Editor’s note on April 3, 2019: Looking ahead to the summer, we took an opportunity to revisit this guide on the co-op’s best backpacking packs. Many of our top picks remain the same, however, new versions of the Gregory Jade 38 and the REI Co-op Flash 45 packs have been added to the list.
A pack that fits comfortably can make all the difference between a joyful journey or a suffering slog in the backcountry. To bring you the best backpacking packs of 2019, we began by combing through dozens of pack reviews written by REI customers. We then consulted with REI merchants and store employees who help outfit recreationists for backpacking adventures every day. Finally, we landed on the following packs as the best backpacking packs of 2019.
Best Backpacking Packs
Best Women’s Weekend Backpacking Pack
Previous versions of the Gregory Jade 38 garnered rave reviews for its ventilated, load-bearing comfort—especially for backpackers with shorter torsos, and the updated Jade 38 is no different. Plus, it boasts new features like a FreeFloat suspension system with an independent, floating lower back cradle designed to help balance your pack load. Smaller though no less important updates include a designated pocket for stowing sunglasses and enlarged hipbelt pockets to accommodate larger phones (or more snacks).
- MSRP: $179.95
- Gear capacity: 38 liters (size S/M)
- Weight: 2 pounds, 12.5 ounces
Best Men’s Weekend Backpacking Pack
If shaving every possible ounce is your goal, the Osprey Levity offers ultralight performance and a 3D tensioned-mesh back panel for cool comfort. Because stripped-down, ultralight designs give up some cushioning and durability, REI Co-op Category Merchandise Manager Rebecca Randall-Lally recommends this pack for experienced backpackers who are skilled at packing for minimalist adventures.
- MSRP: $250
- Gear capacity: 45 liters (size medium)
- Weight: 1 pound, 12 ounces
Best Women’s Multiday Backpacking Pack
An adjustable, ventilated AntiGravity™ harness and outstanding weight distribution have earned the Osprey Aura AG top reviews for a fine-tuned fit. One happy customer reported: “Miles up and down hills and NO bruises ya’ll, I don’t know how they did it and had I realized it was possible to find a pack that compensated for a women’s hips and boney shoulders I would have paid whatever a long time ago.”
- MSRP: $270
- Gear capacity: 65 liters (size medium)
- Weight: 4 pounds, 7 ounces
Best Lightweight Multiday Backpacking Pack
Randall-Lally refers to the Osprey Exos and Eja packs as “light plus”—streamlined yet still comfortable, these packs are nearly lightweight enough to be considered ultralight, but offer greater cushioning and comfort. Both packs are perfect for adventurers who want to move toward ultralight backpacking without sacrificing ventilation and load support. And the women-specific Eja 58 features details like a strategically placed sternum strap and shoulder straps that are less bulky than the men’s version.
- MSRP: $220
- Gear capacity: 58 liters (women’s size small and men’s size medium)
- Weight: 2 pounds, 10 ounces
Best Women’s Multiday Backpacking Pack
Ash Price, a senior designer for REI Co-op brands, is excited about the most recent updates to the ventilated, adjustable Traverse packs: “They’re really customizable—you can swap out the shoulder harness and the hipbelt to get a really good tailored fit,” she said. Ash also loves this pack’s innovative, easy-to-reach bottle pockets and the use of recycled fabrics throughout
- MSRP: $249
- Gear capacity: 65 liters (size small)
- Weight: 4 pounds, 11 ounces
Best Men’s Backpacking Pack for Large Loads
Comfortably fitting a variety of body shapes and sizes, Deuter packs have long been renowned for their beginner-friendly simplicity and affordability. With an adjustable frame and expandable collar for extra space, the Aircontact 65 + 10 is no exception. REI Assistant Category Merchant Summer Cooke noted: “This is an excellently ventilated and comfortable pack that is expertly designed for lightening heavy loads.”
- MSRP: $285
- Gear capacity: 75 liters
- Weight: 5 pounds, 6 ounces
Best Women’s Backpacking Pack for Large Loads
Stitched from strong 210-denier nylon with a back panel that boasts improved breathability over previous models, the Gregory Deva 80 hauls large loads in luxurious, ventilated comfort. An adjustable torso length and hipbelt let you customize the fit, while the removable hydration sleeve transforms into a lightweight daypack for side trips.
- MSRP: $349.95
- Gear capacity: 80 liters (size small)
- Weight: 4 pounds, 13.76 ounces
Best Men’s Backpacking Pack For Large Loads
A heat-moldable hipbelt and shoulder harness give the best-selling Osprey Aether 85 AG a fit that adjusts to the contours of your body. A suspended-mesh back panel ensures breathable comfort for the long haul. One reviewer said: “Most comfortable pack I’ve ever used. The breathability, comfort and support are incredible. The support and padding make the loads feel much lighter on my hips.”
- MSRP: $330
- Gear capacity: 85 liters (size medium)
- Weight: 5 pounds, 5.9 ounces
Best Backpacking Pack for Less Than $160
The previous version of the Flash 45 earned high marks from customers, and the new-for-2019 Flash 45 packs have already garnered similar praise. The packs—designed for overnights and longer trips when you’re taking just the essentials—were designed and field-tested by REI store employees every step of the way. Among the perks are Packmod compression straps that let you sculpt the pack to shape your load and a contoured hipbelt and ventilated back panel that make it comfortable to carry up to 35 pounds.
Wrote one happy customer: “I picked up the [Flash] 45 for trips when I needed a bit more space than a day pack but less space than my 65L. This pack is perfect for overnight trips—I just used it for an out-and-back overnight hut trip and it held everything I needed plus a few fun extras. This is a really simple pack that comes in at about 2.5 lbs but isn’t short on features. I like the slanted side pockets that make getting out water bottles a breeze and the front pocket has some serious stretch that can hold a jacket, microspikes, and winter gloves with room to spare. The padding makes the pack incredibly comfortable but doesn’t weigh you down or cause sweat to build up. Overall a great pack and for the price, you can’t beat it!”
- MSRP: $159
- Gear capacity: 45 liters (women’s size small and men’s size medium)
- Weight: 2 pounds 8.5 ounces
When shopping for a backpacking pack, there are two essential considerations in finding the right fit:
- Your torso length.
- A snug grip on your hips.
Many packs come in multiple sizes—including gender- and youth-specific designs—to accommodate different body shapes and torso lengths. Some designs offer an adjustable suspension system to custom-fit your torso. It’s also crucial to find a pack with a hipbelt that snugs in tight.
According to Andy Pelz, an employee at the REI Seattle store, you should prioritize learning how to adjust and wear your backpacking pack. “Many people don’t know how to wear a pack correctly,” Pelz said. No matter what features a pack may have, a poor fit almost guarantees misery that multiplies with every step along the trail. We suggest visiting your local REI and letting a staff member help you find the right pack with a perfect fit.
More than anything, Pelz emphasized learning how to correctly adjust your pack’s harness and properly distribute the weight of the load. At least 80 percent of the pack’s weight should ride on your hips and the hipbelt should be centered snugly on the crest of your hips. Removing any slack from the shoulder and load-lifter straps will help bring the pack in close to your back for proper balance and support. For more information, check out our Expert Advice article, “How to Size and Fit a Backpack.”