Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Backpacking Packs

Tuesday May 11, 2021
Testing Backpacks in the Oregon Cascades.
Testing Backpacks in the Oregon Cascades.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

We took these backpacking backpacks out on real-world adventures, critically assessing them along the way. We considered four different metrics: comfort and suspension, adjustability, features and ease of use, and weight.

Comfort and Suspension


We walked a wide range of distances over rough terrain and assessed how we felt during and after each day. The packs were extensively tested for long sections of trail, in rain and shine, hot and cold, and with large and medium weight loads. We took note of any hotspots on our hips and shoulders and the quality of the ventilation on our backs.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

We tested each one by loading them up past capacity to get a better sense of the range in each of their carrying capacity. With these different weights, we then assessed the quality of each component of a pack's suspension and its ability to appropriately distribute the load across its waistbelt, back panel, and shoulder straps.

The suspension of this pack offers a vented mesh back panel that...
The suspension of this pack offers a vented mesh back panel that conforms to your body.
Photo: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Adjustability and Fit


We took note of the range of adjustability of each pack's waist belt and shoulder straps, how well each one adapted to different layers we wore, and how easy it was to dial in the fit.

We look at the method and range of adjustability of each pack.
We look at the method and range of adjustability of each pack.
Photo: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Features and Ease of Use


We determined the usefulness and ease of use of the features on each model. We packed our packs in various ways and attached different gear to get a sense of the versatility of each pack. We assessed things like water bottle pockets, secondary storage pockets, lid accessibility, rain covers, waist belt pockets, trekking pole/ice ax loops, etc.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Weight


We weighed each pack and compared it to its comfort and volume to get a sense of how much the weight penalty is for any given model. Some packs are heavy but comfortable, while others are light but don't support loads well. Only a few packs bridge the gap and offer good carrying support in a lightweight package.

At the northern terminus of the Long Trail on our thru-hike. The LT...
At the northern terminus of the Long Trail on our thru-hike. The LT was no easy walk in the woods.
Photo: Elizabeth Paashaus