Ventilated backpacks, also called suspended-mesh backpacks, keep you cooler and drier when backpacking in hot or humid weather or when you’re carrying a heavy load. First invented by Deuter Packs, they’re one of the most sought-after backpack features by backpackers. While many backpack manufacturers claim that their backpacks are ventilated, it’s important to differentiate between backs with trampoline-style backs that have large air gaps between the mesh and frame to encourage air-flow, and those that have marginally effective “foam air channels.” The performance difference is significant.
Here are our top 10 picks of the best ventilated backpacks of 2018. Many of these backpacks are available in multiple volumes and for men and women, as noted below. These are the best-of-the-best ventilated backpacks that will keep you drier and comfortable on the trail.
1. Osprey Exos 58
2. Granitic Gear Optic 58
3. REI Flash 65
4. Osprey Levity 60
5. Deuter Futura Vario 45+10 SL
6. Zpacks Arc Blast 55
7. Osprey Atmos AG 65
8. Osprey Stratos 50
9. REI Traverse 70
10. The North Face Banchee 65
Backpack Selection Criteria
These are the most variables to consider when buying a backpack.
SIZING: The two most important dimensions for sizing a backpack are your torso length and your hip belt size. Measuring your torso and matching it to pack sizes is pretty straightforward. Measuring the hip belt size you need is a little more obscure because the hip belt specs published by backpack manufacturers have nothing to do with your waist size or hip bone girth. When trying on hip belts, make sure the padded portion of the hip belt covers the front of your hip bones. If it doesn’t, the hip belt is too short and more of the load will rest on your shoulders and less on your hips. If the pack you’re interested in doesn’t have a hipbelt that’s large enough to cover your hip bones, do yourself a favor and buy a different backpack.
WEIGHT: The weights of backpacks can vary widely depending on their volume and feature set. Higher volume, multi-day back packs over 60 liters generally weigh in at 4-5 pounds, while packs 50 liters and less weigh in at 2-4 pounds. There’s no hard and fast rule that limits acceptable pack weights; just remember that a heavier backpack will be harder and more tiring to carry and let that be your guide.
VOLUME: The backpack volume you need will vary depending on specific gear you need to carry, weather conditions, and number of days you need to hike between resupply points. Generally speaking, daypacks range from 15-35 liters in size; weekend backpacks range from 30 liters to 50 liters, while multi-day backpacks range from 50-70 liters. Expedition sized packs are much higher volume and can range from 70-110 liters in size.
POCKETS: Most backpacks have a combination of open and closed pockets. Open pockets are useful for storing gear you want fast access to without having to open the main compartment of your backpack. They’re also good for stashing wet gear in order to keep if separate from the dry or delicate gear you store in closed pockets.
LOAD LIFTERS: Load lifters are straps attached to a backpack frame, above the shoulder pads, that let you pull the the top of the pack forward if you feel it pulling you backward onto your heels. They’re a standard feature on high volume backpacks but aren’t as important on smaller volume packs intended to carry lower gear weights.
VENTILATION: Ventilated backpacks help keep your back and shirt drier by encouraging air flow behind your back and faster evaporation of perspiration. They’re also called suspended mesh backpacks or trampoline backpacks. Largely a comfort feature, they have a minor impact on hiking speed or performance.
TOP CLOSURE: Backpacks typically have top lids or roll top closures to prevent rain from draining into the main compartment. Both closure systems have different merits. Top lids usually have one or two internal pockets which provide additional gear storage for gloves, hats, maps, and navigation equipment. Roll top closures are simpler and faster to use with fewer straps and provide excellent top compression.
ATTACHMENT POINTS: Backpacks are designed in to carry gear internally and externally, attached to the outside of the backpack. External attachment points or straps are helpful when you need to carry bulky gear that can’t fit inside your pack like foam sleeping pads, avalanche shovels, skis, snowshoes, or tent bodies.
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