How to Choose the Best Backpack

Posted October 12, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Backpacking

There is no single best backpack for every use, but our backpack choosing infographic can help you pick a great backpack for your specific activity. Our suggestions are based on decades of backpacking experience and far too much research. Just click on the image below to make it large enough to read.


The Lineup

Below are some details on each of our recommendations. There are plenty of other very good backpacks that we didn’t recommend, we have a garage full of them. What these represent are the most popular, highest rated, most durable, best value for the activity. We recognize some people may want to do more research on their own, for those people I would suggest using our recommendation as a benchmark to measure other backpacks against. To aid in that comparison we list the interior capacity and price.

Kelty Redwing 50

52L $125

Kelty sells a lot of backpacks, and this is by far the bestselling pack they make. The reason is pretty straightforward; it retails for $125 and is really comfortable, convenient, and durable. We also like that the hipbelt comes off, which makes it more versatile as a travel backpack in addition to it’s sweet spot as a weekend / overnight backpack.

LL Bean Trekker 25

25L $100

In a day pack and travel pack we put a much higher weight on organization. The trekker has lots of pockets right where you want them. It also carries weight better than most daypacks, and the turn crank volume adjuster is just neat.

Buy it direct at LL Bean for $100 or less.


Gossamer Gear Gorilla

46L $230

This is the transformer of ultralight backpacks. The hipbelt, aluminum stay, and sitlight pad are all removable. The base pack is only 14.1oz (0.9lb) and with everything included it is only 26oz (1.6lb). We love the versatility. So did backpacker magazine, who gave it a hall of fame award. Ultralight also refers to the contents of the pack — don’t plan to carry more than 35 pounds comfortably.

Since it is hard to find these in person to try them on, here are some links to detailed reviews from Backpacker Magazine, Clever Hiker, and Section Hiker.

Buy it direct from Gossamer Gear for $230.


Arc’Teryx Altra 65/75/85

65/75/85L $450/$480/$500

Backpacker Magazine gave the Altra 65 their 2010 editors choice award. Then in 2013 after a slight redesign they named it the best all around multi day pack. Outdoor Gear Lab gave the Altra their Editors Choice Award. The Altra comes in three different sizes, and the 85L will hold more than most would want to carry. It is really well designed, and the swivel hipbelt is genius. Like a lot of Arc’Teryx gear perfection comes with a pricetag, and this one is a bit of a shocker.

Gregory Baltoro 65/75

65/75L $330/$350

This pack is just as comfortable as the Arc’Teryx Altra, and just as good at carrying heavy loads. It does weigh a pound more than the Altra, but costs $120 less. That’s a tradeoff you will have to make for yourself. A pound is the weight of a pint of water. Is carrying a pound less weight worth $120, that’s what the decision between the Baltoro and the Altra boils down to? The Baltoro comes in 65 and 75 L sizes. Gregory does have another similar pack at 88L. We think that carrying 88L of stuff is just torture, but if you like torture that might be a good pack to carry it in.

The Gregory Baltoro also won a >a href=””>Backpackers Editor’s Choice Award and an Outdoor Gear Lab top pick

Osprey Aether 60/70

60/70L $260/$290

Osprey has a well earned reputation for durability. We think the Aether occupies a middle ground that is probably the sweet spot for a lot of people. It has more space than the 50L Kelty Redwing, which means you can legitimately use it for a weeklong trip if you don’t pack too heavy. Compared to the Gregory Baltoro or Arc’Teryx Altra the Aether is cheaper and lighter. With that weight savings and cost savings you sacrifice comfort with heavy loads. With medium weight loads this pack is just as comfortable as those heavier more expensive packs, and that is fine for most people. We think the 60L is probably a bit small for a lot of people and recommend getting the 70L version. There is also an 85L version of the Aether, but we really recommend against it as the Aether is missing some of the features you’d want to carry that heavy of a load.

Outdoor Gear lab tested the 60L version and named it their best buy.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Alchemist

40-55L $230

We really like the flexibility of this pack to change sizes from 40L to 55L in the same pack. It has additional flexibility to remove the back pad. When the back pad is removed it unfolds to double as a bivy pad, which is awesome. If you are doing mountaineering the chances of a planned/unplanned bivy are pretty high and this feature alone is worth the price of admission. The hipbelt is also removable for days when you really want to go fast and light. We are impressed. You can find lighter bags, but this one wins us over by being the one bag that can do it all. Outside magazine gave it one of their Gear of the Year awards. They did another non-video review of it here. Backpacker Magazine called it a “versatile bargain”.
Buy it at Eddie Bauer for $230 or less.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Sorcerer

40-55L $500

Just like the Alchemist, but made with super sexy fabric. For those internet moguls out there it doesn’t get much better than this.
Great review from Gear Junkie
Another great review from Outside Magazine
Buy it directly from Eddie Bauer

Cheap Bag

We’ve seen cheaper backpacks online from the likes of High Sierra, TETON sports or Coleman. We’ve seen others at Wal-Mart. We advise you to stay clear. If you are looking to save money, well-made backpacks tend to last forever and somebody may be getting rid of a really good bag on eBay or Craigslist just because they bought another newer and shinier model. Here’s a quick ebay search to get you started.

About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.


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