Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin (thanks House of Pain) this backpack round up by giving you a little preview of what you’ll find here. We’ll be exploring 10 of the best backpacks 2021 has to offer. It was impossible for us to choose just one of the best backpacking packs, so we’ll profile a few of the top picks. There will be a 1A/1B situation for the cream of the crop bags for day hikes. Then we’ll play favorites by naming the best backpack for travel and college, along with nods to the best women’s and men’s packs. Without further delay, (or Jump Around lyrics), let’s dive in.
Best Backpackpacking Backpack
Let’s get this thing rolling with one of the biggest names in the backpacking game: Osprey. Since 1974, Osprey has been creating packs that allow you to get the most out of your backpacking trips. The Atmos AG 65 Pack is emblematic of the quality Osprey is known for and it has all the features you need to take on the trails for your overnight hikes.
The focus here is on the fit. A backpack is only as good as the way it melds to your body. If you have ever laid down serious trail mileage with an ill-fitting pack, then you can attest the fact that fit is of utmost importance. The AntiGravity suspension system found on the Osprey Atmos AG 65 Backpacks lightens your load while comfortably conforming to your body. A continuous backpanel offers plenty of ventilation so you don’t soak through your shirt 10 steps past the trailhead. Enjoy unrestricted mobility when the trail gets more treacherous, and even adjust the hipbelt on the fly to ensure you’ve always got fit perfection.
One of the other heavy hitters in the backpack game is Deuter. It’s impossible to do a best backpacks roundup and not include them. This year, their Aircontact Lite 65+10 received the nomination. It’s an ideal trekking backpack that truly thrives on multi-day tours at high altitudes thanks to its supreme combo of comfort, ventilation, and weight.
Our favorite feature of the Deuter Aircontact Lite is the +10 aspect. Far more than just some extra storage space, the removable zippered backpack lid has compartments for valuables and easily attaches to the top of the pack. But the real kicker is that this lid can be quickly transformed into a daypack! Think about it. You are all set up at base camp and want to spend the afternoon exploring. You only need to take a few things with you, but it’d be ludacris to use a 65L pack to haul around some sunscreen and trail mix. Simply pop the top off your pack and you’re good to go!
When you need room for more than a change of socks, mount up with the Mountain Hardware PCT 70L. This pack has space for everything you’ll need for your backcountry overnighters. Load this pack up with all the essentials and you can still find room for those little extras that will take your camping trip to the next level. And thanks to the way the PCT 70L distributes weight, you don’t need to worry about shaving ounces.
In our eyes, the Mountain Hardwear PCT Backpack stands out in large part based on its durability. Be honest. Your backpack doesn’t exactly receive the same treatment as a porcelain doll. It gets tossed around, branches grab at it, and airport baggage handlers are anything but gentle. You need a bag that can stand up to anything through dozens of expeditions. Mountain Hardwear delivers the goods with one of the best backpacking backpacks of the year.
Rounding out our picks for the back backpacking backpacks is the Mystery Ranch Terraplane Galaxy Backpack. This is their most iconic pack that has converted numerous hikers into brand loyalists. The Terraplane Galaxy comes in with 80 liters of space, which makes it ideal for self-supported expeditions. Plus it’s got zippers in all the right places, making it easy to access all your gear no matter where it’s stowed in the bag.
For 2021, Mystery Ranch has upped their game with the new Astral Frame. This is what they use in their hunting and military lines, so you know it’s built to handle massive loads. By bringing the Astral Frame to their backpacking line, they equip multi-day hikers with the best way to support weight, so you always have the energy to tackle more trail.
Please note: The Dueter Futura Vario got an upgrade and is now called the Futura Air Trek. This versatile, go-anywhere, do-anything bag is our choice for the best backpack for women, because it is ideal for all kinds of hiking, trekking, and touring adventures. The Deuter Futura Vario women’s backpack comes with 45L of cargo space plus an additional 10L in the removable top. There’s even a separate bottom compartment that has a detachable base to keep you ultra-organized. And there’s no way we could glorify this bag if it didn’t go all out on keeping you comfortable, which it absolutely does thanks to the Active-Fit straps and Ergonomic Comfort Lock belt.
So the Deuter Futura Vario covers all the basics, but what really puts it over the top? Well, it’s not just one thing; it’s all the thoughtful little extras that come together to make this the best backpacking back for women. Between the height adjustable lid, the convenient zippered hip belt pocket, a rain cover, and ice axe attachment, there is no area where this backpack comes up short.
Best Hiking Backpack
While this bag was designed in collaboration with The Real Hiking Viking (an expert hiker who covers a lot of miles very quickly), we actually think this is one of the best backpacks for day hikers who haven’t quite made a profession out of it. Dialed in over 5,000 miles of trail (including stretches of The Tetons), Zerk proudly declares this pack to be the ideal combo of lightweight comfort, durability, and accessibility. We very much agree.
The Mountainsmith Zerk 40L backpack is perfect for day hikes, because it has room for everything you could need without any of the bulk to slow you down. The straps were even inspired by ultra-running and include pockets for a water bottle, your phone, and the ever important snacks to keep you powering through. We also appreciate the mesh trash stash area so that you can easily pack out what you packed in and maybe even leave the trail cleaner than you found it. Whether you are taking on a 5 mile out-and-back or a 20 mile through hike, this is the backpack that’s going to propel you.
Great for a day hike or a quick overnighter, the Swift X backpack celebrates 10 years of excellence from Six Moon Designs. A single roll-top design keeps things simple and streamlined. And with 38L of capacity (plus a bonus 6L extension collar), you’ve got room for all the necessities. As long as you don’t dunk it in an alpine lake, the waterproof materials will keep your gear dry. If you can’t be trusted around lakes, grab the pack liner to guarantee dryness.
Where the Swift X really shines is in the versatility department. Whatever adventure demands of this pack, you can configure it to rise to the occasion. Take your pick of the regular shoulder yoke or transform how you haul your load with the flight vest yolk. Not going to need the hip belt? Go ahead and remove it. Speaking of removable, you can also add and subtract the Delrin Hoop Stay as you please. No matter what your hike asks of you, go prepared with the Swift X backpack.
Best Travel Backpack
The age of the digital nomad is upon us. If you count yourself among this cohort of traveling professionals that have embraced the work from anywhere lifestyle, you’re going to need a backpack that can keep up. Enter the Quantico Backpack from Camelbak. If you only know Camelbak as those little hiking backpacks with a floppy straw that dangles over the shoulder, it’s time to explore the depth of their product offerings.
With an ideal balance of rugged durability and sleek design, the CamelBak Quantico actually has a lot in common with Camelbak’s military admin line. What makes this backpack so ideal for travelers who need to get work done on the go is that it offers all the necessities to pack around a mobile workstation. Dedicated sections for a laptop or tablet, power cords, and a travel mug mean you can set up shop anywhere you like whether that’s in your tent on the side of a mountain or at a street cafe in Paris.
If you ride a bike to class, this is easily the best backpack for college. The North St. Bags Woodward Backpack has plenty of thoughtful space for all your textbooks and laptop, or your gear for a weekend getaway. It’s bombproof, weatherproof, and rocks that stylish urban look that is equally at home on the trail.
One of the little extras we dig about this bag is that there aren’t just a bunch of them sitting in a warehouse somewhere; they’re actually made to order! But what truly sets this one apart and earns our praise as the best college backpack for cyclists is that in seconds it goes full transformer mode from a bike pannier to a backpack for your stroll around campus. What’s not to love about the convertible Woodward Backpack Pannier from North St. Bags?
What makes the 5.11 Rush24 2.0 the best backpack for men? Easy – it’s an excellent bag for soooo many activities! School? Yup. Work? No doubt. Travel? You got it. Day hikes? Indubitably. With 37L of packing space and numerous compartments/pouches for whatever you’re packing, this go-bag will indeed be your go-to bag.
The thing that puts the Rush24 over top is just how well built it is. The nylon used in construction has a tactical feel to it that leaves no doubt as to just how durable this backpack was built to be. Should some rain come your way, you don’t need to worry about your items staying dry thanks to the water-repellant nature of this bag. Whatever your outing entails, go prepared with the best all-around men’s backpack from 5.11.