A hiking backpack is probably the first piece of gear one starts searching for after getting bit by the hiking bug. No wonder, it’s also the most important one after the rather obvious pieces of clothing and boots. The reasoning is quite simple too: no matter how much effort and money you put into your hiking gear it’s no good unless you have an appropriate backpack to carry them in.
Considering this huge responsibility it makes sense to invest in a backpack that you can trust. But can you get quality if you are operating on a tight budget? Yes you can!
|Capacity (liters)||Height (and adjustability)||Rating||Price|
|High Sierra Appalachian 75||75||34", adjustable for 15"-20" torso||$122.89|
|Mountaintop 75-80L||80||33", adjustable in 1-8 steps (exact torso measurements unknown)||$75.99|
|TETON Sports Fox 5200||75+10||34", adjustable for 15.5" - 23" torso||Check on Amazon|
|TETON Sports Hiker 3700||60||33", adjustable for 16" - 21.5" torso||$87.62|
|TETON Sports Explorer 4000||65||32", adjustable for 19" - 23" torso||Check on Amazon|
|TETON Sports Scout 3400||55||30", adjustable for 15" - 19.5" torso||Check on Amazon|
|AmazonBasics Internal Frame Hiking Backpack||55/65/75||Model dependant||$79.99|
|WASING 55L Internal Frame Backpack||55||27", adjustable||$49.99|
|TETON Sports Oasis 1100||18||18.5"||Check on Amazon|
|OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack 50L||50||23", adjustable||$36.99|
Hiking Backpack Buyers Guide - Look For These
Before you put on your buying pants it’s wise to find out what you should be looking for. If you have already thought about your criteria for a backpack you can skip this part.
Given that you are reading an article about hiking backpacks that cost no more than 100 dollars, this is quite obvious. But then again, even within this range there is a lot of variety. Generally speaking you want to stay away from the cheapest alternatives (unless you find a great sale), this will save you from a lot of headache in the future. In this case we should probably say backache, though.
This is ultimately the single most important factor you have to consider, as hiking with improperly sized backpack can be extremely wearing for your back. Most manufacturers will provide good guidelines for proper sizing, but if you are still uncertain your safest bet would be getting an adjustable backpack.
Measure your back from your shoulder line to the top of your hip.
- Small: 16”-17+”
- Medium: 18”-19+”
- Large: 20+”
Size, Capacity & Weight
Ultimately the optimal size of your backpack depends on what kind of hikes you are planning to use it on. The longer the hike the more equipment you’ll likely need to be carrying. It also depends on the season: winter and cold seasons in general require more volume as the gear will also be bigger (tents, sleeping bags, clothes etc). You will probably get a good hunch of the volumes after you browse your options for a while.
Generally speaking weight is something you just have to deal with when shopping on a tight budget, but we managed to fit in a few lighter alternatives too. Backpacks sized like our picks with ultralight materials will lighten your wallet A LOT more, and the benefit is minimal. You are not going on a hike with an empty backpack anyways.
- Dayback: 0-1 nights, 20-30L
- Weekend: 1-3 nights, 30-50L
- Multiday: 3-5 nights, 50-80L
- Extended: 5+ nights, 70+L
As a rule of thumb you don’t need to put too much focus on the frame unless you are planning to carry heavy weights with you. Most of the backpacks we listed have internal-frames, which are optimal for most hikes. External-frames are usually only used with heavy loads and frameless backpacks are those who are looking for an ultralight experience and have no need for proper load-support on their back.
Having a general idea of what you’d like to fit in your backpack will help with picking the properly designed one for you.
Features & Accessories
Once you start browsing through different options you will quickly notice that there are LOTS of different features to choose from.
Waterproofing and proper ventilation via hydration ports to help with back sweating are also features that are found from most hiking backpacks.
Pockets & Pouches
Even though you don’t really NEED anything else than a properly sized main compartment, most hikers will enjoy the accessibility that additional pockets will provide. They range from hip belt pockets (for stuff you need often like your phone) and front mesh pockets (for airing out wet socks for example) to all kinds of side pockets.
Straps & Belts
A hip belt is an absolute necessity if you are planning to carry any noticeable weight for long trails. It will reduce a lot of strain from your shoulders and back by holding some of the load on your hips. It’s also a feature found on pretty much all hiking backpacks on the market worth considering.
Shoulder straps are something you won’t have to worry about as quite naturally we would not recommend you a hiking backpack without comfortable shoulder straps. Other additional straps like the sternum strap (the one on your chest that connects the shoulder straps together) are not necessities but something you might want to keep an eye on depending on your criteria.