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Best Expedition Backpack of 2021

Before you buy your expedition backpack, have you learned all you need to know to pick one with zero regrets? Click to find out more precisely what you should look for and our list of best out there...

Picking the best expedition backpack for your journey into the wilderness is vital. It determines if you will cherish your experience or hate it and return with injuries.

There are lots of packs in the industry, from lightweight backpacks to hiking backpacks. Each has its merits, demerits, and best use-case. In this article, we have covered all these and more in detail. You’re going to know the right type of knapsack that fits your need and pick the best in that category.

If you like to jump right to our top overall best expedition backpack, then the TETON Sports Scout 3400 is here for you. You can also check out our runner-up, the TETON Sports Ultralight.

If you’re not looking for a an expedition backpack, check out our review of the Best Military Backpacks for Hiking, Best Carry-On Backpacks, and Best Baby Hiking Backpacks.

Quick Answer: These are the Best Expedition Backpack of 2021

TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack; High-Performance Backpack for Backpacking, Hiking, Camping; Hunter Green (121)

TETON Sports Scout 3400

Best Overall Expedition Backpack

Mardingtop 50L Hiking Backpack Molle Internal Frame Backpacks with Rain Cover for Tactical Military Camping Hiking Trekking Traveling (Army Green-50L)

Mardingtop Molle Hiking Backpack

Best Expedition Backpack For International Travel

TETON Sports Mountain Adventurer 4000 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , 27' x 12' x 10'

TETON Sports Ultralight Plus

Best Heavy-Duty Backpack

Backpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking Hunting

Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack

Best Backpack For Light Mountaineering

Mardingtop 65+10L Molle Hiking Internal Frame Backpacks with Rain Cover Army Green-65+10L

Mardingtop 65+10L/65L Molle Hiking

Best Backpack For Carrying Crampons And Ice Axes

TETON Sports Grand 5500 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , Black, 34' x 15' x 17'

TETON Sports Grand 5500

Best Backpack For Winter Mountaineering

N NEVO RHINO Hiking Backpack, 80L Camping Backpack Outdoor Sport Travel Backpacking Daypack for Women, Men, Youth ( Black )

N NEVO Rhino Hiking Backpack

Best Expedition Backpack For Women

Mountaintop 70L/75L Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

MountainTop

Best Internal Frame Backpack

OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack 50L - Weekend Pack w/Waterproof Rain Cover & Laptop Compartment - for Camping, Travel, Hiking (Black/Grey)

OutdoorMaster

Best Lightweight Backpack

ZOMAKE Small Hiking Backpack, 25L Lightweight Travel Backpack Packable Backpack Daypack for Women Men

Zomake Small Expedition Backpack

Best Ultralight Backpack

The Best Expedition Backpack of 2021 Reviewed

~ Best Overall Expedition Backpack ~

TETON Sports Scout 3400

TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack; High-Performance Backpack for Backpacking, Hiking, Camping; Hunter Green (121)

TETON Sports Scout 3400

Star Rating
5/5

Pros

The TETON Sports Scout 3400 backpack is a multipurpose, heavy-duty backpack with a slender build that should fit a female or youth’s frame. It also comes with an adjustable sternum strap and hip of 15” – 19.5” on a 30”x17”x12” dimension build. This makes it a good fit for a wide range of people (male and female).

The backpack weighs 4.5lb with a 55L volume of space, suitable for a 3 to 4 days journey. Alongside its rich suspension system, this pack does a great job in weight distribution. You get a lot of adjustment room at the shoulder, chest, torso, and hip. Additionally, there is a load lifter, sturdy internal frame, hip belt, and harness to give you the utmost comfort.

With the TETON Scout, you don’t have to worry about your pack gluing to your back. TETON has designed the back to allow good airflow. It also houses a molded back panel and mildly contorted back to ensure zero contact. All these provide a dry back throughout your hiking.

This knapsack comes in a 600D ripstop nylon and oxford combo. It also comes with a sew-in rainfly, nylon YKK-grade zipper, and tough buckles. With these, you can enjoy your outdoor activity with zero worries about your belonging getting wet or spilled out.

There are separate exterior compartments for lots like your water bottles, sleeping bag, and handy equipment. The sleeping bag compartment comes with a zipper at the bottom to extend its range into the main compartment. However, you might get one with a bad zipped base. Hence, it’s wise to test out the backpacking pack before actual use.

Besides the exterior compartments, the pack houses many harnesses to fasten your axes, mountain gears, and other heavy items. It comes in only four unique bright and dark colors. So, you have to settle for one that fits your preference the most.

Specs:

  • Weight 4.5lb
  • Volume: 55 liters

~ Best Expedition Backpack For International Travel ~

Mardingtop Molle Hiking Backpack

Mardingtop 50L Hiking Backpack Molle Internal Frame Backpacks with Rain Cover for Tactical Military Camping Hiking Trekking Traveling (Army Green-50L)

Mardingtop Molle Hiking Backpack

Star Rating
4.9/5

Pros

Cons

The Mardon Molle backpack comes with the right specs and design to make it a favorite traveling pack. You get a zippered pocket securing a rain cover for absolute pack protection in stormy weather.

On its own, the pack comes in a 600D polyester fabric and YKK-grade heavy-duty zippers, and buckles. Add that to its MOLLE system on the front and sides; you can add as many pockets and accessories as you need.

The Mardingtop MOLLE comes in various backpack sizes, from 50L – 75L. It also has a 26.75”x15.5”x3.5” dimension and 4.49lb weight. All these make it compliant with the carry-on requirements of many airlines.

That aside, you get quality pads on the shoulder harness, back, and hip to keep things comfortable when packing heavy. You also get a reliable load lifter, chest strap, and hip belt to give you a perfect fit and weight distribution.

The unit comes in various concealable colors, from army green to black. It also has two mesh pockets and three primary external pockets for your maps, ropes, GPS, books, and more. You also get a dedicated ax or trekking pole loop and sleeping bag compartment.

Depending on the liter you choose, there is a quick access zip at the front to retrieve stuff from your main storage. The main compartment comes with only one mesh pocket meant for your hydration system or laptop. You can either use that or mount a hydration system larger than 3L on one of the attachments.

There is no zip lock mechanism for the primary compartment. This large backpack uses the drawstring lock and top strapping design to give you enough room and maximum protection.

With the large volume it possesses, the pack houses a rigid and light internal frame to provide structure. There is no enough contortion to create a perfect air pocket. Neither is there an airflow design. However, paired with its quality back mesh and padding, you get dry reasonably quickly.

Always test the zippers and buckles after arrival, as you could get one with inferior buckles.

Specs:

  • Weight: 4.49 lbs
  • Volume: 50L/55L/60L/75L

~ Best Heavy-Duty Backpack ~

TETON Sports Ultralight Plus

TETON Sports Mountain Adventurer 4000 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , 27' x 12' x 10'

TETON Sports Ultralight Plus

Star Rating
4.9/5

Pros

Cons

The TETON Sports Ultralight Plus comes in a 420D nylon oxford material able to resist 1000mm of water pressure. It also comes with high-grade buckles and stormproof zips to keep your stuff protected. Additionally, you get a three-in-one shield- rainfly, shelter, and poncho for you and your backpack. With all these, you can walk through the harshest weather, dry and protected.

This knapsack weighs only 4lb without the poncho and has a 66L volume of space suitable for a 2-5 days journey. It’s also 27”x12”x10” in dimension and fully adjustable. It has a completely adjustable torso, chest, waist, and hip-width of 15” – 20”. Coupled with that, you get a lightweight aluminum internal frame, load lifter, waist belt, and more.

The TETON Sports also come with many straps to adjust your pack to fit your need. It also houses multiple compression straps for your duffel bag. You can have your mountain gears, ice breakers, axe, and more strapped on seamlessly with this pack.

For your hydration, there is a Velcro hang tab for you to install your 3L hydration system. There are also several exterior compartments to place your additional water bottles, sleeping bag, and other handy items.

Just like the TETON Scout, TETON has designed this pack’s back to improve airflow, reduce your back’s contact with it, and provide much-needed lumber support.

The straps, back panel, and hipbelt come with thicker padding to balance your larger load weight. This large backpack is also one of the few affordable packs to go with an adjustable back panel.

With TETON Sports, you get lots of comfort, space, customization, and protection. But the many straps for customization also make it annoying having unused ones flap around. It comes in a black hue only. Hence, eliminating the chances to get it in your preferred color.

Specs:

  • Weight: 4lb
  • Volume: 66L

~ Best Backpack For Light Mountaineering ~

Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack

Backpacking Backpack, 60L/65L/70L/85L Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack Hiking Hunting

Waterproof MOLLE Rucksack

Star Rating
4/5

Pros

Cons

When on a lightweight mountain trip, you want to travel as light as possible while bringing all your essentials. The Waterproof MOLLE backpack comes in a simplified design. There are only a few straps and pockets on the exterior.

The pack has a MOLLE system attached to the back and sides. These heavy-duty nylon attachments allow you to connect additional pockets, hydration systems, and other bulky gear. So, if you’re okay with the pouches and main compartment, you can hike as light as possible.

It comes with a 70L space volume, 13’x25.2”x11.8” compact dimension, and 13.8”x25.2”x11.8” extended dimension. This makes it meet the approval of some airlines.

The hipbelt is adjustable and detachable to meet your comfort and needs. You also get a sound ventilation system. The expedition pack has a mildly concave back with a breathable mesh to help dry your sweat quickly.

You get a hydration compartment in the primary storage section to install your hydration system. But that’s the only interior compartment you get. By unwinding the zippers to running down the sides of this knapsack, you get to extend it from 70L to 85L for greater storage.

The expedition backpack comes in a 900D oxford polyester nylon combo. This makes it highly waterproof, able to keep your things dry during a storm. For the primary compartment, they used a drawstring and buckled cap. This gives you more room for storage, but better protection even after stretched to its extreme.

For the buckles and zippers, you get KAM branded fasteners. So, you can look forward to using them for a long time. However, test all the zippers upon arrival, as the drawstrings sometimes come inferior.

The Waterproof MOLLE knapsack has a flexible internal frame. This makes it somewhat foldable yet structured when unpacked. However, it also makes it lose its shape when loaded with loads exceeding 50lb.

That aside, you can have this pack in four different colors that shine in different topographies and use-case.

Specs:

  • Weight: 3.87 lb
  • Volume: 70L – 85L

~ Best Backpack For Carrying Crampons And Ice Axes ~

Mardingtop 65+10L/65L Molle Hiking

Mardingtop 65+10L Molle Hiking Internal Frame Backpacks with Rain Cover Army Green-65+10L

Mardingtop 65+10L/65L Molle Hiking

Star Rating
4.8/5

Pros

Cons

The Madingtop 65 MOLLE hiking pack comes with lots of roomy pockets, a compartment, and attachment loops. You can mount a water can of 1000ml or similar loads in its huge, detachable top side pockets. Mardingtop has also strategically placed them to allow you to insert large items on the down pouches.

For the compartment, you have a considerable space to insert your basics. There is a zipped sleeve to install your hydration system, but there is no slit for your tubes. The covering is a combination of drawstrings and buckled top fastener.

The drawstring lock allows you to stretch this pack’s capacity higher than its huge volume. The buckled top will enable you to secure your belongings tightly. That aside, you can’t access the main storage from the front.

This pack has a dedicated sleeping bag compartment at the bottom. It also houses various loops, harnesses, compression straps, and MOLLE attachments to carry months’ worth of supplies with ease.

The Mardingtop 65 comes in a 600d nylon oxford fabric and YKK-grade buckles and zippers. Add that to its included rain cover; you have a pack that is ready for the harshest weather.

That aside, you have a complete suspension system on this pack, from load lifters, adjustable shoulder harnesses, chest straps, hip belts, and internal frames. With that, you can enjoy less pressure that comes from proper weight distribution.

This knapsack comes with breathable mesh and a mildly concave design that supports high airflow for the back. The shoulder straps and hipbelt straps have proper paddings to cushion the weight.

The pack also comes in lots of exciting colors, 11.4”x7.1”x35.4” dimension, and 5.2 lbs. It also exists in two backpacks, sizes 75L and 65L, to meet your backpacking needs. Due to quality issues, examine your pack’s shoulder lifter, seams, and other fasteners soonest.

Specs:

  • Weight: 5.2 lbs
  • Volume: 65L+10L/ 65L

~ Best Backpack For Winter Mountaineering ~

TETON Sports Grand 5500

TETON Sports Grand 5500 Ultralight Plus Backpack; Lightweight Hiking Backpack for Camping, Hunting, Travel, and Outdoor Sports , Black, 34' x 15' x 17'

TETON Sports Grand 5500

Star Rating
4.6/5

Pros

The TETON Sports Grand 5500 backpack is a 90L expedition backpack in 420D oxford fabric of 1000mm and durable fasteners. It also has a rain fly that doubles as a tent or poncho as needed. With this unique combo, you have a long-trip pack suited for the dangerous terrain and weather that marks winter.

You have a complete suspension system with a fully adjustable torso length on the shoulders, chest, and hips from15” – 22”. That aside, the TETON grand comes with thick paddings on the shoulder, hips, and back to cushion the weight.

This pack provides commendable comfort, weight distribution, and fit for your winter journey with both combos. You also don’t have to worry about getting soaked. The bag houses a uniquely effective design that bars your back from touching it while keeping you aerated.

There is a hydration slot in the main compartment for your hydration system. It also comes with a slit to permit your tubes to reach your lips. That aside, the main storage uses a drawstring, top buckled lock system to increase storage and security.

You can use the zipped, front quick access to get to your essential items when needed. There are seven roomy pockets on this pack—four to the sides, one at the front, and others at the top and bottom. The bottom pouch serves as a dedicated sleeping bag compartment. You also have detachable storage for more supplies.

The TETON Grand houses lots of nylon compression straps, loops, and D rings on its exterior so that you can hang your handy and bulky gears. However, there is only one hue to choose from.

That aside, always test run your pack. Check out the straps, lumber, and other primary regions to ensure yours is ready to serve.

Specs:

  • Capacity: 90-Liters
  • Weight: 5.2 pounds

~ Best Expedition Backpack For Women ~

N NEVO Rhino Hiking Backpack

N NEVO RHINO Hiking Backpack, 80L Camping Backpack Outdoor Sport Travel Backpacking Daypack for Women, Men, Youth ( Black )

N NEVO Rhino Hiking Backpack

Star Rating
4.9/5

Pros

The N NEVO backpack comes in a compact design and unique colors. It lots of room to store your belongings with its 80L volume. You can access your items from the primary access at the top of the quick, zipped access at the front.

You get a generous sleeping bag storage at the bottom, side pockets, hip belt pocket, loops, and harnesses to secure more hiking gears. Other hidden zippered pockets are at the cap of the pack.

For the main compartment, you have a drawstring and top buckle fastening lock mechanism. This gives you more room to bring those valuables for the adventure and ensure they are secure.

N NEVO has installed a 3cm thick mesh on the back, straps, and belt of this pack to keep you dry and comfortable. The waterproof backpack houses adjustable shoulder straps, load lifters, hip belts, and sternum straps to fine-tune your fit. There is also a light and durable internal frame on this large backpack to maintain its structure under heavy pressure.

The backpacking backpack comes in durable nylon fabric and high-load buckles for higher water and tear resistance. You also get a rain cover secured at the bottom of this knapsack to improve its protection against stormy weather.

If you want something smaller, N NEVO Rhino comes in five different volumes and sizes- 80L to 40L. The unloaded pack weight also ranges from 5.35lb to 3.09lb, respectively.

It possesses other handy features like a complete 3L hydration sleeve in the main compartment, whistle buckles, and reflective stripes.

Specs: 

  • Weight: 5.35lb
  • Volume: 40/50/60/65/80L

~ Best Internal Frame Backpack ~

MountainTop

Mountaintop 70L/75L Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

MountainTop

Star Rating
4.8/5

Pros

The Mountaintop Hiking pack comes with a rugged internal frame that ensures a uniform structure throughout your journey. Coupled with that is its suspension system. You get durable shoulder straps, load lifters, chest straps, and hip belts that you can adjust to fit for even weight distribution.

It possesses a breathable mesh that barricades you from the actual pack at the back, straps, and belt. The back has a unique design that allows airflow and quick sweat elimination. With this combo, you don’t have to worry about soaking your pack or discomfort.

For hydration, the Mountaintop hiking knapsack owns a complete hydration system. Although it lacks the hydration bladder, it possesses a hydration sleeve in the internal storage. It also has a slit by the side for your tubes to exit the pack. There is a D ring attached to your straps to conduct the tube to your lips.

There is one primary compartment for your essential belongings with a zipped, side quick access. This storage has a drawstring, top buckle fastener lock combo. With this, you get to properly secure your essentials and make room for extras when you’ve filled your pack.

Additionally, you have side pockets, a front compartment, and bottom sleeping bag storage to accommodate your handy essentials. At the sides, front, bottom, and top are varying straps for additional duffel bags. For your hiking sticks and axes, you have various loops to the sides to fasten them.

The Mountaintop Hiking waterproof backpack comes in nylon fabric and YKK-grade zippers and buckles. This keeps your belongings safe through severe abuse and weather. There is also a rain cover attached at the bottom to advance your protection from the weather.

That said, always test run your expedition pack when it arrives to ensure it isn’t one with inferior components.

Specs:

Weight:4.4 lbs (2.0 kg)

Volume: 70L/75L

~ Best Lightweight Backpack ~

OutdoorMaster

OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack 50L - Weekend Pack w/Waterproof Rain Cover & Laptop Compartment - for Camping, Travel, Hiking (Black/Grey)

OutdoorMaster

Star Rating
4.2/5

Pros

Cons

The OutdoorMaster is a 2.4 lbs lightweight pack with 45L + 5L volume. It has a tough, supported back that allows it to retain its structure. Attached to this are an adjustable shoulder harness, hip belt straps, and chest strap. There are no stays or load lifter. But that lies heavily on its use-case.

The back has an airflow design made from thick mesh and padding, which does its job to keep you dry. The shoulder and hip also have thick paddings to cushion the weight.

Besides the roomy main compartment, you have a dedicated hydration system that doubles as a 15” laptop sleeve. This area has both internal and external padding to secure your item and keep you comfortable. However, there is no slit for tubes to cross to your lips.

The Outdoormaster comes with five zippered pockets and two mesh pouches to secure your handy items. You also have lots of nylon straps and loops at the sides and front of this backpacking backpack to attach trekking poles and more.

This backpacking pack doesn’t house dedicated sleeping bag storage. But you can have that attached on any of the large straps on the exterior. You also get a lot of vibrant colors to choose from.

The Outdoorsman is of nylon fabric, lining, and buckles. It also comes with a rain cover to keep it and your belongings dry.

Its compact with a 23”x15”x8.6” dimension allows it to meet the approval of many airlines for your international travels.

Specs:

  • Capacity: 45L
  • Weight: 2.4 pounds

~ Best Ultralight Backpack ~

Zomake Small Expedition Backpack

ZOMAKE Small Hiking Backpack, 25L Lightweight Travel Backpack Packable Backpack Daypack for Women Men

Zomake Small Expedition Backpack

Star Rating
4/5

Pros

Cons

The Zomake ultralight pack is a highly compact backpack you can have with you on any journey. It weighs only 0.6 lbs and can fold into its small attached pouch after every use.

There is no dedicated hydration compartment, but you get two side mesh pockets to store two water bottles. There is also no complete suspension system or ventilation system. This means you don’t get all the support you need to carry heavy loads with little to no discomfort. However, being a day pack, it isn’t meant to carry heavy loads of supplies.

I carried it through a bad rainstorm, I was completely soaked, but my contents were dry.

The Zomake backpack has a 16”x10.6”x7.9 dimension to fit a wide variety of people. It also possesses padded, adjustable shoulder straps and a back panel to provide comfort in backpacking.

It comes in nylon fabric and heavy-duty SBS metal zippers for commendable protection. While the backpacking pack does a good job securing your belongings, the zippers could be inferior at times. Hence, you should test run it the moment it arrives.

The Zommake has a space volume of 25L, two hip belt pockets, a lot of hidden zippered pockets to keep your vitals safe. It also comes with two major compartments and a zip design that allows you to lock all zips together. This way, you can better protect your essentials from pickpockets.

That aside, you get a wide selection of colors to choose from, all for a significantly low cost. This makes the Zomake a great daypack to have for both men, women, and kids, mostly when on a budget.

Specs:

  • Weight: 0.6 lb
  • Volume: 25L

How to find the right expedition backpack for you

When it comes to finding the ONE backpack for you, you need to weigh many things. From the weight, functionality to personal taste, picking a backpack that ticks the right marks will ensure you get the best wilderness experience. Below are all the elements you should consider when selecting your next camping backpack.

Why do you need an expedition backpack?

The first thing you need to consider when on the market for an expedition backpack is why you need one. These knapsacks come in a variety of designs and capabilities. They are all built with the outdoorsy person in mind.

Will you be using this backpack for hiking, backpacking, camping, or regular day-to-day events? Are you after a backpack that allows you to pack heavy without ruining your comfort?

Knowing clearly what you need from your next backpack can help you weed out many tempting offers in the market.

What backpack type is best for you?

The next thing you should consider is the type of backpack that fits your need. Based on whether you’re going for a one-day hike, packing heavy or light, your ideal pack will fall into the ultralight, lightweight, heavy-duty, or expedition categories.

Ultralight and lightweight backpacks come in lighter materials than the heavy-duty counterpart. It will also come with fewer features like compartments, room, zips, straps, pockets, and more.

This is to make the pack lighter for the user. Therefore, outdoorsmen call ultralight backpacks daypacks, as they are more equipped for a day’s backpacking trip.

On the other hand, heavy-duty knapsacks come with many pockets, straps, comfort features, and heavy-duty materials. You get all the attributes you need to carry heavy items for days with little to no discomfort.

However, when going for a long professional guided trip, an expedition backpack is the preferred choice as you need to pack lots of food and gear. These backpacks come with more room, weight, and features found on heavy-duty packs.

So, which should you go for?

If you’re going on short trails and packing light in the long-run, then an ultralight backpack like the Zomake Small pack is the right call. Inversely, if you’re going on long trails, intend to go on one soon, or pack heavy, then heavy-duty packs are the best. Another great example is the TETON Sports 3400.

As a bonus, regardless of the backpack you choose, always pack according to your weight. This will significantly improve comfort and mobility in your journey.

So, if you’re an ultralight backpacker, then ensure that your backpack’s loaded weight is 10% of your body weight. However, this will typically rise to 20% if you’re petite, as your necessities will likely exceed the recommendation.

That said, if you’re a heavy backpacker, then your loaded knapsack weight should be about 20% of your total weight.

What overall backpack size should you buy?

After figuring out the expedition backpack category your needs fall into, the next thing is to consider comfort. One of the factors that determine comfort is fit.

You might do well with any backpack that swings across your shoulder or has a handle for a short distance. Mostly when packing light. However, as soon as you’re out hiking with a random pack, you will begin to experience discomfort.

Poor weight distribution will force your shoulder forward or backward. All these can lead to back pains, a ruined hiking experience, and other complications.

The remedy to this is to stick to a knapsack that fits your back in length and torso width. Always test your pack fit the moment you get it. If you’re purchasing one from a local store, go with your loads to fill it with.

Some stores might have loads to fill theirs with during tests. So, ask them and carry the backpack to have a feel of its fit across your back.

You might find adjustable backpacks that, at your first attempt, are bigger or smaller than your fit. However, you can play with their settings to get the right fit. The TETON Sports Ultralight is a good example.

This can come in handy when you’re packing heavier or lending your pack to someone with different proportions.

How much space do you need?

This, once again, depends on the load you will be carrying with your backpack and how long you’re staying.

Ultralight backpacks usually come with a volume of 20 – 35 liters of space. While lightweight packs have 40 – 50 liters. As for heavy-duty packs, you can find one with 50 – 80 liters. Expedition backpacks are the highest in the backpack world at 80 – 110 liters of space.

It’s always easy to think the more space, the better. However, that’s not true. The higher the volume your backpack has, the more materials it uses, and the more weight it possesses.

Also, it tempts you to fill up the room to the detriment of your backpacking experience. Hence, when you’re going on a day’s hike, an ultralight pack is your best option. These backpacks will provide you all the space you need to pack your few supplies, gear, and clothing.

However, when you plan on spending three or more days in the wilderness, you should focus on lightweight to heavy-duty knapsacks. This once again is entirely dependent on the number of gears and supplies you’re packing.

With the room these packs provide, you will bring your tarp, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, food, and every other thing you need.

Why padding matters a lot

Paddings are one of the cornerstones of comfort when it comes to backpacking. These foams help ease off the discomfort caused by the weight you bear. You can typically find them on the shoulders, torso-back, and hip of many backpacks.

These are the three main areas of your body that bear the weight of your knapsack. With that said, your padding length must be long enough to cover all these parts properly.

For your shoulder, it should stop 2 to 3 inches above your armpit for full support. And for your hip, the pad should be broad enough to cover your hip bones.

Failure to do this can lead to soreness, discomfort, and pain eventually. You will also experience this outcome if the padding is too small or too large. Another reason why It’s vital for you to test-run your pack the moment you get it.

Now, the quantity and length of your backpack’s padding isn’t the only determinant of comfort. The kind of foam used can also ruin your experience.

Usually, there are four prominent foam types in the backpack world – open-cell foam, closed-cell foam, dual-density foam, and EVA foam. Each of these foams has their benefits and drawbacks.

Open Cell foams come from inflated rubbers. They have an excellent feel for the sense of touch. However, due to their structure, they don’t withstand the pressure that much.

This means they will cave in if introduced to a good amount of weight, leaving your shoulder and back at the receiving end of your pack’s weight. They’re not a viable option for lightweight to expedition backpack use-case.

This area is where the closed-cell foams thrive. They’re not made of open-air cells like their open counterpart. Hence, they’re hard to compress. However, they’re not cozy to the sense of touch.

This makes them a commendable option for ultralight to lightweight use-case but not that of heavy-duty to expedition.

Dual-density foams try to offer the best of both worlds by combining both types of foams. Manufacturers place the open cell foams above the closed counterpart and seal it.

This gives you a great sense of comfort when packing light or heavy, making this foam an excellent option for ultralight to expedition use-case.

Another ultra-comfort competitor is the EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam. Also known as expanded rubber, it comes in various densities. However, It’s normally dense than most of its competitors.

Eva comes from high-density polymers. It’s durable, comfortable, and highly springy against pressure. This makes it a top contender for comfort padding in ultralight to expedition backpacks.

External frame versus internal frame

A backpack’s frame gives it the shape it possesses and provides load support. They’re usually made from aluminum and designed to be either internal or external.

External frames are squarish and placed between you and your backpack. They also shoot out at the bottom of your knapsack. This kind of frame design became prominent in the 1960s for its use-case. It’s a preferred option when carrying additional loads that are uneven, bulky, and heavy.

This makes the external frame backpacks the best option for the military, hunters, and others carrying a lot. When paired with a good waist belt, this type of frame design helps you hold the extras without pulling your shoulder down. However, they’re not a great pair with uneven trails.

External frames don’t cause discomfort due to their design. In reverse, most provide you with the needed air pocket between your back and backpack to keep you dry.

For internal frame backpacks, manufacturers embed them into your pack to give it structure even when filled to the brim. It also helps to distribute the weight across your body evenly, so you don’t develop back pain and discomfort on your backpacking trip.

This frame design exists in various profiles and materials. You can find one of fiberglass or aluminum. Those of fiberglass contort to the shape of your back to provide higher comfort. However, those of aluminum do their job to keep your load in place.

You can find internal frame packs with thin to sturdier frame profiles depending on what kind of backpack you want. Most heavy-duty expedition backpacks come with harder external or internal frames and paddings to provide the support and comfort you need. The TETON Sports 3400 and Mountaintop Internal Frame packs are good examples of sturdy internal frames.

In contrast, some ultralight knapsacks, like the Zomake Small pack, come frameless to keep things on the light side. Others, alongside lightweight backpacks, own lighter frames that are strong enough to withstand a weight of 35lb.

Do you need a suspension system?

A suspension system is a group of backpack features that makes it comfortable at your back and improve your mobility.

This suspension system consists of frames, straps, load lifters, back panels, hip belts, and harnesses. When properly designed, they allow you to hike, run, and tackle rugged terrain without continuously battling against the load.

This system comes in handy when you’re packing heavy for a multi-day trip. With it, you get the weight from your backpack evenly distributed across your body.

However, you don’t need a full suspension system when packing light for a day’s backpacking trip. Backpacks like the Zomake Small and the Outdoormaster hiking pack are meant for a day’s hike. So, they don’t usually come with a complete suspension system.

Why is a ventilation system needed?

When you’re on a challenging trail like Drakensburg “dragon mountain” South Africa or Kalalau trail, Hawaii. or rather, hiking through one of the warmest tracks like Jud Wiebe, Colorado, you’re likely to develop a sweaty back without a ventilation system.

This system consists of a mesh and the contortion of your pack’s back. This creates an air pocket and barrier between you and the bag. This way, you’re less likely to sweat. Even when you do, it evaporates quickly.

Besides the ventilation system’s effectiveness, you should know that it might add to the force pulling you back based on how concave the back is. This is likely to happen when the cavity is large, and you’re fully packed.

Inversely, such a backpack will limit the number of loads you can carry and their shape. To get the best ventilation, it’s best to go for one with just enough air pocket to get the job done. Many packs on our list did just that, like the TETON sports 4300 and Mountaintop internal frame packs.

Do you need a hydration system?

This is a matter of personal preference. Some outdoorsmen prefer to head out with their water bottles attached to the hip or side pockets. That way, they can easily retrieve it, gauge their water intake, and know when to seek out a water source for a refill.

Others enjoy the benefits of a dedicated hydration compartment (reservoir and hose), while some go for both worlds’ benefits.

Having a backpack that has a dedicated hydration system means zero condensed items in your pack. It also means easily keeping yourself hydrated with little to no effort on your side. However, being stored in your knapsack, you can’t know what is left and are likely to run out of water at the wrong time.

A simple fix for this is to bring bottles of water with you. Then you can use them as a supplement when your primary hydration source empties.

Moving on, the volume of your hydration system is also essential. A 3ltr hydration system can last you six hours if you drink a liter per two hours. But, it will also impact the overall weight of your loaded pack.

So, when buying a hydration system, consider all these and settle for one you can shoulder its weight and still get enough water out of it. Also, ensure it has an ergonomically placed slit for your water tubes, like the TETON Sports Grand, to cross to your shoulder. This allows seamless drinking while hiking.

What is the best material for an expedition backpack?

A pack’s material plays a crucial role in your outdoor experience. Inferior abrasion-resisting materials can come undone in the middle of the jungle- the same for inferior durability and waterproofing.

Hence, you need a backpack material that can allow you to hike light while keeping your loads safe from the weather and nature around you. Currently, there are lots of fabrics out there. However, cotton canvas, Cordura, Polyester, Nylon, and DCF (Dyneema composite fiber) are the most used for outdoor backpacks.

Cotton Canvas is a heavy cotton material synthesized to diminish its weight and improve its durability and waterproofing. It’s one of the least expensive backpack fabrics. But It isn’t suitable for more significant abuse from you, your loads, and nature. This makes it more suitable for warm weather conditions and lightweight backpacks.

Cordura fabric is a 6,6 nylon formular from Invista. This is one of the highly tough members of the nylon family. It’s air-treated and comes 15% more resistant to tear, 20% abrasion-resistant, and 15% stronger than the regular nylon. Thanks to its durability and lightweightness, you can find this fabric on several high-end expedition backpacks.

Nylon fabric has been the dominant alpha for quality backpacks since 1970. It hasn’t dropped from this position. Nylon is more durable, lighter, waterproof, and rot-resistant than Cotton Canvas. It’s equally more durable than polyester. However, It’s a bit more costly than the latter.

You can find a Nylon pack in various colors, toughness, and design- the most prominent being the ripstop pattern. As the name suggests, this interwoven nylon fabric prevents a tear from continuing.

Nylon works well with coating; hence, manufacturers can improve its ability. This makes it one of the best materials for packs from ultralightweight to expedition packs. However, unaided UV rays and prolonged saturation can weaken nylon.

Polyester is a hydrophobic (zero water absorption) material with higher resistance to UV rays. This makes it a great outdoor material. However, It’s less durable than nylon.

This fabric is less expensive than nylon, more recipient to dying, and recyclable. Thanks to all these, polyester makes an excellent fabric for ultralight to lightweight packs for adults and kids.

The top contender is Dyneema (DCF). This material is an extensively long chain of polyethylene widely used in the medical and industrial spheres. It’s 15x stronger than steel per weight with high abrasion, tear, chemical, and UV resistance.

This fabric is highly durable and immune to deformation. When used for high loads, it’s able to retain its form with no stretch. Therefore, it’s used both in defense for bulletproof vests.

Dyneema is also hydrophobic and exists in various densities. However, unlike polyester, it’s costly compared to nylon and doesn’t do well with dyes.

Due to its smooth and impenetrable nature, the traditional coloring method doesn’t work. Hence, you can only find a Dyneema pack in a white or black hue. That said, Dyneema fabric is suitable for lightweight expedition backpacks.

All these fabrics come in different densities and resistance. The measurement for resistance and durability is denier (D). the higher the number next to the D, the harder the fabric is to wear and tear.

What’s the best material for zippers and buckles?

Zippers and buckles are a part of the materials you should observe keenly. They can impact the comfort and functionality of your backpack.

Polyethylene and polyacetal resins are the best materials for zippers. They create durable zippers that can withstand harsh external and internal abuse for a long time. High-end backpacks might come with YKK grade zippers, known for their extreme durability, as seen in the Madingtop 65 pack.

For buckles, you will get a backpack with either metal or plastic buckles. Metal buckles are more durable than plastic buckles. However, they’re weightier, contributing to the overall weight of your pack. Contrarily, plastic fasteners are lighter. Some are very durable.

If you get a backpack with plastic buckles, test it before actual usage. Evaluate its structural integrity and overall toughness. This way, you advert sudden surprises on the trail.

Why color matters

What we see moves us. It can alter how we interact with an object. You should put this into consideration when selecting your next dream backpack. This way, it won’t lose its luster quickly.

That aside, the color of your backpack can keep you safe by blending with your surrounding. This is why you should have a couple of pack colors that will blend with the different topographies you visit year-round. The Mountaintop Internal Frame expedition pack and the Zomake Small day pack have over 11 distinct colors to choose from. You can always find one you like that fits different terrains.

Budget matters too

Don’t make the mistake of hunting for a backpack without having a price range. That will leave you confused and likely to dig deep into your pocket.

The best way to get the best deal out of your budget is to have one set. Then using our detail guide, search for a backpack that provides the most value for the price. You’re likely to find a hidden gem.

With that said, setting a high budget for your backpack is never a waste. In reverse, it’s the best decision.

Why?

Most of the premium features we have listed here are only present in high-end knapsacks. These features will improve your backpacking or hiking experience significantly.

However, they’re not always a must. It all depends on what outdoor activity you have in mind and the loads you’re bringing along. You can always find a backpack within $100 to provide all you need for most trails and occasions.

Conclusion: What is the best expedition backpack for your needs?

There are many great hiking packs on our list today for various use-cases. However, only a few were able to stand out from the crowd. The TETON Sports ultralight, Madingtop MOLLE backpack, and the TETON Sports Scout 4300 are the topmost.

Our best pick is the TETON Sports Scout 4300. This is because it hits the sweet spot in comfort, budget, durability, and every other key factor determining a superb hiking experience. Our second and third runner-ups are the Madingtop MOLLE Hiking backpack and TETON Sports Ultralight, respectively.

Jason Miller

Jason Miller

Hi there, my name is Jason and I am the creator and editor of this site. My activities include hiking, skiing, mountain biking, camping, and backpacking. I'm also a keen nature photographer. I like to get outdoors and then write about it. I created this site to help people find the right gear so they enjoy their outdoor pursuits that much more.

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