The Best Backpacking Backpack For Me... and possibly you in 2021
Finding the perfect backpack for my backpacking, hiking and camping trips has been a long and detailed search I have been on for about a month now. You might remember my previous post, 3 Steps For Researching Backpacking Gear, which went into detail on how I research new gear... including backpacks. Researching backpacks is actually what triggered me to write that post. Finding the right backpack can really elevate your backpacking experience, just as finding the wrong backpack can cause pain and frustration. Being that your backpack is one of the "Big 3" components of your hiking gear, you really want to think carefully before making that purchase. So that is just what I have been doing; thinking, researching, testing and finally choosing the best backpacking backpack for me... and possibly you as well.
Now when I say the "best" backpacking backpack for me, I am not saying perfect. Nothing is perfect. There are always pros and cons, but it is about weighing the pros and cons and then selecting the best possible option. Along those same lines, when I say that this backpack is also possibly the best backpack for you... that could be true... or it could not. It really all depends on what YOU need out of a backpack. What I really want out of a backpack might not be what you really want out of a backpack. It all depends on several factors that you can reflect upon by filling out my Backpacking Gear Questionnaire. See my post linked above for more details on filling out this questionnaire and how it helps. Keeping these two realities in mind when reading this post will keep your mind open and in research mode. Nothing is perfect and All reviews are subjective.
Step 1 - Know Yourself
I filled out my Backpacking Gear Questionnaire so that I would have a better idea of what I wanted and needed in a backpack. You can view my answers at the time of this post here. In short summary, I know that I want something light and comfortable. I like storage, but I am willing to compromise a little to accommodate my first two priorities. I plan on taking this backpack on 1-3 night backpacking trips. Where I backpack there are lots of stickers, sticks and other brush, so I want something durable. Where I backpack is also very hot, so if I can help it, I would like something that let's my back breathe. My backpacking style is lightweight, but probably not super ultralight... although I would love to be one day. I am a woman (if you didn't already know) and on the smaller, skinnier side. That is me in a nutshell and what I used to base my research off of.
Step 2 - Do Your Research
I scoured the internet for top backpacking lists, reviews, videos and manufacturer data. Using my spreadsheet method I was able to cross reference all of the backpacks of interest, rate them and decide which backpacks I would move on to the next step. You really need to be careful in this step. You do not want to move too fast and only take the advice of one or even two sources before making your next decision. You want to make sure you have several opinions so that you get more of a broad non-biased view of all your options. At the same time you do not want to jump down the rabbit hole and never come out. You can get lost reading review after review to the point where you do not know who to listen to. In the end, listen to yourself. As for me... I researched the following backpacks during Step 2 of my backpack research. Those in Red were deleted in round 1, those in Yellow were deleted in round 2 and those in Green made it to round 3; the testing phase.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
Chicken Tramper 35
Arc'teryx Bora AR 49
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50
Granite Gear Blaze 60
Deuter Aircontact Lite 60+10 SL
Gregory Octal 55
Gregory Maven 65
Gregory Deva 60
Osprey Sirrus 50
Osprey Eja 58
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Southwest
Osprey Renn 50
Osprey Aura AG 65
Osprey Ariel 65
Osprey Renn 65
REI Co-op Flash 55
Osprey Kyte 46
ULA Circuit 68
Osprey Lumina 60
REI Co-op Traverse 65
Step 3 - Test Your Top Picks
Once I had my top picks selected, I proceeded to order samples of each to test out. I really urge that you do the same. If you can test them out in your local outdoor recreation store then even better! I did not have that option since a few of the backpacks were only sold through the manufacturer, so I ended up ordering all of them. Touching and feeling is very important when it comes to your backpack selection. Another great advantage of ordering samples is that you can test the fit of your own gear in each backpack to see how it fits. Below you will find the results to my testing phase and what I ended up choosing as "My Best" backpacking backpack.
Ultralight Adventure Equipment - Circuit 68
Ranking - #1 - Best Overall
Where To Buy - ULA for $255.00 (click for current price)
Ultralight Adventure Equipment - Circuit 68
Where do I even start with this amazing backpack! I have to say, I kind of knew this was going to be the one while I was in Step 2 of my research process, but I did not want to skip Step 3 because I know how important it is to see something and test something out for yourself. That being said, here we go! Read on below to find out why the ULA Circuit is the BEST backpacking backpack for me… and possibly you as well.
Comfort and Weight: Comfort and weight are two of the key reasons I picked this backpack as my best overall backpack. With a weight of 2.29 pounds, the Circuit was not the lightest backpack I tested (that award went to Gossamer’s backpacks), but it was a close second and definitely within the ultralight category. This light weight along with adjustability, great support and comfortable padding contributed to the ultimate comfort of this backpack. The only feature that deterred from the Circuit from being the most comfortable backpack I tested was the lack of air ventilation on the back. I am used to sweating on my back while hiking though so in the end I feel that the overall comfort of the Circuit makes up for the lack of air flow.
Size and Carry Weight: I love that this backpack can hold up to 68 liters and carry up to 35 pounds! I do not anticipate that I will need to carry 68 liters or 35 pounds, but it is nice to know that if I am going on a long backpacking trek or backpacking in the winter with bulky layers then I will have that option to carry more. I really did not think that I would love the largest volume bag, but somehow ULA makes such a large bag, not seem that large at all. It feels very manageable and just the right size for my smaller body frame. Not only does this bag not feel as large as it is, but it actually feels the same or much smaller when I am wearing it than other backpacks on this list that carry less liters.
Features: This backpack might not have a lot of features included, but it is all the optional features that really piqued my interest. One of the features that shot this bag to the top of my list is actually a feature that most reviewers did not like at all. Reviewers bashed this feature so much that the manufacturer removed it as included and made it optional. The feature I speak of is the hand loops. These awesome little loops attach to the shoulder straps so that you can hold on to them while you hike. Seems so simple, but this is exactly how I hike! It is like this feature was made just for me! I am not a trekking pole type of person, but I need my hands holding on to something. Normally I have to hook my thumbs behind the straps, but this is so much more comfortable, and if I need to adjust my pack, it makes that much easier too. This is by far my favorite feature of all the bags.
Another great feature of this bag is the size of the hip belt pockets. They are perfect! Not too big, not too small. They are just right (cue baby bear). Hip belt pockets are a must for me. I have to have a few key items in arms reach at all times. Namely, my phone, my lip balm, my sunglasses, hand sanitizer and lotion… plus snacks of course. Snickers bars, yes please!
Other than front hand loops and hip pockets (which I could talk about for hours), this bag does have other features that I love. One such feature is the cross bungee storage area on the front of the bag. I have always loved bags with this feature, because it makes storing items so much easier. I normally put my rain jacket or a light fleece jacket depending on the weather in this location. It makes for easy access so I can grab it while walking on the trail. The Circuit also comes with trekking pole and ice axe attachments included. I do not use these, but I know many hikers do and you never know… I might just change my hiking style one day. Other optional features are the hydration sleeve (a must for me) and rain cover (also a must). For those that do not use a water bladder, they also have an optional water bottle holder that goes on your shoulder strap. The optional interior stash pocket helps to keep track of all those tiny items on the trip like batteries, your keys, a headlamp and much more. The shoulder strap pocket is great for a snack, your sunglasses or phone. Last, but certainly not least is the optional “Y” strap at the top of the bag or sleeping pad attachment at the bottom of the bag. You just have to love all of these options! They may not be included, but that is the beauty of it all. You get to pick and choose which features work for you so that you do not weigh down your backpack with features you will rarely or never use. Keep it simple is what I always say!
Adjustability: This backpack does not have a lot of adjustability, but that is because you customize the fit when you purchase it. Because of that, you will want to be very careful when measuring your torso and your hip size as well as selecting your shoulder strap style. Most manufacturers have a guide on how to do this so that you can understand just how their sizing system works. Once you have received your backpack catered to your torso length and hip size, you do still have quite a few adjustments available to you. Starting from the top, there are load lifters to help lighten your load up. The sternum strap has the usual buckle strap, but it also was the easiest to move up and down to get just the perfect location on my chest. The shoulder straps have the usual adjustments and cinch down easily. One of the great features of adjustability that this pack has is the hip belt. You have the ability to move the hip belt up or down… or even remove it altogether (although I doubt I would ever do that). It is all secured under the back panel via hook and loop with very easy access. Not only that, but I love that the hip belt has double buckles on each side so that it hugs the curves of a woman’s hips just perfectly.
Versatility: The Circuit is very versatile. You can load it up to the max 68 liters, or cinch it in small using the many compression buckles available all over the pack. Like I said earlier, this backpack lives large, yet with the feel of a small backpack. Out of all the backpacks I tested, this one has the most ways to compress and get a tight fit. I love that I can go for an overnight hike or a long thru hike and still use the same backpack. I would not use this for a day hike, but I have enough of those backpacks to fill the top shelf of my closet. I might just have to buy one more though. I would love an option to hook a day pack to the front of this backpack for when I am out exploring while camp is set up. Just an idea ULA… wink, wink!
Aesthetics: Hands down, the Circuit wins in the aesthetics category. Not only do you have the most colors to choose from when ordering a standard color pack, but you also have the option to order your very own custom designed backpack! ULA has a design tool on their website so that you can envision what your masterpiece will look like before you get it which is very helpful because you can customize every little piece. This is what I am going to do so it will be another few weeks before I get my official backpack, but will be so worth the wait! Yes, that is the interior designer in me talking. I love designing and creating something new with my own personality.
Durability: Despite being a very lightweight backpack, the Circuit is also very durable. California can be a danger zone for a backpack. The summer especially poses threats with millions of stickers throughout our golden fields as well as thorns and low lying limbs in our more wooded areas. I love knowing that the fabric on my bag is thick enough to withstand these threats and last for many years. In particular the mesh on the front pocket is very thick and durable feeling which puts me at ease knowing it will not rip at the first brush with nature. I also appreciate the substantial webbing on all of the straps. I know that a lot of ultralight backpacks will switch to a very thin ribbon type of webbing for their straps, but the Circuit kept a standard size strap and I really appreciate that.
Gossamer Gear - Mariposa 60
Ranking - #2 - Best Ultralight
Where To Buy - Gossamer Gear for $270.00 (click for current price)
Comfort and Weight: The comfort and carry weight of this backpack was number one in my books! Not only was this one of the largest backpack volumes I tested, but it was also one of the lightest! Comfort and weight was at the top of my list of importance and this backpack definitely accomplished that and much more.
Size and Carry Weight: Like the Circuit, I love that this backpack can carry a lot of volume without looking like it can carry a lot of volume. All the volume is hidden with the fold down top, so you only have to show its mass when you need to. As for carry weight, it is pretty much on par with all of the other packs that I tested. Even though it carries more volume, the weight capacity is still pretty much the same. For me this does not matter since the reason I would be carrying more would be bulkier materials for winter that do not really weigh much. I appreciate the extra volume without the weight.
Features: Included features are pretty slim, but that is typical in an ultralight backpack. One of the key features that this bag has that others do not is a removable back panel sit pad. Not only does the panel help with air flow a little, it can also be removed for lounging around camp. That being said, I doubt I would ever remove it. It would just be one more thing I have to put back and it is not the easiest thing to slide in and out. I do appreciate that the water bladder pocket with support clip is included and that there are ports on each side for the hose along with support bands on the shoulder straps. A water bladder system is essential to me. I do not use trekking poles or an ice axe, but those attachments are also included. The Mariposa does not have a bungee cord on the front, but it does have loops so that you can add one if you want. The mesh pocket is large and stretchy and can store a lot! Another included feature I really appreciate is the pocket on the top flap. Even though I am trying to slim down on what I bring, I still have those items that I like to have easily accessible during a hike without digging into my bag. This pocket does just that without adding a lot of bulk.
As for optional features, this backpack has quite a few cool features you can add on! One of the coolest features is the hands free umbrella holder. What??? I do not think I really need it, but how cool is that? What I would use is the better air flow back panel for the pack. Nobody likes a sweaty back and in California you get a lot of sweat. In addition there are water bottle shoulder strap pockets, storage shoulder strap pockets, larger hip belt pockets and trekking pole bungees. Another great addition for those ultralight hikers is a Fast Belt to replace the larger more ergonomic hip belt. Once again, like the Circuit, the Mariposa really lets you customize your bag to the accessories that you need so you do not add weight for accessories you will not use.
Adjustability: Like the Circuit, the Mariposa does not have a lot of adjustability by the time you get it home. Once you order the correct size of pack based on your torso length and hip belt based on your hip size, you are pretty much set. I will say that it is a bummer that the medium is included and the others are optional. Luckily I am a medium, but I feel bad for those that are not. Once home you have the typical adjustments available; load lifters, shoulder straps, sternum strap and hip belt. Like the Circuit the sternum strap is very easy to adjust, but not like the Circuit and many of the other packs, the hip belt is not easy to adjust. This was a deal breaker for me. I really wanted to love this backpack. Even while looking at it, I keep forgetting about this one downfall and wonder why I did not pick it as my favorite. It is because of the hip belt adjustment. I do not like the direction that the straps pull. Instead of pulling towards my front, they pull towards my back. This is a very difficult direction to pull. It is not impossible; I just end up doing a cross body pull, but I will say that it is very frustrating and not user friendly. I am so sorry Gossamer. If these straps had pulled the other way then you might have been my top pick.
Versatility: Similar to the Circuit, the Mariposa lives large with a small looking body. It has the ability to really open up and the ability to compress really small. It leans on the smaller side, while the Circuit leans on the larger side, and I am not sure one is really better than the other. They have their pros and cons. I can fit really large items into the Circuit easier, but being that I am a small person I really appreciate a backpack that does not overwhelm me. There also are no compression straps on the Mariposa. I really think this is something Gossamer Gear should add so that on those lighter packing trips, you can cinch the pack down for a really fitted pack.
Aesthetics: I love the clean look of this backpack! Everything about the look is smooth and modern. This is mostly due to the fold over top style that lays nicely on the front of the pack. I also love the colors. Despite only having two color choices, they really made good choices. As for included colors, the Gossamer Gear packs were my favorite. I would have loved to be bold and get the yellow, but I ended up playing it safe and getting the green. It is kind of soothing don’t you think?
Durability: Although this pack is made from durable fabrics, they are definitely thinner than some of the other backpacks that I have received. There is a cost for ultralight and fabric thickness is one of them. Every time I tried to pull something out of my bag or push something in, I feared that I would rip it. What I especially did not like was the ribbon closures instead of thick webbing. It fits the size of the backpack and the overall ultralight concept, but it worries me that the thin straps, small buckles and lightweight fabric will not hold up. Being that I cannot hike with this backpack and still return it, I do not have confirmation that this fear is true, but upon first glance, those are my takeaways.
Osprey Sirrus 50
Ranking - #3 - Best Storage & Organization
Where To Buy - Amazon $190.00 (click for current price)
Comfort and Weight: The Sirrus was hands down the most comfortable backpack that I tested. This was quite perplexing to me due to the fact that it was also the heaviest backpack that I tested. Odd don’t you think? There were quite a few reasons that this backpack was so comfortable, but namely it was due to the air suspension system and the extremely comfortable hip belt. Putting on the hip best was actually very comforting and I could tell the difference from the minute I put it on. I also noticed that I did not sweat as much in this pack. There are so many mesh air flow areas on this backpack that it is a dream for those that are hiking in very humid and/or hot climates.
Size and Carry Weight: The Sirrus was the smallest volume and heaviest weight backpack that I tested, but what I lost in volume and lightweight capabilities I gained in comfort. I am a minimalistic person so having a high volume pack is not what is most important to me, and at just a little over 3.5 pounds, it is still on the lighter side as far as backpacks go. If comfort had not been my primary characteristic, this pack probably would have been out of the running, but comfort and features are what really made this backpack shine. As for size, this backpack may hold only a medium volume, but it really holds it well so that you can use every nook and cranny to the fullest.
Features: For storage and features this was my favorite backpack! There are not any optional features, but what does this backpack not have? I can think of one, but we will get to that later. As for what it does have… pockets galore! If you like to keep organized then this backpack is for you! This, along with the Mariposa, I look at and wonder… am I making the right decision? I really like all 3 backpacks, although for different reasons. Starting from the top… I love the lid (brain) of this pack. It is adjustable on height, removable, has storage on top and mesh storage underneath. I like that the storage under the lid is mesh so that you can easily find what you are looking for. There is also a key clip in the mesh pocket so you can easily find your keys when you get to your car at the end of a long trek. The inside of the pack is orange, so I feel it reflects light so you can see easily into the main storage area and also houses the water bladder pouch with clip to hold it up. There is only a single port which makes my hose require lots of twists and turns, but I understand why they sewed it that way to keep the rain out. The bottom of the main storage leads to the sleeping bag compartment. I really love this feature! My sleep system is the first thing I set up at camp, and knowing that I do not have to unload the whole pack to get to my hammock is an extra bonus. If you do not like the separate space, you can also collapse it so that the main compartment is larger. The only downside is that collapsing the compartment does not allow for bottom access. I wish it completely moved the flap like Osprey’s Renn backpack does. Just under the sleeping bag compartment is the rain cover compartment. It is great that this is so accessible and you can even use the pocket for a few more accessories since it is so large. Under the rain cover pocket are the sleeping pad attachments. I like this option. I do not always use a pad, but I like the option. The sides of the pack have large mesh pockets with both top and front access. This makes reaching inside to grab a water bottle easier while on the move… although I do not use water bottles while on the move. Also on the side is a side zipper! This is an amazing feature! You can access any part of your main compartment without touching what is on the top. The front of the backpack has a medium size pocket with a zipper pocket on the front. It is not mesh, but it does have a hole at the bottom if you have wet clothes. This brings me to my first revision I would make. I would make this pocket removable for a daypack and add a bungee to the front of it. Perfection! The pack also includes durable ice axe and trekking pole holders. These are the most thought out holders I have seen on all the packs. On the hip belt you have two pockets although they are really small. This was kind of a deal breaker for me. I really like hip pockets and I have to be able to fit my phone. The shoulder straps are perforated for breathability and last but certainly not least is the back panel. The back panel is a suspension system! I really love this feature! California gets well above 100 almost every day in the summer, so a floating suspension system is definitely appealing. Phew! That was a lot. I’m sure I missed something because every time I look at this pack I find something new. And… just as I thought I was done I realize there is a whistle hidden on the sternum strap. How clever!
Adjustability: The Sirrus is a one size backpack, but there are still the standard adjustability features even after you get your backpack. You have load lifters, shoulder strap adjustments and hip belt tightening straps. Most of the adjustments are pretty typical and work well except for one. I do not like how the sternum strap moves up and down to adjust. It is very difficult. On the plus side, I guess it will never move out of place, but on the downside it will just never move at all. Haha! Ok, it is not that bad, but pretty darn close. Other than the standard adjustments, there is one other adjustment that most people will have to make at least once and this is the back panel adjustment that moves the shoulder straps up and down to accommodate your torso length. This adjustment is very easy. All you have to do is separate the back panel which is connected with hook and loop, move it up or down based on your torso length and then press it back on. Voila! As for the hip belt, there is not an adjustment to move it up or down and you cannot remove it, but I do not feel this is a big deal.
Versatility: As for versatility, there really is not a lot with this backpack. There is not much you can remove to make it lighter except for the top lid and with all of the pockets and features, you cannot really cinch the backpack in much smaller. Being that it is only a 50 liter pack, you are limited on space as well. With a low volume pack load you can still use this on a thru hike though. The one feature that I feel would really make this pack more versatile and that would be an easy fix would be to make the front panel removable. It is so easy Osprey!
Aesthetics: The Sirrus only comes in black with orange details. Luckily I love the color orange so it does not matter that it is the only color, but if you do not like orange then you are out of luck. The look is clean, and although it has a lot of accessories, it does not seem overly cluttered on the outside.
Durability: Being that the Sirrus is more of your typical backpack, the fabric is very heavyweight and durable .I cannot imagine anything breaking through. The only areas that might cause concern would be the mesh areas. Mesh is located on the pockets as well as the shoulder straps. The quality seems very nice and thick, but you just never know with areas that are mesh.
Gregory Octal 55
Ranking - #4
Where To Buy - Amazon $157.46 (click for current price)
Comfort and Weight: As for comfort, this was my least favorite. I do not know what the problem was, but there was something that pressed into the lower part of my back that was instantly painful… or at least annoying… soon to be painful. On the weight side the Octal was on the ultralight scale. Weight was a big factor when selecting the backpacks that I wanted to test and the Octal definitely fit that requirement. It was not the lightest backpack that I tested, but at 2.31 pounds, it was well within the ultralight category.
Size and Carry Weight: The Octal is a 55 liter backpack, so it was one of the smaller backpacks that I tested. I liked the size and for ultralight backpackers, it is just about perfect. In the end I decided that I am more of a lightweight backpacker and not quite at ultralight status. Being restricted at 55 liters when I can carry the same weight (around 35 pounds) and more liters with another backpack, is one of the reasons that I selected a different backpack.
Features: The Octal is pretty minimalistic with few features included and no optional features. It does have a few noteworthy features though. Starting from the front, there is a mesh pocket on the front that is super stretchy, so you will have no problem fitting large items that you need to dry out. You also have a pocket on each side that is accessible from the top as well as the front. This is great if you like to carry water bottles and want easy access when hiking on the trail. The lid has storage pockets on the top as well as underneath which also stores your key clip, included rain cover and optional lightweight cover in case you want to remove the lid. Inside the main storage compartment there is a hydration sleeve with top clip and 2 hydration hose ports. I really appreciate when there is a top clip. I do not like when my hydration pack falls to the bottom of the bag. This pack also has trekking pole bungee cords, which I do not use, but it is nice that they are there for those that do. One of the features that I was very excited about, but not impressed with was the AeroSpan suspension system. I really wanted a backpack with air flow, but I feel that the fuzzy feeling mesh just did not do the trick. It helped a bit, but not as much as the Osprey suspension backs. Last, but certainly not least, the Octal has a sunglasses holder! I always have my sunglasses and normally put them on top of my head, but the Octal has a holder right on the arm strap that you can slide your sunglasses into and then secure with a bungee. Very cute idea!
Adjustability: The Octal comes in 3 sizes when you order, so the fit is pretty good as long as you measure yourself well. I like that I do not have to mess around with torso adjustments or any adjustments falling out of place. That does mean there is not a lot of room for adjustability though. My only thought on this is if I want to pass the backpack down to someone else, it might not fit them right... but then again, I do not really pass down backpacks very often. As far as other adjustments, you have the standard load lifters, arm straps, hip belt and sternum strap. All the adjustments seem to work well. I did note that the sternum strap adjustment is similar to the Osprey adjustment when it comes to height, but it works way better. It seems to slide well on the cording instead of getting stuck. Thanks Gregory!
Versatility: Versatility wise I feel that the Octal is pretty middle of the road. You could use it as a day pack or a long trek, but it will not hold a super high volume. After testing a lot of backpacks, I find that I prefer a backpack that can hold a high volume if I want it to... but then compress down really small and light for the days that I do not need a lot of volume. The Octal is better suited for those that are committed to minimalism and ultralight. I just am not sure that I am at that point yet. I like the option to go large.
Aesthetics: The Octal comes in 2 colors and I do not like either color. Well, not so much the color because I do like the color gray, but I do not like the pattern on the front mesh. That is purely subjective though, and you may like the pattern a lot.
Durability: I was not so sure on the durability of this one. Of course there is normally a trade off when going ultralight and on the Octal, you notice that on the materials. The main fabric seems fairly durable, but I mostly worry about the compression straps and the mesh on the front of the bag. I did not think this would bother me, but I noticed when pulling the straps that I worry I will break something. I also worry that a branch might take out the front mesh fairly quickly. I am saying this without actually taking the backpack on the trail though, so take it for what it is worth.
Osprey Renn 50
Ranking - #5
Where To Buy - Amazon for $143.84 (click for current price)
Comfort and Weight: As far as comfort and weight, I feel that the Renn 50 is a good solid selection. It does weigh on the higher end of all the backpacks that I tested (3.31 lbs) and is definitely not in the ultralight category, but I do not feel that it is a heavyweight either. Once you get over 4 pounds I feel you hit that heavyweight title. Being heavier, the Renn still carries very well and supports nicely on the hips so as not to create shoulder pain. That being said, I will say that I felt this backpack was too bulky for me. I think that is because the backpack carries wide instead of tall, so it just feels really big on my body frame. There is a positive to the feature of being wider, in that you will not be knocking your head on the top of the backpack, so I do appreciate that, but at the same time, I am really just trying to find a backpack that does not obstruct my movement while hiking and/or climbing. One of the positives regarding the Renn is that it is a women's specific backpack. This means that they have already taken into consideration the curves of a woman's body in all the right places. That being said... if you are not the curvier type, you might want to look into the men's version of this backpack.
Size and Carry Weight: This is a 50 liter backpack and it carries about 25-35 pounds. For the weight and overall bulk of the backpack, I feel there are a lot better options out there. This backpack carries less, weighs more and carries about the same weight as both the Circuit and the Mariposa.
Features: Where the Renn 50 does shine is in features. There are not quite as many features as the Sirrus 50, but the price is less, so that is to be expected. A lot of my favorite features are actually featured on this backpack including the AirSpeed suspension back. This was one of the top features that I was looking into when researching backpacks! Being that I live in a very hot region, any bit of help to keep the sweat from building up is much appreciated! The mesh system is also very comfortable so I appreciate the extra bounce as well.
Another great feature that only the Renn had, was the ability to attach a daypack to the front of the backpack. I LOVE this feature! Once I get to my home base, my partner and I typically like to hike about and explore. Having a daypack with me makes it a lot easier to bring the small necessities I need such as water, snacks, lip balm, etc. and leave the rest of my camping gear behind. Osprey even has an entire line of DayLite packs to choose from, so you can choose whichever one fits the type of features that you need. This DayLite pack hooks onto the front of the backpack which is why the face of the backpack is void of any pockets. Makes sense!
Yet another great feature that I love is the sleeping bag compartment. I love being able to access my sleeping gear quickly without emptying my entire backpack. My hammock is always the first thing that I put up at camp before anything else, so getting to it quickly is essential! What I love about this sleeping bag compartment more than Osprey's Sirrus 50 sleeping bag compartment, is that you can fully collapse the compartment and access the main compartment from the bottom.
Those are my favorite features, but there are so many more. There is a top lid with storage pocket and key clip, trekking pole holders, ice axe holder and sleeping pad straps as well. All of these are great features! There are two features that I do not feel were done well though. The first of these are the side mesh pockets. At first glance you think they are great with top and side access... but they are actually hard to use because the compression strap goes across the pocket making it very hard to access one handed. It really is a shame because the idea of front access is great. The other feature that does not work out well are the hip pockets. I love hip pockets, and these hip pockets are too small to use. I really need to be able to fit my phone in them, but most phones would not fit in these pockets.
Adjustability: The Renn is a one size backpack, so all adjustments would need to be made after you purchase your backpack. Because of this, Osprey gives you lots of options for adjustability. The main adjustment is going to be for your torso length. There are 4 positions to choose from on the back suspension that you can move to using a bar that moves into loops on the sides. This is a very hard adjustment to make, but hopefully you only have to do it once. Because you only have 4 positions, you also have less options if your perfect location lands between two loops. The other adjustment is for the sternum strap height. This only has 3 locations instead of a sliding system. I feel this too limits your ability for the perfect adjustment.
Versatility: There is not a lot of versatility in the main backpack. It does not compress down a lot or expand a lot. You cannot remove the top lid or the hip belt to reduce the weight. What is versatile though is if you get the DayLite pack accessory to this backpack. The DayLite pack serves as extra storage while hiking to your camp and then when you get to your camp, you can use the DayLite pack as a smaller pack to hike the area during the day. I love this idea! You just have to love dual purpose.
Aesthetics: The Renn comes in 3 colors and of the 3, I like the color grey. It comes with a teal accent which looks pretty nice. It i========s not amazing looking, but it definitely is not ugly. I feel that the colors they chose seem to appeal to most.
Durability: The Renn is a good solid pack. The materials are super thick and the accessories seem solid. The mesh for the side pockets might be your only weak point, but even that seems like pretty good quality. Durability comes at a cost though. That is why this backpack is at the heavier end of the spectrum.
Gossamer Gear - Gorilla 50
Ranking - #6
Where To Buy - Gossamer Gear for $240.00 (click for current price)
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla is basically the same as the Mariposa with a few differences. You can read my review above for the basic rundown on this backpack, but I will list out the differences here and why I rated the Mariposa as better than the Gorilla.
As far as comfort, both of these backpacks are very comfortable. They are ultralight with padding right where you need it. Where the Mariposa outshines the Gorilla is on size. I feel that their weights are so close to the same, that you might as well get the Mariposa so that you have more versatility with how much you carry. Both backpacks can go very small, but the Mariposa can also go very large and carries more weight. That is a big plus in my eyes and why I rated the Mariposa at #2 and the Gorilla at #6. I want a backpack that is not only great for my light summer loads, but also my bulkier winter loads.
Features wise, both of these backpacks are VERY close, but there are a few slight differences. First off, their side pockets are different. I love the tall pocket on the Mariposa and also that there is one extra pocket on the opposite side. That being said, I know a lot of reviewers hate this feature. To each their own, but I find it perfect for those caring a tent or even those carrying a hammock system like myself. I would probably keep my tarp in the side pocket... plus much more. The argument for the equal pockets is so you can equally balance your load when carrying water bottles. Another feature that is different is the hydration. With the Mariposa you get the sleeve, while with the Gorilla you only get the loop to hold the bladder. I love my water bladder system, so I would rather have the sleeve to hold my bladder. Those that do not have a bladder probably would not care. It is still a nice pocket to have though. The last feature that I noticed that was different was the compression straps on the Gorilla. This was a bonus for the Gorilla. I am not sure why they did not include them on the Mariposa. The Gorilla has two compression straps on each side of the backpack in order to cinch it in really small. The only reason I can think of why Gossamer Gear would leave them off of the Mariposa is because they would probably interfere with the side pockets.
Osprey Renn 65
Ranking - #7 - Mr. Happy Hiker's Top Pick
Where To Buy - Amazon for $165.00 (click for current price)
The Osprey Renn 50 and the Renn 65 are basically the same backpack, only the Renn 65 is a little larger with more storage space. For more details you can read and watch my review above for the Renn 50. I felt the Renn 65 was a little big for my body frame compared to the Renn 50, but other than that I felt pretty much the same about both of them. It really just depends on how much you need to carry on your backpacking trips. Although I rated this backpack as my least favorite of the 7 I tested, my partner rated this backpack as his number 1 backpack. Go figure! It really just depends on what you are wanting out of a backpack. He prefers to carry more and at a higher weight. He is definitely not trying to go lightweight at all and is more of a "Be prepared for anything" type. That being said, the Renn is still pretty light and has a lot of features that make it a great option. At that price, how can you beat it!
This has been a long, but fun process finding the best backpack for all of my future backpacking adventures. I love research and I love knowing that I really put a lot of thought into the selection of such an important piece of my backpacking gear. In the end I will admit it was a really tough decision. My top 3 backpacks all had features that I really loved and if I had a lot of money to throw around, I would have bought all 3 of them! I loved all of the accessories and features on the Sirrus, I loved the ultralight design of the Mariposa and I loved a little bit of everything on the Circuit. That is what ultimately pushed the Circuit to be the number one backpack for me. The Circuit was a merry mix of everything that I was looking for. It is not the "perfect" backpack, but it's pretty darn close for me! I cannot wait for my next backpacking trip so I can really test out just how awesome the Circuit is! You can bet I will keep you updated on how it goes!
I hope this backpacking research helps you when conducting your own research while searching for your best backpack. Remember the 3 steps! Know yourself, research options, test the best options and then pick your number one! Let me know how it goes below. What is your favorite backpack and why? I would love to hear all about them! Till next time Happy Hikers!