Best Hiking Backpack of 2020: Complete Reviews with Comparisons
A hiking backpack is essential to any hiker. Therefore, it is very important to choose the right one.
When buying a hiking backpack, you should consider the construction, volume/capacity, weight, build quality, materials used, and perhaps the price. In the following section, we’ll review some of the best hiking backpacks of 2019. A comprehensive buyer’s guide complete with an FAQ section is to follow.
Hiking Backpack Reviews
1. Osprey Aether 70L AG
A large hiking backpack like the Osprey Aether 70L AG is a great option for multi-day backcountry skiing, hiking, and camping trips.
The unisex Osprey Aether 70L AG has an adjustable torso length and Osprey’s Antigravity 3D back system. Together with the stiff load bars in the harness and the sprung mesh lumbar area, this backpack transfers a significant portion of the weight from your back to the legs.
The Aether 70L AG has a multi-compartment top lid. While you can’t use it as a day pack, you can take it off to reduce the backpack’s overall weight. With the lid off, you’ll find a built-in rain mesh for protecting the main compartment.
This Osprey has a large main compartment with a separate sleeping bag pocket beneath it. Additional pockets include two mesh compartments on the sides and one zippered and one shovel pocket each in front.
The strong hip belt with built-in zippered pockets is adjustable and can accommodate a wide range of body frames. The backpack also has a variable torso length and sturdy shoulder and chest straps.
What's to like about the Osprey Aether 70L AG
The Osprey Aether 70L AG features a strong frame and excellent weight distribution. It is sturdy and can carry a lot of weight. On the other hand, it is very light when empty. The mesh padding in the back significantly reduces sweating.
What's not to like about the Osprey Aether 70L AG
This high-end backpack might be a bit too much if you’re only planning a one-day or an overnight hiking trip.
2. Teton Sports Scout 3400 (cubic inch or 55L)
If you’re heading out for a period of several days, you may want to go with a medium-sized backpack, such as the Teton Sports Scout 3400, that can hold all the stuff you’ll need during the trip.
The Teton Sports Scout 3400 is a 3400 cubic inch or 55-liter backpack that can see you through 3-5 days’ worth of hiking and camping trips without a problem. It has a top-load central compartment and several external pockets for strategic packing.
This unisex backpack is equipped with an internal frame. In combination with the sturdy straps, the frame enables good weight distribution. The hip belt is wide and nicely padded, while the equally wide shoulder straps have several D-rings for additional equipment. The torso length adjustment range is 15” to 19.5”.
The open-cell lumbar pad and molded channels on the back panel minimize sweating during long hikes. A dedicated sleeping bag compartment is located under the backpack, while a spacious lid cover sits on top.
The front side is equipped with multiple gear loops for hiking poles, ice axes, and other equipment. It also has a stretch mesh pocket in the middle section. The backpack weighs 4.5lbs when empty – not bad though you can definitely find lighter backpacks.
What's to like about the Teton Sports Scout 3400 (cubic inch or 55L)
The Teton Sports Scout 3400 features high-quality materials for the money. It is affordable and durable at the same time. The adjustable padded straps, multiple pockets, back ventilation system, and strong internal frame are also among its strong points.
What's not to like about the Teton Sports Scout 3400 (cubic inch or 55L)
While versatile, this backpack is probably not the best choice for extended hiking and mountain climbing trips.
3. Venture Pal 35L Backpack
If you’re planning an overnight or day trip, you’d want something smaller and lighter, such as the Venture Pal 35L Backpack that comes highly recommended for the price.
The Venture Pal 35L is a compact hiking backpack for men and women. Case in point are the 12 available colors of both loud and more neutral varieties. It features a rip- and water-resistant construction and modern design. It is exceptionally light at 0.7lbs. What’s more, you can fold the entire backpack into its internal pocket for easier storage.
With a total volume of 35 liters, this can perhaps be called a weekend backpack. The main compartment has two dividers for easier organization. Additionally, this backpack has several smaller pockets in front and a mesh pocket to each side.
Due to its size, the Venture Pal model doesn’t have an additional day pack. Instead, the backpack looks more like a school backpack.
The Venture Pal 35L Backpack has wide and adjustable shoulder straps and a simple waist strap. The chest buckle features an integrated whistle. There is no waist strap, as this backpack is not intended for heavy loads.
What's to like about the Venture Pal 35L Backpack
The affordable Venture Pal backpack is both water- and tear-resistant. It is super-lightweight and folds into its own pocket. There are several side and front pockets for extra equipment, as well as adjustable straps.
What's not to like about the Venture Pal 35L Backpack
It is functional but not overly sexy as a hiking backpack.
4. Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack
The Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack is a classic winner – not too big and not too small, but if necessary, it can be pressed into action for longer trips that usually require a bigger backpack or short trips where you’d prefer want a smaller backpack.
This Mountain Top is a 40L polyester backpack, a welcomed departure from today’s hiking backpacks which tend to favor a nylon shell. The main compartment is spacious enough to accommodate enough equipment and supplies for three days. It has a laptop divider and a compartment where you can install your own hydration system.
There are three major external pockets, all closed with durable zippers. The central front pocket conceals a small mesh Velcroed compartment. This backpack also has a large stretch mesh pocket each side.
The front and sides are also equipped with a total of six gear attachments and compression straps which you can use to fasten additional equipment onto your backpack.
The back panel is covered with mesh lining for improved ventilation and reduced perspiration on hikes. The padded shoulder straps are equipped with two D-rings and adjustable in length. Needless to say, the sternum strap is adjustable as well. The hip belt features plastic reinforcements and thick padding. It can accommodate 25 to 53” waists.
What's to like about the Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack
The Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack is durable as far as polyester backpacks go. It features four external pockets and multiple gear attachment straps. The back panel has a mesh cover for better ventilation. The shoulder, sternum and hip straps are padded and highly adjustable.
What's not to like about the Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack
This backpack is probably not the best option for extended hiking trips.
5. Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack
This Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack is ideal for hikers who need plenty of equipment for shorter trips. You can also use it for longer trips if you’re judicious with your packing.
This backpack is equipped with a segmented main compartment. One of the sections can even house a 15.6” laptop.
As for additional storage, this backpack has one large zippered pocket in front, which happens to house the rain cover. There’s a shovel pocket on top of it that’s great for storing quick access items. There is a standard mesh pocket on each side. The front and sides are equipped with several gear attachments and compression straps.
The back is covered with soft padding and mesh ventilation for a dry and comfortable hike. The adjustable shoulder pads are wide and thickly padded to provide maximum comfort. The hip belt is adjustable enough to accommodate male and female hikers. The package includes the backpack and the rain cover.
What's to like about the Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack
The Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack has a divided main compartment with a padded laptop section. It features mesh ventilation in the back, as well as fully adjustable shoulder, chest, and hip straps. The package also includes a rain cover.
What's not to like about the Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack
This backpack (without the rain cover) isn’t the most water-resistant in the world. You might find yourself fooling around with the rain cover even when it’s just drizzling.
When shopping for a hiking backpack, there are several things to take into consideration. First, you should decide on whether you want a backpack with an external frame, internal frame, or without. Next, you should decide on its size and weight capacity. Finally, the price range is massive so it’d help to have an idea of how much you’re willing to spend.
Types of Backpacks
The first thing you should decide on is the type of support needed. There are three basic options – external frame, internal frame, and no frame. Here’s a word or two about each type.
External frames are visible on the outside
These backpacks are an excellent choice for heavier loads and for unusual equipment of odd shapes and sizes. Thanks to the frame, they offer superior ventilation. However, they can be very heavy and somewhat uncomfortable to carry for a long time.
Internal-framed backpacks can generally support less weight than those with external frames
They may not be as well ventilated but you’ll find that most of them are no slouches in this department, as only higher-end backpacks are equipped with an internal frame, which is perfect for designing a load transfer system around.
Frameless hiking backpacks are your everyday backpacks
A schoolbag doesn’t have a frame, and therefore it’s a frameless backpack. You get the idea.
The volume capacity of a backpack largely determines the suitable trip lengths. Manufacturers generally design the weight capacities to commensurate with the volume for hiking purpose – they’d assume you’re not using the backpack to carry a large sump pump, for example. As long as they’re hiking gear, you can assume that if they fit, they’re safe to carry.
Generally, hiking backpacks can be divided into three main capacity categories – weekend, multiday, and extended trip.
Weekend backpacks are usually 30-50 liters in total internal volume. They are big enough for you to pack all the essentials for a three-day trip. However, hikers who are inclined to travel light might go with larger backpacks for extended trips, as well.
These backpacks usually offer 50 to 80 liters of storage capacity. They’re larger and sturdier and tend to have more accessories and features. Sleeping bags and hydration systems are a commonplace here. Many models also have internal or even external frames. Parents who are going on a weekend or overnight hiking trip with kids in tow often opt for multiday backpacks to make their young one’s backpacks as light as possible.
Extended Trip category
These start at 70 liters. They are the biggest and the most robust for longer hiking trips. You can also take one of these to a one-day or overnight winter hiking trip, as they can easily store additional clothes, a 4-season tent, and a warm sleeping bag.
The materials used can be as important as the backpack’s capacity and type. The majority of backpacks nowadays are made of polyester/nylon, hard plastic, foam, and metal.
These are the main backpack materials nowadays, the difference of which is that nylon backs are lighter (with all else equal). Walls, dividers, compression straps, as well as shoulder, chest, and hip straps are mostly made of polyester or nylon. Any included sleeping bags and rain covers are also mostly made of nylon. Some models might feature water and tear resistance.
Hard plastic is mainly used for buckles, D-rings, and zippers. Other than that, you can find hard plastic carabiners on entry-level weekend models.
Foam is commonly used for padding. You can find it wherever the backpack touches the body. It is most prominently used on back panels, hip belts, shoulder straps. Its main function is to improve comfort. Additionally, foam padding on the back panel might have ventilation canals and mesh covers.
Metal is mostly used for internal and external frames. It is also used for zippers, D-rings, carabiners, and attachment hooks as commonly found on heavy-duty backpacks.
Modern backpacks are usually lightweight, especially the frameless variety. Frameless backpacks can be as light as 1 lb. or less. On the other hand, some multiday and internal-framed backpacks may weigh up to 10 lbs. or more. Those with external frames are the heaviest.
We’ve covered the weight capacity in the capacity section. Here’s for the weight of the backpack only. A lot of it is common sense. If you have a bad back, for example, you might want to go with the lightest backpack possible. But keep in mind that if you have to carry more gear, an internal-framed backpack that’s slightly heavier than a frameless backpack might be friendlier on your back if it has a good load distribution system.
The price is an important thing to consider when buying a hiking backpack. While it might not be the most accurate indicator of size, it is indicative of build quality and advanced features.
A hiking backpack can cost you anywhere from chump change to $300 and up. Needless to say, you’re not going to find frames and sleeping bag and hydration system in budget hiking backpacks. All of them are definitely manufactured overseas.
As you move on up the price range, the more expensive models would feature elaborate ventilation systems, frames, and weight distribution systems. In general, you will get what you pay for. But like almost any merchandise, you are going to run into the point of diminishing return after a certain price. This means that the difference in quality between a $100 and $200 hiking backpacks might not be as large as the difference between a $100 and $20 backpack.
How to pack a hiking backpack?
The most convenient way is to divide your backpack into zones. We’ll use a 5-zone model here.
- Bottom: big items and items that you won’t need until you’ve reached where you’ll turn down for the night
- Middle: the heaviest remaining items after packing the bottom
- Top: items that you might need during hiking
- Front and side pockets: small items that you’re going to need often
- Loops, D-rings, and attachments: trekking poles, tent poles, ice axes, tools, etc.
What are backpacks made of?
Nowadays, hiking backpacks are mostly made of high-denier polyester or nylon, which includes the walls, bottom, top cover, rain fly, compressor straps, shoulder straps, hip straps, and sleeping bag. The zippers, D-rings, tool loops, and frames are either hard plastic or metal. The padding is foam of various density.
What size hiking backpack?
The size of the backpack should depend on the length of the trip and your packing style. If you’re a regular hiker, you might already know the standard guidelines – 30-50L backpacks for weekend trips, 50-80L for 3 to 5-day trips, and 70L and up for extended trips.
If you pack heavily or take your kids with you, it is recommended to go one size up. On the other hand, if you pack lightly, you can go on a 5-day trip with a 30 or 40L backpack.
How to choose a hiking backpack?
When choosing a backpack, you should first decide whether you need an external frame, internal frame, or frameless. Next, you should decide on the right storage capacity for the trip. Take the length of the trip and your packing style into account.
Next, consider the materials used, build quality, and the backpack’s weight. Finally, take the size and shape into consideration, as any given backpack isn’t going to fit all body types equally well. Some are made for smaller hikers, while others are made for those with a longer torso. In this day and age, you can assume that all hiking backpacks are unisex in appearance, subject to personal preferences. Structurally, though, there are women’s backpacks built with a smaller torso in mind.
How should a hiking backpack fit?
When you put the backpack on your back, you should first adjust the length of the shoulder straps. Make sure to buy a model that is appropriate for your height and torso length.
Next, you should adjust the waist strap or belt. It should fit snuggly and sit securely on your hips. Like with the torso length, make sure to check whether the waist belt supports your waist size. Additionally, attach and adjust the chest or sternum belt.
You shouldn’t support the entire weight of the backpack with your shoulders. Instead, the weight should be distributed to your waist, hips, and legs. The backpack should fit snuggly around your body without restricting your movement.
With the reviews and buyer’s guide out of the way, the best hiking backpack of 2019 is the Osprey Aether 70L AG for those who need a large hiking backpack. You’ll adore the heavy-duty construction (including a strong internal frame) and the excellent weight distribution.
If you’re looking for a medium-sized backpack, the Outdoor Master 50L Hiking Backpack and Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack are the ones for you. The former is sturdy, inexpensive, and highly adjustable, while the latter is lightweight, inexpensive, and well-ventilated.
Finally, if you’re looking for a good weekend option, the Venture Pal 35L Backpack is your best bet. It is water and tear-resistant and equipped with sizable additional pockets, including one for folding the whole backpack into.