A backpack is an exciting thing. They represent adventure. They represent possibility. For many of us as kids, backpacks meant we were getting ready for the first day of school. Later on in life, they became associated with road trips and airplanes and all kinds of fun stuff. And of course, for those of us that appreciate being on the trail, a hiking backpack is the means by which we carry everything we need to power our outdoor fix.
If you’re trying to find a hiking backpack under 100 dollars, there are a lot of options. There are different colors, materials, carrying capacities, and more. For most people, we’ve found that the 3 most important criteria in your quest for your hiking backpack Holy Grail are: quality, capacity, and weight (in that order!). But which pack is best for you? Read on and find out!
(Also, if budget isn’t quite as much of a concern, be sure to check out our “best of the best” hiking backpacks recommendations here.)
The Quick Answer
For our money, it doesn’t get any better than the Teton Sports Explorer. At over 65 liters, this pack is amply sized, and includes a rugged internal frame. It has “pass through” side pockets for tent poles and is hydration bladder “ready” (meaning that it doesn’t actually include a bladder, but has the clips and holes for one). It also has a substantially sized sleeping bag compartment.
This pack makes a lot of sense for hikers of all levels. There is enough space for a 2-5 excursion (for the average packer). The weight is distributed evenly and the load carries well. It’s comfortable, it’s good sized, and can take a lot of abuse.See It on Amazon
Reviews of Hiking Backpacks Under 100 Dollars
Here is a brief look at our recommendations for the best hiking packs.
1. The Teton Sports Explorer (Overall Pick)
Fantasticly sized (at 4000 cubic inches, it’s actually a little over 65 liters), the Teton Sports Explorer has substantial padding on the hips and shoulders, compression straps, and well delineated space. It has an appropriately sized sleeping bag compartment, and easily accessible zippered accessory pouches.
It has multiple torso adjustment sizes, padded lumbar support, and molded airflow channels on the back panel. The waist belt is adjustable from 28-70 inches. It has multi-directional compression straps and plenty of pockets for organization. It also has a rain cover, so if conditions get wet, you can break it out and keep hiking.
The one thing that everybody says about this pack is that it is comfortable. It’s easy to adjust for torso length, waist size, sternum support and more. This is a really important factor in how “hikeable” your pack actually is. It doesn’t matter if your pack looks cool or was a great deal. If it doesn’t FEEL great when you’re hiking, then it’s not!
We aren’t the only people that love this backpack. It has 1,360 reviews on Amazon, at a 4.4/5 star rating.See It on Amazon
2. Teton Sports Explorer (Best 65L Hiking Backpack)
Our pick here is the Mountaintop 65 liter internal frame pack. It’s affordable, and has reliable YKK zippers and quick release buckles.
The backpack has some great organization options. It has a drawstring extension that can increase the pack’s capacity up to 5 liters. It has 2 belt pockets, mesh bottle carrier pockets, lid pockets, a bladder sleeve, and much more.
Carrying support on the pack is generous, with ample hip belt, sternum straps, and padded shoulder straps. Plenty of channel space on the back panel to promote air flow, and a water resistant nylon construction round out this fantastic pack. Perfect for an extended weekend or few-day adventure.See It on Amazon
3. Back Sak (Best for Jungle Hiking)
If you will be hiking in the jungle, there are a couple of unique considerations to keep in mind. First of all, you need to be manuverable. This means you need a pack that has a compact profile–can’t be too tall or wide.
Secondly, and perhaps even more critical, is to remember that the jungle is an extremely wet place. The air is humid, the rainfall is heavy, and the streams and rivers are everywhere. All this water can ruin cameras and electronics, soak clothing, or damage food. A jungle pack needs to have a good rain cover, or better yet, be waterproof.
Our favorite jungle hiking backpack is the 35-liter Back Sak. The Back Sak is made of 500D PVC and has welded seams. Essentially, it is a dry bag. It is GUARANTEED waterproof, and perfect for sealing out rain and mud. At 35-liters, it is extremely compact, so it is not well suited to long, extended travel, but it’s compact size makes it excellent for manueverability.See It on Amazon
4. High Sierra Women’s Explorer (Best for Women)
What is it that makes a backpack specifically a women’s backpack? In a word, “fit.” Women-specific packs give careful consideration to torso sizes, and they are designed to distribute the weight of the pack to the hips.
When it comes to women-specific packs, our pick is the High Sierra Women’s Explorer. It is a 50-liter internal frame pack with a lot to love.
The pack features a top-load main compartment with a draw string. It also has a sleeping bag compartment and a top lid. It has ample padding in the shoulder straps and waist belt, and an easy-adjust aluminum frame. The back panel is constructed of molded foam, and has air channels engineered to keep your pack cool and dry.See It on Amazon
Most Critical Factors in Choosing Your Budget Backpack
So what is it that you need to look for when you are buying a hiking backpack under 100 dollars? Well, with a fixed price point that is somewhat modest, you need to be discerning and focused on what matters most. Here are the considerations that are the most important:
Think zippers and seams here. As many of us unfortunately know, these are the typical fail points on a hiking backpack. It’s extremely unlikely that your pack will suddenly sprout a hole in the middle of the fabric. Far weaker are the seams where the fabric is joined together, or the zippers that are being used a hundred times a day. The carrying handles, the clips–basically all the things that aren’t a flat piece of fabric. If your bag is to fail you, it’s going to happen here.
When it comes to carrying capacity of a hiking backpack, there are pretty much 3 delineations:
- less than 40 liters–these are your day packs. They are smaller, usually the size of a school backpack. Most of them don’t have a frame, but if they do, they are internal.
- 40 to 70 liters–this is your mid-range pack. It is noticeably bigger than a school backpack. These can be internal or external framed. Obviously these aren’t the biggest packs on the market, but they are more than sufficient for 90% of the hikes people take.
- 70 liters+–if your voyages may be taking you on legitimate multi-day hikes (or extended, vagabonding style travel), more than 70 liters carrying capacity is probably what you’re after. Oftentimes, these packs are external framed, and include substantial support for your hips and shoulders.
Americans don’t use “liters” as a unit of measurement as frequently as a lot of the world, but it is the norm when you’re talking about packs.
It’s also common to see measurements in “cubic inches”, which is honestly just as foreign to most of us, so not really any more intuitive to visualize without pictures. To help you see things in “apples to apples” terms, here’s a quick conversion table:
40 liters = 2,440 cubic inches
60 liters = 3,661 cubic inches
65 liters = 3,966 cubic inches (you will usually see 4,000 for obvious reasons)
70 liters = 4,271 cubic inches
Here comes the “cake and eat it too” part. We want the biggest backpacks for the least weight. This is a difficult combo to find in the “sub $100” category, because lightweight material that is strong enough to hold a lot of weight doesn’t come cheap. Far more common are high quality but heavy backpacks (think military gear), or lightweight pieces o crap.
Hydration bladder or no hydration bladder?
In our research, what we found is that at the “sub $100” price point, many backpacks do not include a hydration bladder. However, this is not a big deal, and should not be allowed to sway your overall purchase decision. Why? Because almost all of the packs are “hydration bladder ready”, and if you don’t already have one, you can pick up a 3-liter hydration bladder for less than $10.
To ensure that you get great quality at less than 100 bucks, we recommend you evaluate and decide which is more important: high carrying capacity or low weight. It’s possible to find a good quality pack in either one of these flavors at less than $100, but very difficult to find everything.