Last updated: 08/12/2020

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Hiking is a sport in which there is no competition. It merely consists of walking through beautiful landscapes, from magnificent mountains to deserted prairies. All you need is a good pair of legs, motivation, and friends if you prefer to walk in a group. This activity has various names, depending on the country you are from.

Rambling or hillwalking in the United Kingdom, bushwalking in Australia, or tramping in New Zealand; all are synonyms of this form of exercise that unites us back with nature, allowing us to escape the hustle and bustle of modernity for a few hours or days. Backpacks are one of the most vital accessories to go hiking, and we tell you everything you should know about them in the following guide.

Key Facts

  • A backpack must be light, resistant, and comfortable.
  • The length of your hikes or journeys will determine the capacity you should opt for.
  • Waterproofing and ventilation are key if you want to overcome challenges by humidity and high temperatures. We will delve into this in the final section of this article.

Our Selection: The Best Hiking Backpacks on the U.S. Market

Your hiking backpack must be tailored to the needs of the activity you want to carry out. The market offers a wide variety of models with different characteristics to answer to all these needs, with certain backpacks providing unmatched versatility of use. In the following section, you will discover our very own selection of the best models currently available out there:

Best-Selling Hiking Backpack

This hiking backpack by reputed American brand TETON Sports has become an Amazon Best Seller and a user favorite for its versatility, value for money, and overall quality. Available in 3 color schemes, it has a capacity of 55 liters, which is the right balance between space and lightness. The shoulder and lumbar straps, as well as the waist belt, are adjustable. This product comes with a lifetime warranty.

Best Hiking Backpack for Day Trips

Are you looking for an ultra-light and compact-yet-durable backpack for all your day trips and plane rides? Then this best-selling bag is exactly what you need. Made from water-resistant nylon material, it can be folded into a sandwich-sized pouch so you can truly carry it anywhere you want when empty. Its capacity of 20 liters is ideal for a day of hiking. Available in 13 different colors.

Best Hiking Backpack for Round-The-World Trips

Made of durable polyester, this affordable backpack by AmazonBasics features an internal structure and a large capacity of 75 liters. Delivered with a rain cover for enhanced water protection, it has adjustable padded shoulder straps, as well as waist and lumbar belts for greater comfort. Designed to accompany you on all your journeys, this hiking backpack offers the largest capacity of our selection.

Best Hiking Backpack With Water Bladder

Last but not least, Gelindo’s hydration backpack combines the carrying space of a bag with the usefulness of a water bladder. Its built-in insulating layer keeps your water cool for up to 4 hours, and its 18-liter capacity will have you storing all the gear you need for your day trips and outdoor adventures. Weighing less than 2 pounds, this is a versatile and high-quality hiking backpack.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Hiking Backpacks

Let’s now delve into what a hiking backpack really is. Placed on your back to leave your hands free, this product must resist intensive use in difficult weather conditions. The vast majority feature chest and waist adjustment straps to provide the greatest comfort possible during your treks. If you have questions regarding hiking backpacks, you will find all your answers in the section below.

It is essential that your backpack is waterproof.
(Source: Rahul Dey: kzQ6gbTRFg/ Unsplash.com)

What is a hiking backpack exactly?

This type of bag is primarily designed to carry your belongings during outdoor activities. However, you can also use it for trips where you prefer the portability of backpacks over the space of luggage. Since you often expose them to harsher weather conditions, they are generally waterproof, resistant, and well ventilated.

One of the main characteristics of these accessories is that you can carry them comfortably thanks to their shoulder straps. These prevent the backpack from moving while distributing the weight between your shoulders and hips. That way, it is easier for you to carry your bag over long distances.

What are the parts of a hiking backpack?

These bags are manufactured explicitly so that you can transport everything you need during your hikes. We all know that every little space matters and backpacks allow you to make the most of it while offering comfort and practicality of use. Here is a list of the four main components of a hiking backpack:

  • The head: This is the top part of your bag, through which you introduce everything you want to take with you. This section often comes with additional pockets, located both inside and outside.
  • The main compartment: This is the biggest section of the backpack and where you can store most of your belongings. It is generally made of waterproof nylon.
  • The lumbar pad: This is the most fundamental part of the bag since it is in contact with your back. Its role is to protect this delicate area of the body while distributing the weight evenly using the shoulder straps. It sometimes features additional straps (a sternum strap and a hip belt).
  • The pockets: These smaller compartments tend to be designed for more specific elements that you want to take with you – water bottles, compasses, or flashlights, for example. Some are located outside and others inside. You can even find secret pockets to keep your wallet or other valuables, or even for your laptop.

Distributing the load evenly is essential to prevent imbalances that can lead to back pains.
(Source: Khamkhor: McziCxxM/ Unsplash.com)

What accessories can my backpack carry?

As you may have noticed, some hiking bags are much simpler than others. It all depends on what you are looking for, from the level of comfort to the protection and features of the backpack. You may be interested in a rain cover to protect you from unpleasant weather conditions, for instance. Some main compartments also include a mesh grid pocket to distribute the weight uniformly.

Hydration systems are also beneficial and have gained in popularity in recent years. They consist of a rechargeable bladder with a tube, which is placed in an outer compartment so you can drink at any time without having to take off your backpack to find your water bottle.

How should I wash my hiking backpack?

You can do so with a sponge soaked in warm soapy water (at a maximum temperature of 85°F). Unless they are specifically designed for this type of material, very aggressive detergents should be avoided, as they can damage the bag’s fabric. The use of softeners is not recommended either.

You then have to let your backpack dry naturally at room temperature and without direct exposure to heat sources such as the sun. You can simply hang it or place it on a flat and clean surface. If you want to extend the useful life of your bag, we recommend storing it in a dry place or a large cotton bag.

You can clean your hiking backpack with a sponge and warm soapy water.
(Source: Kace Rodriguez: p8F32o-S8iA/ Unsplash.com)

What capacity do hiking backpacks offer?

Before you settle for a specific model, it is essential that you know the capacity you need. This will be determined by the activity you want to carry out and its duration since this influences the belongings that you will have to take with you. We have explained the different options available to you in the list below:

  • 10 to 30 liters: They are used for activities of a few hours or day trips during which you only need to carry some clothes and food. In that regard, 30-liter models are more suitable for winter, as you usually have to take warmer clothes. These backpacks are very light.
  • 40 liters: These models are ideal for 2 or 3-day activities, such as a weekend getaway. Their capacity allows you to carry more clothes, food, and other possessions (such as a camera or a tablet).
  • 50 to 65 liters: These large backpacks offer a high capacity, suitable for 5-day to one-week trips. They are very useful for mountain treks, during which you may require more specific material or equipment.
  • Over 65 liters: The biggest backpacks out there are destined to accompany you on round-the-world trips and challenging hikes such as the American Discovery Trail. They allow you to carry everything you need over long periods of time. That being said, they are naturally bulky, and your body needs to get accustomed to them to prevent discomfort and potential injuries.

How should I distribute the weight in my backpack?

It is imperative that you distribute the load of your hiking bag evenly to avoid imbalances that lead to greater effort, cause discomfort, or even provoke injuries. This will also help you have quick access to the most essential items you packed – such as your windbreaker or water bottle – without having to empty your backpack on the floor.

You should start by placing clothes and belongings that you won’t use immediately at the bottom of your bag. In the middle, you can then introduce heavy items or those that you want to protect. The upper section will hold frequently used elements, like your food or sunscreen. In the outer pockets, you can place everything that you want to have handy, such as your cell phone or the compass.

Some hiking backpacks are simpler than others.
(Source: Holly Mandarich: UVyOfX3v0Ls/ Unsplash.com)

What are the most recognized brands of hiking backpacks?

When it comes to evaluating the overall quality and value for money of a product, user reviews and ratings are often the most reliable source. Manufacturers naturally have to face the verdict, and some companies indeed tend to get higher scores than others. We have listed some of these brands below:

  • Mountaintop: This Chinese manufacturer offers very affordable-yet-quality products. Its backpacks feature several internal and external pockets, as well as hidden compartments destined to hide your valuables.
  • Salomon: This world-renowned manufacturer of sports equipment has been in the business for decades now. Based in the French city of Annecy, the brand produces highly developed and high-quality products – including hiking backpacks.
  • TETON Sports: Headquartered in Cedar Hills, Utah, this brand stands out for its strong, comfortable, and versatile gear and accessories for all your outdoor needs. It has an extensive catalog of products with top-quality hiking backpacks.

Shopping Criteria

There are various aspects that you will need to take into account when the time comes to buy your own hiking backpack. Indicated in liters, the capacity will tell you exactly how much clothing and accessories you can stuff in your bag. Remember that the manufacturing material should be waterproof and promote breathability. Regarding the comfort of use, you will want a model with the right fastening system and a comfortable lumbar pad. Let’s have a closer look at these criteria:

Capacity

If you plan on going for long hikes over several days or if you like to walk well-equipped and prepared for any situation, you will need a large-capacity backpack. That being said, you should keep in mind that backpacks come with a resistance limit, so you cannot carry excessive weights either.

It is recommended not to exceed 10% of your own weight when you are heading off on long journeys. The capacity of backpacks is always measured in liters, models of 20 or less being ideal for short day trips. A 40-liter bag is a good balance between size and lightness for a few days on the road. For anything longer than that, you should opt for backpacks of 65 liters or more.

Hiking backpacks are specifically designed to allow you to take everything you need during your outdoor escapades.
(Source: Danka Peter: tvicgTdh7Fg/ Unsplash.com)

Comfort

Keep in mind that you have to carry your bag on your back and that this demands physical effort. This is why it is essential to choose a model that is as comfortable as possible. In addition, you will often be wearing it for several hours – or even days – at a time. The material, design, or fastening straps shouldn’t cause you any discomfort at all.

Ventilation

Carrying your hiking backpack is a physical activity in itself, both because of its weight and the demanding terrain you are walking on. Most of us will sweat during our hikes, especially in hotter weather conditions. This potential issue increases on your back since this is where the main part of the bag’s structure rests.

This is why it is so vital that you pay close attention to the model you opt for. That being said, most backpacks are now made with materials that favor breathability. High-end ones even feature a ventilation system that will help you stay cooler.

The various straps featured on your backpack will provide greater comfort of use.
(Source: Christopher Burns: Lh2qwkppkf8/ Unsplash.com)

Waterproofing

The waterproofing of your hiking backpack is an absolute must-have characteristic since you will be taking this product into harsh weather conditions. In that regard, all your belongings should be protected from humidity and water, and this will naturally depend on the quality of the manufacturing materials. Note that many backpacks are also sold with a rain cover.

Fastening System

Regardless of the type of fastening that your backpack features, it should allow you to carry it more comfortably and safely. This starts with the shoulder straps, which tend to be padded and take on some of the weight carried. You can adjust them to regulate the height and distance of the backpack from your body.

The lumbar belt is another critical part of the fastening system. It helps keep the backpack close to your body, prevent it from moving and hitting you as you walk while supporting some of the weight. Last but not least, sternum straps are another useful feature, although they are not absolutely necessary.

A hiking backpack will allow you to carry everything you need during your outdoor adventures.
(Source: Austin Ban: juHayWuaaoQ/ Unsplash.com)

Summary

Choosing the right hiking backpack will give you greater comfort and peace of mind for all your outdoor adventures – or any trip during which you have to carry a lot of belongings. Throughout this article, we have introduced you to the different characteristics of these products, as well as the suitability of various models for each type of activity or situation.

It is now up to you to find the best option for your needs. Luckily for you, there is now a large number of manufacturers that produce high-quality and affordable models. And remember: comfort is the key to a pleasant hike.

If you found our guide helpful, feel free to leave us a comment below, and share it on your social media!

(Source of featured image: Chris Hayashi: gbaeHydpgtE/ Unsplash.com)

Why you can trust me?

Thibault Perinet Freelance Writer & World Traveler
As a literature and translation licensee and avid traveler, language has always been at the heart of my daily life. A freelance writer since 2014, I love to delve into a variety of topics that contribute to my professional and personal development. My favorite things in life? Maté in the morning, soccer with friends, and old school hip hop.