Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2021

We tested backpacking backpacks from Osprey, Granite Gear, Gregory, REI, and more to find the best models
The Osprey Aether 65 is a tank that is loaded down with convenient fea...
Photo: Bennett Fisher
Friday October 8, 2021
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Searching for the best backpacking backpack? After a decade of testing close to 60 different models, our expert reviewers purchased 15 top packs of 2021 for a meticulous side-by-side comparison. Our team of experts knows what makes a great pack. We've ventured all over the world with these packs on multiple extended trips, from sweaty Appalachian slogs to hot and dry Mojave crossings to alpine rambles. Each pack in our lineup has its strengths and weaknesses, and we help to decipher all the nuances to simplify your researching experience and help you find the best pack for your needs.

Related: Best Backpacking Backpack for Women of 2021

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $269.95 at REI
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$280 List$199.00 at REICheck Price at REI
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$221.99 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Light-weight, comfortable with heavy loads, perfect pocket combinationLight-weight, comfortable, supportive, functional feature setLight-weight, comfortable, easily personalized, inexpensiveVery lightweight, good value, great featuresAwesome pockets, excellent ventilation, general comfort
Cons Tiny buckles hard to operate with glovesNo lid, back-panel lacks ventilationlacks durabillity, not made for heavy loadsPoor support under heavy loads, fixed torso and waist beltNot supportive for loads over 40 pounds
Bottom Line A lightweight load hauler that is both comfortable and full of featuresThis pack blends excellent carrying comfort with arguably the best-executed set of features, all in a light-weight packageIt may not be a heavy load hauler, but for moderate loads, this pack is comfortable and has an amazing set of features, all at a great priceThis is a great borderline ultralight pack that performs well when used for lighter loadsA classic backpack design with breathable a suspension and many user-friendly features
Rating Categories Granite Gear Blaze 60 Ultralight Adventur... REI Co-op Flash 55 Gregory Optic 58L Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Suspension And Comfort (45%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
Weight (20%)
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
5.0
Features And Ease Of Use (20%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Adjustability (15%)
8.0
5.0
5.0
5.0
8.0
Specs Granite Gear Blaze 60 Ultralight Adventur... REI Co-op Flash 55 Gregory Optic 58L Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Measured Weight (pounds) 3.0 lbs 3.0 lbs 2.6 lbs 2.5 lbs 4.5 lbs
Volume (liters) 60 L 75 L 55 L 58 L 65 L
Access Top Top Top Top Top + sleeping bag compartment
Hydration Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials 100D robic nylon w/ DWR coating 400 Robic fabric Main body: 100D ripstop nylon
Bottom: 420D nylon
Main Body: 100d High Tenacity Nylon Bottom: 210D High Tenacity Nylon Main body: 100D X 630D Nylon Dobby
Accent: 210D High Tenacity Nylon
Bottom: 420HD Nylon
Sleeping bag Compartment No No No No Yes


Best Overall Backpacking Backpack


Granite Gear Blaze 60


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort 8
  • Weight 9
  • Features and Ease of Use 9
  • Adjustability 8
Weight: 3.0 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
Super-light
Feature-packed
Comfortable
Small buckles are hard to operate with gloves

Thanks to its impressive design, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 is once again the best overall backpacking pack in our review. This pack is somehow able to comfortably support up to 50 pounds while only weighing 3.0 pounds itself. We also enjoyed the great set of features on this pack for their practicality and usability. There is a stretchy mesh stuff-it pocket, roomy hip pockets, removable top-lid, breathable back-panel, long front access zipper, and nine compression straps. This thing has just about every feature you could ask for. 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're able to comfortably carry a few luxury items, winter/climbing gear, or extra food for a longer trail section.

While this pack does many things right, there is no perfect pack for everyone. Some of the buckles are on the small side, which makes them difficult to operate with gloves. Though this isn't a high-tech, revolutionary pack, part of its appeal is its simplistic yet functional design. Granite Gear keeps things simple, and by using some of the lightest and most durable fabrics available, they manage to keep the pack light and strong.

Read review: Granite Gear Blaze 60

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Flash 55


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort 7
  • Weight 10
  • Features and Ease of Use 9
  • Adjustability 5
Weight: 2.6 lbs | Volume: 55 liters
Good value
Super light
Modular design
Lacks durability
Max load of 30lb

The REI Flash 55 is an inexpensive, awesome, and well-designed backpack. It weighs in at a mere 2.6 pounds, and amazingly, it can comfortably carry loads 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. There are two "extra" side stash pockets between the side bottle pockets, and the front stash pocket is super handy and a unique use of space, essentially doubling the external storage capacity. The side bottle pockets are also the most easily accessible in the group. Since bottles go in vertically, there is no inference with arm swing, and because they are so close to the sides of the body, water bottles can easily be removed and replaced with one hand.

When you design a product to be lightweight, it's common for performance to suffer in another way, often ringing up at a higher cost while reducing durability and even support. The Flash 55 does a great job of keeping the price low, but the durability issue rings true. For example, we would advise against rubbing into any rocks, or you may end up with some holes (as we did). We also would have liked to have carried a little more than 30 pounds, but being able to do so would require a more robust suspension and add to the pack's baseline weight.

Read review: REI Co-op Flash 55

Best Lightweight Support for Long Distances


Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort 8
  • Weight 9
  • Features and Ease of Use 8
  • Adjustability 5
Weight: 3.0 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
Super-light
Feature-packed
Comfortable
No lid
Back-panel doesn't breathe well

Barely tipping the scales at 3.0 pounds, the ULA Catalyst is a pack for lightweight enthusiasts. Although this pack is incredibly light, 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 stuff-it pocket, and huge side water bottle pockets that can easily hold two tall one-liter bottles each. Heck, for an upcharge, they will even embroider your very own trail name. There are many customized options, including some fun color combinations, if you're so inclined. 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, feature-filled.

We downright love this pack, but we'll ackwnoledge that it may not be a perfect fit for everyone. If you appreciate the breathability of a trampoline-style suspension, you will probably want to look elsewhere. This pack also has no top lid, but we still found ample storage for on-the-go items. This pack gave the Blaze 60 a serious run for its money.

Read review: Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst

Best for Superior Comfort


Osprey Atmos 65 AG


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort 8
  • Weight 5
  • Features and Ease of Use 8
  • Adjustability 8
Weight: 4.6 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
Comfortable
Feature-laden
Awesome ventilation
Lighter than average
Not as supportive for super heavy (45+ lb) loads
Snow can get inside of the back panel

We love the comfort and design offered by the Osprey Atmos 65 AG and consider it one of the best all-around backpacking backpacks. It's loaded with features and sports incredible ventilation while weighing in at a respectable 4.5 pounds, so it's not surprising that it's earned a cult-like following. What sets the Atmos 65 AG apart the most, though, is Osprey's innovative anti-gravity (AG) suspension, which helps spread the load more evenly across the 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 thoughfully placed. Moreover, the Atmos offers an excellent fit with efficient adjustability focused on ergonomics.

Still, at a weight of 4.5 lbs, this pack approaches a mass that starts to feels a bit overengineered. As more people get into backpacking, the average weight that hikers carry has decreased as the emphasis has turned toward simplicity. Furthermore, if you plan to consistently haul loads of 45 pounds or more, you should consider a different model — this pack doesn't handle heavy loads as well. Finally, while most users have a good experience with the Atmos 65 AG, some testers found the waistbelt confining and too hug-like, especially when trying to adjust clothing layers.

Read review: Osprey Atmos 65 AG

Best for Carrying Heavy Loads


Osprey Aether 65


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort 8
  • Weight 4
  • Features and Ease of Use 8
  • Adjustability 9
Weight: 5.0 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
Supportive
Comfortable
Quick and easy to adjust to an individual
Rain cover included
Zipper to access interior
Heavy
Attached hip belt causes entire pack to sway while walking

Osprey has always done a good job of marrying durability, adjustability, and large load comfort; the Aether 65L is the perfect example of that. With its Fit-on-the-Fly velcro adjustment system and quick sliding shoulder straps, we found it easy to dial in the perfect fit while out on the trail. This pack makes it easy to access your gear with a sleeping bag compartment, reinforced stretch shove-it back pocket, a large zipper to access the pack's interior, and a double-pocketed lid so that all the necessities are just a zip away. The back panel and shoulder straps are firm and supportive, remaining comfortable with loads up to 50 pounds. There are multiple compression straps so you can keep the weight close to your body, and these are also useful for strapping wet gear to the outside for drying out. 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 weight.

The biggest downside of this pack is its substantial heft — this pack weights around 5.0 pounds, though it can comfortably carry ten times that, something that many lighter packs can't claim. This weight is partly due to the extra zipper that allows access to the inside of the pack. If this is a feature that doesn't fit your backpacking style, you'd be better off choosing a different pack to save some weight. The high quality and reinforced materials also add some extra weight, but the positive side of this is that it aids in durability. Another gripe we have with this pack is that the attached hip belt doesn't absorb the movement of your hips while you walk, which causes the pack to sway from side to side when carrying heavy loads and can feel unnatural. Your pack swaying a little isn't the biggest problem by any means, but some other packs have features that prevent this.

Read review: Osprey Aether 65

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
84
$270
Editors' Choice Award
This super-light pack caries loads like a pro and has just about every feature you could ever want
78
$280
Top Pick Award
This comfortable yet supportive pack has an extremely functional set of features and is one of the lightest in our test
77
$199
Best Buy Award
The Features on the Flash 55 are some of the best and most versatile of all the packs in our test
77
$210
This lightweight pack performs really well unless it gets overloaded with too much weight
74
$270
Top Pick Award
This now classic pack offers incredible ventilation, an awesome set of pockets and a hug-like suspension
74
$280
Top Pick Award
This heavier but comfortable pack provides great support for larger loads
72
$200
A smaller volume pack that handles medium loads well
72
$300
If you tend to pack a heavy pack, this bag and its burly suspension system are your ticket to trail happiness
71
$220
Versatile and simple, this pack is exceptionally adjustable and durable
70
$250
This full-featured pack sure can store a lot of stuff
69
$375
If you want as light of a pack as possible but can't give up anything in the way of comfort or suspension, this is your pack
64
$220
This is a good option for breaking into the world of ultralight without ditching a frame
63
$165
A decent-enough, inexpensive pack for smaller loads
61
$270
This pack carries medium weight loads well and has a comfortable feel that will please the traditional backpacker
61
$250
A pack that carries medium loads well and is for a backpacker that wants one pack to take on year-round expeditions

We tested our lineup of backs in a variety of beautiful and remote...
We tested our lineup of backs in a variety of beautiful and remote places around the world.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Why You Should Trust Us


Our backpack review team consists of Ian Nicholson, Adam Paashaus, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, and Bennett Fisher. These gentlemen all have impressive outdoor resume and together have logged tens of thousands of backpacking miles.

Ian is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide with over 3,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, European Alps, and beyond. He has guided more than 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 allows him to stay up to date on innovative pack technology.

Adam, also a long-time guide and outdoor instructor, travels full time with his wife and two daughters (ages 7 and 9), who recently became Long Trail end-to-enders. 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 began his outdoor career as a backpacking trip leader, guiding participants on multi-week adventures along the most rugged and remote portions of the Appalachian Trail in New England. He has since trained dozens of guides to do the same with over 1,000 participants while ensuring that they all have the appropriate, properly fitted gear for their adventures. He has subsequently embarked on thru-hikes of some of the iconic long trails of the U.S. including the Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, Colorado Trail, Oregon Coast Trail, and John Muir Trail.

Bennett joins the ranks as a former gear shop employee, graduate in outdoor product development, and a current thru-hiker. He has logged over 6,000 miles of backpacking, including the entire Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. His next journey starts in just a couple of months, where he will attempt to complete the Triple Crown of Backpacking by thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail.

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Click to enlarge
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Our team researched over 60 of the top backpacking backpacks on the market and selected 15 of the best contenders for hands-on testing. 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. We tested how each pack handled small and large loads alike and figured out the maximum comfortable carrying capacity for each.

Related: How We Tested Backpacking Packs

Analysis and Test Results


There are several factors to consider when shopping for a new backpacking backpack. Whether you're shopping for your first pack or upgrading from an old model, it's important to consider the types of activities you plan to use it for. The packs we've selected are ideal for typical backcountry trips, but most of them are versatile enough to handle general mountaineering or world travel type "backpacking." Backpacking backpacks can be far more comfortable to use than a traditional suitcase or duffel bag in rough terrain or areas with few paved roads. We directly compared the best and most popular packs to evaluate the pros and cons of each and help narrow down the right one for you.

Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Packs


Value


Backpacks (and outdoor gear in general) can be quite expensive, but 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. We didn't just focus on the high-end expedition models, but we also tested a range of excellent wallet-friendly designs, such as the excellent REI Flash 55. Our favorite pack, the Granite Gear Blaze 60, offers outstanding performance at an average price.

Suspension and Comfort


We assessed each model's shoulder straps, waist belts, back panels, and suspension while focusing on support, anatomical conformation, and comfort. The waist belt and shoulder straps are crucial factors to consider 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. To test the selected models, we took them on multiple extended trips loaded with weights in the 25 to 55-pound range.

Padded hip belts and shoulder straps are worth very little without a good suspension to go along with them. The system of compression straps, stays, and its internal structure controls how effectively the weight is transferred to the shoulder straps and waistbelt. The frame is what ensures the load from the pack body is supported by the waist belt and your hips. 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 test 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, we mention so in the review.

After extensive testing with typical 25 to 45-pound loads, the ULA Catalyst and the Osprey Atmos 65 AG proved to be incredibly 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.

The Blaze 60 has a robust suspension, with an intuitive torso length...
The Blaze 60 has a robust suspension, with an intuitive torso length adjustment system that and anyone can use without a struggle.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

The Osprey Atmos 65 AG 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.

The Atmos has cushy foam padding on the shoulder straps that is...
The Atmos has cushy foam padding on the shoulder straps that is slightly softer-than-average, providing exceptional comfort. In this photo, you can see the tapered foam thickness in these dreamy shoulder straps.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

At loads above 45 pounds, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG becomes less comfortable. 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 strikes a perfect balance between support and comfort. All of the shoulder straps offer top-notch ergonomics and slightly stiffer padding. While this rigid padding is marginally less cushy, it's what you need when you're lugging a heavy load. Each pack mentioned above offers subtle advantages that will help transfer the load to your hips and keep you moving towards 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.

The Gregory Baltoro has a robust suspension that comfortably...
The Gregory Baltoro has a robust suspension that comfortably supports heavier loads.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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

Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System


Trampoline-style or suspended suspension systems feature a mesh back panel that is tensioned (like a trampoline) instead of a more traditional, single or double-stay or "Y" shaped frame. These allow airflow between your back and the pack's load, reducing back sweat. More importantly, the weight is distributed more evenly, which tends to produce fewer hot spots.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

We like trampoline-style suspension systems for breathability and weight distribution. However, when it comes to massive loads, not many trampoline-style harnesses can handle 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.

Features and 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. Additionally, we compared the number and location of extra pockets and how useful our testers found them. We also determined how helpful the pack's top lid is for providing easy access to a handful of items and whether those items stayed organized.

Having two straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is...
Having two straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a small but excellent feature to have. We particularly like the longs straps on the Osprey Atmos which are able to fit pretty much any sleeping pad.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.


We considered how useful any other additional features are and evaluated them in the field during real-world testing. We concluded that 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. Extra points were awarded for features that can be removed or customized for a more personalized user experience.

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

Overall Organizational Ability


For those who like an assortment of compartments and pockets for organization, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 and the ULA Catalyst have particularly handy pocket designs. These models offer a similar setup and exhibit our favorite overall organizational and pocket layout. They provide great 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.

For folks who love to stay super organized, the Gregory Zulu 55 and Baltoro 65 offer excellent gear access and the ability to get to your items quickly without having to remove anything.

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. Separate pockets help users to stay organized, and because of their upward orientation they are easy to access.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Top Lid Pocket


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. The Mystery Ranch Sphinx also has an excellent wide-mouth top lid opening.

The Mystery Ranch Sphinx has a nice wide opening on the top lid, but...
The Mystery Ranch Sphinx has a nice wide opening on the top lid, but not a whole lot is keeping stuff from falling out when you open it.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Most of the packs have zippers on the front or back of the lid, which means that it's not as easy to get inside of them. However, not all side-zippered lid pockets are the same. The sizable zippered lid pockets of the Osprey Atmos 65 AG are next level. They have nearly the same volume as the Gregory Baltoro 65 and have a longer zipper that wraps around the sides slightly.

The Atmos 65 has two pockets in the pack&#039;s lid that help us stay...
The Atmos 65 has two pockets in the pack's lid that help us stay organized. (Both are shown here though the smaller pocket is difficult to see. Look for the upper gray zipper pull.) We liked this lid and find it easy to search through, particularly since its access zipper is on the side.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Pack Access


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

While ease of access is an important consideration, it is trumped by weight concerns. Don't select a pack solely for an elongated zippered access panel, especially if you will rarely use it since you will still pay a weight penalty for having it. Also, in general, many side access panels are a pain in the neck to close when the pack is fully loaded.

Weight Penalty — All additional pack features come with 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.

The Aether 65 features  a large dual zipper access on the front of...
The Aether 65 features a large dual zipper access on the front of the pack to swiftly find what is needed.
Photo: Bennett Fisher

All the backpacking backpacks in our review are top-loading, and many have a separate sleeping bag compartment with bottom access zipper. 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.

Hip belt pockets


These days, it seems a pack with a good hip belt is critical. We especially love the hip belt pockets on the Granite Gear Blaze 60 and the ULA Catalyst for their unrivaled size and ease of access. It's also worth noting that the Gregory Baltoro 65 features a single weather-resistant pocket, which is particularly helpful for folks who want their smartphone easily accessible for taking photos. This weather-resistant accessory is in addition to a secondary mesh zippered pocket. The Gregory Optic 58 has stretchy hip belt pockets, but they are on the smaller side, and most phones don't fit well. However, they are fine for stuffing snacks that can conform around the contours of the waist belt.

This pack had excellent hip belt pockets. Plenty large for a large...
This pack had excellent hip belt pockets. Plenty large for a large phone, small camera, tons of snacks or a map and compass.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

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 2-3 liter hydration bladder.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Rain Covers


Rain covers are a practical addition to any backpacking pack. If the rain is falling for multiple days at a time, unless you have lined your pack with a trash bag or packed your gear in dry bags, your stuff is going to get wet. A pack cover can only do so much to lessen this reality, but it helps prevent excess water from soaking into the fabrics, which will weigh down your pack. Although the backpacks in this review are not waterproof, it's worth noting that many of them include a rain cover, such as the Osprey Aether 65, the Gregory Baltoro 65, the Osprey Rook 65, the REI Traverse 70, and the Flash 55.

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.
Photo: Bennett Fisher

Pack Weight


Over the last decade, many hikers have made a concerted effort to carry less weight than their predecessors. Many pack makers have noticed this trend and offer a wide range of packs from "ultralight" to "load haulers."

The lightest packs in our review, by a pretty significant margin, are the Gregory Optic 58, the REI Flash 55, and the Osprey Exos 58, followed closely by the Granite Gear Blaze 60 and the ULA Catalyst. All of these packs weigh in at 3.0 pounds or less and ride the line between backpacking backpacks and ultralight minimalist packs. The big difference here is that these models are more comfortable for people who don't have their pack weight shaved down below 20 pounds.


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 more weight or after leaving town with a fresh resupply. Because of their lightweight and great weight carrying capacity, these packs are popular among long-distance trail hikers and section hikers alike.

Our lead tester going fast and light in Vermont.
Our lead tester going fast and light in Vermont.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus

Adjustability and Fit


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


Mix and Match Sizing — There aren't too many pack manufacturers who will let you swap out waist belts and shoulder strap sizes to tailor your fit. For example, 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, or ULA.

The Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10 has by far the most vertical adjustment of any pack in our review. You can move this model's shoulder straps up or down nearly 10 inches, helping it fit a wide range of users and be genuinely tailored to its wearer. Deuter's adjustment system also means it's an excellent choice for rapidly growing children, teenagers, or youth program uses.

The Aircontact Lite 65+10 has the most vertical adjustment of any...
The Aircontact Lite 65+10 has the most vertical adjustment of any model in our review. The huge vertical adjustment range helps dial in your fit and makes it an excellent option for younger backpackers who are still growing.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

When it comes to straight-up vertical adjustment, the Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+10 has an advantage. However, when it comes to tailor-like fitting, the adjustment options of the Osprey Aether 65 reign supreme. While it may only have four inches of verticle adjustment, it does have adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt padding that helps dial in the perfect fit while on the trail. The Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Osprey Atmos 65 AG also have a respectable amount of adjustment. They also feature roughly four inches of vertical adjustment and are available in a variety of sizes. We tried to consider each pack's overall ergonomics in our fit metric.

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 of your gear to the end in the best shape possible is a bit trickier. We hope that our testing and reviews help you narrow down the choices so you can select the best option out there.

Cross-country travel in the High Sierra above 11,000 feet
Cross-country travel in the High Sierra above 11,000 feet
Photo: Chris McNamara

Ian Nicholson, Adam Paashaus, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, & Bennett Fisher