Shopping guide for best hiking backpacks

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All three of these packs were noticeably superior at carrying weights when compared to the rest of the backpacking backpacks in our fleet.

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Capacity of hiking backpacks

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In this review, we directly compare the best and most popular men's backpacking backpacks and attempt to present it in an easily digestible manner as to why each aspect is important. There are many factors to take into consideration when purchasing a pack for backpacking.

People with bigger shoulders or sides sleepers tend to feel more comfortable in bags with higher shoulder girths, while women typically need a shorter length bag and a smaller shoulder girth because they have narrower shoulders than men. When choosing between bags with different outer shell fabrics, consider their breathability, so they will vent perspiration that can degrade your insulation, and whether they have a DWR coating, which can be important if the foot of your quilt gets wet regularly.

These include draft collars, continuous baffles, very high fill-power goose down, non-snagging zippers, draft tubes positioned behind zippers to seal out the cold, ventable foot boxes, and full length zippers that help extend the range of a bag in warmer weather. I wish there were more choices available for women, but these are the picks of the litter. Philip the FF Flicker has a wide version , being a side sleeper would you go with the added cost of that model or is the regular version in your opinion enough?

Do you know anyone who has the wide version? Under what range of conditions do you choose to take the Flicker 40? You might be able to do the same thing with their In warm to hot weather. You can just open it up and lie on it if you want…. I have a wide Flicker 20 and it is roomier to me than a mummy bag.

I suppose if it got really cold my body would have a harder time warming up the bag. I toss and turn nearly all night. I am mostly comfortable on my back but just have to turn on my sides at times during the night. Because of my restlessness during sleep. I had tried a regular width 40 Flicker and found it great as a warmer weather option, even zipped it up one night, but it was too restrictive for me.

I have the wide version Flicker I had initially gotten a regular 20 and exchanged it. I felt the regular was too restrictive.

The regular size ones feel too restrictive and I just fill the additional space at my feet with my extra clothing. As a hot sleeper, I like full length zippers since they are easier to vent and require less contortion to get into and out of.

I have the flicker 30 long and wide. Not constricting at all. And they have the zippered vents on top that release a little heat if needed. I could do without the little extra-protecton, blanket flap thingie in the Disco.

If you need the extra warmth, just wear a neck tube. So you are a fan of continuous baffles that don! I turn with the bag, not in the bag, so I like the down to stay in place. More important is the shape of the baffles. Is it slanted, dubble H or V-shaped? A woman should not buy a sleeping bag 10 degrees warmer than what, lower limit? She should look at the comfort limit rating. The EN-norm has not two but four ratings.

Like the extreme temperature in which you should survive the night. If you want a more supportive pack but are still looking for something on the lighter side, this is your pack.

The North Face Banchee 65 was very nearly a winner of a Top Pick for its overall design coupled with top-tier comfort, and a relatively low weight.

While this model didn't win an award, it is worth considering for folks who go out for less than days and carry less than pounds. For these types of trips, the Banchee offers plenty of comfort and support with one of our favorite and most user-friendly pack-designs with plenty of options to keep you organized.

The North Face Banchee There are many factors to consider when selecting the new backpacking backpack, whether it's your first backpacking backpack, you're updating an old model, or you're just adding to the quiver. In this review, we directly compare the best and most popular men's backpacking backpacks and attempt to present it in an easily digestible manner as to why each aspect is important. The backpacking packs included in our review are the type of models that most people will be drawn toward and will use for day-in-day-out backpacking.

While the contenders 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.

Certain types of travel mean it can be easier to use a backpacking pack over a more traditional piece of luggage. We compared each model for travel purposes and selected a best overall model for travel uses, which still offers respectable performance while out on the trail.

Which models are the most wallet-friendly, you ask? Which will provide the best value for the price? Which trade-offs are you willing to sacrifice?

In a review of 14 contenders, we've awarded a series of awards. For our comfort category, we took some factors into consideration. We also compared each model's back panel and waist belt for days at a time and carried each with a variety of pack weight. We compared these packs with more common lb loads that most backpackers might carry for a day trip.

We also loaded each contender with lbs for a little longer than our hips, back, and shoulders would have liked to simulate what long range or 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 and backpacking partners thanks to everyone who contributed and tested these packs more than three hundred user days.

This helped give us a broader perspective on body types and what it takes in choosing the most comfortable contender. After extensive testing with "average" lb loads, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG scored at the top for comfort, with the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 also proving its place near the very top of the review.

All of our testers agreed, the Atmos provided such a cozy ride with its trampoline-style suspension that 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 newest version of the Atmos is even better, as it features heavily-tapered padding, which provides thicker, cushier padding where you want it most on-top-of and near your shoulders and less where you may not need it.

The Bora AR 63 was also notably comfortable, complete with dreamy foam that was soft feeling and acted as a therapeutic mattress. It struck an excellent balance between being soft and comfortable, while effectively conforming to the shape of its wearer's shoulders and hips.

In turn, the load was better distributed, and the straps weren't too soft or bottoming out. It's also worth noting that for lighter weights, we did like the low profile and slimmer shoulder straps of the Thule Versant Despite the Versant being thinner than all the other models in our review, it proved to be exceptionally comfortable thanks to its impressive ergonomics, provided the pack wasn't too heavy.

For more substantial loads, the Atmos lost a lot of its prowess and became a lot less comfortable once loads exceeded around lbs.

All these packs use high-quality foam that achieve a solid balance of support and comfort, with each model offering subtle, different advantages; the advantages include foam stiffness, shoulder strap shape, and waist belt shape, which allow them to fall into our load-hauler category.

While each model had slightly different qualities to help it perform well with heavy loads such as the Bora's pivoting waist belt , the shoulder straps featured on all these packs had top-notch padding and ergonomics.

There was more of a difference in waist belts, and different body types worked better with different designs. The consensus favorites for our testers include the Osprey Xenith , Aether Pro 70 and Gregory Baltoro , which all feature across-the-board comfort. While these models weren't quite as some, they weren't very far behind either. For medium and lighter weight loads of around lbs, we noticed almost no difference between these packs and the ones we listed above. It was only once we crested pounds that the highest rated models began to stand out.

Our testers loved the face fabric the fabric on the outside of the shoulder strap that makes contact with its wearer's body on inside of the shoulder straps of the Osprey Xenith 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 in our findings. The Deuter Aircontact's shoulder straps and waist belt were excellent for thinner testers with bonier hips, as long as pack weights weren't too heavy. Several other models, like the Baltoro 65 , Aether Pro , Xenith 75 and L had much stiffer foam which was great with heavier loads. Lighter weight users found the softer " cushier " padding of the Aircontact, Atmos 65 AG , and the Banchee 65 to be more comfortable - as long as we didn't overload them.

These backpacking backpacks felt decent up to 40 lbs; above 50 pounds, the Xenith and Baltoro were superior, while the Bora struck a nice middle group being reasonably pleasant at both. The suspension category encompasses how effective the suspension was at supporting our backs and how well the frame transferred the load from the pack into the waist belt.

We also measured the transfer of the load onto the front of our shoulder straps rather than the top, helping to avoid our shoulders feeling crushed. The suspension is tied in with a pack's overall comfort, but we specified unique criteria for each category. We also focused on the back panel and how nicely it provided support to our spines, back, and shoulders. The Gregory Baltoro 65 , Osprey Aether Pro 70 , 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 , Aether Pro , 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 weights when compared to the rest of the backpacking 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, with the Xenith winning our award for this category.

Osprey beefs up several things including the diameter of this model's wire frame and padding with this pack - and it shows. If we knew huge loads were in our future, we wanted the Xenith by our side. Thus, the Xenith is tester Ian Nicholson's go-to Denali pack, in which he embarks on 22 days of arctic cold temperatures.

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 hip-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.

The advantages of this type of frame are that it allows more air to ventilate, making these backpacks cooler and less sweaty feeling. More importantly, they tend to produce less hot spots on the users because the design does an outstanding job at evenly spreading the weight out or "suspending" it over a larger area of the wearer.

More and more packs are using a similar design, at least on the back panel portion. We like 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 supportive and as a result more comfortable. For example, the Gregory Baltoro 65 doesn't feature a trampoline suspension system, but that's one reason it carries such massive loads as efficiently as others.

All suspension style systems come with a weight limit where the suspended mesh is pressed so tightly against the wearer that it either bottoms out or causes a hot spot. Because it's tensioned to a point where it can't evenly spread the weight out. This category delves into how easy a given backpack was to pack and retrieve equipment and consists of an examination of the design of the main compartment, access, additional pockets, and other more specific or individual features.

We compared the number and location of extra 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 easy to use waist belt buckles. For folks who liked a good assortment 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 useful pockets designs.

These models had our review teams favorite overall organizational designs. The Thule Versant 70 and Baltoro had the best access of any pack in our review.

These competitors provide great options for folks who like a lot of organization or the ability to get inside easily without having to take much out. Our favorite collection of pockets came in the Xenith , Atmos , and the Baltoro While we loved these packs, it's worth noting that these models were only average in weight, clocking in around 4. The Banchee 65 has a very similar overall design and is one of the lighter packs in our review at 3 lbs 10 oz around a pound lighter than average. There aren't a lot of universal features that every pack has; however, one thing that a vast majority of models include is a top lid with a zippered pocket some folks call the lid the " brain " of the pack.

With good reason, this ubiquitous feature is one of the best places to store small items that users might want easy access to: A majority of backpacking oriented packs also feature a separate smaller pocket on the underside of the lid, offering a secondary place to store small items that don't need to be accessed quite as frequently. Of all the packs we tested, our review team's favorite top lid designs belonged to the Gregory Baltoro 65 and to only a slightly lesser extent, the Arc'teryx Bora AR Both of these models featured lid-pockets with zippered access on the top of the pack rather than the more common zipper on the side.

Having the zipper on the top of the pack it hands down easier to locate items but also the unexpected benefit of these items being less likely to fall out while we searched around. What made our testing staff like the Baltoro the most is it had two pockets on the top of the lid, both accessed from above, that were shaped in a way that made searching slightly easier.

The Gregory Paragon 68 also featured a lid pocket that was very similar and nearly as easy to find items in; it was darn sweet except 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 contenders 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.

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. Different ways to access the primary compartment of our bag was part of our "Ease of Use" category and refers to how easily we could access specific items without having to unpack our entire bag.

While having easy access is excellent and no-doubt convenient, its level of importance depends dramatically on the user and the volume of the pack. As pack volume gets larger, small or even large items become easy to lose track of. This makes unpacking a significant portion of your pack to track down a particular something a bit of a pain. For non-travel purposes, it isn't uncommon for people to overemphasis their perception of how important access is. We have seen many people think they need more access, placing it higher on their priority list than it really should be.

We have seen far too many people select a given model because it has a huge zippered access panel, only to rarely use it. Why does it matter? Access requires zippers, and zippers add weight; often, the zippers aren't essential or even that helpful. Consider your priorities before saying "I want lots of easy access" and ask yourself if the increased weight is worth it for your personal preferences, activities, and the volume pack you are considering purchasing.

Ease of access is an especially useful feature for people who want to use their pack for travel. This is a common tactic for folks going to more far-flung or less urban area who will find it easier and more comfortable to bring a backpack over a suitcase or a duffel bag to go "backpacking" through specific regions. All the backpacking backpacks in our review were top loading, and a little more than half had some side or panel access zippers, and a nearly all had a sleeping bag compartments. These openings allow access to a portion of the interior of the pack that the primary top opening may not have good access to.

Among all the models we tested, both the Gregory Baltoro and the Thule Versant 70 had the best access. Both of these models feature a huge "U" shaped opening that travels nearly the entire length of the back of the pack.

With both of these models, their zippered access panel opened almost as large as a suitcase and opened larger than many duffel bags. This makes them an excellent option for anyone "backpacking" through Europe or Southeast Asia easier, as you can carry your luggage rather than wheel it. While hardly essential, nearly all of our testing team appreciated having at least one zippered pocket built into the hip-belt of their pack that was big enough for a small point-and-shoot camera, smartphone, or a few snacks.

The Osprey models all had large or in the case of the Aether Pro 70 , huge zippered pockets that were easy to access while hiking. The ULA Circuit is differentiated from the other ultralight packs on this list by its durable build. The denier Robic nylon is abrasion resistant and much less prone to punctures than the Dyneema Hyperlite and Zpacks designs above. See the ULA Circuit A good price and weight. Lacking in comfort and only comes in one size.

However, we recently took the version of the Deuter Aircontact Lite out in Utah and came away unimpressed. Most notably, the backpanel was not very comfortable, and in particular the hard Vari Quick adjustment centerpiece pressed into our back while hiking. Finally, the pack only comes in one size with the aforementioned torso height adjustability. This made it feel small—we usually wear a medium or large—and we prefer at least two size options.

But we do like the price and weight, which are why the Deuter makes this list. Cheap and surprisingly comfortable. Not as good for heavy loads. Kelty generally targets the entry-level end of the camping and backpacking spectrum, but we appreciate the reasonable prices and sturdy builds. Rules about how big of a pack you need are not hard and fast.

One point should stand out, however. Make sure to match your pack's capacity to your type of gear you'll be bringing. Do you have dated gear that doesn't compress well, or do you like to bring along a few extras?

Then make sure to get a correspondingly cavernous pack. Sizing down to a lightweight modern tent and down sleeping bag will allow for more flexibility in size options. While at 60 liters and more, you have enough space to take on a few additional items—great for parents with kids in tow. Within each of the ranges we have listed below, you can follow those general guidelines: If your gear is older or you prefer a comfort-oriented read: A heavier pack is logically most often capable of hauling more weight.

It will have a beefy frame, tough fabrics and thick padding. Below is a basic guideline in matching pack weight and hauling ability. Note, some manufacturers also provide load ratings for their packs, which is another helpful reference point.

The thickness and quality of the padding found in the backpanel, and particularly the shoulder straps and hipbelts, is an important consideration in choosing a pack. A properly set up pack will place most of the weight on your hips, with the shoulder straps taking a light amount of weight and keeping the pack tucked in close to your back.

The foam and the fabric that covers it do add weight, so manufacturers are always trying to find the right balance weight and comfort. All non-ultralight overnight, weekend and extended travel packs feature foam padding to increase comfort. We prefer foam that errs towards firm support rather than being soft and compressible. Packs like the Gregory Baltoro and Arc'teryx Bora AR are great examples of effective use of this type of high quality, firm padding.

Some ultralight packs do a decent job of balancing these needs, including the Osprey Exos 58 , which uses a creative mesh design surrounding thin foam for a good balance of weight and support. This is where the old external framed packs had a distinct advantage — pockets and organization galore.

Main Compartment Access Nearly every backpacking pack out there will have an opening at the top that is secured in a cinch cord or roll-top manner, referred to as a top-loader. Additional access to the bottom or middle of the pack via a u-shaped zipper can be a big help, keeping you from having to shovel through a once-meticulously organized pack to find some elusive item.

These extra zippers add a little weight, but are often worth it. In cases like the Gregory Baltoro or Osprey Aether AG , the u-shaped opening is so wide that you can pack and remove items much like a travel suitcase. Exterior Pockets A top lid with zippered pockets is a great spot for some lighter weight items that you might need on quick notice, like a headlamp.

External floating pockets are becoming popular to stuff gear like a rain jacket or insulated midlayer. Hipbelt pockets are another recent adoption for putting quick access items like lip balm, a camera or lifesavers an excellent energy booster on the trail. Compression Straps Compression straps along the sides of the pack not only pull the weight of the pack closer to your back, but are also a great spot to store taller items like tent poles.

Granite Gear and REI do a great job of incorporating creative compression strap systems to keep the weight of the pack snug against you. Backpanel and hipbelt ventilation is a biggie for some this author included. Finding an internal framed pack that breathes well can be a challenge, primarily because the point of the pack is to hug and conform to your body, moving with you as you walk.

A typical pack will have offsetting foam and mesh panels that try to encourage airflow, but what that usually results in is sweat art on your back that traces where the foam panels are contacting you. The new Anti-Gravity system from Osprey, with its full-length mesh that even includes the hipbelt, is an impressive design that offers best in class ventilation. We loved the design, although there are a few sacrifices in choosing this type of pack see our in-depth review of the Atmos AG.

Many items that we store in our backpacks are vulnerable to moisture—including a camera, phone, and down sleeping bag—so we place a high priority on water protection. The good news is that most backpacks offer decent water resistance with hard-face nylon, but sustained rainfall will penetrate the fabric.

There are also a number of highly water resistant backpacks on the market. Bags made with Dyneema previously known as Cuben Fiber naturally are waterproof, which is a key benefit to the ultralight fabric. While it sounds well and good—reducing weight to move easier and faster—going to an ultralight pack is not without compromise.

First off, know that you are forgoing most luxury items. And improvements in pack materials and suspensions are making many of the compromises above a non-issue. The number one factor in sizing a backpack is your torso measurement. Trust us, spend the 10 seconds and get yourself measured. A flexible cloth tape measure and another human. Start by putting your chin to your chest and have your helper locate the C7 vertebrae near the base of the neck. Next, rest your hands on the top of your hips in the same way your parents used to do when you failed to clean your room — with your thumbs along your back.

Have your new friend then measure from the C7 vertebrae to the spot on your spine where your thumbs would meet. Voila, you have your torso measurement. You can then choose the size of pack you need based on your torso measurement and swap out the hipbelts.

Alternatively, a pack like the Granite Gear Lutsen see our review of the pack offers precise adjustments for both the torso and hipbelt to really dial in the fit. For minimalist overnights to extended treks, our top picks excel in carrying comfort, organization, and weight.

Using the shove-it pocket on the Osprey Exos Main Compartment Access Nearly every backpacking pack out there will have an opening at the top that is secured in a cinch cord or roll-top manner, referred to as a top-loader.

A zippered access to the main compartment makes it easy to grab items quickly Exterior Pockets A top lid with zippered pockets is a great spot for some lighter weight items that you might need on quick notice, like a headlamp.

The Zpacks Arc Blast has a large mesh outer pocket Compression Straps Compression straps along the sides of the pack not only pull the weight of the pack closer to your back, but are also a great spot to store taller items like tent poles. REI's UpLift compression system keeps your gear snug against your back Ventilation Backpanel and hipbelt ventilation is a biggie for some this author included.

Osprey includes cutouts in the Eja's foam to increase ventilation Water Protection Many items that we store in our backpacks are vulnerable to moisture—including a camera, phone, and down sleeping bag—so we place a high priority on water protection. Using the included rain cover on the REI Traverse 70 There are also a number of highly water resistant backpacks on the market. The Arc'teryx Bora pack has waterproof panels in targeted areas Ultralight Backpacking Packs Hyperlite is an ultralight leader While it sounds well and good—reducing weight to move easier and faster—going to an ultralight pack is not without compromise.

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