I hope it won’t shock you to learn that if you want to start backpacking, you’ll first need a backpack. Unless you already have a hiking-suitable backpack lying around at home, you’ll need to spend some money.
How much does a backpack cost, though? Unfortunately, this question isn’t as easy to answer as it might initially seem.
Backpacks come in different varieties, materials, fits, levels of quality, and storage capacities—all factors influencing a backpack’s cost. The brand name on your backpack can also hike up its price tag considerably (no pun intended).
With all that said, here’s a general price range to keep in mind:
If you’re a beginner backpacker, you can expect to spend somewhere between $40 to $100 on a good-quality starter backpack.
If you’re serious about the hobby but want a lower-budget option, you can find a pack that meets your needs for under $200.
If you’re willing to splurge, you might find yourself spending up to $400.
As we consider the various sizes and types of hiking backpacks, we’ll try to highlight options that fit into each of these price ranges. We’ll also explore the kinds of features you’ll want to look out for while backpack shopping.
Ready to start your journey into the world of backpacks? Let's hit the trail!
Types of Hiking Backpacks
There is no single agreed-upon way to categorize hiking backpacks, but they’re generally divided up based on the hike length they support, which in turn relates to their capacity.
(Note: here, we list backpack capacity in liters, but you might see it measured in cubic inches elsewhere. For reference, one liter equals approximately 61 cubic inches.)
Light Daypack (10 to 24 Liters)
For most backpackers, a pack of this size is perfect for a half-day hike in temperate or warm weather, although minimalist packers should find it suitable for a full day.
This type of pack will be able to fit around 2 liters of water, food for the day, some extra clothes, all of your essential safety and survival gear, and some smaller items of recreational equipment.
It’s important to keep in mind that many packs under 25 liters lack hip belts. Unless you’re carrying rocks or have back/shoulder pain, you probably won’t feel the absence.
A light daypack can cost anywhere from around $40 for a good-quality budget pack to about $200 for high-end options.
- Large panel loading main compartment provides accessibility to inside contents
- Dual stretch mesh side pockets provide additional storage options
- The multi-function interior sleeve can be used for either a hydration reservoir or tablet
- A compact and casual waxed canvas backpack for the trail or the city
- 5x stronger and 3x more water resistant than traditional waxed canvas
- Expandable, quick access pocket on shoulder strap
Light daypacks that fit mid-tier budgets include the 15-liter Thule AllTrail X Hiking Backpack.
- Dynex (Nylon 100d + PE 200d) body material with Dynex Ripstop yarns for bomber tear resistance that is 10x stronger than steel per weight
- Quick Blitz-style main opening with slash pocket to tuck all excess skirt cording
- Stitch-less Edge Taping Technology for superior shoulder strap comfort, movement and weight reduction
Hikers with big budgets can look to the 15-liter Black Diamond Equipment Distance 15 Backpack as an example of what to expect for a higher price.
All-Day Daypack (25 to 29 liters)
This capacity range is best for a full day on the trail or a half-day in winter weather.
The extra 5 liters let you fit bulkier winter clothes and recreational gear—or a picnic if you like.
A solid all-day daypack will cost you around $60 at the lower end to nearly $200 at the higher end.
One good-quality budget option is the 25-liter Columbia Classic Outdoor Daypack.
- ALL-PURPOSE DAY PACK: Express yourself with this clean pack's bold colors. A flat bottom offers stable loading and helps it sit upright for easy access
- CLASSIC SUEDE BOTTOM STYLE: Designed for simplicity, you'd be surprised how much gear you can fit into this 25 Liter PU suede-bottomed daypack
- 25 LITERS OF STORAGE: With lots of storage space, this pack features a lash-down flip top with drawstring closure, utility loop and a removable hip belt, and an external security pocket
The 22-liter Osprey Talon 22 might give you some idea of what to expect in the $100 to $150 price range.
- Internal padded laptop sleeve
- Dual zippered hipbelt pockets
- Blinkie light attachment
Finally, the 25-liter Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 Backpack offers a glimpse at what you can get for over $150.
- Internal HDPE frame sheet for rigidity and support.
- The patented Futura Yoke easily micro adjusts to the torso length allowing the proper amount of stand-off between the back and frame.
- Features a removable, Redirect waist belt system that secures in a natural, forward pull direction that requires less effort to tighten.
One- to Three-Night Backpack (30 to 49 liters)
An overnight or weekend trip requires extra food, clothes, and a whole heap of sleeping gear, so you’ll need a much roomier pack.
Consider that 30- to 40-liter packs are suitable for a minimalist packer or a single night. However, you will have to stick to sleeping gear that can pack small, like a down sleeping bag and an ultralight tent. Although this size backpack can fit up to six full meals’ worth of food, you won’t be able to bring along any cooking gear, so expect to stick to cold fare.
A backpack of 40 to 50 liters is best for most hikers. This pack size will accommodate bulkier sleeping gear like synthetic sleeping bags and standard tents, as well as the basic elements of a camp kitchen setup.
Backpacks for a one- to three-night hike usually cost between $80 and $250.
Our medium-cost pick in this category is the 30-liter Deuter Trail.
The 30-liter Tasmanian Tiger TT Modular Pack is a well-reviewed option that might suit a higher budget.
Three- to Five-Night Backpack (50 to 80 liters)
For most hikers, this size of backpack can accommodate the extra food and clothes you’ll need for several days and nights on the trail. This size also suits hikers with kids who want to enjoy a family weekend in the great outdoors, as junior hikers typically need help carrying some of their gear.
A backpack suitable for a three- to five-night hike will generally cost anywhere from $80 to $400.
Our budget pick for this category is the 55-liter Teton Sports Scout 3400.
One popular option in the $100 to $200 range is the 65-liter Kelty Coyote.
Finally, the 65-liter Osprey Atmos AG is a highly well-reviewed, albeit pricey, pack.
Five+ Night Backpack (80+ liters)
Now we’re getting into the realm of serious expedition backpacks. This is the pack size you can expect to see on mountaineering trips, end-to-end hikes traversing long-distance trails (a.k.a. “thru-hikes”), and around-the-world backpacking trips. These are not beginner packs!
We won’t lie to you—these packs are generally not cheap. While we found a couple of good-quality options for under $100, the higher end of the price range hovers somewhere around $400.
The cheapest good-quality option under $100 that we could find was the 80+15-liter Tripole Colonel, which comes with a detachable daypack.
Our under-$200 pick for this category is the 85-liter Kelty Coyote, which has many excellent reviews.
At the high end of the price range is the 85-liter Osprey Aether Plus, which will run you a whopping $390.
Size isn’t the only factor in a backpack’s cost. Generally speaking, a higher price nets you more features like the ones discussed below.
Frame (External, Internal, and Frameless)
Many hiking backpacks with higher capacities have a frame made of a light, sturdy material like aluminum that helps support and distribute the pack’s load.
In some, the frame hides within the structure of the backpack (internal-frame backpacks), whereas others have the frame on the outside (external-frame backpacks). Lighter, smaller packs tend not to have frames.
Shoulder, Hip, and Lumbar Padding
Most higher-capacity packs offer some level of padding on the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel to reduce soreness. Lumbar padding can be especially important for hikers with back problems, as it offers some postural support.
This is a must-have feature in all hiking backpacks above a light daypack. A hip belt prevents strain in your back and shoulders by letting your backpack’s weight rest on your hips, easing the load on your spine.
This strap crosses over your chest, connecting your shoulder straps. It reduces fatigue and discomfort by stabilizing your backpack load.
Backpacks with frames typically have load-lifter straps, which attach the top of the frame to the shoulder straps. You can adjust these to change the angle at which your pack sits on your back for maximum comfort.
Some backpacks offer ventilated back panels, which keep the space between your skin and your pack from turning into a waterfall of sweat. Good ventilation can save you from hours of discomfort and chafing!
External Attachment Points
Your backpack’s storage space doesn’t end with its interior! A good hiking backpack will offer multiple ways to attach your gear externally, maximizing your packing capabilities. Here are some external attachment features to look out for:
Gear loops are what they sound like—loops of webbing from which you can hang pole-shaped gear like a hiking staff or a pick, or to which you can clip things with a carabiner.
A daisy chain is a strip of webbing stitched into the exterior of a backpack to form multiple loops, usually at 1-inch intervals. Anything a gear loop can do, a daisy chain can do multiple times over.
Compression straps are usually found on the bottom or sides of a backpack. As their name suggests, compression straps squish your pack down when it isn’t full to the brim, preventing its load from shifting around.
Most backpacks are top-loading, with an opening in the top that gives you access to one main compartment. As you might imagine, digging stuff out from the bottom of the pack can get annoying fast. That’s why some packs offer multiple access points in the front, sides, or back.
Hydration Reservoir Compatibility
Almost all hiking packs offer a sleeve in which to fit a hydration reservoir, but most don’t come with a reservoir included. So if you already own a reservoir, bring it along when you’re shopping for backpacks to make sure it’ll fit.
Although most backpacks are made of water-resistant or waterproof fabric, they’re by no means watertight—rain can easily leak through zippers. Some backpacks come with built-in rain covers, but others require a separate purchase.
“How much does a backpack cost?” is, as it turns out, a question that leads to more questions.
To find the right backpack for your budget, you need to answer questions like: How long of a hike are you planning? What weather conditions do you have to prepare for? Do you prefer to be over-prepared, or are you comfortable packing light? Are you fully invested in backpacking, or do you just want to try it out?
You have to consider many factors when you’re buying a hiking backpack. Even a cheaper backpack can last you for many years, so it’s worthwhile to seriously think about your needs.
We will leave you with maybe the most essential piece of advice we can give you when it comes to buying a backpack: When in doubt, try it out. If you’re not sure how a backpack will fit you, make sure that you can try wearing it before you buy it.