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Looking for the best backpack for travel, work, or play? Our gear experts have spent the last decade buying and testing hundreds of backpacks to help you find the best pack for your next adventure. A backpack is a key to many of life's greatest adventures, and we put each of these packs through the wringer in all of the same ways you would. We took them around town every day to work, school, the gym, and on errands. We hit the trails with them on day hikes and overnight camping adventures, and we brought them with us while traveling near and far by car, train, or airplane. Whether you're looking for the best option for travel, work, school, or play, we've compiled this list of the best options for each type of backpack.
Volume: 17 L | Electronic Storage: 15-inch laptop & tablet
REASONS TO BUY
Multiple organizational compartments
Comfortable weight distribution
Protective access for laptops & tablets
REASONS TO AVOID
No cushion on the bottom
The Incase Icon takes the top spot as our favorite option in our Best Laptop Backpack review. It's a clean, stylish laptop bag boasting great organization and protection. This pack has three separate compartments for keeping all your large items organized. There's a laptop pocket, a smaller sleeve for a tablet, and a larger main compartment for the rest of life's necessities. The total volume of this pack is 17 liters, and it features a whopping 14 pockets. The Icon excels at keeping all your tech organized while still having room for gym clothes and a lunch.
We also really love the style of this pack. Its sleek design is great for the office, but this bag is versatile enough to double as a gym bag, urban backpack, or even a small travel bag. Some who like to stuff everything into one main storage compartment might not love the multiple main compartments of this bag. But we think this is a great, versatile option for carrying all your gadgets and more.
Volume: 28 L | Electronics Storage: 15-inch laptop and small tablet
REASONS TO BUY
Durable and fairly water-resistant
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks urban style
The North Face Borealis earns accolades for its excellent value in our laptop backpacks category. This pack is a super versatile option for school, work, and travel and would make a great day-to-day book bag. It's a great commuter bag and our testers loved using it on a bike all around town. Its 28-liter capacity is big enough to fit the extras you pick up during those errands on your way home. It has a separate laptop compartment and plenty of easy-access pockets to keep your life organized. This bag looks sporty enough to take out on the trails after work or on the weekends as well. It's super durable and water-resistant, which only adds to the versatility of this pack.
While we don't mind the outdoorsy look of this pack and think it's great for out on the trails, some might prefer a more stylish bag for carrying a laptop to work or school. But for the price, we think this is a great choice to carry a laptop and so much more.
The JanSport Big Student has a classic style and stands out for its excellent value in our Best Budget Backpack review. This classic school bag has plenty of storage volume to hold those hefty textbooks, lunches, gym clothes, and other everyday essentials. The separate storage compartments and additional zippered pockets make it easy to keep your gear organized and find that calculator, cell phone, or car keys that you're looking for. While this bag is designed with students in mind, its size, style, and versatility also make it a great choice for commuters, travelers, and parents on the go.
While we love the classic style of the Big Student, it lacks a dedicated padded laptop storage compartment, which is a feature found on many modern designs. This bag can certainly safely hold most laptops in one of its main storage compartments, but a little extra padding and security would be nice. All in all, this bag provides excellent value and is one of our all-time favorite choices for students.
The trusty REI Co-op Flash 22 stands out for its value in our Best Daypacks review. This is a lightweight and surprisingly comfortable minimalist daypack that is also quite versatile. We were impressed by how well this ultra-lightweight pack carried loads. It has a thin piece of foam padding for a frame, side pockets for water bottles, and an ice axe loop. It doesn't have much more than those features, but that's usually all we want in a daypack anyway. We've been using versions of the Flash for over a decade now, and the newest version sets the standard for affordable and lightweight daypacks. We've even used this pack for running. And while it bounces around a bit, the lightweight build makes it work well enough for moving quickly on the trail.
With a single layer of ultralight fabric, the Flash 22 isn't the most durable pack out there. However, the ripstop nylon it's constructed with is durable and easily patchable if you do experience any wear. This pack isn't great for heavy loads, but we don't expect that from a sub-one-pound pack. If you're looking for an affordable pack that works for hiking, commuting, travel, or bringing along backpacking as a day pack, this is a great choice. This pack is available in multiple sizes and colors as well.
The Peak Design Travel 45 is an extremely well-designed pack with loads of great features. It takes home the top honors in our Best Travel Backpack review, but it's much more than just a pack for travel. This is a particularly sturdy and rigid bag, which helps protect your luggage, camera gear, or anything else you stuff in here, making it great for day-to-day use. This rigidity also adds to the overall durability of the pack. Thanks to their thick, dense foam, the hip belt and shoulder straps are some of the most comfortable we've worn, and they can be tucked away behind a magnetic flap to make stowing your pack during travel a breeze. It has detachable lash straps that double as compression straps, compressions buttons, and a circumferential compression zipper to make carrying a variable load easy with this pack. This also helps if you need to fit it into tight spaces, as you often do when traveling. Peak Design also makes many accessories for camera gear, including a camera case that nests nicely inside this pack.
The sturdy and rigid construction does make the Travel Backpack difficult, if not impossible, to overstuff. So, this might not be the best choice to backpack across Europe. However, we think this bag's sleek design, ultimate comfort, and well-thought-out features make it one of the best choices for carrying your gear near and far.
The Osprey Talon 22 is consistently one of our favorite daypacks, and every year it seems to get better. This year, we honored it as our favorite lightweight daypack in our Best Daypacks review. This pack has a very versatile design that's loaded with useful features. It has a dependable, lightweight design that carries weight better than most smaller packs. Its suspension system is similar to those on larger packs, which makes it very comfortable for many different activities. The flexible frame and padded hip belt keep this pack securely in place while you move down the trail. Osprey's AirScape design on the back panel allows for plenty of airflow between your back and the pack, preventing your back from getting too sweaty. Other features include a hydration sleeve, an ice axe loop, trekking pole holders, a helmet-carrying system, and even a place to attach a blinking light.
As you might expect with a smaller volume pack, this isn't the best for winter conditions when you have to carry a lot of layers. The Osprey Talon 22 is great for light and fast day trips and moves well with you. For day hiking, mountain biking, and bike commuting, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Talon 22.
The Gregory Jade 28 is our favorite women's daypack for longer hikes. With a large 28-liter storage capacity, this pack will comfortably carry all your gear wherever the trail or the day takes you. The plush, supportive hip belt makes it easy to support heavier loads and feel like the load is evenly distributed across your hips. Although the larger storage capacity makes it easy to accidentally overpack, the plush padding and supportive frame easily absorb the additional weight.
Because of its larger storage capacity and supportive suspension system, the Jade 28 is definitely on the heavier end of the women's daypacks we tested. But, since the pack does such a good job of supporting and distributing the load, it remains comfortable even when it's fully weighed down. This pack has all of the features you'd expect from a high-end model, including hip belt pockets, a FreeFloat mesh back panel, and plenty of adjustability. Whether you're hauling your kids' gear around town for the day or loading up a full day's worth of trail essentials, the Jade 28 is the ideal pick when storage capacity is important.
The Osprey Syncro 12 immediately made a positive impression on us during testing and only continued to impress us from there, earning it top honors in our Best Hydration Packs category. This pack performed well and scored at the top of every performance metric we tested for hydration packs. This is a versatile pack, with easy-to-use storage and organization options. It's very durable, too. One of our testers has been using one for over a year with no issues whatsoever. The breathable back panel is common with most Osprey packs and is always a welcome feature on hot days. The hydration system on this pack is also excellent. We love the placement of the drinking hose and how easy it is to refill and replace the bladder. There is enough extra volume in this pack to store a layer or two as well.
While the Syncro is very capable in every regard, the burly construction and plethora of features make it quite heavy for a hydration pack. This is one of the only downsides to this pack, and since it comfortably carries weight, we didn't mind the extra ounces. Also, we would love to see some pockets on the hip belt, maybe that will be an improvement for the next version of this all-around great hydration pack for hiking, mountain biking, festivals, and more.
The Granite Gear Blaze 60 has repeatedly earned the top spot in our Best Backpacking Packs review. This pack is available in men's and women's versions. It can comfortably carry 50-pound loads and only weighs 3 pounds, which is much lighter than most backpacking packs. This pack is full of useable features that make it an excellent choice for backpacking. The hip belt width is adjustable, as is the torso length. We were able to make this pack fit a wide variety of body shapes when testing. The shoulder straps and hip belt are very padded, and the breathable back panel has just enough cushion to make wearing this pack very comfortable. It has a stretchy mesh front pocket and roll-top main compartment. The main compartment is also accessible via a zipper in the front of the pack. It also has roomy hip belt pockets, and the adjustable water bottle pockets are accessible without taking the pack off.
While this pack gets a lot of things right, nothing is perfect for everyone. Some of our testers found the small buckles difficult to use, especially while wearing gloves. But, we'll take that trade-off for a lightweight backpacking pack that can still handle heavy loads.
The Gregory Deva 60 has one of the best suspension systems we've ever tested, combining outstanding comfort and ventilation with excellent load-carrying capabilities. The Deva has thick, plush shoulder straps and a hip belt, and is also highly adjustable to help you dial in the right fit for your unique body. Although this is one of the heaviest women's packs we tested, it excels at carrying heavy loads, which makes it feel much lighter on the trail than its specs might indicate. It also has plenty of storage space and a range of well-placed pockets for organization.
While the Deva does great carrying heavy loads with its burly and comfortable suspension, it does feel a bit over-engineered for lighter loads or fast and light outings. There are packs similar in size that are half the Deva's weight. However, after our head-to-head tests with all of the best packs on the market, we kept coming back to the Deva for its all-day comfort, adjustability, and well-executed design.
The Kelty Coyote 65 is super affordable, can comfortably carry heavy loads, and is loaded with useful features. This pack lands at the top of our Best Budget Backpacking Pack review. The suspension on this pack is impressive. It can adjust to different torso lengths so you can dial in the fit. The curved frame loaded the weight onto our hips nicely, and the super padded hip belt and wide shoulder straps made this pack one of the most comfortable backpacking packs we've ever tested. Also, this pack has loads of external pockets. There are three separate zippered pockets in the front, a pocket on the pack lid, two water bottle side pockets, and two hip belt pockets. With all these pockets, it's easy to stay organized and avoid the need for a pack explosion on the side of the trail. You know what we're talking about here.
But, a pack that handles heavy loads and has lots of pockets is generally heavier by nature, and the Coyote 65 is no exception. At 4.3 pounds, it's certainly not lightweight. Also, the extra zipper pockets above the water bottles make it difficult to use taller water bottles with this pack. But for a comfortable, high-capacity, and durable backpacking pack at such an affordable price, we can live with these minor issues.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa has repeatedly won the top honors in our Best Ultralight Backpacks category. This pack is both comfortable and lightweight at the same time. It has well thought out features, but not too many. Of all the ultralight packs we tested, this one has our favorite external mesh pocket. It's big enough to fit extra layers, snacks, and other miscellaneous items we wanted to access quickly. This pack can handle a large load, too — it can even fit a bear canister. On the flip side, it can also be cinched down if it's not as full. The fabric on this pack is very durable, too. We've done a lot of bushwhacking with this, and it's still in great shape.
Some might find the 60-liter capacity of the Mariposa to be too big for an ultralight pack. But as long as you aren't constantly filling this pack to the brim, we found a little extra space was helpful for longer food carries. Also, this isn't the lightest ultralight backpacking pack. But at less than 2 pounds for an ultralight pack that can still comfortably carry all your backpacking gear, this pack is hard to beat.
Over the years here at GearLab, we've tested more backpacks than we can count. We tested packs on the trails, on our bikes, at the airport, during our daily commutes, and at the crag. You name it, and we've been there. For this review, we compiled test results from over 300 different models in total, all purchased at retail prices from many of the same popular merchants you likely shop at.
The test team for this review is led by Sam Schild, Hayley Thomas, and Nick Bruckbauer. Sam is an avid backpacker with close to 10,000 miles of backpacking experience. He has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Colorado Trail, and the Grand Enchantment Trail. When he's not out on the trails somewhere, you can find him mountain biking or trail running on the Colorado Front Range, or bikepacking somewhere in the American Southwest. On all his adventures, he uses a backpack to carry all the essential gear.
Hayley has done a lot of testing of travel bags over the years and is based in Denver, CO. Travel is a huge part of Hayley's life. Besides traveling, her main passion is rock climbing. You can also find her hitting the slopes in the winter and taking long bike rides in the summer — almost always with a backpack in tow.
Nick manages many of the GearLab backpacking categories, and is also an avid outdoorsman and gear junkie. His passions include trail and road running, road cycling, paddling, hiking, camping, backpacking, climbing, and skiing. Nick owns packs of all different shapes and sizes and has experience hauling different packs around town, through the airport, on a bike, on the trails, and on weekslong climbing and ski expeditions.
Our teams tested and rated all these backpacks for different qualities depending on the type of model and its intended use. We tested for durability, comfort, weight, features, volume, ease of use, water-resistance, style, accessibility, and more. We packed and unpacked them all. We hiked, we biked, and we went through airport security with them. We loaded up our precious laptops and tablets in them. In short, we put all these backpacks through the wringer to find the best of the best.
How to Buy the Right Backpack
Choosing the right backpack for your intended use is important. You might be loading it up with heavy gear and wearing it for long hours, so you want to make sure it has the right features to organize and carry your gear and that it comfortably fits your body. Different types of backpacks can often be used interchangeably, but having the right design might make the difference in quickly accessing your camera to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot, keeping your valuables protected from the elements, or keeping your hips, back, and neck comfortable on long hikes or overnights. We'll walk you through all of the different types of packs available to help you decide which features are right for you.
Where Do You Want Your Pack To Go?
Before choosing a backpack, it's important to know what you're planning to do and where you're planning to go. If you want a pack that will organize and carry all of your essentials to work or school, that will be a very different size and shape compared to a larger backpack for travel or backpacking. If you're going to be hiking with your backpack, do you want something small for fast and light day hikes, or something heftier for multi-day adventures? Maybe you just need a hydration pack to carry water and a few essentials. Getting the right pack will make your hikes, commutes, or travels more comfortable and convenient.
Travel backpacks are made to be efficiently carried on airplanes, trains, buses, and cars. These bags are usually designed with a large, easily accessible main storage compartment, along with lots of pockets to organize gear and clothing while traveling. They also often have a number of adjustable carrying methods, like removable backpack straps, shoulder slings, and comfortably padded grab handles. These packs will usually have minimal external features so they can easily be stuffed into overhead bins, car trunks, or other tight spaces. They are typically moderate in size — somewhere between the size of a daypack and a large backpacking backpack — in order to meet airline carry-on size requirements and to maintain a comfortable carrying weight.
Laptop backpacks are typically small to moderate in size and have specific design features meant to carry a laptop and other electronic devices. They usually have a well-padded internal sleeve or multiple sleeves to protect your laptop or tablet. They might have specially designed compartments for things like extra battery packs or charging cords. Most laptop bags have a more sleek and stylish look that fits into an office or urban setting. Some look more sporty, too. Laptop bags are a great option for protecting your valuable electronic equipment, and many have enough extra space for things like textbooks, lunches, gym clothes, and other essentials to complete your commute to work or school.
Daypacks usually have fairly simple and versatile designs that make them ideal for any type of day trip. Those day trips can be on a hike, a bike ride, or even just a stroll around the city. Daypacks are big enough to fit everything you'd need for a day out – snacks, extra layers, a first aid kit, and more. They're also great for commuters since they usually have multiple water bottle pockets, one for coffee and one for water, and enough to carry all your daily essentials. Many hiking-specific daypacks will have more technical features like a separate internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, hip belt pockets, and additional external straps to secure things like helmets, trekking poles, an ice axe, or even skis.
Hydration packs are typically smaller hiking-style packs that have a dedicated pocket to hold an included hydration reservoir. Some are not much bigger than the size of the hydration reservoir and are meant just for carrying water, while others are large, fully-featured backpacks. Smaller hydration packs are great for fast and light adventures where you don't need to carry much more than water and snacks, while larger hydration packs are great for hauling a larger volume of water that is easily accessible without having to stop to drink or refill as often.
While hydration packs are often a bit smaller and lighter than most hiking daypacks, they can still be a bit heavy and bouncy if you're really trying to go fast and light. Trail runners, fast hikers, or ultramarathoners often opt for a running hydration pack. These packs are often designed as a tight-fitting vest, and have enough storage to hold water, snacks, and maybe an extra layer of clothing, but are lighter and fit snuggly to your body to allow for unencumbered movement. There are even women's specific designs too.
Backpacking backpacks are higher-volume packs designed to comfortably carry everything you'd need to hike and camp for multiple days. Since many of these packs are in the 50 to 70-liter size range and can easily carry 40 to 50+ pounds, they typically are designed with a substantial internal frame and a comfortable suspension — which includes a well-padded, supportive hip belt and a supportive and well-ventilated back panel — to help evenly distribute heavy loads. The best backpacking packs are also very adjustable, where the hip belt, shoulder straps, sternum strap, and even load lifter straps can be adjusted to optimize the fit to your body.
High-end backpacking packs can sometimes run in the hundreds of dollars, which can be a big investment for beginning hikers. We've also reviewed the best budget options that strike a nice blend of quality, performance, and affordability.
While backpacking packs are intended for hiking, they're usually too big and clumsy to use on day hikes. And conversely, standard daypacks are usually too small and not supportive enough to carry the heavier loads required for multi-day backpacking trips.
Ultralight backpacks are popular items for many of today's backpackers who are aiming to lighten their load for faster and lighter adventures. These packs share many of the same features as backpacking packs but are often stripped down to save weight. Ultralight packs usually sacrifice a bit of comfort and support in the hip belts, shoulder straps, and back panels, and may eliminate extra pockets or straps, but doing so can drop the bare pack weight from around 5 pounds to under 2 pounds.
Many backpacking packs include some technical features — like hydration reservoirs and external straps for helmets, skis, ice tools, or hiking poles — but there are other more specialized types of backpacks that fill some technical roles a bit better. Rock climbers looking for a backpack to haul bulky items like climbing ropes and hardware racks can opt for a climbing pack or haul bag that typically has one huge primary storage compartment and burly construction for hauling heavy loads a short distance. Mountaineers in need of a technical pack to carry things like ices axes, crampons, or an avalanche shovel and probe can find specific design features for these tools in moderately-sized mountaineering packs. And backcountry skiers willing to make an investment in an extra layer of potential protection can opt for an avalanche airbag pack to add to their beacon, shovel, and probe kit.
Bike commuters that want to reduce strain on their back, neck, and shoulders while riding can also use bike panniers that clip onto your bike rack. Some models even convert to backpacks.
Many hiking daypacks and backpacking packs come in women's specific sizing as well. Although many women can and do comfortably wear men's or unisex models, women's specific packs are usually sized to more closely fit women's anatomy. This means a women's pack usually has a shorter torso length and a wider hip belt.
What Else to Look For?
Once you've figured out the backpack style that best suits your needs, looking at the specific design features of different individual models will help you narrow down the field considerably.
Pack Size: Storage Volume and Weight
Choosing the right pack size depends on what kind of gear you need to carry and for how long you need to carry it. A bigger pack will obviously be able to hold more gear than a smaller pack, but will almost always weigh more than a smaller pack. This might not be so important if you're just carrying your pack on the bus or around the office but becomes more critical if you're hauling gear for longer distances or time periods — like around town for a full day, on a long hike, or on a multi-day backpacking trip.
Smaller and lighter packs usually have more minimalist features for supporting heavier loads and tend to get uncomfortable more quickly once you load them near their full capacity. Conversely, heavier packs with more robust suspension systems might feel awkward if they're only minimally loaded but will feel more balanced and comfortable when loaded with an appropriate weight that utilizes the hip belt and suspension system.
General Sizing Guidelines
Depending on your intended use, most packs will fall into these general size ranges:
5 liters to 20 liters: Most hydration packs and smaller daypacks; ideal for fast and light outings of a few hours. 15 liters to 30 liters: Most daypacks, school bags, and laptop backpacks; ideal for a full day's worth of gear for work, school, hiking, or around town. 30 liters to 45 liters: Larger daypacks, most travel backpacks, and smaller technical hiking and climbing packs; ideal for an overnight or weekend outing. 45 liters to 60 liters: Larger technical hiking and climbing packs and smaller backpacking packs; ideal for 2-4 day outings.
60+ liters: Most backpacking packs; ideal for 5+ day outings.
Comfort and Fit
All backpacks have shoulder straps and a back panel. What sets different packs apart from one another in terms of comfort and fit is a suspension system is what distributes the weight of the pack between your shoulders and hips. If a pack has no suspension, then all of its weight will rest squarely on your shoulders. This is okay for lightweight loads, but for heavier loads, it will be a pain in the shoulders.
The most comfortable and supportive suspension systems include an internal frame that supports the weight of the pack, a padded hip belt that transfers the load to your hips, shoulder straps that comfortably help balance the load, load lifter straps that help adjust how the pack sits on your back, and a supportive and ventilated back panel. Together, these pieces make for a comfortable pack capable of carrying heavier loads more efficiently.
Load lifters connect the tops of a pack's shoulder straps and the main pack body. They are used to move the pack closer or farther away from your body. The tighter you make the load lifters, the more of the pack's weight will be on your shoulders. The looser the load lifters, the more of the weight will be transferred to the hip belt. You can use the load lifters to give your shoulder or hips a break by placing more of the weight elsewhere.
A pack's hip belt is just as important as the shoulder straps. Generally speaking, the more cushioned a hip belt is, the more comfortable it will be. A hip belt should also be wide enough to not dig into your hips or stomach. But, if a hip belt is too wide that can also cause discomfort. Hip belt comfort is very dependent on body type. So, it's best to try a few different packs to figure out what works best for your body.
Lastly, a pack's back panel is what rests on your back. Not all back panels are created equally. A good back panel will have enough cushion to rest comfortably on your body. And, it will be made of some sort of mesh material to allow air to flow between the pack and your body. We've all had a sweaty back from wearing a backpack on a hot day; this mesh helps with that.
Other Pack Features
It's important to look for a pack that has the features that you need and doesn't have a bunch of extras that you don't need. Don't just buy a pack with a lot of features because it has a lot of features. Buy a pack with the specific features you need. These extras are usually simple in design but have a specific intended use.
If you plan to regularly carry a laptop in your backpack, then be sure it has a protective pocket or sleeve for a laptop. If you need to carry multiple drink bottles, get a back with big, functional water bottle pockets. If you want to quickly access a rain jacket or other layers without opening your pack, then get a pack with a big enough outside mesh pocket.
If you're using your pack for travel, get one with enough compartments to carry what you plan to travel with and keep that stuff organized. If you want a pack that carries a hydration bladder, be sure it has a designated sleeve for that. If you need to carry a sleeping pad on the outside of your pack, be sure it has straps and buckles for that.
This guide should help make your backpack-buying decision a little bit easier. Be realistic about your goals and needs. The aforementioned list of packs is the best of the best. So, choose the one that fits your needs the best from this list and get out there. Rest assured, we will keep buying, using, and reviewing the best backpacks in the industry to keep this list current.
Choosing the backpack that is most suitable for your needs...
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