Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Budget Backpacks

Wednesday October 5, 2022

We split our testing into two categories: evaluation before hitting the trail, and performance while backpacking. For some metrics, it was more useful to assess in just one of these two ways, for example, weight was measured on a scale indoors in order to be precise. Others were more subjective, but our testers have done their best to conduct an objective analysis of these packs.

Suspension and Comfort

We hiked with each pack over varying distances with a range of weights loaded in them. We pushed each pack well into 40-pound territory. But, we didn't break 50 pounds during our testing because none of these packs are meant for heavy hauling. We specifically noted how each of the following aspects of the pack felt: overall suspension, hip comfort, shoulder comfort, and pressure points. We considered each of these after the first hour on the trail, then at the end of the first day, and at the end of the trip. This way, we could evaluate if certain packs were more comfortable over shorter periods of time than others.

budget backpacking pack - dialing in the fit is important for comfort.
Dialing in the fit is important for comfort.
Credit: Claire Skach

Features and Ease of Use

This is a largely qualitative metric, and some features can be a plus or minus depending on your intentions for the bag. We spent hours studying and comparing the features and design of each pack before ever stepping foot on the trail. We stuffed our gear in every crack and crevice of the packs to evaluate the usefulness of pockets and ease of packing.

budget backpacking pack - testing out different ways to pack each pack.
Testing out different ways to pack each pack.
Credit: Ben Skach

While backpacking, we made note of the accessibility via each opening in the pack. We also determined how much each feature helped us to store the gear that we needed easy access to and whether or not the overall pocket design worked well for us.

budget backpacking pack - a front pocket is a great way to keep an extra layer accessible for...
A front pocket is a great way to keep an extra layer accessible for staying warm on breaks.
Credit: Sam Schild


Measuring weight was very straightforward. We made sure the whole pack was empty and weighed it on a scale. We did not remove the included pack covers before weighing each pack. Some weights were understandably higher or lower because of different feature sets.


We took into account each aspect of the packs that could allow a more customized fit. This included the range of torso lengths, the precision of adjustment, and waist belt sizes. We also paid attention to how easy the straps were to locate and tighten in order to dial in the fit.

budget backpacking pack - each pack has a different system for adjusting torso size.
Each pack has a different system for adjusting torso size.
Credit: Ben Skach

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More