The Best Hiking Packs of 2016
Let’s start with a basic truth: no single pack does it all. Going backcountry camping with all your toys requires a big ol’ bag. Athletes moving fast and light will be happiest with a trimmed-down thoroughbred. Day hikers will appreciate a sack with utilitarian features. But none of this means you need to own a closetful of backpacks. Thanks to design evolution, there are more multi-use options to choose from than ever before. We tested daypacks that can eke out an overnight (like the Osprey Manta) and relatively lightweight big-load haulers (like the Granite Gear Lutsen). Versatility is achievable if you’re willing to make some trade-offs—and a multitalented pack is worth the price of two or three specialty models.
The North Face Fovero 70
Gear of the Year
Big, beefy, and built for the hyper-organized set, the Fovero earned our respect the hard way—by effortlessly schlepping 50-pound loads. That comfort, combined with a full menu of features and an incredibly fast torso-adjustment system that ensured a custom fit, made this our favorite bag for three-day-weekend trips. “It was clearly designed by an obsessive backpacker,” one tester said. We loved the long J-shaped back zipper for mid-trail rummaging and the oversize, dedicated sleeping-bag compartment. Little things—like the top pocket’s extra-tall lip to prevent spills—showed an attention to detail that far too many packs lack.
Price $290 Weight 5 lbs
REI Traverse 70
Best For: Warm-weather hauling.
The Test: On sunny slogs above tree line, the air wafting through the Traverse’s trampoline-style back panel more than justified the slight sacrifice in stability. And we mean slight: most of the load rides comfortably on a fat lumbar pad and smartly contoured hipbelt that locks onto your pelvic bones, courtesy of a pair of well-designed concave pads. Even better, two ratcheting support straps lift the bottom of the bag to pull it closer to your center of gravity. You’ll want to size smartly, because the hipbelt’s width can’t be adjusted.
The Verdict: One of the best packs on the market for big midsummer trips.
Price $239 Weight 4.8 lbs
Granite Gear Lutsen 55
Best For: Lightweight overnights.
The Test: Think of the Lutsen as the Royce Gracie of weekend packs—a middleweight that can knock down the big boys. Half-width straps, tiny buckles, and a less-is-more ethos keep the weight down to an impressive 3.1 pounds (or 2.9 pounds with-out the removable lid), while the 40-pound suspension rating and micro-adjustability make it much more capable than its ultra-light competitors. Our only gripes: the foam back panel can feel lumpy, and the opening to the main top pocket is undersized, making packing difficult.
The Verdict: Minimalism in moderation, with a few quirks.
Price $220 Weight 3.1 lbs
Deuter AirContact 55 + 10
Best For: Heavy loads.
The Test: Sexy? No. But while the foam-and-mesh suspension on the AirContact might seem dated, there was no denying its prowess on the trail. When carrying loads up to 48 pounds, the flexy straps, stout hipbelt, and close-to-the-back ride “felt rock solid,” a tester raved. We loved the ability to expand the pack’s volume to 65 liters—especially when it came to packing bulky extras like waders—and the crude but quick torso adjustability. Granted, we would have liked a few more creature comforts, like a stuff pouch, roomier sleeping-bag compartment, and larger water-bottle pockets.
The Verdict: Basic but bomber.
Price $259 Weight 6 lbs
Arc’teryx Cierzo 28
Best For: Ounce counters.
The Test: The Cierzo is a study in minimalist innovation. Witness the floss-thin compression cord zigzagging in a single loop around the entire bag, giving it structure and lots of ways to carry loads on the outside; it’s brilliant in theory but a touch fussy in practice. Or the tiny aluminum bars that stand in for ax loops. Or the silicon treatment to the outer nylon, which makes the fabric highly water-resistant. There’s almost no suspension or structure, just a thin foam back pad and one tiny exterior pocket. Looking for the Nalgene pocket or lid to the cargo compartment? You’re not invited.
The Verdict: The bare essentials for extreme play.
Price $119 Weight 1.2 lbs
Black Diamond Speed Zip 33
Best For: Alpine and rock routes.
The Test: The Speed Zip is a slick climber’s pack with everything you’d expect: removable hipbelt and back pad (for emergency bivies), crampon lash points, rope- and helmet-stowing options, and a detail-oriented design. What surprised us was how stable and comfortable it felt under moderately heavy loads. Credit goes to the perfectly anatomical shoulder straps, flexible framesheet, and thermoformed foam back panel. The barely padded hipbelt and lack of extras limit its range, but the Speed Zip isn’t trying to be a long-hauler.
The Verdict: A clever climbing pack that doesn’t feel out of place off-belay.
Price $160 Weight 2.6 lbs
Marmot Graviton 38
Best For: Downsizing.
The Test: Meet the little big pack. The Graviton has all the niceties of a big-load hauler—including the floating top lid, lots of compression straps, and daisy chains and other lash points around the body, but it’s half the volume. It’s also half the weight, with lighter materials throughout, less padding in the hips and shoulders, and smaller buckles and straps. We loved the lifted back panel, which doesn’t encroach (much) on the cargo hold. Just keep your weekend loads under 40 pounds.
The Verdict: An exceptionally versatile bag—especially considering the bantam weight.
Price $169 Weight 2.4 lbs
Osprey Manta AG 36
Best For: Bringing it all.
The Test: The Manta is a python. With a cavernous main compartment, two exterior pockets, and a stuff pouch, the Manta can swallow enormous quantities of gear, ballooning outward for day trips or even spare overnighters. Osprey’s wraparound mesh back panel distributes weight evenly across the contours of your torso and hips “like a bear hug from behind,” as one tester put it. All that expansion potential boosts the weight a bit, as does the seemingly endless feature list (integrated rain cover, top-notch hydration bladder, and so on). If you’re not camping, go for the 20- or 28-liter option.
The Verdict: A feature-laden pack that’ll take all you can feed it.
Price $175 Weight 2.9 lbs
Mountain Hardwear Rainshadow 26 OutDry
Best For: Rainy hikes and urban excursions.
The Test: There’s nothing all that remarkable about the Rainshadow—until it gets drenched. Inside, this simple, 26-liter clamshell pack is lined with an OutDry membrane, which kept the contents completely dry in our soak test (à la garden hose) without a cumbersome rain cover or drybag closure. Beyond that the Rainshadow offers a few smart extras, like a small stash pocket for a soggy shell, an exterior-access hydration sleeve, and flexy suspension with a narrow spinal groove, which adds structure to the back panel but not much airflow.
The Verdict: A simple and highly capable rainy day-tripper.
Price $150 Weight 1.4 lbs
Gregory Salvo 24
Best For: Short missions under heavy load.
The Test: Overpackers, rejoice! The Salvo’s steel internal-frame suspension, along with wide, ventilated foam shoulder straps (complete with load stabilizers) and lightly padded EVA hipbelt, allow you to stuff it with gusto. On steamy afternoons, the lifted, trampoline-style back panel kept air flowing, while the quick-release side and bottom compression straps added lots of exterior-carry options. We also appreciated the loops for holding shades and lights. Our only nitpick: Why no exterior stash pouch?
The Verdict: As sophisticated as a daypack can get—and our favorite when it comes to do-it-all versatility in a small package.
Price $115 Weight 2.3 lbs