Updated August 2017
Backpacking season is still going strong, and so is our commitment to bringing you the best and latest in the vast backpack market. Keeping watch on this category, we continue to stand behind our award winners and recommendations for 2017. After thorough research of the products available in this category, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 remains the overall best backpacking backpack you can buy, while the other award earners fit specific budgets and applications better than the rest.
Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
5.0 lbs | Volume:
Pivoting waist belt
Innovative and efficient adjustment system
Best lid pockets
Easily some of the best features of any pack in our review
Arc'teryx's 2017 release of the Bora 63
was much anticipated, and with good reason. While the competition was as fierce as ever, this pack came away as the all-around favorite among our group of testers. The Bora 63
dominates the field regarding comfort and suspension, and scored exceptional results in adjustability and ease of use. The shoulder straps strike a dreamy balance of cushy comfort and support, and our testers found the features to be well thought-out and usable. The pivoting waist belt is an innovation and a unique feature of this pack. It looks gimmicky at first glance, but it transfers weight from your back to your hips, especially when the terrain gets steep and rough. This pack is also the most water resistant model reviewed, employing a proprietary AC² fabric on most of the pack, seam seals, and even some watertight zippers, a combination that kept our gear dry during wet springtime hikes in the Pacific Northwest. The only drawbacks to this pack come in its average weight of five pounds and staggering price tag. If you demand the best of the best, though, the winner of our Editors' Choice Award is your pack.
Read review: Arc'teryx Bora AR 63
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Volt 60
3.86 lbs | Volume:
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
If you want an affordable pack that doesn't skip out on performance, take a long look at the Osprey Volt 60
. Considering its $180 price tag, it's capable and comfortable under all loads except monstrous ones. Unless you are carrying over 45 lbs, though, that shouldn't be an issue for you. It includes the essential features that most backpackers care about too, such as 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
doesn't offer choice in frame size, but the vertical adjustment was greater than any other pack tested, with an adjustable girth waist belt to boot. All this, and still the Volt 60
weighs less than the average pack weight in our review, coming in at 3 lbs 14 oz on our scale. Pushing this model over the top for our Best Buy Award are the ergonomic and plush shoulder straps and weight belt, as well as high-quality foam padding and fabrics for a product in this price range. The Volt
doesn't have the pizazz other packs offer, nor extra pockets and pouches, but it excels in its simplicity without forgetting the essentials, with comfy padding and an ergonomic design. We believe this is the best pack for the money, though the REI Flash 65
Read review: Osprey Volt 60
Top Pick for Comfort and Ventilation
Osprey Atmos 65 AG
4.38 lbs | Volume:
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
The 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 backpacks 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
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.
Read review: Osprey Atmos 65 AG
Top Pick for Extended Trips
Osprey Xenith 75
5.13 lbs | Volume:
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
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.
Read review: Osprey Xenith 75
Top Pick for Best Lightweight Model
Osprey Exos 58
2.5 lbs | Volume:
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
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.
Read review: Osprey Exos 58
Top Pick for Heavier Loads & Standout Suspension
Gregory Baltoro 65
5.19 lbs | Volume:
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
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.
Read review: Gregory Baltoro 65
Best Lid Design
Gregory Paragon 68
3.86 lbs | Volume:
Lighter than average weight
One of the best lid designs in our review
Doesn't fit narrower shouldered users well
No additional access
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.
Read review: Gregory Paragon 68
Lightest Top Performer
The North Face Banchee 65
3.63 lbs | Volume:
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 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 team's favorite all-around pack designs.
Read 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.
There are many factors to take into consideration when purchasing a pack for backpacking. We looked at nearly 70 packs and then took close to a dozen of the top models, pitted them head-to-head, and reported our findings here. Photo: Backpack testing in the Oregon Cascades.
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 utilized 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.
Considering what types of trips you'd like to take as well as the duration are good first steps to ask yourself when purchasing a pack We conducted side-by-side backpacking backpack comparisons with a REI Flash 65 shown here in Mt. Rainier National Park.
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.
Comfort is one of the most important features of a backpacking pack. Good fit is obviously important, but even with a good fit, not all packs are created equal. Below we discuss the differences in ergonomics, padding, and the design differences that affect each model's performance. Photo out on a 5-day trip with the Osprey Volt and the Deuter Air Contact.
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.
The shoulder straps of the Aether are well articulated, nicely padded, and featured a pleasant face fabric. Most of our review team thought these features were more comfortable than average and the pack was soft enough to wear, even with only a tank top or while going shirtless.
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+ lbs), 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.
Along with your pack's suspension, there is likely no feature or function that will have a bigger impact on your backcountry experience (than a given model's comfort). All the models we chose or this review performed respectably well in this category. However, remember to consider you'll likely have your pack for years to come and will wear it for hundreds of hours; so on day 5 of 8, when your hips are swollen and your shoulders hurt, how much more would you spend in that moment for a more comfortable pack?
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.
OutdoorGearLab Editor Ian Nicholson testing packs and leading a group out after a successful trip up Denali, shown here 3 hours away from the airstrip, with a 60 pound pack and a 30 pound sled after nearly 20 days in the field.
The Air Contact'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
Comparing the buckles on two backpacking backpack waist belts. The upper uses a redirected strap which is much easier to pull on while the lower is the traditional "push and pull".
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. Also, 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 backpacking backpacks in our fleet. As a result, the load hauling prowess, the Xenith
, 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. 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
. 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
Comfort not only included how well the pack felt on even ground and nice trails, but also how the pack moved with us on difficult cross-country terrain, like bushwhacking and log crossings. Comparing packs in the North Cascades, WA.
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.
The AG or "Anti-Gravity" frame of the Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack is shown here. Frames like this one are often referred to as a trampoline suspension or suspended suspension systems. The idea is that instead of having your back right up against the pack, your back is against a mesh back panel that is suspended over a more traditional frame. The advantage of this type of frame is that they tend to produce less hot spots on the user because the weight is suspended over a larger area. It also allows more air to ventilate, making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty. Their only disadvantage: they don't handle super heavy (45+ pounds) as well before they start to feel mushy and the suspension sort of half collapses.
Features and Ease of Use
This category includes how easy a given backpacking 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.
Having two straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a small but excellent feature to have. We particularly liked how long the Atmos' straps were and found they were able to fit around pretty much any sleeping pad (something that can't be said about the majority of backpacking packs).
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
On extended trips, you likely will have a lot of gear; a few features to stay organized can be nice, as long as they don't add too much weight. Photo shown here is after a long day of backpacking pack testing and over 5,000ft of vertical gain. We were rewarded with an amazing camp and fantastic views of the Southern Pickets.
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. The REI Flash 65
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.
The rad twin pocketed design that was among of our favorites for ease of use and organization on the Banchee 65. These were great for water bottles, water filters, snacks, a light jacket, or simply anything else we wanted easily accessible.
Our favorite collection of pockets came in the Xenith
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), a sweet "J" shaped opening, and only costs $200.
Top Lid Pocket
There aren't many universal features out there; however, one thing that most backpacking packs have is a lid with a zippered pocket. This exceptionally common feature is one of the best places to store small a variety of small items that the users might want easily accessible. Photo: Backpacking in the Oregon Cascades.
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.
Our testers loved the dual zippered lid pockets on the Baltoro 65. It was easily our review teams' favorite lid design of any model in our review. These pockets not only helped users to stay more organized, but because of their upward orientation, they were both easy to access and search through.
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 lid of the Gregory Paragon 68 (shown here) features a large "U" shaped zipper that made searching for items easy; but, unlike the Baltoro or Bora models, we had to be more careful to make sure items didn't fall out unexpectedly. This problem was slightly worse when the pack was super full.
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
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
, 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
This is the lid featured on the Osprey Aether 60 AG, which boasts a relatively common design, with the zipper being on the side. While the Aether is better than normal because the zipper wraps around slightly to each side, making searching for items easier, we didn't like it quite as well as either of the Gregory or Arc'teryx Models.
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.
The Arc'teryx Bora doesn't feature a traditional "sleeping bag compartment zipper" and instead features a small side-access zipper (shown here). While this wasn't as easy to use of a design for use of the pack like a suitcase, we found that when we packed the Bora with larger items we thought we might want easily accessible near this zipper, it wasn't a big deal.
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.
The Gregory Baltoro had one of the best access points in our review. Not only was it the largest, but it was also just well-designed and allowed us access to a large portion of the pack. It offered a big enough opening that we could take items out (like a tent) without having to unpack our entire pack.
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
The REI Flash 65 had the second best access among any pack we tested with a large "J" shaped zipper; however, what's nice about the Flash is it has a solid number of features but is still a pretty reasonable weight and is around 1.5 pounds lighter than 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.
Hip belt pockets are a smaller feature but are surprisingly nice once you step out onto the trail. They help provide easy access to a camera, snacks, a GPS, sunblock, or any number of other items while barely having to break stride. In our experience, they are certainly a feature that a lot of people don't look for, but love once they own a pack that has them. The Osprey Aether 60 AG's zippered pockets shown here which were among our favorite designs in our review.
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 AC² 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).
The Bora was by far the most weather resistant pack in our review. It uses Arc'teryx's proprietary AC2 fabric (all the non-black areas of the Bora packs sport this fabric). Not only do they use a weather resistant fabric, but these models also seam tape a handful of more exposed areas, including this beavertail style pocket, which sports a watertight zipper. We used this pack on several VERY wet trips and found that these features did a perfect job at keeping the our gear (that was in this pocket) dry.
The Baltoro 65 comes with a fairly functional hydration pack that doubled as the bladder sleeve/holder when used inside the pack. Here we show a shell jacket and 70-ounce Platypus bladder for size reference. This separate pack is designed to be taken on a summit push or day-hike from camp but is just good enough to use around town or going to the gym.
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).
Most of the packs in our review featured two water bottle pockets one found on each side. However, a handful of models from Osprey and Gregory tweaked the common design to point the water bottle forward, making it much easier for the wearer to be able to access and stow their water bottle without assistance. Most of these models have another opening near the top of this pocket to securely hold oblong shaped items on the outside of your pack, like tent poles or a snow picket.
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 backpack 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).
The Exos 58 is a surprisingly comfortable pack, especially considering its 2.5 pound weight. We thought it was fantastic to 30 pounds, and decent to 40 lbs, but we wouldn't want to carry much more than that.
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.
Proper pack fit is essential to making any pack feel good. OutdoorGearLab Friend Mark M. putting in his two cents on the Northside of Mt. Baker
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.
We really liked the "GridLock" system featured on Arc'teryx's new Bora packs. What makes it fairly unique is that packs constructed with this design can have their shoulder straps adjusted both vertically and horizontally to best fit their wearer. Despite looking pretty simple and sporting a lot of plastic, we found this design to be BOMBER design, and we never experienced the shoulder strap coming prematurely undone.
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
, and Osprey Aether 70
all had a respectable amount of adjustment (all have around four inches) along with being available in some 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.
Most backpacking packs are available in multiple frame sizes, but even on top of that, all the models we tested feature some level of adjustability to help further fine-tune the fit to the user. The Osprey Xenith (shown here) features the most common style of adjustment, with the shoulder straps attached to a Velcro covered flap that can be slid into place behind the back panel - giving the user roughly 4 inches of adjustment. We gave extra points to backs with adjustable girth waist belts or the ability to adjust the shoulder straps both vertically (far more common) as well as horizontally.
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 Paragon
b both come included with rain covers.
The pack cover (AKA rain cover) included with the Baltoro 65. While small, we really appreciated that it came with this feature which only added to this pack's value and could be left behind when the weather allowed.
Carrying your gear on a backcountry trip from points A
might seem like simple enough goal, yet it can be overwhelming with so many models to sort through. Figuring out which backpacking backpack is right for you might seem more complicated than it did at first glance. We hope 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 also be 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.