The 8 Best Mountain Backpacks of 2023

A backpack is one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll carry, so it really pays to do your homework and find one you’ll love. Getting the perfect fit, the ideal balance of weight/durability, and an organizational design that works for your hiking style is critical.

Our mountaineering experts have tested 30 of the best mountaineering backpacks over the last decade. After buying 10 of the latest and greatest, our field testers hauled them into the mountains. We scrambled up remote alpine peaks, swung ice tools on steep waterfall ice, and set out for multi-week expeditions.

We tested these packs all throughout North America, dragging them up summits in California, Alaska, and multiple ranges in Canada. Our group of test packs has been used tirelessly for months on end, through all seasons. The result? A comprehensive, unbiased, and honest review, objectively comparing and scoring products — all summarized and packaged here to help guide you to your ideal pack for your mountain adventures. Below are our favorite backpacking backpacks for 2023, from ultralight bags for minimalists and thru-hikers to comfort-oriented options for weekend warriors and extended trips. For background information, see our backpack comparison table and buying advice below the picks.

The 8 Best Mountain Backpacks of 2023:Our top pick

Best hiking backpack for womenCamelBak M.U.L.E. Mountain Biking Hydration BackpackView on Amazon
Best hiking backpacks for menEasy Refilling Hydration BackpackView on Amazon
Best camping backpackTETON Sports Ultralight Plus BackpacksView on Amazon
Hiking backpack WomenTETON Sports Explorer Internal Frame BackpackView on Amazon
Lightweight hiking backpackARC’TERYX ALPHA AR 35View on Amazon
Best Entry Level Backpacking PackOsprey Aether 65 Men’s Backpacking BackpackView on Amazon
Sporty HikingGregory Mountain Products Zulu 55View on Amazon
Most Durable BackpackJack Wolfskin Highland Trail 55 MenView on Amazon

Here are the best mountain backpack recommendations:

1.CamelBak M.U.L.E. Mountain Biking Hydration Backpack

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The CamelBak M.U.L.E. Mountain Biking Hydration Backpack is a popular choice for mountain bikers who need to carry water, snacks, and other essentials while out on the trails. Here are some of the features and specifications of this pack:

  • Capacity: 9 liters (549 cubic inches) of storage in the main compartment, plus additional pockets and compartments for organizing gear.
  • Hydration System: Includes a 3-liter (100-ounce) reservoir with an easy-to-use Big Bite valve for on-the-go hydration.
  • Ventilation: Back panel is designed to promote airflow and reduce heat buildup, keeping you cooler and more comfortable.
  • Comfort: The shoulder straps and hip belt are padded for added comfort and support, and the pack is adjustable to fit a variety of body types.
  • Durability: Constructed with high-quality materials and durable stitching, the M.U.L.E. is built to withstand the rigors of mountain biking.
  • Additional Features: Includes a helmet hook, tool organizer, and reflective accents for increased visibility.

CamelBak M.U.L.E. is a versatile and durable hydration pack that works well for mountain biking and other outdoor activities.

2.Co-Op Men’s Traverse 60 Pack

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Pros

  • Very customizable
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Removeable frame and pockets
  • Plenty of opportunities for internal and external gear storage
  • Hydration compatible
  • Water resistant

Cons

  • Some of the thinner fabric can shred against rock

Reasonably priced despite being a relatively large backpack, the REI Co-op Traverse 60 is a reliable option for folks of all mountaineering ability. It sits at the top of the pack (pun intended) in a number of different ways, most noticeably in how well you’ll be able to customize it.

The internal frame provides some much-needed support for longer hikes, but it can get heavy if you’re attempting a bid for the summit. If you find yourself in a situation like that, or you just don’t see a need to use the frame, you can remove it without too much trouble. It’s also possible to take the lid off, whether you want to cut back on weight even more, or you have another reason why you don’t want it.

There are quite a few straps that can be adjusted to get the pack to sit perfectly on you. And as far as gear storage goes, there are a couple different features that you can take advantage of. The stretchy outer pocket is perfect for crampons, or other items that you want to be able to grab quickly. You can also lash your ice axes or trekking poles to the attachment loops on the front of the pack, or you could clip them to the bottom using the adjustable buckle.When packing your backpack, try to keep the load under 30 pounds, as the hip belt and back panel start to lose effectiveness above this weight. If you follow these guidelines, though, you’re in for a pretty comfortable hike.

3.TETON Sports Ultralight Plus Backpacks

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This internal frame pack is perfect for hiking, backpacking, camping, and traveling. You can easily pack all your necessary gear in and on this pack, and there are even neoprene sleeves for storing rope. The extra padded split waistband, hip and torso adjustments provide a perfect fit that can be customized to your body. There is also a unique lumbar adjustment feature to ensure maximum comfort during use. This pack is suitable for men, women and teens looking for a versatile travel pack.

The strong shell of this pack is designed to withstand even the most rugged hiking and camping adventures. It features multiple compression straps, heavy duty buckles and storm resistant zippers for added durability. In addition, this pack comes with Rainfly covers to protect you and your pack from the elements.

Despite its rugged construction, this pack is lightweight and has a stable frame that helps distribute the weight evenly. You’ll hardly feel the load on your back thanks to the padded lumbar area. Designed for the pros but priced for the beginner, this pack is a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable and comfortable backpacking experience.

4. TETON Sports Explorer Internal Frame Backpack

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Not wanting to shell out a lot of cash for a good hiking backpack? Want to try out the backpacking lifestyle without breaking your bank? The TETON Sports Explorer Backpack might interest you.

This 55-liter large backpack from TETON is a minimalist rucksack that provides all the basics of a travel/hiking bag: lots of storage, some organization, good enough comfort, and durability.The TETON Sports Explorer might appeal to you if you’re on a smaller budget but need a backpack. It may also be a good companion for your once-a-year hiking trip or a comfortable bag for a weekend escapade.

We’ve put the TETON Sports Explorer Backpack to the test, comparing it to better known brands too, and here’s our honest appraisal of what this hiking backpack does and what it can’t do.

5.ARC’TERYX ALPHA AR 40

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Pros

  • Ultralight
  • Expands from 32 to 40 liters
  • Bungee system for carrying ice tools

Cons

  • Not very breathable
  • Only one small exterior pocket

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL 40 is built for technical climbing in the alpine. It’s featherlight at just 1 lb 8 oz and sits close to your back to help you center your weight. It’s also worth noting that the 40-liter designation is the maximum capacity you can achieve by extending the sleeve. Without extension, the pack is a more comfortable and manageable 32 liters.

Another thing I like about this pack is that it doesn’t have a lot of finicky extras, like straps that you need to secure so they don’t catch on rock. A simple bungee system on the front of the pack allows you to carry ice tools and crampons securely.The snug fit does mean that this isn’t the most breathable pack I’ve worn in the mountains. However, that’s not a major issue when you’re moving in a stop-and-go fashion as is often the case during technical climbs.

6.Osprey Aether 65 Men’s Backpacking Backpack

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Reasons to buy:

  • Well-thought customizable harness system ensures ultra-comfortable carrying experience
  • Lots of white markings to guide you when adjusting the fit
  • Solid back frame but also super breathable
  • Plenty of pockets for organization
  • Numerous bungee ties and clips for your accessories

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • Hip belt pockets are hard to open/close while wearing
  • A pair of carrying handles in the front would be nice for portability
  • On the pricey end of hiking backpacks

Osprey is a beloved choice among outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy spending extended periods in the great outdoors. Whether you’re cycling across the country or embarking on a hiking expedition in a far-off land, they offer an impressive selection of backpacks to suit any adventure. The Aether AG 60 backpack is specifically designed for thru-hikes and alpine expeditions, where proper preparation and ample storage for essentials are essential.

To ensure proper weight distribution, the backpack features side compression straps, while zippered heat-moldable hip-belt pockets keep your essentials close at hand. The anti-gravity suspension and back panel work together to provide superior comfort and reduce the likelihood of back pain.For added convenience, the backpack has an internal hydration reservoir sleeve and a sleeping bag compartment, ensuring the highest level of comfort while on the move. Additionally, the removable top lid can be converted into a backpack that can be worn during the day, providing even more versatility to your adventure.

7.Gregory Mountain Products Zulu 55

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Reasons to buy:

  • FreeFloat suspension system is excellent for ventilation and offers premium comfort
  • It fits even broad shoulders
  • 2-way access water bottle holders, with compression straps to fit any bottle size
  • There’s a built-in emergency whistle and tube clip at the sternum strap
  • U-Zip front loading makes it easy to access the main compartment

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • Hip belt pockets are hard to open/close
  • Extra haul loops in the front (top and bottom) so you quickly move the bag while front access is open.

When it comes to hiking, the backpack you choose is a crucial component in ensuring a successful and enjoyable trek. Luckily, Gregory offers a variety of high-quality options, including the Gregory Zulu, a 55-liter backpack designed specifically for backcountry expeditions.

The Gregory Zulu comes fully equipped with all the necessary features for surviving and staying organized in the great outdoors. However, much like a pair of shoes or a car, each backpack has a unique design that can complement your personal style, cause friction, or even enhance your entire hiking experience.

8.Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 55 Men

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Reasons to buy:

  • Stylish design works in both urban and outdoor escapades
  • The clamshell opening is one of the best
  • Zipped front pocket provides security for items you need within reach
  • Spacious sleeping bag compartment
  • You can max out another 5 liters on top

Reasons NOT to buy:

  • The back padding system isn’t as breathable as it could be.
  • Missing criss-cross bungee strings or a front mesh pocket for wet items

Looking for a hiking backpack that won’t break the bank but still looks stylish enough to carry around the city or take on a weekend getaway? The Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 55 Backpack could be the perfect option for you.

Jack Wolfskin is known for its innovative cross-over products, offering gear that’s suitable for both the great outdoors and urban life. This German company produces high-quality products that are worthy of respect, all while remaining affordable and accessible to a wide range of consumers.

How We Tested the Best Mountain Backpacks

In an ideal world of perfect science, the optimal way to compare hiking backpacks would be for one single person to take them all on the same hikes but obviously thats utterly unfeasible. Instead, various members of our team tried and tested them at different times, at different locations over a period of a number of years. When testing them our team were of course paying close attention to how light/ comfortable the pack felt, how easy it was to pack and unpack, how it performed in adverse weather and how damn sexy they felt in it.

How do I choose a climbing bag?

The Best Mountain Backpacks: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Hiking is all things to everyone, so getting the right balance between weight, size, and robustness is vital, especially for something you’ll be wearing on your back for many days. Modern materials mean that ye olde steel frame rucksacks are unnecessary unless you’re in training and want to carry the extra weight. Here are some things to look for when choosing the best hiking backpack for you:

Volume

Arguably the most crucial starting point. How much do you need to carry? Summer rambling along the coast requires a different set of kits to wild winter camping, but don’t get carried away and buy a giant windsock that needs a SAS team to have once filled.

Fit

Check and check again that the rucksack fits your back well. Most makes have different back sizes available, so try a few with both a light load and a heavy one (most shops have weight bags for this). If there’s a hip belt, this should rest on the top of your hip bones and adjust to a comfortable tightness – this can transfer a lot of weight from your shoulders to your hips, so don’t underestimate the importance of a well-fitting hip belt. And of course, none of this is any good if the straps aren’t adjusted correctly: here’s how to fit a backpack.

Comfort

Walk around and move naturally to see if anything rubs or feels weird. By all means, try the super-techno suspended mesh solutions to get a sweaty back, but rest assured, after a long day with a heavy rucksack, your back will be sweaty, so don’t prioritize them over a perfect fit.

Weight

Lighter is nearly always better, meaning the minimum of random bells and whistles add weight. Don’t be afraid to cut off straps and fastenings you know you’ll never use.

Pockets and straps

Think about what you’ll need to carry and how accessible you’ll need it. Streamlined designs might look smart, but pockets start to look more appealing when you have to unpack the whole thing to access your torch in the middle of the evening.

Ventilation

Backpanel and hipbelt ventilation is a biggie for some, especially if you tend to run warm or plan on hiking in the summer heat. But finding an internal framed pack that breathes well can be a challenge, primarily because the point of a group is to hug and conform to your body, moving with you as you walk. Most packs have offsetting foam and mesh panels that do a passable job encouraging airflow, but you’ll likely still get sweat art on your back that traces where the foam panels contact your body.

Water Protection

Many items we store in our backpacks are vulnerable to moisture—including a camera, phone, and down sleeping bag—so we prioritize water protection. The good news is that most packs offer decent water resistance with hard-face nylon and a durable water repellant (DWR) coating, although expect sustained rainfall to penetrate the fabric.

Main design features of mountain backpack

MAIN COMPARTMENT – Most lightweight backpacks have one top-loading compartment for storing the majority of your gear. That’s really all you need. Extra compartments and zippers add unnecessary weight and complexity. Pack items you won’t need until camp (tent, sleeping bag/pad, stove) in the bottom of your pack and you’ll be set.

FRONT MESH/STRETCH POCKET – Most lightweight packs have a large mesh or stretch material pocket on the front (the side facing hikers behind you). This feature comes in very handy on the trail. It’s great for gear you want to stow quickly or keep easily accessible, like a rain jacket or water purifier. It’s also good for airing out wet gear.

HIP BELT – A good hip belt is a critical feature of any backcountry pack. Your hip belt will hold most of the weight of your pack on your hips, which keeps your shoulders from tiring. Hip belts should be comfortable and transfer weight without slipping. Every pack on this list has a solid hip belt.

SHOULDER STRAPS – Shoulder straps will hold a significant amount of your pack weight as well. You’ll want them to have comfortable padding and be well spaced to avoid chafing and odd pressure points. Every pack on this list has comfortable shoulder straps.

HIP BELT POCKETS – With a lightweight pack, you won’t need to take breaks nearly as often, so you’ll want to have certain items easily accessible, like snacks, sunscreen, lip balm, camera, etc. Most of the packs we recommend have built-in hip belt pockets, but if they don’t come standard, we recommend buying the aftermarket hip belt pockets that fit your pack.

SHOULDER POUCH – We’re also fond of using shoulder strap pouches on our packs. We mainly use them for easy camera access while we hike. A couple packs we recommend come with shoulder pouches, but most don’t. So you might consider an aftermarket shoulder pouch if it sounds like a good fit for you.

WATER BOTTLE HOLSTERS – Hydration is key in the backcountry, so your water bottles should always be easy to access. It’s shocking to us when we test packs that won’t allow us to grab a water bottle while hiking. That’s just not acceptable.

WATERPROOFING – In general, it’s not a good idea to fully rely on any backpack for waterproofing. Even seam-sealed packs made from waterproof materials will develop small leaks over time, so we always recommend protecting important items (sleeping bag, clothes, electronics, etc.) in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags inside your pack.

HYDRATION PORTS – If you prefer drinking from a water bladder while hiking, a pack without a hydration port could be a dealbreaker. We’re not huge fans of water bladders, so this isn’t a big deal for us, but most of the packs we recommend do have hydration sleeves and ports.

TOP LID – Many lightweight backpacks don’t have a top lid these days in order to reduce weight. Instead, they use roll-top closures, clips, and straps to keep gear secure, which is very effective. We do recommend a couple of packs with top lids, but if you don’t have one, you probably won’t miss it.

LOAD LIFTER STRAPS – Load lifter straps can be used to pull the tops of your shoulder straps towards the backpack. This will take some of the downward pressure off your shoulder straps and transfer it to the front of your shoulders and chest. Many lightweight backpacks don’t have load lifter straps these days and they’re not really necessary if you’re carrying a light load.

TREKKING POLE & ICE AXE LOOPS – Trekking pole and ice axe loops are a nice touch. They make it easy to stow your sticks when you’re not using them. We find that we use ours quite often and many of the bags we recommend come with them built in.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Size Backpack Do I Need For Mountaineering?

The size of your pack should correlate with the length of time you’ll be on the trail. For a mountaineering trek that will only take you a day, there’s no reason to go higher than 30 liters for a backpack. However, if you plan on being gone for a few days, you’ll want to upgrade to something between 50-70 liters.

What Are The Features Of A Mountaineering Pack?

Mountaineering packs are a lot more streamlined than your traditional backpack. They have to be lightweight, so there’s no room for extra pockets and accessories that add ounces onto the pack. On top of that, it’s also important that they’re made from durable materials, since they’ll likely be scraped against more than a few rocks in their lifetimes.

Can you use a regular backpack for hiking?

Yes, If you are going on a short hike or a half-day trip without a bunch of equipment you can get away with a regular backpack. The problem starts when you are going on longer trips with heavier gear. Regular backpacks are not designed to distribute weight heavenly between your shoulders and your waist like hiking backpacks. All the weight will rest on your shoulders. This can lead to discomfort, bad posture, and fatigue.[1]Can You Use a Regular Backpack for Hiking?

What kind of backpack will you bring in mountain?

Most people will find that a 60-70L pack has sufficient volume for extended weekend backpacking trips (two to three nights out). Some might need only 50L while others may need as much as 100L. As a rule, a half-full large pack is more comfortable than an overloaded small bag.

What is backpack an ideal bag for mountaineering?

As a general rule, ~30 liters or less capacity works for summer day trips. About 50 liters or more will do well for a weekend. 60-80 liters can be great for multiple days. Generally, a 100+ liter bag will be the biggest you need and can serve you well for week long climbs, or months-long expeditions.

What size backpack is best for all day hike?

21–35 liters: This is the sweet spot for most hiking and travel daypacks. There’s enough capacity to hold food, clothing and some extras, like a camera and a book. 36–50 liters: These larger packs are ideal for trips that require additional clothing and gear, such as climbing, mountaineering or non-summer hiking.

Why do hikers carry backpacks?

Not only does a hiking pack help keep your hands free while hiking but can help ensure that you can bring all of your essentials such as a first aid kit, water, food, extra layers, etc. A pack also has features you can’t find in a regular backpack not made for hiking and camping.

About Dehua

An old Internet practitioner who likes all kinds of new things.Our team buys products with good sales and reviews online (Amazon, Walmart and other third-party professional sales platforms) and recommends them to everyone through actual comparison and evaluation.
Portions of this article were generated using automated technology and were thoroughly edited and fact-checked by editors on our editorial staff.

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