How to Choose the Best Hiking Backpack In 3 Easy Steps

For many people, hiking is one of the easiest ways to get outdoors. But if you’ve ever been on a hike and wanted to stay on the trail just a bit longer, you might want to try an overnight backpacking trip. The distance and time are up to you, but no matter what, the most important piece of gear you’ll need is a backpack that’s designed for backpacking.

Although plenty of hikers have taken overnight treks without specialized gear (just think of John Muir!), a quality hiking backpack will minimize the pain and discomfort that can result from heavy loads and longer distances. (In other words, your back and shoulders will thank you.) A proper pack will also enable you to bring the essentials you’ll need for an off-the-grid camping trip.

In a Hurry? Here are our quick picks for best hiking backpack…

Backpacks 101

The best hiking backpacks that are designed for backpacking have some characteristics that set them apart from standard backpacks or even, daypacks. In general, backpacking packs have a larger capacity than other backpacks and are designed to be worn for longer periods of time.

It’s important to research the options and choose the right backpacking pack for you. Here are some things to consider:

Size: Backpack sizes are given in liters and this refers to the pack’s capacity or how much it can hold. Choose your pack’s size based on your trip length and how much you can comfortably carry.

  • Small (30-50 liters): This size is ideal for weekend trips.
  • Medium (50-80 liters): This is the size you’ll want for trips lasting up to 5 days in warmer weather.
  • Large (70 liters and up): This is size is for trips longer than 5 days or trips that require winter gear.

Fit: When it comes to backpacks, fit is everything. To find your ideal fit, you’ll need to know your hip circumference and the length of your torso. Each backpack should have their fit info listed in the product specs.

Features: Today’s backpacks often come with a dizzying number of features. Here are the most important ones to consider.

  • Frame: In the past, most backpacking packs were designed with external frames. But now, the opposite it true. Most backpacking packs have an internal frame, a sturdy structure that’s concealed within the pack itself. In most cases, you’ll probably want a backpack with an internal frame, but packs with external frames can be good if you’re carrying an unusually heavy load.
  • Rain cover: Unless you plan on hiking only in arid climates, it’s a good idea to buy a pack with an integrated rain cover or one that has a separate rain cover that’s designed to fit the pack.
  • Access: Most backpacks are top-loading, but if you’re willing to spend more, there are also packs that have additional front- or side-loading options. This allows you to reach things at the bottom of the pack without removing everything else in it.
  • Ventilation: Along with fit, proper ventilation plays an important part in a backpack’s comfort level. The one drawback of an internal frame is that the pack rests against the wearer’s back. But many of today’s packs are designed with mesh panels or ventilation channels that address this issue by allowing airflow between the pack and the wearer’s back.
  • Padding: The majority of your pack’s weight (up to 90%) will be carried by your hips. That’s why you’ll want a backpack with a padded hip belt in addition to padded shoulder straps.
  • Exterior storage: While most of your gear will be inside the pack, it’s also helpful to choose a pack that has adequate external storage like external zippered pockets, daisy chains, and gear loops.
  • Hydration: Last but not least, consider a backpack that has a built-in hydration system. This will allow you to drink water and stay hydrated without having to remove your backpack.

best hiking backpack for hiking

Our Best Hiking Backpack Picks

Backpacking packs are often available in women’s and men’s styles but keep in mind that choosing a pack is more about finding one that comfortably fits your body type. In general, women’s styles are designed for people with smaller frames. Here are some of our favorites:

Small (30-50 liters)


This hardworking pack from Osprey has it all: roomy interior, integrated rain cover, ventilated mesh back panel, and a padded hip belt complete with easy-to-access zippered pockets. Although it doesn’t come with a hydration reservoir, it does have a convenient internal hydration sleeve that will hold up to a 3-liter reservoir. This pack also sports a feature that isn’t standard on most packs: an adjustable harness that can accommodate a range of torso lengths.


Osprey’s Rook 50 is at the larger end of small backpacks but its streamlined shape and compressible design still make it a great choice for shorter backpacking trips. Like the Osprey Renn 50, this pack has an integrated rain cover, ventilated mesh back panel, and built-in hydration reservoir sleeve. It also has a zippered bottom compartment that’s designed to hold a sleeping bag. This allows you to access your sleeping gear without having to unload your whole pack.

Medium (50-80 liters)


The Deva 60 from Gregory Mountain Products is designed for a bit more time on the trail. Not only is it a large capacity pack—it holds 60 liters—but it also comes with a removable daypack that doubles as a hydration sleeve and a water bottle holster. The Deva 60 also has a feature that was designed with comfort in mind: a pivoting hip belt. Unlike typical hip belts, a pivoting hip belt allows your pack to stay balanced as your hips move rather than constantly shifting.


Like the Deva 60, the Baltaro 75 from Gregory Mountain Products has a pivoting hip belt and a removable daypack that doubles as a hydration sleeve. At 75 liters, this pack can hold a lot of gear. Thankfully, along with its standard top-loading design, it also comes with a zippered access panel on the front so you can reach anything inside when you need it. There’s also a separate zippered compartment on the bottom of the pack for sleeping bag storage.

Large (70 liters and up)

(Women’s and Men’s)

Kelty’s Coyote is a pack that can go the distance. This trail-ready backpacking pack is available in four sizes with the largest topping out at 105 liters. All sizes have a top-loading design and handy front access via a zippered panel. Each also has abundant storage—from the spacious main compartment to zippered side pockets, hip belt pockets, straps, and a lid that converts to a separate sling pack. And Kelty didn’t skimp on comfort. The Coyote has a padded hip belt, sternum strap, mesh back panel, and lumber support.

Inspired to take an overnight hike? Check out post on the 10 best long-distance hikes in the U.S.