Gear I’m Loving Lately: The Best Backpacks

It doesn’t matter whether you are trekking across town to get to class, cycling through the city to make it to work, or schlepping a mountain of gear up the steep face of a mountain. You need a backpack! Backpacks are easily one of the most useful pieces of gear to have in your gear quiver, and I’ve been fortunate to try out practically every single one on the planet.

That may be an exaggeration…but just barely.

Per your reader feedback on my survey, I promised more in the way of gear recs. Ask and you shall receive! Here is a roundup of a variety of the best backpacks that I’ve been loving and using the heck out of over the past year.

This post does contain affiliate links, which means I make a small commission if you purchase  items. As always, I appreciate your support!

best backpacks

Mountain Hardwear Scrambler

I first tested out this daypack on our honeymoon trip to Canada. It was the only daypack I brought on the trip so I literally used it every single day for two weeks. Since then, it’s been a perennial favorite that hangs near the front of our gear rack. Anytime we head out for a quick hike, it’s always considered.

Why? Because it’s so useful. It’s 30L which is a perfect size {for me} for a daypack. I can fit snacks, water, insulation, a rain shell, sunscreen, and any other sundries inside without feeling like it’s about to burst. But even better is the built-in waterproofness. The Scrambler comes with waterproof construction and is tester through 24 hours of rain sans pack cover. To be fair, I’ve never left it out in the rain for 24 hours straight but I have been caught in many a downpour and it has yet to fail me!

best backpacks

Sure, the construction on the pack is simple, but that’s because you’re trading accessories for waterproofness. The more seams, stitches and zippers you add to an item, the more opportunities for failure in the waterproof construction. Because of this, there are minimal pockets {only two water bottle pouches on the outside} and no lid panel. But, it keeps the elements away from my down jacket, so I call that a win.

Find the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler here. 

Thule Upslope 35L

You know that company that makes roof racks? They’ve jumped ship and are now making everything from roof racks to ski bags and backpacks! I tested out their Upslope 35L ski backpack this winter and I fell head-over-heels in love with one simple feature: those side pockets!

best backpacks

One of my biggest annoyances while backcountry skiing is stashing my skins away while lapping a hillside. I always end up storing them inside my ski shell in the hopes that they stay warm, but in the process, the extra snow crystals soak into my base layers and wet out my shirt. {Plus, it never really keeps them warm!} I dislike shoving them inside my backpack because it takes up so much time to remove the pack, rummage through the pockets, and find the space for the skins. First world problem? Maybe!

Regardless, Thule turned constructed oversized pockets on the waist belt with one on each side. Each pocket fits a single skin {along with snacks} so I don’t need to remove my backpack to stash my skins. It sounds so simple yet it is oh-so-satisfying!

Find the Thule Upslope 35L here. 

Deuter ACT Lite 45

I’ve had this backpack for a few years now but it’s still my go-to option for quick weekender trips or overnights in the mountains. It’s women-specific so it’s extremely comfortable on my torso. Plus, the AC Lite has room for an extra 10L if you’re really cramming in a lot of gear. Downside: the sleeping bag compartment on the bottom is tight; your bag likely only fits if it’s super small.

best backpacks

But truly, it’s the perfect size for quick trips. And, if you’re going on a crazy day trip that requires a lot of gear, it works for that as well. I’ve had some climber friends use the pack to hold a lot of their gear and it always carries the loads well. Plus, it is adjustable so you can fit it to your torso.

Find the Deuter ACT Lite 45 here. 

REI Flash 18 Pack

This little gem is a little-known wonder!

Picture this: you haul a ton of gear into base camp where you’ll be sleeping for five days. On days three and four, you want to do a little exploring of the area. You look around at your gear and realize the only backpack you have is the gigantic 65L you used to cart everything into camp. Sure, it’ll do the job but it’s going to be a touch larger than ideal for your day hike!

best backpacks

This is where the Flash 18 pack comes in handy. On it’s own, it isn’t an ideal day pack since it has no suspension and is not really comfortable for carrying heavy loads. But to be fair, that is not its intended purpose. Instead, this little guy converts to a stuff sack when not in use so you can pack your socks or underwear or toiletries inside of it before packing it away into your larger pack. Then, at base camp, you can dump out your toothbrush, convert it to a backpack, and use it for your small day adventure.

The genius of the design comes in its utility and it’s a handy piece of gear to have around. Plus, it’s affordable!

Find the REI Flash 18 Pack here. 

Osprey Aura 65 AG

I’ve raved about this backpack many a time, but I’m going to do it again; this pack is easily my favorite choice for a large load hauler.

Osprey first came out with their anti-gravity {AG} technology a few years ago, and it was a game changer for packs. In a nutshell, the technology defies gravity and carries the weight exceptionally well, transferring all those pounds to your hips where they are supposed to be rather than your shoulders.

best backpacks

Y’all know that I don’t have a great back and my spine takes a beating while we are on treks. Without fail, I have to routinely remove my backpack to massage my shoulders since I regularly develop shooting pains down my spine. {And yes, I still think backpacking is fun!} Fortunately, that doesn’t happen near as often with this pack since it carries the load so squarely on my hips. It’s truly amazing.

Of course, it’s extra durable and useful, too. I’ve carted this thing through the mud and it always comes out without any signs of wear. The removable lid is handy as well, although I tend to opt for my Flash Pack instead.

There are other bells and whistles on this pack– external pockets, a zippered lid, a mesh front pocket that is great for emergency stashing, etc– but it’s truly the AG technology that blows my mind.

Find the Osprey Aura 65 AG here. 

Camelbak Spire 22L

This is another backpack I’ve had for a couple years. While I’ve given away or donated dozens of other packs, I always opt to hang onto my Spire as a second option for day hiking adventures.

best backpacks

My favorite feature on the Camelbak Spire is the lumbar reservoir. On a handful of CamelBak’s backpacks, they’ve moved the water bladder to the bottom of the pack so it rests against your lower back. A separate zip-in pouch houses the bladder so you don’t have to drag it through the inside of your backpack, which makes it very easy to load and unload. Why do I like it so much? It places all of the water weight against your hips rather than on your shoulders. For my poor lil’ spine, it’s a much-needed reprieve.

Of course, this does mean you need a different shape of bladder so this regular 2L rectangular bladders won’t fit in the compartment. However, I’m pretty sure the Spire comes with one. I have no idea if CamelBak is keeping the lumbar reservoir in all of their packs or if it’s a concept they’re doing away with, but I hope it sticks around for a little while longer!

Find the CamelBak Spire 22L here

Cotopaxi Nasca 24L

To be fair, I don’t own the Cotopaxi Nasca but Will does and he constantly raves about it!

The appeal starts with the aesthetics; it’s a nice looking backpack that you can wear around town and to the office. Will takes it to work every day and has no problems with it since it doesn’t look like an outdoor tech backpack.

best backpacks

But the real beauty of the Nasca is with the attention to organization. It has a clamshell zipper so that it fully unzips and lays flat, just like with luggage. On each size, there are full-zip compartments similar to what you would find inside a suitcase. Why? Because not only does Cotopaxi want you taking this backpack to work, but it’s also meant as a travel bag.

Trust me; it works for that purpose! Will has used the Nasca on dozens of weekend trips and swears that he can fit everything he needs for 72 hours inside of the bag. Personally, I don’t think I could make the same promise, but then again, he doesn’t even pack a hairbrush. Added bonus: in addition to all of the other storage pockets, it has a laptop sleeve too. This makes it even easier to use as a carry-on.

Find the Cotopaxi Nasca 24L here

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5 Comments

  • Reply Rachel May 23, 2017 at 10:52 am

    I really like that Cotopaxi…

    Anyway, I have the Osprey Aura 65 as well. It’s an amazing backpack! It’s pretty comfortable considering all the weight you’re carrying but what I love is how much stuff can fit without even realizing there’s even more space! I love all the compartments and their convenience!

    -Rachel @ Backcountry Petite

  • Reply Rachel @ Better LIVIN May 24, 2017 at 7:39 am

    I’m obsessed with my Mountain Hardwear Scrambler! My darn dog chewed off a few parts of it when he was a pup but it’s still a great bag to have. 🙂

  • Reply Pat Gioko May 28, 2017 at 4:02 am

    Great! I especially like the Cotopaxi Nasca 24L. It looks funky, good for all-time, anyplace use. Willy must have great taste too lol!

  • Reply Hiking to Ice Lake Basin -Just a Colorado Gal June 5, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    […] Need a new backpack for your hike to Island Lake? These are some of my favorites.  […]

  • Reply Neil P September 27, 2017 at 3:22 am

    This post just comes in handy! Was just wondering what backpacks would be best for hiking purpose!

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