November 14, 2016

The Best Hiking Backpack

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The best hiking backpacks combine comfort, durability, light weight, and ease of use. Here are the 7 best backpacks for every kind of hiker.

Best Hiking Backpack
Best Hiking Backpack © CreditDonkey

The choices are enormous when you’re searching for the right hiking backpack. Whether you’re looking for something to hold your essentials on your next camping trip or you need to carry your little one when you’re hiking, we’re making the decision easier by reviewing top brands Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter.

Any of the three brands will put your middle-school Jansport to shame (you know who you are) and will easily last longer than that North Face backpack you bought for your first outdoor excursion.

In fact, all the companies on our list make packs that are guaranteed to last a lifetime. You’ll pay for that benefit upfront with a higher price, but you’ll get a lot more use in the long run.

At CreditDonkey, we want you to spend your money wisely—and sometimes that means paying a little more for quality so you only have to buy something once (a $300 pack may sound like a lot to you, but you can easily spend that same amount if you have to replace cheapo packs every hiking season).

Top Hiking Backpacks

Not expecting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail anytime soon? What I love about trekking backpacks is you don’t have to have plans to cross the country on foot to buy the best pack you’ll ever own. These packs are built for durability, comfort, storage, and toughness, which means you’ll find everyday use for them off the trails.

For one thing, many camping packs easily fit within the carry-on requirements for airlines. They are made out of durable, nearly unrippable and flexible material with straps galore. This means you can stuff them to the gills and then cinch the backpack to a smaller, compact piece of luggage.

Think about what you’ll put in your next new pack as you go through this list to figure out which one you should choose.

Best Hiking Backpack Under $100: Deuter Speed Lite 20

Deuter Speed Lite 20 is a great backpack for day hikes.

Why we like it:
This stylish and ultra-lightweight pack is designed for maximum comfort and comes with more storage than its compact size would suggest. It can be easily cinched against your back, contains enough space for three liters of water on the inside alone, making it perfect for warm weather hikes. Its compression straps double as storage for poles, an ax, or an extra layer that you’ll want to easily access. And it’s affordable.

Bag benefits:
The pack is lightweight, weighing in at just over 1 lb., 3 oz. The back panel is padded and designed to allow for airflow that works to keep the contact between your back and pack dry. The padded shoulder straps and hip belt are designed to rest gently along your back and hips. The side mesh pockets are perfect for snacks or an extra water bottle, and there is plenty of room inside for camera gear and clothes.

Pricing details:
We’ve found Deuter Speed Lite 20 to be $10 cheaper than its closest competition, the Osprey Talon 22. It retails for $89 at EMS, whereas the Osprey Talon 22 goes for $99.95.

Best Hiking Backpack Under $150: Osprey Nebula 34

Osprey Nebula 34 is a great everyday backpack.

Why we like it:
You don’t need any other bag when you own the Osprey Nebula 34. Take it on a hike, or even to work and on a business trip. Featuring a TSA-approved laptop sleeve that unzips for x-ray machines, it’s the best backpack for travel and it’s versatile.

Bag benefits:
This bag includes mesh pockets and compression straps for water bottles, snacks, coffee tumblers or clothes for an overnight hike. It has a separate sleeve for a tablet and a scratch-free pocket for sunglasses. There are plenty of pockets and storage for water, and the bag also comes with the durability and design that sets Osprey apart. The webbing hip belt and contoured back allow for maximum comfort no matter where you travel.

Pricing details:
The Nebula currently retails for $120. Honorable mention goes to the Osprey Comet 30, which costs around $10 less and is great for work and school (but lacks the Nebula’s versatility, comfort and size for backpacking).

Best Trekking Backpack: Gregory Baltoro 75 GZ

Why we like it:
Hands-down the most advanced backpack on the market is the top-of-the-line Gregory Baltoro 75 GZ, which sets out to do it all and succeeds in nearly every way. Whether it is comfort, storage, durability or technology, the Baltoro comes with every feature you could think of while also making it great for long-distance adventures.

In addition to the removable separate day back (that doubles as water storage when it’s inside the pack), the sidewinder bottle holster, included raincover and waterproof pocket for a phone, the Baltoro 75 GZ also features solar panels. Yep, you can hike a trail while lightweight batteries flip open on the lid so you can charge your GPS, camera or phone on the go (literally).

Bag benefits:
On top of the amazing features, they didn’t sacrifice anything when it comes to comfort. The A3 suspension adapts to your body so it moves the way you do as you hike up a trail. The lumbar pad is adjustable and removable to help you carry heavier loads, and everything is designed to make the backpack feel like an extension of yourself.

Pricing details:
This backpack does come at a price, currently retailing for $329. If you want all the comfort and durability but don’t need the extra storage and all the technology or solar panels, check out the Gregory Baltoro 65, which runs for around $30 less.

Best Backpack for Purists: Osprey Exos 38

Why we like it:
This bag is all about minimal weight without sacrificing features or durability. The Exos, which also comes in 48-liter and 58-liter sizes, is for people who want to conquer trails with the least encumbering pack strapped to their back. The Exos does everything a backpacker needs without skimping on durability and storage.

Bag benefits:
That’s not to say that it lacks features that put this bag amongst the best in its class. The mesh frame allows for ventilation and airflow, the strong aluminum frame cuts down on weight, and the padded shoulder straps maintain comfort for months of hiking. There are plenty of pockets for snacks and a phone along with Osprey’s stow-on-the-go straps for hiking poles. It also has an external pocket for the hydration reservoir. It is a classic, top-loading bag with straps to cinch the bag down to a minimal size.

Pricing details:
Osprey sells the Exos 38 for $160, which is a little cheaper than the also popular Gregory Zulu 40.

Best Hiking Backpack for the Money: Deuter ACT Lite 50+10

Deuter ACT Lite 50+10 is the best trekking backpack for the price.

Why we like it:
Coming in with all the features of a top-tier backpack, the Deuter ACT Lite 50+10 is an excellent trekking pack that can be used for overnights, weekends, day trips or travel. And it retails for less than $200 while competing with the best when it comes to comfort, storage and durability. The 3D airmesh shoulder straps complement the load adjusters and hip straps to keep the pack pressed against your back during difficult hikes.

Bag benefits:
The bag is compatible with a hydration system and comes with all the necessary straps and pockets for snacks, water and extra layers, even including a separate area for wet or damp clothing. The best value comes in getting a top-of-the-line backpack for a lower cost than the competition. It can be scrunched down for lighter loads or expanded up to 60 liters for bigger trips.

Pricing details:
Most of the competitors’ 60-liter packs start at well over $200. Osprey’s Aether 60 retails for $260 and the Gregory Zulu 65 goes for $229. A similar option, but without the ability to expand and retract like the Deuter bag, is the Osprey Volt 60.

Best Hydration Pack: Gregory Tempo 5

Why we like it: Perfect for trail runners, shorter hikes, or just long walks on hot days, the Gregory Tempo 5 stays securely on your pack while providing plenty of storage for water, snacks and valuables that you would need on the trail. The bag also provides tremendous comfort while going beyond most hydration packs.

Bag benefits: The soft material feels great against your skin on a hike, and there is also storage for trekking poles in case you want to scale a little more vertically. Newer versions of the bag feature Gregory’s weather-shield pocket so you can have your phone in a waterproof pocket. It’s perfect for runners, trailrunners or day hikers. Honorable mention goes to the Osprey Rev 1.5 and Rev 6 (which one depends on the size you need).

Best Backpack for Carrying a Baby: Deuter Kid Comfort III

Why we like it: Deuter has been building child-carrying packs for over 20 years, and the Deuter Kid Comfort 3 comes with everything you would expect from a high-end pack with extreme comfort for a little one you want to bring to the outdoors. Deuter’s bag takes the prize because of the many ways to adjust the bag for both yourself and a kid.

The bag can also stand on its own, so you can easily set it down and make readjustments. It has a side entry belt for the child, adjustable hip belt, handles and room for plenty of water and snacks. The Kid Comfort III has also undergone a lot of testing to ensure total safety for your child.

Bag benefits: The bag has an included sunshade to keep your child protected on a hot, sunny day. And the bag specializes in Deuter’s “aircontact system” to wick moisture off your back. It is all these features that make it the best pack in the category, with a close second going to the Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier.

Which Brand Is for You?

As you shop and try on various packs, you could find yourself more loyal to one company over another. We’ll help you make sense of each brand below, and the key ways each stands out from their competitors.

Osprey

Osprey makes some of the most recognizable bags on the market when it comes to trekking, backpacking, day hiking or traveling. What sets them apart from the competition is their focus on weight, comfort and storage while also being reliable, stylish and nearly impossible to rip or destroy.

The high-end Osprey bags in the AG (anti-gravity) line stand out from the competition when it comes to making trekking packs feel like feathers. They do this by forming the backpack to your body for maximum comfort and flexibility. Some bags, like the ones in the Exos line, are streamlined to be superlight packs for easy backpacking and lack the bells and whistles in the name of a lightweight, durable bag that’s loved by purists.

Gregory

Just as competitive when it comes to storage and comfort, Gregory backpacks run the gamut from small day and hydration packs all the way up through some of the most technologically advanced bags that have ever been on the market.

Just like Osprey and Deuter, Gregory has its own system when it comes to comfort and airflow, offering features to keep the bag as comfortable on your back as possible. Some of their bags come in three or four different sizes (XS, S, M and L or just small through large, depending on the pack) and feature lumbar inserts so you can increase the comfort and belt to whatever is best for you.

As you start looking into the higher-end Gregory backpacks, you’ll find standout features that will be hard to resist if you’re willing to spend a lot of money. For starters, some of their bags allow their water bladder holder to be separated into a small daypack. This is perfect for day trips and gives the bag extra versatility (instead of purchasing two separate bags).

Gregory packs also include an angled pocket for very easy access to a water bottle, a rain cover (with some bags), a small waterproof pocket on the hip to store a phone or camera that you want to keep dry, and excellent access to your stuff. This is done through a large U-shaped zipper that allows you to open your backpack the way you would with rolling luggage. This is in addition to top storage and the sleeping bag zipper on the bottom. The highest-end Gregory packs even come with unsurpassed technology like solar panels that allow you to charge as you hike.

Deuter

German-based Deuter backpacks are just as solid as Osprey and Gregory when it comes to comfort, features and adjustability, and they also have some added bonus features. Just like their American counterparts, Deuter offers dozens of packs in sizes ranging from small hydration packs all the way up to trekking packs for trips that could last up to a year.

One of the things that sets Deuter packs apart from the competition is airflow provided through the back padding that prevents sweat from building up between your top layer and your pack. This is one of the more annoying parts about hiking, especially when you take your pack off for a quick rest then strap it back on, only to find a freezing cold layer of sweat between you and the bag.

Some of Deuter’s packs use a hollow foam material that acts as a pump for airflow that sends warm air out and brings cool air in, which increases comfort over long distances. They have 3D mesh fabric to mold their comfortable straps close to your back and move the weight to your hips. They also have all the necessary pockets and straps that you’ll need, depending on the size of backpack you’re looking to purchase.

One of the areas where Deuter bags go beyond their competition include expanding the size of the bag. In the same way that you can expand rolling luggage, some Deuter bags allow for an additional 10-15 liters of space by expanding the lid (for those larger trips you might want to take). This can be an advantage if you’re comparing bags in the 50-liter to 80-liter range; there may be occasions where you’ll need extra space but don’t want to purchase a larger bag.

All of these additional features of Deuter backpacks do not come at a premium price. They are often more cost effective than the competition. For example, with the 50-liter bags above, the Deuter costs $10 less than the Osprey and $20 less than the Gregory at REI stores, and they also come with a lifetime repair service. When it comes to comfort, style, volume and price, Deuter is just as competitive—and is often preferred by many—when it comes to the best packs on the market.

Where to Buy Hiking Backpacks

All these backpacks should be readily available on Amazon or your local sporting good store like REI.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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