Backpacking is a time-honored tradition, whether trekking across Europe bouncing from hostel to hostel or hiking and camping in the American wilderness.
While your school backpack may be able to accommodate a weekend trip, for a week or longer, you’ll need an actual backpack designed for backpacking. These bags are designed to carry more while bearing the load across your body in a way that reduces neck, shoulder, and back strain caused by traditional school backpacks.
I contacted backpack companies and asked them to send in the best backpacks they had. Here’s what they sent:
Cotopaxi Taboche 55L ($189.95 at Cotopaxi.com)
Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, and the company was started in Utah in 2013 by a group of designers, adventurers and entrepreneurs seeking to make quality gear that can last a lifetime. The Taboche 55 (named after a mountain in the Nepelese Himalayas) is a testament to that.
Cotopaxi is dedicated to sustaining the environment and helping make the global community a better place. The company’s motto – Gear for Good – represents their commitment to sustainable design standards and processes, as well as giving back 2 percent of revenues to help alleviate global poverty.
The suspension system can handle a substantial load, making it perfect for camping, climbing, and any other adventure. The aluminum frame is lightweight and both the waist belt (with dual hip-belt pockets) and straps are adjustable to different heights.
It’s padded on the back in a way that allows your back to breathe and help reduce back sweat (which will come up while hiking). It also comes with a pack cover that can be used to protect the fabric of the pack (which is high quality nylon).
On the inside of the top cover is some helpful information regarding how and what to pack. It also defines Taboche and reminds you how to ethically explore the outdoors.
Pockets and compartments are well designed in this pack. You can load it either from the top or bottom, and choose to separate or combine those compartments. It’s a great all-in-one pack that’s both durable and functional.
Taboche 55 is the perfect pack for teens, as the adjustable height suspension system allows it to grow with you. For adults, that aspect is less necessary, but it’s still a solid all-purpose backpack that can accommodate gear for camping, climbing, cross-country skiing, or whatever your outdoor adventure of choice.
Granite Gear Lutsen 55 ($219.95 at GraniteGear.com)
Over 30 years ago, friends Jeff Knight and Dan Cruikshank decided on a camping trip to create an outdoor gear company that made better gear for everyone. Granite Gear was born that day and has since grown to become one of the global leaders in the outdoor gear industry, especially their award-winning backpacks.
An Alpine-style backpack, Lutsen is a roll-top with a floating lid that can either be used for extra storage or removed entirely to keep weight down. Like most Granite Gear bags, the majority of storage is inside the main compartment, although there are 3 pockets and a mesh liner to hold water bottles and a hydration bladder.
Like Cotopaxi, Granite Gear made the suspension system fully adjustable using what it calls its Re-Fit system. Both hip and torso size can be adjusted quite easily, making it a great pack for any size person – short or tall, fat or skinny. It also has hip pockets, one of which is mesh, while the other is waterproof.
Compressing the bag is done using the many adjustable straps and buckles that keep everything on this pack together. I had no issues packing it full and getting everything together to put it on my back. Carrying it around, I didn’t feel the weight, but it felt like the pack wasn’t as contoured to fit my back as the others, no matter how much I adjusted it.
Still, Lutsen is a solid and basic bag that can easily be customized and personalized for whatever your needs are. The inside has plenty enough room for everything you need for your next adventure, though you may need a separate organizational system if you have a lot of small items.
Kelty Siro 50 ($199.95 on Kelty.com)
Dick Kelty was one of the first to design an external-frame backpacking system, and the Boulder, CO-based outdoor company he built has a focus on creating premium gear for explorers all over the world. Siro 50 is the company’s latest 50L bag with some innovative features that set it apart from the pack.
Although it looks like your standard top-loading backpack, a zipper on the back allows you to load it like a duffel bag. This loading system was the easiest to get gear in and out of between the three packs featured.
If you fear that overpacking would create an issue with the zipper coming down as you hop between rocks and traverse streams, Kelty has a solution for that. At the top of the zipper is a sturdy button that keeps the zipper from being pulled down.
Kelty is also the only backpack manufacturer we’ve gotten in so far that does something to eliminate all those hanging straps with a rather innovative feature. Basically a rubber band around the strap allows it to be rolled and unrolled easily when making adjustments.
Where Siro 50 does fail is the suspension system isn’t as adjustable as the others. That being said, the suspended mesh design of the back panel is comfortable and among the best for ventilating your back and preventing back sweat.
Siro 50 is the most lightweight pack on this list, following the lead of Granite Gear and opting to focus mostly on one large compartment. Kelty’s strap system on the Cotopaxi bag would be the ideal combination for the best pack.