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Published Apr 4, 2023 1:59 PM
The best backpack brands have greatly advanced the technology behind their designs over the last decade. Today’s modern packs are lighter, offer more storage, and are more comfortable than our grandfathers could have dreamed when they camped or hunted with a bulky frame pack. Most manufacturers are now making packs designed for specific case uses such as overnights in the backcountry, hiking, and hunting. There are a bevy of backpack brands out there, so finding one that best suits your outdoor needs can be a real challenge.
We are here to help. Fortunately, we have a ton of experience with many of the most popular brands for outdoor packs. We put together this list of the best backpack brands to help you find the right pack for your upcoming adventures.
How We Picked the Best Backpack Brands
We have spent a fair amount of time in the field testing a variety of backpack brands and have narrowed down what designs work and which ones do not. Besides our personal experiences with these brands, we also considered some of the following factors when picking a pack for each category:
- Intended use: Is this a backpack meant for a two-week hunt in the wilderness or a simple trip through the airport? Alternatively, is it appropriate for a thru-hike of a major trail?
- Weight and capacity: How much does the pack itself weigh? How does that affect the intended use and storage capacity?
- Durability: What is the main material used in the pack? How resistant is the pack to abrasion?
- Comfort: How padded are the shoulder straps? Are the straps adjustable? Is the pack comfortable for longer hikes?
Best Backpack Brands: Reviews and Recommendations
Best for Hiking: Mystery Ranch Bridger 45L
- Weight: 4.4 pounds
- Dimensions: 25” x 13” x 12”
- Material: Nylon ripstop
- Quality YKK zippers
- Extremely lightweight
- Dual sternum straps make for a better fit
Mystery Ranch builds packs for a variety of purposes, but for hiking, we like their Coulee series of packs and the In and Out series. However, their best hiking packs are the Bridger series, which they build in 35L and 45L models. Mystery Ranch makes these packs out of a combination of 330-denier Robric nylon and 100-denier Robic recycled nylon ripstop for an extremely tough pack. Equally, the pack weighs in at less than five pounds, which makes it much easier on your shoulders. We picked this pack mostly from a comfort standpoint, as it has two sternum straps instead of one. This gives a slightly snugger fit that will help distribute the load better across your body.
Additionally, we appreciate the fact that Mystery Ranch uses high-quality YKK zippers on these packs because these are going to be much easier to grip in wet or cold conditions. Another benefit to Mystery Ranch is that their women’s packs are specifically designed by women for women. No more slightly downsized versions of the men’s pack.
Best for Travel: Peak Design Travel Backpack
- Weight: 2 pounds, 8 ounces
- Dimensions: 22” x 13” x 11”
- Material: Nylon
- Very easy to pack
- Pockets and layout are well-designed
- Minimalist design won’t catch on anything
- Very light
- Shoulder straps aren’t the most comfortable
I have been using the Peak Design Travel backpack for just over a year now. It has accompanied me on multiple press trips and through airport security many times. I have TSA pre-check, so I normally don’t need to open my bag and remove my laptop. However, I did need to do that going through security after a fishing trip in Costa Rica last year, and this bag made it the most pain-free trip through airport security I’ve ever had. The sidewalls are rigid, and the pack opens completely, making packing and unpacking incredibly easy. Specifically, I use this pack for my work laptop, camera equipment, and other small odds and ends. Because the outside is smooth and minimalist, this pack slides nicely under an airplane seat as a carry-on.
However, the shoulder straps don’t have a ton of padding. I wouldn’t use this pack for anything more than a light day hike in the outdoors. It’s also a little pricey at $300, but for organizing my electronics for travel, there is no other pack I’d rather use right now.
Most Sustainable: Big Agnes Prospector
- Weight: 3 pounds, 1 ounce
- Dimensions: 33” x 10” x 8”
- Material: Recycled nylon
- Recycled nylon and sustainable solution dyes
- Two different sizes
- Fully contoured back panel creates great comfort
- Why is the rain fly sold separately?
The Big Agnes brand has been at the forefront of sustainable camping gear for the last few years, and they recently introduced their Mipan regen robic nylon that uses a more sustainable coating. Big Agnes is also using these materials in their Ditch Rider 32L and Impassable 20L models. However, we like the Prospector 50L as their top option. This bag is available in two different sizes, which allows it to fit just about anyone, and the contoured back panel helps this pack hug the user’s back quite nicely.
Aside from comfortable design and sustainable materials, we like this for anyone looking for a backpack for short backcountry adventures and overnights where you don’t need a ton of gear.
Best for Hunting: Kuiu Venture Divide 3000
- Weight: 4 pounds, 11 ounces
- Dimensions: 22” x 13” x 11.5”
- Material: 330 Cordura
- Extremely durable
- High-quality zippers
- Well-designed storage areas
- Not suited for longer trips
Kuiu has quickly become one of my favorite brands for hunting apparel, so it’s only natural they gain a spot here for their hunting backpacks too. They build options for several styles of hunting. The Pro Hunting Pack Kit is perfect for a long hunt deep into the backcountry. Comparatively, their Pro LT Modular pack system is perfect for anyone who hunts in multiple states. As far as day packs go, we like the Venture Divide 3000 for shorter spot-and-stalk hunting opportunities in the West. There are zippered pockets and compartments all over the pack, including a large passthrough pocket that allows you to carry a large spotting scope or rifle.
We also give high points to Kuiu for using quality YKK zippers on this design and a sliding sternum strap to make an optimal fit much easier. Finally, the shoulder straps and waist strap feature padding, which is nice for long hikes up steep slopes. While this bag is not well suited for longer trips, it is great for anyone who has a bit of a jaunt to their favorite hunting spot.
Most Affordable: Teton Sports Explore
- Weight: 5 pounds
- Dimensions: 32” x 18” x 12”
- Material: Polyester diamond ripstop
- Extremely heavy fabric
- Internal frame adds strength
- Affordable price point
- A bit basic for experienced hikers
Teton Sports makes many solid packs that are excellent for beginning hikers or anyone on a budget. Their Scout Series of packs are solid, but we like the Explorer series of internal frame packs best. The Explorer uses a 600-denier polyester diamond ripstop fabric that’s going to provide excellent abrasion resistance and durability for spending up to a week in the backcountry. Correspondingly, Teton Sports offers a few different sizes at differing price points ranging between $80 and $120. Furthermore, there is some extra value in these being internal frame packs. Additionally, these packs offer a nice selection of pockets, including one for your sleeping bag and one for a hydration system.
Lastly, we appreciate that Teton Sports offers a lifetime warranty on its products. The only knock we have against these packs is that some experienced hikers may find them to be a little basic when compared to some more advanced packs. However, for the price point, these packs are hard to beat.
Best Durable: 5.11 Tactical Rush 100 60L
- Weight: 5.7 Pounds
- Dimensions: 28.5” x 11” x 10.25”
- Material: Nylon
- Extremely comfortable
- Built to last
- Large opening makes for easy access to everything
- Waist buckles are a little small
5.11 Tactical was an easy choice for the most durable backpack brand. They build some very rugged packs that are perfect for anyone who is rough on their equipment. Two of their most popular packs are the Rush 24 37L and the Rush 72 55L. However, I’ve become a huge fan of the 60L Rush 100 backpack, which I’ve owned for about three years now. I have subjected this bag to a ton of abuse, but you’d never know it because the fabric still looks brand new. We credit the 1,050-denier nylon base and 500-denier nylon main for that. It is some seriously tough fabric. I’ve tossed this bag on the hard ground and rocks without it showing any signs of wear.
This is also the most comfortable large backpack I’ve ever worn because of the generously padded shoulder straps and waist belt. This pack evenly distributes the load and hugs my back like a glove. I regularly use the Rush 100 for rucking while holding 30 to 40 pounds of weight. My only real complaints are the expensive price tag and the small buckle that tends to dig into the waist belt.
Best Waterproof: Yeti Panga 28L
- Weight: 3.9 pounds
- Dimensions: 12.5” x 7” x 20”
- Material: Nylon
- Completely waterproof
- Chest straps and waist belt are removable
- Extremely lightweight
- Some reports of zipper issues
While Yeti is known primarily for its coolers, they also make a few nice daypacks like the Crossroads. However, we like the Panga 28L backpack for its awesome waterproof qualities that make it an excellent choice for fishermen or anyone who spends a ton of time on the water. In fact, the bag can be completely submerged and still protect the contents for up to 30 minutes. This pack is a rather simple design, but has a lot of functionality, and not just in the outdoors either. Yeti gave this bag a laptop pocket, and the dimensions are small enough for it to function as a carry-on at the airport.
Because of the waterproof design, this bag has a rather unique zipper, and it can require a bit more effort to open and close it. This pack isn’t cheap either, and you pay for the Yeti name as much as the quality. However, as far as waterproof bags go, this is one of the best on the market.
Things to Consider When Buying a Backpack
When picking a backpack, it’s best to think about how you are planning to use it because not every pack is made for the same tasks. For instance, if you are planning a multi-day backcountry hike, you will need a pack with an increased capacity designed for hauling not only your equipment, but also the meat from a quartered-up big game animal back to civilization.
Markedly, thru-hikers should focus more on food storage and a rain fly to keep the pack, bedding, and extra clothing dry over an extended period, especially on more remote trails. Here are a few other factors to consider when choosing a pack:
- Straps: The best packs will have back and waist straps that help evenly distribute the weight of the pack over your shoulders and back. The pack shouldn’t feel like its slipping off, but it also shouldn’t dig into your shoulders. It can take a lot of adjusting to figure out the sweet spot to make that happen, and the best packs feature not just padded straps, but many ways to adjust them too.
- Storage Compartments: A large main storage area is nice, but a pack is even more versatile if it comes with additional zippered pockets on the front for smaller items like a cell phone, eyeglasses, or small tools. An external web Molle system is great for hanging camp axes, water bottles, and other small items that you want within easy reach while you’re hiking. Hip belts are especially helpful for things like bug spray or sunglasses, keeping them within easy reach when you need them.
- Hydration Bladders: Almost every outdoor-specific pack is designed to hold a hydration pouch these days. It’s just nice to have a hose where you can get a quick drink of water without totally removing your pack.
- Frames: Not every pack has a frame, and the internal style has arguably become more popular today than the external style of old. A frame isn’t necessary for every outdoor scenario, but they do help increase the amount of weight you can carry. We like frame-style packs best for hunters planning to bring a lot of meat back to civilization with them.
Q: What are the most important backpack features?
The most important feature of any backpack is the shoulder and waist straps. A backpack can have a lot of storage, but if it isn’t comfortable to wear, you aren’t going to want to use it. Nothing ruins a long hike faster than a pack that hurts your shoulders and ankles due to an unbalanced load. Comparatively, it is just as important to consider the cushioning of the back panel when finding the best fit.
Q: Should a backpack be tight or loose?
Ideally, your pack will be snug rather than too tight or too loose. Generally, a pack that is too tight can dig into your shoulders or waist, and one that is too loose will cause the contents of the pack to shift. A pack that has a shifting load can be dangerous on treacherous or more challenging trails.
Q: How do I choose a backpack?
It is best to consider the different scenarios for your pack before you buy one. Generally, the larger the capacity, the longer you can spend in the wilderness with it. However, capacity isn’t everything. As I’ve noted earlier in this piece, the comfort factor is often something newer outdoor enthusiasts overlook with packs. Remember, for a backcountry camping trip, you will be carrying all your gear on your back, and an uncomfortable pack will quickly get relegated to the closet or basement, gathering dust.
Best Backpack Brands: Final Thoughts
Personally, 5.11 Tactical has become my favorite backpack brand on the market today because of its impressive storage capacity and comfort. For rucking, and light hunting activities, it is the bag I turn to first. Although the Peak Design sees slightly more use on work trips and other instances where I need to haul extra camera equipment or my laptop somewhere.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.