As we all crank our way into summer, it’s time to evaluate whether or not it’s time for a new backpack! The backpacking market for packs can feel extremely cluttered and confusing, but we are here to help you sort through it!
If you’re someone who is looking to get into backpacking, and multi-day hiking trips for the first time, someone who has been using the same pack for 30 years and wants to enter a new millennium of technology (I’m looking at you, Dad), or an avid outdoor enthusiast who is just looking for something new in 2022, we are here for you! I’ll lay out my personal favorite option for different lengths of hikes, and give you some tips for the used market if you want to go that route (which we ALWAYS recommend).
Disclaimer: I’d like to add that I do have my own personal bias when it comes to backpacks. I’ve tried to include a variety of brands, but you will notice a particular brand popping up in multiple categories, so I’ll just say it now: I LOVE Osprey packs. They offer extremely high quality products in every category, and have been my personal go-to brand since 2013 and I swear by the experience that I’ve had with them. Every company featured creates outstanding backpacks, but my personal affinity for Osprey.
I’m going to break these down into three main categories, but if one of the options can fit in multiple categories, I’ll make sure to mention that. We will look at Daypacks, more flexible backpacks for 3-5 day hikes, and packs for longer 5+ day expeditions. These will be broken down by sizing (vol. L). Daypacks will feature sub 35L packs, 3-5 day backs in the 35-55L range, and a few options at 65L+ for your longer/group hikes where you need to load up on gear and supplies!
The benefit of daypacks is that they are extremely lightweight. They do not offer much in the way of carrying capacity, so if you are new to hiking and looking for the opportunity to go on some extended adventures, I would recommend looking in the 3-5 day, or 5+ day section of this blog. However, for the experienced outdoors person, having a day pack on hand can be an extremely nice luxury for your short, or last minute hikes!
The REI Flash Packs have been a mainstay in the day hiking and general outdoor community for almost two decades, maybe more. My first experience with a flash pack was rock climbing with some buddies in high school. My friend (and now roommate) Giles pulls out a bright lime green nylon Flash 18 pack with some of his climbing gear in it and I was immediately enamored. I ordered a Flash 22 for myself a couple of days later and used it for anything and everything. I tossed it in the back of my car so I could have it whenever I needed it.
Day packs are small, and this is a phenomenal option for someone that wants to have some water for a half-day hike, maybe a snack at the top of a mountain with a nice view, or by a lake, and a light change of clothes. The Flash 18 pack has a volume of 18 liters, is made out of recycled nylon, with light breathable straps and a frameless construction. If you are able to find a Flash 22 on the used market, I highly recommend it since it offers just a little bit more space and flexibility, but when shopping for a daypack to hold your water bottle and a snack for your afternoon hike, you absolutely cannot go wrong with any REI Flash pack.
A last-minute inclusion to my list for no reason other than fear of my own personal bias. I did my best to go into researching with an open mind and leave my affection for Osprey at the door, but time and time again they appear in the top tier of every category of backpack available. I would be doing a disservice to not include it on my list. The best daypack on the market is the Osprey Talon 22.
It is a representative price tag, because holy cow, over $100 for a 22L daypack is certainly a price to pay, but the Talon 22 offers everything that anyone could be looking for in a daypack. It is lightweight, comfortable, and more sturdy than most packs in this category, and ultimately when you get it to fit on your body correctly, you won’t even know that it’s there. Slightly bigger than the Flash 18, the Talon 22 offers a little more flexibility for your day hikes but still wouldn’t be suitable for an overnight trip by any means. Both these packs are made with the same bluesign Recycled Nylon. While the Talon 22 offers a little bit more functionality, the Flash 18 will cover all your daypack bases at a much lower price.
This category features the most options because I believe that the 55L options are the most flexible, and the best place to look if you plan on only owning one pack.
In this category we start to have some differences between Men’s and Women’s packs as everyone’s body is different, and the packs are shaped a little differently for a better fit. All of these packs are adjustable and can be suited to each of us! Check the sizing chart on their website before you purchase to make sure you are getting the right pack for you!
The Exos (M) and Tempest (F) series are an incredible place to start if you are looking to get into multi-day backpacking. For an overnight, or 2-night trip, weighing in at just 2.5 lbs these both offer enough space to get you out for a day hike or a couple of days without feeling like you’re carrying around a metal-frame pack. As mentioned in the daypack section before, having a specific daypack is a bit of a luxury. Both of these options are comfortable and light enough for all of your day hikes.
If you’re looking to extend your trip to the 4 or 5-day range or feel like splurging the additional $40 on a Flash 18, I would recommend grabbing the 40L/48L options as they will allow you to fit a bit more stuff without sacrificing the lightweight nature of the pack. As mentioned before, and will be mentioned again, you can’t go wrong with an Osprey pack. The quality of their construction is great, and unlike the Talon 22, the Exos and Tempest series are both much closer in price to the comparable options.
The options listed above can feel quite expensive. This is a constant problem in the outdoor industry and something that we are trying to fix at Rerouted. TETON Sports has done a fantastic job with the Scout 3400 (55L) pack offering a perfectly suitable option for multi-night camping trips at a fairly reasonable price. $80 is nothing to scoff at, but you can easily spend 10x that on a brand new pack nowadays while the TETON Scout allows you to go on so
many of the same amazing adventures at a fraction of the cost. At 4.5 lbs., it is almost twice as heavy as the other options in this category, but 2 lbs. in pack weight is hardly a reason to spend twice as much or more money on a different pack.
Kelty is a legacy brand in the backpacking industry. My grandpa used Kelty packs from the 60s and 70s until the mid 2000s and trusted their quality and construction in the most treacherous conditions and situations. Kelty was a little late to the party when it comes to lightweight packs, but man the Asher 55 has everything that you would want from a 55L pack for trips up to 4 or 5 days. The namesake of the founder of Kelty, Asher Kelty, the Asher 55
weighs in at 2.5 lbs and can carry up to 50 pounds of gear without sacrificing the durability and quality that Kelty is known for.
I’ve already talked about the Flash packs when discussing the Flash 18/22, but the Flash 55 takes the lightweight, high-quality characteristics of the smaller packs and puts them in a 55L package. The more firm structure and internal frame keep this pack under 2 and a half pounds, weighing in at 2 lb. 9 oz. A slightly higher cost in this category makes this a little tougher sell comparatively, but the Flash 55 will do everything these other packs can do, with slightly lower scale weight.
This category typically includes 65L/70L+ packs. This is where I would highly highly recommend searching the used market, as the prices tend to inflate dramatically for the amount of extra utility. Packs in this range tend to be a bit more sturdy, and a bit heavier along with offering more overall space. They can hold more weight without feeling off-balance. If you are someone who really needs a super large pack, you likely know who you are. I personally am not always going out on 5+ day backpacking trips, but I’m a bigger person and the larger packs tend to fit my frame and offer me more adjustability.
I have the Osprey Aether 85L pack from a couple of years ago. Well, I actually have had two Osprey Aether 85L packs in the last 10 years, but one of them mysteriously disappeared, forcing me to buy a new one before the next season. Fortunately, the first one was found…on my own father’s back on our next hike together. Suspicious…Unfortunately, they no longer offer this size on their website unless you get the Aether PLUS which is a bit more expensive.
However! If it doesn’t get rudely stolen from you, the Aether and Ariel series offers the same quality and construction that you can expect from Osprey packs - just in a slightly bigger size. You can adjust and tighten them to fit your body, but overall there isn’t a ton to add about these packs. They’re a phenomenal choice if you need something this big, or want the option, but that flexibility comes at a cost in both price and weight at $290 and almost 5 lbs. Again, and I bet I will say this one or two more times, searching for a used option in this category could be worth your time. The technology in some of these larger packs doesn’t change quite as often as the others, and a pack from 4-6 years ago is going to offer you all of the same benefits as purchasing one new.
Kelty’s offerings for larger packs are a fairly reasonable price for what you get. In 65L, 85L, and a whopping 105L options, they offer a size for every possible scenario or length of trip. I don’t recommend a 105L pack unless you plan on packing for a family of 5 every time you go on a camping trip. Be careful - it is really easy to overload these packs, and carry much more weight than you think. Make sure to weigh your pack carefully and be sure to not overextend your ability or experience.
Well, there we go! If you’re looking for a new pack, check out any of these options. There are far too many packs out there to list here, so I focused on a few of my favorites from a couple of different long-standing, reputable brands. Check out our stock of backpacking backpacks if you’re in the market, and you might be able to save a few bucks!