I don’t claim to be an expert at much but I’m pretty good at walking. I generally log anywhere between 800 and 1000 miles hiking every year. I’ve tried dozens of packs and in this guide we’ll review the best hiking backpacks under 100 bucks.
You begin to notice trends in construction and features that make a backpack a solid choice for putting some miles on your shoes. Twenty years ago, you had to spend a fortune to get a good pack. Now with a growing hiking market, even an inexpensive backpack will perform about the same as those older packs.
Right now, in the old backpack stable, I have about 6 or 7 go to packs for different uses. Some are daypacks and some are extended trip packs for up to a week or more. To get the pack that is right for you, you have to know how you plan to use it and what features work best for your situation.
How to Choose a Hiking Backpack
This guide on features and uses of backpacks will help you make the best decision possible.
A backpack needs to hold everything we need plus a little extra for emergencies. These are loose guidelines that assume you are carrying just enough for one person in warm weather. For cold weather or if you carry for two, go up a size or so.
These are the smallest size I would consider taking out on the trail. For a single day or one night, these are perfect. For the minimalist, you may get away with a couple of days but this is quite a small pack. It would be a challenge to carry more than one night’s worth of supplies with a pack in this size range.
For that three to five-day range, 50 Liters is a good size. Considering that you are only adding a little extra gear to your 30L pack, you should have plenty of space. I use a 50L pack for up to a week but do so with gear that is dialed into what I need and selected for size and weight.
70L Backpacks and higher
For durations of a week or more, a 70 liter backpack is the least you are likely to be able to get by on. You will have to carry a lot of consumables like food and it all takes up space. It’s easy to carry 10 liters or more of food for a week and that’s on top of everything you would carry in a 50 liter backpack.
Based on my experience and use, I have never needed more than I could fit in 70 liters.
Frame Backpack or Frameless
Most everyone will choose a frame backpack and with the newest modern materials, why not? That is actually a really good question and one that is difficult to dispute. Frames add a lot of support and comfort with very little drawback.
With older external frame backpacks there was a weight issue. With modern internal fiberglass or carbon fiber, they weigh nearly nothing. Even small hiking backpacks come with frames or some sort of support system.
You can go without a frame on 30 liter backpacks and see little difference if you pack them light. Moving up, to 50L or more, you really need a frame for the pack to carry correctly and not sag or flop around.
In my opinion, internal frames always trump external frames. They weigh less, are more comfortable to carry. They carry closer to your center of gravity, and add very little additional cost.
Hiking Backpack Weight
No one wants to carry any more weight on the trail than they have to. Well, unless you are trying to build fitness by rucking. Outside of that, always choose the option that has the least weight with the most durability that you can manage.
Extra features will increase the weight and it’s up to you to decide the tradeoff. I typically use the very rough limit of no more than pound per every 10 liters unless you are talking ultralight backpacks. I have a Dyneema backpack that packs 45 liters that weighs just over a pound and a half but it cost several times our $100.00 budget.
A lightweight backpack is worth the investment and often what you are really paying for as you increase price is less weight and more durability.
Hiking Pack Access
The comparison I really want to make is how you get your gear in and out of a pack. Top access, or bucket style packs, have a large main compartment and may or may not have smaller side or front pockets. Clamshell packs or panel access packs fold open like most of our school backpacks did.
Usually, gear organization is easier in a clamshell pack, especially if it has a lot of dividers and external pockets. The downside is that you end up losing a lot of capacity that way.
A 50 liter bucket pack should hold almost precisely 50 liters. The same capacity in a clamshell may hold less than 40 liters. You simply lose a lot of space when you start dealing with multiple pockets and dividers.
For a day hiking backpack, I do like a clamshell. They are just easier to deal with. For anything more than a couple of hours on the trail, I prefer bucket packs. This is especially true for overnight or longer stays.
Attachment Points and Compartments
The most used features on a hiking backpack tend to be places to stick more stuff. I have found that the more spaces to stick stuff, the harder it is to manage weight and keep a light load. Still, having a dedicated sleeping back compartment or some outside pockets for water bottles can be pretty handy. I don’t use a water bladder but packs fitted for those are very popular.
Go with what you need. The only useful extra pockets I like are the ones on removable lid packs. These can be converted into a lightweight daypack for moving around camp so you don’t have to shoulder your whole hiking pack.
Padding and Ventilation
All of the best packs for hiking are going to have ventilation and padding. You carry these things for hours and sweat a lot. You will be thankful for any extra softness and airflow that you can get a couple of miles in.
At a minimum you should have some side padding and padded straps. A neck pad is one of the best additions, especially on a larger expedition backpack around 70 liters. Padded hip belts are also well worth the extra cost as are virtually any other padded locations around the kidneys and hips.
The Best Hiking Backpacks Under 100 Bucks
Hiking for beginners on a budget can be really tough with all of the costs and other considerations that you have to factor in. Instead of throwing out a bunch of packs of the same type, I have provided some of the best packs for different purposes. I am confident and of these will serve you well!
This is a pack that you don’t have to take my word on, its currently just about the best rated backpack on any website that sells it. At 50 liters, it makes a great weekend backpack but could take you into a 4 or 5 day stay if pack smart.
It has an internal frame and all the padding you need with good ventilation and is quite solid and robust. It is a little heavy but well within the norm at a little less than 5 lbs. For an extended stay I would not hesitate to call this the best hiking backpack for the money any day.
Being larger, the Teton’s are a really great budget backpacking pack more than a hiking pack. Being a bucket style pack means all the capacity is usable but there are several outside pockets for gear you may want in a hurry. Some even have a dedicated sleeping bag compartment. Just a great pack for a great price overall!
A pack of a similar nature that I initially had some doubts about until I carried one. Let me be clear that I don’t own this pack and have never bought one. I did carry one for a couple of miles and its surprisingly nice with much better quality than I expected.
Available in either 50 or 60 liter versions and a large variety of colors, this is a handsome backpack that has a great capacity for longer trips. It has plenty of cinch straps, and connection points to carry everything and hold it well in place. It’s even surprisingly solid with YKK zippers and 1000D nylon straps.
If you are looking for a hiking backpack under $50.00. It has plenty of space that can be accessed from its top or by quick access zipper
The shoulder straps and belt are well padded and comfortable, and it even adjust for size by moving the upper part of its frame up and down.
It may not last as long as some of the better brands but will get you buy for a few years until you can get something better.
For what I would consider more of an adventure backpack, Outdoor Master has a very novel product. It is advertised as a 50L pack and in all likelihood, it technically is. Actual usable space is probably closer to 40L with all the pockets and dividers but that works too.
This is what I would consider a weekend pack that you can put some miles on. It features contoured nicely padded straps and great ventilation. Since it does not have a frame, it isn’t one that I would want a heavy load in. But for overnight or just a good walking backpack, its perfect.
In the world of value hiking backpacks, you often get what you pay for. I am not sure of the long-term durability of this pack but many people are having great luck. If you like clamshell packs with lots of pockets, pouches and storage then this is probably the pack for you!
With a 6 month 100% satisfaction guaranteed warranty, I think it’s worth a shot. It’s not often you find a decent hiking backpack under 50 bucks.
For the day hiker or someone that needs a pack that can be used on the trails and on the town, Under Armour makes a couple of surprisingly good packs. The best of which is probably the Hustle. It’s a great budget daypack that comes in somewhere around 30 liters or so but manages to hold a lot in that space.
Made of a high grade polyester that is treated for water resistance it manages to keep things dry, even in external pockets. Under Armour did it right. This is a frameless pack that is missing any ventilation or padding on the pack itself. However, it does have padded straps and still carries well with lighter loads.
On the outside it has water bottle pockets, a quick access pouch, and even a place to store a small warm weather sleeping bag. It may not be feature heavy but for a budget hiking daypack, it is close to perfect.
This pack may round out my top 5 hiking packs but it may be my favorite. Some people are probably laughing at a Jansport pack, I mean we all carried them to school in the 90s. But I will tell you honestly that I’ve had the same Jansport for over 20 years and if I have less than 5000 miles on that pack I will eat it.
I may have a soft spot but for someone wanting to do day trips, this is just an amazing hiking backpack under 100 dollars. They hold up nearly forever and can probably take you overnight with some smart packing. It’s well-padded, has decent ventilation and holds a solid 34 or 35 liters.
The main thing I like about Jansport is the durability and with a 600D nylon construction, it can handle just about anything. It’s a clamshell pack but holds gear like a bucket pack does with added attachment points and water bottle holders.
Weighing in at just under 2 lbs., its easy to carry but is frameless so you won’t want to load it too heavy. But you can stuff it full and the zippers will hold with no problem. Even the styling is spot on for easy carry in the field or anywhere else for that matter. I seriously love this pack and think any day hiker will too.
So that rounds out my best of list for value hiking backpacks. We can’t call them cheap because that denotes a lack of quality and these packs are alright. Some of them may be a temporary investment but will last years until you can get something better.
For more extensive information check out this great example by REI that comes complete with a backpack size chart.
I will note that none of these are backpacks for heavy loads but believe me, that is a bad idea with any pack. If you are carrying more than 35lbs., you are carrying too much crap that you don’t need. I like to keep things around 20-25lbs for a preference.
Not that I haven’t carried more. I know that I have had 40+ pounds in my Jansport way more than once.