TAKE A HIKE
Whether you're spending a few hours at the greenbelt or embarking on a multi-day backcountry trek, a good hiking backpack is essential. Packs aimed at serious hikers and campers can cost several hundred dollars, but there are cheap hiking backpacks from top brands like Osprey, REI, and The North Face that will do just as well for the occasional outdoor adventure. Cheapism.com consulted professional test results and owner reviews on major retail sites to identify the best hiking backpacks and daypacks under $200.
Hiking backpacks are available in a variety of sizes, their capacity measured in liters. Hikers and bikers who plan to be out for only a few hours should choose a daypack. These bags, which can hold a small water bottle, an energy bar, and a few personal items, typically have a capacity of 20 liters or less. Weekend campers should look for a hiking backpack in the 30- to 50-liter range; hikers planning excursions of three to five days should consider a pack of up to 70 or 80 liters. Most hiking backpacks have an internal frame, but there are also external-frame hiking packs available. These are heavier and are designed to tote heavy gear across long distances.
Regardless of price or size, the most important quality to look for in any backpack is proper fit. A good hiking backpack should feel balanced across the shoulders, with most of the weight resting on the hips. Some packs are available in multiple sizes for a custom fit, but many cheap backpacks come in only one size, so it's essential to try on packs in person before you buy. Look for a well padded hip belt and shoulder straps, plus load-lifter straps and a sternum belt for added stability. Other nice-to-have features include a rain cover, internal hydration bladders, pockets for water bottles and personal items, and attachment loops and daisy chains to tote additional gear.
Prices and availability may vary.
OSPREY VOLT 60
Best Hiking Backpack for Men
Est. Price: $180 | Buy it from REI
- Comfortable padded harness and hip belt distribute weight evenly, users say.
- Weighs less than 4 pounds, ideal for a hiking backpack of this size.
- 4 external compression straps to keep cargo from shifting.
- 1-size fit may not be comfortable for hikers with small frames.
- Rain cover not included.
- Hip belt is too narrow for people with larger waistlines, some reviewers say.
Takeaway: Professional reviewers and consumers both consider the Osprey Volt 60 hiking backpack a terrific value for the money, with features not found on other similarly priced models. There are plenty of places to stash belongings, including two zippered pockets on the hip belt, a floating top pocket with two more mesh pockets inside, and a mesh front pocket, plus dual loops and daisy chains for clipping on gear. Owners also like the zippered interior sleeping bag compartment, which has a removable divider to accommodate larger bags. Although Osprey says the Volt 60 can carry up to 50 pounds, some reviewers say 35 pounds is a more realistic weight limit. Apart from that and some owner complaints about fit, negative reviews are relatively scarce.
KELTY COYOTE 80
Good Hiking Backpack for Men
Est. Price: $166 | Buy it on Amazon
- Relatively low price for such a large hiking backpack.
- 7 external pockets give hikers easy access to items they might need along the trail.
- Detachable top compartment doubles as a lumbar pack.
- Some users say the shoulder straps frequently need to be readjusted, or need more padding.
- A few complaints that the backpack can become uncomfortable with loads above 35 pounds.
Takeaway: An 80-liter hiking backpack is the ideal size for a weeklong trek, experts say, but there's no hiding the fact that this is a big bag, measuring 34 by 17 by 14 inches and weighing about 5.25 pounds. It has compression straps to keep small loads stable, a sleeping bag compartment, and a padded, zippered waist belt that's roomy enough to stash a camera, phone, or other small items you want to keep close at hand. The internal frame on this one-size hiking backpack is easily adjustable and comfortable for most people, but some professional reviewers say it can't quite match the quality of more expensive hiking backpacks. That said, there are very few truly negative reviews of this pack.
THE NORTH FACE TERRA 55
Best Hiking Backpack for Women
Est. Price: $169 | Buy it from The North Face
- Relatively low price for a women's hiking backpack.
- Well-padded hip belt keeps the pack balanced and comfortable, users say.
- Available in 2 sizes.
- 7 external pockets.
- Lifetime guarantee.
- No rain cover.
- Scattered complaints about seams that tear easily.
Takeaway: Experts say that female hikers don't need to buy a pack designed specifically for a woman's frame. But for some petite hikers, a women's hiking backpack like the 55-liter North Face Terra offers a better fit than a unisex pack. Among professional testers, this is the hands-down favorite, and a majority of owners say they love this hiking backpack for features like its easy-to-adjust internal frame and straps. At 4.5 pounds, it's not the lightest model available, but this doesn't seem to bother hikers, who say the design makes it easy to distribute weight evenly. We also read a few complaints about the internal hydration pouch, which some reviewers say is too snug but makes a secure place for stashing valuables. Wholly negative reviews of this pack are rare.
REI TRAIL 40
Good Hiking Backpack for Women
Est. Price: $109 | Buy it from REI
- Weighs less than 3 pounds; relatively lightweight for a hiking backpack of this size.
- Available in 2 sizes.
- Built-in rain cover.
- Shoulder straps could use more padding, some owners say, and can become uncomfortable on long hikes.
- A few scattered complaints about durability.
Takeaway: REI products have a loyal following, and this women's hiking backpack is no exception. It's easy to adjust and relatively comfortable, particularly for smaller people, but some reviewers complain of having to readjust the pack mid-hike. There are six pockets, enough to stash personal items, plus external hooks and loops for attaching trekking poles and other gear. The biggest complaint from owners concerns the hydration system. Although the Trail 40 is designed to accommodate water bladders up to 3 liters, several users say they struggled to get their hydration reservoirs to fit. Apart from that issue, this REI hiking backpack has few drawbacks, according to reviews.
TETON SPORTS SCOUT 3400
Best Cheap Hiking Backpack
Est. Price: $60 | Buy it on Amazon
- Very low price for a 55-liter hiking backpack.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Attached rain cover.
- Side water-bottle pockets are hard to reach and not big enough for some containers, users say.
- Some taller users struggle to find a comfortable fit.
- Thick or oversize sleeping bags may not fit in the sleeping bag compartment.
Takeaway: The Teton Sport Scout is highly recommended by camping experts and bloggers as a great bargain option and a good choice for people who hike only a few times a year. It doesn't have features found on more expensive hiking backpacks, such as a zippered pocket in the waist belt and multiple strap adjustments. At 4.5 pounds, the Scout 3400 isn't particularly lightweight for its size, and some owners say the quality of the materials could be better, particularly the ripstop polyester and the plastic zipper pulls. But based on user feedback, most consumers seem quite willing to overlook these shortcomings given the very low price.
HIGH SIERRA PATHWAY 60L
Good Cheap Hiking Backpack
Est. Price: $90 | Buy it on Amazon
- Low price for a hiking backpack of this size.
- Interior sleeve to hold a hydration bladder or laptop.
- Weighs 4.2 pounds; relatively light for its size.
- No rain cover, just a removable lid.
- Only 3 side pockets.
- No internal zippered compartments for stashing valuables.
Takeaway: Cheap hiking backpacks don't have as many extras as pricier models, and the High Sierra Pathway is no exception. But at 60 liters, it's plenty roomy for a five-day hike, reviewers say, as long as you don't need a lot of pockets to stash small items or a full-size, waterproof rain cover. This hiking backpack gets few consumer reviews relative to other High Sierra packs, but in general, the brand has a good reputation for quality.
REI FLASH 22
Est. Price: $55 | Buy it from REI
- Converts to a travel tote with detachable hip belt and sternum straps.
- Internal pocket and hydration port for a water bladder.
- Weighs 14.5 ounces; very lightweight for a daypack.
- Side pockets don't hold water bottles securely, reviewers complain.
- Shoulder straps are not comfortable for some hikers.
- No interior zippered pockets for stashing valuables.
Takeaway: Reviewers love this 22-liter daypack for short hikes, the daily commute, or as a carry-on for a weekend getaway. The REI Flash 22 has two external, zippered pockets, plus space for water bottles and a hydration system. Like most daypacks, it doesn't have an internal frame or heavy-duty padding and straps, so the bag can become unbalanced or sag on your back if you overload it, reviewers say. But that lack of an internal frame also makes it possible to roll up the pack and store it in a suitcase or a larger backpack when you're not using it.
OSPREY DAYLITE PLUS
Est. Price: $65 | Buy it on Amazon
- Weighs just 1 pound.
- Fairly comfortable for a daypack, even on longer hikes, reviewers say.
- 3 external, zippered pockets, plus an interior sleeve.
- Attaches to larger Osprey backpacks, including the Volt 60.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Side mesh pockets don't hold water bottles securely, reviewers complain.
- If you use the front pouch, you can't get to the main compartment without unbuckling it first.
- Some owners say they wish the bag had more pockets for stashing personal items.
Takeaway: The 20-liter Osprey Daylite Plus daypack is slightly more expensive than our top pick and slightly smaller, but it has a few advantages that make it a worthy alternative, such as the zippered pockets and interior sleeve, which can be used to store a hydration bladder or a laptop. Reviewers also say the shoulder and hip straps are easy to adjust, and the zipper pulls feel solid. We found a handful of complaints from consumers who say the bag doesn't look as nice in person as it does in photos, or that the colors are off. But in general, most owners say this daypack is a good choice for short hikes or the daily commute.
KELTY TREKKER 65
Bonus: External-Frame Backpack
Est. Price: $179 | Buy it from REI
- Extremely durable; some people say they have been using the same one for decades.
- Sturdy aluminum frame can handle loads of 40 pounds or more and keep the pack balanced, reviewers say.
- Lifetime warranty.
- External-frame backpacks are harder to adjust than models with internal frames and may frustrate beginners, some users say.
- Wide frame may not be comfortable for some hikers with small frames.
- Weighs 5.25 pounds, relatively heavy.
Takeaway: External-frame hiking backpacks are far less popular with casual campers than internal-frame packs. But if you're planning to be out on the trail for three to five days and lug a lot of gear, few packs will let you carry a heavy load as comfortably as the 65-liter Kelty Trekker. Few hiking backpacks garner the kind of enthusiastic user reviews that this Kelty pack does. There are six exterior pockets, plus an internal pocket for a hydration sleeve, and most owners say they have no problem stashing all their gear. There is no attached rain cover, and some users say they wish the pack were available in neutral colors or camouflage, rather than vivid red. These minor complaints notwithstanding, negative reviews are nearly impossible to find.
GREGORY BALTORO 65
Bonus: Technical Hiking Backpack
Est. Price: $300 | Buy it from REI
- Exceptionally sturdy internal frame keeps loads balanced and comfortable up to 50 pounds, reviewers say.
- Removable lumbar pad for extra support.
- Available in 3 sizes.
- Weighs about 5.3 pounds, more than other backpacks of this size.
- Dual waist pockets are too small for some phones and cameras, reviewers complain.
- Hip belt may be too snug for large or heavyset hikers.
Takeaway: Serious hikers and pros alike rave about the Gregory Baltoro 65. Although it exceeds our $200 price limit, the added cost is well worth it if you hike on a regular basis, reviewers say. There are plenty of easy-to-access exterior pockets (10 in total) and a built-in rain cover. The interior hydration-bladder compartment detaches to become a daypack, an uncommon feature that several owners praise. Negative reviews are very hard to find, but some owners do say that the thick padding can be a little stiff when new and requires a break-in period to become truly comfortable. Others say the two external pockets for water bottles, while handy, can make the pack feel a little unbalanced.
REI TARN 18
Bonus: Hiking Backpack for Kids
Est. Price: $40 | Buy it from REI
- Designed for kids 8 to 12, although some reviewers say the 18-liter capacity makes it a great daypack for adults, too.
- Internal pocket for a hydration bladder.
- Straps are comfortable enough for a day hike and keep loads balanced, parents say.
- No internal frame; pack can bulge against a child's back if overstuffed.
- Mesh pockets for water bottles are prone to ripping, a few reviews suggest.
Takeaway: This is not book bag or a school bag, parents say. It's a real hiking backpack with many of the same features found on hiking backpacks for grown-ups, including side compression straps, lash loops for clipping on gear, and a padded hip belt with zippered pockets, plus another zippered pocket inside the pack. Serious complaints are few, though some reviewers say the external pocket on the front of the pack, which closes with a plastic clasp instead of a zipper, can let rain or snow seep in and get belongings wet.
5.11 TACTICAL RUSH 12
Bonus Tactical Backpack
Est. Price: $80 | Buy it from Amazon
- 16 compartments; ideal for photographers and others who carry a lot of gear.
- Very durable; withstands a lot of abuse, owners say.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Adjustable sternum strap may not fit larger users.
- Internal compression straps to help secure cargo.
- Shoulder straps can be difficult to adjust while wearing the pack, some reviewers say.
Takeaway: Tactical bags trace their heritage to military backpacks, loaded with pockets, straps, and clips for organizing gear, and heavy-duty materials that stand up to abuse. This pack has a 24-liter capacity, big enough for an all-day hike or the daily commute to work. Owners say the straps are comfortable and well padded, and the back stays well ventilated. Most consumers say they're quite satisfied with the quality of this tactical backpack, but we found scattered complaints about loose stitching and broken straps. A few other unhappy owners said the company wouldn't honor the warranty, but in general this tactical backpack gets very positive reviews.