Best Hiking Backpacks for Multiday Backpacking
Today’s backpacking backpacks are filled with so much tech, it makes it difficult to believe what people set out on the trail with just 30 years ago. However, all of that amazing tech makes choosing a pack a much more difficult proposition than it once was. But don’t worry, we are going to try to make the decision as easy for you as we possibly can!
What to look for in a backpacking backpack.
In my mind, comfort is king. Generally, you will be on the trail with your pack all day, unpack it in the afternoon, and repack it the next morning. For this reason, all other aspects take a backseat to how the pack feels on your back for those eight or more hours that you might spend walking each day.
Weight is another factor and one that some people put first. However, I would rather have a more comfortable pack than a lighter pack that was less pleasant to actually carry.
Meanwhile, packs offer a host of additional features, which will appeal to some more than others.
Finally, keep in mind that because a pack fits wonderfully on one person doesn’t mean that it will fit wonderfully on you. It is important to find a backpack that really fits you well, and agrees with your body type.
So without further adieu, let’s get to the best backpacking backpack roundup!
We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund this blog. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase one of the packs below, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!
Osprey is the powerhouse when it comes to outdoor backpacks in North America and beyond. They are known for making extremely high-quality products, and their “All Mighty Guarantee” warranty is legendary.
Available in 50 and 65-liter models, the Osprey Atmos, and women’s specific Aura, is Osprey’s mainstream backpacking pack. While the Aether is aimed at those who dabble in mountaineering and the Exos is for the ultralight community, the Atmos is a well-rounded pack that strikes a great balance between the two. That said, it is no surprise that you can hardly hit any trail without seeing their backpacking focused Atmos.
So, is this pack’s popularity justified? Let’s dive in and find out!
With a weight of 4.21lb for the Atmos 50 and 4.56 for the Atmos 65, it is certainly not the lightest pack on the list. In fact, the vast majority of the flack that I see this pack catching is aimed at its weight. Hardcore ultralight backpackers love to point out that “weight is everything on the trail,” and exclaim “you should never use a pack that weighs over 3.5 lb.
However, how much weight you are carrying is not nearly as important as how much weight it FEELS like you are carrying. And I believe that the Osprey adds an lb or two to the Atmos to make it feel like you are carrying 10 lb less once it is loaded.
The Osprey Atmos 65 and Atmos 50 are almost the exact same in regard to their features.
Both come in Men’s and women’s specific models, with the women’s model being called the Osprey Aura. They feature dual zippered pockets on a removable top lid, with a “flap jacket,” to close the pack for use without the lid, as well as Osprey’s “stow on the go” trekking pole loop, which allows you to carry your trekking poles in easy reach. Personally, I have never found much use for this as we use folding trekking poles, and it seems to be aimed more at collapsible poles.
For quick access, the Atmos features a large stretch mesh front pocket, dual side mesh water bottle pockets, dual zippered hip belt pockets, dual ice ax loops, and removable sleeping pad straps.
Upper and lower side compression straps do a great job of keeping all of your gear just the way you packed it and work extremely well with the suspension system. Furthermore, they do not cross over the water bottle pockets, which is a problem on a surprising number of Osprey backpacks.
Finally, the Osprey Atmos 65 also features two zippered front pockets. Personally, I use the Osprey Atmos 50, and Michole uses the Aura 50, and we have never wished missed these.
Comfort and Suspension
This is the be all end all when it comes to backpacking backpacks, in my opinion. Nothing is more important than how your pack feels on your back during a long hard day on the trail, and this is where the Osprey Atmos really shines, and what gives it the number one spot on our list.
The Osprey Atmos and Osprey Aura backpacks use Osprey’s patented “anti-gravity” (AG) suspension system. And if you have never used it then I really do think that you are missing out!
The AG suspension system uses lightweight mesh from the top of the back panel to the hip belt, which keeps the pack suspended away from your back. This provides amazing airflow, but more importantly, it makes for a contoured shape that shifts the weight solidly away from your shoulders and onto your hips.
The AG system is what makes the Osprey Atmos and Aura backpacks weigh more than some of their competitors. However, it is also what makes them feel much lighter once they are packed to capacity. And this is the point that I feel many ultralight purists miss. If the weight of the pack were really the thing that determined how you feel at the end of the day, then we would all use mesh backpacks with rope straps. Thankfully, we don’t.
On top of the AG system, the Atmos and Aura feature adjustable hip straps and shoulder harnesses to really help you dial in the fit of the pack. However, despite all of the adjustability and great features, a few people just do not jive with the AG system, and can not get it to fit properly.
What did we really think?
If you couldn’t already tell, we love the Osprey Atmos and Aura. These are the packs that we use on all of our backpacking adventures. They offer pretty much everything that you could ask for in a backpacking pack, and they also work very well for general mountaineering.
As I said before, I am more than happy to carry a pack that weighs 4.5lb instead of 3 lb, if it makes my 40 lb load feel like a 30 lb load on the trail.
If there is one downside to the Osprey Atmos and Aura, it is the price. The Atmos 50l retails for around $240, while the Atmos 65 retails for around $270. This puts the Atmos and Aura among the most expensive packs on our list. However, we think that their quality and comfort make them well worth the price, which is why we chose them as the all-around best backpacking backpack.
Like Osprey, Gregory is an old school Titan in the outdoor world. Likewise, their premium backpacking backpack, the Baltoro and Women’s specific Deva are considered one of the best options for through hikers and mountaineers, alike. But the team at Gregory did not rest on their laurels with this pack. Instead, they gave it a redesign for 2018, and we think that it’s better than ever.
There is no mistaking the Gregory Baltoro or Deva for ultralight backpacks. They are meant to carry heavy loads long distances and feel good doing it. They sacrifice ultralight materials and suspension systems in the name of comfort and durability.
The Gregory Baltoro and Deva double down on this philosophy with the size of the packs. Unlike most on the list, which start off in the neighborhood of 50 liters, the Baltoro comes in 65, 75, 85, and 95-liter models. Meanwhile, the Gregory Deva is available in 60, 70, and 80-liter options.
And what do these beasts actually weigh? The Baltoro 65 weighs in at 4lb and 13oz, making it comparable to similar packs on the list. Meanwhile, the Deva 60 weighs 4lb and 9.75oz. This makes them competitive with other high end, packs meant to carry heavy loads, like the Osprey Atmos and Aether.
There is no doubt that the shining features of the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Deva 60 are located in the suspension system, which I will get to next. However, that is to be expected from packs of this weight in this price range. What the Baltoro and Deva offer that really set them apart from their competition is their organization and accessibility features.
If you have read our Best EDC Backpack Roundup, or our Best Travel Backpack roundup, you will notice that they both include a section devoted to judging packs based on their “organization and accessibility.” So, why was that left out of this review? Because most backpacking backpacks offer the exact same, simple, top loading access and assortment of zippered pockets for organization, but that is not the case with the Gregory Baltoro and Deva backpacks.
The main compartment still utilizes a traditional top loading system. However, it also features a massive U shaped zipper on the front of the pack. Again, if you have read our other backpack review articles, then you know that I LOVE suitcase style opening backpacks. And this U shaped zipper is the closest that I have ever seen to such a system in a backpacking backpack. Accessing your gear in the Gregory Baltoro and Deva will be about as easy as it possibly can be in a backpacking backpack.
Meanwhile, the Baltoro and Deva feature “double barrel” quick access pockets on both the lid and the main compartment. These pockets are accessed horizontally and are quite unique. They also feature one standard mesh water bottle pocket, a second stowable water bottle pocket, a stretch mesh front panel, ice ax loops, and numerous lash points for hauling random gear on the outside of your pack.
Comfort and Suspension
If you think the Baltoro and Deva sound good so far, then you will not be disappointed here, either. These packs utilize a “wishbone frame” and anti barreling stay” to make sure that the pack remains stiff and keeps its shape under heavy loads. These are also responsible for transferring the weight of the pack directly to your hips.
The suspension system features Gregory’s “Response A3” technology. What this means in practice is that each shoulder strap and each side of the hip belt moves independently, which keeps the pack sitting level and upright as you contort your body while climbing and moving across difficult terrain.
EVA foam covered in air mesh fabric makes for a stiff but comfortable hip belt and shoulder straps, while the new, ventilated back panel is very similar to that one utilized by the Osprey packs. However, the Baltoro and Deva do not keep quite as much room between your back and the pack, which means that they are a bit warmer, but the weight of the pack is closer to your center of gravity.
Other features include a large, removable lumbar support pad and interchangeable hip belt and shoulder harness, allowing you to fine-tune the fit of your pack. The Baltoro and Deva also feature a stowaway daypack, which is a nice feature, but if a two in one solution is what you are after, the Osprey Aether features a much better built-in daypack.
What Did We Really Think?
Gregory brought their A game with the Baltoro and Deva backpacks. They feature a host of unique features and offer the easiest access to your gear of any pack on the list. However, a mark against them, in my opinion, is not offering the packs in lower volume models. A 55-liter model seems like it would be far more useful to far more people than a 95-liter model. A second mark against the Baltoro and Deva backpacks is the price. The Baltoro 65 and Deva 60 cost around $300 and go all the way up to $379 for the Baltoro 95. This makes them more expensive than the Osprey Atmos, but about on par with the Osprey Aether.
This, combined with the fact that the Osprey AG system on the Atmos is just a perfect fit for my body, puts the Baltoro and Deva at a very close second on our list of best backpacking backpacks. However, it is really more of a 1a/1b situation. If you want a pack that is 60l or larger, and the price is not a factor, then it will just come down to which suspension system fits you best. I suspect that many of the people for whom the Osprey AG system doesn’t quite agree will find themselves grinning from ear to ear as the cruise down the trail with a Gregory Baltoro on their back.
While not as mainstream as some of their competitors, Granite Gear has long been a player amongst ultralight focused outdoor enthusiasts. Their newest pack, the Granite Gear Crown 2 is an update to the ultra-popular ultralight Vapor Trail, and it is our top pick for ultralight backpacks. Available in both men’s and women’s specific models, both are 60 liters, and both go by the Crown 2 name. While I am generally tough on “ultralight” packs this large, the Crown 2 pulls it off well. It is also available in a 38l version for overnight trips and the super hardcore minimalist multi-day backpacker.
At just 2lb 4.5oz, the Crown 2 is behind only the Osprey Levity and Lumina in weight and is about the same weight as the ultra-popular Osprey Exos. Meanwhile, the ultra-minimalist could always opt for the Crown 2 38, which weighs in 3oz lighter.
I can be pretty hard on ultralight packs at times. I feel that they often cut an lb off of the pack and make your load feel 10 lb heavier. That is not the case with the Granite Gear Crown 2. While not as feature rich as packs like the Osprey Atmos or Gregory Baltoro, the Crown 2 strikes a great balance between cutting weight and retaining all of the features that we really want.
The Crown 2 features a removable lid with a zippered pocket, which is very spacious but can be removed for those trying to make their pack even lighter. Underneath is a roll top closing top access system, which really lets you open the size of the pack up to pack more gear or shrink it down to pack lighter.
The Crown 2 uses extremely large mesh water bottle pockets, allowing you to stash virtually any water bottle you might carry. It also has a large mesh front pocket and hip belt pockets to store items that you need quick access to on the go, as well as dual ice ax attachments.
My favorite thing about this pack, however, is the compression strap system. Many ultralight packs skimp out on compression straps or, like the Osprey Levity and Lumina, forgo them entirely. The Granite Gear Crown 2, on the other hand, features dual vertical and dual horizontal webbing compression straps. These are ultralight and really help you compress the load in your pack. I find this doubly important in an ultralight pack, as the minimalist suspension systems tend to need all of the help that they can get. Speaking of which…
Suspension and Comfort
To keep its weight so low, the Crown 2 definitely employs a minimalist suspension system and straps. However, I think it strikes a great balance being lightweight but also distributing the load well. That said, don’t ask too much of it. As long as you keep your load in the 30 to 35 lb range, this pack should remain quite comfortable. However, if you tend to pack heavier loads, take a look at the Osprey Atmos or a similar pack.
The Granite Gear Crown 2 uses a plastic, mesh-covered back panel. It makes no attempt to move the pack off of your back like the Osprey ultralight packs do. Instead, it keeps the pack snug against you. Sure, this means that you will get a sweaty back, but it combines with the suspension and compression systems to keep the pack firmly on your hips and feeling even lighter than it really is.
The straps themselves are padded, but again, they are not the wide, plush straps found on heavier packs. Don’t load them down too heavily and they should be as comfortable as you could ask the straps on a pack that is barely over 2lb to be. They are also extremely adjustable, so dialing in the fit should be a breeze for most body types.
And that is about it. Where other ultralight packs try to wow you with gimmicky features, like the REI Flash’s “uplift” system, the Granite Gear Crown 2’s suspension outshines them all in its simplicity.
What did we really think?
We feel that this is the best ultralight backpacking backpack on the list. While slightly heavier, I find it to be a far better all-around pack than the Osprey Levity and Lumina. Meanwhile, it is a fairly tight race between the Crown 2 and the Osprey Exos and Aja packs. At around $200, the Crown 2 is priced similarly to the Exos. However, I like its features just a bit better. And as much as I love the Osprey AG system, I just don’t find their ultralightweight version of it, found on the Exos and Levity, to be as satisfying.
In the end, it will always come down to personal preference and how the packs fit your body type. But you will be hard-pressed to find a better all-around backpack in the ultralight category than the Granite Gear Crown 2, particularly for $200.
The Osprey Aether AG and Ariel AG is a more mountaineering focused backpacking pack than the Atmos and Aura line. The pack sits in an interesting place though, as it is very similar to the Atmos, which is a favorite of North American backpackers and through hikers. Until a few years ago, the Osprey Aether and Ariel did not feature the AG system of the Atmos and Aura. Now that it does, the two have so much overlap it is tough for me to understand how Osprey justifies them both. Finally, it is worth pointing out that many feel the switch to AG was not a change for the better.
If the Atmos catches flak for its weight, then the Osprey Aether and Ariel packs take the cake. With the Ariel available in 55, 65, and 75-liter variants and the Aether available in 60, 70, and 85-liter models. The lightest of these packs, the Ariel 55 comes in just under 5 lb, while the heaviest, the Aether 85 weighs in at over 5.3lb. Whichever you choose, you will have around 5lb of pack on your back.
The Osprey Aether and Ariel backpacks feature an Interchangeable harness and hip belt. Personally, I think this is a huge point in their favor. Michole ended up returning her Osprey Aura 50 because the hip belt just did not get small enough for her hips. If it had featured the same, interchangeable hip belt system as the Aether, then this would not have been an issue. Solely for this reason, she will probably make the switch to the Osprey Ariel 55 for our next trip. Furthermore, the hip belt is custom moldable, allowing the Aether and Ariel to be further personalized for a perfect fit.
They feature a removable top lid, which converts into a surprisingly solid daypack, and Osprey’s flap jacket cover for when lidless. The Aether and Ariel line also features dual side stretch mesh pockets. However, unlike the Atmos, the Aether’s compression straps come across the mesh side pockets rendering them virtually useless. Other quick access features include Osprey’s stow on the go trekking pole attachments, dual ice ax loops, zippered hip belt pockets, and side entry access to the main pocket.
The Aether and Ariel line also feature Osprey’s “straight jacket” compression system, which is a step up even from the great compression system of the Atmos and Aura.
Suspension and Comfort
I am already on record as loving Osprey’s Antigravity suspension. It has been a Godsend on my Atmos 50 and on my Osprey Stratos 22. However, there are some serious questions about its place and efficacy in the Aether and Ariel line. While the AG system might make a load feel considerably lighter, it also shifts it away from your body. This is fine for standard hiking, but if any climbing is involved then it becomes a severe detriment. This is one of the reasons for the backlash against the addition of the AG system to these packs, as it makes them significantly less viable as true mountaineering packs, which is the niche that they used to fill.
Furthermore, many people feel that the AG system was just slapped onto a pack where it didn’t really fit. This is actually the pack that I intended to use. However, despite its three different sizes and interchangeable harness and hip belts, I just could not get a comfortable fit from the Osprey Aether AG. In fact, it seems the ratio of people whose body agrees with the fit of the AG on the Aether and Ariel is significantly lower than is the case with the Atmos and Aura.
What Did We Really Think?
This is a pack that I wanted to love, and spent a great deal of time trying to love. But in the end, it just didn’t fit me, and this seems like a fairly common problem for the Aether and Ariel. On the other hand, if it does fit you well and you want a pack that is a bit more mountaineering focused than the Atmos, then the Aether might be a great choice.
Many will hold its weight against it, but again, I prefer to go by how heavy a pack FEELS when it is loaded, rather than how much it weighs when empty. Unfortunately, the Aether AG didn’t make me forget about the weight on my back like the Atmos did.
Finally, the Osprey Aether and Ariel are among the most expensive packs on the list at $290, $300, and $310 from the smallest to largest of the packs.
The Osprey Aether and Ariel really lag behind because too many people seem to have trouble getting the perfect fit out of them. However, those who do fit them perfectly give these packs rave reviews, so they are worth trying on if you have the opportunity.
Available in 38, 48, and 58-liter versions, the Exos and Eja packs weigh in from 2.39lb for the Eja 38 to 2.65 lb for the Exos 58. The middle of the road packs, and the ones that make sense for most people, the Exos 48 and Eja 48 weigh in at a very respectable and 2.45lb and 2.57lb respectively. While some might skip straight to the Levity and Lumina for sub 2lb weights, I think that anyone would be a fool to dismiss the Osprey Exos and Eja packs over a half lb.
Feature-wise, the Exos retains many of the same features of the Atmos and Aether, while omitting a few in the name of weight savings.
The Exos and Eja feature a removable top lid with zipper access on the top and bottom, and use the same flap jacket cover as the Atmos and Aether for lidless use. Also present are the dual side compression straps, mesh front pocket and dual mesh side pockets, and a single ice ax attachment.
Missing are hip belt pockets and the anti-gravity suspension, from which both the Atmos ag and Aether ag backpacks draw their name.
Suspension and Comfort
To save weight, the full AG system has been nixed. However, what remains is still a very impressive suspension system, if you don’t ask more of it than you should.
An airspeed back panel proved the same great ventilation you get with the heavier Osprey packs. However, the Exos and Eja utilize the lighter “exoform” hip belt and shoulder straps. Personally, I find the shoulder straps to be significantly less comfortable than those on either the Atmos or the Aether. The hip belt, meanwhile, is even more paired down, offering almost no padding at all, and much less support than the Atmos or Aether.
What Did We Really Think?
The Osprey Exos and Eja line is an ultralight version of Osprey’s heavier packs. They trade features and the cushy AG suspension system to knock off almost two full lb. But is the tradeoff here worth it? That really depends.
Personally, I don’t know why anyone would opt for the Eja or Exos 58. While still above 2lb, these packs are clearly playing toward an ultralight crowd with their minimalist suspension systems and straps. That said, I just don’t think that they are up to comfortably carrying 58l worth of gear. However, many people do it! I have seen them time and again with an Exos 58 loaded to the brim, with things that wouldn’t fit in the pack strapped to the outside of it, pack bouncing up and down with each step. If this is your plan, just buy the Atmos!
And weight is not the only thing that Osprey shaved off when it comes to the Exos and Eja. Compared to the Aether and Atmos, they also shave quite a bit off of the price. These packs are priced around $180 for the Exos 38, $200 for the Exos 48, and $220 for the Exos 58, making them very attractive for lightweight backpackers on a light budget.
Both the Levity and Lumina are available in 45 and 60-liter models. The Levity 45 weighs in at 1.852, and the Lumina 45 weighs in at 1.786. Meanwhile, the Levity 60 weighs 1.951 lb, while the Lumina 60 weighs in at just 1.874 lb.
The Levity and Lumina 45 are meant to carry loads up to 25lb, while the 60l versions are rated to 30lb. Very few backpackers could fill a 60l pack and stay under 30 lb. However, I would recommend keeping the weight of either size closer to 25lb than 30, if you can.
Not surprisingly, the Levity and Lumina look like other Osprey packs, stripped of the features that add weight.
They feature a fixed top lid with zippered compartment, a “bellowed front fabric pocket,” stretch side pockets, and cord loops on the lid, from which to hang gear, and the same airspeed mesh back panel as the Exos.
Suspension and Comfort
The Levity and Lumina feature the same lightweight suspension system as the Exos, so there is not too much new to say here. It is very lightweight, and not meant to carry more than about 25lb. If you think you might be packing more, then have a look at the Osprey Exos.
What Did We Really Think?
Unlike the other Osprey packs on the list, these are niche focused packs. Undoubtedly, plenty of people will buy them who shouldn’t, and will probably hate them. The lack of a real compression system combines with a very minimalist suspension system on a pack that does not hug your body to make a very bouncy pack when overpacked.
Meanwhile, much of the weight savings on the Levity and Lumina come from ultra lightweight material, which makes these packs much more fragile than others on the list.
But don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to insinuate that the Osprey Levity and Lumina are bad backpacks. I am simply trying to convey that they are meant for a very specific purpose, to serve a very specific audience. If you truly are an ultralight backpacker, you might well find these to be the best ultralight packs on the market. But as I said about the Exos, if you are trying to shave 2lb off of 40lb load, these packs are not the way to do it.
Finally, with the levity 45 priced around $250 and the levity 60 priced around $270, the price tag of these packs is much more like that of the full feature Osprey packs. I think that this might move many prospective buyers back toward the Osprey Exos or our favorite ultralight backpack, the Granite Gear Crown 2, where they can save money and gain features at the expense of only half a pound. But since these packs are brand new, the price might come down, once the initial hype is behind us.
REI Flash 45
The REI Flash is the REI brand’s ultralight backpack. It is available in 45 and 65-liter models, as well as male and female models, both named Flash. Now, as a huge fan of REI, I had high hopes for this backpack. And while it does have its pros, it did not live up to what I expect from REI.
The REI Flash 45 weighs in at 2lb 12 oz, which is quite respectable for a budget ultralight pack. Personally, I would not recommend the REI Flash 65. I am already on record that no ultralight pack should be 65 liters, and that is doubly true of the Flash.
The REI flash 45 does boast some unique twists on standard backpacking backpack features, but not all of them seem to be improvements.
It features the usual hip belt pockets and a breathable mesh back panel. Other standard features include an ice ax loop, an external zipper pocket on the lid, which is removable, and an external mesh pocket on the front of the pack.
And that is about it. The REI Flash 45 really pairs down its features, to bring you an ultra-lightweight pack at an ultra-affordable price.
Suspension and Comfort
If the features of the REI Flash were bare bones, things do not change much when it comes to the suspension. The shoulder harness and hip belt are certainly lightweight, but they do not offer too much in the way of padding. Although the hip belt does offer a bit more than the Osprey Levity.
Meanwhile, the back panel looks reminiscent of the Osprey airspeed back panel. However, the Flash’s back panel is much more flimsy and doesn’t sit very far from the pack, making it much less breathable.
The suspension itself is REI’s “uplift” system, which is extremely unique, but not so effective. Straps on the front of the pack run from the bottom of the Flash to the top. When you cinch them down, it lifts the bottom of the pack up, theoretically pulling the load into your hips. In practice, it just flexes an already not very rigid frame, which struggles to get much of the load off of your shoulders and onto your hips.
What Did We Really Think?
The REI Flash is what it is. Every once in a while, a backpack comes along that offers the performance of competitors twice its price. The REI Flash is not that backpack. On the other hand, at only 2lb 12 oz and $149, it is a pack the weight of packs twice its price.
If you are dead set on an ultralight pack and you have an ultralight budget, then the REI Flash 45 might be your best option. However, you get what you pay for, and the Flash is a significant step down from a pack like the Granite Gear Crown 2 and Osprey EXOS, which seem like much better values for only $50 more.
Until next time!
And that is all folks! Are you ready to get a new pack and hit the trail? Let us know in the comments below! Or do you have another pack that you absolutely love or would like to learn more about? If so, then let us know and we will try to add it when we update this article!
So, until next time, happy trails and happy travels!
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We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund this blog. Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase one of the packs below, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!