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Cheap Hiking Backpacks Buying Guide

Whether you're taking a day hike or embarking on a multi-day meet-up with nature, you need a good cheap hiking backpack. Options abound in the low-cost hiking backpack segment, where models costing less than $90 come from top brands such as REI and Kelty.

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We also found good cheap hiking backpacks from Teton Sports, High Sierra, Osprey, and Marmot, which produce upmarket gear as well. As you move downmarket into the cheaper price range for hiking backpacks, you'll be sacrificing size (not a huge deal for day hikers and occasional campers), the quality of materials used to make the backpack, the stitching that holds it all together, organizational conveniences like a detachable top compartment, and models made to fit men and others to fit women. Still, backpacks in the Cheapism niche won't disappoint. The best cheap hiking backpacks have many virtues, including versatility, durability, practical design, and good ergonomics.

There are several features to note as you make your way through the racks of cheap backpacks. The first is size. If you only want a small pack for a day hike, size is less of an issue; if you're backpacking for several days at a stretch you'll want to be sure there's sufficient room for all the necessary gear. Straps and belts are the next feature to note. The best hiking backpacks have a waist belt, and one that also has a chest strap is even better. The straps on some cheap hiking backpacks are not well padded, so if you expect to carry heavy loads, make sure the padding is adequate. The fit (how the hiking backpack sets on your back) and the frame should suit the weight you'll carry; a heavy pack can feel much heavier if the weight is not distributed correctly. Organizational aids, like internal and external pockets, loops, daisy chains, and tie straps, also distinguish the best hiking backpacks from also-rans.

The best hiking backpacks on our list all earn favorable reviews for comfort, durability, usability, and features. The smallest pack we like is the REI Flash 18 (starting at $30), a minimalist daypack that compresses very small and makes a good extra pack for longer trips. The larger High Sierra Explorer 55 (starting at $80) is roomy enough to stow what you need for several nights on the trail, and scores high with users for its comfort and adjustable fit. The Teton Sports Scout 3400 (starting at $50) wins points for its value, features, and spaciousness. The Osprey Packs Stratos 24 (starting at $80) serves primarily as a daypack, but unlike the REI Flash 18, it boasts an internal frame and lots of organizational aids; users rave about its comfort. A cheap hiking backpack that doesn't meet the bar set by the others is the Outbound Manchester (starting at $25), which gets dinged for its very small size, limited features, and thin straps affixed to the pack in an awkward arrangement.

Review continues below

by Maralyn Edid (Google+ Profile)

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