The 15 Best Hiking Backpacks

Apr 9, 2021

Category: Gear

Even if you’re only out on the trail for a couple of hours, a quality day pack is still a crucial component to your hiking loadout, affording a comfortable, secure, and convenient means of transporting all of your necessary gear. Largely characterized by their durability, hiking backpacks are more resistant to abrasions and the elements than regular EDC and work bags, while also typically offering superior fitment, weight distribution, stability, and comfort.

Over the years the daypack market has been inundated with a barrage of purpose-engineered day-hiking backpacks, all ranging in volume, style, and construction. And while this has ultimately resulted in dozens of genuinely stellar bags that are currently in production, it’s also made sifting through the sea of available offerings a decidedly daunting task — an area compounded by the slew of new models released each season. So, to help simplify your search and get you headed down the right path, we’ve compiled this list of the best hiking backpacks.

Photo: Triple Aught Design Axiom 24 Pack

Traits For The Trails

What Elements To Consider When Buying A Daypack

Built for short stints out on the trails, hiking backpacks require a unique set of traits in terms of design and construction, As such, it helps to be aware of a few basic factors that one should take into account when shopping for a new day trip or hiking backpack.

Construction & Durability: Considering that they have to stand up to the elements along with other abuse from the trail, it’s incredibly important for hiking backpacks to feature ultra-hardwearing properties. These are typically achieved by making bags from proven rugged materials such as high-denier nylons and other constructions that excel at fending off water or abrasions. Just as important as the materials comprising the bag is the construction technique(s) that was/were used to marry the materials together.

Comfort & Fitment: Hiking backpacks have hugely evolved over the years, with manufacturers discovering methods of delivering ample structural support and a precise ergonomic fit that evenly distributes weight without the use of a traditional exoskeleton chassis. On top of integrated frames, this is made possible through the use of shoulder straps supplemented via sternum and waist straps that help to distribute weight. Padding across the straps and over the back panel will also play a pivotal role in comfort, as well as air channels for back ventilation.

Volume & Storage: Typically measured in liters, the amount of available real estate offered by a bag will determine how much gear it can accommodate. This will obviously dictate the backpack’s overall size. It’s also worth pointing out that there are plenty of bags with MOLLE webbing or other supplementary attachment points that allow you take carry extra gear on the outside of the bag.

Photo: Topo Designs Mountain Pack

Amenities: In addition to PALS and MOLLE webbing, many of today’s hiking-specific backpacks also boast features such as water bottle holders and/or hydration bladders and mounts and loops for hiking poles and other gear. It’s also become increasingly common to see thoroughly ruggedized hiking bags with dedicated padded pockets for cameras, smartphones, and other sensitive mobile gadgets. Modular attachment elements have also started to become increasingly popular in the space.

Main Compartment Closure: The vast majority of hiking backpacks will sport a main central compartment that comprises the bulk of the bag’s total internal volume. How one goes about accessing these main compartments can vary, however, with some employing classic zipper closures while others have opted for roll-top-style items — the former of which affords better convenience while the latter has traditionally offered superior weatherproofing.

Brand: While there are admittedly acceptions and outliers, the lion’s share of the more reputable bag and gear manufacturers tend to exhibit pretty consistent quality across the board for their entire catalog. Because it can at times be difficult to gain a sense of a backpack’s overall durability, quality, or fit and finish, opting to buy from a trusted brand with a well-proven track record for producing quality gear is a pretty solid way of ensuring you end up with a stellar bag.

Photo: Topo Designs Mountain Pack

Switchback Storage

The Best Backpacks For Hiking

Now that you’re all caught up on what to keep an eye out for when shopping, let’s delve into our picks for the 15 best hiking backpacks currently on the market.

Patagonia Nine Trails Pack 28L

Though it was released a few years ago, Patagonia’s Nine Trails bag remains a stellar option for day-hiking duties. Made from lightweight yet rugged CORDURA nylon, the bag features a U-shaped zipper-closure main compartment with a bevy of internal organizers as well as a trio of exterior stretch pockets and side compression straps. In addition to being able to accommodate a hydration bladder, the Nine Trail pack sports a super-breathable moisture-mitigating mono-mesh back panel, adjustable sternum straps, and thick padded shoulder and waist straps that collectively afford a snug and precise yet comfortable fit.

Primary Construction: PU & DWR-Coated 3.3oz 200D Polyester & 210D CORDURA
Capacity: 28L
Weight: 2.20LBS

Purchase: $111

CamelBak M.U.L.E. 100oz Hydration Pack

With 12-liters of storage space supplemented by a 3-liter hydration reservoir, CamelBak’s sub-1.5lb M.U.L.E. pack is compact and lightweight while still affording enough volume to comfortably carry everything needed for a day out on the trail. Built around a ventilated harness that’s crafted from sustainable materials and outfitted with CamelBak’s Air Director back panel, this minimalistic item still manages to pack an integrated tool roll, a dedicated smartphone pocket, an exterior stretch pocket, supplementary gear loops, and a removable stability belt, plus one of CamelBak’s 3-liter Crux reservoirs with the company’s Quicklink system and a magnetic tube trap.

Primary Construction: Partially Post-Consumer Recycled Materials
Capacity: 12L + 3L Hydration Pack
Weight: 1.36LBS

Purchase: $115

The North Face Surge

Though originally best-known for its outdoor gear, The North Face has increasingly become a major player in the streetwear and urban garments and gear space. And the fabled brand’s Surge Backpack leans into this shifting identity with a ruggedized daypack that contains a robust suite of pockets and organizers that’s typically reserved for EDC and work bags, enabling you to seamlessly transition from the office to the backcountry. Produced in four color options, the Surge has been outfitted with TNF’s FlexVent suspension system, a fleece-lined electronics and sunglasses compartment, a dedicated laptop compartment, a pair of external Teksever mesh water bottle pockets, and an adjustable sternum strap with an integrated emergency whistle.

Primary Construction: 500D Nylon Oxford Slub, 420D Nylon, & 210D CORDURA
Capacity: 31L
Weight: 3.17LBS

Purchase: $129

Matador Beast18 Ultralight

A new and improved version of an already excellent bag, Matador’s Beast18 Backpack is an immensely durable item developed specifically for days on the trails. Boasting a Bartack reinforced waterproof Ultra Tear Strength polyurethane-coated Robic nylon primary construction, the bag offers 18-liters of real estate though is still capable of breaking down into an included stuff-sack no bigger than your fist. Other highlights on this technically-focused backpack include Matador’s proprietary flexible frame suspension system, supplementary gear-loops, YKK hardware throughout, a sleeve that can house a 1 to 3-liter hydration reservoir, and EVA foam padding throughout.

Primary Construction: UTS PU-Coated & DWR-Finished 210D Robic Nylon
Capacity: 18L
Weight: 1.31LBS

Purchase: $135

Osprey TALON 33

Osprey’s TALON 33 bag is a performance-oriented day-hiking backpack that was developed from the ground up with a major focus on allowing stability, comfort, and unrestricted and dynamic body movement. This was achieved through the implementation of Osprey’s AirScape injection-molded and die-cut foam back-panel and suspension system, as well as a flexible BioStretch harness and hip-belt. Backed by Osprey’s generous lifetime warranty, the TALON 33 is also constructed from sustainable and eco-friendly bluesign-approved recycled materials and features a fixed top lid, a tuck-away ice ax attachment, a stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment, an external hydration reservoir sleeve, and easy-access dual-zippered fabric hip-belt pockets.

Primary Construction: DWR-Finished 100D x 210D Wave Check High-Tenacity Nylon & 420HD Nylon Packcloth
Capacity: 33L
Weight: 2.67LBS

Purchase: $160

Topo Designs Mountain Pack

Topo Designs’ aptly-named Mountain Pack was designed to be a do-it-all personal storage vessel, lending itself well equally to both everyday commuting in the city and life out on the trail. This highly versatile yet fashion-forward item boasts an ultra-rugged 1,000D CORDURA exterior with a G-hook buckle and drawstring closure that opens to reveal a 210D coated pack cloth-lined interior containing a laptop pocket and an additional security pocket. The outside of the Mountain Pack features vertical daisy chain webbing, adjustable ice ax loops, side and bottom compression straps, a top carry handle, breathable mesh back panel, padded base, heavy-duty plastic hardware, and oversized waterproof YKK zippers.

Primary Construction: 1,000D Nylon
Capacity: 36.8L
Weight: 1.71LBS

Purchase: $169

Fjällräven Singi 28

Crafted from the Swedish garment and gear purveyor’s G-1000 Heavy Duty Eco S material — a ridiculously durable yet lightweight recycled polyester and organic cotton weave — the Fjällräven Singi 28 is a rugged and versatile outdoor-specific bag intended for hiking, fishing, and hunting applications. Produced in “Stone Grey” or “Dark Olive,” the Singi 28 is reinforced with 500D polyamide and a waterproof nylon base and features an included rain cover, a detachable hip-belt with generously-sized zippered pockets, a sleeve for accommodating a laptop or hydration bladder, and daisy chain webbing for quick and easy access to gear. This bag also boasts the typically top-notch quality, construction, and fit and finish that the Örnsköldsvik-based outfit is renowned for.

Primary Construction: Waterproof Nylon-Reinforced G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco S & 500D Polyamide
Capacity: 28L
Weight: 3.08LBS

Purchase: $180

Mystery Ranch Scree 32

Made from ultra-durable Robic nylon, Mystery Ranch’s Scree 32 was built to suit a wide variety of outdoor applications, from quick jaunts on local trails to entire weekends spent off of the grid. Affording stellar rigidity and support, the Scree 32 utilizes an internal high-density polyethylene frame sheet, a removable, semi-auto-fitting redirect waist belt system, a patented micro-adjustable Futura Yoke, and Mystery Ranch’s signature 3-ZIP design. Available in four color options, this bag also packs zippered pockets on its waist belt, exterior water bottle pockets, a hydration reservoir sleeve, and an extra-durable dual-layered bottom construction.

Primary Construction: 210D Robic Nylon
Capacity: 32L
Weight: 2.8LBS

Purchase: $189

Arc’teryx Aerios 30

If you possess even a passing familiarity with the outdoor space then you’re no doubt well-aware of Arc’teryx and how the outdoor brand produces some of the finest gear that money can buy. The BC-based brand’s Aerios 30 backpack is no exception, composed of a CORDURA construction that’s afforded additional durability thanks to a cutting-edge 200D liquid crystal polymer ripstop grid. Built for genuine adventure, the Aerios 30 comes outfitted with a pair of trekking pole attachment points, a front bungee compression system, daisy chain webbing, a padded, breathable hip-belt, a highly breathable AeroForm pack panel, an anti-barrelling frame sheet, and a sleeve to house a clip-in hydration bladder (which is sold separately).

Primary Construction: 100D CORDURA & 210D CORDURA
Capacity: 30L
Weight: 2LBS

Purchase: $190

Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. Pack 24L

Taking its name from an acronym based on its main design directives – Suspension, Haul, Access, Durability, and Organized — Prometheus Design Werx’s S.H.A.D.O. Pack puts the San Francisco-based brand’s signature top-shelf tactical spin on a traditional day-hiking bag. The backpack’s been crafted from a calculated combination of 500D CORDURA supplemented via custom-milled 500D nylon-Spandex, nylon mesh, and 70D ripstop nylon, multi-density closed-cell foam, and high-density polyethylene. Boasting bespoke color-matched nylon trims and hardware throughout, this bag is absolutely brimming with features and functionality — an area helped along by the multiple removable organizers and admin panels that come with the bag (though PDW also sells additional modular inserts to further personalize the S.H.A.D.O.).

Primary Construction: 500D CORDURA & Custom-Milled 500D Nylon-Spandex
Capacity: 24L
Weight: 3.82LBS

Purchase: $198

Hyperlite Daybreak ultralight Daypack

Hyperlite has built it reputation on producing state-of-the-art tents, garments, and other gear using advanced materials such as Dyneema. And the company’s Daybreak Ultralight is no different, made by hand in Maine from an extremely lightweight yet hardwearing 150 denier Dyneema Composite Fabric. A more casual alternative to Hyperlite’s expedition grade alpine climbing bags, the Daybreak Ultralight nonetheless retains a host of adventure-focused amenities such as Dyneema shoulder straps with 3/8” foam and spacer mesh, a fully-integrated 0.25” padded back panel, ice ax and grab loops, water-resistant YKK zippers, a whistle-equipped adjustable sternum strap, padded 1.5” hip-belt with integrated storage pockets, and a front bungee and shock cord system.

Primary Construction: 150D Dyneema Composite Fabric
Capacity: 17L
Weight: 1.27LBS

Purchase: $210

Black Diamond Cirque 45L

When looking to deliver a tremendously rugged yet lightweight hiking backpack, the crew over at Black Diamond opted to utilize 200D Dynex — a proprietary high-molecular-weight polyethylene fiber just like Dyneema. And despite packing a cool 45-liters of internal storage volume, the Cirque manages to tip the scales at just a tad over 2lbs — a figure typically seen on hiking backs with half the real estate. Developed with a focus on cold weather use, the Cirque has been given Black Diamond’s “SwingArm” shoulder straps paired with a stretchy waist belt, an integrated avalanche gear compartment for an emergency beacon and shovel, tuck-away diagonal and A-frame ski carry straps, a stowable helmet flap, and ice axe “PickPockets” with a tuck-away rope strap.

Primary Construction: 210D Dynex & 200D Polyester
Capacity: 45L
Weight: 2.31LBS

Purchase: $220

MountainSmith Zerk 40

Born out of a beyond extensive development process including some 2 years and over 5,000 miles of field testing, Mountainsmith’s Zerk 40 is widely regarded as one of the best day-hiking backpacks ever built. The bag’s adjustable sternum straps and padded and adjustable hip-belt have been paired with multi-way adjustable, running-inspired shoulder straps with an integrated zipper system that allows the two shoulder straps to mate into a single item, thereby bolstering stability, comfort, and the backpack’s distribution of weight. Atilon foam and breathable mesh back panel, removable bear and gear canister straps, quick-access mesh pockets, and a plethora of compression straps help to keep you prepared for whatever’s around the next bend.

Primary Construction: 100D High Tenacity Nylon With TPU-Coated 200D Spectra Double R/S
Capacity: 32L Compressed, 40L Expanded
Weight: 1.75LBS

Purchase: $220

Triple Aught Design Axiom 24 Pack

Building on the already award-winning DNA of Triple Aught Design’s original Axiom bag, the new-and-improved 2020-spec Axiom 24 offers the same unparalleled levels of durability and organization as its predecessor while coming in a more compact package that’s more conducive to both EDC duties and use out on the trail. The bag’s insanely hardwearing VX-21 primary construction is complimented by an array of Hypalon, closed-cell cross-linked polyethylene foam, and a VX-03 lining. Made in America, the interior of the bag sports a massive array of organizers, compartments, and modular elements while the exterior boasts a wealth of attachment points, loops, and dual rows of PALS webbing (plus Duraflex Nylon hardware and YKK #5 and #8 Uretek water resistant reverse coil zippers with Hypalon zipper pulls).

Primary Construction: X-Pac VX21 & Hypalon
Capacity: 24L
Weight: 2.29LBS

Purchase: $365+

Kifaru Minikeg

Kifaru International’s bags are used by some of the world’s most elite armed combat forces in some of the planet’s most hostile and unforgiving locales. So, when looking for a hardwearing backpack for trail duties, we’d always advise checking out the latest offerings from Colorado company, such as its newly-unveiled Minikeg. Pieced together around the option of 22” aluminum or composite stays, the Minikeg features Duplex shoulder straps and waistbelt, an internal hydration reservoir sleeve, a pair of three-way stretch fabric water bottle pockets with side compression straps, bottom compression straps, and top and bottom grab handles. And, with a combination of X-Pac and DWR-treated 500D CORDURA, constructions legitimately don’t get much more rugged than this.

Primary Construction: DWR-Coated 500D COURDURA & X-Pac VX21
Capacity: 45.8L
Weight: 3.39LBS

Purchase: $368

The 25 Best Hiking Boots For Men

A backpack is a great addition to any day-hiking loadout, but every collection of kit for the trail starts with a quality pair of boots. Our guide to the best hiking boots features more than two dozen of the best trail shoes and boots that money can currently buy.

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