Our Guide to Backpacks


Our mission is to get people outdoors. Since most people aren't enthusiasts who venture outside regularly, you can buy or rent backpacks. Specifically, about our backpack rentals:

  • We rent backpacks that are higher end than those rented elsewhere, but still offer competitive pricing
  • We offer a rent-to-buy program so you don't have to worry about losing money from renting
  • Our self-service allows you to hire backpacks whenever is convenient for you

Core function: When you're in the outdoors, everything you could need has to be carried with you. For short hikes you may not need a backpack (e.g., a purse, messenger bag, duffle, or even just a reusable grocery tote bag may be sufficient for some water & snacks). Realistically, though, you might be in tougher terrain than in the city, have more stuff to carry, and want to keep your hands free. A hiking specific backpack allows you to do this, and also in an ergonomic way.

Do you really need it?

Once your trip has an overnight or multi-day component & you are responsible for carrying your gear, we highly recommended a hiking specific backpack for convenience & comfort. If you generally don't go on overnight trips, but have one special trip, you can easily rent a backpack for ~$20 rather than spending $100+ to buy .

For more info, read our 'what you really need' protip

What we carry

Torso size may push it a few liters +/-
~50L ~60L ~70L
1-3 day or weight-conscious trips 3-6 day or standard trips 7+ day or technical trips
Model Osprey Exos backpack Osprey Renn backpack Osprey Rook backpack Osprey Atmos backpack Osprey Viva backpack Osprey Volt backpack Osprey Aether backpack Osprey Aether backpack
Osprey Exos
Osprey Renn
Osprey Rook
Osprey Atmos
Osprey Viva
Osprey Volt
Osprey Aether
Osprey Aether


MSRP with tax

$217 $168


$315 $337


Starting at

Medium torso
General Notes
  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the following What To Use & How To Choose section
  • Buy prices a grayed out box indicates we don't sell it (we may only rent backpacks of this model)
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!

When you hire backpacks online, you can select from available options or we'll pick out something for you. You can also write-in any preferences on the last page of checkout. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others.


It is still a general convention in the industry that if not specified, an item is either unisex or designed for a male fit. But in our experience, personal preference & body type can often be much more important than generalized differences across sexes. Whenever considering sex-specific gear, compare carefully, including trying to rent backpacks of different types for various trips to find the best value for you (be mindful that women-specific items may be more expensive).

For this item, we do carry women-specific inventory. When renting backpacks online, please write-in on the last page of our online order form if you prefer a women-specific model, available as the Osprey Renn or Viva models.

What to use & how to choose

Sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype of something new (over-spending often happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features. Also take advantage of renting backpacks to try out what works for you!

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked; in fact, for other factors data charts are generally only for a specific Type or Style that we carry (e.g., as a gear shop, would be outdoor-specific products).

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Name Regular backpack
(for school or work)
Travel backpack
(aka rucksack)
Hiking backpack
Example qualities & features Example images Regular backpack Travel pack Backpack
Feature examples
  • laptop sleeve
  • laptop sleeve
  • wrinkle-free clothing pocket
Does it have frame to support weight?
Does it have straps to help weight distribution?
May have sternum or waist strap

Waist strap, sternum strap, load lifters

Waist strap, sternum strap, load lifters
General level of waterproofing
Read our detailed guide for explanation & how we define these terms
Water-resistant Generally at least water-repellant
Effect on other factors Price $20-100 $50-250 $50-400
Size (Capacity) 10-40 liters 20-70 liters 10-100 liters
Weight & Size (Compactness) <3lbs (1.4kg) <5lbs (2.2kg) <7lbs (3.2kg)
Rationale Less technical, smaller capacity = less materials More technical, greater capacity = more materials

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell
Not specific enough for outdoor use

Standard for most outdoor uses

*If you want something that is fully waterproof, there are hybrid backpack-dry-bags. We don't discuss them here, because they're used only in really special circumstances, this is because they don't have frames, and so lack a key feature that helps support heavy loads. (Though at the larger capacities, where they're called dry packs, they do have shoulder straps, waist or hip belt, and sternum straps.)

If you don't go very often, of course you're going to want to spend less money, but this often means real trade-offs in terms of the experience that you will have with the gear. Even if you do go often & are ready to invest in quality gear, having the upfront funds can be hard!

Now, it may seem like this price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). So you might be thinking: I'll just buy something cheap, and because the price is so low it doesn't matter if it's less featured or heavier or whatever compared to something higher end. When that breaks, I'll buy something cheap again, and so on. Just remember:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use or first use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors! And reviews after the first use don't tell you about durability at all
  • You're headed outdoors to relax and enjoy life! Saving money only to have a trip ruined due to quality issues will feel terrible. Our program to rent backpacks is designed to help you avoid this trade-off: you get to rent high end, quality backpacks for around the same price as buying cheap ones (sometimes even for less!)

For this item specifically, the price vs. quality trade-off issues center around performance & durability.

  • The backpack was bigger or heavier: A 1lb or 2kg difference may not matter on a 3 hour hike, but it might on a 6 hour hike!
  • The backpack wasn't very waterproof or durable: Backpacks scrape on all kinds of surfaces and should be super tough. Fabric-wise, lower end items tend to be made with polyester, which is less durable than nylon (more info in our clothing guide, see section on Durability); and of course, if the fabric tears, performance is compromised. Finally lower end items may not have or may have less effective waterproofing
Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Measured by Liter capacity (you'll see it following the pack name, for example an Osprey Aether 70 means it's a 70 Liter backpack).

How many Liters you want really depends on what you want to bring and your packing styles (e.g., some prefer to strap certain bulky things to the outside to not take up interior room). Renting a backpack for a few trips can help you get a sense of what size works for you! Here are two pointers we've found based on our experience:

  • For a larger (10+L) sized bear canister, you generally want a 60+L backpack. Otherwise, a bear canister of this size generally has to be stored vertically, which takes up a lot of space
  • For tents larger than 2 persons, you generally want a 60+L backpack
Hiking backpack liter capacity 10-L 20L 30L 40L 50L 60L 70L 80+L
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This hiking backpack may be called... Hydration pack Day pack (Daypack) Backpack
Hydration pack Day pack Backpack
Example use cases Quick hike or trail running Day trip 2-4 days 3-7 days Technical trips (lots of gear)
Effect on other factors Price
$50-100 $100-300 $200-350
Rationale Less material & features More material & features

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell
Doesn't add that much more value (you can use something non-outdoor-specific which would be much more affordable)

Packs in this range are standard for most outdoor uses

Most people would not need something this technical

**For easier comparison, we compared pricing for standard packs, rather than, for example, ultralight packs (which wouldn't be available at all capacities represented here anyway)

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness.

To reduce more weight & increase compactability, manufacturers reduce the amount of material used (e.g., fewer features, thinner fabrics, etc.) and, where possible, use more technical materials to prevent performance loss. For example, ultralight fabric has to still be waterproof. These strategies create 2 general consequences

  • Lightweight gear tends to be less durable: Sometimes, light-weight gear is just thinner & so more prone to damage (even a more technical material may not fully offset the loss in durability)
  • Lightweight gear tends to be more expensive: While less materials = lower cost, the more dominating effect is often that thinner materials = more technical = greater cost

For these reasons, the lighter the gear, the more you should treat it as an investment! Is the price difference worth the weight or size savings? This depends on you & your trip! Given our mission we're the only shop that rents a backpack that's ultralight, so feel free to try it out, and see how different the weight feels!

Hiking backpacks Regular Ultralight
50-65 Liter
Size (Capacity)
Weight 3.4-5.2lb
Effect on Price $100-300 $150-350
65-75 Liter
Size (Capacity)
Weight 4.8-7.4lb
Effect on Price $200-350 $250-400
Rationale for effect on Price Going lightweight removes enough features & materials that even though the material used is more technical, price doesn't increase by that much
Why we do/don't carry it
= we rent
= we sell

Standard for most outdoor uses

Only 50L capacity only (most people who care about weight & size wouldn't take a larger pack); extremely limited availability, please write-in a special request when you reserve. Our mission is to increase access to gear & we are proud to be the only company to rent as well as sell this type

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about other features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget. Remember, we allow you to hire a backpack so feel free to try out various models with different features.

  • Does it have all the pockets desired? Examples:
    • Interior water bag pocket with a hole for you to thread through a hydration tube for hands-free drinking while walking
    • Hip belt pocket or shoulder strap pocket for small essentials
    • Water bottle pockets on the side
  • Does it have all the gear loops & straps desired? Examples:
  • Is it top-loading or front-loading? (I.e., how does the zipper open so you can put stuff inside)
  • How does it support weight? (E.g., some packs have an 'anti-gravity' type of suspension technology that helps 'float' the weight over your back; some people like it, some people don't)
  • Is it convertible to a daypack? (E.g., some packs have a outer pocket or brain that can convert to a smaller pack)
  • Is the torso adjustable length or fixed? (Adjustable is better if you anticipate your torso length changing or if you'd want to share with others)

Anatomy diagram

A great diagram of the various parts of most hiking backpacks from Backpacker Magazine's awesome guide on how to pack your backpack

Backpack anatomy
Anatomy of a Backpack from Backpacker online by Peter Sucheski; Click to see full size

Usage tips

You may not know how well a backpack fits until several hours into your hike, even if it felt fine walking in a circle around a store (unfortunately, it's just as finicky in fit as shoes are!). This is why it's especially beneficial to rent a backpack first on a test hike. Also different people may have different preferences on what feels comfortable, how the pack is loaded, etc. Check out our diagram & specific notes below.

Backpack fit guide
How to fit a backpack; Click to see full size

Torso length

This is the primary consideration. Ill-fit torsos are noticeable with issues in how the shoulder straps & load lifters fit, as in the above diagram. This is the length from the bumpy bone at the base of your neck to the top of your hip bones (or your iliac crest).* Adjustable backpacks have some way (usually with velcro) to change the torso length. Women-specific backpacks tend to be shorter in length to accommodate average shorter height. Once you have this length, the backpack manufacturer will tell you what torso size that length corresponds with for their brand (like with clothing, not all brands size the same). For example reference, on Osprey packs: Small = 16-18in (40.5cm-46cm), Medium = 18-20in (46-51cm), Large 20-22in = (51cm-56cm).

*While generally tall people have a longer torso, it's not a direct relationship. If you're curious for a rough benchmark (which may be good enough for an adjustable pack), we took limited data from Internet forums & calculated a linear equation with an R^2 of 0.6 that torso length in inches = 0.4557 * height in inches - 13.495. (A polynomial equation yielded a slightly better R^2, but not substantially, so for simplicity we only show the linear one here. You can download our data & play around with it yourself)

Backpack torso sizing
Torso length from Best Hiking; Click to see full size

Waist or hip girth

Analogous to waist sizing on pants. Girth refers to the circumference for the waist or hip belt, which should sit around you such that the top of your hip bone (iliac crest) is centered vertically within the belt. When the belt is equally tightened on each side, the buckle should be centered around your navel. Generally, hip belts are pretty adjustable, so for most people, the size that comes with the size based on torso length is sufficient (exception for Youth, see below). Women-specific backpacks tend to be wider to accommodate average wider hips.


There are youth-specific backpacks designed to accommodate youth-specific torsos & hips (on average, smaller on both). One other thing to note, however, is that youth hiking backpacks are also sized smaller in terms of Capacity (see section on What to use & how to choose), usually topping out at 50L. We don't have youth-specific packs, but we find that high schoolers can often use a smaller-torso adult backpack, we'd recommend having your child trying on in-store. Moreover since youth grow so fast and can change sizes rapidly, renting a backpack is a great way to get the best fit for each trip without overspending.

Follow the general guidelines below. Serious backpackers understand that ideal loading varies by type of terrain (including going uphill vs downhill), & that personal preference & comfort as just as important as any guideline!

  • Weight: The heaviest items should generally go toward your spine in the center of the pack (not at the top or bottom or too far to the right or left). Semi-heavy large items that you will not need while hiking do well at the bottom (the bottom compartment is very popularly used for sleeping bags)
  • Accessibility: Put items that you need to frequently get (e.g., rain gear, snacks, water, first aid, maps) at the top of your pack, in the brain, or hip belt pockets.
  • Shape:: For comfort, don't put weirdly shaped objects that may poke out against your back
  • Strapping: Make the most of all those straps & gear loops on the outside! They are great for bulky or oddly shaped items. When strapping, take care to balance weight on both sides & ensure the item won't get damaged if it rains & you don't have a cover. Items commonly strapped to the exterior include trekking poles, ice axes, bulky foam sleeping pads

Hiking backpacks are usually at least water repellant, but there are so many holes and openings that it is important to take some precautions to be sure your things don’t get wet. Check out our page on backpack protection for more info.

Some people may experience rubbing from the pack & straps after extended use. For advice on managing chafe, click here.

Just because it fits in-store doesn't mean it'll be comfortable after you've been walking for hours with a lot of weight. To prepare for long trips (e.g., thru-hikes), we strongly recommend doing trial runs with similar weights on long day trips or even weekend backpacking trips. You can pair this with renting backpacks that are different sizes as well. Like with shoes, an ill-fitted backpack can be really bad, but it really comes down to quite a bit of experimentation.

Backpacking doesn't just mean heading out in the backcountry, but also mean an extended period of travel (like, when did "backpacking through Europe" become a phrase?). Understandably, a large backpack to carry your gear can be much more convenient than traditional suitcases. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Recall that there are specific travel backpacks vs hiking backpacks (see section above on What to use & how to choose) with feature differences that may be important to you
  • Regardless of backpack, double check your airline's specific carry-on regulations to ensure your pack will be allowable. In our general experience, larger backpacks (i.e., not just a school or work bag) are judged by most airline staff on an subjective basis. Meaning sometimes, if it visually looks too large, they won't let you board with it as a carry-on, othertimes you may get away with it
  • Rule-of-thumb, a well-packed 50L is probably OK as a carry-on, a very bulky (e.g., things hanging from all exterior straps) 70L is probably not
  • If you will be checking-in a backpack, try to tie off exterior straps, or stuff them into zippered pockets, so they don't catch on any moving pieces and get damaged (especially for hiking backpacks, which have more straps than travel backpacks given the functional differences)

Maintenance tips


We can either provide parts or repair services (and discounts on renting backpack while you wait) for the following issues:

  • Zippers
  • Holes, rips, or tears

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

Other products on the market

A current trend is that, as part of the athleisure movement, the industry is designing more versatile packs that can go from the urban jungle to actual jungle (balancing being feature-rich with multiple pockets and straps, with a slim look & feel for the city). Be sure that a pack is fully functional for whatever you will be using it for, and don't get too caught on the hype!

A previous innovation that has now basically become standard, internal frame packs rule the market these days because of their form fitting, compact, lightweight design. Old-school external frame packs (see picture at right) can still be found at places like Salvation Army. They do offer a straighter frame & may have more places to strap gear to.

External frame backpack
External frame backpack

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 .