Best Budget Backpacking Pack of 2021
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$199.00 at REI
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|Pros||Handles heavy loads well, adjustable, two large side zipper pockets, affordable||Light-weight, comfortable, easily personalized, inexpensive||Durable, simple, zipper access to main compartment, inexpensive, water resistant, lightweight||Great value, adjustable hip cushioning and torso height, useful features||Inexpensive, bottom access, included pack cover|
|Cons||Lid pocket is hard to access, side pockets can interfere with tall bottles, heavier than most||lacks durabillity, not made for heavy loads||No lid, only available in one non-adjustable size||Suspension can bulge out against the back, front stretch pocket doesn't expand that much||Difficult top lid access, minimal features, heavier than expected|
|Bottom Line||Our favorite budget pack that features unique pockets and a high carry capacity, all at a great price||It 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 price||A great option for the hiker that wants a simple, lightweight pack capable of carrying moderate loads||A pack with a lot of the same features as more popular packs, but at half the price||An entry-level pack at an entry-level price, but without any standout features|
|Rating Categories||Kelty Coyote 65||REI Co-op Flash 55||Mountainsmith Screa...||Gregory Stout 60L||Osprey Rook 65|
|Suspension And Comfort (45%)|
|Features And Ease Of Use (20%)|
|Specs||Kelty Coyote 65||REI Co-op Flash 55||Mountainsmith Screa...||Gregory Stout 60L||Osprey Rook 65|
|Measured Weight (pounds)||4.3 lbs||2.6 lbs||3.0 lbs||3.8 lbs||3.6 lbs|
|Volume (liters)||65 L||55 L||55 L||60 L||65 L|
|Access||Top||Top||Top and zipper||Top||Top|
|Materials||Poly 420D Small Back Stafford||Main body: 100D ripstop nylon
Bottom: 420D nylon
|210D Robic HT nylon with Alkex, 210D nylon embossed liner||90% nylon, 10% polyester, 210D nylon, 420D high density nylon||600D Polyester|
|Sleeping bag Compartment||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
Best Men's Budget Backpacking Pack
Kelty Coyote 65
The Kelty Coyote 65's ability to comfortably carry heavy loads between 45 and 50 pounds earns it our top spot in the budget review. Using dense foam on the shoulder and hip straps, the pack stays supportive all day under a full load. It also features a velcro panel for easy torso height adjustment, which helps get the perfect fit for even more comfort. Our tester let out an audible "ahhh" when switching over to this pack because of its impressive suspension. We also appreciated the upper side wing pockets that are like having two extra top lids. Each one is big enough for a Nalgene water bottle during extra-long carries or is the perfect spot for those items you need separate like toiletries, first aid, headlamp, or battery bank. The wing pockets are detached on the top and bottom, allowing items like fly rods or tent poles to slide through and store securely.
As is the trend, a pack that handles heavy loads is usually heavy itself, and this pack shares that handicap, weighing in at 4.3 pounds. While this is a downside, its ability to carry large amounts of weight makes this fact minimal in our eyes. Another thing to note is that side pockets get in the way of tall water bottles when stored in the side stretch pockets. To access the bottle, you need to tilt it forward, which makes it brush against your side. We also did not like that the lid's zipper is located on the side, making the pocket a very narrow, deep space that made gear hard to locate. They claim that the reasoning is for easier access by a hiking partner, but even then, it was hard to use.
Read Review: Kelty Coyote 65
Best Lightweight Pack for Those on a Budget
REI Co-op Flash 55
REI products have varied in quality in years past. Sometimes they make stuff that hits the nail on the head and performs well at a lower price point than other name brands. On other occasions, however, we are left a little disappointed. The REI Flash 55 nails it as an affordable lightweight option. Weighing in at only 2.6 pounds, this super-light pack carries a medium weight load surprisingly well. The Flash uses the Packmod system, a feature that allows you to customize the pockets and straps by repositioning or even removing them to suit your needs. One of the most useable features of any pack is the rear stash pocket. The Flash 55 adds two more similar pockets between the back stash pocket and the water bottle pockets to nearly double the usable exterior pocket space. The water bottle pockets were also our favorite in the whole group and kept the bottles out of the way from swinging elbows, but still super easy to access on the go with one hand.
Any super light pack, as this one is, will suffer in the durability department. We rubbed up against a sandstone wall in our testing and quickly wore a few holes in its ripstop fabric. Another drawback of packs that weigh so little is that they generally do not carry heavy loads very well, and this model is no exception. We believe it will only comfortably carry up to 30 pounds before it feels overloaded. However, if REI had built this pack for heavier loads, the suspension system would need to weigh more, changing the pack's nature altogether.
Read review: REI Flash 55
Best Minimalist Pack on a Budget
Mountainsmith Scream 55
Are you looking to lighten your base weight but not your wallet? Then we think you will appreciate the Mountainsmith Scream 55. Its minimalist design will have you on the trail before sunrise, and its internal frame will keep your load comfortable. Due to this pack's roll-top opening, it's easy to shove all your gear into and quickly roll down to be on your way in no time. The roll-top closure also keeps your pack tightly compressed, so no matter how much or little you're carrying, the pack will be full. We also found this pack to be rather water-resistant, so you don't have to worry about a drizzle here and there, but we still recommend a pack cover if storms roll in. If you are new to the roll-top ultralight style backpack, this pack is great because its large U-shaped zipper allows access to all of your equipment. The unique double-barrel pockets in the front of the pack are large enough to fit a two-pound tent, minus the poles, or act as a life storing more essential items like toilet paper, headlamp, or sunscreen. It can carry loads around 35 pounds well, but in the spirit of the pack, it would be happier under less weight.
Due to the minimalist design, a lot of the positive can be negative if it isn't your style. There is no traditional stretch mesh pocket for quick storage. No lid means less organization or quick access to items. Aside from the type of backpack, our only real complaint is that the shoulder straps lacked some padding to make the trip more comfortable. Lastly, it only comes in one size with no adjustment options on the pack, so it either fits or not. The only other option will be to try the medium if you have a shorter torso.
Read review Mountainsmith Scream 55
Notable for its Bargain Price
Teton Sports Scout 3400
At such a low price point our expectations were minimal, and while it didn't blow us away, it performed better than many other similarly price packs. At a price of less than half of some other packs in the review, this is a rather okay pack to find out if backpacking is an activity you would enjoy without sinking a lot of money into it at first. Think of his pack as a sampler or training wheels to help you feel out features that you like and dislike.
While it does fill the role of a true bargain backpack, there are a few things to note. During testing, we found the pack to be lacking in the comfort department leading to some sore shoulders. We also found the pack to feel bulky, as the buckles and padding were much larger than other packs. This pack is also on the heavier side of the review at 4 plus pounds, but it does feel very durable and can carry a lot fairly well. We recommend this pack for someone looking for value over perfection and would make a good overnight pack.
Read review: Teton Sports Scout 3400
Why You Should Trust Us
This review was conducted and written by Ben Skach and Bennett Fisher. Ben is an avid explorer, outdoor trip leader, and self-described gear junkie. He has spent years backpacking and mountain climbing all over the country; he has led outdoor trips for students in New England and Colorado and trekked hundreds of miles through the Himalayas in Nepal. Throughout his experiences, he has used various backpacks, which has developed his knowledge of brands, designs, and features that are important to budget backpacking packs. While leading trips in Colorado, he was responsible for teaching each student how to pack and adjust a backpack for maximum comfort and efficiency. He understands the significance of designs that are easy to load and adjust. Also an avid backpacker, Bennett has over a year and 7,000 miles logged on America's long trails, including an Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, thru-hike. Along the way, he has learned what constitutes a great backpack. He honed his knowledge at a gear shop, where he helped equip all kinds of people for their own journey. After his stint in college for product design, he further learned what makes a great product; it's all about the user experience, and he uses this knowledge in every aspect of his testing.
When selecting the budget backpacking packs to include in this review, price and capacity were two primary considerations. We researched over fifty different packs that matched our criteria, from which we chose seven for the hands-on testing process. Each model has been packed and re-packed with different gear sets countless times to evaluate their features and design. After deciding how to best fill them, we brought each backpack on overnight trips with varying weights to assess comfort and ease of use in real-world backcountry use.
Analysis and Test Results
We used several metrics to rate each of these budget backpacking packs on their performance. Depending on your intentions and priorities, different packs might fit your needs better than others. We evaluated each pack based on four criteria: Comfort and Suspension, Features and Ease of Use, Weight, and Adjustability. We weighted the metrics based on their importance. We believe that comfort and suspension is the most crucial factor, and thus weighted it the highest. Below that in importance come features and weight, followed by adjustability just behind. This reflects the way each metric influences the overall quality of a pack. Below, we delve into each metric to discuss its importance and relevant factors that we noticed in these packs.
Related: Buying Advice for Budget Backpacks
From the inception of this review, we tried to keep value in mind. We only considered packs that offered good value at a low price, but there are different ranges of value even within this category. Typically, a higher price tag means better quality, more features, and a more nuanced design. Since this review only includes less expensive packs, you won't find the most high-tech suspension systems. Instead, these packs offer great value because they're simple, effective, and reasonably priced. You could take any of these packs overnight on the trail without issue, so what you're paying for more or less is the quality and purpose the bag is built for.
All of the packs above are of great value because, after all, this is the budget review, but the Kelty Coyote 65 comes in at such a great price and comfort it earned our highest honor in this review. Its ability to carry heavy loads and have some unique storage options had us hooked. The REI Flash 55 is another pack of outstanding value because of its ultralight weight and modular design.
Suspension and Comfort
An uncomfortable pack is quite literally a pain in the neck — and back, and shoulders. It can easily ruin your hopes of an enjoyable backcountry outing. Due to this fact, we weighted Suspension and Comfort as the highest metric in our scoring matrix. Several factors affected our opinions on the comfort of each pack. First, we evaluated how well the suspension systems distributed weight and the pack's comfort against our backs. We also considered the shape and comfort of the shoulder straps and the fit of the waist belt. Third, we rated how well the padding and materials of the pack added to its comfort.
Each pack has an internal aluminum frame, but no two are alike, and each one rides differently on the hips and torso. This metric is significant because it affects if there are pressure points and ensures that the pack's weight transfers to your hips. To test this, we loaded each pack with various weights, ranging from 20 to 45 pounds, to determine if the suspension could comfortably handle the load for trips of different lengths. Aside from the suspension, the two main attachment points played a significant role in the comfort of each pack. The shoulder strap and waist belt designs affect how the pack's weight rests on your body, so it was essential to note how each performed. Lastly, the amount and type of padding on the pack and how comfortable the materials feel against the skin affected our rankings.
The Kelty Coyote 65 had the smoothest ride and was the only pack in the review that could comfortably carry more than 35 pounds. In addition to the shoulder strap load lifters, it also features hip belt load lifters that adjust how much the hip belt can pivot so you can dial in how much support is needed for each trip. We found the Mountainsmith Scream 55 also does a good job of staying comfortable in the mid 30 pounds range. The Gregory Stout 60 had all the right ingredients, being highly adjustable. However, the crossbar against the back becomes too uncomfortable when the pack is weighed down, making us feel like we can trust overstuffing it.
Weight is a pretty straightforward metric to assess. In general, a heavier pack means more pounds to carry on your back. Heavier packs, however, also tend to be more comfortable carrying heavy loads. Lighter packs, in contrast, can sometimes sag and perform poorly when loaded down.
The REI Flash 55, being the lightest in the group, was super comfortable carrying 30 pounds or less, but it struggled with heavier loads. For an uber affordable lightweight option, take a look at the Wasing 55L, which weighs just a few ounces more but comes at a fraction of the cost. The Kelty Coyote 65 comes in at the heaviest weight but can comfortably carry the most weight, by far.
Features and Ease of Use
Here we evaluate how well designed the structure of the pack is. Is it easy to pack? Is your gear accessible? Does it have extra loops for your gear? Just some of the questions we ask when assessing a pack. Every make and model has something that makes it unique. One of the main aspects we look for is how efficiently we can pack and unpack our gear. If pockets are easy to access and the design is well thought out, it can significantly help a pack's rating on this metric. Sometimes, unique features can make our lives as backpackers easier, so we always keep an eye out for anything to help improve a pack.
The first thing we looked at was the pocket setup. Many of the packs in this review feature some variation on the main pouch, a lid, a rear pocket, and water bottle pockets. It's a rather basic design without additional pockets, but this simple setup still works perfectly well. The Gregory Stout 60 and Kelty Coyote 65 are both very similar in this regard. The Osprey Rook 65 takes a more straightforward approach that helps its price but hurts its performance. It foregoes a stretchy rear pocket for a more streamlined look. This means that the water bottle pockets and the top lid are the only places to store gear aside from the main body. The lid is also fixed to the bag, meaning it isn't removable. This was also the case in the Teton Sports Scout 3400, and we found that both of these lids were harder to pack than the removable ones. The Scream 55 traded a stretch mesh pocket for two expanding zipper pockets that we found especially handy due to the absence of a top lid.
We also looked at the other features that each pack contains. The Osprey Rook 65 was the only pack that does not feature ice axe loops — these are a nice addition, but not a problem if you don't anticipate winter travel. We really liked the u-shaped zipper of the Mountainsmith Scream 55 that allowed access to all of our gear at one time without having to unroll the entire top opening. The Kelty Coyote 65 is equipped with a unique and perfect stretch hip belt pocket to keep a phone handy for snapping a photo of wildlife.
The REI Flash 55 is loaded with great modular features, which REI refers to as the Pacmod system, to customize the pack to your style and needs. Many of these features — like the hip belt pockets, top-lid, and ice axe loops — can be moved, adjusted, or eliminated altogether to configure the pack the way that best works for your specific needs or trip. It's really impressive how much is removable, meaning you could strip even more weight off of this already lightweight option.
Adjustability and Fit
When rating adjustability, we looked at the range of users that a pack can fit. Most packs allow the suspension to be adjusted for different torso lengths, and some packs are designed for the straps and hip belts to be more easily adjustable to different body types.
Most of the packs in this review come in just one size to fit all users. Because of this, they are highly adjustable (making them a particularly good option for young hikers who might change their pack size as they grow). Even for fully grown backpackers, an easily adjustable pack means you can dial down the fit, so it's perfect for you. The one-size-fits-all packs in this review are the Gregory Stout 60, Kelty Coyote 65, Osprey Rook 65, Teton Sports Scout 3400, and REI Trailbreaker 60. These feature a Velcro system that allows micro-adjustments to any size, except for the Osprey Rook, which has preset sizes that must be used. We found this to be adequate, but we prefer systems that allow more precise adjustment.
The straps of each pack also factor into the adjustability. Most of the packs have very easy-to-adjust waist, shoulder, and sternum straps. The main exception was the Teton Sports Scout 3400. We found its straps to be stiff and finicky to feed through the buckles. While they were adjustable enough to work, it took a bit of effort to get things sized right. The most significant issue was that it was quite difficult to tighten the waist belt once it was buckled, making it harder to ensure the pack's weight rests on your hips.
Selecting a pack is one of the most important steps to gear up for backpacking. These budget backpacking packs are all good options if they fit your needs, but it might not be a good idea to rush to any decisions just to save a hundred bucks. A good backpack can last decades if you treat it well, so make sure you're picking the right one for you. Consider your planned activities and determine if the pack can serve your purposes. If you decide that saving money is more important than additional pockets or better suspension, then any of these packs could be the right choice. We've tested everything to give you a better idea of what each pack is like, but in the end, the pack is there to serve you. Make sure to pick one with the right design for your needs.
— Bennett Fisher & Ben Skach
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