With the advent of Enduro racing and some genuinely clever ways to carry spares and tools, backpacks have gone out of style for riding. However, sometimes no amount of velcro straps or tools stashed inside steerer tubes can tote what you may need on a ride, and sometimes you need to carry A LOT of stuff.
We've put together a list of our favourite backpacks for the trail builders and the pack-rat types. If you're in the market for something smaller, check out our round-up of the best hydration packs.
if you're unsure what you're looking for exactly, at the bottom of this guide, we've outlined everything you need to know.
Jump to: What you need to know
Best backpacks mountain bikers can buy today
Camelbak Fourteener 24L
Big pack for the rider who likes to stay organised
Carry capacity: 24L | Water capacity: 3L | Reservoir included: Yes
The Fourteener is a big pack to take on the bike with 24L of gear space; there is still a sleeve for the brand's 3L Crux reservoir. Beyond the large main compartment, there are smaller organisational pockets for tools, sunglasses, maps and spares.
It has a substantial hip belt (complete with a snack pocket) which, combined with the articulated back and internal frame, takes the weight off your shoulders. Load lifters and compression straps keep the weight close to your body.
Dakine Syncline 16L
Loud, lairy and functional
Carry capacity: 16L | Water capacity: 3L | Reservoir included: Yes
Add a bit of colour to your ride with the Dakine Syncline 16L pack — it also comes in black if electric mint is a bit too jazzy for your liking. The pack has a separate pocket for a 3L lumbar reservoir which keeps the load low in the bag.
The main pocket is big enough for extra layers or a first aid kit while the pocket in the front with the partially hidden zipper has internal sleeves and mesh pockets to keep tools and other small items organised.
The back panel is articulated and compatible with Dakine's CE-certified spine protector, and the bag also features helmet attachment loops, deployable armour carry straps and a magnetic hose clip
Evoc Trail Builder
Backpack for the trail fairy
Carry capacity: 30L | Water capacity: 3L | Reservoir included: Yes
Somebody has to look after the trails, and if you are one of the many trail fairies who are out digging, you will need a hearty bag to carry your pickaxe, chainsaw, and shovel along with the rest of your riding gear. Evoc's Trail Builder Technical pack has room for a 3L bladder and two main pockets for food, bike tools, and even a separate compartment on the bottom for wet layers.
On the bottom of the pack is a removable tool roll and there is a hidden rain cover too.
The bag is designed to help distribute loads evenly to not throw off your centre of gravity while riding, with wide hip and sternum straps wrangling the bag. There are also compression straps and a front flap allowing things to be secured to the exterior of the bag or tie everything down tight.
Osprey Raptor 14L
Multipurpose backpack with external wet kit storage
Carry capacity: 14L | Water capacity: 2.5L | Reservoir included: Yes
Osprey makes a huge range of products from 120L expedition packs, all the way down to 6L hip bags. The Raptor 14 is a decent-sized riding pack that features two internal pockets as well as a stretch mesh sleeve on the outside - perfect for wet or sweaty layers.
Inside there is room for Osprey's 2.5L Hydraulics reservoir which is said to reduce sloshing as you ride. The pack also utilises the brand's BioStretch harness and hip belt for all-day comfort
Camelbak K.U.D.U. Protector 20L
Big bag for the big enduro adventure
Carry capacity: 20L | Water capacity: 3L | Reservoir included: Yes
With the rise in the popularity of enduro, the trails we ride are getting gnarlier, and with that so is the consequence of going ass-over-tea-kettle. That's why Camelbak developed the K.U.D.U protector pack with a full-length built-in CE Level II spine protector. The back protector can even be zipped off with the shoulder straps and hip belt and has elasticated mesh pockets for a fast and light afternoon ride.
In all, there are seven pockets to keep your gear organised, and there is even a removable tool roll, so you're not digging around the bottom of your bag searching for a CO2 inflator head. Outside the K.U.D.U also has an integrated rain cover and provisions for full-face helmet and armour carry.
Osprey Syncro 20L
Well organised behemouth
Carry capacity: 20L | Water capacity: 2.5L | Reservoir included: Yes
If you like the look and features of the Raptor but it's not big enough for all the gear you'll be taking out onto the trail, the larger Syncro might just be the ticket. It shares the same BioStrech shoulder straps and 2.5L Hydraulics reservoir, and has a similar pocket layout including the small zippered tool compartments on the inside to keep things organised.
With more capacity, the Syncro sees Osprey's Airspeed suspension system that elevates the pack off your back for improved air circulation. There's also the Lidlock helmet attachment and convenient snack pockets on the hip belt for easy access to your food.
Vaude Splash 20+5
One for a big day out far away from civilisation
Carry capacity: 20/25L | Water capacity: 2L | Reservoir included: No
Made using only bluesign-certified materials, the Splash offers a large pack that expands 5L with the pull of a zipper. It uses the brand’s 'Flash sliding' harness system that allows you to size the bag to your torso. The back panel and hip belt are made with the Vaude’s Aeroflex mesh to limit the size of the sweaty patch on your the back of your jersey.
There is room for a 3L bladder inside; the front pocket has slots to keep your tools organised, there are nifty helmet carry straps and an integrated rain cover too.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25
Minimalist light-weight riding pack
Carry capacity: 25L | Water capacity: 3L | Reservoir included: No
Ultimate Direction is known for making high-end, super-lightweight packs that won't slow you down. The Fastpack 25L is a roll-top-style pack that only weighs 550g (unladen).
That bag uses a vest-style harness that has huge pockets big enough for soft water bottles, your phone and food. While there's an internal sleeve for a hydration pack and a cavernous main pocket that can be expanded via the roll top, there are unfortunately no organisational pockets inside.
There's also a stretchy mesh pocket on the exterior and daisy chains which can be used to secure your helmet or armour.
Best MTB Backpacks what you need to know
1. How much water?
Most full-size backpacks can take a 3L bladder; however, even the larger packs from Osprey can only accept a 2.5L reservoir. Consider how long you're likely to be out and how much fluid you actually need, though. With the addition of bottles, do you need 5+ litres for a two-hour ride? Probably not.
2. Harness and protection
If you're looking at larger packs, you are probably planning to ride with a bit of weight so the fit is critical. At the bare minimum, a backpack should have a sternum strap and a hip belt. Extra points if there is an internal frame or spine protector built-in. The majority of packs in the range will only be available in one size; however, some come in multiple torso sizes or have a sliding harness system to dial in the fit.
Wearing a pack is going to prevent you from radiating as much heat away from your body as you ride. Look for a pack that has a suspended mesh back panel, or at the very least channels for airflow and an air-permeable material.
There is nothing worse than having to dump the contents of your bag out trailside because you're looking for your Dynaplug or CO2 inflator head. Many backpacks will have zippered organisational pockets or dedicated sleeves for specific tools, while others may even have removable tool rolls. That said, dividers do come with a small cost on capacity.