A lot of hikers ask me which backpacks I think are the best for multi-day hikes and long distance backpacking, and time and again, I recommend the packs listed below. Why? I think they’re large enough to fit all of the gear and food you need for a backpacking trip for a variety of temperatures and terrain, they all carry extremely well, and their internal and external storage is simple and functional.
While these are all great packs, they all have slightly different personalities, with slightly different strengths and weaknesses, which I spell out below.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear specializes in multi-sport backpacks for backpacking, climbing, packrafting, and winter sports where durability, a streamlined exterior, and enhanced waterproofing are important. While their packs are made using cuben fiber (now called DCF) which is tough and lightweight, they tend to use a heavier grade of fabric than other gear makers, emphasizing durability over weight. If you backpack off the beaten track, off-trail, or in conditions that will rip the heck out of a nylon backpack, I recommend you get the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack. The black colored backpacks are made with thicker cuben fiber than the white ones, if durability is a concern.
Don’t need as much storage capacity?
Weight: 31 ounces
Volume: 65 liters
- Taped seams and needle holes make the pack nearly waterproof
- Roll top closure and side straps provide good compression
- Side water bottles are reachable and replaceable while wearing the pack
- Bomber tough against puncture or abrasion by aggressive vegetation
- Fantastic load to hip transfer
- Good range of sizes available for people with short torsos, including women
- White color is quickly discolored by dirt and grime
- No back ventilation
The Circuit is a tough ultralight pack with a tear drop shape that results in an excellent carry. While it is the heaviest ultralight backpack I recommend, I like it because it’s tough enough and functional enough for 4 season use, with an excellent external attachment system for carrying winter gear. I also like the ULA Circuit because it’s one of the friendlier packs available for women, with a choice of shoulder straps to fit the female figure. Fit is the most important aspect of buying any backpack and the folks at ULA are borderline fanatical about making sure their customers’ packs fit them perfectly. So if you’re looking for a company with high touch customer service, they’re a good choice.
Weight: 41 ounces
Volume: 68 liters
- Huge extension collar/roll top closure provides extra volume when you need it, but rolls up and out-of-the-way when you don’t
- Solid reinforced hip belt pockets provide excellent durability
- Replaceable hip belt, with multiple sizes available for a custom fit
- Multiple shoulder strap options available, enabling unisex wear
- Heavier than other alternatives
The Zpacks.com Arc Blast is a cuben fiber backpack with an adjustable length backpack making it a good choice for backpackers who want to dial in a custom fit. The Arc Blast also has a mesh back panel that provides better back ventilation in hot and humid weather since it has a trampoline style external frame While the Arc Blast is durable enough for hiking on trails, the external frame, rear mesh pocket, and external attachment straps make it too fragile vulnerable for off-trail hiking. Still, it’s an excellent pack for long trail hiking with a great carry and a highly functional assortment of pockets and external attachment options.
Weight: 21 ounces
Volume: 55 liters
- Shoulder pads are free to rotate around different chest shapes
- Side water bottle pockets are reachable while wearing the pack
- Compression and external attachment system can be customized using gear loops located around perimeter of pack
- Pack add-ons can be added any time after purchase and be trip-specific
- Pack is nearly waterproof with seam taped seams
- Roll top closure does not secure along sides of pack, only on top
- Front mesh pocket is not stretchable and quite limited in size
The Granite Gear Crown 2 is the only ultralight backpack that I recommend that you can try on at REI and other outdoor retailers. It’s also the least expensive one. Available in both a men’s and women’s version, the Crown 2 is laid out like other ultralight backpacks with a long rear mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, and a roll top closure. The distinguishing feature of the Crown 2 is its 360 degree compression system which along the top, back, and sides of the pack, which is better than any of the other packs I’ve listed above. This is an important capability if you take a lot of trips with very different capacity requirements – long trips with a lot of gear and supplies, or shorter trips with far less – making it an excellent pack for thru-hikes as well. With mesh pockets, I wouldn’t recommend taking the Crown 2 off-trail, but it’s an excellent pack for hiking on established trails with a really good carry.
Weight: 37 ounces
Volume: 60 liters
- Women’s specific version available, the Crown 2 for women
- Hip belt pockets
- Adjustable length hip belt!
- Optional removable top lid pocket
- External bear canister carry
- External mesh pockets let you stow food and gear for easy access
- Ample side compression lets you attach more gear to the outside and top of the pack
- Large extension collar for extra storage
- Good back ventilation with air channels
- Mesh side pockets are less durable than ones made with solid fabric
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a great pack for backpackers who are still lightening their loads because it has plenty of storage. As someone who’s taken a Mariposa on most of my long hikes ranging from 50 up to 250 miles, I can tell you it’s intuitively organized for a multi-day trip, with plenty of external pockets for wet or bulky gear, and lots of covered storage for items you need less frequent access too. It also has a unique long side pocket that’s perfect for storing a tent, especially a wet tent, separate from the rest of your gear. The Mariposa is a very refined and comfortable ultralight pack, best used for hiking on established trails.
Weight: 32.7 ounces
Volume: 59 liters
- Unisex shoulder pads and hip belt
- Wide range or torso lengths available from extra small to extra tall
- Hip belt is available in multiple sizes so you can get a near custom fit
- Solid, reinforced side bottle pockets instead of mesh (which tears easily)
- Side bottle pocket is reachable when wearing the backpack
- Not as much ventilation as mesh-backed packs in hot and humid weather
Disclosure: Philip Werner has received sample products from Gossamer Gear, Hyperlight Mountain Gear and Granite Gear in the past, as well as loaner packs for review from ZPacks.com and Ultralight Adventure Equipment. Despite this, the author was under no obligation to include the items listed in this article and the views expressed are entirely his own.
Updated for 2018.
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Backpacks: How to Choose
- Granite Gear Backpacks: How to Choose
- ULA Backpacks How to Choose
- Gossamer Gear Backs: How to Choose
- Granite Gear Crown 2 – 60L Backpack Review
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Backpack Review
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Backpack Review
- Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack Review
- ULA Circuit Backpack Review
- ZPacks.com Arc Blast Backpack Review
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