The 8 Best Budget Backpacking Backpacks

If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best budget backpacking backpack is, we recommend the REI Co-op Traverse.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

There’s nothing that compares to the freedom you feel when you’re carrying all of your possessions on your back. It’s one of the reasons why I like backpacking so much, though the quality of my pack certainly determines how much I enjoy the experience.

But it can be hard to find a high-quality backpack for cheap, and in today’s world, who has money to spare on something that costs $500? Not me, and perhaps not you either, which is why we’re going to take a look at some of the best budget backpacking backpacks in this review.

Backpacking Backpacks At A Glance

If you’re in a hurry, check out this quick list of our favorite budget backpacks – otherwise, keep on scrolling to get to the full reviews!

Important Features

Capacity

woman taking a selfie with a backpack in the mountains

Few things are more important to consider when choosing a backpack than capacity. If you get a pack that’s too small, you might not be able to go on those weeklong expeditions you’ve been dreaming about. If it’s too big, you’re only burdening yourself more than necessary.

As a rule of thumb, here are the guidelines that I live by when it comes to capacity:

40 liters and less. Perfect for a day hike, and perhaps an overnight trip, if you know how to pack right. They’re small and versatile, and can easily be used for a summit attempt from base camp, or as a snack container for you and the kiddos.

40-65 liters. Great for weekend trips and multiday treks from veterans. It gives you enough space to pack a tent, sleeping bag, and other essentials without weighing you down too much.

65+ liters. The ideal option for extended trips. You can shove about 50 pounds in a pack this size, which should be enough to see you through at least a week in the backcountry. With more experience, you could extend that timeframe even further.

Read More: How to Choose a Backpack for Your Next Trek

Weight

Any backpacker worth their salt will stress the importance of weight. When you’re carrying all of your gear on your shoulders for hours upon hours, you can’t afford to cut corners with this facet. Of course, what goes into your backpack is going to account for most of the weight on your shoulders, but I feel like beginner backpackers tend to forget that the pack itself has some heft to it as well.

Between the material itself, the frame, and other straps and accessories, most backpacks fall between the 3-4 pound range. Some will be heavier, and some will be lighter, but anything that deviates from that range will almost always be more expensive. Naturally, that doesn’t fit within the scope of this article, so you can expect most of the products in this review to fall within that range.

Pockets and Loops

group of people trekking through the mountains with backpacks

With any backpack, it’s nice to have multiple places to store your gear outside of the main compartment. Most products come with a top lid, a kangaroo pouch, and perhaps some hipbelt pockets as well. Still, even beyond those things, a few other features are nice to have.

A daisy chain will provide a few external attachment points for various items, and trekking pole/ice axe loops are handy for storing…well…trekking poles or ice axes. Of course, a place for a hydration reservoir is essential for many backpackers as well, along with mesh water bottle holders that are easy to access while hiking.

Adjustability

When you think of comfort in relation to a backpack, your first thought will likely jump to padding. How much cushion do those shoulder straps have? Is the back panel soft and well ventilated? These are important factors to pay attention to, but in my opinion, none of them matter if you can’t get the pack to sit on your body properly.

Adjustability is huge when it comes to backpacks. Since most only come in very broad sizes, like S/M and M/L, it’s essential to have a way to adjust it enough where it will rest comfortably on your hips and shoulders for maximum comfort. To this end, some products have an adjustable harness, which can be moved up and down to fit different torso lengths. Shoulder straps, the chest strap, and the hipbelt are also common places that can be adjusted.

It’s important to note that not all backpacks are this versatile. In fact, you’ll probably come across more backpacks that lack an adjustable harness than those that have one. I’d recommend gaining a firm grasp of your size before you purchase a backpack, and the best way to do that is by going to an outfitter and having one of the staff members size you.

Quality/Durability

woman in purple jacket with backpack in the mountains

Even among the best budget backpacking backpacks, compromises are going to be made in certain places to help keep the price low. One of the most common places that you’ll notice cut corners is in durability, which can be quantified by denier.

Essentially, denier refers to the thickness of a thread. The higher the denier, the thicker the thread, which by extension, equals greater durability. Any high-quality backpack should have a denier of at least 200 on the main body, and something close to 500 on the bottom. However, as you start to enter more budget friendly territory, you’ll notice those numbers start to slip. Seams may start to break, and the integrity of your pack will disintegrate after a couple of years.

Unless you aren’t planning on getting much use out of your backpack, I’d always suggest going with the more durable option. In the long run, it’s more cost effective to spend a little more up front for a product that will last a long time, rather than buy multiple, cheap products over the years.

Price

And finally, we can’t talk about the best budget backpacking backpacks without mentioning price. Just how much should you expect to shell out for a decent backpack on the cheaper end of the spectrum?

To put it simply, perhaps more than you bargained for. When looking for a good pack with a high enough capacity to see you through a few nights in the backcountry, it’s easy to get into $200 territory. I know that might sound like a lot, but many of the best backpacks out there are roughly twice that amount. Getting a good quality backpack that’s comfortable and will last you a good decade or two for $200 is actually quite the steal when you put it in perspective.

Budget Backpacking Backpack Comparison Table

Your Page Title
BackpacksWeight (lbs)Capacity (L)MaterialsFrame Type
Mountainsmith Lookout 40 Pack3.440PolyesterHDPE Framesheet
ALPS Mountaineering Caldera 75 Pack5.775NylonAluminum
Gregory Men’s Paragon 58 Pack3.558NylonSteel
Osprey Men’s Kestrel 48 Pack4.546NylonLightwire
Granite Gear Men’s Crown3 60 Pack2.560NylonPolyethylene
REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 60 Pack4.160NylonAluminum
Osprey Women’s Eja 58 Pack2.858NylonAluminum
Arc’teryx Women’s Aerios 45 Pack2.2545NylonInternal

Top Budget Backpacking Backpacks – Reviewed

Mountainsmith Lookout 40 Pack

Weight: 3.4 Pounds

Capacity: 40 L

Frame Type: HDPE Sheet

Material: Polyester

While the Mountainsmith Lookout might not be an exceptional pack at first glance, that’s to be expected. After all, it’s pretty standard as far as backpacking backpacks go. It’s top loading with a separate space for a sleeping bag, and plenty of other pockets to boot. It’s comfortable with great hip padding, and it’s adjustable enough to suit the needs of most backpackers.

Oh, did I mention that it costs less than $110? Yeah, you read that right. Granted, it’s on sale at the time of this writing, but even when it’s not, you can still get it for a steal. In terms of best for value, I’d say that the Lookout takes the cake.

Still, as far as backpacking backpacks go, the Lookout is on the smaller side. At 40 liters, it’s enough to see you through a night or two in the backcountry, unless you’re a highly seasoned explorer. Which is to say, you shouldn’t expect to make it very far on a weeklong backpacking trip, so I hope you weren’t planning any.

The top lid has some difficulty staying in place, and the water bottle pockets are a bit too tight to be effective. However, made from 600 denier polyester, it’s sure to last you a lifetime, even if you don’t always take proper care of it. Comparing the pros and cons, you’re going to struggle to beat the Lookout in your quest for the best budget backpacking backpack.

Reasons For

Very affordable

Highly durable

Good storage options

Comfortable fit

Separate compartment for sleeping bag

Reasons Against

Top lid likes to slide around

Water bottle holders are small

ALPS Mountaineering Caldera 75 Pack

Weight: 5.7 Pounds

Capacity: 75 L

Frame Type: Aluminum

Material: Nylon

Another one that costs less than $200, the ALPS Mountaineering Caldera is also significantly larger than the Lookout that we just mentioned above. Coming in at 75 liters, there’s more than enough room to pack your gear for a weeklong trek through the mountains.

You can load it from the top, while maintaining access from the side as well. This makes it easy to gain access to items in the middle of your pack without taking out everything on top of it first. And if you don’t feel like taking the whole backpack on your journey, the top lid is removeable and can be used as a fanny pack. The flexibility to either go on a day hike or a multiday excursion is quite the bonus in my opinion.

External loops give you a convenient place to store your trekking poles, and the water bottle pockets are a good size. There are also very generous hipbelt pockets, and a number of other pockets and compartments to take advantage of. Compression straps help to stabilize the load, which is handy when you’re looking at a pack this big. In theory, you could shove about 50 pounds of gear in there without any trouble. It’s not going to be very comfortable, but the padding in the shoulder straps and hipbelt help to mitigate the strain that you’ll experience.

At 5.7 pounds, it’s a fairly heavy backpack, though much of that can be chalked up to durability and structure. Both things that are good to have, though I still cringe when I look at the weight. Still, when you take the price into consideration, it’s certainly one of the better budget options out there.

Reasons For

Good size

Top lid can be used as a fanny pack

Generous hipbelt pockets

Good padding

Nice structure and stability

Reasons Against

Weight

Gregory Men’s Paragon 58 Pack

Weight: 3.5 Pounds

Capacity: 58 L

Frame Type: Steel

Material: Nylon

A little bit more expensive, the Gregory Paragon has almost everything that you could want in a backpack. Not only is it relatively lightweight, but it also has a pretty decent capacity, which is perfect for mid-range or weekend treks.

But really, the Paragon was designed for comfort and convenience, which are two things that are nice to have in a backpack. The suspension system is plush and flexible, with the ability to adjust to your movements. Between that and the padded hipbelt, you can feel free to load it up as full as it can go without being worried about bruising or pain.

Side access makes it easy to reach your buried gear, and various pockets give you the ability to store smaller items close at hand. Some of the zippers can be a little difficult to operate, but that’s a pretty minor complaint in my book. When you consider the adjustability of the harness and waist straps, I’d say the price for the Paragon is more than justified. Not only will you get the perfect fit, but you’ll also be able to shift the load from your shoulders to your hips with a few tugs on the waist straps.

The general lack of lash points can be annoying, so hopefully you’re not the sort of person who likes to hang things on the outside of your pack. Still, the water bottle holders are spacious, and the mesh pocket on the front of the pack is perfect for storing your rain gear, whether it’s wet or dry.

Reasons For

Very adjustable

Comfortable design

Good padding

Lightweight

Large pockets

Reasons Against

Few external lash points

Zippers can be hard to operate one handed

Osprey Men’s Kestrel 48 Pack

Weight: 4.5 Pounds

Capacity: 46 L

Frame Type: Lightwire

Material: Nylon

Have a tendency to toss your pack around like a rag doll? The Osprey Kestral might be the option for you, if you actually want to keep your pack looking like new after your first expedition with it.

As the most durable option in this review, you can expect that Kestral to survive pretty much anything. The 420 denier body and the 500 denier bottom are ridiculously tough, though you will pay the price for it in weight. 4.5 pounds for a 46 liter pack is pretty heavy, but again, if you want an option that can go through the paces, I find the extra pound to be worth it.

Since it’s designed by Osprey, you can pretty much guarantee a comfortable fit. The back panel is comfortable and well-ventilated, providing enough support to keep your lower back from aching. I also like the hipbelt, which has a nice thickness and rigidity to prevent your pelvis from getting too sore or bruised after a long day.

There’s no lack of storage options on the Kestral either. You’ll find many of the standard options, like a kangaroo pouch, loops for trekking poles or ice axes, a reservoir sleeve, and sleeping pad straps. But in addition to those, you’ll also have access to a daisy chain for more external storage options. If that wasn’t enough, you also get an included backpack rain cover to protect the Kestral and everything in it when the weather starts to take a turn for the worse. Not a bad deal, if you ask me!

Reasons For

Very durable

Good fit

Well ventilated

Lots of external attachment points

Included rain cover

Reasons Against

Somewhat heavy

Granite Gear Men’s Crown3 60 Pack

Weight: 2.5 Pounds

Capacity: 60 L

Frame Type: Polyethylene

Material: Nylon

If you’re a man looking to enter the world of ultralight backpacking, but you’re on a budget, I’d suggest looking closely at the Granite Gear Crown3 pack. Ladies, if you have the same ambition, check out the Osprey Eja mentioned below.

The pack itself weighs roughly 2.5 pounds, though you can drop that to 2 pounds if you remove the framesheet. To lower the weight even further, you can always remove the top lid and hipbelt, combine them, and wear it as a daypack. It’s a great feature that gives you a lot of versatility with the pack, whether you want to head out for a couple of nights or make a bid for the summit of a mountain.

Given how light the Crown3 is, it goes without saying that it doesn’t have the structure needed to hold a large load. I’d say 35 pounds should be the max amount that you try to stuff in there, though something closer to 25-30 would be more ideal. Since it is an ultralightweight backpack anyway, I can only assume that you wouldn’t be bringing more than that anyway.

Despite being made from material with a relatively low denier, the Crown3 is surprisingly durable. Some of the straps could use some help, but they shouldn’t snap as long as you don’t try to overstuff the pack. Padding is also on point, providing a comfortable backpacking experience that can go the extra mile.

Reasons For

Ultralight

Fairly durable

Multiple configurations

Comfortable

Good compression straps

Reasons Against

Non-adjustable torso length

Bottle holder cords are irritating to use

REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 60 Pack

Weight: 4.1 Pounds

Capacity: 60 L

Frame Type: Aluminum

Material: Nylon

Considering how much REI packed into the Traverse (pun intended), it’s actually a little surprising that it even fits the category of “budget friendly backpack.” Not only is it ridiculously spacious for a 60 liter pack, but it also has quite a few features that you won’t find on more basic backpacks.

For example, like the Crown3 mentioned above, the Traverse has a removeable top lid that can be converted into a daypack suitable for quick adventures. You also get a rain cover to prevent your gear from getting soaked in bad weather – a feature that is not standard across all backpacks.

In terms of storage ability, the Traverse is wicked durable, and can easily hold 50 pounds of gear, if not a little more. Spacious hipbelt pockets give you enough room to store your phone, snacks, or other belongings. In fact, there’s a combination of zippered and mesh pockets to give you some versatility, and the large side and front pockets give you space to pack those awkwardly shaped items.

Padding extends from the hipbelt up to the lumbar section of the pack, providing the maximum amount of comfort while minimizing hotspots. I also like that the hipbelt isn’t a rigid as other packs, allowing it to rest comfortably on your pelvis. The harness and other straps are all adjustable as well, so you can get the perfect fit every time.

Reasons For

Very comfortable

Large hipbelt pockets

Adjustable straps

Doesn’t create hotspots

Color doesn’t show dirt well

Comes with rain cover and daypack

Highly durable

Reasons Against

Shoulder straps are a little difficult to adjust

Osprey Women’s Eja 58 Pack

Weight: 2.8 Pounds

Capacity: 58 L

Frame Type: Aluminum

Material: Nylon

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a pretty big fan of Osprey backpacks. They’re well made, comfortable, and sport a lot of fun features that can come in handy on the trail. And if you’re looking to break into the ultralight backpacking space, the Osprey Eja might be the choice for you.

I should preface by saying that the Eja is not what most people wouldn’t consider ultralight for a backpack. At 2.8 pounds, there are lighter options available, but be that as it may, the Eja is a nice compromise between lightweight and comfortable. With an adjustable harness that’s practically standard across Osprey products, you can find a good fit, even if you’re more petite than average. After a few minutes to make adjustments, you’ll notice that there isn’t much strain on either your shoulders or back, despite the reduced amount of padding. I’m a big fan of how soft and flexible the hipbelt is as well, keeping your pelvis from getting too sore.

There are plenty of pockets and loops to help you store and separate your gear, as well. It’s not the sort of product where I would suggest carrying more than 35-40 pounds, unless you don’t mind a little discomfort. But still, this is a pack for people who want to cut back on weight, so you probably won’t be carrying that much to begin with.

In order to stay as lightweight as possible, you may notice that the Eja isn’t the most durable product in our review. However, for a backpack that fits you like a hug and manages to shave off a few ounces, you could certainly do worse.

Reasons For

Lightweight

Very comfortable

Adjustable harness

Lots of pockets and loops

Good compression straps

Reasons Against

The tubing for the hydration reservoir is a little funky

Arc’teryx Women’s Aerios 45 Pack

Weight: 2.25 Pounds

Capacity: 45 L

Frame Type: N/A

Material: Nylon

Another ultralight women’s pack, just like the Eja mentioned above, the Arc’teryx Aerios is a terrific option for fast, lightweight expeditions. However, given the reduced capacity compared to other products in this review, I wouldn’t recommend taking it on multiday hikes unless you’re being supported in some way.

From the back panel to the shoulder straps, everything on the Aerios is very breathable. The ventilation really helps with the comfort factor, keeping you cooler and relatively sweat-free. And trust me, you’ll want every bit of comfort that you can get out of this pack. In an effort to stay as lightweight as possible, Arc’teryx really cut back on the padding in the hips and shoulders. I won’t say it’s the most uncomfortable pack you’ll ever wear, but it’s certainly not pleasant to carry long distances when fully loaded.

Still, it’s not all bad. The Aerios has a generous number of pockets, loops, and lash points for easy internal and external storage. Whether you’re trying to store trekking poles, ice axes, your phone, snacks, or rain gear, there’s a place for it to stay organized. The top loading main compartment is easy to fill, and it’s a lot more spacious that you’d think by looking at it.

Various straps work well for adjusting the fit, but I must say that the chest straps in particular are rather poor quality. They have a tendency to become loose, and the higher strap is a bit too high to be comfortable. Overall, I think the Aerios is a great concept by Arc’teryx, and it’s an option that will work great for some people. However, it’s definitely the most hit-or-miss product in this review, so make sure you give it some serious thought before purchasing.

Reasons For

Ultralight

Good storage ability

Plenty of pockets, loops, and lash points

Well-ventilated

Reasons Against

Very little padding

Some of the straps don’t work very well

Why Trust US

At Untamed Space, we’re passionate about helping you have the best camping experience possible. Our team of experts have experience camping and backpacking all over the world, allowing them to provide insightful and relevant content to guide you in your outdoor pursuits.

All of our reviews are based on a combination of firsthand experience, extensive research, and an analysis of customer feedback. We are an independent website and do not receive payments or incentives from manufacturers to promote their products, and we continuously update our content to provide new information based on product availability. Wherever you are in your journey, whatever gear you’re searching for, you can be sure to find unbiased and up-to-date reviews for all of your needs.

FAQ

What is the Best Backpacking Pack?

Backpacks should be comfortable, durable, and versatile to give you the most bang for your buck. That being said, we believe that the REI Co-op Traverse is one of the best backpacking packs that you’ll find.

How Do I Choose a Backpack?

Final Thoughts

If nothing else, a backpack is one of those things that you can’t do without on a backpacking trip. It’s in the name, after all. Still, camping gear isn’t cheap, and it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on the storage container for all of your “main” gear.

So in our quest for the best budget backpacking backpack, there were a few things that we were looking for, aside from price. First, it should be comfortable enough to carry long distances without excessive pain. It should have a good capacity, and be durable enough to last several years, if not decades. And of course, who could say no to additional pockets and loops for external gear storage?

All that being said, we believe the REI Co-op Traverse does it best. It’s a feature-rich product that sticks to a very reasonable price for what you get, making it one of the best budget backpacks out there.

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

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