With the advent of Enduro racing and some genuinely clever ways to carry spares and tools, mountain bike 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.
The best mountain bike backpacks allow riders to carry a large amount of water, usually 3-liters, and some allow even more water storage. On top of that, the best backpacks have plenty of storage space that's sectioned into various pockets and straps for optimal organization.
Lots of packs have spots for bike tools, helmets, body armor, smartphones and sunglasses. Some are even designed with trail builders in mind so they can carry their tools out into the woods.
We've put together a list of our favorite mountain bike 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 mountain bike backpacks
The H.A.W.G. Pro is a big pack with 20L of total space: 17L for your gear and 3L for water. This is Camelbak's biggest pack for the biggest days out on the bike.
This pack has tons of organizational features and pockets for nearly anything you may need on the trail. An Air Support Pro Back Panel is designed to ventilate the areas on your body that get the hottest in order to stay cool. The harness and hip belt feature cargo pockets for quick access to snacks or tools.
In addition to storage space for a helmet or body armor, this pack even has space to carry a sparE e-MTB battery for all-day electric adventures. Plus, there's space for an additional 3L reservoir, bumping up the total water space to 6L if needed.
Add a bit of color to your ride with the Dakine Syncline 16L pack. 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 organized.
The back panel is articulated and compatible with Dakine's CE-certified spine protector, and the bag also features helmet attachment loops, deployable carry straps for knee pads and a magnetic hose clip.
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 center 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 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 features the brand's BioStretch harness and hip belt for all-day comfort.
The latest M.U.L.E. features Camelbak's Air Support Pro Back Panel, which adds great ventilation so your back doesn't get hot and sweaty. In addition to a 3L reservoir, there is 11L of storage space with plenty of pockets and features. In essence, this is a smaller version of the H.A.W.G listed above that's more suitable for your average after-work ride rather than all-day epics.
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 organized.
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.
Made using environmentally friendly materials, the Bike Alpin offers a large pack that expands 5L with the pull of a zipper so there's tons of space for anything you need to carry.
This pack uses the Aeroflex Suspension System as well as a ventilated back piece to keep riders comfortable and cool. Its straps are also adjustable so it can fit well on any size body.
There is room for a 3L bladder inside; the front pocket has slots to keep your tools organised, and there are nifty helmet carry straps and an integrated rain cover too.
The Seeker offers similar features to other Dakine packs but with one added benefit: it's waterproof. If you're going on wintertime rides or adventuring with the risk of summer thunderstorms, this pack and its ability to protect your gear from the elements is ideal.
In addition to the waterproof material, the pack uses a breathable back panel and shoulder straps and features plenty of pockets, helmet storage, and a reservoir with a bite valve.
Best mountain bike backpacks: what you need to know
1. How much water?
Most full-size mountain bike 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. With the addition of bottles, do you need 5+ liters 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 mountain bike backpacks will have zippered organizational 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.