On the trail, a quality backpack is essential. And there are a ton of quality options on the market. Technologies like suspension systems and customizable fits are improving every year, and conveniences like built-in rain flies and circumference zippers for easy access are becoming standard in certain brands.
Photo: Drew Zieff
With all the options, Active Junky chose some of the best backpacks on the market for both men and women ranging from 50-liter to 80-liter packs, some tried and proven models and some brand new players. We put them to the test to help you narrow down your purchasing decisions. Check out our top picks, and don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.
Backpack Brands Reviewed
- Granite Gear
- My Trail Company
- The North Face
How to Choose the Best Backpack
Backpacks come in all shapes, sizes and volume, and with any variety of technology. While the finer details will be a personal preference, and depend on how much you’re willing to spend, here are three questions to ask yourself to start narrowing down your options:
Photo: Drew Zieff
Who is using the backpack?
While this seems like a simple question, it’s a big one. Most backpacks are no longer gender neutral, as many brands have women specific models. Men’s backpacks are taller and skinnier, while women’s packs are shorter and place more emphasis on hip belts and curved straps. Many companies will make both men’s and women’s versions of the same model.
What size or volume do you need?
Depending on the duration of your trek and how much gear you’ll pack will determine what size backpack you’ll need. Common naming of backpacks includes the volume in liters – Osprey Volt 75 or Kelty Coyote 70 – so it’s simple to determine the backpack’s size. In general, 50-liter to 65-liter packs offer enough room for an overnight or weekend trip, whereas 70 liters or more would be better suited for a weeklong trip. In the minimalist, light-and-fast packing world, 50 liters is a common volume, as well.
What is your budget?
This may be a deciding factor for some, and luckily there is a huge range of backpack prices on the market. A brand new, state-of-the-art pack could cost several hundred dollars while one a few seasons old could be picked up for under a hundred. While a cheaper backpack will get the job done, you pay for what you get with materials and tech.
Photo: Drew Zieff
Backpacks were evaluated against five attributes, and testers selected one key attribute for each backpack tested, listed in each backpack review below.
Performance: How well does the backpack do its job? Does it adequately pack the specified volume and carrying capacity? High performing backpacks go above and beyond the specs.
Fit: Is the fit customizable? Is the backpack remarkably comfortable? Has the manufacturer offered a wide enough range of adjustments to allow multiple users with different body types to enjoy the same model?
Durability: Does the backpack show signs of wear and tear? Did it get torn up by tight canyon walls and thorny thickets? A durable bag is your best bet when it comes to longevity.
Versatility: Is the backpack a one-trick pony or can it perform multiple tasks? Can it double up as, say, a backpack for ski touring or international travel?
Features: How well conceived are the features? Does the bag bring an innovative edge to the table (trail, actually)?
Photo: Drew Zieff
If you’re looking for a few quick recommendations, the following are some of our favorite packs in the guide.
Gregory Men’s Baltoro 65 $263.96 - $269.96 Best Men’s Multi-Day Backpacking Pack: Gregory Baltoro 65
A true load hauler, the Baltoro has a best-in-class suspension system, not to mention incredible organizational features. This award-winning pack has been updated and slimmed down for 2018, and it’s one of our favorite packs ever.
Deuter Futura Pro 38 SL Women’s $158.40 - $171.00 Best Women’s Crossover Backpack: Deuter Futura Pro 38 SL
Deuter’s suspension system is highly versatile: it vents well in hot weather but can still handle heavy loads. The Futura Pro 38 SL won in the “crossover” category: it straddles the line between daypack and overnight pack due to its volume, and it can be used for day hikes, climbs, and minimalist backpacking.
Best Men’s Crossover Backpack: Patagonia Nine Trails 36 L
The Patagonia Nine Trails 36L won in the “crossover” category: it straddles the line between daypack and overnight pack due to its volume, and it can be used for day hikes, climbs, and minimalist backpacking. The clean design, long zipper, and outer stretch pocket of the Nine Trails 36L made this simple yet functional option from Patagonia our favorite pack in the category. Patagonia Nine Trails 36L Backpack $179.10 - $189.05
If one of these four packs didn’t catch your eye, don’t worry. With 18 packs in this buyer’s guide at the time of writing and with more being added constantly, read on for more shopping tips, product reviews, and recommendations from the Active Junky team.
Below, you’ll find a wide-ranging collection of backpack reviews. Scroll through, find what you’re looking for, and dive in!
Gregory Men’s Baltoro 65: Best Men’s Multi-Day Backpack
This award-winning Gregory pack has been updated for 2018 (it’s now lighter than ever), and testers were raving about the comfort of the Baltoro’s adjustable lumbar support as well as the best-in-test suspension system and organizational features. After proving its worth on backpacking trips in both Utah and Colorado, the Baltoro 65 was our testers’ pick for the best multi-day backpacking backpack.
Where to start? Gregory’s suspension system is top-of-the-line: it balances cushy padding for comfort and a stiff, wishbone-shaped aluminum frame that delivers on-trail stability and resettles pack weight onto the comfortable, broad hip belt. Each hip belt (2x) and shoulder strap (2x) rotate independently of one another—like the shocks on a rock-crawling ATV, this allows the pack to adjust to bumps in the road and deliver a smoother hiking experience. Additionally, the suspension system is adjustable, and you can remove a small pad at the base of the pack panel if you prefer less lumbar support, though our testers dug the additional padding, especially when carrying a maxed out pack.
The Gregory is also chock-full of features. A few of our favorites: the hydration sleeve is removable and doubles as a sweet low-volume summit pack—score! The pack also comes with a stowable rain cover that stashes in the underside of the brain. A waterproof and relatively spacious hip belt pocket allows for easy access to your phone for snapping a quick pick on the trail—or, in an international travel situation, access to travel documents or safe storage of valuables. The u-shaped zipper wraps around the front of the pack, making access to the main compartment straightforward. The stretchy outer pocket is snugger than many on the market, and won’t relinquish poles or puffies even on the most trying of trails. The removable divider on the sleeping bag pocket at the bottom of the Baltoro was also a favorite, especially among testers who camp in wet conditions and appreciate the ability to quarantine wet clothes and stinky gear. The SideWinder water bottle stash pocket is perfect for on-trail access if you aren’t one to use a hydration bladder—and even if you do, using both is a great way to multiply your hauling capacity on trips with formidable distances between water sources.
For backpacking trips and long-term international travel, the Baltoro can handle any adventure you can.
Although revamped and lighter than in years past, the Baltoro isn’t exactly lightweight. However, given the hauling capacity of this beast and the fact that the broad hip belt, comfortable pre-curved shoulder straps, and semi-stiff aluminum frame can handle loads well over 50 pounds, we’re not going to hold a few extra ounces against this pack.
“On a hotter trip into Canyonlands National Park, the ventilated back panel kept my back comfortable even when we had to hike out under the midday sun.”
“The subtle swing of pack, the on-the-fly adjustments of the individually pivoting harness points—that’s where Gregory really won me over. When scrambling on scree or traversing steeper slopes on narrow, sketchy trails with a full load, the confidence supplied by this pack is unparalleled.”
Best For: Trips that require heavy gear or extra water, backpackers who always lug extra weight, international travel
Key Attribute: Versatility
Deuter Futura Pro 38 SL Women’s: Best Women’s Crossover Pack
Deuter’s Futura Pro 38 SL earned top marks in the women’s crossover category: this pack size is big enough to take on minimalist overnights, but small enough to be an ideal hauler for day trips. We tested the Deuter Futura Pro 38 SL backpacking in Capitol Reef National Park, as well as on several climbing trips throughout Colorado and Utah. As did male testers with the Futura Pro 40 SL, our female testers loved Deuter’s Aircomfort suspension system. Between the system’s unparalleled ventilation and remarkable comfort, the Futura Pro 38 SL was a favorite amongst testers who weren’t afraid to push hard in high heat.
Not only is the Aircomfort system comfortable in warm temps, but it’s also confidence-inspiring when loads are heavy. The spring steel frame keeps the mesh back panel taut, while a thick yet lightweight waist belt flexes to simultaneously transfer the bulk of the load to the hips and minimize the shock of sudden jolts. Testers felt volume was maxed out before the beefy suspension system reached its limit.
Like many of Deuter’s hiking and backpacking packs, the Futura Pro 38 SL doesn’t skimp on features. The dual zip pockets on the waist belt were actually more sizeable than those of some of the larger packs tested, and this was appreciated greatly by testers who want the same access to snacks, sun screen, phone, etc. on day hikes and overnights alike. When half-packed, the pack mitigates the sensation of sloshing gear thanks to cinchable side straps. The brain has internal and external zips, the outer mesh pocket is a life-saver for stashing wet and stinky gear, and the removable rain fly is crucial when precipitation is a possibility. Also, the dual side zipper pockets—one of which is engineered to be compatible with hydration bladders—are easily accessed mid-hike, and make a perfect place to store a rain jacket, trail snacks, additional hydration, etc. Lastly, testers appreciated the design of the water bottle holders, which refused to unceremoniously dump nalgenes into the ether.
Most tester concerns were capacity related: while the 38L pack can handle a heavy load, high-volume essentials like sleeping bags, puffies, tents, and stoves rapidly fill up available space. A wonderful way to sneak around capacity concerns is to include compression straps at the base of the bag in order to attach a sleeping bag or tent externally, but alas, such lash points are lacking. If Deuter were to add those lash points, they’d undeniably augment the versatility of this pack, because as it stands, you’ve either got to be a minimalist rocking ultra-light gear or relying on a partner with a bigger pack to handle group gear in order to make this a realistic overnight pack. That said, you can always size up to the Futura Vario 45 + 10 for a higher-volume trekking pack that’s built around the same phenomenal Futura profile.
Our testers’ only additional concern was that the pack doesn’t have a front or side zipper to access the main compartment—the bottom sleeping bag compartment can be unzipped and then access is available from the bottom of the pack, but a mid-pack outer zip would go a long way on this otherwise killer option from Deuter.
“Having the removable rain cover integrated into the bottom of the pack is key; placement keeps it out of the way, and you can remove it to dry/use on a different piece of gear.”
“The lifted back support is great: I’m usually dripping with sweat and didn’t get super sweaty with this pack. I love how it is elevated off of your back.”
Best For: Approaches to climbing areas; bridging the gap between day hikes and short overnights; minimalist international travel
Key Attribute: Suspension
Patagonia Nine Trails 36 -Best Men’s Crossover Pack
The Patagonia Nine Trails 36L is a lightweight backpacking backpack with a daypack’s DNA. In fact, due to the spaciousness of the pack (which testers said seemed significantly larger than advertised), the lightweight, no-frills simplicity of the design, and the innovative zipper that opens up the pack conveniently from the side, testers deemed the Nine Trails 36 the best crossover pack, as it can be used both as a daypack when hauling extra gear (perfect for an approach to the climbing crag) or as a lightweight overnight for minimalist or warm weather backpacking.
The design is intentionally simple, which testers found made for a refreshing and functional pack. The main compartment of the backpack is huge: it feels way bigger than a 36-liter pack. Plus, the external mesh pocket only expands the pack’s carrying capacity.
The main compartment has a defined, lightly padded section at the bottom of the bag to supply definition and shape when packing. The traditional, cinching, top-loading design is quick and easy to use, but it’s the long zipper that changes the recipe from classic to ground-breaking. That single, long outer zipper allows the entire bag to pop open: testers noted that this feature makes accessing gear at the bottom of the pack incredibly easy, and it also facilitates easier storage of larger gear like climbing ropes and harnesses. The brain is similarly simple and straightforward, and between the dual-access main compartment and the spacious brain, the Nine Trails 36 expertly balances simplicity and functionality.
Also, testers found the mono-mesh back panel—essentially a flexible, semi-stiff foam panel with strategically placed holes lined with a mesh fabric—comfortable even on 80- and 90-degree summer missions.
While testers loved the comfort and adjustability supplied by the shoulder straps and waist belt, they felt there could be more support when rocking a fully loaded pack (remember, that 36-liter classification is deceiving, and max capacity felt more akin to a 40-liter pack). Also, the water bottle holders run tight if the pack is close to capacity, and though we’d rather have a water bottle pocket that’s too tight as opposed to too loose, the Nine Trails 36 could use more give in this department.
“For hauling a rope and a rack to the crag, the Patagonia Nine Trails’ combination of a classic top-loading design and the implementation of the long outer zipper makes gear access incredible. Best of all, though, the 36L is no one-trick pony, and assuming you clean the chalk and red dirt out of the bag, its well-suited for a cross-country flight come Monday and a short backpacking trip once the weekend starts again.”
Best For: Bridging the gap between daypacks and backpacking packs—day use when participating in gear-heavy activities and minimalistic backpacking overnights.
Key Attribute: Durability
Gregory Women’s Deva 70
On the women’s side of Gregory’s premium backpacking line is the Deva, a women’s specific cousin to the Baltoro, which we tested in a 70-liter size. Like the men’s Baltoro, the Deva is a serious load hauler thanks to its articulated, heavy-duty suspension system, and it’s simultaneously comfortable balancing heavy loads and ventilating in the heat. Features and organizational pockets are also on the forefront of the Deva’s design, and our test crew judged the Gregory a top choice for nit-picky packers who hate when gear gets swallowed by gaping main compartments.
Organizational features received top marks. From the top down, the brain has dual zippered pockets with a divider that splits into side-by-side compartments rather than just top-and-bottom. The main compartment has excellent access: come in from the top or pop the whole thing open with a U-shaped zipper. The hydration sleeve is easily removed and converts into a small daypack, which our test team judged perfect for exploratory hikes and summit scrambles. Our favorite use of this feature occurred when we packed a stove, a pan, and quesadilla fixings for four, and then clawed our way up a bluff to make dinner with a sunset view in Utah. The external mesh pocket is a life-saver for storing wet or bulky gear—gnarly long underwear, trekking poles, Chacos, etc—and just below that, Gregory doubles up with two organizational front pockets—we used one for snacks and essentials, and one as a trash receptacle so as to leave no trace. The zippered sleeping bag compartment also helps to separate the vast main compartment into sections. Lastly, the WeatherShield hip belt pocket can fit (and protect) your phone, keeping it close at hand so you can quickly snap a shot of fleeting wildlife or a rapidly dipping sunset. All in all, testers loved this combination of pockets and features, making the Deva a favorite for staying organized on longer trips.
One tester also noted that while not the lightest of packs tested, the Deva is designed with durability in mind. The 100% nylon material is rugged, and the edges are reinforced to minimize wear and tear. The Auto Angle Adjust suspension system provides excellent back support, and additional lash points had our team stoked at the possibilities for solar and gear attachments.
The Deva is on the heavier side—no surprise given the feature-heavy design. That said, one of our tester’s primary complaints was that because of the slew of features, the Deva’s straps and buckles can easily be confused. “So. Many. Buckles.” she wrote, suggesting that Gregory actually color codes some of their buckles so that less time is wasted on-trail trying to piece the puzzle together.
“Pockets pockets pockets! I loved that the front and top have separate pockets. I always struggle with staying organized in the wilderness and this pack helps you through it. Also, I love how the front unzips all the way around, similar to a duffle. It make searching for the gear buried at the bottom a little less hectic.”
“It has a ton of access points to different areas of the bag (top, front, bottom), great breathable padding on the back, and a sweet weather resistant compartment on one of the waist strap pockets.”
Best For: 3+ day backpacking trips, longer trips that require real organization; long term international travel
Key Attribute: Organization
Gregory Optic 58
One tester relied on the lightweight and simple Optic 58 on winter hut trips in the Colorado backcountry before shipping it out to another tester in Utah for spring missions in the Wasatch. Not only did they both deem the Gregory pack durable, weatherproof, and comfortable, but they also agreed that the pack’s carrying capacity met their needs in both climates and locales. The Optic 58 was the lightest multi-day pack tested, making it an attractive option for gram-counters and thru-hikers.
The Optic seems to swing beyond its 58-liter sizing: on a winter hut trip, we were able to fit all of the necessary splitboarding gear, several days worth of food, a sleeping bag, and ample cold weather apparel. The brain is removable (in case you are literally using an abacus to tally grams), and there’s a flap to protect the main compartment from moisture in its stead. The mesh pocket increases carrying capacity, and was a favorite feature of a tester who works as an international travel guide, as he never knows exactly what gear to pack before taking off on a trip.
As mentioned earlier, the Optic 58 is among the lightest backpacks we tested in this size (only 2.5 lbs for a medium). To shave that weight, Gregory used a thin back panel and a lightweight 7001 aluminum frame. Discomfort is often the consequence of thinner padding and lighter materials, but testers noted that except when fully loaded, the pack was comfortable for miles on end.
The hip belt pocket on the front strap is on the small size—one tester noted, “I found myself wanting to be able to hold a few more essentials right at my fingertips while traveling (passport, important documents for the day, some snacks, etc).” And while testers gave the Optic top marks for weight, they were also concerned about durability of the thin, minimalist tension buckles.
“This bag would be amazing for a serious backpacking trip in almost any country, especially if you are going through different climates. It’s large enough to hold cold weather gear, but it can also pack down and be light and versatile.”
“The mesh outside is a huge plus because even once the inside of the bag is completely full, you are still able to fit additional clothes/shoes in the outside.”
Best for: Lightweight backpacking and thru-hiking, international travel
Key Attribute: Weight
The North Face Fovero 85
Tested on backpacking trips in Utah and winter camping trips in Colorado, The North Face Fovero 85 is a top pick for high-volume backpacking. The pack is well-designed, with 10 pockets that help to organize should you max out the Fovero’s 85-liter carrying capacity. The adjustability, the load-hauling of the no-nonsense suspension system, and the feature-rich layout of the pack solidified the Fovero as a solid choice—although our testers did take issue with the height of the frame.
Main access to the central compartment is supplied by a long, wraparound zipper: the L-shaped opening allows for quick location of items thought lost to the belly of this beast. Additionally, the triple zipper tab system enables you to open up the entire pack, or just the section with those life-saving trail snacks.
Of the ten pockets present in the Fovero, a tester favorite was the large, flat outer flap, which has two tall narrow zippered pockets that one tester deemed, “useful for water bottles, bars, or almost anything else.” He went on, “The outer flap itself is a great place to store camp shoes, a solar charger, or a rain jacket.” Water bottle holders are one thing that backpack manufacturers can’t seem to figure out, but The North Face has it dialed with the Fovero: at both hips, the water bottle pockets are spacious while remaining snug and secure, and two openings supply the option to carry bottles either vertically or diagonally.
An 85-liter pack needs to have excellent hip and shoulder padding—once again, TNF hits this nail right on the head, with well-ventilated, comfortably cushioned suspension capable of handling a maxed out load. Additional points were earned by the partition at the bottom of the pack, which our tester found snugly secured a sleeping bag and bulky first aid kit beneath the easy-to-use clip-in panel. Lastly, should the 85-liter capacity not be enough or you need to attach gear like trekking poles or an ice axe, small yet strong lash loops expand your options.
While one tester noted that the torso length adjustment system is intuitive and quick to use, it did inexplicably wiggle loose between uses. He noted, “It’s kind of annoying to shoulder your pack, walk a few steps, and realize the torso length was way off.” Also, our biggest complaint: the metal frame itself is simply too tall. Multiple testers noted the spine of the frame would rub or even bash into the back of the head (especially when looking up), making the backpacker’s classic backwards trucker hat out of the question. This is less of a concern for taller trekkers.
“Brain-to-daypack conversion system is brilliant. Small shoulder straps tuck into hidden compartments under the brain, completely out of the way but ready for use.”
“A really good pack. Well designed zippers and access pockets allow easy access to everything you need, even if you are carrying 85 liters of gear.”
Best For: Longer backpacking trips; international travel; winter camping trips
Key Attribute: Features
Deuter Futura Pro 40L
Sized in between your typical daypack (20-35L) and your traditional backpacking pack (50L+), the Deuter Futura Pro 40L is a “tweener” pack that our testers absolutely loved. We tested this pack on backpacking trips in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, on climbing trips to Moab, on overnights in Aspen, CO, as well as hikes around Crested Butte, CO. The Futura Pro’s Aircomfort suspension system and pivoting Variflex hip belt had testers agree that while not big on volume, this pack can haul a heavy load.
The fit of the taut mesh back panel fits the curvature of the back well while still allowing for ample air flow. Testers noted that the hip straps were also comfortable, and that when combined with Deuter’s Aircomfort back panel and spring steel frame, the pack’s hauling capacity was remarkable given its literage. Fill it up with boulders and barbells and you might be hurting, but anything less than that and the Futura Pro will charge hard up any trail.
Testers were also fans of the hip strap zip pockets; one called them “super handy for stashing the little essentials that always somehow fall to the bottom of the bag or become too much trouble to get to while hiking.” We were able to stash lip balm, a granola bar, a knife, and a headlamp—perfect for a day trip or a short overnight.
One tester noted that the “stitched flip top compartment was a bit inconvenient as I tried to clip it shut over the stuff sack compartment,” and if the brain’s hinge was adjustable rather than stitched, it would make the pack more versatile for bigger objectives. He also commented on the lower compartment at the base of the bag, saying, “On bigger packs it acts as a handy bit of space for dirty hiking boots or a sleeping bag. On this pack it seemed unnecessary.” He went on, “I would prefer to have one big compartment in a pack this size.” Also, as we mentioned with the women’s Futura, compression straps under the bottom of the bag would be a huge addition for carrying a lightweight tent or sleeping bag.
“I packed it to the gills and even had camera equipment, a tripod, and a gallon of water hanging from it during our hike and felt comfortable with the weight as we traversed sand, dirt, and rock.”
Best For: moderate day hikes and for 1-2 night backpacking trips in warmer climates; day hikers who want to pack everything, backpackers who want to pack nothing
Key Attribute: Performance
Men’s Osprey Volt 75
Best Value Men’s Backpack
In the backcountry, the Osprey Volt 75 was a top performer. Osprey’s attention to detail was clear after several days on the trail with a full backpack (including heavy camera gear). And after returning home, testers were then pleasantly surprised by the Volt’s price tag.
Pros: While the hip belt isn’t as generous as some other Osprey backpacks, Volt’s firm yet form-fitting hip belt performed even with the pack fully loaded. The adjustable harness and customizable back panel accommodated both our 5’10” and 6’5” testers with quick adjustments.
Cons: Testers noted that while Volt is overall very durable, stretchy stuff pockets on the back and sides began to show wear and small holes over time.
Tester Comment: “Given the price, this backpack is a thing of beauty. Osprey’s comfort and dedication to quality came through from the start. There wasn’t a thing that I’d change about this pack after a three-day testing trip in Canyonlands.”
Bottom Line: Osprey’s Volt is a great choice for beginners and experienced backpackers alike with its simple and intuitive design and comfortable harness.
Best for: Backpacking on a budget
Key Attribute: Performance
Men’s Kelty Coyote 80L
Best Men’s Multi-Day Pack
Kelty’s 80L Coyote is enormous for some backpackers, but the cushy frame and feature-heavy pack had even our ultralight, fast-packing photographer questioning his typical setup after cruising trails for a few days.
Pros: Tester’s favorite feature was the AirMesh—comfortable and breathable, especially when the days heated up. Ample pockets (hips, brain, front, sides, etc.) make for easy and accessible storage and organization. The Perfect Fit Suspension system is ideal for novice backpackers as it’s incredibly easy to adjust and dial down.
Cons: Durability was the sole concern for testers. Features such as the shoulder joint, the body and mesh fabric particularly weren’t as burly as we’d like to see.
Tester Comment: “I usually backpack with an ultralight Black Diamond 50L pack. Coyote has so many useful features it’s making me question being ultralight!”
Bottom Line: This Kelty backpacking pack is versatile and stacked with features more than most packs we’ve reviewed. That while remaining relatively affordable. High storage capacity with a comfortable mesh suspension system gained Coyote 80 thumbs up from all testers.
Best for: Entry-level backpackers, backcountry organization, week-long treks
Key Attribute: Features
Women’s Osprey Ariel AG 75
Best Women’s Backpacking Pack
Testers had experienced the previous version of this Osprey backpack and raved about its performance and design. Then Osprey went and added their Anti-Gravity technology to the Ariel 75, and our opinion of this backpack has only increased.
Pros: The Ariel 75 has plenty of storage space and organizational features: stretch mesh stuff pockets, dual hip belt pockets and removable brain top for day hikes, to name a few. This backpack is also ready for technical adventures with dual ice tool loops and trekking pole attachments. The Anti-Gravity system is comprised of lightweight mesh suspended from shoulder blades to lumbar keeping the pack off your back and weight on your hips.
Cons: The Ariel, while exceedingly adjustable, isn’t easy to tweak as the Velcro back panel is finicky to make minor adjustments. However, once properly dialed, the Osprey maintains adjustment until the wearer is ready to make changes.
Tester Comment: “One of the best packs I’ve ever carried including an older model of the Ariel used for the past 5+ years. To say it’s treated me well is an understatement. I’ve loved my old one so this year’s updates make a great pack better.”
Bottom Line: If your budget permits, the Ariel AG is worth considering, whether the 75-liter model or a smaller version. Down to every zipper and stitch, the Ariel was a clear winner on the trail.
Best for: Longer trips, hauling a bunch of gear into the backcountry, international travel
Key Attribute: Performance
Women’s Osprey Sirrus 50
Best Women’s Weekend Warrior Pack
While 50 liters is teetering on the edge of being too little for multi-day treks, the Osprey Sirrus 50 is the perfect pack for short adventures, and we definitely recommend the 24- and 36-liter versions for day hikes. The Airspeed Suspension System is completely customizable, and the hip belt placement keeps the weight off your back.
Pros: The Airspeed system is a thing of beauty. While the torso is not incredibly easy to adjust (held tight by Velcro), every other angle and point of pressure can be dialed. The hip belts are extremely comfortable, even with a fully loaded pack. Duel hip belt zippered pockets were appreciated, but testers noted their volume is less than other packs reviewed. Brain, side stuff and front stuff pockets provide quick access, and an additional zippered pocket on the front of the stuff mesh pocket was a clever addition.
Cons: The sleeping bag compartment seems a bit small, so unless you have a compact, low insulation bag, you may have to repurpose that compartment—which is rarely a huge problem. The pick-me-up handle is awkwardly placed and rendered all but useless when the brain is closed.
Tester Comments: “I can’t believe how compact this 50-liter pack is—it looks like the same size as my 30-liter. And can we talk about the suspension system? It’s pretty amazing. The hip belts sit perfectly, and this is the best I’ve ever tighten and dialed down a backpack. This is one of the most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever worn.”
Bottom Line: This 50-liter Osprey backpack is the perfect size for one or two nights, especially with a full pack, as the suspension system is top-notch.
Best for: Overnighters and weekend warrioring
Key Attribute: Fit
Men’s Granite Gear Lutsen 55
We pushed the Granite Gear Lutsen 55 close to its 40-lbs load rating, lugging multiple gallons of water into a desiccated zone in Canyonlands National Park.
Pros: Lutsen’s skinny straps and buckles improved customization and fit without increasing weight, and at 50 ounces, it’s one of the lightest backpacks Active Junky reviewed. The harness is also customizable, and along with a firm foam framesheet, this backpack is ready for fast, light and functional missions. Further, the DWR-treated nylon eliminates the need for a rain cover in moderately wet weather.
Cons: Of concern to testers was this Granite Gear backpack’s durability as one of the buckles snapped on the first trip, a downside to smaller buckles.
Tester Comment: “I usually hike with a 65-liter. This 55-liter felt slick and speedy—I could really crank up the pace with this backpack. Definitely one of my top picks and a solid choice if 55 liters is the right volume and you aren’t lugging over 35 lbs.”
Bottom Line: The feature-loaded Lutsen 55 gets the job done, but it’s much better as a fast and light pack than a heavy load carrier.
Best for: Ultralight hikes, thru-hiking, fast and light hiking
Key Attribute: Features
Men’s Mountainsmith Lariat 65
When there’s a deviation from the normal, it stands out. Which was the case with the Mountainsmith Lariat—no brain? Our Active Junky testers were skeptical when they first packed this 65-liter backpacking pack, but after a few days on the trail with the Lariat, they appreciated the roll-top closure and detachable daypack.
Pros: The detachable daypack won testers’ vote for favorite feature—comfy and the perfect size for smaller hikes from basecamp. Although this backpack is on the heavier side, it’s also one of the most durable backpacks in our review. And while it’s a one-size-fits-all men’s backpack, it’s easily adjustable to fit waists from 28” to 48” and torsos from 16” to 21”.
Cons: While testers learned to appreciate the roll-top design, the lack of a brain was a tough adjustment. It’s also heavier than similar 65-liter packs: at 80 ounces unpacked, it’s nearly a full pound over similar models.
Tester Comment: “Mountainsmith tries a lot of different things. Different H20 water bottle holders on each side, different hip belt pockets. In doing so, they prove some notions wrong. New things can work. No brain doesn’t equal brainless.”
Bottom Line: The adjustability, durability and versatility of this Mountainsmith backpack suggest it will survive many years, owners and challenging trips.
Best for: The first pack for a growing kid, entry-level backpackers, international travel
Key Attribute: Durability
Women’s Deuter Aircontact Pro 65+15 SL
Deuter adds a lot to their backpacks. Case in point, the Aircontact 65-liter backpack, starting with +15, a separate 15-liter day pack ready for adventuring from basecamp. This backpack features Deuter’s VariFlex suspension system that is easily adjustable and completely customizable to dial in a perfect fit.
Pros: The torso was one of the easiest we’ve ever adjusted thanks to the VariFlex system: lift the handle and slide accordingly. The Aircontact Pro is full of features and room for storage, starting at the top with three separate zipping pockets in the brain alone, to the bottom with a sleeping bag compartment that’s larger than ones in similarly sized packs. Rain cover, day pack, zippered front access, ice tool loops, trekking pole tie downs: this backpack is stacked.
Cons: At just over 7 pounds, this is the heaviest backpack we reviewed, even more than the men’s Coyote 80 liter. Testers felt the padding on the shoulder straps could be softer, and some of the compontents were tight, but both would likely break in over time.
Tester Comments: “I’m a huge fan of pockets and organization, so clearly this backpack grabbed my attention. Also I loved the adjustable torso—it’s intuitive and smooth. And while the shoulder straps aren't the softest, they are some of the best shaped for women that I've ever worn. Over all the women's fit is excellent.”
Bottom Line: While not a great choice for light-and-fast packing in the weight department, the Deuter Aircontact 65+15L is solid for a multi-day or even weeklong trips
Best for: Multi-day backpacking and technical treks to basecamp
Key Attribute: Fit
Women’s Kelty Coyote 70
The Kelty Coyote 70 quickly won over testers with its comfortable straps and belt and its abundance of organization and storage potential. Across the mesas of Utah and scrambling down technical staircases of stone, this Coyote didn’t shy away from a challenge.
Pros: The frame, hip belt and shoulder straps of the Coyote are marked by pockets of an almost gelatinous concoction, the apparent work of an outdoor enthusiast moonlighting as a chemist. This padding is cushy, luxurious, and welcome. On long hauls, testers valued this Kelty backpack’s HDPE-reinforced suspension system, lumbar support and storage capacity.
Cons: At 70 liters, this is a bit much for one or two nights.
Tester Comment: “The padding on the hips and shoulders was extremely comfortable. The shape was clearly designed for a woman’s body, and the pocket space was truly phenomenal.”
Bottom Line: This backpack has a winning combination of elements to make it a formidable pack for extended adventures. Multiple testers were surprised and impressed by the intelligently designed Kelty backpacks this year, and the Coyote led the pack.
Best for: Extended trips, hauling a bigger load without feeling weighed down
Key Attribute: Features
Women’s The North Face Banchee 65 Backpack
After embarking on a multi-day trip in Utah, The North Face Banchee impressed testers unfamiliar with this TNF model, and solidified its place for those testers who knew the line. A well-ventilated frame and water-carrying capacity won over our testers while venturing through the desert.
Pros: The winner was Banchee’s best-in-class airflow. The Optifit frame and suspension system keep weight balanced on the hips and away from the body to avoid sweaty backs, and vented-foam cushioning on the back and straps allow moisture to escape—all of which testers loved in the sweltering desert. Ample pockets increase carrying capacity and convenience, especially dual hip belt zippered pockets.
Cons: A few components seemed a bit weak, including the buckles and plastic fasteners. While the padded hip belts were comfortable, testers noted the shoulders could use more cushioning, especially when its packed to capacity.
Tester Comment: “I could comfortably fit all of my gear into this backpack on multi-day trips. And I liked the organization of the 8+ pockets as two outside zip pockets and the stretchy main outer pocket are great for wet or dirty gear.”
Bottom Line: At 65 liters, this The North Face backpack is the perfect volume for a range of adventures and trip lengths. With Optifit suspension and top-notch ventilation, we recommend this for summer backpacking.
Best for: Summer backpacking, 3-season pursuits, trips from one to seven days
Key Attribute: Performance
Unisex My Trail Company Backpack Light 50L
My Trail Company may not be a brand you’re familiar with, but their growing line of outdoor gear is innovative and functional, including the 50L Backpack Light. Its simple design is deceptively high performing and it held its own on hot days. Though it wouldn’t be our first choice for most backpacking trips, minimalists may find its space and light weight attractive.
Pros: At just over 2 pounds, this is the lightest backpack in this review, making it a great light-and-fast pack with its 50-liter volume. The Dyneema threads it’s made from are three times stronger than Kevlar, so this lightweight backpack should hold up to years of abuse. The hip belt pockets are some of the largest we’ve seen, which is always a nice bonus, and the air mesh lining on the straps and back helped keep testers cool.
Cons: Beside the hip belt pockets, there are only the two main compartment areas, and neither offer much in the way of organization. And while there are two mesh water bottle pockets, there’s no additional exterior storage or stuff pocket, especially where this roll-top model is lacking a brain.
Tester Comments: “A brain-free design always catches me off guard, but the roll-top design makes it easier to pack it down when there’s less in this backpack. The hip belt pockets are my favorite I’ve seen on any other backpack—they’re actually large enough to fit my cell phone, case and all. And the hidden mesh pouch in each is a nice touch!”
Bottom Line: The Backpack Light 50L is an extremely simple pack, without all the bells and whistles you’ll find on similar sized bags, but also at about half the weight and half the cost.
Best for: Day hikes, summit pursuits, minimalist backpacking
Key Attribute: Durability