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The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019

The Best backpacking pack review
Friday May 10, 2019
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Picking the best backpack for your needs is a critical component for making your next trek the outing you had in mind. To aid you through this all-important decision we have looked at over 40 of the top models and chose our standout favorites for review. In extensive side-by-side tests, we compared them for comfort, suspension, adjustability, features, ease of use and weight. Collectively, our testers logged hundreds of days in rugged and demanding destinations such as the coast of Patagonia, the Pacific Northwest and the High Sierra. We believe that our analysis will provide the information you need to make an informed decision.

Related: The Best Women's Backpacking Backpacks


Top 16 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $270.00 at REI
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$250 List$549.00 at REI
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$290.00 at REI
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$199.95 at Amazon
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Pros Shoulder straps are very comfortable, many awesome pockets, excellent ventilation, extra adjustable hip beltLighter weight, comfortable to carry for long periods of time, tons of useful pockets, good hip belt adjustabilitySpectacular suspension, comfortable padding, ergonomic shoulder strap design, extremely weather resistantPacked full of features, great pockets, comfortable and solid ergonomic designGreat value, solid features, ergonomic shoulder straps and back-panel, versatile
Cons Not as supportive for loads over 45 pounds, snow gets trapped in back panelCompression straps not effective if pack isn't full, external lid pocket isn't easy to search throughExpensive, heavier, few convenience featuresSlightly on the heavier side, not the best for super heavy loadsJust okay suspension and support, tall folks with 35+ pound packs won't find it as comfortable
Bottom Line This pack offers awesome comfort and above-average suspension for most backpacking loads.A sweet pack with lots of well-designed features and user-friendly pockets at a below-average weight.A fantastic all-around pack with an awesome suspension and top-notch weather resistance.An extremely comfortable and feature-rich design that handles heavy loads, while only being marginally heavier than average.This light and versatile pack doesn't give up much in the way of features.
Rating Categories Osprey Atmos 65 AG The North Face Banchee 65 Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 Osprey Aether AG 60 Osprey Volt 60
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Specs Osprey Atmos 65 AG The North Face... Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 Osprey Aether AG 60 Osprey Volt 60
Measured Weight (pounds) 4.54 lbs 3.63 lbs 5.00 lbs 5.13 lbs 3.88 lbs
Volume (liters) 65 L 65 L 63 L 60 L 60 L
Access Top + sleeping bag compartment Top + sleeping bag compartment Top + side access zipper Top + side access zipper + sleeping bag compartment Top + sleeping bag compartment
Hydration Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials Main body: 100D X 630D Nylon Dobby, Accent: 210D High Tenacity Nylon, Bottom: 420HD Nylon 210D nylon ripstop Weatherproof N400r-AC squared fabric in areas exposed and a mix of N420p-HT and tN630p-HT plain weave Nylon over the rest of the pack Main body: 210D Nylon Dobby Accent: 210D High Tenacity Nylon, Bottom: 500D Nylon Main body: 210D Nylon Double Diamond Ripstop, Accent: 600D Packcloth, Bottom: 600D Packcloth
Sleeping bag Compartment Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Best Overall Backpacking Pack


Osprey Atmos 65 AG


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 9
  • Weight - 20% 5
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Adjustability - 15% 8
Weight: 4.56 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
Comfortable
Feature-laden
Awesome ventilation
Lighter than average
Not as supportive for super heavy (45+ lb) loads
Snow can get inside of the back panel

The Osprey Atmos 65 AG is the best all-around backpacking backpack due to its stellar design and overall comfort. It's full of functional features, fantastic ventilation and weighs in at a respectable 4 lbs 8 oz. However, what sets this pack apart from the rest of the packs in its class is its innovative anti-gravity (AG) suspension, which spreads the pack load evenly across the back. The pack feels light, and the tapered foam shoulder straps are dreamy. For average trips with loads at or under 40 lbs, this is the most comfortable pack in our review. Every pocket is the right size and in the right place. Moreover, the Atmos offers an excellent fit with its efficient adjustability focused on ergonomics.

While this is the best all-around pack, it doesn't handle loads above 45 pounds well. Consider a different model if you consistently carry that much or more. Also, if you take this pack out in the winter or early spring before the thaw, it's worth noting that snow can get caught in the AG suspension. However, for most trips in most seasons, this pack is the one that will have you not only enjoying your destination but the journey that got you there as well.

Read review: Osprey Atmos 65 AG

Best Bang for the Buck


Osprey Volt 60


Best Buy Award

$199.95
at Amazon
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 7
  • Weight - 20% 6
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 7
  • Adjustability - 15% 10
Weight: 3.88 lbs | Volume: 60 liters
Super value
Fits a broad range of people
Simple design
Streamlined features
Not supportive enough for 45+ lb loads

If you want an affordable pack that doesn't skimp on performance, you can't go wrong with the Osprey Volt 60. It is an inexpensive pack that is still comparable in functionality to pricier models. We are wholly impressed by how capable and comfortable this backpack is with loads under 45 pounds. While simple, the Volt 60 includes all the essential features that most travelers are looking for, including two zippered lid pockets, dual entry water bottle pockets, a stretchy beavertail pocket, and a lower zippered access point (AKA sleeping bag compartment). With everything it offers, it still weighs in at an impressive 3 lbs 14 oz on our scale. Aspects that propel this model over the rest are the ergonomic shoulder harness, high-quality foam padding in the shoulder straps and waist belt, as well as the comfortable fabrics.

The Volt doesn't go above and beyond with additional features, nor does it have the burliest suspension, but it does excel in pure functionality. It only comes in one frame size, but the vertical adjustment is large enough to accommodate most people. Unless you are regularly carrying loads over 45 pounds, we recommend that you strongly consider this pack.

Read review: Osprey Volt 60

Top Pick for Weather Resistace


Arc'teryx Bora AR 63


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 9
  • Weight - 20% 5
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 7
  • Adjustability - 15% 7
Weight: 5 lbs | Volume: 63 liters
Supportive
Pivoting waist belt
Comfortable
An innovative and effective adjustment system
Best lid pockets
Excellent features
Average weight
Expensive

Arc'teryx doesn't pull any punches when it comes to performance and as a result, the Arc'Teryx Bora AR 63 BARELY misses out on an Editors Choice Award. The shoulder straps use a therapeutic-mattress-feeling foam that strikes an idealistic balance between cushy comfort and excellent support. The features are well thought-out and incredibly user-friendly. While the pivoting waist belt might appear gimmicky at first glance, it extremely efficient at transferring the weight from the back to the hips, especially in both rough and steep terrain.

The primary drawback to this pack is its slightly above average weight (five pounds) and its top-of-the-review price tag. Still, the tradeoff is getting the most water resistant model in our evaluation. The Bora employs the proprietary AC² fabric which covers most of the pack, sealing some seams, and integrating some watertight zippers. This combination kept our gear dry during wet springtime hikes in the soggy rainforests of Olympic National Park.

Read review: Arc'teryx Bora AR 63

Top Pick for Heavy Loads


Gregory Baltoro 65


Top Pick Award

$297.00
at Amazon
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 8
  • Weight - 20% 5
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Adjustability - 15% 5
Weight: 4.84 lbs | Volume: 65 liters
Comfortable
Carries heavy loads well
Dual zippered lid pockets are awesome
U-shaped opening provides easy access
Average weight
Supportive foam can feel stiff initially

The Gregory Baltoro 65 is a classic and is as comfortable as ever. It offers great features and usability while keeping its weight in check. This backpack carries monster loads (more than 60 lbs) as well as any on the market. At 4 lbs 14 oz, its weight is in line with many other models that offer a similar level of suspension and comfort. Its pocket layout is nearly perfect. Few of our testers would make changes to the design; least of all to the user-friendly lid that now includes a custom rain fly.

While its weight is reasonable for the support it provides, it's not an impressively light pack, and its foam padding takes a bit to soften. However, for folks who are regularly carrying heavy loads and are sick of sore shoulders and achy backs, this meticulously designed pack deserves a look.

Read review: Gregory Baltoro 65

Best Lightweight Model


Osprey Exos 58


64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 5
  • Weight - 20% 10
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 7
  • Adjustability - 15% 5
Weight: 2.5 lbs | Volume: 58 liters
Lightest backpacking backpack in the review
One of the lightest framed packs available
Comfortable for loads under 40 lbs
Great pockets and features
Average durability
Not a ton of extra features
Not very adjustable

The Osprey Exos 58 is one of the lightest packs in this review. Despite its minimal weight, it remains comfortable for moderate loads up to 35 or 40 pounds. What's special about this model is that it blurs the line between traditional backpacking packs and ultralights. It's nearly as light as many frameless, minimalistic, ultra-lightweight packs. Despite the featherweight, the Exos still has many of the features you'd expect in a traditional backpack; most notably a frame. Just to put this into context, ultralight packs are only 0.5-1 lb lighter, and they rarely have more than one or two pockets, let alone a lid!

There is a dark side to the lightweight backpacks creeping into the market these days: these products aren't overly durable, nor are they exceedingly adjustable. Oh, you remember all those features we discussed above? Yeah… they're mostly absent, too. Despite these stipulations, the Exos is a great stepping stone for people who want to get into "ultralight" backpacking but can't get their load down to the 20 to 30 lbs necessary to make a sub-2-pound frameless pack comfortable. Alternatively, it's for people who already pack on the light end, but want more suspension, comfort, and features that most frameless packs don't provide.

Read review: Osprey Exos 58

Top Pick for Extended Trips


Osprey Xenith 105


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Suspension and Comfort - 45% 8
  • Weight - 20% 4
  • Features and Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Adjustability - 15% 6
Weight: 5.4 lbs | Volume: 105 liters
Comfortable
Carries heavier loads ultra-well
Superb external twin zippered pockets
Functional and easy to use zippered mesh pockets
Sweet lid-turned-day pack
Foam is on the stiffer side
Difficult to search for items in lid pockets
Easy to fill up even if you don't have too

If you frequently go on extended technical outings or trips that require you to carry a lot of gear, the Osprey Xenith 105 is the pack for you. The Xenith is tester Ian Nicholson's favorite pack for Denali expeditions where he is out for 22-days at a time in the arctic cold carrying heavy loads. This pack hits on an excellent combination of robust suspension, above average padding, ergonomics, and a suite of great features. Notably, it includes one of our review team's favorite assortments of pockets.

The drawbacks of this pack mainly have to do with the unavoidable realities of any pack this size: it's the heaviest in our review (though not by much), and its size makes it challenging to find gear deep down if you haven't thought to keep whatever you are looking readily accessible. While the Xenith 105 is one of the best load hauling packs we have ever tested, the Gregory Baltoro 65 is right on its heels. In the end, they are both powerful load hauling tools. But it edges out the Baltoro 65 for long trips where you plain need a lot of stuff.

Read review: Osprey Xenith 105


There are many factors consider when purchasing a backpacking pack. We looked researched over 65 models and bought the best and pitted them head-to-head. We report our findings here. Photo: Dan Whitmore (wearing an Osprey Aether) and Professor David Collingwood take in the Luna Creek Cirque in the Northern Picket Range  one of the most remote locations in the Lower-48.
There are many factors consider when purchasing a backpacking pack. We looked researched over 65 models and bought the best and pitted them head-to-head. We report our findings here. Photo: Dan Whitmore (wearing an Osprey Aether) and Professor David Collingwood take in the Luna Creek Cirque in the Northern Picket Range, one of the most remote locations in the Lower-48.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our lead backpack reviewers, Ian Nicholson and Ben Applebaum-Bauch, have tens of thousands of backpacking miles logged between them. Ian is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide . He has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, European Alps and beyond. He has guided more than 1,000 clients and helped them select and fit packs for their adventures. When not guiding or climbing, Ian works in an outdoor gear shop, keeping up-to-date on innovative pack technology. Ben began his outdoor career as a backpacking trip leader, guiding participants on multi-week adventures along the most rugged and remote portions of the Appalachian Trail in New England. He has since trained dozens of guides to do the same with over 1,000 participants while ensuring that they all have the appropriate, properly-fitted gear for their adventures. He has subsequently endeavored on thru-hikes of some of the iconic long trails of the U.S. including the Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, Colorado Trail, Oregon Coast Trail, and John Muir Trail.

We researched over forty of the top packs on the market and selected sixteen of our top contenders for hands-on testing. We loaded them up with a variety of gear and took to the trail on a series of overnights. We tested how each pack handles small and large loads and figured out maximum comfortable carrying capacities for each. We took advantage of different features, strapping and clipping gear on in various ways to get a sense of each model's versatility. As we walked, we took note of back panels, shoulder straps and waist belts, and how they felt against our bodies.

Related: How We Tested Backpacking Packs

This pack has a nice wide opening that allows us to see what we stashed inside.
We assess each element that contributes to a pack's suspension  including the shoulder straps  waist belt  load lifters  and frame.
The lid of this pack is difficult to access.

Analysis and Test Results


There are several factors to consider when shopping for a new backpacking backpack, whether it's going to be your first pack, you're upgrading from an older model, or you're simply adding to the quiver. The most important things to keep in mind are where and how are you going to use the pack. The packs we selected are models meant for your typical backcountry camping trips. Most of them are versatile enough for general mountaineering and, to a lesser extent, expeditions.

Nearly all the contenders we reviewed can also serve for travel, particularly for wear-your-suitcase worldwide adventures. Backpacking packs can be far more comfortable to use than a more traditional suitcase or duffel bag in rough terrain or areas with few paved roads. We consider both traveling and classic backpack applications in this review. We directly compare the best and most popular backpacking packs, breaking down their pros and cons to find the right one for you.


Value


Packs can be pricey, but with the right pack, that investment can pay some serious dividends. If you have ever trekked up into the mountains with an ill-suited pack, there's no doubt you can appreciate the value that a quality model can have. Here we focused not only on the high-end, bank breaker models but also a range of excellent wallet-friendly designs such as the Osprey Volt 60; winner of our Best Buy Award. Also in this price range is the Deuter Air Contact Lite is a close second place for our best budget buy award. The Air Contact Lite gives you more volume and a heartier suspension when compaired to the Volt, but it is heavier and costs more. Our favorite pack, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG offers well-above-average performance at an average price.

Comfort is the most important factor when selecting your pack. You won't care about pocket design if your back hurts. Photo: Michael and John Yarnall Backpack testing on Eiley-Wiley Ridge with Luna Peak and the Northern Pickets in the background.
Comfort is the most important factor when selecting your pack. You won't care about pocket design if your back hurts. Photo: Michael and John Yarnall Backpack testing on Eiley-Wiley Ridge with Luna Peak and the Northern Pickets in the background.

Suspension and Comfort


We cross-compared each models' shoulder straps with a focus on comfort, anatomical conformation, and support. We analyzed their shape, ergonomics, and the quality of their padding. We also studied each model's back panel and waist belt.

The waist belt and shoulder straps are foundational factors to consider when picking a pack as they make the most significant contribution to a packs comfort or lack thereof. This is evidenced in that the hips and shoulders are the most common trouble zones after (or in the middle of) a long day on the trail, especially if you are toting a monster load. To test the selected models we used 25-45 lb loads — a pretty standard range for 2-6 day trips. We also loaded each pack up with 45-55 lbs to simulate longer trips. For the few that could stand it, we packed in as much as we could to see if the backpack would stand up to the strain.

The Thule Versant's shoulder straps are narrower and slimmer than most. While not our favorite  they are only marginally less comfortable than other more comfort-focused models  even after hours of carrying heavier loads. This is likely due to their excellent ergonomics  breathability and comfortable materials.
The Thule Versant's shoulder straps are narrower and slimmer than most. While not our favorite, they are only marginally less comfortable than other more comfort-focused models, even after hours of carrying heavier loads. This is likely due to their excellent ergonomics, breathability and comfortable materials.

Hand-in-hand with comfort is a pack's suspension. This system of straps, stays, and frame controls how effectively the backpack will be supported on your skeletal structure and how well the frame will transfer the load from the pack body to the waist belt. We also noted how well each pack shifts the weight to the front of the shoulder straps rather than the top, so your shoulders don't get crushed.

As each person's body is different, we collected comfort experiences from a wide range of users, including OutdoorGearLab editors, friends, and our climbing and backpacking partners. We compiled well over 300 user days worth of data to give us a broad perspective on which packs satisfy our comfort standards across multiple body types.


After extensive testing with typical 25-45 lb loads, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG and the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 turned out to be incredibly comfortable. All of our testers agreed, the Atmos provides a snug ride with its trampoline-style suspension which spreads the load evenly across the body. We rarely got hot spots on our backs and hips, even after extended travel in warmer conditions. One reason for the lack of hotspots is the heavily-tapered padding in the straps and waist belt, which provide the thickest cushioning where you want it the most, like on top of and near to your shoulders. At the same time, minimal padding zones reduce chafing. While the feeling of the Atmos 65 AG is our favorite on bare skin, the fabric on the inside of the Osprey Aether Pro 70 is also incredible.

The shoulder straps of the Aether are well articulated  nicely padded  and feature a pleasant face fabric. These features are more comfortable than average  and the pack is soft enough to wear shirtless or with only a tank top.
The shoulder straps of the Aether are well articulated, nicely padded, and feature a pleasant face fabric. These features are more comfortable than average, and the pack is soft enough to wear shirtless or with only a tank top.

The Arc'Teryx Bora AR 63 comes with dreamy foam that is both soft and supportive. It's like a therapeutic mattress for your shoulders. Because of this conforming foam, the load is well-distributed across the padding. We like the low profile and slimmer shoulder straps of the The North Face Banchee 65 for lighter weights. Despite the thinner straps, it proves to be exceptionally comfortable thanks to its impressive ergonomics.

On trips that require more than 45 pounds far fewer backpacks remain comfortable. In this photo Tester  Ian Nicholson is wearing one of his favorites for heavy loads  the Osprey Xenith 105.
On trips that require more than 45 pounds far fewer backpacks remain comfortable. In this photo Tester, Ian Nicholson is wearing one of his favorites for heavy loads, the Osprey Xenith 105.

At loads above 45 pounds, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG becomes less comfortable. The best performing contenders for big loads are the Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Aether Pro 70, Arc'teryx Bora AR 63, and the Osprey Xenith 105. These packs use high-quality foam that captures a useful balance of support and comfort. All the shoulder straps on these packs offer top-notch ergonomics and slightly stiffer than average padding. While this rigid padding is marginally less cush, it is what you want when you're schlepping a large load. Each of the models mentioned above offers subtle advantages to the beast of burden. These include foam stiffness, shoulder strap shape, and waist belt shape, the combination of which lands them in the load-hauler category.

While we notice a bigger difference between the comfort level of waist belts than shoulder straps  that isn't to say that a good shoulder strap design isn't EXTREMELY important. All of our testers appreciate packs with ergonomic shapes like those on the Osprey Aether Pro  which are incredibly comfortable after hours on the trail.
While we notice a bigger difference between the comfort level of waist belts than shoulder straps, that isn't to say that a good shoulder strap design isn't EXTREMELY important. All of our testers appreciate packs with ergonomic shapes like those on the Osprey Aether Pro, which are incredibly comfortable after hours on the trail.

Different designs are better suited to different body types. With that in mind, we noted a more significant difference between waist belts than shoulder straps. We don't notice the distinctions with lighter weight loads of around 25-35 lbs, but once we bumped it up to 40-45 pounds, the differences between models stood out. Our favorite waist belts are on the Osprey Xenith 105, Aether Pro 70 and Arc'Teryx Bora AR 63. For the heaviest of loads (60+ lbs), we appreciate the Gregory Baltoro 65's robust and customizable lumbar pad, which makes a difference in providing much-needed support for carrying the extra weight.

A lot of people ask about the heat moldable waist belt featured on the Osprey Aether Pro 70. After extensive side-by-side testing, we found little, if any difference between molding it in a convection oven or just breaking it in the old fashion way (AKA using it).

While the suspension is closely tied to comfort  they are fundamentally different. Comfort is how a pack feels against your body whereas suspension is how effectively a pack transfers load from the pack to your hips and protects your shoulders and spine from the weight of your pack.
While the suspension is closely tied to comfort, they are fundamentally different. Comfort is how a pack feels against your body whereas suspension is how effectively a pack transfers load from the pack to your hips and protects your shoulders and spine from the weight of your pack.

The Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Aether Pro 70, and Osprey Xenith 105 all feature substantial suspensions with the Arc'Teryx Bora AR 63 taking the cake. These packs carry large loads well.

A robust suspension helps a pack feel solid on flat trails but really helps the pack move with us on difficult cross-country terrain  like when bushwhacking through tallus fields. Comparing packs in the North Cascades  WA.
A robust suspension helps a pack feel solid on flat trails but really helps the pack move with us on difficult cross-country terrain, like when bushwhacking through tallus fields. Comparing packs in the North Cascades, WA.

While the Osprey Atmos 65 (our Editors' Choice winner) performs well when carrying loads below 45 pounds, it isn't great for loads above that point as its anti-gravity trampoline-style suspension feels mushy and less supportive under such a burden. The Osprey Aether AG 60 features a similar "AG" suspension, but it is noticeably more supportive. The Thule Versant 70 and the Deuter Aircontact Lite 65 + 10 both feature fairly robust suspensions and weigh only a little over four pounds — an impressive feat!

This is the Atmos 65's AG  or Anti-Gravity  frame. It's an example of a trampoline  or suspended  suspension. Your back presses against a mesh back panel  which is suspended over a more traditional frame. This tends to produce fewer hot spots since weight is distributed over a larger area. It also allows air to flow  making these packs cooler and less sweaty. Unfortunately  they don't handle loads over 45 pounds well. The suspension starts to collapse.
This is the Atmos 65's AG, or Anti-Gravity, frame. It's an example of a trampoline, or suspended, suspension. Your back presses against a mesh back panel, which is suspended over a more traditional frame. This tends to produce fewer hot spots since weight is distributed over a larger area. It also allows air to flow, making these packs cooler and less sweaty. Unfortunately, they don't handle loads over 45 pounds well. The suspension starts to collapse.

Trampoline or Suspended Suspension System


Trampoline-style or suspended suspension systems feature a mesh back panel that is tensioned (like a trampoline) over a more traditional frame single stay or "Y" shaped frame. These allow more air to flow, reducing back sweat. More importantly, they tend to produce fewer hot spots because the weight distributes evenly. This design is becoming increasingly common.

We like trampoline-style suspension systems for breathability and weight distribution. However, when it comes to massive loads, having the weight closer to your back reduces leverage and makes for a more comfortable carry. All trampoline style systems come with a weight limit where the suspended mesh is pressed so tightly against the wearer that it either bottoms out (pushing against the pack itself) or causes a hot spot. This unwanted side-effect is the product of increased tension in the trampoline that limits the even distribution of weight.

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. 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.
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. 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.

Features and Ease of Use


This metric evaluates how easy it is to pack and retrieve items from these backpacks paying particular attention to the design of the main compartment, pockets, lid, straps, and other unique goodies. Additionally, we compared the number and location of extra pockets and how useful our testers found them. We also carefully examined how helpful the lid (or brain) of the pack is at providing easy access to a handful of items and whether those items stayed organized. Lastly, we appraised the access points to the interior of the backpacking backpacks.

Having two straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a small but excellent feature to have. We particularly like how long the Osprey Atmos's straps are and find that they are able to fit pretty much any sleeping pad (something that can't be said about the majority of backpacking packs).
Having two straps for a sleeping pad or other oddly shaped items is a small but excellent feature to have. We particularly like how long the Osprey Atmos's straps are and find that they are able to fit pretty much any sleeping pad (something that can't be said about the majority of backpacking packs).

We looked at each pocket and asked ourselves: does this pocket make my life easier and keep me more organized, or is it just adding weight to the pack? We also looked at access points and evaluated whether they are useful for retrieving items or if they are just for show and impractical to zip shut when the pack is full.


We also broke down how useful any additional features are and evaluated them during real-world use in the field. We favor packs with a handful of straps for crampons, ice axes, sleeping pads, flip-flops, or other items because it adds to the pack's overall versatility. We give higher scores to models with better weather resistance, ice ax attachments, and easy to use waist belt buckles.

Comparing the buckles on two waist belts. The upper uses a redirected strap which is much easier to pull on  while the lower is the traditional "push and pull."
Comparing the buckles on two waist belts. The upper uses a redirected strap which is much easier to pull on, while the lower is the traditional "push and pull."

Overall Organizational Ability


For folks who like an assortment of compartments and pockets for organization, the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Gregory Baltoro 65, and The North Face Banchee 65 have handy pocket designs. These models offer a similar set-up and have our favorite overall organizational and pocket layout. All of these packs provide two vertical zippered pockets (big enough to at least fit a 1-liter Nalgene) and a stretchy, open beavertail pocket behind that, which is excellent for drying out clothes or carrying oddly shaped items like fuel bottles, camp-shoes, or a frisbee.

The Banchee 65's two zippered pockets are a great organizational feature. They keep water bottles  snacks  and layers at the ready.
The Banchee 65's two zippered pockets are a great organizational feature. They keep water bottles, snacks, and layers at the ready.

The Thule Versant 70, Gregory Zulu 55 and Gregory Baltoro 65 offer excellent gear access. These models all provide great options for folks who like a lot of organization or the ability to get inside quickly without having to take much out. The Osprey Xenith 105 offers decent access via a zippered side panel, but it's not nearly as good as the other three.

Our testers love the dual zippered lid pockets on the Baltoro 65. It's easily our review teams' favorite lid design. These pockets not only help users to stay organized but  because of their upward orientation  they are both easy to access and search through.
Our testers love the dual zippered lid pockets on the Baltoro 65. It's easily our review teams' favorite lid design. These pockets not only help users to stay organized but, because of their upward orientation, they are both easy to access and search through.

Top Lid Pocket


Almost every pack has a top lid with a zippered 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 require quick and easy access such as sunglasses, sunblock and bug spray. The majority of the models also have 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 as frequently, like car keys.

The Gregory Paragon 68's lid (shown here) features a large "U" shaped zipper that makes searching for items easy -- but  unlike the Baltoro or Bora models  we have to be more careful to make sure things don't fall out unexpectedly. This problem is slightly worse when the pack is super full.
The Gregory Paragon 68's lid (shown here) features a large "U" shaped zipper that makes searching for items easy -- but, unlike the Baltoro or Bora models, we have to be more careful to make sure things don't fall out unexpectedly. This problem is slightly worse when the pack is super full.

Our favorite top lid design is the Gregory Baltoro 65. Second place goes to the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63. Both feature lid-pockets with zippered access on the top of the pack rather than the more common zipper on the side. This arrangement makes it easier to locate items and makes them less likely to fall out while we search. The Gregory Baltoro 65 also has two lid pockets that are shaped to make searching easier. The Gregory Paragon 68 features a similar lid pocket in which it is nearly as easy to find items. It is darn sweet, except we had to be a little more careful that our gear didn't fall out of it.

The Osprey Aether 60 AG's lid boasts a relatively common design with a zipper on the side. The Aether is better than normal because the zipper wraps around slightly to each side  making it easier to search for small gear. But we don't like it quite as much as the Gregory or Arc'teryx models.
The Osprey Aether 60 AG's lid boasts a relatively common design with a zipper on the side. The Aether is better than normal because the zipper wraps around slightly to each side, making it easier to search for small gear. But we don't like it quite as much as the Gregory or Arc'teryx models.

Most of the packs have zippers on the front or back of the lid which means that it's not as easy to get inside of them. However, not all side-zippered lid pockets are the same. The sizeable zippered lid pockets of the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Osprey Aether AG 60, Osprey Xenith 105, and The North Face Banchee 65 are the next level. They have nearly the same volume as the Gregory Baltoro 65 and have a longer than average zipper that wraps slightly around the sides.

The Thule Versant 70 offers unrivaled access to your gear.
The Thule Versant 70 offers unrivaled access to your gear.

Pack Access


How you access the primary compartment is part of our Ease of Use metric and measures how easily we could grab a few items without unpacking the entire bag. The value placed on this metric depends on the user and the volume of the pack. However, as pack volume increases, access becomes of greater importance.

The Bora doesn't feature a traditional sleeping bag compartment and instead features a small side-access zipper (shown here). We found that when we packed the Bora with larger items we thought we might want easily accessible near this zipper  it worked well.
The Bora doesn't feature a traditional sleeping bag compartment and instead features a small side-access zipper (shown here). We found that when we packed the Bora with larger items we thought we might want easily accessible near this zipper, it worked well.

While ease of access is an important consideration, it is trumped by weight concerns. Don't select a pack solely for an elongated zippered access panel. You will rarely use it, but will none-the-less pay a weight penalty for having it. Zippers are heavy! Moreover, as a general rule, side access panels are a real pain to close back up when a pack is full.

Weight Penalty — All features come with a weight penalty. Consider your priorities before saying "I want lots of access". We hear that often only to witness folks go several trips between using their side access panel. The exception is when you're traveling in the front country, where access is more important, and you won't be hauling your pack for quite as long.

The Baltoro has one of the best access points in our review. Not only is it the largest  but it is also well-designed and allows us access to a large portion of the pack. It offers a big enough opening that we can take items out (like a tent) without having to unpack our entire pack.
The Baltoro has one of the best access points in our review. Not only is it the largest, but it is also well-designed and allows us access to a large portion of the pack. It offers a big enough opening that we can take items out (like a tent) without having to unpack our entire pack.

All the backpacking backpacks in our review are top loading, and many have a sleeping bag compartment with separate bottom access zipper. These openings enable access to a part of the pack that is hard to get at from the top. The Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Thule Versant 70 offer the easiest access. Both of these models feature a substantial U-shaped opening that travels nearly the entire length of the back of the pack. These models open almost as large as a suitcase and more extensive than many duffel bags. This size makes them an excellent option for anyone on a backpacking travel tour.

Hip belt pockets are surprisingly nice once you step out onto the trail. They provide easy access to a camera  snacks  etc. while barely forcing you to break stride. The Aether 60 AG's zippered pockets shown here are among our favorite in the review.
Hip belt pockets are surprisingly nice once you step out onto the trail. They provide easy access to a camera, snacks, etc. while barely forcing you to break stride. The Aether 60 AG's zippered pockets shown here are among our favorite in the review.

Extra Features


While hardly essential, we appreciate when at least one zippered pocket is part of the hip belt. We like the Gregory Paragon 68, The North Face Banchee 65 Osprey models and REI Traverse 70 hip belt pockets. It's also worth noting that the Gregory Baltoro 68 features a single weather-resistant pocket, which is particularly helpful for folks who want their smartphone close-at-hand for taking photos. This weather-resistant accessory is in addition to a secondary mesh zippered pocket.

The Bora is by far the most weather resistant pack in our review. It uses Arc'teryx's proprietary AC2 fabric on all non-black areas of the pack. Not only do they use a weather resistant fabric  but these models also seam tape exposed areas  including this beavertail pocket  which has a watertight zipper. We used this pack on several VERY wet trips and these features kept our gear dry.
The Bora is by far the most weather resistant pack in our review. It uses Arc'teryx's proprietary AC2 fabric on all non-black areas of the pack. Not only do they use a weather resistant fabric, but these models also seam tape exposed areas, including this beavertail pocket, which has a watertight zipper. We used this pack on several VERY wet trips and these features kept our gear dry.

Weather-Resistance


All of the models are reasonably weather resistant, but the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 stands out. It consistently kept our gear drier during spring hikes in Washington's Olympic rainforest and garden hose tests. This pack uses Arc'teryx's AC² fabric, which is exceptionally weather resistant, bordering on waterproof. The Arc'teryx models even have taped seams near exposed areas like the back kangaroo-style pocket, which also sports a watertight zipper, because this location will likely see the most moisture while on the move.

The Baltoro 65 comes with a fairly functional hydration pack that doubles as a bladder sleeve inside the pack. Here we show a shell jacket and 70 oz 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 as suitable for use around town.
The Baltoro 65 comes with a fairly functional hydration pack that doubles as a bladder sleeve inside the pack. Here we show a shell jacket and 70 oz 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 as suitable for use around town.

Hydration


Almost all of the packs in this review have a location to store a hydration bladder where it will remain upright. The models with this feature should work with just about any brand's 2-3 liter hydration bladder.

Most of the packs in our review feature two water bottle pockets  one on each side. A handful of models from Osprey and Gregory tweak the common design to point the water bottle forward  making it much easier to access and stow water bottles. Most of these packs also have another opening near the top of this pocket to securely hold oblong shaped items outside the pack  like tent poles or a snow picket.
Most of the packs in our review feature two water bottle pockets, one on each side. A handful of models from Osprey and Gregory tweak the common design to point the water bottle forward, making it much easier to access and stow water bottles. Most of these packs also have another opening near the top of this pocket to securely hold oblong shaped items outside the pack, like tent poles or a snow picket.

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 68 comes with a removable hydration sleeve that doubles as a relatively functional hydration pack.

Weight is obviously important in any person-power activity and your gear and pack weight add up. That's why you should be wary of opting for a bigger volume than you need because it can be surprisingly hard to NOT fill your pack with unnecessary items.
Weight is obviously important in any person-power activity and your gear and pack weight add up. That's why you should be wary of opting for a bigger volume than you need because it can be surprisingly hard to NOT fill your pack with unnecessary items.

Pack Weight


The lightest packs in our review, by a pretty significant margin, are the Granite Gear Crown2 60 and Osprey Exos 58. Both check in at around two and a half pounds and thus straddle the line between a backpacking pack and ultra-light minimalist pack. The big difference here is that these models are more comfortable for people who don't have their pack weight down below 20 pounds.

The Osprey Exos 58 is also an excellent option for folks who want to go super light, but still want a comfortable and supportive pack with a frame and more robust padding. Despite being a little on the heavy side, this pack is popular for thru-hikes of the PCT and AT.


For a lighter but still rugged and feature-filled pack, our review team recommends The North Face Banchee 65 as well as the Aether Pro 70, Gregory Paragon 68, or Osprey Volt 60.

The Exos 58 is a surprisingly comfortable pack  especially considering its 2.6 lb weight. It's fantastic carrying up to 30 lbs  and decent to 40 lbs  but we wouldn't want to carry much more than that.
The Exos 58 is a surprisingly comfortable pack, especially considering its 2.6 lb weight. It's fantastic carrying up to 30 lbs, and decent to 40 lbs, but we wouldn't want to carry much more than that.

Every model strikes a balance between weight and comfort. Having both is hard. That is one category where the Osprey Aether Pro 70 fits into a much-needed niche. This pack is sub-4 pounds but still has one of the most robust suspensions systems we tested. It's also one of the most comfortable models in our review, thanks to its top-tier foam, heavily articulated shoulder straps, and top-notch feeling face fabrics.

You pack can truly make-or-break even the most well-planned backcountry adventure. If your rain jacket is a little to big or small it is only a small inconvenience. If your pack doesn't fit well it will make your shoulders  hips  and back sore  possibly to the point of wrecking your trip.
You pack can truly make-or-break even the most well-planned backcountry adventure. If your rain jacket is a little to big or small it is only a small inconvenience. If your pack doesn't fit well it will make your shoulders, hips, and back sore, possibly to the point of wrecking your trip.

Adjustability and Fit


To judge each pack's adjustability and fit, we consider its overall ergonomics in addition to how adjustable each model is. We also look at the range of torso lengths available. More sizes mean it could work for a wider range of users.


Mix and Match Sizing — A handful of pack manufacturers will let you swap out shoulder straps and waist belts sizes to customize your fit. For example, you may want a medium frame and a small waist belt. If this would be helpful for your body type, it's worth seeking out a pack from one of these manufacturers, like Gregory.

The Volt and the Aircontact Lite 65+10 have the most vertical adjustment of any model in our review. The huge vertical adjustment range helps dial in your fit and makes it an excellent option for younger backpackers who are still growing.
The Volt and the Aircontact Lite 65+10 have the most vertical adjustment of any model in our review. The huge vertical adjustment range helps dial in your fit and makes it an excellent option for younger backpackers who are still growing.

The Deuter Aircontact Lite 65 + 10 and the Osprey Volt 60 have by far the most vertical adjustment of any pack in our review. Both of these models can move their yokes (shoulder straps) up or down nearly 10 inches. Not only does this help fit a wide range of people and let it genuinely tailor to its wearer, but it also makes them an excellent choice for quickly growing children or teenagers.

We really liked the unique "GridLock" system on Arc'teryx's new Bora packs. It allows you to adjust the shoulder straps both vertically and horizontally. It looks like flimsy plastic  but in our experience  it's an absolutely bomber design. The shoulder strap never came prematurely undone.
We really liked the unique "GridLock" system on Arc'teryx's new Bora packs. It allows you to adjust the shoulder straps both vertically and horizontally. It looks like flimsy plastic, but in our experience, it's an absolutely bomber design. The shoulder strap never came prematurely undone.

When it comes to straight-up vertical adjustment the Osprey Volt 60 and Deuter Aircontact Lite 65 + 10 have the advantage. However, when it comes to tailor-like fitting, the adjustment options of the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 reign supreme. While it doesn't have as much vertical adjustment range, we love that we can adjust the shoulder straps side to side (width-wise), as well as up and down. The North Face Banchee 65, Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Osprey Xenith 105, and Osprey Aether 70 also have a respectable amount of adjustment. They feature approximately four inches of vertical adjustment and are available in many sizes. We also took into account each pack's overall ergonomics in our fit metric.

Most packs are available in multiple frame sizes and you can further adjust all the models we tested to fine-tune the fit. The Xenith shown here features the most common adjustment style: the shoulder straps are attached to a Velcro-covered flap that can be slid up or down behind the back panel. This gives the user roughly 4 inches of adjustment. We gave extra points to packs with adjustable girth waist belts or the ability to adjust the shoulder straps both vertically and horizontally.
Most packs are available in multiple frame sizes and you can further adjust all the models we tested to fine-tune the fit. The Xenith shown here features the most common adjustment style: the shoulder straps are attached to a Velcro-covered flap that can be slid up or down behind the back panel. This gives the user roughly 4 inches of adjustment. We gave extra points to packs with adjustable girth waist belts or the ability to adjust the shoulder straps both vertically and horizontally.

Rain Covers


We have mixed feelings about rain covers. They are a useful addition — to an extent. In our experience, if the rain is falling for multiple days at a time, unless you have packed your gear in dry bags or lined your pack with a trash bag, your stuff is going to get wet. A pack cover can only do so much to mitigate this reality. The backpacks in this review are not waterproof; however, the Arc'Teryx Bora AR 63 comes pretty darn close. It's worth noting that many of the packs in this review include a rain cover, including the Gregory Baltoro 65, Thule Versant 70, Osprey Rook 65, Gregory Paragon 68, Gregory Zulu 55, and REI Traverse 70.

The rain cover included with the Baltoro 65. While small  we appreciated this feature  which could be left behind when the weather allowed.
The rain cover included with the Baltoro 65. While small, we appreciated this feature, which could be left behind when the weather allowed.

Conclusion


Though traveling from points A to B on a backcountry trip is conceptually simple enough, choosing the right backpack that will get you and all of your gear to the end in the best shape possible is a bit trickier. We hope that our testing and reviews will help you narrow down your options.

Cross-country travel in the High Sierra above 11 000 feet
Cross-country travel in the High Sierra above 11,000 feet

In summary: first focus on the duration of trips you typically take. Come up with 2 to 3 features that you'd like your pack to have and prioritize specific designs like cushy shoulder straps or a sub-4-pound weight.


Ben Applebaum-Bauch and Ian Nicholson