For travel addicts, a good backpack is a companion that allows you to get the most comfort and convenience of your adventurous life. Among thousands models and brands in the today’s market, how can you pick up a good backpack for your trips? In this article, I will show you my 10 best hiking backpack reviews from my real-life experience in traveling for 5 years. And before we get started, please note that this article is only for your reference. You should also check your conditions based on my below buyer’s guide to get the most suitable backpack on your own.
My reviews for the best hiking backpack
First, here is the overview of my 10 best hiking backpacks.
Buyer’s guide to getting the best hiking backpack
First of all, there is no perfect backpack for everyone. Each backpack is designed to support a particular body fit type. To purchase the best hiking backpack on your own, you should define what you need in an ideal backpack, based on your body shape and travel conditions.
Volume is the capacity of a backpack. The higher the volume, the more stuff a backpack can carry. If you have a short day trip with your friends at school, choose a minimal one that carries your most essential stuff. But if you take on a long trip which can be extended to more than 3 nights, pick up a bigger one to carry your belongings for 3 days and nights. You should acknowledge that although a 40-liter backpack can store more stuff than a minimal 30-liter one, it can sometimes bring discomfort for you when you have to carry it for long hours.
Here are some average backpack volume based on the trip length. The volume is calculated by liters:
- 15-30 liters: school day hiking trip
- 30-50 liters: 1-2 nights
- 45-55 liters: 2-3 nights
- More than 55 liters: long trips (usually more than 3 nights)
If you are too lazy to calculate, the most common volume for a hiking backpack is 30 liters. Based on this volume standard, you can count extra space in some individual cases. For example, if you are a trip lead (in a hiking club or a family), you may have to get a bigger volume to carry extra gears and clothes for other members of your team or your kids. You should choose a backpack with the volume around 40 liters.
An important criterion when considering to buy a hiking backpack is your activities. Note down the activities that you can do when on the trips when picking up a backpack that most fits with that list.
For a day hiking trip, you should choose a backpack around 30 liters in volume. This backpack is appropriate for you to carry essential belongings for a day. This backpack should have small side pockets to store handy stuff (mobile phone, map, sunglasses, candies if you need sugar for your blood flow. My current day hiking backpack has side pockets that are flat or stick to the backpack, and only seize up when I wedge them into place. I guess there should be more similar models with this pocket style! Choose a backpack with compartments (either slots or pockets) to store small items. This backpack should be able to carry a small water bottle).
If you go on mountain climbing, a 40-liter backpack is your best choice. To support long and rough terrain, this backpack should have a narrow profile. Since you will have to carry this backpack for at least few hours, only choose those with paddle backs or frame sheet for your comfort with heavy stuff.
A long run needs a small yet compacted backpack. The volume size of this backpack type is only around 25 liters. It should have hydration system to carry a water bottle and some snacks to maintain your energy while on the run. I highly recommend you to pick up a waist pack, because it is not easy to shift. Furthermore, this backpack type allows your perspiration to dry out quicker than any other backpacks.
For an overnight trip, choose a backpack with minimal style (around 30 liters). This backpack should have paddles or frame sheet to support your load. If possible, choose one with 1 to 2 aluminum stays for comfort when you have to carry a heavy burden.
Material differentiates a backpack. So what to consider about a backpack’s material? Fabrics and coatings.
There are many types of fabrics. Below are some common ones that I have used in over 5 years of traveling.
Nylon (or nylon twill) is the most common material for many backpacks on the market. It is waterproof and sweat-persistent. You can easily recognize a nylon backpack through the sturdy diagonal weave. A combination of nylon and polyester is for backpacks with various color. It is only for fashion purpose, so you can choose a functional one from nylon or go for nylon/polyester mix.
Ripstop nylon brings extra protection to your belongings for at least 10 miles of hiking. This fabric holds your stuff in one single shape. But what keeps this fabric apart from others is its waterproofness. You can put a ripstop nylon backpack into the water without worrying about getting wet.
PVC is also a widely used fabric in the backpack world. I rate PVC as the best fabric for backpacks. It is far more water-resistant than nylon or silicone, and it can be used for years without tearing. Some PVC hiking backpacks are even fire-resistant!
Hypalon is used like flexible rubber for high abrasion areas of a backpack, like edges or touch points. But it is rarely used as a whole fabric due to its weight.
Silicone is often used to make lightweight or super lightweight hiking backpacks to reduce weight. But this material is not as durable as nylon. It is easy to break and not water-resistant.
Coatings are the internal walls of the backpack. You can see your backpack’s coatings by looking on the inside. There are 2 materials for coatings: Polyurethane (PU) and Silicone.
PU is the most popular coating material when it comes to hiking backpacks. A PU coated backpack is water resistant, that is why it is commonly used for travel addicts worldwide. But this coating is not waterproof at all! That says, if you put this backpack into the water, your clothes and digital gears inside can get wet.
Although this fabric has higher tear strength than a nylon one, it is easier to break and less water resistant than a PU coating.
Loading determines how you pack your stuff in a backpack. There are two types of loading for hiking backpacks: top loading and panel loading.
Almost all camping or hiking backpacks are designed with top-loading. A top loading backpack has a funnel weight. That says, all the heaviest pieces of stuff are below, and lightest ones are on the top. Sometimes everything got mixed up without any rules. The weight is not well-balanced, and it can cause back pains for you in the long run.
Top loading makes it hard to take a stuff out of the backpack. If you need to take your phone charger out, but it lays down in the bottom of your backpack, then you have to unpack to take the charger out, then pack your stuff back again. This wastes your time and not convenient if you have to pack and unpack multiple times in public places.
Panel loading is more back-friendly than top loading. This loading type allows you to pack your stuff just like a suitcase, while you still have the flexibility of a backpack. When you can see the overview of the inside, you have more convenience to arrange your stuff and calculate the weight. A panel loading backpack provides more for balancing stuff’ weight, thus reduce the suffering from back pains. A second strong plus of panel loading is that you can quickly access your stuff without digging to the bottom of the backpack, or unpack everything out to get a small object.
A good hiking backpack must be proportional to your body. If you have to carry a backpack that is too big, then you can suffer from back pain in the long run. And you don either want to wear on a small backpack that is not enough to carry your stuff.
So it sounds complicated to know what is the perfect body fit, doesn’t it? A personal tip of mine is that you should calculate the average amount and sizes of stuff that you plan to carry with you on trips. A suitable backpack should be able to store enough or a little bigger than your total stuff’s size, but not too big.
Second, make sure that your backpack is well matched with your torso length. The backpack’s length should below your C7 vertebra bone and above hips’ iliac crest. Use your hand to check your 2 bones on the back, then use a measuring tape, or mark points on wall to know the right length for your backpack.
Please notice that torso is not related to your height. A tall person can still have a short torso. When you pick up a backpack that matches with your torso length, you will avoid back pain problems. In the backpack market, there are some pack models with fixed length, and others with flexible lengths. That means you can adjust the backpack length as you want.
The best shoulder straps should be comfortable for your body shape. They do not need to be so thick since most of the weight should be transferred to the hip belt. These straps should have soft paddles to support heavy loads. And the strap’s wide should not be too thin. Because a thin strap will hurt your shoulders if you carry it for a long time.
Hip belt and shoulder straps work together to balance the weight and avoid back pain problems. Please double check to make sure that the belt is long enough to fit around your tummy. And top important note: don’t buy a fixed length hip belt! You should choose a hip belt with adjustable length.
With the above detailed 10 best hiking backpack reviews, I hope that you have already picked up your ideal backpack in your mind. When reading the buyer’s guide, you should also consider your travel conditions and choose the requirements that well match with you. Remember that a great hiking backpack is not cheap at all. But invest in a high-quality one is a long-term investment for your health and comfort.