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The 12 Best Hiking Backpacks of 2021

A definitive guide to the best trail packs available based on testing and features like weight, pocket layout, features and more.

6 best daypacks for hiking gear patrol evergoods mountain lead full
Topo Designs

Day hikes don’t call for a lot of gear. The shortest jaunts require a water bottle and a sturdy pair of shoes — in some cases, even everyday sneakers will do. More ambitious endeavors should be tackled with a more considered packing list: hiking boots, technical apparel, snacks, sunscreen, extra layers for the summit, a headlamp just in case. You’ll also want a backpack for lugging most of that gear.

As such, daypacks exist on a spectrum. Some everyday backpacks, like the ones you may have brought to school or carry to work, will do the trick, but there is a full range of very technical options explicitly designed for out-and-back hiking.

These aren’t as sizeable as the 60-liter-plus bags used for long-distance trekking, but they come with many of the same features that make walking in the wilderness with essential gear a more enjoyable experience. Here are our favorites.

Best Overall

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Osprey Talon 22
osprey.com
$3.00

The Talon was a solid hiking pack before Osprey's recent update, and the new features make it even better. Chief among them is a new back panel that we've found to be breathable on strenuous hikes even though it's still pretty minimal. It's also quite comfy and integrates well with the hipbelt.

The Talon 22 also has pretty much every feature you could want on a hiking pack. It has stretchy side pockets for water bottles, a spacious main compartment with an internal mesh pocket for small items, another small exterior pocket, trekking pole and ice axe attachments, a spot for a hydration bladder and small mesh pockets on the shoulder straps that are handy for stashing a phone or snack. We also like the big exterior sleeve for stuffing layers on the fly.

There's also an exterior plastic piece that holds a bike helmet. This feature highlights the primary reason why this bag is our top pick — it's perfect for hiking but ideal for around-town use too. The Talon comes in larger and smaller volumes but features vary between them.

Volume: 22 liters
Weight: 2 pounds
Number of Pockets: 10

Upgrade Pick

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Osprey Stratos 24
osprey.com
$140.00

The Stratos is outfitted with all the pockets, compression straps and access points you’d expect from a backpack company — especially one with a golden reputation among long-distance thru-hikers — but the standout feature is its mesh back panel. It’s raised and tensioned away from the pack’s main vestibule, which provides a comfy trampoline-like feel and allows lots of air to flow between your back and the bag, which minimizes the sweaty back issue that often seems unavoidable. The mesh also integrates into the hipbelt, wrapping its arms around your lower torso for a fit that’s more comfortable than most other backpacks.

Volume: 24 liters
Weight: 2 pounds 6 ounces
Number of Pockets: 8

Best Budget Hiking Backpack

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REI Co-op Trail 25 Pack
rei.com
$79.95

Saving cash on a hiking pack typically involves sacrificing features — adequate support and long-day comfort, primarily, but also things like hydration compatibility, external pockets, and even weatherproofing and durability. You don't give any of these up in REI's Trail 25, though. The main thing this backpack lacks compared to our other top picks is a sturdy hipbelt; instead, it has a narrower strap that provides stability but not support.

All of the bag's other features are commendable. It's adjustable, has exterior pockets for small items, trekking poles and water bottles, and its main compartment is spacious and opens wide for easy access. It even comes with a rain cover.

Volume: 25 liters
Weight: 2 pounds
Number of Pockets: 6

Best Simple Hiking Backpack

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Patagonia Altvia Pack 22L
patagonia.com
$119.00

Patagonia designed the Altvia 22 simply with the essentials in mind: the pack has one spacious main compartment that's accessed through an angled zipper, allowing efficient access to what's inside, but also has a second pocket that's deeper than you think (we could stuff a puffy or rain jacket inside no problem) and an even smaller one that's good for keys, wallet or phone. Patagonia also gave it a raised-mesh back panel and the hipbelt is quite comfy, albeit fairly thin.

We noticed the lack of shoulder adjusting straps on this bag, but the Altvia isn't entirely devoid of extras, though. there are expandable stash pockets on the sides that are angled so you can access water bottles while on the move, zippered pockets on the hipbelt, a hydration sleeve with a port for the hose, and a bungee for securing more stuff to the bag's exterior. Lastly, there's an included rain cover tucked into its base.

Volume: 22 liters
Weight: 1 pound 8 ounces
Number of Pockets: 7

Most Innovative Hiking Backpack

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The North Face Chimera 18L
backcountry.com
$98.95

In rethinking what a daypack can do, The North Face created a new central control system called Dyno Cinch and built it into the Chimera. It works simply: pull the ripcord on the bag’s right shoulder and the entire strap system and front pocket cinches and self-balances for on-the-fly load management.

Beyond that, the Chimera is lightweight, minimal and comfortable, with hydration compatibility and a pocket for small items, two stash pockets and a front sleeve in addition to its main compartment. You can also get it in a 24-liter volume.

Volume: 18 or 24 liters
Weight: 1 pound 2 ounces
Number of Pockets: 5

Best Packable Hiking Backpack

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Matador Beast18
matadorup.com
$134.99

Drawstring gym bags should never be used for hiking — we're adamant about this. If you're looking for a lightweight, collapsible and highly portable bag that you can stuff into a suitcase, get Matador's Beast18. Unlike most collapsible backpacks, the Beast retains an internal frame that gives it structure and support when you're wearing it. That frame is flexible, though, allowing you to twist and fold the bag on itself to make a packable disc. Collapsed, it's still a little bit larger than other bags like this, but the additional features are worth the space.

Those features include side water bottle pockets, an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder, a zippered main compartment that opens wide, a second compartment with a smaller internal pocket for little items, loops for trekking poles, an ice axe loop, daisy chain attachment points and a removable hip belt. The fabric is also waterproof, and the fit is far more comfortable than other bags in this packable category.

The Beast also comes in a larger 28-liter size.

Volume: 18 liters
Weight: 1 pound 5 ounces
Number of Pockets: 6

Best Ultralight Daypack

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Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
hyperlitemountaingear.com
$210.00

Mike St. Pierre founded his ultralight equipment company, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, on the sheer potential of Dyneema, a fabric that by weight is 15 times stronger than steel. That’s the main ingredient in the Daybreak, a pack created for day-long excursions. Most Hyperlite bags are spartan (it’s an ultralight thing), but the Daybreak includes features like multiple external sleeve pockets, a bungee-style lashing and a stow-away hipbelt. The whole thing weighs just a bit over a pound.

Volume: 17 liters
Weight: 1 pound 3 ounces
Number of Pockets: 5

Best Lifestyle Hiking Pack

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Topo Designs Mountain Pack
topodesigns.com
$169.00

The Mountain Pack has been a recurring staple in the Topo Designs stable of retro-looking backpacks. Versatility is where this bag shines — it has a breathable mesh back panel and all the daisy chains and gear loops needed for mountain exploits, but it also features a laptop sleeve and smaller organizing pockets for life around town. It's definitely not as technical as some of the others on this list, but looks are important too.

Volume: 30 liters
Weight: 2 pounds 2 ounces
Number of Pockets: 5

Best Backpack for Speed Hiking

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Black Diamond Trail Blitz 16L
backcountry.com
$59.95

If you seek a super-streamlined sack to carry swiftly to the next wall you plan to scale, the Trail Blitz is your bag. It features Black Diamond’s trademark easy-access opening, plus a pocket for headlamp storage, one for securing your wallet and keys and sleeves on the sides for stashing your trekking poles when it’s time to climb. There are also four little loops on the back panel that allow you to connect this pack to a larger one, converting it into a quick-detachable side-quest pod. Oh, and it weighs just over half a pound.

Volume: 16 liters
Weight: 9 ounces
Number of Pockets: 2

Best Backpack for Overnight Hiking

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Arc'teryx Aerios 30
arcteryx.com
$190.00

Thirty liters of pack space is ideal for really big days on the trail or short overnight trips. It's especially true of the Aerios, which Arc'teryx bestowed enough features upon that it feels like a larger backpack than that, even at under two pounds. An intricate system of bungees zig-zags up and down and inside and out of the pack, making its exterior pockets and sleeves finely adjustable. (Even the chest strap and shoulder adjustments are bungees.)

Our favorite feature on this bag are its two oversized lateral sleeves, which can fit everything from a water bottle to a jacket and remain secure with the bungee system. Another callout goes to its shoulder straps, which bring to mind running vests with mesh pockets that are large enough for hydration flasks, though we just used them for a phone and empty snack wrappers.

Volume: 30 liters
Weight: 2 pounds
Number of Pockets: 11

Best Hiking Backpack for Photographers

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WANDRD PRVKE
$199.00

Bringing camera gear on a hike presents a whole new set of considerations when shopping for a backpack. An easy solution is to buy a modular camera cube that you can insert into any bag. But if you want a dedicated option with more organizational features, WANDRD's PRVKE is an ideal choice. The major thing that this pack lacks is a supportive and breathable back panel and hipbelt combo, but it makes up for that with pockets and sleeves for your entire photo kit, plus extra gear, depending on the size (a roll-top construction allows you to max it out in a pinch). The pack's exterior is waterproof, too, so don't worry about a bit of rain.

Volume: 21, 31 or 41 liters
Weight: 2 pounds 12.8 ounces (21 liters)
Number of Pockets: 8

Best Hip Pack for Hiking

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Evergoods Mountain Hip Pack 3.5L
evergoods.us
$119.00

Thanks to rising popularity among mountain bikers, many brands have recently considered (or reconsidered) the hip pack format. That includes Evergoods, which put versatility and comfort first in making a low-volume bag that's perfect for short hikes and travel. The Mountain Hip Pack has two compartments — a larger one with a built-in zip pocket and a smaller one with sleeves and a key clip for essentials — but there's a semi-secret third place to carry things thanks to an exterior pass-through. We've found this to be the perfect place to keep a water bottle (there are straps you can tighten for security) or an extra wind or rain shell. As a bonus, this bag is also quite comfy as a sling, and not all hip packs can say the same.

Volume: 3.5 liters
Weight: 15 ounces
Number of Pockets: 4

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