Baggage Claim: The 5 Best Hiking Backpacks

The Hike. Probably one of the most common tests of human endurance available. When a person pits themselves against the spirit of the hill and proves that he or she can climb up any mound of dirt on Earth just to see the gleaming horizon stretching out to infinity. Accomplishing this feat takes more than an indomitable will. It requires the right equipment. Many a great traveler has been lain low by carrying the wrong supplies in their undersized satchel or choosing a hiking backpack that chafed them raw, forcing them to throw it into a crevasse with foul curses.

Picking the proper pack is about balance. You need it to be big enough to take all the water, trail mix, and beer but not so large that it is cumbersome and weighs you down. You want the proper straps and adjustments so that it is comfortable and fits you like a lumpy second skin. You want something durable that can take a tumble down a glacial rockslide without tearing. Most importantly, you want something that looks good because mountain goats are mean. For all of this and more, we offer our 5 best hiking backpacks.

Compact Assault Pack

Compact Assault Pack

What’s to Love: Barb-wire tough.
What’s to Hate: Cramped quarters.

Hard-Core: It’s just cute as a button that you want to cart your energy bar up the hill. When you’re ready to do something big time like pack some extra armor plates to raid an insurgent camp in a cave halfway up the mountain and need space for your sidearm, then you go to see Condor. The Assault Pack is made with rough climbing in mind and won’t rip or tear under the most arduous of conditions. It is relatively compact though still manages to find space for a hydration bag and plenty of extra ammo. The compact size is better for short trips or going up very serious gradients. If you plan on doing as much scrambling and climbing as hiking, this will help. If you need extra storage for your makeup, this ain’t your bag. Comes in small, medium, and large sizes depending on your mission outing and lots of lovely camo colors to complement your shoes. [Purchase: $35+]

Black Diamond Nitro

Black Diamond Nitro

What’s to Love: Hydration pocket.
What’s to Hate: Not very versatile.

Lighter Than Air: Weight is always a concern when it comes to pick the right pack and usually the lighter ones are flimsy jobs that tear open like cheap grocery bags. The Nitro isn’t like that. It does seem too light to be true at first and you’ll be tempted to reinforce with something; like a military-issue duffel bag, but you must fight that urge. The back is a unique ridged foam that offers airflow without sacrificing durability. The general size is good for day hikes and maybe overnight, though that would be pushing it. It bears a separate hydration sleeve so bottles can be refilled without digging through your whole bag. The easy access top and mesh side pockets let you get what you need in a hurry. This makes hours on the trail a joy but turn days on the trail into hell on Earth. [Purchase: $91+]

Dakine Sequence Pack

Dakine Sequence Pack

What’s to Love: Compartmentalization.
What’s to Hate: Slower camera access.

Shutterbugs: Ansel Adams swears by this particular choice for photographers. The truth is that if you are a serious photographer there are few bags that can both carry all of the lenses and equipment you need as well as provide sufficient space for silly things like water and food. The interior compartments of the Sequence are made to let you carry everything for capturing the perfect shot of sunset over El Capitan while it can also be loaded with food and has a laptop compartment that can easily carry a camel bag for water. The bad news is that doesn’t have a separate fanny pack for your camera so quick-draw shots are often out of the question. The good news is it doesn’t have a fanny pack to make you look like a tourist. [Purchase: $142]

BERGHAUS Freeflow II 40

BERGHAUS Freeflow II 40

What’s to Love: Reduced pack sweat.
What’s to Hate: Awful rain cover.

Total Comfort: Tall people, short people, hobbits, and hunchbacks all have trouble finding packs to suit them. Most designers start with average body types and don’t offer nearly enough options for those who need something different. The Freeflow is made with the Biofit System which changes not only the strap size, but the overall length of the pack to help those whose bodies are made like special and unique snowflakes. It is comfortable for almost anyone and includes an airflow system that helps keep your back cool so you aren’t covered in what is scientifically known as “Back Pack Sweat.” Tons of pockets and padding also make it easy to use and carry. The sole drawback is the included raingear is, how you say, terrible. [Purchase: $150]

Osprey Exos 58

Osprey Exos 58

What’s to Love: Versatility.
What’s to Hate: The Price, oh Lord the price.

Best All-Around: You can’t go too wrong with any member of the Osprey line but the Exos 58 is the most impressive. It is light enough to be used as just a hiking backpack for a day on the mountain yet sturdy enough to be part of a backpacking frame for a trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. The ExoForm shoulder and waist straps stick tight without slipping and won’t dig into your body. An Air Speed back panel coupled with very light material help allow your back to breathe. It bears an integrated flap for rain and weather protection that works well. It has pockets everywhere. There’s a few on the waist strap, two mesh on the sides and one on the front, as well as zippered options all around. You’ll even note an ice tool attachment on the side for alpine climbers and mountaineers. Includes removable compression and inside-out straps that allow it to transform into whatever you need in a pack. [Purchase: $368]

Patagonia Black Hole 35

Patagonia Black Hole 35

What’s to Love: Simple.
What’s to Hate: Very Simple.

Honorable Mention: The Black Hole has many things to enjoy about it besides the name. It’s basically the modern version of the old-school rucksack you stuffed your younger brother into. It is made of bomber 1200 D nylon treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) which makes it hard to get wet and hard to cut through. You should get years of use out of the Black Hole. The compression straps are good for any load size, though you’ll find the pockets frustrating. It has one primary compartment with no specialized places, secret pockets, or high-tech nonsense. If you like to throw a bunch of gear into a bag and get on the trail, the Black Hole is a fun – if not especially versatile – choice. [Purchase: $170]

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