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Gear Reviews

The 13 Best Hiking Backpacks of 2021

Our testers found load haulers for every trip and hiker. Pick your favorite and start making your packing list.

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Osprey Talon Pro 30

Best All-Around: Osprey Talon Pro 30/Tempest Pro 28

We would describe our relationship with the Talon Pro as “codependent.” Thanks to its best-in-test combo of cushion, breathability, and support, we found ourselves using it on everything from sweaty epics to after-work scrambles. The broad, wraparound hipbelt wings and flexible shoulder harness provide a close-to-body fit that eliminates pack sway, even when we had 20 pounds on board. Buy Now / Read the Full Review


Most Durable: Lowe Alpine Cholatse 52:57 /Cholatse ND 50:55

Hard on your gear? Challenge accepted. We threw everything we could at the Cholatse (the ND is the women’s version), but its reinforced stitching, minimalist profile, and 420-denier and 210-denier Robic ripstop nylon resisted both butt-slides through steep Colorado scree and bushwhacking in Alaskan scrub. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Best Bargain: Kelty Asher 55

If you’re on the fence about shelling out for your first pack, ease in with the Asher. This all-purpose weekend warrior is kitted out with the essentials—adjustable fit, bottom sleeping bag access, a big U-zip-access external pocket, and a decent suspension that transfers moderate loads to the hips—at a killer price. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Deuter Futura Air Trek

Biggest: Deuter Futura Air Trek 60+10/Futura Air Trek 55+10 SL

The Futura Air Trek is built to go the distance, and big enough to take it all with you. This pack stands out for its load-levitating suspension, which let us haul heavy cargo day after day. Two vertical, spring steel stays transfer loads to the lumbar region of the pack, which is thickly padded with foam and integrated into a wide hipbelt. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Best for Big and Tall: Granite Gear Perimeter 50

We gave the Perimeter to our hardest-to-fit testers—everyone from a long-torsoed woman to a 2XL, 6’2” man—and each one had the same first impression: “It’s actually comfortable!” This pack gets its crowd-pleasing reputation from multidimensional adjustability: Each size offers four full inches of torso adjustment, as well as both wide and regular shoulder width settings. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Most Comfortable: Gregory Katmai 65/Kalmia 60

It’s hard to feel giddy while carrying a heavy pack, but the Katmai (the Kalmia is the women’s version) kept us smiling. “The load felt lighter than it was, thanks to the well-padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, in addition to supportive tension across the backpanel,” says one tester who used the Katmai to lug 40 pounds during a luxe weekend trip to Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

patagonia altvia

Most Eco-Friendly: Patagonia Altvia Pack 36

If Captain Planet had time to hike, he’d spend his weekends wearing the Altvia. This all-purpose pack gets eco cred for a few reasons. First, the shell fabric, bottom, rain cover, and lining are all 100-percent recycled—and the DWR coating is PFC-free. Second, the 140-denier ripstop nylon exterior and 210-denier packbottom offer hand-me-down toughness. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Lightest: Mountain Laurel Designs Hell 27

Disregard the unfortunate name: This pack is as weightless as angel wings. Thanks to a stripped-down feature set and ultralight materials, the Hell clocks in at just 11.2 ounces for the 3-ounce DCF version (it also comes in 210-denier ripstop nylon for $40 less), making it the lightest in test for its volume. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Most Weatherproof: Exped Verglas 30

When conditions soured, we reached for the Verglas. A PFC-free DWR treatment and waterproof PU coating work in tandem to keep out precip (caveat: it’s not seam-taped, so no dunking). In the name of testing, one Alaskan adventurer took the Verglas packrafting down the Knik River in nasty conditions. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Best for Organization: Arc’teryx Aerios 30

Packing strategies change with hiking pace, but no matter how much we pushed the throttle, the Aerios 30 kept up. When we wanted to go fast—like on a postwork quick hit near Ouray, Colorado—two larger-than-average, stretch-mesh hipbelt pockets (one zippered) and four big pouches on the vest-style harness let us access snacks without stopping. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Matador Beast18

Most Packable: Matador Beast18

A stuffable summit pack with a real-deal suspension, the Beast18 earned top marks from globetrotters and peakbaggers alike. Its metamorphosis is impressive: In just seconds, the Beast18 springs from its honeydew-size compression sack to a fully-featured daypack. The key is a heat-treated ribbon of steel inside the backpanel. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Best for Trail Running: The North Face Flight Training Pack 12

Plenty of ventilation and a smart feature set make the Flight Training Pack our top pick for speed demons. Unlike many tight-fitting running vests that trap sweat, breathability excels here. Credit the space-age fabric: Designers wove a durable, tight-knit Cordura nylon ripstop around a polka-dot pattern made of special “dissolving yarn,” which disintegrates in a chemical wash. Buy Now / Read the Full Review

Osprey Aether 55

Editors’ Choice: Osprey Aether 55 / Ariel 55

Sometimes you use a piece of gear for the first time and you just know. That was the case when our gear editor took the Aether 55 (the Ariel is the women’s-specific design; both have been around in various forms since 1997) on a trip in northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness. “Because it was a holiday weekend and I was playing guide for a couple friends, I loaded the pack up with way too many goodies. Charcuterie, an oversized camp chair, string lights, you name it. Everything probably weighed around 35 pounds,” he says. “I was dreading our 11-mile hike to a lakeside camp, but then I put the Aether on and knew I’d be fine.” Buy Now / Read the Full Review

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