The Best Backpacking Packs of 2017
There are hundreds of backpacking backpacks from the ultralight to the ultra comfy. We researched roughly 65 packs and bought the 11 best for 210 hours of side-by-side tests in the mountains of Patagonia and the Pacific Northwest. Today's backpacks are more feature-rich than ever, but it's hard to distinguish what's useful and what just adds more weight. We'll help you find the right model for a 2-8 day trip, whether you're a minimalist or want as close to the feeling of backcountry luxury every time you clip your hip belt. Since no pack fits everyone perfectly, our mountain-guide-led testing team got fit feedback from friends and clients to more accurately score comfort and suspension. Read on to pick your perfect pack.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
The Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 is Arc'teryx's newest model in its long line of Bora packs and is the winner of our Editors' Choice award. It won our award for our favorite all-around backpacking pack because of its extremely robust frame and top-notch padding and shoulder strap articulation mixed with several other very useable features, all at a respectable, albeit average, five-pound weight. The foam used in this pack's shoulder straps are straight-up dreamy, with an excellent balance of being cushy but still supportive when loads were heavier. A unique feature of the Bora is its pivoting waist belt that, while appearing gimmicky at first, was efficient at transferring the load from our back to our hips (a feature that was even more apparent as the terrain became more rugged). Another cool design feature of this pack is how weather resistant this pack is. The Bora uses Arc'teryx's ACē fabric on most of the pack and even seam seals and uses watertight zippers on its back kangaroo-style pocket; despite using this bag over a dozen days in the wet Pacific Northwest Spring, items in this pocket never got wet. The primary downsides of the Bora are that it's average in weight (5 lbs) and at $550, it is $200 more than any other model we tested.
Pivoting waist belt
Innovative and effective adjustment system
Best lid pockets
Easily some of the best features of any pack in our review
Read full review: Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Volt 60
The Osprey Volt 60 combines reliable comfort and performance with excellent value. The $180 Volt 60, or the identical, but slightly larger $200 Volt 75, scored respectably well in most categories and scored better overall than several much more expensive packs. While the Volt 60 is not feature-heavy, it does have all the key features that backpackers care about the most, like two zipped lid pockets, dual entry water bottle pockets, stretchy beaver-tail pocket and a lower zippered access point (AKA sleeping bag compartment), among other things. The Volt is only sold in one frame size but features the most vertical adjustment of any pack we tested as well as an adjustable girth waist belt. Despite all of this, the Volt 60 only weighed a below-average 3 lbs 14 oz. What pushed this pack over-the-top for us to win our Best Buy Award is how nicely padded and ergonomic its shoulder straps and waist belt were, along with nicer foam padding and better-feeling face materials than most other packs in its price range. Its only downside is it is just okay at carrying monster loads (45+ pounds), but still comparable in its performance to other packs in its weight range. The Osprey Volt 60 appeals to people who appreciate its simplicity; not tons of extra pockets or pouches, just the essentials with slightly above average padding, and ergonomics. The bottom line is that we don't think you can find a better pack for less money, though the REI Flash 65 comes close.
Fits a broad range of people
Simple design but still has all the features the most people find most important
Not as supportive for super heavy (45+ lb) loads
Read full review: Osprey Volt 60
Top Pick for Comfort and Ventilation
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
The Osprey Atmos 65 AG is a former Editors' Choice award winner and remains a Top Pick for short excursions and comfort. It's easily one of the best all-around backpacking packs because it's stacked with functional features, is MEGA-comfortable, ventilates fantastically, all at a lighter than average 4 lbs 6 oz. However, what edged it out for the best all-around backpacking pack is it just doesn't handle heavier loads (greater than 45 pounds) as well as several other models. If you pack on the lighter side or don't embark on extended trips as often, this pack is certainly one of the best. What sets the Atmos apart is its luxurious AG suspension that does a fantastic job of spreading the load out evenly across your body and makes your pack seem lighter than it is. For trips where we were carrying less than 40 lbs, this was hands down the most comfortable pack in our review for the majority of our testers. Another advantage is the fit, ergonomics, and adjustability of the Atmos from the frame to the waist belt. Our testers raved about its refined design; every additional pocket is in the right place, is the right size, with few features our testers claimed to be useless. The only downfall: the Anti-Gravity suspension doesn't carry super heavy loads as comfortably as some of our other Top Picks, and it can fill with snow during winter or mountaineering objectives.
Lots of awesome pockets offering excellent organization
Lighter than average
Sweet adjustable hip belt
Not as supportive for super heavy (45+ lb) loads
Snow can get inside of the back panel
Read full review: Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Top Pick for Extended Trips
Osprey Xenith 75
If you frequent trips that consist of 5-20 days or trips that require you to carry a lot of gear, then the Xenith is the pack for you. It comes in 75L, 85L, and 105L options, and the Xenith is tester Ian Nicholson's favorite Denali Pack (which is 22 days of arctic cold weather and HEAVY LOADS). The Xenith series also ranks as a favorite among many NOLS instructors for extended adventures. We think it just hits the sweet spot of a robust suspension and above average padding and ergonomics while offering sweet features and a nice assortment of pockets for extended trips. It remains relatively lightweight for a pack that carries so fantastically. While the Xenith was one of the best load hauling packs we have ever tested, it was a toss up as to which pack could carry monster loads better: the Baltoro or the Xenith. In the end, they both proved to be awesome packs; the only difference between the two came down to slight personal preferences.
Carries heavier loads well
Superb external twin zippered pockets
Functional and easy to use stretch mesh zippered pockets
Difficult to search for items in lid pockets
Lumbar pack lid rarely useful
Read full review: Osprey Xenith 75
Top Pick for Best Lightweight Model
Osprey Exos 58
The Osprey Exos 58 was the lightest pack in this review by over a pound, but remained comfortable for moderate sub 40-pound loads. This is what's unique about the Exos; it almost blurs the line between traditional backpacking packs and ultralight packs. It's almost as light as many commonly frameless minimalist ultra-lightweight packs (being only 0.5-1 lbs heavier than most), but still has the essential features you'd expect in a traditional backpacking pack (including a frame). It's a great stepping stone for people who want to get into "ultralight" backpacking but can't get their load down to the 20-30 lbs necessary to make a sub 2-pound frameless pack comfortable. Or, it's for people who already pack on the light end, but want a little more suspension, comfort, and features that most frameless packs don't provide. If you like the idea of a lighter weight pack, but want a few more features and a slightly more substantial frame, consider the The North Face Banchee 65 or REI Flash 65 - both weigh 3 lbs 10 oz.
Lightest pack in the review
One of the lightest framed packs available
Comfortable for loads under 40 lbs
Great pockets and features
Not a ton of extra features
Not very adjustable
Read full review: Osprey Exos 58
Top Pick for Heavier Loads & Standout Suspension
Gregory Baltoro 65
The new and improved Gregory Baltoro 65 is just as comfortable as ever and offers improved features and usability while somehow weighing eight ounces less than the previous model. The Baltoro remains the best pack in our review for carrying monster loads (more than 60 lbs) and offers a plethora of features. At 5 lbs 3 oz, it's a little heavier than other models, but not by much, especially if you need to carry a significant amount of weight or access is super important to you. It will last (nearly) forever and gives you a ton of features for your money.
Carries heavy loads well
Dual zippered lid pockets are awesome
"U" shaped opening provides easy access
Slightly heavier than average
Supportive foam can feel stiff initially
Read full review: Gregory Baltoro 65
Gregory Paragon 68
The Gregory Paragon 68 is a straight-up rad pack. It's packed full of great features, is above average in comfort, and has the most robust suspension for a sub 4-pound pack. If you want a more supportive pack but are still looking for something on the lighter side, this is your pack.
Lighter than average weight
One of the best lid designs in our review
Doesn't fit narrower shouldered users well
No additional access
Read full review: Gregory Paragon 68
The North Face Banchee 65
Comfortable to carry for long periods of time
Useful and well thought out pockets
Hip belt adjustment
External lid pocket isn't easy to search through
The North Face Banchee 65 was very nearly our Top Pick for the best lightweight option and was only barely edged out by the Exos 58. The Exos is around a pound lighter. The Banchee is certainly more comfortable overall and has a plethora of easier to use features. It sports one of our review teams favorite all around pack designs.
Read full review: The North Face Banchee 65
Analysis and Test Results
There is a lot to consider when selecting the right backpacking backpack, whether it's your first bag or you're just adding to the quiver. In this review, we compared the best and most popular men's backpacking backpacks.
These models are the type of packs that most people will be drawn toward and will use for day-in and day-out backpacking. While the bags we chose to review could be used for travel, such as "backpacking" through Europe or Southeast Asia, and most are versatile enough for some general mountaineering applications, these packs aren't necessarily geared specifically for those activities.
There are hundreds of backpacking packs currently available. We carefully considered our selection after strongly considering nearly 65 products before choosing the models now included in our review. We carefully compared them in five different categories. The chart below shows the overall performance score of each pack we tested.
For our comfort category, we compared how comfortable and supportive each pack's shoulder straps, back panel, and hip belt felt by field testing each pack for days at a time. We compared these packs mostly with more common 30-45 lb loads that most backpackers might carry for 3-6 day trips. We also loaded them, however, to see how each pack performed with 55-60 lbs for a little longer than our hips and shoulders would have liked to simulate what even further extended outings of more heavily laden trips might feel like.
We paid extra attention to how the waist belt and shoulder straps felt on each pack after wearing them for long days and with heavy loads. We took into account other feedback from OutdoorGearLab Editors, their friends, and climbing partners (thanks, guys) and tested these packs in excess of three hundred days. This helped give us a broader perspective on body types and what it takes in choosing the most comfortable pack.
After extensive testing with average 30-40 lb loads, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG scored at the top for comfort in addition to the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63. All of our testers agreed, the Atmos provided such a cozy ride; its trampoline style suspension spread the load evenly across our body. With the Atmos, our testers rarely got hot spots on their backs and hips, even after extended cross country travel in warmer conditions. The Bora AR 63 was notably comfortable, complete with dreamy foam that was soft feeling and acted like a therapeutic mattress. It struck an excellent balance of being soft and comfortable while conforming to our shoulders and hips; in turn, the load was better distributed without being too soft or bottoming out.
For heavier loads, it was a slightly different matter with the Atmos losing its top spot once loads exceeded the 40-45 lbs range. The highest performing contenders for these heavily laden adventures proved to be the Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Osprey Xenith 75, with the Arc'teryx Bora AR still earning a spot here. All three of these packs use high-quality foam that achieves a balance of support and comfort, with each model offering subtle advantages in this category. Our testers thought that the Bora AR's pivoting waist belt performed fantastically and did an excellent job of transferring weight from our pack to our hips. Overall, this feature saved some fatigue on our bodies at the end of a long day more than others in our fleet.
The shoulder straps featured on all three of these packs are certainly top notch, as they sport excellent ergonomics and padding. However, we did notice a small difference with the waist belts. Our testers like the foam padding on the waist belts of the Osprey Xenith and Gregory Baltoro more than the Bora's, which was almost too soft feeling when traveling with monster loads (50+ pounds), though this was only a slight difference. For the heaviest of loads (60+ pounds), we appreciated the Baltoro's robust and customizable lumbar pad, which made a difference in providing the much-needed support for carrying weights of this magnitude.
Not far behind in our comfort comparison was the Gregory Paragon 68 and Osprey Aether AG 60. While these models weren't quite as comfortable as the models listed above, they weren't very far behind either. For medium and lighter weight loads of around 30-40 lbs, we noticed significantly less of a difference between these packs. Once we crested 40 pounds, additional weight was exponentially challenging for packs to handle.
The fabric Osprey uses on the inside of the shoulder straps of the Osprey Xenith 75 and Osprey Aether AG 60 was incredible, while the feeling of the Atmos 65 AG was our favorite on bare skin. The shape and articulation of these packs were second to none. A lot of people ask about the heat moldable waist belt featured on the Aether among other models of Osprey packs. After extensive testing, we found there was little, if any difference, between molding it in a convection oven or just breaking it in the old fashion way (AKA using it). After side-by-side testing a molded waist belt and one that had been used for a three-day trip, there was almost no difference.
The Aircontact's shoulder straps and waist belt were exceptionally comfortable, but not quite as comfortable as the Xenith 75 and Baltoro 65. The Air Contact's padding was noticeably bulkier and hotter, and the shoulder straps were not shaped quite as nice for most of our testers. If you feel like you carry more than 40-45 lbs on a regular basis, we would recommend the Xenith 75, Bora AR, or the Baltoro 65. If you rarely carry 40 or more pounds, we loved how the Osprey Atmos 65 AG and The North Face Banchee 65 felt - as long as we didn't overload them. These packs felt good up to 40 lbs; above 50 pounds, the Xenith and Baltoro were superior.
The suspension category encompasses how effective the suspension was at supporting our backs, how well the frame transferred the load from the pack into the waist belt, and to a lesser extent, onto our shoulder straps. The suspension is obviously tied in with a pack's overall comfort, but we specified unique criteria for each category. In addition, we focused more on the back panel and how nicely it provided support to our spines.
The Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith and Arc'teryx Bora AR all featured substantial suspensions; as a result, they performed exceptionally, providing support when carrying a considerable amount of weight. We did think while super close, the Baltoro and the Xenith just barely edged out the Bora because of how nicely the frame transferred the load to the waist belt and our hips. All three of these packs were noticeably superior at carrying loads when compared to the rest of the backpacks in our fleet. As a result, the load hauling prowess, the Xenith and Baltoro, are our Top Picks for extended trips and monster loads. That said, our entire review team was impressed by how supportive the frame was on the Bora, combined with the amount of comfort that the foam provided. The pivoting hip belt also transferred weight to our hi-belt fantastically.
While the Atmos 65 performed well when carrying loads below 40 pounds, it wasn't as comfortable for loads above that weight. In fact, its anti-gravity trampoline-style suspension would feel mushy and less supportive. It is worth noting that the Osprey Aether AG 60 features a similar "AG" suspension but was noticeably more supportive. After extensive testing, we felt it that the Deuter Air Contact's suspension was only a little less robust than the Xenith and Bora. The Air Contact featured thick and comfortable padding and a supportive frame — however, some testers just thought it felt a little bulky and hot.
Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System
Trampoline-style or suspended suspension systems use a mesh back panel over a more traditional frame. The advantages of this type of frame are that it allows more air to ventilate, making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty and more importantly, they tend to produce less hot spots on the users because the weight is spread out or "suspended" over a larger area of the wearer. More and more packs are using a similar design at least on the back panel portion of a pack.
Our testers like the trampoline style suspension because of the reasons mentioned above; however, when it comes to massive loads, having the weight closer to your back and not having a gap will be more much comfortable. For example, the Gregory Baltoro 65 doesn't feature a true trampoline suspension system, but that's one reason it carries such massive loads so effectively. With all suspension style systems there comes a weight limit where the suspended mesh is pressed so tightly against the wearer that it either bottoms out or just causes a hot spot. The ventilation area that's so wonderful in summer can fill with snow during mountaineering or wintertime trips, making the pack much less pleasant to wear.
Features and Ease of Use
This category includes how easy a given backpack was to pack and retrieve equipment and includes an examination of the design of the main compartment and additional pockets. In regards to pockets, we compared the number and location of additional pockets (and most importantly how useful our testers found them), as well as how helpful the lid (or brain) of the pack was at providing easy access to a handful of items and keeping the user organized. Lastly, we assessed access points to the interior of the backpack.
For each pocket on the pack, we asked ourselves, "Did that pocket make my life easier or help keep me more organized, or is it just adding weight to the pack?". We also looked at access points and evaluated whether they were handy at retrieving items or if they were just for show.
We also broke down the level of usefulness of additional features and evaluated them during real world use in the field. We favored packs with a handful of straps for crampons, ice axes, sleeping pads, or other items because we felt it added to the pack's overall versatility. We gave higher scores to models with better weather resistance, ice axe attachments, and user-to-use waist belt buckles.
Overall Organizational Ability
For folks who like a lot of compartments and pockets for organization, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Xenith 75, and The North Face Banchee 65 have by far the best and most usable pockets designs, while the REI Flash 65 and Baltoro had the best access of any pack in our review. These packs provide great options for folks who like a lot of organization or the ability to get inside their pack easily without having to take much out.
Our favorite collection of pockets came in the Xenith, Atmos and the Baltoro 65, though with the exception of the Atmos (4 lbs 6oz), are on the heavier side of packs in our review at a little over 5 lbs. It's worth noting that we like the overall design of the Banchee 65 nearly as much and it is one of the lighter packs in our review at 3 lbs 10 oz (around a pound lighter than average). The Deuter Air Contact has nearly as many pockets as either of the packs above, but we felt that unfortunately many of them weren't as useful nor were super easy to access. It's also worth also noting that the REI Flash 65 sported a pretty darn good design (nearly as good as the above packs) as well as a sweet "J" shaped opening and only costs $200.
Top Lid Pocket
There aren't a lot of universal features that every pack has, however, one thing that a vast majority of packs sport is a zippered top lid pocket (some folks call the lid the "brain" of the pack). This ubiquitous feature is one of the best places to store small items that the users might want, like sunglasses, sunblock and bug spray, or other things wanted close at hand. Many packs featured a separate smaller pocket on the underside of the lid, offering a secondary place to store small items. Our testers liked this feature, as it's a great place to put those items you want access to, but don't need as frequently.
Of all the packs we tested, our favorite top lid pockets belonged to the Gregory Baltoro 65 and to a lesser extent, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63. Both featured pockets on the top of the pack that made finding items easier and less likely to fall out while we rooted around. What made our review team like the Baltoro more is it had two of these pockets that were shaped in a way that made searching slightly easier. The Gregory Paragon 68 featured a top access zippered pocket that was pretty sweet and easy to find items in, but we had to be a little more careful that our gear didn't fall out.
The rest of the packs had zippers on the front or back of the lid. None of these packs were as easy to get into as the Bora, Paragon and the Baltoro, however not all of the lid's side zippered pockets are created equal. The large zippered lid pockets of the Atmos 65 AG, Aether AG 60, Xenith, and the Banchee 65 are the next top scorers. They had nearly the same volume as the Baltoro and had a longer than average zipper that wrapped slightly around the sides. This made access better, but not as great as the Baltoro or Bora.
The pack access part of our "Ease of Use" category refers to how easily we could access certain larger items without having to unpack our entire pack. While access is nice, its level of importance depends on the user and the volume of the pack. As pack volume gets bigger, unpacking a majority of your pack to track down a particular item becomes more of a pain.
Ease of access is an especially useful feature for folks using their backpack for travel, where they might otherwise use a suitcase or a duffel bag to go "backpacking" through certain regions. Many folks think they need more access, but zippers add weight and aren't always essential. It's a balance. Consider your priorities before simply saying "I want more access" and ask yourself if the increased weight is worth it.
All the packs we tested were top loading and many had side access zippers, sleeping bag compartments, or entire panels that opened to allow access to the interior of the pack. Among all the models we tested, the Gregory Baltoro had the most access with its huge "U" shaped opening that travels nearly the entire length of the back of the pack. It opened almost as large as a suitcase and makes an excellent pack for anyone "backpacking" through Europe, Southeast Asia, or anywhere else where access is the most important. The REI Flash 65, with its "J" shaped zipper, had superb access and above average for our review, but not quite as good as the Baltoro.
While hardly essential, most of our testing team appreciated having at least one zippered pocket on their hip-belt that was big enough for a small point-and-shoot camera, smart phone, or a few snacks. The Osprey models all had large zippered pockets that were easy to open and close while hiking and were our testers favorites. We did like the Gregory Paragon and The North Face Banchee 65 pockets a lot, but they just weren't as easy to use as those found on the Osprey models. It's also worth noting that the Baltoro features a single weather resistant model, which is particularly nice for folks who want their smartphone close-at-hand for taking photos.
All of these packs were reasonably weather resistant, but the Arc'teryx Bora stood out. It was a cut above all the other models we tested for how consistently it kept our gear dry during spring hikes in Washington's Olympic rain forest. The Bora uses Arc'teryx's ACē fabric (all the non-black fabric on the Bora AR packs) which is exceptionally weather resistant. These Arc'teryx models even have taped seams near exposed areas like the back kangaroo-style pocket (which also sports a watertight zipper).
All the packs in this review have a place for a hydration bladder and just about any brand and model will fit in any backpack hydration sleeve. Rather than use the same brand bladder as the pack, we recommend reading our Hydration Bladder Review and picking the best reservoir for your needs and budget. One super cool bonus feature among packs we tested was that the Gregory Baltoro came with a removable and fairly functional hydration pack that also doubled as its hydration sleeve (when used inside the pack).
The lightest pack in our review, by a pretty significant margin, is the Osprey Exos 58. At 2 pounds 8 ounces, it straddles the line between a backpacking pack and an ultra-light minimalist pack. While heavier than most ultralight frameless backs (which typically weigh 1.5-2 lbs), it isn't WAY heavier and is certainly more comfortable for folks who don't yet have their pack weight down to below 20-25 pounds. The Exos is also a great option for folks who want to go super light, but simply desire a more comfortable and supportive pack with an actual frame and more robust padding. Despite being a little on the heavy side of ultralight packs, we know several people who have used the Exos (mostly in its smaller sizes) on the PCT and the AT.
For a lighter but still rugged, and more featured pack, we like The North Face Banchee 65 or the REI Flash 65 (both 3 lbs 10 oz) and would certainly consider the Gregory Paragon 68 both Osprey Volt 60 (3 lbs 14 oz).
All of these hit a balance of being lightweight but still comfortable. They are fairly full featured and are still a pound or lighter than the majority of backpacking packs on the market - all while not giving up a lot in the way of features or comfort.
Adjustability and Fit
In this comparison category, we considered each pack's overall ergonomics as well how adjustable each model is. We also looked at the number of sizes each pack is offered in, as more sizes typically translate to a better fitting pack. Check out the chart below to see how each pack ranked in the adjustability metric.
A handful of pack manufacturers will swap out shoulder straps and waist belts for different sizes than the frame they are typically sold with (for example, if you want a medium frame and a small waist belt), something that many stores and websites offer for free. The Deuter Air Contact and the Osprey Volt 60 have the most vertical adjustability for the yoke's (shoulder straps) positioning. Not only does this help a given pack fit a wide range of people, but also making them a good choice for quickly growing children and teenagers. Despite this best-in-review adjustment, our testers didn't think that either pack had the best overall fit.
Our testers found the adjustment of the Arc'teryx Bora to reign supreme. While it didn't have quite as much range, we loved how you could adjust the shoulder straps independently side to side (width-wise), as well as up and down. The North Face Banchee 65, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Atmos, Xenith, and Osprey Aether 70 all had a respectable amount of adjustment (all have around four inches) along with being available in a number of sizes. This led them to be fine-tuned to a user. Our testers greatly appreciated each of these packs' overall ergonomics, which earned them higher scores in the "fit" metric.
None of these backpacks are waterproof (though the Bora AR is pretty dang weather resistant). Using a trash compactor bag or garbage bag will work fine for shorter trips and will get you through in a pinch. However, on an extended trip, a true rain cover is tough to beat. If you are planning on a lot of time in the rain, consider a pack cover designed and fitted for your pack. It is worth noting that the Gregory Baltoro and the Gregory Paragonb both come included with rain covers.
Here are a few options:
While carrying your gear on a backcountry trip from points A to B might seem like simple enough goal. It can be almost be overwhelming with so many models to choose from and figuring out which pack is right for you might seem complicated than it did at first glance. Our hope is that our review and test results help you narrow down to one or two packs that fit your situation. Focus on the duration of trips you typically embark on as well as any objectives you may dream about. It can be also helpful to list 2-3 features you want your pack to have and prioritizing specific aspects like cushy shoulder straps or a sub 4-pound weight. If you are still not sure, consider taking a look at our buying advice article.
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
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