Your Buying Guide to the Best Hiking Backpacks

When you’re into walking the trails, finding the best hiking backpacks can make so much difference to your trip. The best backpacks for hiking will really help to lighten the load, as it will feel like you’re carrying less than you actually are, because the best backpacking backpacks will spread the weight evenly. This helps to prevent spinal, joint or muscle strain. Whether you require the best lightweight backpack, want to discover great women’s hiking backpacks, are seeking the best camping backpack, hiking backpacks that are small in size or the best hiking backpacks for men, this guide is for you. Brought to you by an experienced veteran of the Camino de Santiago trail – as well as many other popular hiking routes worldwide.

The Best Hiking Backpacks in 2021-2022

So what are you searching for when considering the best hiking backpack? Is the best backpack for you a lightweight one, or do you want to see a selection of the best backpacks for camping? Do you require a men’s hiking backpack, or want to find the best backpacks for women who are hiking? Maybe you simply want to choose between best small hiking backpacks for the Camino de Santiago, shorter hikes or trekking in hotter weather. Whichever describes you, this guide has got you covered!

Buying the best backpacks for backpacking and hiking is a wise investment. It can make your trip so much more enjoyable, as you can carry everything you need. It can also be more comfortable, as these packs are designed to spread the load properly without causing the kind of joint or muscle strain that results in pain. Think about what you really want to take when making your decision – the best hiking pack for you will have just the right amount of space for everything you take on the trails.

Continue reading to find the best hiking backpack to suit your plans – whether you prefer shorter hikes or enjoy spending many days or even weeks trekking around.

Best hiking backpacks comparison table

ItemPhotoCapacityPriceFeaturesBenefits
Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10blue Deuter Aircontact Lite backpack50L + 10L expansionClick hereVentilated back, expandable, adjustableReduces perspiration, comfort fit
Osprey Kyte 46 for womenOsprey Kyte 46 women’s backpack for camping46LClick hereSide zip, raincover, hydration sleeveEasy access, ideal for wet weather
Mountainsmith ScreamMountainsmith Scream 55L best hiking backpack55LClick hereTwin pockets, front zip, tough fabricTear resistant, fast access storage
Gregory Octal 55 for womenGregory women’s Octal 55 best backpack for women55LClick hereGood padding & ventilation raincoverUltra lightweight & comfortable
Osprey Lumina 60 for womenOsprey Lumina 60 women’s best backpack for camping60LClick hereTear resistant, tensioned back panelCool & comfortable, ultra tough
Osprey Exos 58 for menOsprey Exos 58 men’s backpack58LClick hereAttachment loops, suspended backErgonomic with great ventilation
Osprey Kestrel 48 for menOsprey Kestrel 48 men’s best backpack for camping48LClick hereMale fit, raincover, sleeping bag pocketResists wet weather, made for men
Gregory Zulu 40 for menGregory Zulu 40 men’s backpack40LClick hereAdjustable length, raincover, 3 bright colorsGood visibility, perfect fit, stay dry
Gregory Jade 38 for womenGregory Jade 38 women’s backpack38LClick hereBody hugging fit, free airflow, integral raincoverComfortable fit, good breathability
The North Face Terra 40The North Face Terra 40 best backpacking backpack40LClick hereDyno Lift suspension, J-shaped zip, hydration readyWeightless feel, quick access, hydration
best lightweight backpack
Photo by Emerson Ward on Unsplash

Best backpacking packs for all types of trip

Some of the best backpacks for hiking are also suitable for backpacking trips. You may have other plans besides trekking, and these hiking backpacks are among the best options for all purposes. The best backpacker backpacks can take you all the way from city to National Park to beach – or wherever you want to spend your traveling time.

The best backpacking bag options chosen are all from reliable brands, so you know they will stand the test of time as well as the less-than-gentle handling they may sometimes me subjected to! Whether that’s a careless baggage handler at the airport, being bumped around in the luggage compartment of an intercity bus or coping with being scraped against twigs, stones or thorns.

The following are some of the best backpacks for hiking on the market today.

Deuter Aircontact Lite 50 + 10

I love my own Deuter pack for its thoughtful construction and ventilation back system, so have no hesitation on recommending this. It’s a well ventilated pack, so is ideal for both backpacking and hiking in hotter climates. Deuter produce some of the best hiking backpacks around, and this one is lightweight and comfortable to carry.

Whether you want the best backpacks for men or women, this one is great as the back length can be adjusted. It’s basically a 50 liter lightweight backpack for hiking, but if you do want to carry more it can be extended by an extra 10 liters to create a total capacity of 60 liters. It’s also compatible with hydration packs.

If you like the look of this, you could also check out another Deuter option listed in the “best hiking bags for camping” category.

Pros:

  • Maximum ventilation back system reduces perspiration
  • Adjustable back and ergonomic hip fins
  • Extendable and hydration pack compatible

Cons:

  • Not gender specific in shape

Click here to view the Deuter 50 + 10 Aircontact Lite

Osprey Kyte 46 women’s backpack

This is one of the most highly rated women’s hiking backpacks around. Like the previous pack, this one also has a adjustable back system to ensure the ideal fit. Made specifically for women, the Osprey Kyte is among the best backpacking backpacks out there. It comes in a choice of 3 colors, all of which are dark shades.

With an integral raincover, this pack’s great for trekking in less than clement conditions. There is also a built-in reservoir sleeve than can accommodate a 3 liter water reservoir (though you must buy this separately). Fast access to the main compartment is provided by a side zip, and there is also a dedicated sleeping bag pocket.

Note that the men’s version of this pack is the Osprey Kestrel, which you can find listed in the “best backpacks for hiking” section below.

Pros:

  • Removable raincover
  • Water reservoir sleeve
  • Side zip access to main area

Cons:

  • More limited capacity

Click here to see the 46 liter Osprey Kyte for women

Mountainsmith Scream 55L backpack

This is another brand I have plenty of personal experience of – my own 40 liter Mountainsmith Phantom is still going strong after many years. Like this one, it also has a front panel zipper for rapid interior access, which I love. The double front and side mesh storage pockets are also very useful, and there are plenty of clip points for attaching extra gear.

The Mountainsmith Scream weighs under 3 lbs, yet doesn’t compromise on comfort or durability and comfort. With a super tough outer coating, the distinctive protects against abrasions and tearing. It has a highly supportive back panel and waist belt, and built-in load lifters hlep to make each carry more comfortable.

One of the best backpacks for hiking, the Scream from Mountainsmith will also make you stand out on the trails.

Pros:

  • Front panel zipper access
  • Ultra tough coated fabric
  • Double front and side pockets

Cons:

  • Distinctive design not for everyone

Click here to view the 55 liter Mountainsmith Scream

hiking lightweight backpacks
Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Best lightweight backpacks to lighten the load

If you’re seeking the best lightweight backpack to help you make it to the summit, that makes complete sense. Why carry more weight than you have to? Invest in the best lightweight backpacks for hiking and you can take more essentials along with you – without feeling the strain. Where space and weight are at a premium, lightweight hiking backpacks just give you an extra advantage.

Contenders in the light hiking backpacks category include two Osprey picks and one from Gregory. These range between 55 and 60 liters in capacity, so you can transport more of those items that make life on the trails – and when camping – more comfortable.

Choose any of these as your lightweight backpack for hiking and it should see you through many a trip.

Gregory women’s Octal 55

This ultralight product is one of the top hiking lightweight backpacks you’ll come across. It weighs around 2.5 lbs, and the dual zipped hip belt pockets are really useful. For comfort, it also features padded hipbelts and ‘Aerospan’ suspension to help the load feel less weighty.

With a ventilated, moisture-wicking back panel, this is one of the best women’s hiking backpacks for warmer weather. For showers, there’s a raincover stashed neatly away inside the top pocket too. The shoulder harness also helps to make this one of the most comfortable hiking packs to carry.

The Gregory also comes in a men’s version, which you can find out more about in the “best backpacks for men” category below.

Pros:

  • Ultra lightweight
  • Padded hipbelts and shoulder harness
  • Ventilated back and raincover

Cons:

  • Not many pockets

Click here to see the Gregory Octal 55 for women

Osprey Lumina 60 women’s backpack

The Osprey Lumina is another top pick among hiking backpacks for women. At well under 2 lbs, this one is even lighter than the Gregory pack listed above. Due to its sleek good looks, this bag is equally suitable for city break weekends, a week’s vacation in the sun or taking longer hikes.

Wet weather gear or swimwear can be stored in the front pouch, while the side pockets can accommodate a water bottle and other essentials. There are looped cords to the top lids for attaching extra gear, and the 3 dimensional back panel is designed to provide free airflow from side to side. Made from abrasion resistant ripstop nylon, this pack is also made to last.

If 60 liters seems a bit big for you, this great pack also comes in a 45 liter version.

Pros:

  • Tensioned 3D back panel improves ventilation
  • Tear and abrasion resistant fabric
  • Outer pouch ideal for wet gear

Cons:

  • Top loading access only

Click here to view the 60 liter Osprey Lumina for women

Osprey Exos 58 men’s backpack

Weighing just 2.65 lbs, this is one of the most lightweight hiking backpacks around. Another winner from Osprey which comes in black with orange accents or a two-tone green. There is a hydration sleeve built in, so you can carry water (as long as you purchase a compatible reservoir).

Osprey’s AirSpeed suspension system helps protect your spine while also keeping you cool. Like the women’s Lumina detailed above, this pack also has handy side pockets and a front compartment that can be used for storing items you need quick access too – or for wet clothing. There is also a range of attachment points for trekking poles, a sleeping pad or an ice axe.

The Osprey Exos is up there among the best hiking backpack for men products.

Pros:

  • Lots of attachment points
  • Water reservoir sleeve
  • Suspended back keeps you cool

Cons:

  • Access only via top

Click here to see the 58 liter Osprey Exos for men

best backpack lightweight
Photo by Jack Sloop on Unsplash

Best backpacks for camping along the way

Considering the best backpacks for camping involves working out how your pack will help you haul all the gear you need for one or more overnight stays – including items like sleeping bags and pads, food and other equipment. The best camping backpacks featured here are from Deuter, Osprey and Kelty, and include one men’s hiking backpack, a unisex bag and one of the best hiking backpack for women products.

One of these – from Kelty – is the same as the first Camino trail pack I ever purchased, and I rate its torso adjustment system in particular. The ensures the pack fits to your body just as it should, and is therefore easier to carry.

The following products are among the best backpacks for hiking and camping.

Deuter women’s Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL backpack

The well thought out design of my own Deuter pack has really impressed me, and thus I’m recommending this newer women’s Deuter backpack for camping and hiking. In the name, the SL stands for a female-specific fit. This means it can be adjusted to suit a shorter torso, and it also has a narrower shoulder harness than men’s hiking backpacks or unisex products.

While it has plenty of padding for comfort, this has been designed for breathability. As such, Deuter claim that this pack can reduce perspiring by around 15%. This pack can be extended by up to 10 liters, which is ideal if there may be times when you can’t quite cram everything into the main bag.

Other useful features on this pack include side compression straps, a signal whistle, compatibility with a hydration reservoir and lots of helpful loops and pockets.

Pros:

  • SL female specific fit
  • 10 liter expansion section
  • Plenty of pockets and loops

Cons:

  • Utilitarian looks

Click here to view the Deuter AirContact Lite for women

Osprey Kestrel 48 men’s camping backpack

Having already covered the female version of this pack – the Osprey Kyte – in the first category, above, I also have no hesitation in recommending the Osprey Kestrel for men. With a 48 liter capacity, this one is made specifically for men, with a wider shoulder harness and longer torso. This is adjustable for the perfect fit.

There is a removable built-in raincover on this pack, making it a great pick for trekking where the weather can be unreliable or wet. So you stay hydrated in hotter climes, there is also a sleeve ready for you to add a water reservoir. A zipped sleeping bag compartment also places this product among the best backpacks for camping.

In fact Osprey make many of the best camping backpacks on the market, and the men’s Kestrel is no exception.

Pros:

  • Male specific fit
  • Sleeping bag pocket with zip
  • Built-in removable raincover

Cons:

  • Capacity on the smaller side

Click here to see the men’s Osprey Kestrel 48

Kelty Coyote 65-105 liter backpack

I took a Kelty brand 65 liter trail pack on my first Camino trek, although over the years, I’ve sized down to a 35L backpack for Camino de Santiago! With a torso adjustment system, it’s equally suitable for men and women. It also comes in a range of sizes, including 65, 85 and 105 liter options, making it a great all-rounder. The more generous capacity helps in putting this one up there among the best camping backpack products, as you can carry more – but with ease.

A key feature of this pack is the inclusion of so many pockets – including two front zipped ones, a sleeping bag compartment, two of Kelty’s ‘wing pockets’ plus water bottle sections – one of which could be used to store sunscreen or insect repellent. The torso is also fully adjustable, and this is easy to do, even when on the move.

Certainly among the best backpacks for camping, the Kelty Coyote is a very versatile choice.

Pros:

  • 65, 85 or 105 liter sizes
  • Sleeping bag compartment
  • Easily adjustable torso

Cons:

  • Functional design

Click here to view the Kelty Coyote for men and women

Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash

Best backpacks that are made for men

As you will have seen, some products are sold specifically as women’s or men’s hiking backpacks. This means they have been designed to suit the male or female shape, and as such tend to have wider or narrower shoulder harnesses and longer or shorter torsos. The best hiking backpack for men will also be adjustable for the right fit.

Bags included as the best backpacks in the men’s category include Osprey and Gregory packs. There is also a North Face option listed. All three are specially designed to be as comfortable and practical as possible.

Here is our selection of the best hiking backpacks for men.

Gregory men’s Optic 55

With the company’s Aerospan suspension, this Gregory men’s hiking backpack has a lot going for it. This ventilated, moisture-wicking back panel for starters. It’s also fitted with a super supportive waist belt complete with ‘comfort zones’ and a ventilated and generously padded shoulder harness.

Hidden in the top pocket is a handy rain hood to keep your kit dry, while the light weight of this pack means you’ll never feel weighted down. This is a comfortable, well-ventilated pack with a dedicated space for storing a hydration pack (though this must be bought separately.)

Available in gray or blue, this is one of the finest hiking backpacks for men.

Pros:

  • Moisture-wicking, ventilated back
  • Integral rain hood
  • Sleeve for hydration pack

Cons:

  • Not as robust as some

Click here to see the Gregory Optic 55 backpack for men

The North Face Terra men’s backpack

The North Face is one of the world’s best backpacking backpack brands, and the Terra for men is up there with the top products. With a Dyno-Lift system, there are integral ‘load lifters’ to make it feel like you’re carrying very little. Yet with a 55 liter capacity, you can actually carry quite a lot. Without feeling the strain.

The back panel is generously cushioned, suspended and features mesh fabric for breathability. This North Face men’s backpack is also compatible with a hydration sleeve, making it simple to drink enough water even when on the go. The J-shaped zipper also makes for instant access to the contents of the main compartment.

If you want the best trekking backpack for men, you could do a lot worse than the North Face Terra.

Pros:

  • J-zipper gives easy interior access
  • ‘Dyno-Lift’ system makes load feel light
  • Hydration sleeve compatible

Cons:

  • Fewer pockets than some

Click here to view the men’s North Face Terra

Osprey Rook 65 men’s backpack

The Osprey Rook is one of the best backpacks in the men’ category – and one of six from the brand that are listed in this guide. This is a great pack for trekking in hot places, as it has a mesh back panel for added ventilation plus internal hydration sleeve so you can take in enough fluids without stopping to grab a drink.

The Rook also has a sleeping bag compartment and a built-in, removable rain cover. Its AirSpeed back panel is also adjustable so you can get just the right fit around the shoulders and in the torso area. There are two mesh compartment at the sides, plus some hip belt pockets for keeping small essential items close to hand.

In terms of men’s hiking backpacks, this is among the best all-rounders you’ll find anywhere.

Pros:

  • Hydration sleeve and sleeping bag compartments
  • Adjustable AirSpeed back panel
  • Hip belt and side mesh pockets

Cons:

  • Main access via top

Click here to see the men’s Osprey Rook backpack

Photo by Amy Silbert on Unsplash

Best women’s backpacks for the female form

Like the men’s products, hiking backpacks for women are designed to suit the female anatomy perfectly. They are ergonomically made for the more delicate frame, with narrower shoulders and a shorter torso than the typical, comparable men’s backpack.

The best women’s hiking backpacks we cover are also by Gregory, The North Face and Osprey. These hiking backpacks are made for women’s comfort, so you can take everything you need without feeling as if you’re burdened by a heavy load.

To find the best hiking backpack for women to suit your requirements perfectly, check out all the hand-picked options detailed below.

Gregory Mountain Products women’s Octal 55 backpack

Weighing only 2.5 lbs, the Gregory Octal for women is as solid a choice as the men’s Optic 55. This comfortable, ergonomically designed product is one of the best lightweight backpacks around, and comes in monarch blue (pictured) or frost gray. The super supportive and cushioned hip belt is great for lightening the load.

Comfort is also taken care of thanks to the ventilated, moisture-wicking back panel, which also has suspension to distribute the load evenly. Again there is also a raincover tucked away in the top pocket – ideal in the case of rain showers, whether they’ve been forecast or are entirely unexpected.

If you’re searching for hiking backpacks on the small side, the Gregory Optal is well worth a look.

Pros:

  • Weighs about 2.5lbs
  • Cushioned hip belt for extra support
  • Integral rain cover

Cons:

  • Top loader access

Click here to view the women’s Gregory Optal hiking backpack

The North Face women’s Terra backpack

The North Face Terra for women is lightweight and robust, and a really useful feature of this particular pack is its J-shaped zipper that gives the user quick access to the main storage area. At the back there is plenty of padding and a breathable mesh, while to the front there’s a stash pocket for items you need often.

A supportive, cushioned hipbelt gives added support and comfort, as does the Optifit back suspension system. To the top there is a multi-purpose ‘floating’ pocket, and this can be used for storing your tent or sleeping bag.

This is a sound product from a leading outdoor brand, with a price tag that’s pretty much average for this type of hiking backpacks that are made for women’s torsos.

Pros:

  • J-shaped zip to main compartment
  • Multi-purpose top pocket ideal for camping
  • Optifit back suspension system

Cons:

  • Uninspiring colors

Click here to see the women’s North Face Terra backpack

Osprey Renn 50 women’s backpack

The Osprey Renn is a women’s backpack that strikes a good balance between being lightweight and sturdy. At around 3.3 lbs, it’s a little heavier than the lightest packs, but average for a women’s pack with a 50 liter capacity. Again this one has Osprey’s AirSpeed mesh back panel, which is great for ventilation.

The length of the backpack can also be adjusted to suit the wearer’s torso. At the bottom of the pack there is a compartment that can be used for carrying a sleeping bag, while there are side mesh pockets plus a pair of ultra useful hip belt pockets. A 3 liter water reservoir (purchased separately) can also be placed in the integral sleeve.

This is one of the best backpacks for women hiking, and also comes in purple (pictured), blue or gray.

Pros:

  • AirSpeed back is breathable and supportive
  • All-purpose section suited to sleeping bag
  • Hydration reservoir compatible

Cons:

  • Top loading design

Click here to view the women’s Osprey Renn backpack

Photo by Alex Gorey on Unsplash

Best small backpacks for longer trails

If you trek longer trails – such as the various routes of the Camino de Santiago – but you want to travel light, then these are the small hiking backpacks for you. These are ideal for use when you don’t need to carry a tent with you.

In this section, I say small hiking backpack meaning a pack that can carry around 35-40 liters. This can also double up as luggage to take for long weekends away – even when you’re headed to a beach or a city rather than trekking into the wilderness of Europe or North America. Or indeed anywhere on earth.

If you want the best small hiking backpack, here’s my list of top contenders.

Gregory Zulu 40 men’s backpack

Sometimes the best hiking backpacks are small, and they can be ideal when you don’t need to carry a tent with you. Again one of my top recommendations is from Gregory, in the form of the Zulu 40 liter pack for men. Thanks to open air ventilation, moisture wicking mesh and free float suspension, you’ll remain cool and comfortable on the trails.

This pack can also be adjusted to the perfect torso length. There is a quick access rain cover to keep all your kit dry, and a stretch pocket at the front so you can easily reach just what you need, exactly when you need it. Available in red, green or blue, this bright Gregory backpack for men will make sure you’re seen on the trails too.

Pros:

  • 3 bright color options
  • Great ventilation and adjustable length
  • Easy access raincover

Cons:

  • Not the cheapest option

Click here to see the men’s Gregory Zulu backpack

Gregory Jade 38 women’s backpack

Available in this gorgeous shade of teal as well as a cool gray and bright red, this small hiking backpack for women is perfect when you don’t have much kit to carry. Like the men’s Zulu, it has that all-important raincover as well as the same float suspension, moisture wicking mesh, free airflow and adjustable torso length.

There is also a stretch front pocket for things you need to keep to hand, and thanks to the comfort cradling system you can expect the ideal, body-hugging fit. This is one of the best small hiking backpacks out there, giving you enough space for a long weekend without weighing you down on tougher terrain.

From Gregory, this is certainly a contender as best hiking bag for those who require a smaller pack.

Pros:

  • Body hugging fit for comfort
  • Integral raincover
  • Free airflow and moisture wicking mesh

Cons:

  • Smallest capacity

Click here to see the Gregory Jade backpack for women

The North Face Terra 40 backpack

I have a 35 liter North Face backpack that I use on my Camino pilgrimages, so this one should provide ample space for most hikers. It’s a well built all-rounder that’s suitable for men or women. The Dyno Lift and Optifit systems ensure a perfect fit as well as a weightless feel when carrying.

There is also a padded, molded hipbelt and a cushioned back with breathable mesh for ventilation. This pack is also easy to adjust while on the move. I really love the easy access to the pack’s main compartment, via the J-shaped zipper to the front. It is also compatible with a hydration reservoir.

If you want the best small hiking backpack to fit a male or female, the 40 liter North Face Terra is a great option.

Pros:

  • Easy access via front J-shaped zip
  • Dyno Lift ensures weightless feel
  • Hydration pack compatible

Cons:

  • No bright colors

Click here to view the North Face Terra 40

Which is the best hiking backpack for you?

I hope this guide to large and small hiking backpacks has helped you find the right bag for your trips. The best hiking backpack will always be one that can carry your load and is as comfortable as possible. It’s also a bonus if you like the way it looks! Happy trekking.

As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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