The Definitive Guide to the Best Heavy Duty Backpacks and Expedition Backpacks

Group of people with heavy duty backpacks

Expedition and heavy duty backpacks are precisely what they sound like. These backpacks are used by individuals who are not only travelling for several days but doing so on rough terrain such as mountains. This means that they need to have a larger internal capacity, must be easy to carry, and should be able to withstand the elements. If you are looking to purchase these types of backpacks, below are some tips to getting it right.

What is a Good Size for an Expedition or Heavy Duty Backpack?

Few people actually agree on just what capacity range an external or heavy duty backpack falls under. Of course, since you will require it hold clothes and gear for at least a week, it is going to need to be large as possible. The best way to decide which size backpack would be good for you is to determine how much time you will be camping or hiking for.

For those who are camping for about three to five days may find that a backpack that can hold over 4500 cubic inches (more than 75 liters) is a good option. However, if you will be in the wilderness for about a week and will not have the opportunity to resupply, you are going to need a larger bag. Ideally, once that is exceeding 7000 cubic inches will be adequate for you.

One of the reasons that people choose expedition backpacks over other options is for its suitability in winter as well. This means that you should not just focus on how many days you will be camping for. In the winter, you are going to need more space even if you will only be camping for a couple of days. This is because you will require more equipment and the clothes that you carry will be thicker as well.

You will need to look into more than just how much an expedition bag can hold, however. It is also important to determine how much the backpack weighs when it is empty. While expedition backpacks need to hold a lot of items, they themselves need to weigh a limited amount. This will allow you to carry more gear and things with you on your trip. If you are looking to balance out internal capacity and weight, Lowe Alpine TFX Appalachian toes this line. The larger version allowing for 5200 cu weighs a little over five pounds.

Internal Frames vs. External Frames

Expedition and heavy duty bags are meant to carry heavier loads. To counteract the added weight, the bags need to be equipped with frames. The two types of frames are internal and external, and are typically found on bags that need to carry over 15 pounds at one time.

With internal frames, as the name suggests, the frame resides inside of the backpack. It can either consist of plastic, aluminum, Delrin rods, or even a combination of these materials. This type of frame brings the load close to you, directing the majority of it towards your hips. Internal frames are lighter than external versions. This type of bag is best suited to hikers who do a lot of climbing. While these bags offer a lot of support, they can be quite uncomfortable during the hot seasons as they don’t really allow for ventilation.

External frames are somewhat of a lost art although they do remain a favorite among the older hikers. While external frames can be a bit heavier, they do have a higher center of gravity. As a result, they do ensure that your hips carry most of the weight of your backpack. Also, it does help to improve your posture as you don’t have to worry about counterbalancing the loads. These are also great accompaniments in warmer weather. The external frames are not all that good for climbing and are best suited to the trails.

While external frame backpacks undoubtedly have their place, you will be hard pressed to find a bag. If this is a frame that you are interested in, the Kelty Yukon is one of the better-graded options.


Heavy duty backpacks and expedition backpacks need to withstand a lot. This is particularly important if you plan on doing some climbing or will be hiking in places with a lot of brush. The backpack will have to be resistant to most abrasive surfaces and be able to prevent minor tears. As it is quite possible that you will encounter at least some rain or moisture, you should look for backpacks that are water resistant as well.

A word of warning: the more durable or heavy duty a bag is, the heavier it will be. This is because it will require thicker material and will also be reinforced. It is important to strike a middle ground with this particular feature.

Perhaps the best example of this is the Deuter Expedition 90+1. It is made from 1000D Duratex and 330D Micro Rip Pro 6.6 fabric. This makes the construction of this bag of some of the highest quality possible. The best part of it, however, is that the bag weighs just 6lbs.

The Gregory Whitney 95 has bottom panels that are made from water resistant materials. This will help to protect your belongings from the rain at least a little. For an all-rounder, the Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 is both hardwearing as well as water resistant.

Padding on the Belt

As mentioned above, most bags are designed to allow you to carry most of the weight of the bag on your hips. This is because this is the best way for the weight to be distributed. It makes the backpack a lot more comfortable for you to carry and also prevents the possibility of back pain.

While your hips are capable of maintaining this weight, there still needs to be some protection. This is available in the form of padding around the belts that you fasten around your waist. Some people don’t like this additional padding as it does add some weight to the bag. The amount of padding should be determined by how much you are carrying. If your pack weighs less than 40lbs, you should be able to only have minimal padding. However, if you are planning on hiking for days, this extra support could be useful. If your pack weighs more than 40lbs, you should not risk it, you should certainly have extra padding.

The padding is not just for the hips, nonetheless. You should ensure that the straps that are on your shoulders are well padded as well. This helps with the weight distribution and comfort as well. This way, you will not have straps digging into your shoulders.

Sizing of the Backpack

This part of the guide refers to just how adjustable your backpack is in terms of straps and length. This is important as you need to ensure that the backpack fits you well. The proper fit relies on the suspension system of the backpack. The suspension system consists of the frame, shoulder straps, hip belt, lumbar area, and the back padding. These features carry the load and then place it on your body.

There are three different types of suspension systems – fixed suspension, adjustable suspension, and interchangeable suspension. With fixed suspension, there are no adjustable features on the backpack. There are all set to one height or length. Within that one series, however, there are numerous backpacks that should fit you. With these types of systems, it is imperative to find the right fit if you want the backpack to be wearable. While there isn’t any versatility, these backpacks offer an incredible amount of stability as the pack is flush against your back.

With the adjustable suspension systems, you can adjust the shoulders straps as well as the hip belt. This means that you have to be less concerned with the fit of the bag as you can choose to adjust the size according to your torso length. This suspension system is good for really long expeditions. This way, if the backpack causes soreness in one spot, you can simply adjust it.

Interchangeable suspension systems allow you to tailor the backpack according to your size. You can buy different shoulder straps and hip belts to mix and match them on your backpack. This option comes in handy for individuals who are either very tall, very short, or have distinct body proportions.

Additional Features

There are a few other things to consider when getting an expedition bag or a heavy duty style. The first would be the external components. This doesn’t refer to just the pockets. Instead, you will need to consider lashes, loops, and bungees. This will allow you to carry a greater number of items by fixing them to the outside of your bag. It is also a great feature for tools or gear that you may need at a moment’s notice. If you are headed towards icy terrain, you should think about getting the Osprey Xena or Xenith. Both models come equipped with ice axe loops on the outside.

At the same time, make sure that there are enough of pockets and compartments to store items that you really need. A good example is a water bottle. Since most pockets are meant to hold water bottles, make sure that there is a deep mesh pocket in which you can store it. It would be ideal if there are small compartments on the hip belt. This will make it much easier for you to reach everything that you need without having to make pit stops along your journey.

Another thing to look for would be how many access points there are on the bag. Expedition packs are not only large, they also hold an incredible amount of items. Since these are used for long trips, you are going to need to find a way to organize the backpack. This is where access points become useful. Typically, if you want to find something at the bottom of a backpack, you would have to remove all of the items to reach it. With multiple access points, you will not need to do this. Instead, it is simply a matter of opening up the part of the bag that you wish to access.

Following in the vein of multiple access points are detachable lids. These are parts of the expedition bag that can be removed and carried as a separate bag. This can be useful for several reasons. First, it is a great way to take away some of the weight or load off from your shoulders and back. It is also good if you are planning on setting up camp in a particular spot for a while. This way, you can detach that compartment and take it with you on shorter hikes.

Ventilation is especially vital if you are carrying an internal frame backpack as it will push the bag against your spine. This means that you sweat in this region, resulting in a wet and uncomfortable back. To prevent this from happening, you need to look for ventilation features. First, look for backpacks that contain mesh in this part. This material is more breathable, allowing air to pass through. Also, consider light, foam panels that push the backpack away from your back.

It is important to keep all of this in mind when purchasing a heavy duty or expedition backpack. The most imperative thing to remember, however, is to look for a backpack that is right for what you need. This means finding one with the right internal capacity for your trips and gear. You should also get one that has the right length straps and belts to fit your torso. Last but not least, look for additional features that you are actually going to use rather than flashy add-ons that only weigh you down. As long as you focus on this, you will have no issue in finding backpacks that are a good fit for you and your activities.

Top 10 Best Heavy Duty Backpacks

1 – Osprey Xena 70

Osprey Xena 70 Womens Hiking Backpack Small Canopy Green
  • Main Fabric: 420d High Tenacity Nylon
  • Maximum Dimensions (cm): 86 (l) X 38 (w) X 40 (d)
  • Please Note: In Europe, This Pack Is Supplied With A Standard Lid, Rather Than A Daylid.
  • Weight: 2.26 Kg (wm)

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Osprey Xena 70:

Reviewers like these things about the Osprey Xena 70

  • A lot of users thought that the Osprey Xena backpack has ample storage for necessary equipment and personal belongings.
  • Other users noted that its hip belt and shoulder straps are moldable and are anatomically contoured.
  • Many of those who have tried the backpack thought that it is comfortable and firm.
  • Several users observed that its shoulder straps also provide support to the users.
  • They also mentioned that the bag is durable due to its 210D High Tenacity Nylon material.
  • Reviewers have found that it has sufficient pockets making it easy to store and secure things in place.
  • Users found it easy to store their ice ax tools due to specific loops dedicated for such gears.
  • Testers found it easy to access its top-loading main compartment through its curved side zippers.
  • Many testers noted that its external hydration sleeve feature simplifies refilling.
  • They also thought that its hydration sleeve protects the pack from spills.
  • Other reviewers said that it is designed for women’s use.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user remarked that it is not for petite women.
  • Another user thought that it does not come with a cover to protect the pack.

2 – Osprey Xenith 88

Osprey Xenith 88 Tektite Grey Black L
  • Custom-moldable, anatomically contoured BioForm4 CM hipbelt and shoulder s balance firmness and cushioning for optimal support and comfort
  • Dual-compartment top pocket converts to lumbar pack with built-in belt
  • Back panel is lined with reversed spacer mesh for a smooth and breathable contact surface
  • Peripheral frame effectively transfers weight to the hipbelt; single 6061-T6 aluminum center stay helps maintain back panel shape
  • Top-loading main compartment can also be accessed through curved side zippers on each side of the pack body; wide-mouth sleeping bag compartment is easy to load and unload

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Osprey Xenith 88:

Reviewers like these things about the Osprey Xenith 88

  • Reviewers agree that the Osprey Xenith backpack provides comfort to the user of the pack.
  • Reviewers noted that it has enough pockets to secure and store essential items and equipment.
  • Other reviewers thought that it has designated loops for ice ax tools.
  • Users noted that the harness could be adjusted to suit the body structure of the user.
  • Testers thought that it is compatible with hydration systems.
  • Reviewers found that the pack is equipped with a lot of adjustment straps to balance the load evenly.
  • Reviewers noted that its compartments are easy to access.
  • Other reviewers said that it is equipped with a padded panel to protect and support heavy loads.
  • Users thought that the bag is large enough to carry necessary equipment.
  • They have also mentioned that the bag may be used for climbing and hiking.
  • According to those who have used the backpack, the pack is equipped with a peripheral frame which efficiently transfers weight to the hip belt.
  • Reviewers pointed out that its anatomically contoured shoulder straps provide support and comfort to the user.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user thought that the backpack looks too bulky.
  • Another user noted that zippers might snag when used for opening compartments.
  • A reviewer said that the pack did not fit him at all.

3 – Gregory Denali 100

Gregory Mountain Products Denali 100 Liter Expedition Backpack | Mountaineering, Expeditions, Guiding | Removable Components, 80 lb Capacity, Durable Construction | Reliable Gear for Your Expedition
  • TOP LOADING DESIGN & REMOVABLE COMPONENTS: Top-loading design with full-length side slash zip access. Strippable aluminum frame stays, top lid, bivy pad, and hipbelt padding. Removable lid pocket with occipital cutout and security pocket on underside.
  • AMPLE STORAGE TO ORGANIZE YOUR EXPEDITION: Ultra-durable expanding side pockets. Dual-access front panel pocket with zip-away internal divider. Quick-access side zip map / headlamp pocket.
  • EASY ACCESS TO CRITICAL GEAR: Expedition hipbelt with tubular gear loops, ice clipper slots, and sled pull loops. Single zip hipbelt accessory pocket. Dual front-panel daisy chains. Stowable, adjustable traditional and hammer less ice axe attachments.
  • DURABLE CONSTRUCTION & HYDRATION COMPATIBLE: Puncture-resistant dual-layer internally laminated front panel. Internal hydration reservoir sleeve with tube port.
  • IDEAL USES: Mountaineering, Alpine Climbing, Ice Climbing, Ski MountaineeringTouring - WEIGHT: 6.7 lbs. - DIMENSIONS: 36.5" x 13.25" x 11.75"

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Gregory Denali 100:

Reviewers like these things about the Gregory Denali 100

  • A lot of users have mentioned that the Gregory Denali can be used for hiking and travel.
  • Others thought that it the pack is durable due to its 210D Nylon and 420D High-Density Nylon material.
  • Several reviewers thought that the bag could be scaled down due to its removable frame stays and bivy pad.
  • Users found it comfortable to use even with heavy loads.
  • According to some users, its loops and daisy secure gears in place.
  • A user mentioned that it has excellent load stability.
  • Another reviewer thought that it has sufficient pockets which provide make it easy to organize things.
  • Testers found that the bag is large enough to carry a heavy load.
  • Other testers noted that it is lightweight.
  • Many wrote that it is comfortable to carry the bag due to its padded shoulder pads.
  • They also said that its suspension system helps carry more weight.
  • Several of those who have tried the bag thought that it works best when used in rough terrain.
  • A lot of testers felt that the bag is stable and did not move or sway around.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A reviewer thought that the bag might be cumbersome.
  • Another user found that it does not include an integrated rain cover.

4 – Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85

Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre (65:85) Bag Pack - Black Large
  • Axiom6 back system
  • TriShield Grid Fabric
  • Front and lower entry
  • Raincover
  • Removable hydration pack

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85:

Reviewers like these things about the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85

  • One user described it as a fantastic and most comfortable backpack that is made to fit perfectly.
  • Many owners thought the size and durability of this pack is awesome.
  • A lot of users said the colouring and fitting is perfect for a woman traveller.
  • Tough, practical and comfortable are cited as the main reasons for choosing this pack.
  • Many users find its adjustment mechanism simple, effective and easy to adjust while on the move.
  • Others find the hip belt pockets an effective addition.
  • Some users find the trekking pole holders a clever design.
  • On-back length adjustment technology, bellow pockets and hip pockets are also cited as some of the favorite features of thebag.
  • Many users agree that it does everything they want and expect from a hiking pack with some cool features.
  • A lot of users love how the padded, adjustable straps help to keep shoulders comfortable and strain free.
  • Many reviewers appreciate the presence of a raincover.
  • Some owners particularly like the extendable top lid which allows them to pack a few extra items.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some users thought it’s a bit heavier than expected.
  • One user said that the chest and hip straps might be too long for super skinny people.

5 – Osprey Aether AG 70

Osprey Aether AG 70 Hiking Backpack Large Neptune Blue
  • Adjustable Ag Antigravity 3d Suspended Mesh Backsystem
  • Adjustable Torso Length
  • Base Zip Entry
  • Maximum Dimensions (cm): 85 (l) X 40 (w) X 34 (d)
  • Weight: 2.33 Kg (m)

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Osprey Aether AG 70:

Reviewers like these things about the Osprey Aether AG 70

  • Most of the reviewers said that it is a do-everything pack that is perfect for vacations.
  • Many of them said that the pack is light weight and stable to carry.
  • They also said that the pack is well designed and is much durable for long vacations.
  • Some buyers said that the pack has great capacity to carry all stuffs for hiking and travelling.
  • Many of the buyers agreed that the pack has the most advanced suspension system for comfortable carry.
  • Numerous reviewers are happy to have a rain cover with the pack.
  • Many of the users said that the good padding provided a comfortable wear and helped them to carry the pack for longer hours with ease.
  • Some travellers are also happy with the interchangeable harness and hip belt.
  • A user also said that the adjustable torso lenght helped to carry the pack comfortably for hiking.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A few buyers said that the pack is very expensive to buy.
  • A user said that the pack is no good without a hydration bladder.
  • Another user said that the pack could have come with some more pockets and could have been lighter.

6 – Thule Guidepost 75

Thule Men's Guidepost Backpacking Pack, Obsidian, 75 L
  • Easily customizable for a perfect fit with 15cm/6in of torso adjustability and a quick fit shoulder harness that allows for 3 different shoulder strap width settings
  • Trans Hub suspension system with a single aluminum stay and reinforced hip belt effortlessly transfers the pack's load to your hips, resulting in a more comfortable carry
  • Pivoting hip belt allows the pack to move with you, enabling a more natural gait and improved balance
  • Removable lid transforms into a spacious 28L summit backpack, offering 2 packs in 1
  • Removable, versatile waterproof roll top pocket keeps gear safe from elements

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Thule Guidepost 75:

Reviewers like these things about the Thule Guidepost 75

  • Most of the testers said that the bag is durable enough for great outdoor travels and vacations.
  • They said that the pack was very comfortable on their back.
  • Reviewers said that the adjustable torso and shoulder harness was helpful to carry it comfortably for long hours.
  • Many users are happy to have removable lid which helped themt to convert is as a daypack for travelling.
  • A user said that the pack has great capacity with good number of organizational pockets to carry all stuffs for travelling.
  • Another user said that removable waist belt helped him to adjust the load properly over his back.
  • Most of the buyers are happy with the water resistant quality of the backpack.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user said that the sternum strap is only adjustable on one side which made it a bit uncomfortable to carry.
  • Few buyers said that the external side pockets are smaller in size.
  • Some buyers also complained that the pack is very expensive in comparison to the features it has offered.

7 – SealLine Boundary 70

No products found.

Here’s what the reviewers think about the SealLine Boundary 70:

Reviewers like these things about the SealLine Boundary 70

  • A lot of users thought that the SealLine Boundary pack has ample storage for necessary equipment and personal belongings.
  • Many of those who have tried the pack felt that it is comfortable and firm.
  • Users lauded the presence of continuous double sealing strips.
  • They also mentioned that the bag is ideal for canoeing and canyoneering.
  • Several reviewers observed that its roll-top closure is waterproof.
  • Other users praised its improved suspension system.
  • Reviewers have found that its shoulder straps are both breathable and waterproof.
  • Users noted that the bag comes with a waist belt.
  • Testers found that it is able to protect gear well.
  • Many testers said that it could come in three sizes, depending on personal preference.
  • They also thought that it is equipped with side-cinch buckles.
  • Other reviewers praised its simple yet striking design.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A user remarked that it is not quite comfortable.
  • Another user thought that the straps need constant readjustment if things shift inside the pack.
  • A reviewer indicated that the folding top is too short to provide a secure seal.

8 – Gregory Whitney

Gregory Whitney 95 Backpack (Lichen,Large)
  • 210d HT double box ripstop and 630d nylon fabrics
  • Zippered top and side loading access
  • All-terrain waist belt with stash pocket and gear loop
  • Full drainage system
  • Continuously insulated tube sleeve runs from inner pack body thru-shoulder harness to help prevent freezing

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Gregory Whitney:

Reviewers like these things about the Gregory Whitney

  • Users said that the pack is able to take a large amount of stuff all neatly packed and easy to access all built into a comfortable package.
  • Reviewers who have used the pack said that the shoulder straps are on pivots which allow them to wrap around at the perfect angle.
  • Many users said that the hip belt is adjustable and well padded.
  • Most reviewers said that the back of the hip belt is made of a rough material that allows it to grip and stay put when moving around.
  • Several users said that the waterproof material on the bottom and the pockets on the hip belt are nice touches.
  • Users said that it also has several compression straps, so as you burn through your supplies you can cinch it up and keeps things tight.
  • Reviewers have mentioned that the two sides have zippers that go almost all the way down the side of your pack making side access to something near the bottom of your pack very easy,.
  • Many users praised the fact that the pack is able to take a large amount of stuff all neatly packed and easy to access all built into a comfortable package.
  • Some other reviewers said that the sleeping bag compartment is really nice.
  • Most users said that the pack has good quality zippers and stitching.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • One user complained that the hip strap had broken very early.
  • Another user said that the fabric started to spread at the seams, there were a few big rips.
  • Some users complained that the water bottle holder on the side of the pack is difficult to reach when the pack is on.

9 – Black Diamond Mission 75

Black Diamond Mission 75 Backpack, Cobalt, Medium/Large
  • Swing Arm shoulder straps and thermoformed back panel
  • Top-loading, with removable lid, drawcord skirt closure and tuck-away rope strap
  • Ice-tool Pickpockets and crampon pouch
  • Strippable design: removable hip belt with fixed webbing belt and removable frame sheet
  • Hydration compatible

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Black Diamond Mission 75:

Reviewers like these things about the Black Diamond Mission 75

  • Reviewers recommend the durable yet lightweight Black Diamond Mission backpack for high-intensity activities including hiking and mountain climbing.
  • A reviewer thought that the drawcord skirt of the backpack gives a secondary defense against light precipitation and spindrift.
  • Users felt that the pack is efficient for having enough pouches and pockets where they can place several gears.
  • Testers have thought that the backpack is stable and balanced.
  • A lot of users have observed that the backpack allowed their waist to move in different directions naturally.
  • Some reviewers thought that the presence of a drawcord skirt gives the backpack a secondary defense against precipitation.
  • Some testers commented on the versatility of the backpack in terms of its removable parts.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A reviewer thought that the frame of the backpack is missing a curvature from the lower back, directing the weight to the hips.
  • Another reviewer felt that the backpack is not waterproof, making it susceptible to being wet especially when it is exposed in a rainy or misty environment.
  • A user thought that the backpack has ridged shoulder straps which made it uneasy for him to use the pack if he is just wearing a thick shirt.

Selected reviews

Backpack Gear Test reviewed the Gregory Whitney

I have been very pleased with the Whitney 95 backpack. I find it is a product that has grown on me. The more I use it the better I become at using it. The comfort amazes me even in hot humid weather. Getting at the items I need quickly and easily is very convenient. I have used it a lot and it still looks like it did when I first got it.

Posted 25 June 2008 by Arnold Peterson – Read full review

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