The 6 best headlamps of 2021, for hiking, camping, or doing housework

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Headlamps offer a hands-free way of hiking or camping at night, and can also be used around the house.
  • The best headlamps should offer long battery life, fit comfortably, and have variable light modes.
  • Our top pick, BioLite’s Headlamp 330, is lightweight and comfortable, and has a sweat-wicking headband.

A headlamp is one of the most important pieces of anyone’s outdoor kit. Unlike an ordinary flashlight, which requires you to physically hold it in your hand, headlamps conveniently affix to your head to illuminate whatever’s in front of you. That could be a hiking trail, a dark campsite, or even under the hood of a car – no matter its use case, that convenience can’t be understated.

But not all headlamps are created equal. Some are designed specifically for, say, trail running, built to be lightweight on a runner’s head, while others are more robust, intended to pump out hundreds of lumens for several hours. And there are plenty more that are just useful enough to get the job done, which are perfect for stashing in a camp tote or in your car’s glove box.

As an avid camper for much of my life, I’ve long respected the value of a proper headlamp – it’s literally a night and day difference navigating a backcountry campsite in the pitch black as opposed to wearing a headlamp. But the same headlamp I use while backpacking differs from what I use while car camping, or what I grab to go biking or running. Needless to say, I’ve worn plenty of headlamps – some good, some awful, and many in between.

Just as my needs vary regarding the types of headlamps I need for the kinds of activities I enjoy, so, too, does the design and innovation native to what’s on the market. To find the best, I decided to field test a variety of headlamps from brands like BioLite and Ledlensder. Below are my six favorites, perfect for everything from camping and cycling to working around the house.

I’ve also included some tips on how to shop for a headlamp and what to keep in mind, as well as the testing methodology I used to narrow down which models ultimately made the cut.

Here are the best headlamps:

How we test headlamps

Best Headlamps (amazon; BioLite) 4x3

Each of the headlamps featured in this guide went through a number of tests to determine how well they compared across these four categories: Comfort, brightness, battery life, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which headlamps made this guide:

Comfort: Since you’ll be wearing a headlamp on your head for what could be upwards of an hour or more at a time, it’s vital that the one you choose is comfortable. To test for this, we looked at the materials used in the headbands, how it felt to wear the headlamp for an extended period of time, and if it remained comfortable while doing normal tasks like setting up camp or even just walking around. 

Brightness: The best headlamps should have a number of variable brightness settings and some even allow for custom control over the size of the beam. What makes brightness settings so important is that you don’t always want a headlamp that’s on full blast the entire time you need to use it. Having the ability to toggle between a range of settings is an important feature.

Battery life: A headlamp is no good if its battery only lasts a couple of hours. Sure, you could buy one that takes batteries but you don’t want to be lugging around a bag of batteries everywhere you go with it (this is especially true for backpackers). 

Value: The exact value of a headlamp is dependent on how you intend to use it, but at the very least you should look for one that does well in the three categories above. And while there are decent budget options available (we’ve included one in our guide), buying the cheapest headlamp you find isn’t something we recommend doing. Often, it’s best to spend a little more on a product designed to last. 

The best headlamp overall

biolitelamp

No headlamp I’ve tested has been near as comfortable as the BioLite HeadLamp 330. With a balanced, comfortable fit and a sweat-wicking headband, it’s our favorite headlamp for any outdoor activity. 

Pros: Durable, moisture-wicking headband, balanced with light and battery in front and back, respectively

Cons: Doesn’t take AAA or AA batteries as backup, the lithium-ion battery is not removable (you can’t get a spare battery to take with you and swap out, but a power pack would fix that), 330 lumens is bright, but could be brighter (still, it saves on battery)

Headlamps may seem like lightweight, unrestrictive tools (or toys) but having those extra few ounces bobbing up and down on your forehead for several hours at a time takes its tolls. Not only are some of the heavier and more powerful options a literal drag, but they’re also annoying, even if you don’t realize it. I didn’t.

With the BioLite HeadLamp 330, its 330 lumens of output is a good balance between what most of us need to be able to see in the dark and how long the battery life lasts, which is a respectable 40 hours on the low setting and around 3.5 hours on high. It also makes a good reading light and avoids reflecting off the pages of your book or magazine to blind you.

I took the HeadLamp 330 fishing at night, hiking to camp, hiking just to hike, and generally just stumbling about in the dark behind my father’s woodshop, which is, for all intents and purposes, a treacherous deathtrap of wood and metal scraps. Yes, dearest reader, I take my job, and your safety, extremely seriously. I’m glad to report that, throughout the testing process, there was not a single visit to the emergency room.

In all seriousness, the best thing about the HeadLamp 330 is how well balanced it is. With the light in front and the battery pack in the back, you don’t feel the strain of a light and a battery pack dragging your forehead down.

The most notable spec about this headlamp is that the light and battery are separate, which puts a lot less weight on your forehead, and the light itself. The whole kit, I might add, weighs only 69 grams, or less than 2.5 ounces.

One common problem we see a lot with headlamps is that the joint where the light meets the base loses its threads or just breaks altogether, especially when the batteries are in the same pivoting unit as the light. BioLite does away with any such worry.

Speaking of pivoting, the light pivots up and down between four positions, which is, in my opinion, just enough. There’s also a red light, which makes it a lot easier for your eyes to readjust after you flick it off.

The small on/off button (gray, left of center) can be a little hard to find at first, but you’ll learn to love it because you’ll find that you won’t accidentally activate the epileptic test strobe in your hiking partner’s face, and it’s actually positioned right where you want to be (at least, if you’re adjusting it with your right hand). — Owen Burke

The best budget headlamp

Vitchelo headlamp

The Vitchelo V800 Headlamp is affordable and reliable, ready to illuminate objects both near and far even in adverse conditions.

Pros: Durable and weather-resistant, affordable price, white and red strobe functions

Cons: Easily turns on by accident, no floodlight setting

The Vitchelo V800 headlamp punches well above its weight. For a light that costs only around sixteen bucks, it has attributes you’d expect from a unit valued at double that price, or more. It has three brightness settings for its white light and a strobe feature, which can be valuable during an emergency when you want to be spotted by responders or when you’re assisting with emergency response and need to stay in touch with your team. The headlamp also has a solid and flashing red light.

Thanks to an IPX6 waterproof rating, this headlamp should be impervious to damage from rainfall or even a quick drop in a puddle or stream — just don’t wear it while you scuba dive. And at its low output setting, the white light can shine for up to 120 hours with fresh batteries, so you’ll have ample time to work, search, travel, or conduct other activities.

One reason I would not recommend this for a backpacker or camper is that the buttons are easily pressed by gear tumbling in your bag. A headlamp shining in a pack all day might mean dead batteries when you need it at night. That’s not much an issue when the unit is stashed in a nightstand or in your emergency prep kit, though — just make sure it’s not on when you close the drawer or the bag and you should be good.

The best high-power headlamp

Ledlenser H7R Signature headlamp

The H7R Signature from Ledlenser delivers up to 1200 lumens, has seven light settings, including an SOS function, and can even be controlled with Bluetooth via a smartphone.

Pros: Seven different light settings, including an SOS distress signal that blinks in Morse code, offers up to 1200 lumens, rated IP67 against water and dust, has Bluetooth capability with a compatible smartphone for custom light settings

Cons: Expensive

Just about any Ledlenser headlamp could slot into one of the categories in this guide, but the H7R Signature gets the nod thanks to its incredible light output of up to 1200 lumens. Now, of course, you likely won’t need that much power all the time, but when you do, it’s incredibly handy to have it at your disposal. 

The H7R Signature impresses across the board, too, not just regarding its power. It comes with an easy-to-adjust head strap that stays comfortable, even after prolonged use (though, it may start to feel a little heavy due to a heavy-ish, rear-mounted battery). It’s clear Ledlenser took the time to properly balance it, as well, so even if that battery is a little heavy, it never feels awkward or like your head has to tilt too far to one side.

One of the best features of the H7R is its 7 different light modes, which include Power, Low Power, Boost, Blink, Position, SOS, and Strobe. The SOS function is particularly interesting, as it flashes a strobed distress signal that sends an SOS in Morse Code when activated. Many of the other light modes, like Position and Strobe, are also designed to alert people of your position.

The H7R features a rechargeable internal battery, so you won’t have to worry about lugging any batteries along with it, and it’s also rated IP67 against dust and water. Bluetooth capability also allows the headlamp to be controlled and customized via a compatible smartphone.

Perhaps its lone downside, however, is the fact it costs $175. Though this isn’t a dealbreaker, it is a lot to spend on a headlamp. The H7R is designed to last for several years (if not upwards of a decade), so the investment is a sound one, especially if you’ll be using it often.

The best rechargeable headlamp

BioLite_HeadLamp750_Front

The Headlamp 750 from BioLite is as good as rechargeable headlamps get, offering up to 750 lumens of output, a fit that stays comfortable for hours, and a Run Forever mode that lets it operate as you charge it on-the-go.

Pros: Comfortable headband, 8 different light modes that can all be individually dimmed, Run Forever mode lets you charge it while it operates, low profile design

Cons: Expensive

The BioLite name is synonymous with quality portable lighting and its new Headlamp 750 continues that tradition in an impressive way. Much like our best overall pick, the Headlamp 330, the 750 takes traditional headlamp tech and adds more to it than you ever thought you needed. 

Want to charge it while you’re using it on-the-go? The 750 can do it. How about 8 different light modes, each with the ability to dim? It has that, too. The 750’s strength is in its versatility, and it’s the kind of headlamp that you’d want to bring with you on weekend camping trips, multi-day backpacking treks, the occasional nighttime hike, or literally anything — it works as well for getting under the sink or working on your car, too. 

As mentioned, the 750 offers up to 8 different light modes to choose from: Red flood, white spot, white flood, spot and flood, white strobe, 30-second burst, rear red flood, and rear red strobe. Not only will you be able to have complete control over what the headlamp illuminates and how it illuminates it, but you’ll also be visible to whoever’s around you. 

Then there’s its Run Forever feature that allows you to plug in a portable power bank to keep the headlamp charged even while it’s running. Though the idea of lugging around a power bank only to have it hanging off the back of your head doesn’t sound comfortable, sticking it into a backpack or opting for a lightweight battery pack is recommended. 

It’s also extremely comfortable. BioLite’s 3D SlimFit construction means the headlamp’s components are built into the band itself, reducing what can unnecessarily snag (and making it incredibly low profile in the process). The power unit built into the back of the headlamp also distributes its weight evenly to avoid it bobbing up and down on your head — something many headlamps have a hard time actually doing but the 750 seemed to do it well during our tests.

At $100, it’s certainly not a cheap headlamp but if it holds up as well as it did during our time with it, you likely won’t be spending much more on a headlamp for quite some time. It’s highly durable, comfortable wear, and packed with useful features for just about any use case. 

The best headlamp for cycling

Hleane Rechargeable LED Zoomable Headlamp

Wearing the Hleane LED Zoomable Headlamp is like strapping a headlight to your head with its maximum brightness setting of 1800 lumens.

Pros: Amazingly bright light, great price point, long operating life

Cons: Only two output settings and it’s rather heavy

The top setting of the GRDE Zoomable headlamp is so bright you won’t even use it in many situations. But when you’re on a bike at night and contending for space with cars and trucks, or while you’re pedaling your way down a mountain trail, you’ll love the awesome output power of this lamp. The 1800-lumen beam fully illuminates the trail or road far ahead of you, and it’ll be almost impossible for an oncoming motorist to miss seeing you.

This headlamp is heavier than I’d recommend for use by a climber or distance trekker but for the cyclist or for use on a shorter hike where gear weight isn’t much of an issue, it’s a great choice.

Its beam can be focused and adjusted to best suit the conditions ahead of you, though the limited brightness settings — which are high or low — are a drawback. This is not the light to strap on as you hide out in a hunting blind hoping to stay unnoticed by attentive wildlife, for example.

The GRDE headlamp can be operated using regular batteries but is also plug-in rechargeable, and can be juiced back up using a wall’s AC outlet, a car plug adapter, or a USB cable. It is rated to last for up to 100,000 hours of operating life.

The best headlamp for home projects

COAST_FL75

The Coast FL75 Focusing headlamp can throw 405 lumens of brightness but best of all, you can use its focusing ring to narrow or widen the beam. 

Pros: Bright and crisp light quality, easy to change the shape of the beam, clips for securing band to hat or helmet, extremely long beam throw

Cons: Limited brightness settings, short battery life, no strobe option

I own and often use a Coast FL75 and it’s my first choice for any project around the house I work on after dark — like cleaning the grill in the evening, checking on my scarecrow sprinkle set up, or adding some extra air to the tires of my bike.

Like all Coast lights, this headlamp creates a remarkably clear, crisp white light that makes it easy to see what you’re doing. It’s a great choice for illuminating anything that’s close at hand, though most people will likely be more interested in its long-distance throw capacity.

If you need to see objects or terrain more than 400 feet in front of you in a total darkness scenario, the Coast FL75 headlamp is a good choice. In fact, its beam is rated to stretch out 459 feet at its top 405-lumen output. Even the lowest setting of this light is still bright, rated at 53 lumens.

Here’s the thing: That’s a drawback, not an asset. This light’s low setting is far too bright for many uses, such as viewing a map or reading at night when you want to preserve your night vision and avoid disturbing others (or attracting attention to yourself). The Coast FL75 only has three output settings and they could reasonably be called Pretty Bright, Really Bright, and Whoa OK That’s Super Bright.

If you only plan to use a headlamp as you work, during power outages, or as you survey the scene of an accident as a first responder, then you probably don’t have the need for a dim setting but you do have the need for bright, crisp light. This one certainly offers that.

And, if you want something a little beefier, consider the FL85, with 615 Lumens and a 183-meter beam.

How to shop for a headlamp

First and foremost, a headlamp has to be bright enough for the task at hand. But the type of beam a light creates is every bit as important as its sheer lumen output. While the tendency is often to check the lumen rating of a headlamp and treat that like the most important metric for judging a headlamp, the type of beam is a better deciding factor than the intensity of the light alone. For example:

  • A cyclist needs a powerful lamp that throws a beam dozens of yards ahead, letting him or her see plenty of the roadway or trail.
  • Mechanic benefit from a wider beam pattern that illuminates a broad swath of the area close at hand.
  • If you’re camping, consider a headlamp with variable light settings, a red light option, and one that offers long battery life (especially for backpackers). 

You also have to consider features such as strobe effects, a red light option, battery life, and weight. The way those and other secondary attributes assist you in your hobbies or work should help you choose the headlamp best fit for you from our guide. 

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The 5 best backpacking stoves that are lightweight, fuel-efficient, and powerful enough to cook food fast

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Backpacking stoves are vital for preparing hot meals and coffee, no matter how far in the backcountry you are.
  • The best are fuel-efficient, lightweight enough to fit in your backpack, and reliable in inclement weather.
  • Our top pick, MSR’s WindBurner, is fast, powerful, and efficient, and weighs less than 3 ounces.

There are few things as refreshing as enjoying a hot meal at your campsite following a long day of hiking. Energy bars and trail mix do well to curb hunger during the day but when it’s time to relax for the night, you’ll want something a bit more substantial. That’s where a reliable camp stove opens up the options for meals, snacks, and hot beverages, making your time in the backcountry much more enjoyable.

I spend much of the year, regardless of season, either out on a multi-day backpacking trip or planning my next one – and I’ve learned that prioritizing how and what I’ll eat is always a vital consideration. This means making sure I’m able to start each morning with a cup of instant coffee and a few bites of rehydrated scrambled eggs so that I’m replenished enough and able to take on however many grueling miles lay ahead.

Refueling at night is just as important, too. A satisfying evening meal goes a long way to making my legs feel less tired and my body less sore, despite having hauled a 30-pound pack for several hours prior. Satisfying those meal needs always comes down to the type of backpacking stove I bring along. Even on shorter trips, it always finds its way into my pack – it’s that important.

Over the years, I’ve tested an array of camp stoves, both good and bad. What I’ve found is that I keep coming back to the same two brands: MSR and JetBoil. As you’ll notice by which stoves ultimately made the following guide, those two brands have the backpacking camp stove market almost entirely covered – and recommending another model just for the sake of doing so isn’t worth it. These are the best for a reason.

At the bottom of this guide, you’ll find some tips on how to shop for a backpacking stove and what else to consider, as well as the testing methodology I used.

Here are the best backpacking stoves:

The best backpacking stove overall

msr pocketrocket deluxe

Ounce counters will love the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe, which delivers outstanding performance in a tiny package. If you want to travel fast and light, this is the stove you need. 

 

MSR’s original PocketRocket is an iconic piece of gear in the outdoor industry, setting new standards for lightweight performance from a backpacking stove. But the new Deluxe model takes things to a new level by adding a push-button starter and a regulator for improved control in cold environments. 

The PocketRocket Deluxe tips the scales at a mere 2.9 ounces, making it one of the more svelte stoves on the market. It also measures just 3.3 inches in length, which is considerably smaller than almost any other model. Despite the small size, it still manages to perform well, boiling water at a rapid clip and offering solid fuel efficiency, too. It even has an integrated simmer control and a solid level of wind resistance, which aren’t common in similar stoves.

With this new generation of PocketRocket, MSR included an onboard igniter, eliminating the need to carry matches or a lighter. The igniter can be a source of frustration at times, though, as it’s not always 100 percent reliable. 

It’s worth pointing out that this stove isn’t a full cooking system, meaning you’ll need to bring a pot to prepare your meal (and possibly to eat from). Those additional items take up space and add weight to your pack, potentially negating any shaved ounces from using the PocketRocket in the first place. Additionally, the stove’s pot supports aren’t very large and can create some instability when used on uneven ground. 

Still, this little stove punches well above its weight class, delivering outstanding all-around performance in a tiny form factor. That alone makes it easy to recommend as the best ultralight backpacking stove available today.

The best budget backpacking stove

BRS

The BRS 3000-T Ultralight stove is a budget-conscious backpacker’s dream. Not only does it weigh next to nothing but it offers solid performance at a rock-bottom price, making it a great choice for those who’d rather spend their hard-earned money on other gear instead. 

Pros: Very inexpensive and lightweight compared to other models

Cons: Not very durable and average performance in all but the best of outdoor conditions 

Budget-friendly backpacking stoves aren’t particularly common in the outdoor industry but occasionally a model comes along that manages to offer solid performance at a great price. Such is the case with the BRS 3000-T Ultralight, a stove that’s compact, lightweight, and easy on the wallet. 

You won’t find a lot in the way of frills on this stove, though. It doesn’t have a built-in starter, nor does it include simmer control or a regulator to help maintain performance in cold or windy conditions. The BRS 3000-T is the very definition of a basic backpacking stove, with just the bare minimum of features. 

With that said, it does weigh less than an ounce and boils a liter of water in roughly three minutes. It also comes with a set of built-in pot holders that do a reasonably good job of maintaining balance even on rough terrain. Best of all, the BRS 3000-T costs just $17, making it an absolute bargain. 

Of course, at that price, this stove does come with a few caveats. It’s recommended that backpackers handle it with care as it isn’t the most durable. The stove can also perform poorly in windy conditions and its small burner head delivers only average performance. 

The best fuel-efficient backpacking stove

msr windburner stove

You’ll always want to consider weight, size, efficiency, and ease of use when shopping for a backpacking stove and none deliver on those as well as the MSR WindBurner, the best stove currently available. 

Pros: Compact, fast, and efficient, the MSR WindBurner is an all-in-one system that backpackers will love

Cons: No built-in igniter and not as lightweight as some other models

MSR’s made excellent backpacking stoves for decades and one of the mainstays in its line-up is the WindBurner Personal Stove System. What makes this particular stove stand out is that it’s an all-in-one option that gives users everything they need in one package. That includes the stove itself, a 1-liter insulated cook pot, a stabilizer, straining lid, and a plastic bowl. The only added extra you’d need is a canister of fuel and you’re set.

Unlike other all-in-one systems, the WindBurner offers a few extras that make it easier to use. For instance, its simmer-control system allows users to dial in exactly how much heat they want to apply to the pot. This also provides a measure of control over fuel consumption. 

The WindBurner truly shines with its versatility and efficiency. Very few backpacking stoves are as good in cold and windy conditions, and most use more fuel when preparing a meal. In fact, the WindBurner often gets twice as many uses out of a single fuel canister as its competition. That performance remains surprisingly consistent, too, even when used in a variety of environments or altitudes. 

Weighing in at 15.2 ounces, the WindBurner isn’t the lightest stove on this list but it is compact enough to comfortably carry inside a backpack, along with each of the add-ons which store inside one another. The entire package is easy to clean and can be set up or taken apart quickly. It also has the ability to boil a liter of water in just four and a half minutes, which is quite fast for a model of this size. 

The best backpacking stove for beginners

jetboil flash

The JetBoil Flash offers excellent all-around performance and great features that make it especially beginner-friendly. Compact and convenient, this is a stove first-time backpackers can quickly learn to operate and continue to use for many years. 

Pros: Fast and relatively efficient, the JetBoil Flash is extremely easy to operate, making it a great choice for beginners

Cons: No simmer control means the stove lacks subtle options when cooking a meal and its loss of efficiency in windy conditions is noticeable

Inexperienced backpackers looking for a great first backpacking stove should look no further than the JetBoil Flash. Like the MSR WindBurner, this model is an all-in-one solution that not only provides a stove but also a cooking pot wrapped in a protective outer shell. That’s essentially all you need to prepare the dehydrated backpacking meals that have become increasingly popular in recent years. 

The Flash’s ease of use is one of its biggest strengths. Simply fill up the pot with water and you’re ready to go. The entire system connects seamlessly to a gas canister, allowing the Flash to bring liquids to a boil in about three and a half minutes. That means you won’t have to wait long to get a warm meal or a hot beverage.

With its built-in heat exchanger, the Flash remains efficient, even in shifting weather conditions and colder temperatures. While not as fuel-efficient as the WindBurner, it still does a decent job of getting as much performance out of a single canister as possible.

At 13.1 ounces, the JetBoil Flash falls into the middle ground concerning size and weight. Smaller stoves, such as the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe, are more compact and less bulky but don’t include pots to prepare a meal, making the weight difference much closer than it seems. The Flash’s modular design only enhances its reputation as an easy-to-use option, too. 

The best travel backpacking stove

msr whisperlite universal

The MSR WhisperLite Universal is easy to travel with and uses liquid fuel rather than traditional gas canisters, making it the best backpacking stove for those going abroad.

Pros: Fast and efficient, compatible with multiple types of fuel which adds versatility and makes it great for international travel

Cons: A bit on the heavy side and requires regular maintenance in order to achieve optimal performance

Another mainstay in the MSR line-up, the WhisperLite Universal is without a doubt the best option for backpackers traveling outside the U.S. This stove comes with its own canister which can be filled with a variety of fuels, including white gas, kerosene, or even unleaded gasoline. It even uses standard isobutane-propane canisters when available, allowing this stove to go anywhere you’re able to find a viable fuel source. 

Compact and easy to carry, the WhisperLite Universal heats up quickly and gets nearly two hours of burn time from a single canister of white gas. Its overall efficiency varies depending on the fuel but it typically boils a liter of water in under four minutes. The stove is also easy to use, supports large pots for feeding groups of campers, and is surprisingly quiet for a liquid gas model.

The downside of using this type of stove is that it requires routine maintenance to keep it performing optimally. This maintenance isn’t particularly difficult but can be daunting and intimidating to newcomers. Additionally, at 14.9 ounces in weight, it’s a little heavier compared to other options. 

MSR ships the WhisperLite with a fuel pump, heat reflector, and a windscreen to help improve performance in windy conditions. It also comes with a few small parts to aid in the maintenance process. Unfortunately, a fuel bottle is not included, which adds an extra expense for international travelers, as well as a few additional ounces. 

How to shop for a backpacking stove

Shopping for a backpacking stove is different than what you’d look for while car camping, where size and weight don’t matter as much. When you’re carrying your entire allotment of gear inside a backpack, it’s vital to go small and lightweight.

It’s also important to find a stove that’s highly fuel-efficient in order to reduce the number of gas canisters you’ll need. 

But those aren’t the only features to consider. You’ll also want to take into account the number of people the stove supports, the kind of fuel it uses, and how durable it is. As with all outdoor gear, your stove should be extremely reliable and easy to use — there’s nothing like arriving at your campsite after sunset, exhausted and hungry, only to find your stove won’t start. 

What else to consider

It’s also important to think about when and where you’ll be using your camp stove. If you go backpacking in cold and windy conditions, you’ll want a stove that quickly boils water without using excess fuel. The same holds true when hiking at higher altitudes, where thinner air has a dramatic impact on efficiency. 

If this sounds too complex or overwhelming, fret not. There are plenty of reliable backpacking stoves to choose from, many of which are lightweight, compact, and fast. In fact, we’ve field-tested a crop of stoves currently available and came away impressed. There are now options available for just about every type of backpacker with any kind of budget. 

How we test backpacking stoves

Each stove featured in this guide went through a series of on-trail tests to see how well it held up across these four categories: Portability, weight, dependability, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which backpacking stoves ultimately made this guide:

Weight: For literally anything backpacking-related, weight is perhaps the most important consideration. Even if you’re not an ultralight backpacker, counting down to the ounce is common practice, and your camp stove is no different. During each test, we loaded a backpack with roughly 20 pounds of gear (sleeping bag, clothing, food, headlamps, etc.) and would spend one to two days with the stove in our backpack, and at least one day with it in someone else’s. This helped us judge just how much of a difference those ounces truly made.

Portability: Though weight may first come to mind when assessing how portable a camp stove is, we also judged how well the stove packed down, whether into itself or as pieces that were easily packable. A highly portable backpacking stove shouldn’t take up much valuable room in your pack, and also shouldn’t be so many separate pieces that you feel like you’re assembling a jigsaw puzzle each day. 

Dependability: Setting up camp after a grueling day on the trail can turn sour very quickly if the stove you’re about to rely on for sustenance doesn’t work (and this is doubly true when the weather starts to turn wet, cold, and windy). We’ve tested these stoves in hot weather often but also made sure to put them through their paces when the wind and rain picked up. For these, we had to resort to doing so in our backyard, though time spent on trail this winter will allow for further testing.

Value: The value of a backpacking camp stove isn’t just how much it costs but more so a combination of the three categories before it, as well as its final sticker price. You want something that’s dependable and often that means spending a little more for something you can rely on (as opposed to spending less, more often on an inferior stove). 

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The 8 best sleeping bags to keep you warm while camping or backpacking

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A sleeping bag is a vital part of anyone’s camp kit, no matter if they’re backpacking or car camping.
  • The best should be comfortable, provide enough warmth when needed, and have either down or synthetic insulation.
  • Our top pick, REI’s Co-op Magma 30ºF, has a great weight-to-warmth ratio and packs down small for easy transport.

Whether you’re camping with your car or trekking across the Himalayas, your sleeping bag might be the most important piece of gear in your kit. A proper sleeping bag keeps you comfortable throughout the night, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep. Conversely, the wrong sleeping bag leaves you feeling tired and miserable, which makes for a long next day on the trail.

Because of their importance to not only your well-being but to the success of any camping trip, picking out the right sleeping bag is vital. Since many of the best options aren’t exactly cheap, it’s important to not go through much trial-and-error.

Having crawled into a sleeping bag in just about every setting imaginable – in the backcountry, at a campsite, on an overlanding trip, and even in my backyard – I’ve developed, through much trial-and-error, a keen sense of what makes a quality sleeping bag. And with as much variety as there is, narrowing down a selection deemed “the best” isn’t always an easy task – but nevertheless, I’ve rounded up 8 of my absolute favorites below.

The following sleeping bags are great for a range of use cases, too, whether you prefer shoulder season camping, braving the frigid conditions of winter, or just want some casual to relax in while roughing it. At the bottom of this guide, I’ve also included some tips on how to shop for a sleeping bag and what to keep in mind, as well as some insight into the testing methodology I used in deciding which bags to feature.

Here are the best sleeping bags:

The best overall

Big Agnes sleeping bag

The REI Co-op Magma 30 offers an excellent weight-to-warmth ratio, good all-around comfort, and packs down small, giving it outstanding value for the price. 

Pros: Warm, comfortable, and provides high value for the price

Cons: Small stuff sack, 30ºF temperature rating might be generous

Very few sleeping bags offer as versatile a combination of features as the REI Co-op Magma 30º. Warmth, comfort, packability, value; it manages to do it all and at a reasonable price, to boot.

Made with 850-fill hydrophobic goose-down insulation surrounded by a water-resistant Pertex shell, the Magma 30º is a sleeping bag built for use on the trail. It manages to perfectly balance performance and weight, while also providing plenty of interior space. There’s even a customizable hood for added comfort and heat retention.

The bag does feature unique bio-mapped baffles which often provide more insulation in the torso area and less in the legs and feet. This could very well lead to some cold toes on frostier nights. 

One of the Magma 30’s best features is an easy-pull zipper that runs the length of one side. This provides campers the option to unzip the bag for improved venting in warmer weather, allowing them to stay more comfortable in a variety of environments.

When the mercury takes a plunge, the bag fully zips in order to keep things warmer. This holds true despite the fact REI gave the Magma 30 a generous amount of interior space — which is nice for all-around comfort but sometimes leads to cold air sneaking in.

There were a few times when this bag didn’t quite live up to its 30ºF temperature rating but to be fair to REI, it does say it’s best used at 39ºF and above. It can be used in colder temps in a pinch, though — and we’d recommend layering up if you need to.  

The REI Co-op Magma 30 is a great all-around sleeping bag with plenty of features and good performance. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and doesn’t take up much room in a backpack, all of which are features that should make it a popular option for backpackers and car campers alike. 

The best budget

Kelty sleeping bag

The Kelty Cosmic 20 isn’t only affordable, it also offers solid all-around performance, making it the best option for backpackers and campers on a tight budget.

Pros:  Very affordable for a 20ºF down bag

Cons: Not as durable or well constructed as more expensive options

Make no mistake, you can buy sleeping bags that cost less than the Kelty Cosmic 20. However, they won’t offer anywhere near the same level of performance. Finding a down sleeping bag for under $200 has always been somewhat of a challenge but Kelty managed to accomplish this feat, bringing a great entry-level option for those who don’t have a large sleeping bag budget.

To hit the Cosmic 20’s $170 price point, there were a few compromises that had to be made. Kelty used 600-fill down in the bag to keep costs down, although that insulation is still highly water-resistant. The bag’s outer shell is made from a soft 20D nylon material and while this is adequate, it doesn’t exactly scream high-quality.

The Cosmic 20 is also fairly heavy at 2 pounds, 13 ounces and doesn’t offer the same level of compressibility you’d find in more expensive bags. 

With that said, this sleeping bag still manages to provide plenty of comfort and functionality for campers on a budget. It performs reasonably well in cooler conditions and even delivers on its 20ºF temperature rating. It also features PFC-down and fabrics, which are better for the environment and your health, proving that even budget outdoor gear can be eco-conscious. 

Having spent a few nights in the Cosmic 20, I can tell you it’s a perfectly good sleeping bag that comes at an outstanding price. There are other bags that offer better performance and build quality, but those run nearly twice the price. If you don’t have a lot of cash to spend on your outdoor gear, you’ll be extremely pleased with what Kelty delivered. 

The best for backpacking

Therm a rest sleeping bag

The Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 weighs less than a pound, yet still delivers excellent performance for those who like to go light and fast in the backcountry. 

Pros: Extremely lightweight, packs down incredibly small, includes sleeping pad attachments

Cons: Not particularly warm, narrow design, expensive

Backpackers who count every ounce need the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32. This bag weighs a mere 15 ounces, making it one of the lightest sleeping bags on the market. That alone should make it a favorite for ultralight hikers, although the Hyperion 32 dazzles with its compressed size and all-around comfort, too. It even comes with a built-in sleeping pad harness that helps keep your pad and bag from separating while you sleep. 

In order to get the weight of the Hyperion 32 down so remarkably small, Therm-a-Rest went extra light on insulation. The company used 900-fill hydrophobic down but only in limited quantities. As a result, the bag isn’t quite as warm as some of the others on this list. It also has a narrow, somewhat confining cut, which won’t endear it to side-sleepers or those who aren’t fans of mummy bags.

Thanks to its focus on being extremely lightweight rather than warm, the Hyperion 32 is best used in warmer weather conditions. From my own experience, using it from late spring through early fall is a fantastic option for backpackers looking to shave ounces off their pack. At other times of the year, it won’t be warm enough to meet the conditions — though most ultralight sleeping bags have this exact common criticism. 

Of course, ultralight gear does come at a price and the Hyperion 32 is no different. The bag sells for $340, which is on the spendy side for something with this temperature rating. When you factor in its weight-to-warmth ratio, the value of the Hyperion comes into focus. It’s a sleeping bag that appeals to a specific crowd but those who buy it will undoubtedly appreciate what it brings to the table. 

The best for kids

Big Agnes duster sleeping bag

Kids will love the Big Agnes Duster 15º sleeping bag because it’s warm and cozy but it’s the parents who will be most impressed with its clever design that allows it to grow as their child does.

Pros: Made specifically for kids, unique design allows bag to grow with the child, affordable

Cons: Not as warm as it should be, relatively heavy, doesn’t pack as small as some bags

One of the biggest drawbacks of buying outdoor gear for kids is that they outgrow it after only a few uses. The same holds true for most sleeping bags, although the Duster 15 from Big Agnes looks to change that.

The designers at Big Agnes set out to create a sleeping bag that could somehow grow along with the kids using them. It came up with a system of hooks and loops that give parents the ability to shorten the length of the bag when their kids are smaller, while gradually increasing the length as they grow. As a result, the Duster 15 is made to accommodate campers who fall between 4’5″ and 5’6″ in height, providing a level of versatility not found anywhere else.

Just because this bag is aimed at kids doesn’t mean it doesn’t the same features you’d find on an adult bag. For instance, Big Agnes included a no-draft collar, zipper, and wedge, which help to keep cold air out. It also comes with built-in liner loops and the ability to attach it to a sleeping pad. A contoured hood offers a comfortable fit to go along with added warmth, while the bag is built to keep insulation close to the body, even when adjusting to a growing child. 

Unfortunately, the synthetic insulation may not be efficient enough to actually live up to the Duster’s 15ºF rating. Considering how easy it is for kids to get cold, it’s likely they’ll start to feel uncomfortable even at warmer temperatures. 

Compared to other sleeping bags for kids, the Duster is a bit heavier and doesn’t pack down quite as small. This is due largely to its ability to resize, however. Considering that feature keeps you from buying a new bag every year, it seems like a decent trade-off. The $109.95 price tag is also quite affordable, particularly since the Duster should be useful for many years. 

The best shoulder-season

GetDown1

The Get Down 35 from Sierra Designs is a comfortable and lightweight sleeping bag that works well for shoulder season camping when temperatures aren’t quite warm but not entirely frigid.

Pros: Made of 20D polyester ripstop for durability, features 550 fill power down, warm in temperatures down to roughly 26 degrees Fahrenheit, has a cinchable hood for added warmth, packs down easily, lightweight

Cons: Might be too warm for summer camping

Shoulder season camping is one of the most desirable times to rough it for a number of reasons; there are likely smaller crowds at popular camping sites and the weather should be a comfortable mix of not too hot and not too cold. However, considering just how unpredictable weather truly is, a shoulder-season camping trip could start out sunny and 65 but end with pouring rain and temps hovering around 40 degrees.

This makes packing for a shoulder season camp trip difficult — do you bring your summer bag and chance it, or pack a thicker, winter-specific one and potentially sleep warm? The happy medium, I’ve found, is a bag like the Get Down 35 from Sierra Designs. It stays warm enough on cool spring nights and can cinch up tight to create a cozy interior when temps drop. 

The Get Down 35 features 55 fill power down, is made with durable 20D polyester ripstop nylon, and has a soft polyester taffeta interior liner. It weighs roughly 1 lb. 13 oz. making it lightweight enough for backpacking trips and easy to throw into a car when camping at a campsite. 

What I liked most about this bag is its versatility (i.e. performance during random shoulder season weather). With a comfort rating of 35 degrees Fahrenheit and an ISO limit rating down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s able to handle fluctuating spring weather with ease. Even if it got a little warm, I’d just unzip the bag a bit to let in some air and never felt too hot. 

It also has a reasonable price tag. Often retailing for around $160 for the regular length version (the long length is $180), it’s not that far off from the budget pick in this guide which sells for $150. That means you’re getting a quality bag without the typical premium price tag. — Rick Stella, fitness and health editor

The best for comfort

Zenbivy sleeping bag

Great for side and stomach sleepers, the Zenbivy Bed offers unmatched comfort and versatility by mimicking the bed you have at home. 

Pros: Very comfortable, great for side-sleepers, sleeping pad integration, versatile

Cons: A little complicated at first, doesn’t pack down as small as other options

The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Zenbivy Bed brings comfort and versatility to the backcountry by mimicking the bed you have at home. It does this by using a unique design that incorporates both a top quilt and a sheet designed to fit over a sleeping pad. This creates a sleep system that allows campers to freely move about in their sleep and to settle into more natural positions — it’s unlike anything else on the market. 

When using the Zenbivy Bed, campers attach the included sheet to their sleeping pad and then independently connect the blanket to the sheet. This allows each piece to act separately from one another, while still working together to provide comfort and warmth. The end result is a sleeping bag that offers more freedom of movement, while still retaining solid overall performance. 

Having used the Zenbivy Bed on multiple occasions, its biggest drawback is that it takes a bit of practice to get everything to work together. Once you’ve done it a time or two, it gets easier but the first time you set it up just might leave you scratching your head about how everything works. Once you bring it altogether, you end up with a sleeping bag that’s quiet, comfortable, and cozy. And since you’ll feel less constricted and confined, you might just wake up more rested the next day. 

Zenbivy’s innovative design lends itself well to increased versatility, too. Just like the blanket on your bed back home, the Zenbivy bed’s blanket can be turned down or bundled up as needed, allowing it to stay warmer in colder temperatures or vent excess heat when temperatures rise.

It even opens at various points to improve airflow in general, allowing it to be used in a surprisingly wide range of climates. 

The best women-cut

Sea to Summit bag

Built specifically with female campers in mind, the Sea to Summit Flame Ultralight 15º sleeping bag is contoured to work efficiently with a woman’s body, while providing extra warmth and comfort where it’s needed most.

Pros: Female-specific design, cozy, good weight-to-warmth ratio

Cons: Expensive, short zippers

It used to be extremely difficult for women to find a sleeping bag that met their specific needs. Thankfully, those days are long gone and it’s now possible to find a number of options built from the ground up with female campers and backpackers in mind. The Sea to Summit Flame Ultralight 15 is a good example of this, as it takes into account a woman’s shape, as well as their need for more warmth, to deliver a comfortable night’s sleep.

The bag uses high-quality 850+ fill-power hydrophobic goose down as its insulator, which not only makes it warm but soft and lofty, as well. But it takes more than just good insulation to make a sleeping bag comfortable in cold conditions. In order to achieve that, Sea to Summit did extensive research to learn exactly where the down should go, using body-mapping techniques to improve performance. 

The Flame Ultralight’s design was influenced by body mapping in other ways, too. For instance, the bag is narrower in the shoulders compared to most men’s sleeping bags. It’s also shorter overall and offers more room between the hips and knees in order to facilitate side-sleepers. These simple yet well-thought-out changes help keep cold air from reaching the interior while also providing a generous amount of space.

If there’s a knock against the Sea to Summit Flame 15, it’s definitely the price. At $529, it’s quite a hefty investment, even though it’s a sleeping bag that should continue to perform at a high level. If you can get past the price tag, you’ll be buying one of the best women’s sleeping bags ever made. 

The best for winter camping

Nemo sonic sleeping bag

Extremely warm and comfortable, yet still lightweight with a relatively small pack size, make the Nemo Sonic 0 a great option for cold-weather outings. 

Pros: Warm and spacious, has innovative features such as “Thermo Gills” to help improve temperature control and venting, good for side-sleepers

Cons: A little bulkier than most other bags and it’s expensive at $500

If you’re camping in a cold environment or during winter, you’ll need a sleeping bag designed to keep you extra warm. That’s exactly what you get with Nemo’s Sonic 0, a sleeping bag that offers a blend of traditional sleeping bag features with unique design elements that provide a high level of versatility. 

The Sonic is insulated with 800 fill-power, hydrophobic down that provides plenty of warmth in temperatures dropping as low as 0ºF. The bag also comes with integrated draft tubes and a newly-redesigned draft collar, both of which help to keep cold air out and warm air in.

The designers at Nemo took things even further by using both waterproof and breathable fabrics, along with a thin layer of synthetic insulation. This provides extra comfort and protection from the elements, and the result is a sleeping bag that doesn’t have any weaknesses in its armor when it comes to protecting campers and backpackers from the cold. 

Other unique design elements include the brand’s Thermo Gills and the Toaster foot box. Both were created in order to maintain a high level of comfort. The Thermo Gills are the most impressive as they help vent excess heat so efficiently that it actually raises the Sonic’s temperature rating up by as much as 20ºF. The Toaster foot box was incorporated in order to improve warmth and breathability around the feet — a common cold spot in most other bags.

Priced at $500, most campers may find the Nemo Sonic 0 to be on the high end of their budget or out of their price range altogether. But that price is fairly competitive for a cold-weather sleeping bag that offers this level of performance and innovation. If you like to backpack during the winter, this is the bag you’ll want.

How to shop for a sleeping bag

When it comes to selecting a sleeping bag, there are a number of factors to consider, including weight, size, and temperature rating. Most sleeping bags come in different sizes to accommodate different people. Generally speaking, those sizes are small, medium, and large, and most manufacturers charge different prices based on size.

For instance, if you’re taller, there’s a good chance you’d pay more for a tall-specific bag. Larger sleeping bags also tend to weigh a bit more, although in most cases the differences are negligible. 

Temperature ratings and insulation

A sleeping bag’s temperature rating is arguably more important than either size or weight when it comes to comfort. The rating is an indicator of the absolute lowest temperature the bag should be used in. In other words, if a sleeping bag has a rating of 35ºF/1.6ºC, it’s generally safe and comfortable to use in weather conditions that drop to those temperatures. Anything below that and you run the risk of being too cold and uncomfortable. 

Temperature ratings also have an impact on a sleeping bag’s weight and size. The lower the temperature rating, the more insulation it needs to maintain comfort levels. As insulation is added, the bag gets heavier and thicker, adding bulk to a hiker’s backpack at the same time. That’s the trade-off that comes with having a warmer bag for use in more extreme conditions.  

Insulation types

Down

Another consideration when searching for a sleeping bag is whether or not you want down feathers or synthetic insulation. Down is widely considered to be the warmest and lightest form of insulation, providing plenty of warmth while staying fairly light. It also compresses down to a relatively small size, meaning it won’t take up much space in your pack.

The downside, however, is that when down gets wet, it tends to lose its loft and much of its performance. The introduction of hydrophobic (aka water-resistant) down has changed this a bit but there are still plenty of traditional down options on the market. 

Synthetic insulation

The other popular sleeping bag insulator is synthetic insulation. Bags with synthetic insulation don’t perform as well in cold conditions but also don’t lose any performance when they get wet. These types of insulations are also less expensive, though they do tend to be heavier and less compressible.

How we test sleeping bags

Each sleeping bag featured in this guide went through a series of tests to judge how well they compared based on these four categories: Comfort, warmth, portability, and value. Here’s how each of those categories factored into which sleeping bags ultimately made the guide:

Comfort: You wouldn’t want to sleep on an uncomfortable mattress at home, so why settle for anything less in your sleeping bag? No matter if you need an ultra-warm four-season bag or something lighter for the warmer months, the sleeping bag you choose should be a comfortable place to catch some Zs at the end of a long day. This category was particularly easy to figure out, too. Is it comfortable or not? 

Warmth: Warmth isn’t exactly something that every bag is able to compete in as some are made specifically for shoulder seasons or the heat of summer. What we were able to judge in this category is if the bag lives up to its specific rating. If it says it’s able to keep you warm down to 25 degrees, then it should certainly not start feeling cold at 30 degrees.

Portability: Even if you’re just car camping, it’s still ideal to have your sleeping bag excel in terms of portability. Thankfully, most (if not all) modern sleeping bags come with their own pack bag that makes for easy storage and hauling. For backpackers, the choice sleeping bag is one that not only comes in its own bag but can pack down extremely small so as to nestle nicely into the bottom of their bag. 

Value: Quality sleeping bags aren’t cheap though most are certainly worth the investment for what they can offer, namely comfort and protection in the backcountry. It’s better to spend a little more on a product designed to perform than to either spend less on an inferior product that negatively affects your cam trip or doesn’t hold up in terms of durability.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 6 best men’s hiking boots, perfect for backpacking trips or short day hikes

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The pair of hiking boots you wear has a huge impact on how comfortable and enjoyable a hike can be.
  • The best offer a long-lasting and comfortable fit, are stable across varied terrain, and can be broken in quickly.
  • Our top pick, the Asolo TPS 520 GV, is a water-resistant boot that’s supportive and highly comfortable.

Choosing the right hiking boot means first considering the environment in which you’ll primarily use them. Whether you’re keen on days-long backpacking trips or prefer a multi-mile afternoon day hike, the right hiking boots do plenty to make sure you’re comfortable and stable throughout.

But there isn’t just a one-size-fits-all-style of hiking boot perfect for all weather conditions, trail types, or hikes – rather, the variations in boot type are many.

With decades of hiking under my belt, I’ve worn every kind of boot imaginable. This also means I’ve made every type of mistake in picking out a boot, too. Be it a cheaply made pair that fell apart before the end of a backpacking trip, a boot that never quite broke in enough to be comfortable, or some that claimed to be waterproof but were far from it, I’ve seen it all.

But you don’t need to trudge through the same difficulties I have in searching for the perfect boot. Below, you’ll find six of the hiking boots that I turn to time and again when hitting the trail, no matter if I’m out for a quick two- to three-mile trek or a longer multi-day excursion.

At the end of this guide, I’ve also included some additional insight into how to shop for a hiking boot, as well as the testing methodology I used in deciding which ultimately made the cut.

Here are the best men’s hiking boots:

The best overall

BI   Hiking Boot 1   Asolo

The Asolo TPS 520 GV hiking boots are comfortable the first time you slip them on, no break-in period required, and they hold up even after thousands of miles of trekking in all conditions.

Pros: Instant comfort without break-in wearing, stellar water-resistance, great ankle and arch support, wicks moisture away from foot, easy and secure lacing system

Cons: Heavier and bulkier than many other hiking boot options, rather expensive

If you’re a committed hiker, camper, or mountaineer, you know that at the end of the day, your hiking boots are your most important pieces of gear, so you should be ready to pay a decent chunk for them.

You could leave your tent, pack, sleeping pad, stove, and all the rest of it behind, but you need a solid pair of boots on your feet if you want to trek your way back out of the wilderness safely. If you want hiking boots that will be comfortable the first time you lace them up and that stay that way after tens of thousands of steps, slip your feet into the Asolo TPS 520 GVs.

With a rugged full-grain leather exterior and a waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex interior, the TPS 520s are ready for the elements, whether those elements include rain, rock, snow, mud, and more.

The solid Vibram sole is treaded for ideal grip in a myriad of conditions and keeps your foot supported whether you’re scrambling through a boulder field, kicking steps into a snowpack with crampons attached, or just strolling through a grassy field. The boots’ sturdy uppers protect your ankles against injury even when you roll a foot over a loose rock or catch a toe on a pesky root.

I recommend them because even after trying out six or seven other brands over the past fifteen years, I always choose my Asolos for any serious hike. They’ve carried me up and down Mt. Whitney, Mt. Rainier, the Grand Teton, and through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Colombia, just to name a few of their many outings.

The best versatile

BI   Hiking Boot 3   Salomon

If you need one pair of hiking boots that will perform adroitly in the winter snow, the springtime mud, the summer’s heat, or the frost of fall, then you should slip on a pair of versatile Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX hiking boots.

Pros: Versatile enough for use in many conditions, lightweight with flexible sole, breathable materials keep feet cool

Cons: Thin underfoot padding leads to foot fatigue, tread pattern not ideal for some conditions

No one hiking boot is ever going to be ideal for use in all types of conditions. But, if you need to find the best possible compromise boot, whether for budgetary concerns or because you need to travel through various types of weather and terrain in a single expedition, the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX hiking boots are a fine choice.

The exterior of the boots features a blend of leather and textile, with Gore-Tex waterproofing underlying both materials. The six-inch shaft rises more than high enough to protect an ankle against a roll, while the thick rubber toecap protects your toes against a falling rock or a hard stub against a stone, log, step, or anything else.

Now here are the compromises: The tread pattern isn’t aggressive, as it’s more akin to a trail shoe than a rugged boot suitable for the loose scree of a mountain pass. And although the exterior is water-resistant, it will eventually soak through if you stand in puddles or streams.

They might not be as warm as some hikers need, but they’re suitable for all seasons when paired with the right socks and they even let your foot breathe and stay cool when you wear thinner socks. 

The best budget

BI   Hiking Boot 5   Merrell

These Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilator Mid Hiking Boots might cost half as much as many other options, but they’re fine boots at a fantastic price.

Pros: Very affordable option, air-cushioned heel reduces impact effects, soles offer reliable grip

Cons: Limited water resistance, soles wear out rather quickly

For the outdoor enthusiast who goes for day hikes, weekend camping trips, or the occasional multi-day trek but who doesn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilator Mid hiking boots are a great choice. These boots are reasonably lightweight, comfortable, and supportive, and have a tread pattern, water resistance, and breathability that make them suitable for use in most moderate conditions.

Are these the right boots to wear as you trek up and over the glaciers of Mt. Rainier? No, they’re not. Having done that, I can speak with confidence. But are they a fine option for traversing miles and miles of graded trail or for wearing as you blaze your own path through a pine forest or rolling meadow? Absolutely.

The Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilators feature a shock-absorbing air cushion under the heel and a flexible sole with no lugs under the arch. Those elements mean you could wear these boots for trail running if you really wanted, though they are a bit heavy for a long jaunt at speed.

While the Moab Ventilator boot is excellent at wicking moisture away from your foot to keep you dry, it’s not all that water-resistant, so in heavy rains or the event you step in a stream, your foot is going to get wet.

The best hiking shoe

Vasque1

Vasque’s Breeze LT Low GTX is waterproof, has excellent traction, and features a lightweight yet durable design that makes it great for short shoulder season and summer hikes. 

Pros: Waterproof, Vibram outsole provides plenty of traction across varied terrain, lightweight design reduces fatigue, breathable upper

Cons: Doesn’t provide as much ankle support as a higher cut boot

If you’re the kind of hiker who enjoys getting out for a few miles at a time, a hiking shoe is a far better option for your feet than a full-on boot — and Vasque’s Breeze LT Low GTX is our favorite we’re currently wearing. Lightweight and breathable yet waterproof and rugged, this shoe is great for short day hikes, no matter if you’re heading out in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, or trekking during the summer. 

The shoe features a Vibram outsole that gives it premium traction across a variety of terrain types — dry, wet, slick, it’s able to perform through it all. And with a waterproof design, you won’t have to worry about getting your socks wet (unless you fully submerge your foot). This makes it great for spring hikes or for any summer outings with shallow stream crossings. 

One of the Breeze’s best features is just how comfortable it is. Vasque prides itself on designing hiking boots that need very little (to no) break-in time, and these hiking shoes fit that intention incredibly well. Of course, hiking shoes don’t require as much break-in time as a larger boot but it was still nice to not have to worry about developing hot spots or going through an uncomfortable hike when I first put these on. 

The best classic

danner

Danner’s hiking boots are some of the most stylish boots you can buy and they’re extremely well made.

Pros: Classic, timeless design, real leather construction, well made, can be resoled, fun collaborations with other brands

Cons: May not be perfectly waterproof, which won’t serve in a torrent or muddy terrain

Danner has been making some of the most popular boots for outdoor enthusiasts for nearly a century. If you’re looking for a pair of hiking boots that are somewhat less obtuse than the busy, flashy, high-tech boots that are so terribly a la mode these days, these are the boots for you.

Back in 1932, Charles Danner founded Danner Shoe Mfg. Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where he sold his handcrafted work boots for four dollars a pair to the local loggers. He learned that, out west, loggers were paying upwards of $10 for a pair of calked logging boots — a small fortune back then — and moved the family and business out to Oregon to take full advantage of a lacking market.

Danner has come up with a lot of boots since those days, and the most popular of all has been the Danner Light Boots, which came out thanks to the then-new invention of Gore-Tex.

Despite rugged soles, Gore-Tex lining, and heavy-duty leather, Danner hasn’t gone without its fair share of critics. Several esteemed publications have claimed that in the process of testing Danner boots, they found that the leather uppers and the seams at the miss let some water in. While I haven’t personally experienced any seepage as of yet, one reporter at Insider Picks did notice the Danner Lights absorbing some water.

But, before you dismiss Danner boots entirely, consider this: These are still extremely sturdy, well-constructed boots using high-quality, full-grain leather. The soles are nearly indestructible, and if you do manage to damage them, they’re built to be replaced.

The Danner Mountain Passes are a middle-of-the-road boot. They’re not the most rugged, but they also don’t feel like cinder blocks on your feet. The single-piece, full-grain uppers on this model will keep you good and dry unless you’re trudging through absolute muck (in which case, just grab your wellies).

All in all, this is not your built-for-hell boot to take trudging through the mud or a mountain stream. If you want that kind of boot from Danner, rest assured that they make it. This, on the other hand, is more along the lines of a fair-weather hiking or hunting boot, though it’s wonderfully suited for relatively dry terrain.

Hiking boots are always going to come with tradeoffs, and like many other things in this life, you’ll really need about three or four of them to handle every kind of outing. If you find yourself in an urban setting more often than, say, trudging through a cranberry bog or a low country swamp, these stylish boots will keep you warm, dry, and of course, styling. — Owen Burke

The best for winter

Daska 3

Unless you plunge them into water that’s deeper than their rise, the Columbia Daska Pass III Titanium Outdry Extreme boots simply won’t let your feet get wet.

Pros: Amazing waterproof rating, cannot be inundated even by standing in water, great insulation, ideal for use in cold weather

Cons: Too warm for use in hot climates and/or seasons

When Columbia Sportswear began to release gear and apparel stamped with its OutDry Extreme certification several years ago, it changed the outdoor clothing industry. Simply put, if you see the OutDry label on a piece of apparel, count on that item to be 100% waterproof.

You can trust me on this, too; I’ve worn various pieces of OutDry gear in downpours in the middle of a South American rainforest, in knee-deep snow in the northeast of the United States, and in many places in between.

Also, the word Titanium is significant, too. That’s the top-of-the-line stuff this world-renowned apparel brand makes. If you need to rely on a pair of boots to keep your feet dry and supported in wet or wintry weather, these are a safe bet.

The Daska Pass III boots are impressively lightweight for footwear that offers such superlative waterproofing, not to mention impressive insulation. Paired with the right socks, these boots keep your feet warm even in conditions well below the freezing point. And their tall, sturdy uppers keep your ankles safe from a sprain (or worse) even when you’re trekking across unstable terrain, like a shell of ice frozen over looser snow, for example.

The boots have an outsole made from durable Vibram rubber and a poured polyurethane midsole that offers you some extra bounce in your step, almost like you might get from a running shoe. It’s not quite the same level of rebound, but better than nothing!

Columbia’s Daska Pass III boots are at a decent price point, especially considering their durability. While in many conditions, the aforementioned insulation is a great asset, it’s also the main drawback of these boots. They are just too warm for use in some places and seasons. If you wear these boots on a low elevation summer trek, your feet are going to sweat so much the waterproofing won’t matter.

How to shop for hiking boots

Some boots are designed for use in snow and ice, making them ideal when paired with crampons or spikes. Others are light and breathable, designed to keep your feet cool even in the heat of the desert. You’ll even come across boots that work well in wet conditions that repel water while wicking sweat.

Put plainly, no one hiking boot is perfect for all conditions, so it’s important you choose a boot that’s best suited to the environments you frequent (or plan to frequent).

Pay attention to material, tread pattern, weight, and design elements like the height of the rise and the lacing system. Every aspect of a boot either contributes to or detracts from its suitability for a given environment or activity, and only through a thoughtful assessment of planned uses and a close study of the boot itself can you be sure to find a proper pair.

If you’re a serious hiker, climber, or camper, you’re going to want to own a few pairs of boots. This is especially true if the seasons vary greatly in your area or if you travel for your treks.

How we test hiking boots

Each hiking boot featured in this guide went through a testing process that consisted of more than just lacing them on and hitting the trail. Specifically, we wanted to see how they held up in a variety of conditions, and how well they did across these four categories: Fit, comfort, durability, versatility, and value. Here’s how each category contributed to whether a boot made the cut or not.

Fit: The fit of a hiking boot can spell the difference between enjoying a 10-mile excursion through the backcountry and doing nothing but focusing on the budding blister starting to form on your heel. This also comes down to how true-to-size a boot fits. You don’t want to buy a size 10 boot (because you normally wear a size 10 shoe) only to find out that it runs either too big, and doesn’t provide adequate support or too small, and places into that blister scenario above.

Comfort: Like fit, comfort can make or break a hike. The best hiking boots are somewhat comfortable out of the box but after a short break-in period, fit your foot like a sturdy glove. Even if you only plan on hiking for a few miles here or there, you don’t want to be groaning during every step you take. A comfortable boot helps you enjoy the hike far better than you can imagine.

Durability: Spending upwards of $100 or more on a pair of hiking boots may shock your wallet but if you’re buying those that come with the promise of durability, that investment will surely look great in a year or two. Hiking boots take an absolute beating, no matter where you hike, so the boots featured in this guide needed to be able to stand up to the constant abuse of a hiking trail.

Versatility: If you’re only able to buy one pair of hiking boots, it’d be worthwhile if they were able to tackle a variety of terrain, weather conditions, and hike types. Of course, specialized boots, like our pick for winter, should only excel in winter, but other recommendations like the best overall or the best for any condition should have a level of versatility that allows them to stand out in a variety of use cases. 

Value: If a hiking boot carries an expensive price tag, you’d hope that it scores highly in all the aforementioned categories. In other words, value is less the actual sticker price and more so the sum of a boot’s parts. After all, you’re shopping and doing research in hopes of finding the best value for your money. 

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The 5 best women’s hiking pants and leggings, perfect for day hikes and backpacking trips

  • Wearing hiking pants instead of jeans offers protection against the elements and moisture management.
  • The best hiking pants are stretchy, have a gusseted crotch for movement, and handle dirt and sweat.
  • Our top pick, the Columbia Saturday Trail Pant, is durable and versatile with zip-off legs.

If you’re headed out for an easy day hike, throw on a pair of hiking boots and whatever shorts or leggings you have lying around and just get out there. But if you’re off on a technical hike with the sun blasting down on your and rock scrambles, or on an overnight backpacking trip, you’ll be a lot happier if you wear hiking-specific pants.

Read more: 10 hiking essentials for spring

Women’s hiking pants are made for movement and comfort, with many featuring stretchy fabric and a gusseted crotch so you can stretch, reach, and twist without restriction. What’s more, most pairs have features that protect against the elements, like UPF to offer sun protection for your skin, DWR finishes to repel water, and abrasion-resistant patches so you won’t tear the fabric as you scoot over big rocks.

Hiking-specific pants are also designed to be worn with a backpack, meaning you won’t typically find excess fabric or unnecessary belt loops on the waistband capable of causing pressure points or becoming uncomfortable. The best hiking pants aren’t just for hiking, either, but perform well enough for you to wear while traveling or running errands around town.

You’ll also want to find a pair that’s sun-, dirt-, and water-resistant, even if you hike in an area that doesn’t always encounter intense elements or weather changes. And finally, fit is a vital consideration, and not just how it feels around your waist. Some pants come in a variety of lengths and its always better to have excess coverage and roll up your pant legs as opposed to not fully protecting your lower legs.

To help you sift through the growing market of hiking pants, we rounded up a few pairs of our favorites from brands like The North Face, Columbia Sportswear, and Eddie Bauer. At the end of this guide, we go into more detail on how we tested the picks.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Here are the best women’s hiking pants:

Best hiking pants overall

Columbia Saturday Trail Convertible Pant

Tough, abrasion-resistant stretch nylon fabric makes the Columbia Sportswear Saturday Trail Convertible Pant a great option for women looking for one garment that does it all.

Pros: Zip-off legs, gusseted crotch, made of stretch fabric that repels water

Cons: They run small so it’s smart to size up

Size range: 2-16 in short, regular, and long

Hikers will love that the legs on these zip off, adding an extra layer of versatility, allowing you to switch to shorts if need be. When worn as pants, a subtle flap covers the zipper to avoid snagging on anything as you hike.

A gusseted crotch allows for full freedom of movement and the pant’s articulated knees won’t pull up or feel binding when you’re stepping up or down. Side-zip security pockets safely hold an ID or credit card while leg hem cinches keep out bugs and debris. The fabric is rated for UPF 50, meaning you’re able to wear these in the sun without having to worry about getting burned, too.

The comfortable stretch fabric repels water and resists stains while breathing and wicking moisture away from your skin to keep you dry and comfortable. These pants feature a mid-rise design, come in three different lengths, and have enough give in the fabric to fit a variety of body shapes and sizes. Consider sizing up, though; they run small. 

Best wear-anywhere

PrAna Briann Pant

The Prana Briann Pant pant is able to do it all, from trekking through the backcountry to remaining comfortable around the house for daily use.

Pros: Stretch fabric is perfect for a variety of use cases, features SPF 50+ protection, repels water, available in three length choices

Cons: The fitted, skinny leg style may not be suitable for everyone

Size range: 00-14 in short and regular

These stretchy, slim fit pants don’t scream technical trail attire and are perfect as a travel pant, allowing you to wear them at a city tour, a hike, or while out to dinner with friends.

Stretchy and water repellent, the Briann stays comfortable no matter if you’ve been in them for hours or days, and they won’t look saggy or worn down. Made from durable, abrasion-resistant stretch nylon, the pants quick-dry moisture, offer SPF 50+ protecting, and repel water. They’re designed as a mid-rise pant with belt loops and a button closure. Prana offers the Briann in three length choices and seven different colorways.

Best capri-style

The North Face Aphrodite 2.0 Capri

The Aphrodite 2.0 Capri from The North Face features oversized leg openings, making them cool in hot weather without leaving you as exposed as a pair of shorts.

Pros: Capri style keeps you cool in hot weather without completely exposing your legs, adjustable drawcord allows for a custom fit

Cons: Fit runs big

Size range: XS-3X

The waistband is two inches wide, so it won’t dig or chafe, even when you’re huffing up a steep incline or hauling a heavy backpack. An adjustable drawcord at the waist lets you easily cinch the pants for a customized fit.

The North Face manufactured the Aphrodite from durable, breathable fabric that quickly wicks and dries, allowing them to stay comfortable whether you’re hiking in the rain or breaking a sweat. A concealed zippered compartment inside the hand pocket secures valuables like car keys and its triple-stitched seams can endure miles of hard use. The shirring on the legs adds flair, so you could throw these on over your yoga tights en route to class if you don’t feel like walking around in Lycra.

Best for mountaineering

Eddie Bauer Women's Guide Pro Pants

Made for professional mountain guides, the Eddie Bauer Women’s Guide Pro Pants are lightweight, packable, and constructed from a stretchy fabric that lasts for years of hard use.

Pros: Features UPF 50+ protection, highly durable, zippered pockets able to hold plenty of loose gear like phones, wallets, etc.

Cons: Sizing can be a little tricky

Size range: 0-16

These pants are rugged and durable enough to survive anything the outdoors throws at you, and feature a treated water-repelling finish and UPF 50+ protection.

The Guide Pro Pants offer a style reminiscent of a pair of stretch jeans and feature two hand pockets, a button waist, and belt loops. Zippered pockets on the thighs are big enough to hold a phone, wallet, or ID, too. They’re styled as a mid-rise pant and come in seven different colors.

Eddie Bauer designed these for women with a somewhat curvy figure, so check the sizing guide before choosing which pair to buy.

Best leggings

abisko trekking tight_long

The Fjällräven Abisko Women’s Trekking Tights are very comfortable with stretch fabric, a very flattering fit, and reinforced at the knees and butt for durability and protection if you fall, slide, or need to scoot.

Pros: Stretchy, reinforced in key areas, wide waistband, gusseted, flatlock seams reduce chafing, interior drawcord for better fit, gear loops, phone pocket

Cons: Expensive, limited sizing, too long for short folks, can get hot during sunny summer hikes

Size range: XS-XL

Like most millennials, I prefer to wear leggings over pants in pretty much every situation, especially during exercise. The Fjällräven Abisko Women’s Trekking Tights are ideal if you want a close-to-body feel and flattering fit on a more technical hike. 

Made from 82% nylon and 18% elastane, these tights are the perfect balance of stretchy and durable. They’re breathable and sweat-wicking, though they’re a little too thick for hot summer hikes. The best part about these tights are the reinforced knees and butt areas, which offer abrasion-resistance on the areas you’re most likely to scrape against the ground slipping, sliding, or scooting.

They also have a convenient phone pocket for quick pics on your hike, and an interior drawcord for a tighter fit around the waist if you need.

The downside is they’re quite pricey. But if you hike a lot or are heading out for a big trip where you need reliable, durable bottoms, the splurge may be worth it. –Rachael Schultz

How we test

Each of the hiking pants featured in this guide went through a series of on-trail tests to see how well they compared based on these four categories: Fit, function, versatility, and value. Here’s how each category factored into which hiking pants I ultimately included:

  • Fit: A hiking pant’s fit is perhaps the single most important category when assessing whether it’s worth spending money on or not. When testing, I looked for everything from how it felt to wear casually, how it held up on both casual and technical hikes, and whether it remained comfortable enough to wear post-trail. 
  • Function: There is plenty of women-designed outdoor apparel that skimps when it comes to including functional pockets (or any kind of storage), so this was a key consideration. Even if you tend to hike with a pack, there’s still a need for being able to store a smartphone or your keys in a pant pocket, instead of fishing them out of your bag all day. 
  • Versatility: Being able to wear a pair of hiking pants outside of its singular intended purpose is important for a couple of reasons: You don’t always have the time or space to change right after a hike and if you’re investing in quality pants, you should be able to put them to use in other scenarios.
  • Value: Value is less the final sticker price as much as it’s the combination of the three categories above as well as how much it costs. I often subscribe to the idea that it’s better to spend more on something that’s built to last than to spend less, more often on an inferior product. 
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The 5 best men-sized backpacking packs, perfect for everything from multi-day treks to weeks spent on the trail

  • The right backpacking pack makes trekking with a 30-pound bag on your back a more comfortable experience.
  • The best packs evenly distribute large loads, have several access points, and feature adjustable straps and hip belts. 
  • Our top pick, the Osprey Atmos AG 65, carries tons of gear yet stays comfortable with mesh venting and padded straps.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Backpacking is a fun but grueling outdoor activity – but it doesn’t always have to be. With the right equipment, a multi-day trip into the backcountry could feel like a literal walk in the park, and achieving this starts with purchasing the right backpack. 

Since backpacking requires you to haul everything you need to survive, your pack needs to both hold up to the harshness of the outdoors yet remain comfortable across long distances. This means finding one that’s capable of packing everything from a change of clothes and a sleeping bag to ample food and water (which includes gear like backpacking stoves, changes of socks, and, of course, equipment for making coffee). 

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve embarked on my fair share of backpacking trips, both big and small. Some had me spending just a couple of days on the trail with minimal mileage hiked each day while others were more intensive multi-day to week-long treks with tens of miles of ground covered between camps. While some of the gear you bring may be influenced by the season (like sleeping bags or hiking apparel), the pack you wear depends entirely on the trip you plan on taking.

But finding the right pack isn’t always an easy process. With so many on the market, it’s difficult to know which are best suited to the type of backpacking you prefer. To help, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite packs from brands like Osprey, Arc’teryx, and Gregory, all designed to function well in a variety of use cases. 

A note on fit

The backpacking backpacks featured in this guide are marked as “men’s” packs for a few reasons, all pertaining to their specific fit. Men’s packs tend to have larger carrying capacities, wider straps, taller hip belts, and larger torso dimensions.

Though they’re marketed as “men’s” packs, this doesn’t mean someone of any gender wouldn’t be able to find a men’s pack that fits them well and serves their backpacking needs (same goes for women’s backpacking packs, too). 

Here are the best men’s backpacking backpacks:

Best overall

Atmos AG backpack

With 65-liters of cargo space, upper and lower compression straps to stabilize heavy loads, and Osprey’s Anti-Gravity mesh back panel, the Atmos AG 65 is a backpacker’s dream.

Pros: Osprey’s Anti-Gravity mesh back panel molds to your back to create a comfortable, custom fit, included FlapJacket fly helps protect against rainy weather, upper and lower compression straps reduce load weight

Cons: Size could be bulky for smaller people, not ideal for short, day trips

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 focuses on providing absolute comfort no matter how far you’re hiking or how much cargo you’re hauling. Its 65-liter capacity may be too much for anyone setting out on an overnight trip, as it’s meant more for a weekend or longer excursions. Even when it’s not completely full, the pack never feels as though it’s flopping around on your back or creating a poor fit. 

It features a top-loading design in its main compartment, as well as several exterior pockets designed to hold water bottles, ice climbing tools, or trekking poles. The Atmos also has a zippered bottom area designed to hold a sleeping bag, as well as removable exterior straps which are used to secure a sleeping pad. 

For load management, Osprey’s LightWire frame connects the upper part of the pack to the hip-belt and central core to help distribute weight. Compression straps located on both the upper and lower part of the pack also reduced the pack’s bulk and balanced out heavier loads during my tests. 

Its best feature is the Anti-Gravity ventilated mesh back-panel that contoured to our back to create a snug fit. This helped evenly distribute weight, specifically taking it off our shoulders, hips, and back. This allowed us to carry more weight without feeling bogged down. 

The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is one of the best values among any picks on this list. Being uncomfortable can quickly ruin any backpacking trip, so investing in a pack like this one is always well worth the money.  

Best for short trips

REICoop

REI Co-op’s Flash 45 offers ample cargo room for weekend-long adventures but remains lightweight enough for quick day trips or overnighters.

Pros: Smaller capacity perfect for day trips, compatible with hydration pouches, contoured foam hip belt provides a snug and comfortable fit, UpLift Compression tech raises the load to improve stability, and it’s inexpensive

Cons: Not suitable for venturing off-grid for multiple days

Backpacking trips don’t always need to be grueling multiday treks, so when shorter day trips or overnighters are on the agenda, REI Co-op’s Flash 45 is the pack you’ll want. Small enough to avoid slowing you down but with enough cargo space to support you for one or two days on the trail.

Even for a smaller pack, it’s loaded with features geared toward making backpacking easier. REI designed its back panel to provide extra lumbar support while remaining breathable and flexible. It has a contoured hip-belt with foam padding throughout which sits snug against your body to create a custom fit.

On longer trips when I had more cargo, its compression straps helped raise its load while pulling it toward my center of gravity. This helped with pack stability which left me better balanced, and the pack better supported, while I hiked.

Other features include compatibility with a hydration pouch and external tool keepers for trekking poles or ice axes. It also has conveniently-placed bottle pockets that allow you to easily remove and place back water bottles. 

The Flash 45 is a great option for anyone just getting into backpacking but not interested in investing in a larger, more expensive model. 

Best for durability

Hyperlite backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest Pack features a Dyneema composite exterior that allows it to hold up to hanging branches, sharp rocks, or anything you come across while on the trail.

Pros: Constructed out of durable and lightweight Dyneema fabric, 40-liter volume offers enough cargo space for weekend trips, dedicated hydration pack pocket, seamed seals to keep the rain out

Cons: Only offers a few external pockets that can fill up easily

It’s not just your body that will take a beating on backpacking trips — your gear inevitably will, too. If you plan on backpacking in densely wooded areas or you find that your gear tends to get more scratched and scraped than you’d like, then check out the Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Southwest Pack.

Constructed out of durable Dyneema fabric, the pack can be taken into the harshest environments with confidence. Dyneema’s light weight also helps reduce overall pack weight, something that proved beneficial when we packed this 40-liter bag to the brim. Its size is perfect for three-day treks and can even be an option for ultralight backpackers setting out for four or five days. 

Its roll-top closure system is easy to secure, though it did make it slightly difficult to reach gear in the bottom of the pack while we were on-the-move. There are a few external pockets to store gear that we could quickly access, but these are limited to the front of the pack. Vertical and horizontal compression straps along the sides of the pack help properly secure loads, which was especially useful when the pack wasn’t completely full. 

Its interior houses a mesh hydration sleeve that’s separate from the main compartment, so it won’t take up valuable gear space. Other features include fully-seamed seals to keep water out, as well as ice ax loops. The pack is a little expensive at $310 but its durability more than validates the investment.

Best for heavy cargo

Gregory backpack

With a lightweight aluminum chassis and an innovative suspension system, the Gregory Paragon 58 weighs less than 4 pounds, saving wearers some valuable packing weight.

Pros: Lightweight frame and suspension system makes heavy loads easier to haul, matrix ventilation system allows for increased airflow to keep your back cool, adjustable hip-belt makes it easy to customize the perfect fit, hydration sleeve doubles as a small daypack

Cons: The stitching on the daypack isn’t very durable 

Every backpacker knows that despite their best-laid plans to keep their pack light, they often end up bringing much more gear than anticipated. With Gregory’s Paragon 58, those heavy loads become much easier to handle, no matter how long the trip might be. 

The pack achieves this by way of an incredibly lightweight frame and suspension system that clocks in several pounds lighter than any other pack on this list. Though it may not seem that crucial, every pound counts when you’re hiking 10-plus miles for days-on-end and living solely out a backpack. 

Along with its matrix ventilation system that promotes increased airflow, the Paragon 58 is best-suited for trips anywhere from three to five days long. The final days of any backpacking trip can feel as though food, water, and clean socks are at a minimum but we took its lower weight into consideration and packed extra. This let us get through even a five-day trip with ease. 

One of its highlight features is its hydration sleeve that also doubles as a removable daypack. If we had camp set-up, this allowed us to not have to haul our big 58-liter pack on short treks to a nearby river just to tote along water or food. The daypack’s stitching isn’t the most durable and although it didn’t come undone on our trips, we could see how it might when used often. 

For $230, the Gregory Paragon 58 is a great backpacking option with incredible value. It’s best used for longer backpacking trips, or for anyone who has a hard time deciding on what to bring or what to leave behind. 

Best suspension system

Arc'teryx backpack

The Arc’teryx Bora AR 50’s innovative suspension system, which allows wearers to freely move without worrying about shifts in weight, is worth its high price tag.

Pros: Best suspension system on the market makes heavy loads feel lighter and promotes a wide range of movement, pivoting hip belt helps avoid the displacement of pack weight, constructed out of weatherproof materials, large enough capacity for weekend trips

Cons: Expensive

A backpacking pack’s suspension system has the ability to make or break a backpacking trip. Not only are they responsible for distributing the weight of a pack to make it more manageable for the wearer, but they help promote a range of motion and establish a comfortable fit. Right now, no pack does suspension better than the Arc’teryx Bora AR 50.

Thanks to the brand’s RotoGlide hip-belt, its suspension system is designed to completely rotate side to side while also offering free movement up and down. What this does is that with every step, the pack slides in either direction to allow for a natural stride, even when it’s packed full. This also reduces chafing and helps wearers maintain balance. 

Though this is helpful for any length of trip, we found it to be especially useful during weekend trips where our pack needed to carry the most gear. Whether crouching underneath a fallen tree or stepping up onto a high rock, the suspension system helped the pack remain stable through a wide range of motion. 

The pack also features a number of internal and external pockets that helped keep our gear organized. Its exterior kangaroo pocket was great for storing snacks we could access quickly, and would also function well for stashing wet gear. There are also side pockets sized for water bottles, as well as loops for trekking poles.

Arc’teryx designed the Bora AR 50 as a top-loading pack but included side zippers to make it easier to access gear stored at the bottom. The pack is also compatible with hydration pouches and features external storage loops for ice axes.

It’s the most expensive pack on this list at $500, but no other model offers as functional a suspension system as the Bora AR 50. If it wasn’t for the high price, we could easily see this as our overall pick.

Backpacking packs FAQ

Backpacking packs differ from traditional travel backpacks in that they’re designed to hold upward of 30 or 40 pounds of cargo, while still being comfortable to wear. The best packs do this by distributing weight across its frame to avoid having the bulk of the weight sit on any one part of your body.

These packs also tend to feature an abundance of pockets to hold a variety of gear, a sleeve for a hydration pouch, and multiple points of entry to make accessing what you pack along easier than just dumping everything out and repacking. You’ll also find most packs come with a series of adjustable (and padded) straps to fine-tune the fit, ventilation systems to promote airflow and keep you cool, and some sort of durable fabric to hold up to the harshness of the outdoors. 

How do you pick out the right size?

Many backpacking packs come in sizes such as small, medium, or large, but finding the right fit also comes down to personally customizing the pack yourself. This means adjusting the hip belt and changing the size of the pack’s torso length. You’ll also want to make sure the shoulder straps and any other stabilizing strap (sternum, load-lifter, etc.) are able to customize to your liking. 

A good rule of thumb for initially picking out a pack, too, is that your specific torso length is far more important than your height. Just because you wear medium shirts doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll wear a medium pack. Fine-tuning these adjustments and picking out the correct size allows the pack to be far less fatiguing while on the trail, and assures you’re able to get from point A to point B in as comfortable a way as possible.

How important is the pack’s fit?

Aside from packing the correct gear like sleeping bags, tents, and food and water, how your pack fits is one of the most vital steps to any backpacking trip. An ill-fitting pack can spell the difference between making it to camp without immense back pain or having to stop and readjust your load every few feet.

What are the most important features that it should have?

All backpacking packs should come with some form of padded hip belt, padded shoulder straps, a load-fitting strap (this is separate from the shoulder straps), and a sternum strap. Beyond those which help with the fit, you should also look for packs that come with a variety of useful storage pockets.

Personally, I like packs that have pockets on the hip belt for easy access to snacks, sunglasses, or anything else small I might need on the trail, as well as easily accessible water pouches (if it doesn’t come with space for a hydration pouch). Some packs also come with removable top pouches which can serve as day packs if you venture off from camp. 

You also want to make sure your pack can carry everything you need it to (but don’t go overboard). It’s not always smart to just buy the largest capacity backpack, even for long trips, because you run the risk of overpacking and a heavy backpack can severely weigh you down on trail. The best way to judge how much gear to bring is by weight, and you generally don’t want to pack more than 20% of your body weight. 

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