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The Best Budget Backpacking Packs

Reviewer Ross Robinson wore a sub-$100 pack from High Sierra on a 5-day backpacking trip through the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes. It had its drawbacks  but it also worked!
By Ross Robinson ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday November 23, 2017
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Need a pack that keeps costs low? We feel you. While there are benefits of top-shelf models, their drawbacks are felt most significantly in our wallets. After consulting our expert testers, researching the market, and summarizing our field experiences, we rounded up our favorite budget backpacking packs to help you find the right pack for your needs and your debit card. For backpackers that aren't hiking too far or often, the limitations of budget gear are less noticeable than the hundred dollars or more you save. We highlight and rank the 12 best budget packs, ranging in versatility, weight, durability, and more.


Best Men's Budget Backpacking Pack

Osprey Volt 60

Best Buy Award

(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 3.9 lbs. | Capacity: 60 Liters
Stellar value
Includes essential features
Below-average weight
Ergonomic design for great comfort
Not great for super heavy loads
One size fits all

Judging by price alone, the Osprey Volt 60 fits into the budget option category. But judging by performance, it's in a class above. It has all the features most backpackers need (stretchy mesh beavertail pocket, sleeping bag compartment, waist belt pockets, lid with two zippered pockets, etc.), capable suspension, and shoulder straps that stay comfortable during long trail days. It weighs an ounce under four pounds, which isn't ultralight, but it is below average. The durability and quality construction of this pack are on par with the high standard reputation Osprey maintains. And if it does break down eventually, Osprey's lifetime warranty will sort you out.

The main limitation of the Volt 60 is its performance while bearing very heavy loads. If long trips with weighty equipment push your pack over 45 lbs (much more weight than average backpacking excursions), expect comfort and weight distribution ability to decrease. Another notable characteristic is that this pack is one size fits all. Folks over 6' 2" who carry big loads are probably better off with a frame pack that offers multiple sizes. That said, it has an exceptional range of vertical and waist belt adjustability to fit a broad range of body sizes. For all-around use at a great price point, this is your pack. More than capable for a weekend and week-long trips, it also extends its usefulness to overnight ski tours, world travel, and occasional mountaineering excursions. Osprey also sells a women's version of the Volt called the Viva 50, our favorite women's pack under $200.

Read review: Osprey Volt 60


Best Women's Budget Backpacking Pack

Osprey Viva 50

Osprey Viva 50
Best Buy Award

(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 3.6 lbs. | Capacity: 50 Liters
Below-average weight
Built to last, plus an incredible warranty
Very adjustable
Not the comfiest or most breathable
Performance drops when carrying over 30 lbs
Noisy frame

The Viva 50 is Osprey's female-specific counterpart to the Volt. It shares a lot of positive similarities with its sibling, including an uncomplicated design, essential features, durable stretch pockets, and a solid price point. It's also one-size-fits all, which sounds like a limitation. In our testing, however, it proved to adjust to various body sizes better than almost any pack. Most impressively, this pack weighs just a smidge over 3.5 pounds, considerably less than The North Face Terra 55 pack, another one of our favorite women's models with a larger volume. Like all packs from Osprey, the no-questions-asked lifetime warranty will fix any durability problems you come across over the years, a major plus that vastly increases the value of this pack.

When it comes to comfort and weight distribution, the Viva pales in comparison to the Terra 55, which can handle heavier loads more efficiently. The Viva has thick, bulky padding. It doesn't weigh much and provides decent cushioning, but resting against your back, it doesn't breathe so well. It also costs $10 more than The North Face model, and our testers experienced some pesky frame squeaking on hikes. The low weight, simple-yet-functional design, and killer warranty of the Osprey Viva make it one of our favorites and an ideal choice for novice backpackers looking to break into the backcountry. Check out the Osprey Viva 65 if you need more space in your pack.

Read review: Osprey Viva 50


Runner-Up Women's Pack

The North Face Terra 55

(25% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 4.4 lbs. (Small) | Capacity: 55 Liters
Simple design
Killer value
Organized and durable
Average breathability and weight
No daisy chain/few attachment points
External sleeping pad straps not included

The Terra 55 fulfills a backpacker's needs with functional simplicity. The North Face avoided getting bogged down in technical design or complicated features with this pack, instead focusing on ease of use in a variety of scenarios. The shoulder straps are cushiony and ergonomically designed to resist chafing, and the back panel of thick, mesh-covered padding rests against your back comfortably. Its comfort and suspension system are both superior to that of the Osprey Viva 50, and we also like the larger volume for longer trips. Stay organized with a good amount of pockets and three access points into the main compartment, and worry not when bushwhacking; the durable fabric can take a beating.

This pack isn't as breathable as higher-end models, and it also won't appeal to ounce-counters with its average weight. The Terra 55 lacks sleeping pad straps at its base, a feature that comes standard on many modern backpacking packs. The compression straps on the side offer an asymmetrical substitute. These drawbacks are not major, and most backpackers will have no qualms saving cash with this pack that delivers all the necessities well. Organized, adjustable, and easy to use, this pack is a cinch to use on overnight trips and extended backcountry and world travel. For men's version of this pack, check out The North Face Terra 65.

Read review: The North Face Terra 55 - Women's


Best Ultralight Option on a Budget

Osprey Exos 48

Weight: 2.4 lbs. | Capacity: 48 Liters
Best value of ultralight packs
User-friendly with great features
Fantastic for medium loads
Small volume
Average durability

The Osprey Exos 48 is our favorite ultralight pack for the budget-conscious, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's too stripped down to function well. It's not. This is the most feature-dense lightweight model we've ever come across. From the removable floating lid to voluminous, stretchy exterior pockets to adjustable hip belt pockets large enough to store maps, phones, and other goodies, there are plenty of bells and whistles to discover on this pack. The inclusion of these features makes it a great choice for backpackers transitioning to lightweight adventuring. This pack also operates most comfortably under medium loads of 20-30 pounds.

The 48-liter capacity of the Exos is limiting, especially to folks whose gear doesn't pack down small or who prefer to bring luxury items into the backcountry. A bear canister barely fits inside. Our independent tests measured the maximum capacity at 59 L though, thanks to the expandability of the external mesh pockets. While quality made, the mesh side pockets are a point of vulnerability when scraped against rough surfaces like tight rock passages and thick brush. With Osprey's no-questions-asked lifetime warranty, though, replacing a damaged product is an option. Lastly, while it's our favorite ultralight option, it's on the heavier side of its category. For serious weight and cash savings, this ultralight model keeps you moving fast through the backcountry without sacrificing features or adaptability.

Read review: Osprey Exos 48


Best Mountaineering Pack on a Budget

Black Diamond Speed 50

(25% off)
at Backcountry
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Weight: 2.6 lbs. | Capacity: 50 Liters
Minimal, streamlined design
Nice feature set
Easy to attach mountain gear
Quite versatile
Lacks comfort and durability
Heavier than high-end mountaineering packs

If you need a pack to bag technical peaks or for overnight ski tours, the Black Diamond Speed 50 offers the best bang for your buck. A classic "tube with shoulder straps" design, this model features creative solutions to alpine demands. It's simple and streamlined without unnecessary straps and buckles to snag on rocks and branches. Yet it still holds a bear canister, and it can get quite big. Our testers increased the volume to 52 liters when utilizing the extension collar. With technical gear in mind, it's a breeze to attach skis, crampons, and ice axes, and we like the gear loops on the hip belt as well. A clam opening provides wide access. Perhaps our favorite part of this pack is that it can adapt to a wide range of activities, from daytime cragging to multi-day technical trips in the backcountry.

Some backpackers might be frustrated that this bag is stripped of popular features, such as bottom sleeping pad straps, stretchy mesh pockets, and water bottle pockets. Lightweight and robust mountaineering packs cost more, so you need to consider how much 8 oz or a pound less is worth it to you. We also aren't crazy about this pack's offering in comfort. All in all, mountaineers, climbers of all sorts, and backcountry skiers get a lot of utility for the dollar from the Speed 50. And while specialized for these purposes, this model is also capable of backpacking trips lasting 3-5 nights. Black Diamond does not make a women's version of this pack. If you like the technical nature of this pack, but want more backpacker-friendly features, check out the women's Kyte 46 and men's Kestrel 48 from Osprey below.

Read review: Black Diamond Speed 50


Techy Women's Pack for Shorter Adventures

Osprey Kyte 46

Osprey Kyte 46

(31% off)
at Amazon
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Weight: 3.6 lbs. (small/medium) | Capacity: 46 Liters
Tons of features
Versatile and adjustable
Incredible warranty
Mostly limited to shorter trips
No floating lid
Pesky water bottle access

The versatile Osprey Kyte 46 is teched out to handle a wide range of adventure and activity. If you need features, this pack is riddled with them. Hip belt pockets, sleeping pad straps, sleeping bag compartment, stretchy mesh pockets, a rescue whistle, and a removable rain cover are all included. For more technical gear, there are bungee tie-offs for ice tools, two discrete daisy chains, and an external hydration sleeve. A unique Stow-On-The-Go system allows you to access or stow your trekking poles without taking your pack off. It's a top-loader, but also has zippered side access to help you find items quickly. This pack is available in two sizes, and the harness adjusts to fit your torso. The Kyte compresses when you don't need the extra space, so even day hikes are great with this model, and it's popular among travelers, too. As with all Osprey packs, this bag comes with their generous lifetime warranty.

The Kyte isn't our top choice for extended backpacking trips. Some thru-hikers with ultralight and ultra small gear might get away with this pack's 46-liter volume, but for most, its sweet spot is 1-3 nights in the wilderness. As you expect with a pack its size, it's not meant for heavy loads, either. This pack doesn't have a floating lid, so sticking a tent between the lid and main compartment isn't an option, and you can't remove the lid, either. Another small complaint is that the water bottle pockets are tough to access with the pack on your back. The drawbacks on the Kyte 46 are minor. This is a detailed pack for shorter ventures into the backcountry, as well as traveling, climbing sessions, and even day hikes. The Kestrel 48 is the male counterpart to the Kyte 46, which is also a compelling pack for technical hiking. If you're seeking a pack for technical mountaineering and climbing adventures, as well as 1-3 day trips into the backcountry, the Black Diamond 40 (shown above) is a better choice. Unfortunately, the Speed doesn't come in a women's version.


A Little Backpacking, a Little Travel

Kelty Redwing 44

Weight: 2.5 lbs. | Capacity: 44 Liters
Built to last
Internal sleeve for laptop or hydration bladder
Low price and weight
Short and wide
No attachments for sleeping pad
No detachable daypack

The Redwing 44 is geared toward travel use, but features like the daisy chain, ice axe loop, and external water bottle pockets are clues that this pack is ready for the outdoors, too. The half-inch thick shoulder straps are comfy when traveling through cities and national parks, and there is sufficient airflow between your back and the pack. Unlike most backpacking models, this Kelty bag has a U-shaped zipper opening to the main compartment, making it easier to pack than top-loading packs. The internal gear loops and abrasion-resistant fabric make this pack useful even as a rock climbing crag pack. The internal sleeve serves dual functions; protect laptops in the city and keep a hydration bladder in place in the country.

The volume of this pack isn't cavernous, there are no sleeping pad strap attachments, and it's pretty wide for wandering through crowds and tight canyons. Bridging the gap between travel pack and backpacking pack, it's not as good as most packs dedicated to one category or the other. However, it does cover the basic requirements of each. If that means you only have to purchase one bag instead of two, you've saved yourself a serious amount of cash by choosing the Redwing 44. Kelty also produces a female-specific version of this pack.

Read review: Kelty Redwing 44


Frameless Pack for Light Loads

Granite Gear Virga 2

Best Buy Award

at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 1.2 lbs. | Capacity: 54 Liters
Extremely low weight
Impressive compression system
Frameless design not for everyone
Lacks support for medium to heavy loads
Small feature set

If you live by the fast and light mantra and don't want to break the bank, consider the Granite Gear Virga 2. Defining simplicity, this pack has no hip belt pockets, minimal padding, and is frameless. All this paring down leads to an empty weight just above a pound, though it still has some nice features like large stretch pockets, roll-top closure, and useful compression straps. The durability of this pack is solid, considering its weight shavings. Heavy-duty Cordura fabric is employed in high wear sections, and as long as you don't overload the suspension system, the Virga will last a long time.

Without a frame, this pack is limited to light loads of 15 pounds or less. Many backpackers carry more than this, even for short weekend trips. To fully utilize this pack for extended ventures, use a lightweight, closed cell foam sleeping pad like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL to form a barrel-like frame inside the pack. Besides an internal frame, another feature we miss inside this pack is a hydration pack sleeve. Unlike the user-friendly Osprey Exos 48, the Virga 2 leans toward experienced ultralighters whose backpacking gear set is equally minimal and includes a closed cell sleeping pad.

Read review: Granite Gear Virga 2


Kids Pack with Adult Features

Deuter Fox 40

Deuter Fox 40

$120 List
See It

Weight: 2.9 lbs. | Capacity: 40 Liters
Adjustable back length
Full set of features
No internal frame
Lacks a rain cover and hip belt pockets

Quality gear isn't just for adults. With a full set of features, quick and easy adjustments, plush padding and suspension system, your kids can proudly pull or, more accurately, carry their own weight with the Deuter Fox 40. This pack has an adjustable back length ranging from 13 to 18 inches so that you won't need a new pack following each growth spurt. Deuter didn't cut any corners in durability either, using dense materials and PU coating to resist abrasion for many childhood adventures.

While we don't recommend loading a child down with tons of weight, it is worth noting that this pack is frameless. There is a nylon frame sheet built into Deuter's Alpine Back System, but this doesn't offer the same support of an internal frame. It is sufficient for light loads (20 pounds and under), which is likely all your child is willing to or should carry. Excluding a frame also keeps the weight of this pack down. Kids like to snack and take photos, too, and we wish there was a hip belt pocket for stashing small items like a granola bar or camera. And if you want a rain cover, you'll need to purchase that separately. Overall, though, the list of pros outweighs the cons. The Fox 40 is a legit youth backpack, ideal for young adventurers and scouts.


Bargain Basement Price on a Decent Women's Pack

High Sierra Classic 2 Series Explorer 50W

High Sierra Classic 2 Series Explorer 50W

(50% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 4.5 lbs. | Capacity: 50 Liters
Very low price
Built-in rain fly and hydration sleeve
Poor durability
Floppy brain/lid compartment
Below-average comfort

Sometimes, just enough performance is all you need. For those moments, the High Sierra Classic 2 Series Explorer 50W will suffice. The most attractive aspect of this pack is its price. The list price is $220, yet this pack is consistently available at online retailers, and even on the manufacturer's website, for less than $100. We like entry-level products, as they make activities and future passions like backpacking more accessible. Although it's cheap, it still has some key features like a rain cover, hydration sleeve, and zippered sleeping bag compartment.

The Explorer's low price also comes with low-quality materials. Do not expect the same level of stitching, zippers, or plastic buckles as found on packs from higher-end manufacturers. A broken hip belt buckle won't necessarily end your trip, but it is, at the least, very frustrating and makes for less efficient hiking. Be prepared to get creative with some field repairs. The materials are more likely to break down when they are under stress. To reduce your chances of a pack problem, don't stuff it to the brim and be gentle when tightening the straps. This pack also lacks convenient hip belt pockets, and the brain that sits on top of the main compartment is prone to flopping around if the bag isn't packed full. If you are seeking a pack for one specific trip, or plan on using it only on rare occasions, this could be the affordable option for you.


Very Low Price

TETON Sports Explorer4000 Backpack

TETON Sports Explorer4000

(6% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 5 lbs. | Capacity: 65 Liters
Cheap price
Rain cover included
Plenty of compartments for organization
Cheap construction and materials
Poor choice for heavy loads
Not for deep backcountry use

Strapped for cash? The Teton Sports Explorer4000 is a cost-effective product with a street price commonly found below $70. Lots of straps, daisy chains, and compartments riddle this pack, giving it a techy look and offering several attachment points. Three side compartments give you options to keep key items handy.

Comparing a Teton pack to one from brands like Osprey, REI Co-op, or Granite Gear is like putting a bowl of three-minute Ramen against a home-cooked meal. While you save cash with the Explorer400, you will notice a lack of craftsmanship and quality materials. It's imperative to treat this pack gently to avoid ripping straps or busting zippers and buckles. Stick to carrying light to medium loads with this pack due to its poor durability, and be ready to conduct some field repairs. Used lightly and rarely, the Explorer4000 saves you money and keeps your gear on your back.

Smiling like someone who saved over a hundred bones by opting for a budget backpack. Obviously  this hiker didn't splurge on a comb  either.
Smiling like someone who saved over a hundred bones by opting for a budget backpack. Obviously, this hiker didn't splurge on a comb, either.

Ross Robinson