Best Backpacks Wirecutter

Believe it or not, there are hundreds of indoor and outdoor situations that call for a backpack besides just for outdoor activities or going to school.

Many take backpacks to work and even some sports nearly require players to possess equipment accessories that utilize a backpack.

Backpacks also are preferable to duffel bags when it comes to travelling. Sometimes you do not need a massive duffel bag if you are just packing light and this is where backpacks come in handy.

Different backpacks have different specializations for different outdoor and indoor situations. Some of the higher quality ones will be explored here.

Top Picks : 5 Best American Made Backpacks

10 American Made Backpacks Reviews

1. Outdoor 3 day expandable military tactical backpack by Army Camo USA

ARMYCAMOUSA 40L Outdoor Expandable Tactical Backpack Military Sport Camping Hiking Trekking Bag (OD Green 08001A)

It is very difficult to find a backpack for outdoor activities that demand that you carry a lot of things. Most of them either do not have a proper fit or just do not contain the kinds of compartments and pockets necessary for long hikes or camping excursions. If they do contain all of these things, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to use such a backpack for anything else.

This all changes with Army Camo USA’s backpack. It has a 40 pound capacity, being able to hold three days worth of clothes, making it a good choice for extended outdoor excursions. However, if you just want to use it for short term excursions, you can use its accordion zipper to effectively shrink it down to a smaller bag.

Most backpacks that are designed for intense outdoor activities tend to struggle with tearing and getting wet. One of the best things about Army Camo USA’s backpack is that it is not only water resistant but it is also tear resistant, being made of 600 denier polyester.

However, Army Camo USA’s backpack might not be for you if you are not used to backpacks that contain a lot of compartments. The excess amount of compartments that Army Camo USA’s backpack has can be overwhelming to some, especially if you are the type who is more familiar with Make it Simple types of backpacks.


2. “Ohm 2.0” by Ula Equipment

american made backpacks


You will be very hard pressed to find any backpack that allows you to carry nearly a week’s worth of clothes and supplies. Most backpacks that are designed for such long term excursions tend to have a max capacity of at most 20 pounds if you are lucky. And even if a backpack has that kind of capacity, you’re often resolved to jamming everything you need inside of it with very little room.

All of this ends with the Ohm 2.0, by Ula Equipment. Specifically designed for anybody who is interested in any form of long term excursion, it has a max load of 30 pounds and is designed to where everything you need can fit into it perfectly. It does away with all of the mostly useless side compartments and instead focuses on one massive compartment, making everything simple.

The Ohm 2.0 is perfect for hiking or camping. While it doesn’t have any real compartments, it does have two pockets on the side that function as drink carriers. These hold more than just a tiny bottle of water; you’ll be able to load both sides with much bigger bottles. This is probably the one thing that makes the Ohm 2.0 suitable for hiking.

Unfortunately, the Ohm 2.0 is not nearly as comfortable as other backpacks like it. Because it has such a vertical shape, it will put a lot of pressure on your upper back that you do not encounter with any other backpack. Also, as mentioned earlier, the Ohm 2.0 does not contain any real compartments. This also creates a limiting experience.


3. K2 3500 backpack by Exo Mtn Gear

american made backpacks

Backpacks that are designed for long term excursions typically do not allow for much organization. Most of them follow the make it simple design of just containing one big compartment with maybe a couple of others, but that’s it. When you embark on a long term outdoor excursion, you know that you’re going to need to organize your equipment and make it simple style backpacks just do not offer this.

The K2 3500, by Exo Mtn Gear, addresses this in a creative way. It contains a decent amount of compartments, but not too many to where things get overwhelming. It contains 7 total compartments. The pockets on the side are long enough to store things such as water bladders or spotting scopes. This makes the K2 3500 a very nice choice for an outdoor excursion that is very involving, such as camping.

The roll-top enclosure feature of the K2 3500 is also very useful. There are a lot of times where you will not fill a backpack like this one completely, and the roll-top enclosure will enable you to manage any excess fabric, thereby tightening the backpack itself and making it a little more comfortable.

The one thing that the K2 3500 could probably improve on is its waist strap. The waist strap on the K2 is a lot bigger than the waist straps of other backpacks like it and this can get in the way. As flexible as it is, the waist strap could still stand to be a little smaller.


4. “Raven” by Free Range Equipment

american made backpacks


It is not easy to find a proper backpack for ski touring. Most backpacks that are designed for ski touring have no business even being designed for ski touring, as you’ll need to make sure that your skis are fastened perfectly and hope that impacts are light this way you don’t spill any sugar as you make your way through the course.

Your search for a backpack that you can rely on for ski touring has ended with the Raven, by Free Range Equipment. Each shoulder pad contains no-bonk pockets, which will allow you to hold all the sugar you need for the entire course. The adjustable and diagonal ski carry will allow you to firmly fasten any size ski to the pack effortlessly as well. These are the two things that make a perfect backpack for ski touring, and the Raven possesses them.

Something else that the Raven possesses are ice tool loops which allow you to safely carry an ice tool or an ice axe. It contains a back pad that is removable, which is something that you just do not see in backpacks that are made for ski touring. Most backpacks that are designed for ski touring contain back pads that cannot be removed.

However, the Raven is designed for ski touring and ski touring only. It isn’t like most all purpose backpacks where you can use it for ski touring on one day, then for a hike when spring begins. You’ll need to separate the Raven from other backpacks you use and that is unfortunate.


5. “Fast Pack Lightspeed” by Triple Aught Design

american made backpacks


One of the biggest issues surrounding both tactical and outdoor backpacks is that moving around in them is very difficult. This is especially true if you are using your backpack to carry things other than clothes, which is common when using a tactical backpack or an outdoor backpack.

The Fast Pack Lightspeed by Triple Aught Design addresses these issues in a few ways. First, it is compatible with modular lightweight load carrying equipment accessories. This enables you to customize things to your preferences much easier compared to most other tactical backpacks which are not modular. The Fast Pack Lightspeed also contains anchor points on the exterior and interior of the pack, giving you even more options.

You will not need to worry about durability issues at all when using the Fast Pack Lightspeed, either. It is made of a combination of mil-spec, cordura, and hypalon fabric. This combination makes the Fast Pack Lightspeed nearly indestructible and nearly impossible to rip or tear.

The only thing that the Fast Pack Lightspeed can improve on is its capacity. With a capacity of only 22 or so liters, there certainly exist backpacks that have a lot more capacity that have similar features and dimensions.


6. “Foliage” mesh backpack by Make it Simple

american made backpacks


Make it simple designed backpacks suffer from a couple of things. First, most of them are not water resistant at all. It is almost guaranteed for everything in it to get wet if you were to wear one in the rain. The second issue that surrounds these particular backpacks is that they do not have too much to offer when it comes to capacity. Most of them are a lot smaller than you might want them to be.

The Foliage by Make it Simple solves both of these issues. Being made of water-resistant urethane coating, you can be confident when wearing it outside. You will not need to worry about any of the contents inside of it getting wet at all. The Foliage also has a capacity of 19 liters, which is impressive for backpacks of its kind.

One of the biggest issues that surround any kind of backpack is related to their zippers. Dealing with zippers that need to be repaired is one of the most frustrating things about owning any backpack. Fortunately, the Foliage has also solved this by containing self-repairing nylon coil zippers.

Something that you will certainly need to watch for with the Foliage is that it contains a lot of padding. The back panel has padding and so do the shoulder straps. While this is harmless if you prefer padding, those who are not used to so much padding might be uncomfortable.


7. “Daypack” 20L backpack by Back Country

american made backpacks


Sometimes you just want a backpack to be designed as simple as possible. This is especially true if you just need a backpack for school or work. Unfortunately, most backpacks tend to contain a lot of compartments and other things that are overwhelming to anybody who just needs a backpack for school or their place of employment.

The Daypack by Back Country strips everything down to the bare essentials, making it the quintessential make it simple kind of backpack. There are very few additional compartments that you need to worry about with it. You can access it from the top, from the front, and nowhere else. This makes it perfect for school or the workplace.

Another nice thing about the Daypack is that it also has an impressive capacity. It holds 22 liters, which is more than you would expect from a backpack like this. The laptop sleeve that it comes with is also very useful. This is one more thing that makes the Daypack perfect for school or work.

Something that you’ll need to watch for with the Daypack, however, is its substandard water resistance. Unlike its tactical counterparts, the Daypack is made of cordura materials only, meaning it is not nearly as water resistant as it should be.


8. “Chrome Barrage” 22L backpack by Back Country

american made backpacks


Very few backpacks are truly and soundly waterproof. Even the tactical ones that are made of more than one water resistant materials will still struggle in very wet climates. While you will be able to wear such a backpack in wet climates for a few hours, there is no way that it will last long periods of wet climates.

Back Country’s Chrome Barrage is the closest thing to being perfectly waterproof as it can be. Its main compartment is water tight and even welded together. This is the first waterproof property that it contains. The second waterproof property comes in the form of a waterproof liner that also resists abrasions.

The water and weather resistance does not stop there, however. The final waterproof that the Chrome Barrage contains is a roll-top closure device. This prevents water from directly entering the backpack. Because most water enters backpacks through its zippers, this is the one thing that makes the Chrome Barrage almost perfectly resistant to water.

You’ll need to get used to the fact that the Chrome Barrage does not contain any zippers at all. That is perhaps the one thing that separates the Chrome Barrage from other backpacks in a bad way. Using the roll-top closure device as well as limited side compartments prevents it from being perfect.


9. Make it simple backpack by Gallantry

american made backpacks


As useful as tactical backpacks are with their multiple compartments, a common complaint about them is that these compartments can get overwhelming. This is especially true if you need a backpack for school or work. There’s no need for all the additional compartments of a backpack if all you are doing is putting books or a laptop in it.

Fortunately, Gallantry’s make it simple backpack contains all the features of a tactical backpack without the overwhelming compartments. Containing the same PALS webbing, self-repairing YKK zipper, and cordura nylon that military backpacks are made of, you can wear Gallantry’s backpack to work or school with absolute confidence, knowing that everything inside of it will be protected from everything on the outside.

Very few backpacks offer complete water resistance, especially backpacks that are ideal for work or school. This is not the case with Gallantry’s backpack. The cordura nylon is almost completely water resistant, and the roll-top closing device will prevent water from entering the backpack through the zippers.

There are a couple of things that can be improved on with Gallantry’s backpack, however. The first of these involves capacity. It has a capacity of 18 liters, which is well under average. Also, the shoulder straps and back are padded and cannot be adjusted in any way, making it uncomfortable for some.


10. 45L worksack by Cliogear

american made backpacks


Not just any backpack will do when you go mountain climbing. Make it simple backpacks do not have enough extra compartments. Military or tactical backpacks may have the compartments, but are not shaped to handle an activity such as mountain climbing, especially if you are the type of mountain climber who enjoys challenging routes. And most backpacks with a large capacity are also not light enough for this kind of activity.

Your search for a backpack that allows you to climb mountains with confidence has ended with Cliogear’s worksack. Although it has a very impressive and even intimidating capacity of 45 liters, it is so light that you will not feel it at all. This does not take away from any of its durability at all, either. It is just as durable as its counterparts that use crampon pockets.

Cliogear’s worksack is also very functional as well. It contains a framesheet that you can remove by yourself as well as all the accessories you need to climb almost any mountain safely: An aluminum stay, bivy pad, strap set, lids, a sternum belt and a hip belt. All of these are included with the backpack.

The only thing you might need to watch for with Cliogear’s worksack is its sizing. While most backpacks like it contain specific sizes, Cliogear uses a range for its sizing. This might cause some issues who have been used to a specific size for a long time. 


American Made Backpacks – A Buying Guide

Backpacks come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Further, different activities require different backpacks.

Make sure you consider the following before making a decision on one, and be aware that you might need more than one backpack as well.

Do you need a backpack for indoor activities or outdoor activities?

This is the first thing you should consider and other considerations will revolve around this one.

The backpack that you use for school or for work is going to be much different than a backpack that you need for camping, hiking, climbing mountains, or any other outdoor activity.

Be fully aware of this and know that you might need two different backpacks: One for things you do indoors and one for things you do outdoors.

Do you need a backpack for school or work?

The backpack you take to school or work does not need to contain any tactical specifications.

However, there is one form of tactical backpack called the make it simple (or MIS) backpack that are much more water resistant than common backpacks that people wear to work or school. This is something you should keep in mind.

Do you need a backpack for hiking?

The backpack that you take on hikes probably needs to meet tactical specifications, especially if your hiking trip lasts a lot longer than a few hours.

Make sure that the backpack you take on hiking trips is durable enough. In most cases, the backpack you take on hiking trips can be the same one you take to work or school.

Will you need a backpack for mountain climbing or camping?

This is where you probably need a specialized backpack.

When you climb a mountain, you will need to make sure that your supplies are plentiful and that they are secure.

It’s the same for when you go camping; since you will be spending whole days outside, you will need to make sure that you possess a backpack that can handle everything properly.

Nine Featured American Made Backpack Brands


Being based in Oregon, Cliogear specializes in backpacks for mountain climbing. Their signature backpack, called the “worksack,” is famously known among most mountain climbers, as some climbers who have won competitions have done so with worksacks from ClioGear. They won the Editors’ Choice award in Outdoor Gear Lab magazine and continue to be the choice of alpinists who are serious about impressing the world with their climbing skills.

Colfax Design Works

Military-grade backpacks are what Colfax Design Works (CDW for short) specializes in. Their signature product is the Tactical Operations Amphibious Drybag (TOAD for short), which is not only waterproof, but you can also completely submerge it in water without anything inside of it getting wet. CDW has what you need if you know you will be facing wet conditions while camping or doing any other outdoor activity.

Defy Bags

Most backpack brands only carry backpacks and nothing else. This is not the case with Defy. They carry not only bags, but also accessories and all kinds of other apparel as well. Their backpacks tend to fit the make it simple (MIS) profile, making them usable for indoor activities such as taking to work or school but also outdoor activities such as a short hike or a weekend camping trip.  


Not only does Dsptch specialize in backpacks, they specialize in other cases and covers. Smartphone cases are one of these. After buying a backpack from Dsptch, you can turn right around and buy a phone case from them as well. Most of their backpacks follow a military or tactical design, with a good amount of them following a MIS design as well. You will not go wrong with Dsptch if you are looking for a backpack for a long camping trip. 


Some backpack brands only carry a specific type of backpack. This is not the case with Duluthpack. They have something for everybody, whether you need a backpack for a camping trip or a simple laptop bag. They even contain drawstring backpacks, which are something that a lot of other brands do not carry. They also carry MIS style backpacks with just a few compartments added.

Elemental Horizons

You’ll want to see what Elemental Horizons has to offer if you are looking for a backpack that you can take while climbing challenging mountains on challenging routes. One of their featured backpacks is the Kalais XT. This particular backpack is nearly perfectly waterproof and it’s durability is nearly without peer. However, they do not offer any other backpacks other than ones that are exclusively used for mountain climbing.

Exo Mtn Gear

One outdoor activity that requires a special kind of backpack is hunting. This is one activity that tactical backpacks cannot completely satisfy and it is one activity that mountain climbing backpacks do not completely satisfy either. The backpacks from Exo Mtn Gear are practically the only ones in existence that will satisfy everything when it comes to hunting, especially backcountry hunting.

Frost River

You’ll find almost any outdoor backpack you need in Frost River’s catalog. They have day packs, backpacks for camping, and even backpacks specifically designed for carrying multiple laptop computers in case you need such a thing for school or work. They even carry luggage bags. Frost River has most of the bases covered when it comes to nearly any kind of backpack you need. 

Green Guru Gear

As morbid as this may sound, the majority of backpacks are not eco-friendly. Most of them are made of either leather that is not sustainable, or some other material that came at the cost of our environment. Green Guru Gear changes all that with the items in their catalog. Although you will not find any tactical or mountain gear backpacks with Green Guru Gear, you will find a decent selection of backpacks that you can take to school, work, or on short camping trips.


Although the concept of the backpack seems simple enough, it is widely known that there exist different backpacks for different situations.

It is up to know what kinds of activities you take part in that require a backpack and then make a decision on a backpack that you can use for as many situations as possible.

Some activities such as mountain climbing require a specific backpack, but you can often use the same backpack for camping as you would school and work.

Take some time to see what kinds of backpacks you can use for multiple purposes. It’ll save you a lot in the long term.