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The 10 Best Backpacks for Long Distance Hiking
Long trails require a lot of gear and supplies. A lot of gear and supplies require a big backpack. Whether you’re setting off on a long weekend excursion or gearing up to hike all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, you need a backpack that’s built for comfort, durability, and has enough space for your tent and sleeping bag, not to mention all the food, water, clothing and hiking gear such an undertaking requires.
There are a lot of great backpacking packs out there, and choosing the right one can be challenging. For the purposes of this article, we’ve chosen a diverse selection of top-quality packs to match an equally wide range of situations.
That includes a few packs in the 40 to 50L range, which are just right for a long weekend on the trail, and several 55 to 65L packs, which are better if your trip is expected to stretch up to a week or two. And then there are the real giants: 70 to 85L backpacks that will take you all the way from Georgia to Maine if that’s where your feet decide to go.
1. Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack
The perfect size for a week-long backpacking trip, the Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack offers the ability to carry heavy loads without sacrificing comfort. It’s designed to carry 40 pounds with ease, and the sculpted back panel and finely-tuned suspension help a lot.
The suspension is lightweight and well balanced, and perhaps best of all, the back panel is incredibly well ventilated, helping you avoid the dreaded swamp-back on hot days. The Atmos has a devoted following, and for good reason.
This pack also features an intuitive pocket layout, with a spacious top-loading main compartment, zippered hip belt pockets, an integrated rain cover, sleeping bag loops, and a hydration bladder-compatible internal sleeve.
The Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack comes in small, medium, and large sizes, so it’s a great choice for hikers with a wide range of body types. Empty pack weight ranges from 4 lb, 8 oz (small) to 4 l, 10 oz (large), making this a fairly lightweight pack too, especially given its generous 65L capacity.
2. Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 Pack
The Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 Pack is a big, burly, generously padded pack that gives you optimal comfort while carrying heavy loads. The pack itself tips the scales at 5 lb, 3 oz, which is a bit on the heavy side for a pack this size, but a lot of that weight comes from padding.
There’s a lot to like about the Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 backpack. Its design is simple and streamlined, with few unnecessary pockets, pouches, or loops, aside from its large and easily accessible main compartment. It’s also extremely durable, with 420-Denier ripstop nylon and extra weatherproof fabric in areas most likely to get rained on.
That makes it reasonably weatherproof even though it doesn’t come with a rain fly. Still, the main thing that makes this pack special is its comfort and adjustability. The hip belt utilizes the Arc’teryx RotoGlide system, which gently follows the motion of your hips as you walk, and the straps can be adjusted for both length and side-to-side spacing.
3. TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack
It’s not easy to find a really good backpacking backpack for under $100, but the TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack holds its own against packs that cost considerably more. It’s a great entry-level pack if you’re new to backpacking.
The Scout 3400 is a top-loading pack with a 55L capacity, which is good for three to five-day hikes, but a little small for anything over a week. It weighs 4.5 pounds, which is a little heavy for a pack this size, but not bad, especially considering the price point.
This pack has simple but effective back and shoulder padding, and the suspension is easy to adjust to your torso length. The layout of the various pockets and compartments is simple and easy to navigate.
A rain cover is included with the TETON Sports Scout 3400, and the pack also has a sleeping bag compartment and compression straps. The fabric is very durable and abrasion-resistant.
4. Deuter Aircontact 65+10 Backpacking Pack
With a total capacity of 75L, the Deuter Aircontact 65+ 10 is one big papa of a backpacking pack. It’s highly adjustable, offers ample space for all your gear and supplies, and has rough-and-tumble construction that lets it take a beating on long trails.
The Deuter Aircontact 65+ 10 is built for comfort. Although the pack itself weighs a hefty 6 lb, 6 oz, it has ample padding and a well-balanced suspension that makes carrying heavy loads surprisingly agreeable.
If there’s an issue with this pack, it’s that the padding, as generous as it is, may not be the most breathable. On hot and humid hikes you can expect to sweat more than you might like around your lower back and hip belt region. Still, it’s tough to beat for long-distance backpacking trips.
5. Gregory Zulu 40 Pack
The Gregory Zulu 40 backpack offers a great blend of comfort and versatility. The padding molds beautifully to the shape of your back, while the moisture-wicking mesh helps keep you dry. It comes in two sizes, and the free-floating suspension is highly adjustable.
The overall design of the Gregory Zulu 40 is streamlined and well-balanced, but it also has lots of fun little compartments and pockets. So it’s great for hikers who like every piece of gear to have its place. One minor issue is the lack of a sleeping bag compartment.
With a capacity of 40L, the Gregory Zulu 40 is the perfect size for hiking trips that stretch out to a long weekend. Anything longer than that, and you might want to size up, but this is a great pack for shorter trips. It also comes with a great lifetime warranty.
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6. REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack
One of the best midsize packs out there, the REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack is made of rugged 100-denier ripstop nylon with 420-denier nylon on the bottom. It comes in small, medium, and large sizes; the medium holds 55L and weighs a light 2 lb, 10 oz.
The top pocket of the Flash 55 is fully removable if you want to cut down even more on weight. Overall it’s a solid choice for backpacking trips up to a week-long, and ideal for an overnighter if you’re the type who likes to pack everything but the kitchen sink.
Keep in mind this isn’t a heavy hauler though. The maximum (comfortable) load is about 30 pounds. But it has a lot of pockets, loops, and features, including a mesh front pocket, hip belt pockets, and an internal hydration bladder sleeve.
7. Kelty Coyote 80 Internal Frame Backpack
The Kelty Coyote 80 Internal Frame Backpack is the kind of pack you want if you’re tackling a seriously long trek like the Pacific Crest Trail. With a capacity of 80L and a wonderfully intuitive design, it holds all your gear and makes quick access to it easy.
The Coyote is also about as durable as a pack gets, and has great padding and suspension for stability. It weighs 5 lb, 5 oz, which is by no means lightweight, but really not bad considering the pack’s ample capacity. It’s meant to be fully loaded.
One thing to be aware of is that, even though the adjustable suspension is comfortable and versatile, the Coyote 80 seems to fit tall hikers best. If you have a smaller frame you might have a hard time getting the hip belt to rest on your hips the way you want.
8. Granite Gear Blaze 60 Pack
A rugged workhorse of a backpack, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 Pack is meant for hard trails and heavy loads. With its 60L capacity and a recommended weight limit of 50 pounds, it’s perfect for a week or more of backpacking in tough country.
The Granite Gear Blaze 60 has a molded foam back panel and adjustable hip belt and frame so you can dial in the perfect fit. It has a hydration port and a lightweight polycarbonate frame. The hip belt and lid are both fully removable.
One strike against the Blaze 60 pack is that it doesn’t come with a rain cover. The fabric has a water repellent coating that will shed light rain but is by no means 100% waterproof. The “regular” size weighs three pounds flat, the “tall” sizes slightly more.
9. Mystery Ranch Glacier Pack
With an expansive 71L capacity, the Mystery Ranch Glacier Pack is a good choice for long adventures in the backcountry. It’s made of tough 550-denier Lite Plus Cordura nylon, and the bottom is double-layered for extra durability.
In addition to its spacious top-loading main compartment, the Glacier has a unique assortment of extra pockets, including two vertical “torpedo” pockets for quick external access to essentials. It has a side zipper for getting at gear deep inside the main compartment.
The pack weighs 6 lb, 6.4 oz, but it’s comfortable despite its bulk. Strong compression straps help keep heavy loads stable, and the back panel and straps provide body-hugging comfort. The lid pocket is fully removable and can be worn as a fanny pack of sorts.
10. Osprey Aether Plus 85 Pack
Here’s another oversized pack for long hauls. The Osprey Aether Plus 85 is tough, versatile, and, above all, spacious. On extended backpacking trips when resupply points are few and far between, this pack’s 85L capacity is a real asset.
The back panel is form-fitting for stability and well-ventilated to keep sweating to a minimum. This pack has great suspension too. It weighs a chunky 6 lb, 3.7 oz, but let’s face it – if you need an 85L pack, you’re not exactly going for ultralight.
The Aether Plus 85 also has a great layout, with a top-loading main compartment, hydration bladder sleeve, sleeping bag compartment, and compression straps to cinch it all uptight. The fully removable top lid converts into an ultralight daypack for day trips or “slackpacking.”
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Long Distance Hiking Backpack FAQs
A long distance hiking backpack is a backpack intended for extended trips in the backcountry. Depending on one’s definition of “long distance,” this could be anything from a weekend overnight trip to a months-long adventure spanning hundreds of miles. The sizes and features of long distance hiking backpacks – i.e. backpacking backpacks – vary accordingly.
The most obvious difference is size. Realistically, backpacks for day hiking only need to hold a day’s worth of gear, and a 15L to 30L pack is generally sufficient. But for overnight backpacking, it’s best to have a pack with at least a 40L capacity. If you’re planning a truly long-distance backpacking trip stretching a week or more, 60L or greater is ideal.
Long distance hiking backpacks are also more durable, and they have a variety of features that make them more comfortable and functional while carrying heavy loads over long distances.
There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re choosing a backpacking backpack. In addition to choosing a pack size that corresponds with your needs and the length of your hike, be sure to consider these features:
- Frame type: These days, most long distance backpacks (including all of the packs listed here) are internal frame backpacks. But there are backpackers who prefer an external frame backpack for its versatility and ability to carry very heavy loads. Smaller packs intended only for day hiking may have no frame at all.
- Adjustable suspension: The ability to adjust the suspension of a hiking backpack is essential to getting the right fit for your height and torso length. It allows the pack to ride on your hips correctly so that its weight is not entirely on your shoulders.
- Quality padding: It’s generally best for your backpack to be as form-fitting as possible, especially on larger packs. Padding on the back panel, straps, and hip belt help accomplish this. The padding should also be soft enough to offer some cushion under a heavy pack, and well-ventilated to keep back sweat to a minimum.
- Compression straps: These help tighten up your pack once it’s loaded, which is important for stability. Without them, your pack can feel loose and off balance.
- Pockets and compartments: How you like to load your pack is a matter of personal preference but think about the configuration and number of pockets to make sure it’s to your liking. Consider quick access to outer pockets, whether there is a separate sleeping bag compartment, and ease of access to items in the depths of the main compartment.
- Hydration compatibility: Many long distance hiking backpacks are designed with a separate inner compartment for a hydration bladder, and an external hydration port so you can drink water without removing your pack.
- Rain cover: Most backpacking packs come with an integrated rain cover that stows away in its own pocket. If not, make sure the pack material itself is waterproof.