Best hiking backpack overall: Osprey Stratos
You’ll be well served with just about any of Osprey’s backpack offerings, but one of the reasons we favor the Stratos is because it’s available in a nice range of sizes. For your go-to hiking backpack, something in the 35-55-liter capacity range will cover a lot of bases. Our top pick, the Osprey Stratos, offers sufficient capacity for all your stuff and more. It’s as comfortable and durable as you’d expect an Osprey pack to be, and it has very nice features like a dual-access main compartment, integrated rainfly, breathable mesh back panel, internal hydration bladder sleeve, and plenty of external straps for lashing gear to your load.
Our recommendation for a jack-of-all-trades hiking backpack is 36 liters, but the Stratos gives you a few options to better fit your needs.
Most versatile: The North Face Borealis Backpack
If you already carry a backpack daily, there’s no reason why a good one can’t do double duty as a hiking backpack. The North Face Borealis is one bag that offers such versatility: Its 28-liter capacity hits the sweet spot for an everyday carry-all and a weekend adventure pack, while its understated design and optional waist strap doesn’t scream “hiking backpack.” It’s padded and ventilated where it comes into contact with your body, and it even has both a laptop sleeve and a hydration bladder compartment (for whichever one you happen to be carrying at the time).
As nice as the Borealis is, it got edged out by the Stratos for our top spot due to its smaller size and lack of larger options – at 28 liters, this is more of a plus-sized daypack or warm weather weekend hiking backpack. If you’re looking for a jack-of-all-trades do-it-all bag that can be part of your EDC loadout as well as your weekend hiking backpack, though, the Borealis is the one.
Best on a budget: Mountaintop Hiking Backpack
When you’re new to a hobby like hiking, it’s easy to get carried away and spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on the latest, greatest equipment. For newbies, though, it’s better to start with affordable-yet-functional kit like the Mountaintop backpack that’ll give you time to figure out what works for you before you blow a bunch of cash on something that you might end up not liking.
That’s not the say that the Mountaintop hiking backpack is some flimsy number that’ll fall apart after two or three trips. It’s just a simple, no-frills pack that gives you what you need. This option includes a water-resistant shell, hip and sternum straps, a ventilated mesh back panel and shoulder straps, and an internal sleeve for a laptop or slim hydration bladder.
Best daypack: Osprey Daylite
One of the most vital things you need to work out before a hike is what you actually need to bring with you – and, just as importantly, what you don’t. A full-sized backpack is overkill when you’re just heading out for the day, and an under-filled pack will lay awkwardly on your back and won’t be comfortable. That’s why day-trippers should invest in a smaller daypack made for shorter jaunts, like the Daylite from Osprey.
The Daylite has a capacity of 17 liters, which is just about perfect for a day-long jaunt into the great outdoors. Along with Osprey’s excellent build quality, the Daylite is lightweight, has breathable mesh padding where you need it, and even has an externally accessed reservoir for a hydration bladder.
Best internal frame backpack: Gregory Mountain Baltoro
Most three-day hiking backpacks feature capacities of 35 to 50 liters or so, but for longer hikes where you’re going to be carrying extra food, water, clothing, and shelter, you’ll want something in the 55-75-liter range with an internal frame for support. The Gregory Mountain Baltoro is our favorite: This large ruck is very comfortable (after a bit of break-in), carries heavy loads extremely well, and has a convenient U-shaped opening for easy access to the generous main compartment.
The Baltoro’s comfort is owed to its customizable frame, which lets you easily move and adjust the hipbelt, shoulder harness, and curved lumbar insert for a custom level of support for your back and torso. Its internal hydration sleeve can also be completely removed for use as a stand-alone daypack. The Gregory Mountain Baltoro hiking backpack is available in a few sizes.
Best budget internal frame backpack: Teton Sports Scout 3400
The Teton Sports Scout 3400 may not have all the bells and whistles of the Baltoro, but for its price, it can’t be beat: Along with a sturdy internal frame, the Sports Scout is tough, offers a bunch of external pockets and compression straps, and has an integrated rainfly.
The Sports Scout makes for an ideal large hiking backpack for newbies and anyone else looking to keep costs down. The Teton Sports Scout 3400 is on the smaller end of internal frame backpacks with its 55 liter capacity, however; if you need something a little bigger, the also-excellent 65-liter Scout Explorer 4000 is another fantastic value that sports a similar overall design for only a little more.