon
400 Robic fabric Main Body: 100D ripstop nylon
Bottom: 420D nylon
Main Body: 100D High Density Nylon / 210D High Density Nylon
Bottom: 420D High Density Nylon
Measured Volume (main compartment) 58 L 50 L 55 L 45 L 50 L


The Best Backpacking Backpacks for 2024


Best Overall Backpacking Backpack


Granite Gear Blaze 60


87
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Ease of Use 9.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 8.0
  • Adjustability 8.0
Weight: 3.0 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Super light
Packed with features
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Small buckles are hard to operate with gloves

Thanks to its impressive design, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 is our continual top pick for backpacking. The newest version of this model has once again earned our best overall backpacking backpack award. This pack can comfortably support up to 50 pounds while only weighing 3.0 pounds. We enjoyed this pack's great features for its practicality and usability. There is a stretchy mesh front pocket, roomy hip belt pockets, a removable top lid, a breathable back panel, a long front access zipper, and nine compression straps to handle variable loads. This bag has just about every feature you could ask for and nothing you don't need. It's an impressive pack in both weight and weight capacity. A light pack allows you to keep your base weight low, but since the Blaze has such a robust suspension, you can comfortably carry a few luxury items, winter/climbing gear, or extra food for extended trips.

While this pack does many things right, there is no perfect pack for everyone. Some buckles on this pack are small and hard to operate when wearing gloves. This isn't a huge deal, and the small buckles help keep pack weight low, so we're okay with it. Overall, this isn't a high-tech, revolutionary pack, but the simple design is part of the appeal. The Blaze 60 keeps things simple, and by using some of the lightest and most durable fabrics available, it's light and strong. If gear accessibility and on-trail comfort are important to you, an alternative worth looking at is the Gregory Paragon 58. This model has dual zipper openings to access the main compartment and the sleeping bag compartment. It also has a comfortable trampoline-style mesh back panel to suspend the load.

Read more: Granite Gear Blaze 60 review

The Blaze 60 is comfortable and versatile enough for any length of trip.
Credit: Sam Schild

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Flash 55


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 9.0
  • Adjustability 7.0
Weight: 2.8 lbs | Volume: 55 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Good value
Lightweight
Modular design
REASONS TO AVOID
Lower durability
Max load of 30 lb

The REI Flash 55 is an inexpensive, lightweight, and well-designed backpacking backpack. It weighs a mere 2.8 pounds. And it can comfortably carry loads of up to 30 pounds. The Packmod system enables you to customize the pack for your needs by moving or eliminating virtually all external pockets and straps. We particularly loved this feature. Two “extra” side pockets exist between the water bottle and the front stretch pockets. These extra pockets are super handy and essentially double the external storage capacity. The side bottle pockets are also the most easily accessible in the group. Since water bottles go into these pockets vertically, there is no inference with arm swing, and since they sit low on the pack, it's easy to grab and replace your bottles one-handed.

When you design a product to be lightweight, there's often a tradeoff in some aspect of performance. Lightweight packs tend to be less durable, less supportive, and pricier. The Flash 55 does a great job keeping the price low, but we have some concerns about the durability of the thin fabric and recommend avoiding rubbing against rocks with this pack. That said, we've seen these packs last thousands of miles. At times, we would have also liked to have carried a bit more than 30 pounds, which typically requires a more robust suspension and heavier pack overall. Even with these minimal shortcomings, this modular pack has a lot to offer at a modest price. If you're searching for a lightweight pack to carry heavier loads, take a look at the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst. At 2.8 pounds and 75 liters, the ULA packs an impressive weight-to-size ratio ideal for extended hauls.

Read more: REI Co-op Flash 55 review

backpacks backpacking - the flash 55 was one of our favorite packs to test. the clever...
The Flash 55 was one of our favorite packs to test. The clever features and lightweight design made it an awesome companion on the trail.
Credit: Sam Schild

Best for Superior Comfort


Osprey Atmos 65 AG


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.5
  • Adjustability 8.0
Weight: 4.6 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable
Feature-laden
Awesome ventilation
Lighter than average
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as supportive for super heavy (45+ lb) loads
Snow can get inside the back panel

We love the comfort and design of the Osprey Atmos AG 65 and consider it one of the best all-around backpacking backpacks. It's loaded with features and provides incredible back ventilation while weighing in at 4.5 pounds. It's not surprising that this pack has earned a cult-like following. What sets the Atmos AG 65 apart the most, though, is Osprey's innovative anti-gravity (AG) suspension, which helps spread the load more evenly across your hips and shoulders while also venting excess heat that tends to build behind your back and under the hip belt. The plush, tapered, breathable foam shoulder straps are dreamy. For average trips with loads at or under 40 pounds, this is one of the more comfortable packs in our review. Every pocket is a good size and thoughtfully placed. Moreover, the Atmos offers an excellent fit with efficient adjustability focused on ergonomics.

Clocking in at 4.6 pounds, the Atmos AG 65 approaches a mass that begins to feel slightly over-engineered. If you plan to haul loads of 45 pounds or more consistently, you should look elsewhere — this pack doesn't handle heavy loads as well as a pack that's close to 5 pounds probably should. Though most users have a good experience with this pack, some testers found the waistbelt confining and too “hug-like”, especially when adjusting clothing. Considering everything, the adjustability and excellent suspension system of the Atmos make it one of the most comfortable backpacks we've tested. If you want to stay within the Osprey brand but need a more robust pack for heavier loads, check out the Osprey Aether 65. This pack utilizes a burly suspension system ideal for tackling bigger trips.

Read more: Osprey Atmos AG 65 review

backpacks backpacking - the atmos 65 is a comfortable pack with great features.
The Atmos 65 is a comfortable pack with great features.
Credit: Sam Schild

Best Lightweight Support for Long Distances


Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 10.0
  • Adjustability 5.0
Weight: 2.8 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Super-light
Feature-packed
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
No lid
Back panel doesn't breathe well

Tipping the scales at just 2.8 pounds, the ULA Catalyst borders on being an ultralight pack and is an excellent option for lightweight enthusiasts. Although this pack is incredibly light for its massive 75-liter capacity, it comfortably carries a hefty load for long stretches between resupplies. ULA packs are well known in the trail community and are loved for having the features thru-hikers want, like massive zippered hip belt pockets, a large stretchy mesh front pocket, and huge side water bottle pockets that can each hold two tall one-liter bottles. Heck, for an upcharge, they'll even embroider your trail name on the pack. If you're so inclined, there are many customized options, including some fun color combinations. This is all great stuff, but when all is said and done, this pack scores so well in our review simply for being lightweight, capable, comfortable, and feature-filled.

We downright love this pack, but we understand it might not be for everyone. If you appreciate the breathability and ventilation of a trampoline-style suspension, you're better off looking elsewhere (we love the breathable suspension of the Osprey Atmos AG 65). Another consideration is that this pack lacks a brain on top. That said, we still found ample storage for on-the-go items. If you want serious volume without serious weight, the Catalyst is an excellent option and one of our favorite picks for long-distance hikes. For those who want more a more breathable back panel in a still lightweight package, the Osprey Exos 58 is our top choice. Although it weighs more than the Catalyst, the Exos has a comfortable suspended mesh back panel that's extremely comfortable and is quite light considering all its features.

Read more: Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst review

backpacks backpacking - we love the catalyst for long-distance hikes.
We love the Catalyst for long-distance hikes.
Credit: Elizabeth Paashaus

Best for Carrying Heavy Loads


Osprey Aether 65


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.0
  • Adjustability 9.0
Weight: 5.0 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Supportive
Comfortable
Quick and easy to adjust to an individual
Rain cover included
Zipper to access the interior
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Hip belt lets the pack sway

Osprey has always done a good job of marrying durability, adjustability, and large load comfort, and the Osprey Aether 65 is the perfect example. With its Fit on the Fly velcro adjustment system and quick sliding shoulder straps, it's easy to dial in your ideal fit while out on the trail. This backpacking backpack makes it easy to access your gear with a sleeping bag compartment, reinforced stretch “shove-it” front pocket, a large zipper to access the pack's interior, and a double-pocketed lid that keeps all the necessities just a zip away. The back panel and shoulder straps are firm and supportive, remaining comfortable with loads up to a whopping 50 pounds. There are multiple compression straps to keep the weight close to your body. These straps are also useful for strapping wet gear outside your pack. When the weather does turn stormy, you can pull out the included pack cover to shelter your gear, but if the forecast is clear, you can leave it at home to save some ounces.

The main disadvantage to the Aether is its substantial heft. This pack clocks in at 5 pounds. Though it can comfortably handle loads many lighter packs couldn't dream of carrying, this pack is undeniably heavy. The high-quality and reinforced materials, as well as additional features, add extra weight. On the other hand, the heavier materials are more durable, and the features might just be what you're searching for. Another important consideration is that the hip belt doesn't absorb the movement of your hips when walking, causing the pack to sway from side to side when carrying heavy and tall loads. However, when we need to carry seriously heavy gear, there's no pack we've tested that's more comfortable to take on hefty loads than this one. For those who prefer to move light and fast, we also like the Gregory Focal 58. This pack is substantially lighter than the Osprey Aether; however, it still held up considerably well when carrying larger loads.

Read more: Osprey Aether 65 review

backpacks backpacking - the aether&#039;s front stretch pocket is great for storing wet or dirty...
The Aether's front stretch pocket is great for storing wet or dirty gear.
Credit: Bennett Fisher

Best Organizational Features


Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.0
  • Adjustability 9.0
Weight: 5.2 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Good value
Lots of features
Very adjustable
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy

The Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10 is a great pack for those who want options for staying organized on the trail. If you want a specific pocket or space for everything while backpacking, this pack is for you. It has great organizational features, including three separate ways to access the main compartment. An interesting suite of features allows you to customize its setup. It has a sleeping bag compartment with a separate opening, but it can be opened and included in the main compartment with an internal zipper. It also has two side compression straps per side, both of which are removable or reconfigurable. It has dual ice axe loops with attachment bungees on the front of the pack, but if you don't need those, you can remove them as well. The brain has two zippered pockets and two more zipper pockets on the hip belt. The torso length can be adjusted up to four inches, and the generously cushioned shoulder straps, lumbar pad, and hip belt make this a comfortable ride overall.

Unfortunately, the Aircontact Core is only available in one size. Therefore, if your torso length is not within the 18 to 21-inch range, this pack won't fit. It also has a forward-angled side water bottle pocket on the right side, but not the left side of the pack. So, you'll only have access to one water bottle at a time. Still, these are minor issues for an overall great backpacking backpack for keeping organized. If you're not within the 4-inch torso range of the Deuter, we like the REI Co-op Traverse 60, which comes in four different size options.

Read more: Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10 review

backpacks backpacking - the deuter aircontact core has everything you&#039;d want to stay...
The Deuter Aircontact Core has everything you'd want to stay organized on your next backpacking trip.
Credit: Sam Schild

Best Overall Ultralight Backpack


Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60


Weight: 1.9 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable carrying heavy or light loads
Versatile
Great set of features
Quality construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavier than some ultralight packs

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa has remained at the top of our list of favorite ultralight backpacks for years. It emphasizes lightweight design without sacrificing comfort in a way that most packs can't. It has a great set of useful features and gives lots of options to carry extra gear on the outside of the pack, all without adding too much weight. This pack has our favorite external stretch mesh back pocket of any ultralight model. This pocket is big enough to store snacks, extra layers, and other gear you need to access quickly. The main compartment fits a full-sized bear canister horizontally, a rare feat for an ultralight backpack. And you can compress this bag to a smaller size when carrying a smaller load. Made of durable and light materials, it will stand up to just about anything you get into: bushwacks, talus fields, or anywhere else the trail takes you.

Despite being advertised as a 60-liter pack, the Mariposa can carry up to 64 liters when fully stuffed. For some, this amount of room might feel like too much for an ultralight pack. After all, the more room you have, the more you may be tempted to carry. It's also not the lightest model in our ultralight backpacking pack review, but paired with a high volume, it still offers a good weight-to-volume ratio. Some ultralight bags skimp on space and comfort, but the Mariposa has plenty of both. If you'd prefer to use a smaller-liter bag with more weight savings, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 is another stellar option to consider.

Read more: Gossamer Gear Mariposa review

backpacks backpacking - the ultralight gossamer gear mariposa going into the sierras.
The ultralight Gossamer Gear Mariposa going into the Sierras.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
87
Granite Gear Blaze 60
Best Overall Backpacking Backpack
$300
Editors' Choice Award
83
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Best for Superior Comfort
$340
Top Pick Award
82
Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst
Best Lightweight Support for Long Distances
$300
Top Pick Award
81
REI Co-op Flash 55
Best Bang for the Buck
$199
Best Buy Award
81
Gregory Paragon 58
$260
80
Osprey Aether 65
Best for Carrying Heavy Loads
$320
Top Pick Award
76
Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10
Best Organizational Features
$250
Top Pick Award
75
Gregory Focal 58
$250
75
Osprey Exos 58
$260
68
Osprey Aether Pro 70
$400
66
REI Co-op Traverse 60
$259
65
Gregory Baltoro 65
$330
64
Mountain Hardwear PCT 70
$300
62
Arc'teryx Bora 65
$320
61
Big Agnes Parkview 63
$250
57
ALPS Mountaineering Cascade 90
$270

backpacks backpacking - we tested our lineup of top backpacking packs in a variety of...
We tested our lineup of top backpacking packs in a variety of beautiful and remote places around the world.
Credit: Sam Schild

How We Test Backpacking Backpacks


For this review, we identified the key metrics essential to grading a backpacking backpack. Then we designed thorough and wide-ranging tests to perform in the field and the lab to fully explore each metric. We — and our friends — hiked all over with these backpacks, loaded with camping gear and food, noting what made them comfortable (or not). We combined field use (i.e., evaluating convenience on different types of trips with different aims, different gear, and in different climates) and lab testing (e.g., volume testing using thousands of ping pong balls and a volume measuring device calibrated with a 1-liter measuring cup and lots of water). We loaded them up with various gear and took to the trail on a series of adventures ranging from volcano mountaineering trips to alpine rock approaches and long thru-hikes. From the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Nevadas, we wore these backpacking backpacks on long and short trail days, testing and assessing their strengths and weaknesses along the way.

We tested models in this review with a focus on the following:
  • Comfort (40% of overall weighting)
  • Ease of Use (25% of overall weighting)
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio (20% of overall weighting)
  • Adjustability (15% of overall weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Our wide and varied backpack review team is led by Sam Schild, a backpacker, trail runner, and mountain biker based in Colorado. He has backpacked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, Arizona Trail, and Colorado Trail three times, along with countless shorter backpacking trips. Sam is joined by Ian Nicholson, a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide with over 3,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, European Alps, and beyond. Ian has guided over 1,000 clients and helped them select and fit packs for their adventures. When Ian is not guiding or climbing, he works in an outdoor gear shop, which lets him stay up-to-date on innovative pack technology. Also on our testing team is Adam Paashaus, another long-time guide and outdoor instructor. When Adam isn't thru-hiking with his family, you can find him trail running, rock climbing, planning his next trip, or scouting the next place to call home. Ben Applebaum-Bauch is also an outdoor guide who also trains other guides. He has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Vermont Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Oregon Coast Trail, and the John Muir Trail. And finally, Bennett Fisher wraps up our expert backpack testing panel. Bennett is a former gear shop employee, a graduate in outdoor product development, and a thru-hiker. He has logged over 6,000 miles of backpacking, including the entire Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.

Testing the Big Agnes Parkview on a sunny day in Colorado&#039;s Arapaho...
Testing the Big Agnes Parkview on a sunny day in Colorado's Arapaho National Forest.
The PCT 70 is heavier than some, but not lighter than most.
The PCT 70 is heavier than some, but not lighter than most.
Testing water bottle pocket accessibility on the trail in Colorado.
Testing water bottle pocket accessibility on the trail in Colorado.
We tested packs across mountain ranges, forests, deserts, grasslands, and coastal landscapes.

Analysis and Test Results


We put our lineup of contenders through thorough side-by-side comparison testing that assesses comfort, ease of use, weight, and adjustability. After researching the best backpacking backpacks on quality, innovation, and popularity, we purchased every pack we tested. When preparing for testing, we also considered what makes a great backpacking backpack. Here, we break down our findings by metric and dive into the nitty gritty of what makes each pack worthy of consideration.


Value


Backpacks, like other outdoor gear, can be quite expensive. However, the right gear is often well worth the investment. If you have ever trekked up into the mountains with a poorly-fitting pack, there is no doubt you understand the benefits that a quality pack can provide. Top dollar doesn't always equal top comfort, though. Some of the priciest packs here weren't the highest performers. However, many of the more expensive packs did score quite well overall. We consider price in our value recommendations but never let price color our testing or analysis of pack performance.

The REI Flash 55 offers the best value for a backpacking backpack. It's lightweight and full of features that can be added, moved, or removed as needed, all for a reasonable price. Our favorite pack, the Granite Gear Blaze 60, offers outstanding performance at an average price, making it a great value. The Gregory Focal 58 also stood out for its value: it's more comfortable than most backpacks we tested and costs less than most. Also worth noting, the Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10 had some of the most organization-friendly features and excellent adjustability for an impressively low price.

backpacks backpacking - the aircontact core has great features to keep us organized at a...
The Aircontact Core has great features to keep us organized at a reasonable price.
Credit: Sam Schild

The Gregory Paragon 58 has a similar pricepoint as the Gregory Focal and Deuter Aircontactbut offers more organizational features than the Focal and slightly more adjustability than the Aircontact. The Osprey Exos 58 is also quite affordable and costs about the same as the Paragon, Focal, and Aircontact. This pack stands out for its comfortable mesh back panel that doesn't weigh as much as many similarly designed packs with a trampoline back panel.

The Osprey Exos 58 is a good value for a backpack with a comfortable and lightweight design.
Credit: Sam Schild

Comfort


When testing suspension, we assessed each model's shoulder straps, waist belts, back panels, and frame design. We considered how supportive each backpack is, how well it conforms to different body shapes, and how comfortable it is. The waist belt and shoulder straps are crucial when picking a backpack. They have the most significant impact on a pack's comfort (or lack thereof). The majority of issues that bother new backpackers relate to these two areas. We took the selected models on multiple extended trips loaded with 25 to 55 pounds of food, water, and gear to test their comfort.


Padded hip belts and shoulder straps are worth very little without a good suspension to go along with them. A pack's suspension is its frame system. Frame systems include internal and external frame components (or "stays"), compression straps, shoulder straps, and a hip belt. Suspension dictates how effectively the weight of your load disperses throughout the pack onto the shoulder straps and waist belt. The frame ensures the load from the pack body rests on your hips, supported by the waist belt. We also note how well each pack transfers the weight to the front of the shoulder straps rather than the top, so your shoulders don't get crushed.

Each person's body is different, so our tests included a wide range of users, including GearLab editors, friends, and our climbing and backpacking partners, to gather a wide variety of data. When a pack seems to fit a specific body type best, we mention that in the review.

The Gregory Paragon 58 remains comfortable over long days on the trail.
Credit: Sam Schild

After extensive testing with typical 25 to 45-pound loads, the ULA Catalyst, Osprey Atmos AG 65, Gregory Paragon 58, and Gregory Focal 58 proved the most comfortable. All of our testers agreed that the Granite Gear Blaze 60 has a robust suspension, while the pack is super light (3.0 pounds), considering the amount of weight it can carry.

backpacks backpacking - the gregory focal has cushy foam padding on the shoulder straps that...
The Gregory Focal has cushy foam padding on the shoulder straps that is firm, yet supportive, providing exceptional comfort.
Credit: Sam Schild

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 provides a snug ride with its trampoline-style suspension that spreads the load evenly across the body. We rarely got hot spots on our backs or hips, even after extended travel in warmer conditions. One reason for the lack of hot spots is the heavily tapered padding in the straps and waist belt, which provide the thickest cushioning where you want it the most, like on top of your shoulders. At the same time, thinner padding in less important areas reduces chafing. At loads above 40 pounds, however, the Atmos becomes less comfortable.

backpacks backpacking - the atmos has excellent suspension and features that make it one of...
The Atmos has excellent suspension and features that make it one of the most comfortable packs we tested for loads under 40 pounds.
Credit: Sam Schild

The best-performing contenders for heavier loads are the Osprey Aether 65, the Gregory Baltoro 65, and the Granite Gear Blaze 60. These packs use high-quality foam that perfectly balances support and comfort. All of the shoulder straps offer top-notch ergonomics and slightly stiffer padding. While this rigid padding is marginally less comfy, you need it when you're lugging a heavy load because it won't compress. Each of these models offers subtle advantages that will help transfer the load to your hips and keep you moving toward camp in relative comfort. These advantages include a supportive suspension, foam stiffness, and well-designed shoulder straps and waist belts. The combination lands all of them in the load-hauler category.

backpacks backpacking - the gregory paragon 58 has a comfortable hip belt, so you can keep...
The Gregory Paragon 58 has a comfortable hip belt, so you can keep wearing the pack, but you should still take a break to enjoy the scenery.
Credit: Sam Schild

The hip belt is one of the main contributors to a comfortable pack, especially a well-loaded one. Some are light and relatively soft, while others swivel and are well-padded yet rigid to carry heavy loads. Some packs, like the Granite Gear Blaze 60, Gregory Baltoro 65, Gregory Paragon 58, and Osprey Aether 65, allow the foam padding of the waistbelt to extend out to fit larger waist sizes.

backpacks backpacking - the gregory baltoro has a robust suspension that comfortably...
The Gregory Baltoro has a robust suspension that comfortably supports heavier loads.
Credit: Sam Schild

Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System


Trampoline-style or suspended suspension systems feature a tensioned mesh back panel (like a trampoline) instead of a more traditional, single-stay, double-stay, or “Y” shaped frame. These allow airflow between your back and the pack's load, reducing back sweat. More importantly, weight is distributed more evenly, producing fewer hot spots. The Osprey Atmos AG 65, Gregory Focal 58, Gregory Paragon 58, Osprey Exos 58, and Mountain Hardwear PCT 70 all have trampoline-style suspension.

backpacks backpacking - the trampoline mesh back panel on the osprey exos 58 creates a...
The trampoline mesh back panel on the Osprey Exos 58 creates a comfortable and airy ride as you wear it.
Credit: Sam Schild

We like trampoline-style suspension systems for breathability and weight distribution. However, not many trampoline-style harnesses can handle large loads of 45+ pounds. Trampoline suspensions also position the load further away from your back, increasing leverage, reducing balance, and making for a less comfortable overall carrying experience as the weight increases.

backpacks backpacking - the osprey atmos 65 has an anti-gravity frame that is an example of...
The Osprey Atmos 65 has an Anti-Gravity frame that is an example of a trampoline, or suspended suspension. Your back rests against a mesh back panel, which is suspended over a more traditional frame. This tends to provide more airflow, making these packs cooler and less sweaty, but typically less capable of handling heavier loads.
Credit: Sam Schild

Ease of Use


This metric evaluates how easy it is to pack and retrieve items from these backpacks, paying particular attention to the design of the main compartment, pockets, lid, straps, and other unique attributes. We compared the number and location of pockets and how useful our testers found them. We measured the internal volume of the main pocket and compared it to the manufacturer's claims. We also determined how well the pack's brain provides access to small items and whether those items stayed organized.


We looked at each pocket and asked ourselves: Does this pocket make my life easier and keep me more organized? Or is it just adding weight to the pack? We also looked at access points and evaluated whether they seem useful for retrieving items or if they're impractical to zip shut when the pack is full and are thus just for show.

backpacks backpacking - having straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a...
Having straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a small but excellent feature to have. The straps on the Gregory Focal 58 pass through the side pockets and function as side compression straps.
Credit: Sam Schild

To assess exactly how much space every pack had to store backpacking gear, we tested the internal volume of each pack using thousands of ping pong balls and a measuring cylinder calibrated with a 1-liter measuring cup and lots of water. We filled every pocket of every pack with ping pong balls, then measured the total liters of the balls. We then recorded our findings and compared them to the manufacturers' claimed volume for each pack.

We created a volume-measuring cylinder using a 1-liter measuring...
We created a volume-measuring cylinder using a 1-liter measuring container and a lot of water.
We filled every pack to the brim with ping pong balls so we could...
We filled every pack to the brim with ping pong balls so we could measure the volume.
We filled our measuring cylinder with every ping pong ball we could...
We filled our measuring cylinder with every ping pong ball we could cram into each backpack to measure the total pack volume.
We measured volume using ping pong balls and a calibrated measuring container.

Most pack manufacturers are pretty accurate with their volume claims. However, there is some discrepancy in tabulating total volume: some companies count every pocket's volume in their advertised volume, while others only count the main compartment.

Measuring the internal storage capacity of the Granite Gear Blaze 60 using our measuring cylinder.
Credit: Sam Schild

We considered other additional features' usefulness and evaluated them in the field during real-world testing. We generally favor packs with a handful of straps for crampons, ice axes, sleeping pads, flip-flops, or other items because it adds to the pack's overall versatility. We awarded extra points for features that can be removed or customized for a more personalized user experience.

Overall Organizational Ability


For those who like an assortment of compartments and pockets for organization, the Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10, Granite Gear Blaze 60, and ULA Catalyst have particularly convenient pocket designs. These models offer a similar setup and exhibit our favorite organizational and pocket layouts. They provide excellent hip belt pockets, big water bottle side pockets, and a stretchy mesh “stuff-it” pocket that is excellent for wet clothes or carrying oddly shaped items like fuel bottles, a trowel, camp shoes, or a frisbee.

The Granite Gear Blaze 60's hidden front zippered opening accesses the main pack compartment without opening the top lid.
Credit: Sam Schild

For folks who love to stay super organized, the Deuter Aircontact Core, Gregory Paragon 58, and Gregory Baltoro offer excellent gear access and the ability to get to your items quickly without removing anything. If you want a ton of space to store your bulky items, the ALPS Mountaineering Cascade 90 and Mountain Hardwear PCT 70 had some of the largest main compartments along with tons of external storage.

backpacks backpacking - a mesh pocket on the outside lets you easily access your jacket.
A mesh pocket on the outside lets you easily access your jacket.
Credit: Sam Schild

Top Lid Pocket (aka The Brain)


Every pack, other than the ULA Catalyst, has a top lid with a zippered pocket, and many of them can be removed and left at home to reduce weight. The top lid is one of the best places to store small items that require quick and easy access, such as sunglasses, sunblock, or bug spray. Many models also have a separate small pocket on the underside of the lid, offering a secondary place to keep small items that don't need to be accessed as frequently, like car keys.

backpacks backpacking - the arc&#039;teryx bora 65 has front pocket that zips open but can also...
The Arc'teryx Bora 65 has front pocket that zips open but can also be accessed from the top of the pocket without unzipping it.
Credit: Sam Schild

Most packs have zippers on the front or back of the lid, which means that it's not as easy to get inside them without removing the bag. Additionally, not all side-zippered lid pockets are the same. The sizable zippered lid pockets of the Osprey Atmos AG 65 are next level. The Gregory Baltoro 65 also has a very wide opening zipper on its lid.

backpacks backpacking - the &quot;brain&quot; section of the atmos has not one but two exterior...
The “brain” section of the Atmos has not one but two exterior pockets, which add organizing options.
Credit: Sam Schild

Pack Access


How you access the primary compartment on the backpacking pack is part of our Ease of Use metric and measures how easily you can grab a few items without unpacking the entire bag. The value placed on this metric depends on the user and the pack's volume. As pack volume increases, access takes on greater importance.

Getting a jacket buried in the middle of your pack is easy with the Aircontact Core's front zipper opening.
Credit: Sam Schild

While ease of access is important, too many features will add weight to the backpack. Don't select a pack solely for an elongated zippered access panel, especially if you will rarely use it. That massive zipper will add a lot of weight to the backpack. Also, many side access panels are a pain to close when the pack is fully loaded.

Weight Penalty — All additional pack features have a weight penalty. Consider your priorities before saying “I want lots of access”. We hear that often only to witness folks go on several trips without using their side access panel but still carrying the extra weight from that burly zipper.

All the backpacking backpacks in our review are top-loading; many have a separate sleeping bag compartment with a bottom access zipper, including the Osprey Atmos AG and Aether, the Deuter Aircontact Core, the REI Co-op Traverse 60, the Gregory Baltoro, the Gregory Paragon, the Mountain Hardwear PCT, and the ALPS Cascade. These openings enable access to a part of the pack that is hard to get at from the top without unloading it all on the ground first.

The Gregory Paragon 58's side access zipper pocket lets you pull out your tent quickly without unpacking.
Credit: Sam Schild

Additionally, some packs have access to the main compartment through the front or sides. The ones in our lineup with this access are the Granite Gear Blaze, Osprey Atmos and Aether, Deuter Aircontact Core, Gregory Baltoro and Paragon, and Arc'teryx Bora.

backpacks backpacking - our testers love the dual-zippered lid pockets on the baltoro 65; it...
Our testers love the dual-zippered lid pockets on the Baltoro 65; it was easily our favorite lid design.
Credit: Sam Schild

Hip Belt Pockets


A pack with a good hip belt is critical; pockets can make or break a hip belt. We especially love the hip belt pockets on the Granite Gear Blaze 60, Gregory Baltoro 65, Gregory Focal 58, and the ULA Catalyst for their unrivaled size and ease of access. The Deuter Aircontact Core features waist belt pockets made of stretchy mesh, allowing them to fit even more than their appearance suggests.

backpacks backpacking - the stretchy mesh hip pockets of the aircontact core fit more than...
The stretchy mesh hip pockets of the Aircontact Core fit more than they appear.
Credit: Sam Schild

The Osprey Exos 58, on the other hand, has some of the smallest hip belt pockets we tested. Each pocket is barely big enough to fit a smartphone that is 5.9 inches tall, 2.8 inches wide, and 0.4 inches deep. Previous versions of this pack didn't have hip belt pockets at all, so these smaller pockets are better than nothing, but you can't cram as much into them as the models mentioned above.

backpacks backpacking - the osprey exos has some of the smallest hip belt pockets of any...
The Osprey Exos has some of the smallest hip belt pockets of any pack we tested, but at least the newest version has hip belt pockets.
Credit: Sam Schild

Hydration


Almost all of the packs in this review have a location to store a hydration bladder where it should stay upright. You can expect the models with this feature to work with just about any brand's 2 to 3-liter hydration bladder.

backpacks backpacking - most bags have a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve inside the main...
Most bags have a dedicated hydration bladder sleeve inside the main compartment. Here you can see the one in the Flash 55, with the blue loop on top to keep your bladder hanging upright.
Credit: Sam Schild

Rain Covers


Rain covers are a practical addition to any backpacking pack. If the rain is falling for days at a time, unless you've lined your pack with a trash bag or packed your gear in dry bags, your stuff will get wet. A pack cover can only do so much to lessen this reality, but it helps prevent excess water from soaking into the pack fabric, which will weigh down your pack. Although the backpacks in this review are not waterproof, it's worth noting that some of them include a rain cover, such as the Osprey Aether 65, the Gregory Paragon 58, the REI Traverse, and the ALPS Mountaineering Cascade 90.

backpacks backpacking - the aether 65 comes with a raincover that is large enough to easily...
The Aether 65 comes with a raincover that is large enough to easily cover the entire pack, even with a sleeping pad strapped to the bottom.
Credit: Bennett Fisher

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


The weight of the pack itself affects how heavy it feels on your back almost as much as the gear you're carrying does. This seems obvious to say, but, a heavier pack will feel, well, heavier. While we aren't talking about ultralight packs here, we still think it's worth considering how much a pack weighs. A lighter pack will make it easier to hike while wearing that pack, after all.


We measured each pack on our home scale to verify the manufacturer's claimed weight. Then, we calculated the weight-to-volume ratio of each pack. A smaller pack will weigh less because it's made with fewer materials, but if that means you can't carry all your backpacking equipment, then a few extra ounces might be better.

The Granite Gear Blaze 60 doees a great job of balancing weight and carrying capacity.
Credit: Sam Schild

The lightest packs in our review, by a significant margin, are the REI Flash 55, ULA Catalyst, Gregory Focal 58, Osprey Exos 58, and Granite Gear Blaze 60. These packs weigh in at 3.0 pounds or less and ride the line between backpacking backpacks and ultralight minimalist packs. The big difference is that these models are more comfortable for people with a base pack weight below 20-25 pounds.

Interested in Ultralight Hiking?
This review focuses on non-ultralight packs built for most backpacking trips, carrying heavier loads, and prioritizing comfort and functional features. If you're interested in going ultralight, check out our reviews of the best ultralight gear.

Testing the volume of the Osprey Atmos AG 65's main compartment, which has a relatively high volume-to-weight ratio.
Credit: Sam Schild

These lighter packs are excellent options for folks who want to go super light but still need a comfortable and supportive pack with a frame and more robust padding for trips when you need to carry more weight. A lower initial pack weight also helps with longer food carries or that first day of a week-long backpacking trip when those seven days' worth of food is heavy no matter what the rest of your gear weighs. Because of their lightweight and great weight-carrying capacity, these packs are popular among long-distance trail and section hikers.


It's worth noting that sometimes lightweight packs sacrifice load-carrying abilities and organizational features. If your backpacking setup is dialed, you may benefit from a lightweight pack, but not necessarily. Packs that weigh more will have more pockets and often have a more robust frame, making a heavier load feel more comfortable. On the contrary, if you overload a lightweight pack that isn't designed for a heavy load, it won't be comfortable.

backpacks backpacking - the osprey exos weighs under 3 pounds and is best suited for...
The Osprey Exos weighs under 3 pounds and is best suited for lightweight backpacking.
Credit: Sam Schild

Adjustability


To judge each backpack's adjustability and fit, we considered its overall ergonomics and how adjustable each model was. We also looked at the range of torso lengths available. More sizes mean it could work for a broader range of users.


Mix and Match Sizing
There aren't many pack manufacturers that let you swap out waist belts and shoulder strap sizes to tailor your fit. But depending on your build, you may want a large frame and a medium waist belt. If this would be helpful for your body type, it is worth seeking out a pack from a manufacturer like Gregory, Osprey, REI, or ULA.

Many packs we tested feature a way to move the shoulder straps up and down to adjust the torso length. These include the Granite Gear Blaze 60, REI Flash 55, Osprey Atmos AG 65, Osprey Aether 65, Gregory Paragon 58, Osprey Exos 58, Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10, Arc'teryx Bora 65, and ALPS Mountaineering Cascade 90, which all allow you to adjust the torso length vertically on the pack to dial in your perfect fit.

The Flash 55 has an easy-to-use torso adjustment feature to dial in the fit.
Credit: Sam Schild

The Arc'teryx Bora 65 takes torso length adjustment a step further by allowing you to move the shoulder straps side to side as well as up and down. This pack also has a hip belt that you can adjust up and down to adjust the fit that much more.

backpacks backpacking - the arc&#039;teryx bora 65 allows you to move the shoulder straps up and...
The Arc'teryx Bora 65 allows you to move the shoulder straps up and down and side to side to dial in the fit.
Credit: Sam Schild

The adjustment options of the Osprey Aether 65 are also quite notable. While it may only have four inches of verticle adjustment, it also has adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt padding that help dial in your perfect fit while on the trail.

The Gregory Paragon 58 has a very adjustable hip belt as well. Most packs allow you to adjust the hip belt size by simple changing the length of a webbing strap. With the Paragon, however, the cushioning for the hip belt can also be extended so people with wider hips can still have cushioning where they need it.

The Gregory Paragon 58 allows you to extend the cushioning of the hip belt out farther, so people with larger hips can have cushioning where they need it.
Credit: Sam Schild

The Gregory Baltoro 65 and Osprey Atmos AG 65 also have a respectable amount of adjustment. They also feature roughly four inches of vertical adjustment and are available in a variety of sizes. The REI Traverse 60 and Flash 55 are available in a unique extra size: a large torso with a small waistbelt, which is useful for those tall, skinny folks out there.

backpacks backpacking - the right backpacking backpack can take you and everything you need...
The right backpacking backpack can take you and everything you need to camp to some awesome places to sleep under the stars.
Credit: Sam Schild

Conclusion


Traveling from point A to point B on a backcountry trip seems simple enough, but choosing the right backpacking backpack to get you and all your gear to the end in the best shape possible is a bit trickier. You can choose from many options, each geared toward a certain type of packer and hiker. We hope that our testing and analysis have helped you narrow down the choices so you can select the best option for your needs and your budget.

backpacks backpacking - the right backpack can be your faithful companion during...
The right backpack can be your faithful companion during cross-country travel in remote locations like the High Sierra (pictured here at over 11,000 feet).
Credit: Chris McNamara

Sam Schild, Ian Nicholson, Adam Paashaus, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, and Bennett Fisher