Last Updated on 27/08/2023
Guide to the Best Backpacking Backpacks
In this guide to the best backpacking backpacks, we explain exactly which features matter the most when traveling. You will learn about ten different backpacks and the top three we would recommend for most backpackers.
One of the first items you need before going traveling is a backpack; in fact, it is technically what defines you as a backpacker. But more importantly, it is something you can rely on to hold your life’s possessions when you are off on your next adventure. It is far easier to do your research now and get a decent bag before you go than to save a few dollars on a cheap bag and watch it break on you after a month. Invest in quality, and you will get what you pay for.
Because it will likely be on your back for long periods of time as well as being thrown on and off buses and airplanes, it should be comfortable, tough, and easy to use. Multiple pockets help with organization, and multiple openings mean you don’t have to empty all your gear out to get to the last clean pair of socks in your pack. Lightweight hiking backpacks are not always the best choice if you are carrying lots of stuff, so be sure to keep reading to find out what makes the best backpacking backpacks.
Top 10 Best Backpacks for Backpacking
Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 60 Backpack
- Volume: 60 liters
- Weight: 3 lbs 11 oz / 1.67 kg
- Capacity: 60 lbs / 27.2 kg
An absolute workhorse of a backpack, the Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 60 Backpack is built to carry the heaviest of loads over long distances without ever breaking down. The maple core frame sheet provides flexible spine support and transfers a lot of the weight from your shoulders to your hips. Lots of padding makes this pack very comfortable, and the tough Cordura fabric is incredibly hard-wearing.
There are two side mesh pockets as well as a vertical mesh pocket down the front that has a lot of stretch in them for water bottles, waterproofs, and bag cover. 2 upper side pockets and a lid pocket give you lots of quick access storage for smaller items while the main compartment opens at the top and bottom, so you don’t have to unpack every time you need something. Perfect for pretty much any medium to a long-term backpacking trip, you can load the Nimbus Trace up to the max and then pull it all in with the compression straps for a super balanced load.
Available in a 60-liters / 70-liters / 85-liters and available in women’s Ki series, the Nimbus Trace is a solid piece of backpacking gear but if you are looking for something more lightweight then check out the Granite Gear Crown V.C 60.
Osprey Atmos 65 AG Backpack
- Volume: 65 liters
- Weight: 4lbs 6oz / 1.98 kg
- Capacity: tested to 50 lbs + / 22.6 kg
The Atmos 65 AG Backpack is one of Osprey’s comfiest backpacking backpacks with lots of quality features that people have come to expect from Osprey packs. The Anti-Gravity (AG) suspension spreads the load evenly across your shoulders, back, and waist so that no matter where the weight is in your pack, you won’t feel it all on one pressure point.
The Atmos is a backpack with lots of pockets for easy organization, and the quick access pouches around the waistband mean you don’t have to keep anything in your trouser pockets. You can also remove the top lid section, and there is a lightweight roll-out secondary lid that covers the top of the bag.
The ventilation on the Osprey Atmos backpack is excellent as the design lifts the bulk of the pack away from your back so air can flow through and circulate while the mesh panel hugs comfortably to your body. The side pockets are great for water bottles which can be inserted upright or through the side so that you can reach them without taking the pack off. The zips on Osprey packs are some of the best and are covered by the lifetime guarantee when you register your warranty.
Available in 50-liters / 65-liters and also available in women’s as the Osprey Aura 50-liters / 65-liters. Another Osprey pack that is slightly heavier but also very good for backpacking is the Osprey Aether 60-liters / 70-liters.
ZPacks Arc Haul Backpack
- Volume: 62 liters
- Weight: 1 lb 8 oz / 680 g
- Capacity: 40 lbs / 18.1 kg
The Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack Backpack is a great lightweight option to take traveling, made from carbon fiber arching frame supports, mesh back panel, and Dyneema X Gridstop fabric. The weight of this pack is by far the lowest on this list, which will appeal more to hikers, but this pack also offers the least comfort, so think wisely. We would consider this to be an almost frameless backpack, but the small amount of rigidity at the top does help somewhat.
These hi-tech materials give this pack a slight edge against similar packs, making it super lightweight and tough but, at the same time, very expensive. Costing $300 before shipping and coming with no extras, you must purchase the hip belt pouches separately, as well as any hiking pole clips, ice ax loops, or top pockets etc. This is obviously done to give the bag a lightweight tag on the label, but all that aside, the bag in itself is very good.
Similar in design and construction, the Zpacks Arc Blast Backpack uses ultra-lightweight cuben fiber fabric. However, the X Gridstop Dyneema fabric on the Arch Haul is tougher and handles abrasions better. The arched back support gives you great ventilation and freedom of movement, adjustable to adapt to any body shape.
Gregory Zulu 65 Backpack
- Size: 65 liters
- Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz / 1.71 kg
- Capacity: 40 lbs / 18.1 kg
The Gregory Zulu 65 Backpack is the super comfortable and breathable 2016 model of the previously named Z65 pack. With dual-density foam on the hip belt and shoulder harness, you get out-of-the-box comfort that molds to the shape of your body. The back mesh allows air to flow freely between the pack and your back, and there are also ventilation holes throughout the shoulder straps to increase breathability.
The compression strap on top is a nice feature that can secure a tent or sleeping mat on top of your gear or secure everything in place if you choose to remove the lid. Gregory Mountain Products have made an effort to reduce weight where possible without losing any features, and I think they have done a good job. You can get the Gregory Zulu in 30 liters / 35 liters / 40 liters / 55 liters, or the 65 liters we looked at here.
Also worth checking out is the Gregory Baltoro 65, which has also seen updates in 2016 and is slightly heavier but known as a tried and tested trooper for backpackers.
The North Face Banchee 65 Backpack
- Volume: 65 liter
- Weight: 3 lbs 10 oz / 1.64 kg
- Capacity: 50 lbs / 22.6 kg
The North Face Banchee 65 Backpack is a mid-weight backpack that has everything going for it and not a lot wrong with it. The waist straps are very comfortable, and there is plenty of soft padding on the back and shoulder straps that feels soft against bare skin. The large front pockets can hold all sorts of day-to-day items, including water bottles, while the kangaroo pouch sits neatly behind and is perfect for wet or muddy gear.
The suspension is great for heavier loads and can be adjusted to fit all torso sizes, so that much of the weight is transferred onto the waist belt. There are multiple attachment points on the Banchee to hang your winter gear, and all the zip loops are large enough to be used with gloves on. A good value backpack for travel and more lightweight than the North Face Terra 65, a modern backpack with a classic style.
ULA Camino 2 Backpack
- Volume: 59 liters
- Weight: 3 lbs 4 oz / 1.45 kg
- Capacity: 40 lbs / 18.1 kg
The ULA Camino 2 Backpack is a lightweight backpack for hiking that also works great for traveling. With its full-length front panel opening, you can get to items at the bottom of your pack without emptying everything out. First, this comes in handy if you are staying in hostels or sleeping in a tent. The upgraded version now has a roll-top opening at the top which allows you to expand the volume for extra gear or roll it down to get it through hand luggage.
This is ULA Equipment’s only front-panel loading backpack that I am aware of; while it is not my first choice to take hiking, it is a great backpack for backpacking. Made from the durable 400D Robic fabric, the Camino 2 is not only lightweight, but it is very tough as well. The ULA CATALYST and ULA CIRCUIT are two decent backpacks as well, but as they are both top loaders only, they are better suited for hiking.
Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 Backpack
- Volume: 60 liters
- Weight: 2 lbs 11 oz / 1.22 kg
- Capacity: 35 lbs / 15.9 kg
The Granite Gear Blaze AC Backpack is designed to be a lightweight minimalist backpack for long-distance hauls and weight-conscious backpackers. As with all granite gear backpacks, the Blaze AC has a great suspension system as well as multiple compression straps all the way around. With a Polycarbonate / Alloy frame and Air Current suspension system, you get molded air channels in conjunction with a molded foam pad to help vent heat and evaporate moisture away from your body.
Made from super high-quality Cordura, the Blaze AC is well suited for the toughest of trails and the densest of brush, like a tough hide protecting your precious gear. This really is a minimalist backpack; two side pockets and a vertical pocket down the front are all made from stretchy mesh fabric but will not secure any valuables. The main compartment is a roll-top design that allows you to expand and compress your gear, and you can also buy a lid attachment to fit on top. One of my favorite backpacks for travel and an all-around solid piece of kit.
Another similar pack that is similar in design but comes with a lid and front zipped pocket is the Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 Backpack.
Arc’teryx Altra 65 Backpack
- Volume: 65 liters
- Weight: 4 lbs 15 oz / 2.24 kg
- Capacity: 40 lbs + / 18.1 kg +
The Arc’teryx Altra 65 Backpack is a premium quality backpack with lots of useful features and extreme comfort even with a fully loaded pack. The suspension is made up of adjustable composite construction shoulder straps and a Load Transfer Disc that pivots to increase your agility and balance over rough terrain. Plenty of well-thought-out pockets allow you to organize all your gear efficiently and access it quickly with lots of zipped access points.
Ideal for heavier loads and most backpacking trips, the Arc’teryx Altra 65 will hold its shape and cope well under pressure. The main pack is made from 210D ripstop nylon coated with silicone to increase water resistance and is reinforced on points of high wear and tear with 500D ATY nylon silicone-treated PU fabric. Overall a robust and comfortable backpack for travel, although one of the most expensive, the Altra also comes in a 75-liter option.
Lowe Alpine Cholatse 65:75 Backpack
- Volume: 65:75 liters
- Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz / 1.70 kg
- Capacity: 55 lbs / 25 kg
The Lowe Alpine Cholatse 65:75 Backpack is a well-thought-out backpack with great comfort, ventilation, durability, and stability. While it is a little heavy, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the features. You get an AdaptiveFit harness for stability, an adjustable Air Contour back system for precise fitting, Air Mesh for ventilation, and multiple pockets and access points for the organization.
The pack is expandable by 10 liters when you extend the lid straps or can be completely removed if you want to lose a few ounces. One great thing about this pack is that it has a top opening, a bottom opening with a pack divider, and a front panel opening, meaning you can get to ALL your gear VERY easily. The ventilation on the back is better than average, and the straps and waist strap are very comfortable. An impressive pack, just a little heavy.
The Cholatse II is available in 35-liters / 45-liters / 50-liters / 55-liters / 60:70-liters (women’s) / 65:75-liter sizes for men and women so you can easily find the perfect size backpack for traveling. The Lowe Alpine Mansalu backpack is also worth a look if you don’t mind the extra weight.
Osprey Volt 75 Backpack
- Volume: 75 liters
- Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz / 1.70 kg
- Capacity: 40 lbs / 18.1 kg
The Osprey Volt 75 Backpack is a good value backpack for casual backpackers who want a decent backpack from a reliable brand but don’t need anything too serious. You get the famous lifetime guarantee and high-quality craftsmanship along with all the essential features you might expect from an Osprey pack.
The zips are all top-of-the-line, and the compression straps do a good job of pulling everything in tight. The padding is very comfortable, and the waist strap is decent, but the suspension doesn’t quite feel as good as that on the Atmos.
Available in 60-liter pack size, the Osprey Volt is a decent backpack for a good price that you can take traveling around the world and never have to worry about broken zips.
Why Take a Backpack vs. Suitcase?
If you are the type of traveler who likes to walk the road less traveled and explore some of the wilder places a country has to offer, then suitcases are a thing of the past. Sure, suitcases still have a place when backpacks just aren’t appropriate, but for traveling solo, a comfortable travel backpack makes everything so much easier. With a backpack, you free up your hands for day-to-day tasks like eating, drinking, and taking pictures, and it also makes a pretty good seat.
You can take a backpack to places that a suitcase can’t even get near. Hiking and exploring are high on my list of things to do whenever I travel, so it is important to have the best backpacking backpacks for the job. Your backpack will quickly become a trusty travel companion, something that you can rely on and take everywhere you go.
You might not always be traveling with the same people every year, but if you decide to buy one of these best backpacking backpacks, then you will be traveling with the same bag for many years to come.
Once you have your new backpack and have tested it for defects, then you may want to add a touch of personality to it. Whether you brighten it up with some paint, badges, or patches… Funky backpack modifications will remind you of the good times and are something we don’t see enough of these days!
What Size Backpack for Travel?
Choosing what size backpack you need depends on where you are traveling to and what kind of activities you will be doing with your gear on your back. When traveling through hot places like Australia, you are not going to need a huge backpack as you won’t be carrying lots of winter gear, and summer clothing doesn’t weigh much in comparison.
If you are going somewhere like Thailand, then you don’t need to take a lot of gear either because, again, your gear won’t weigh much, and everything is so cheap to buy once you get there. A 45 – 75-liter backpack with good air circulation will be plenty big enough for backpacking in hot climates.
In countries with mixed climates, or for times when you will witness the seasonal shifts of a country over an entire year, then you will have to use your better judgment to pick an appropriate pack volume. Places like New Zealand, for example, require you to be prepared for freezing cold and sub-tropical weather all year round, so a decent-sized bag that will reduce in size is perfect.
If you are backpacking through colder climates, on the other hand, then you will need much more space for your extra layers and winter gear. This can mean packing sub-zero sleeping bags, thick clothing, and extra food into your bag as well as hanging all sorts of crampons and ice axes from the outer attachments.
Here is a rough guide on what size backpack to take traveling.
What to Look for In a Backpack?
There are lots of things to take into account when choosing a backpack for traveling. Size, comfort, weight, fit, and price all play a role in the decision-making as well as other backpacking features that will make your life on the road a little easier. Always remember that everyone is different, so just because we rate a certain backpack very highly doesn’t mean it is going to be the best backpacking backpack for you and your personal needs.
While size, comfort, weight, and fit should always be your main priority, things like the suspension, the hip belt, breathability, and ease of use are all very important factors when comparing the best backpacking backpacks. Over the years, I have discovered that choosing the highest-rated products or most popular brands doesn’t always mean you are getting the best gear for your purpose. Compare three bags on this list with each other and visualize yourself using each backpack in your desired country and scenario.
How does it look and feel? What have you got in there? Where would you keep your water bottle? Are you using all the pockets, or do you wish you had more? Will you still be using it in 10 years? These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself as you browse through this list of the best backpacking backpacks.
What Matters the Most with Travel Backpacks?
For some backpackers, size might be the most important feature, while others might feel that weight or organization is more important. For backpackers that hike then, comfort or ventilation might be the priority. The point I am making is that everyone is different, and so you need to figure out what matters most for you. Here are the main features we use to judge which backpacks are best for backpacking:
In other articles, I often talk about being as lightweight as possible, but this isn’t always necessary or even the best option when picking a backpack for backpacking. With some of the ultra-lightweight backpacks on the market, you almost always sacrifice comfort and load-bearing capacity for the loss of a few ounces. Less padding means less weight, but if your bag is full and heavy, then your lightweight backpack can quickly become painful to carry.
For backpacking trips where I don’t plan to do many multi-day hikes, a super comfortable, albeit heavier, pack is more desirable. But for the more adventurous journeys, I find a light to mid-weight travel backpack is a better choice as it has the features you need without being too heavy. Most of the rucksacks on this list fall into the medium / lightweight weight class, with the exception of a few standout alternatives.
Finding a backpack to fit your body type can be tricky when ordering online, so be sure to measure your torso and waist before you start looking. Many of the backpacks on this list come in a men’s and a women’s fit, but almost all of them come in at least two different sizes. The stockist often details individual measurements, but to make things simple, the typical size options include small/medium and large/large and are very adjustable.
If you have an unusual body shape or are worried about a bad fit, then always check the manufacturer’s specifications and buy from somewhere like Amazon, with a good return policy.
Comfort is important for most people but can also depend on getting the correct shape / fit backpack as well as the quality of materials and attention to detail. A bag with lots of padding on the shoulder straps, as well as key points down the back and around the waist, is going to provide a good level of comfort and a solid frame (vs frameless), and a suspension system will compliment that immensely.
All of the backpacks on this list have been tested for comfort, and while some may be more padded than others, comfort should not be an issue with any of them. Always look at the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back for good quality padding as well as take air circulation into consideration.
Load capacity is the recommended maximum amount of weight for each bag to hold safely, and it is often dictated by the type of materials used and how well-reinforced it is. In general, the higher the load capacity is, the better the structural support is, as well as padding on the straps, back, and waist belt. Thin and uncushioned straps often end up rubbing and cutting into your shoulders, while unpadded backpacks will allow jagged items to dig into your back.
Do you want a technical backpack with lots of pockets and adjustable straps or a minimalist backpack that has 1 or 2 convenient pockets? I personally find that a minimalist backpack works best for me most of the time; however, in winter, it is better to have more pockets for organization and fast access to essential items.
As for the shape of the design, I prefer a slimmer profile as opposed to a bulky backpack because I am clumsy, and it is easier to stand with a tall backpack on public transport.
Some backpacks have expandable storage space while others come with a detachable daysack; either way, it is always better to have a little space than never enough. I often take a small daypack on backpacking trips, which I roll up and stuff into my main bag when not in use. I use this extra storage for times when I have a lot of food, water, and gear or want to leave the big bag at base camp and explore the area.
Lots of extra padding might not circulate air very well and leave you with a sweaty back which is not a good thing wherever you are. Mesh back panels that are raised away from the pack are great for hot and humid climates. Many companies now incorporate air circulation into the straps and hip belts, which is also a bonus in hot climates. Even in cold climates, a sweaty back is not good, so ventilation is key for the best backpacking backpacks.
The suspension system is often linked to the overall construction and attention to detail and is important for backpacks to help disperse the weight of your load effectively across your shoulders, back, and waist. The suspension can be adjusted by tightening and loosening the straps above your shoulders as well as fastening the waist and chest belts.
A well-built suspension system won’t squeak and will effectively distribute weight away from your shoulders and onto your waist without overbearing on any single pressure point.
As mentioned before, pockets help keep things organized but I personally prefer to use a variety of dry bags to keep things compressed and separated inside the main section of my bag. It is good to have a few pockets on the outside of your bag where you can keep bottles of water, wet clothes, and some quick-access items. Multiple access points are essential to get to hard-to-reach items in small spaces and are a key organizational tool.
If you are frequently traveling through airports or just hate waiting for your bag at the end of a long flight, then having a backpack that can pass through hand luggage is an important consideration.
Many of these backpacks would not pass through an airport as hand luggage, and if you pack a survival tool or knife, then you may be quite happy with that. But there are a few bags on here that can be checked through as hand luggage if that is something that makes a big difference for you.
Backpacks with Wheels
Often added as gimmicks and selling points, a true backpack doesn’t have wheels. There are two main problems I have with backpacks on wheels. The first is that it adds extra weight, and the second is that it is often very uncomfortable to wear with heavy loads. Wheels sticking in your lower back becomes painful over long periods of time, and if you can’t carry a rucksack on your back, then why not just get a suitcase?
Quick Tip for Camo Backpacks
Avoid them if possible. Army camouflage backpacks are not recommended for countries where war and conflict are in recent history or ongoing, as you can often get singled out at airports for searches or raise unwanted attention.
Thanks for reading this list of the top 10 best backpacking backpacks, and stay tuned for our next article coming soon.