Best Hiking Backpacks For Long Distance Treks

Second only to the boots on your feet, your backpack is the single most important part of your hiking kit, especially so when tackling a multi-dayer.

With so much essential equipment to carry, your back’s best friend must be voluminous, accessible, strong and above all – comfortable. Going ultralight may be all the rage but unless you’ve spent a bomb on minimising the rest of your gear, your pack must be able to comfortably handle 15 to 20 Kg, depending on the length of your walk.

By comparison, the maximum load that the superlight, frameless, cuben fiber type packs can carry is about 12 Kg, after which they become unusable. So here is our selection of the best load carrying systems for those of us mortals who enjoy one or two long distance trips per year, rather than trying to break speed records on the Appalachian Trail.

#
Backpack
Weight
Score
More Info
#1
Arcteryx Bora AR
2.3 kg
4.5/5
#2
Mystery Ranch Stein 62
2.22kg
4.5/5
#3
Gregory Baltoro 75
2.5kg
4/5
#4
Osprey Aether AG 70
2.3kg
4/5
#5
TNF Banchee 65
1.67kg
4/5
#6
Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85
2.62kg
3.5/5
#7
Deuter AirContact Lite 65+10
1.99kg
3.5/5

Not sure how to choose the right hiking backpack? Check out this video from REI that explains all essentials for choosing your ideal backpack:

Play Video

#1 Arcteryx Bora AR

4.5/5

Generally agreed to be one of the best all-round outdoor gear companies, Canada’s Arc’teryx offer beauty in their clean designs as well as epic durability and innovation. Within their tight pack range the Bora is their multi-day hiking model, the AR standing for All-Round use.

The harness is uniquely constructed with its RotoGlide hip belt, which gives gentle suspension to the load as the body moves over different terrain, and the GridLock shoulder straps which offer easy adjustment in both height and width.

The pack itself is made from robust and weatherproof fabrics and has all the features you’d expect, including side access and a ‘kangaroo pocket’ at the front for dirty/wet gear. The closed cell foam of the shoulder straps and hip belt will mould to the users contours and not be damaged by passing bushes.

Key Details
  • Weight: 2.3 kg
  • Volume: 63 - 64 litres
  • 420D/630D Nylon
  • 2 Harness sizes
Strengths
  • RotoGlide hip belt
  • Harness adjustability
  • Durable
  • Weatherproof fabric
Weaknesses
  • Expensive
  • Few attachment points

#2 Mystery Ranch Stein 62

4.5/5

Relatively new to the outdoor fold, Montana’s Mystery Ranch have been traditionally active in the military and fire rescue categories but have recently become very sought after in hiking circles for their impressive load carrying ability.

This confidence is brought by their dedication to harness design above all else, and the telescoping adjustment of the Stein’s Mountain Frame combined with its flexible sheet ensure the load sticks to your back through any movement.

The features of the main pack body are less innovative but still cover all the bases in terms of pockets, attachments, compression etc. One notable feature is the removable lid that uses the packs original shoulder straps and yoke as its own harness – a great idea for the most comfortable summit pack ever.

Key Details
  • Weight: 2.22 kg
  • Volume: 65 litres
  • 210D/330D Robic
  • 4 Harness sizes
Strengths
  • Adjustability and fit
  • Comfortable
  • Removable day pack
  • Load capactiy
Weaknesses
  • Cluttered exterior

#3 Gregory Baltoro 75

4/5

Routinely appearing at or near the top of ‘Best Backpacks’ lists, Gregory’s flagship model has much to commend it. The stiff EVA hip belt will carry loads like a mule, and the contouring of the shoulder straps is the best on test.

Interchangeable foam panels and a removable lumbar insert boast excellent customizability. A silicone patch on the lumbar pad is designed to grip the wearer’s shirt, although I still found it more uncomfortable than useful.

The Baltoro, named after a majestic glacier in Pakistan, boasts some cool innovations and features, such as the stowable water bottle pocket and waterproofed hip belt pocket. The hydration sleeve moonlights as the SideKick day pack, the hip belt of which does double duty as compression straps on the main pack. People seem to love the twin lid pockets as well.

N.B. The women’s version is called the Gregory Deva. 

Key Details
  • Weight: 2.5 kg
  • Volume: 75 litres
  • 630D/420D Nylon
  • 3 Harness sizes
Strengths
  • Removable Day Pack
  • Customisable harness
  • Smart innovations
Weaknesses
  • Bit heavy

#4 Osprey Aether AG 70

4/5

This US pack-specific brand has led the way for 20 years and shows no signs of slowing down. The way their Anti-Gravity harness, introduced in 2015, hugs the hips is remarkably comfortable, and by increasing ventilation around the back it keeps your back cool and relatively dry.

It should be noted though that in doing so it moves the load further away from the user’s centre of gravity, creating less of a balanced feeling than in some competitors. This newer version of the harness incorporates interchangeable harness components and their IsoForm mouldable hip belt for the perfect custom fit.

Osprey have the design of the pack itself down to a tee, with every conceivable convenience including side access, trekking pole stowage, hydration, stretch pockets and the new DayLid – an awesome little day pack that pops out of the main pack’s lid when it is removed. With the lid gone, the pack contents are still protected by the lightweight FlapJacket, although we found this feature really got in the way when not in use.

N.B. The women’s version is called the Osprey Ariel AG. 

Key Details
  • Weight: 2.3 kg
  • Volume: 67 - 76 litres
  • 210D/500D Nylon
  • 4 Harness sizes
  • Capacity: 15 - 27 kg
Strengths
  • Super ventilation
  • Removable DayLid Pack
  • Customisable harness
  • Compartment access
Weaknesses
  • Centre of gravity
  • Flap Jacket
  • DayLid (US only)

#5 TNF Banchee 65

4/5

A curious-looking beast, the Banchee claims to be ‘setting the new standard for technical packs’. I’m not about that but it certainly isn’t a bad stab at a multi-day hiking rucksack.

The Optifit harness is light, well ventilated and comfortable but adjustment is not as easy as it could be – changing the length involves unhooking the large Velcro frame sheet, harder than it sounds. The hip fin length adjustment is a lot simpler and also effective.

The unique look of the pack comes from its Beaver Tail construction, which integrates two large external pockets with compression straps, and also features a ventilated section for drying gear.

Another unusual feature is the internal divider designed to separate the sleeping bag compartment from the main load, and finally someone has finally got the zips on the hip belt pockets the right way around! Plus you can’t argue with that weight.

Key Details
  • Weight: 1.67 kg
  • Volume: 65 litres
  • 210D Nylon Ripstop
  • 2 Harness sizes
Strengths
  • Lightweight
  • Lots of compartments
  • Comfortable fit
Weaknesses
  • Hard to adjust
  • Lower load capactiy

#6 Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85

3.5/5

Founders the Lowe brothers may have been American but the Lowe Alpine brand is now most definitely British. Greg reportedly invented the internal frame backpack, the father of all modern designs, and the company’s line of innovations continues to this day.

The current harness on the Cerro Torre is the Axiom 7, with its single pull, on-back length adjustment and rotating hip belt. While a neat idea, I didn’t find the adjustment worked as easily as it was advertised.

Whatever feature you can think of that a multi-day pack should include is probably found somewhere on the Cerro Torre. Hydration sleeve that doubles as a summit pack, trekking pole Tip Grippers, U-shaped front entry, bottom compartment, adjustable lid, rain cover, lash points etc. all of which adds up to the heaviest pack on test.

Hopefully you won’t ever need the full 85 litre volume but it’s there if you do.

Key Details
  • Weight: 2.62 kg
  • Volume: 65 - 85 litres
  • 420D Nylon Ripstop
  • 2 Harness sizes
  • Capacity: 25 kg
Strengths
  • Feature heavy
  • Strong harness
  • Voluminous
Weaknesses
  • On the heavy side
  • Tricky length adjustment

#7 Deuter AirContact Lite 65+10

3.5/5

These German specialists have been making packs for over 120 years and are well respected all around the globe, and especially in Europe. The AirContact Lite is built around their AirContact harness, which offers good lumbar support combined with a wide channel for venting the back of hot air.

It has a wide range of back length adjustability, although those with a shorter torso might find the pack’s tall and narrow silhouette means it towers above their heads.

The pack’s volume is adjusted by raising the lid, and side compression straps help to minimize the pack when not fully loaded. A plethora of pockets and attachment points increase the usability of this model.

N.B. For heavier loads the regular AirContact model has a much more robust and supportive harness.

Key Details
  • Weight: 1.99 kg
  • Volume: 65 - 75 litres
  • 100D/600D Nylon
  • 1 Harness size
Strengths
  • Under 2kg
  • Loads of features
  • Worldwide warranty
Weaknesses
  • Single back length
  • Basic ventilation

All of these packs have their pros and cons. Many of the obvious features are seen throughout the category and will be present on many other packs.

At the end of the day, most hikers will make do with the design of the body of the pack so long as the fit is correct. The best pack for you will be the one that is most comfortable while fully loaded.

How to choose a hiking backpack: REI

Here’s the video from REI again to help you make the right choice for your hiking backpack:

Play Video
#
Backpack
Weight
Score
More Info
#1
Arcteryx Bora AR
2.3 kg
4.5/5
#2
Mystery Ranch Stein 62
2.22kg
4.5/5
#3
Gregory Baltoro 75
2.5kg
4/5
#4
Osprey Aether AG 70
2.3kg
4/5
#5
TNF Banchee 65
1.67kg
4/5
#6
Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85
2.62kg
3.5/5
#7
Deuter AirContact Lite 65+10
1.99kg
3.5/5

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Dan Slater

Dan Slater

Dan has spent over ten years using, testing and writing about outdoor gear, both in his day job as webmaster for a high-end camping store and moonlighting as a guide.

You can find his gear reviews along with travel stories, blogs and other hiking-oriented writing in various travel and outdoor magazines and websites, as well as on his own website This is not a holiday.