Best MTB Backpack

Listen up, mountain bikers. There are a lot of good reasons why it’s probably time to upgrade your MTB backpack. We could talk about all the new materials that have come out in recent years, or the new head-turning designs that are giving us bikers levels of performance that we had previously only daydreamed about.

A good  MTB backpacks is going to provide two things: hydration and storage. The best MTB backpacks, on the other hand, are going to provide those two things and much, much more, all inside an aerodynamic package that won’t throw you off balance when you are bombing down a trail.

So just what are the best mountain biking packs of 2019? Let’s take a gander.

Best MTB Backpack with Back Ventilation:

Camelbak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack 100z

PACK WEIGHT:  1lb 5oz         

DIMENSIONS:  17.9 x 8.7 x 8.9 in.               

H20 CAPACITY:  3.0L (100oz)              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    Medium High

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: AirDirector Back Panel ventilationP

In the ongoing discussion about mountain biking backpacks, it would be improper to not begin with Cambelbak, the leading provider of on-the-go hydration for cyclists and day hikers alike. The M.U.L.E. (don’t ask us what it stands for) is one of Camelbak’s longest running products, having first introduced it way back in 1996. We can hardly remember these kind of packs being around back then, but apparently, the M.U.L.E. was, and even back then it was leading the pack, so to speak.

The big selling point of Camelbak’s newest version of the M.U.L.E. is the CRUX reservoir system. This might sound complicated, but it is little more than a slight redesign of their traditional reservoir with a modified fill & withdraw apertures to allow for both easier filling and more efficient water pulling. The result is more water per sip, and we can think of a few times wandering through the Gila Wilderness in July when something like that certainly would have been of use to us.

While the CRUX system is what Camelbak is pushing, we are even bigger fans of the redesigned AirDirector back panel. It provides more ventilation than their other models by a significant degree, which keeps your back dryer for longer. All it takes is the addition of some space between the back and the pack itself, but it seems like this is a really difficult thing for manufacturers to do. Fortunately Camelbak seems to have figured it out.

Enough gushing. We do have something to say to the engineers about the newest M.U.L.E. model. Why on earth did you change the angle of the bite valve? 45 degrees does lessen the angle, but it also leads to tube kinking more often than we’d like (NO KINKS is about what we’d prefer). Look: when you’re going for a sip of water when barreling down a single-track, the last think you want to do is TURN YOUR HEAD!

Our simple fix? We just swapped out the mouthpiece from our old model, and it worked just fine. No harm, no foul. 

Pros
  • Reliable brand with great customer service
  • Big Capacity & great water per sip ratio
Cons
  • The bite valve angle simply is not ideal for mountain bikers

Best MTB Enduro Backpack:

Osprey Packs VIPER 9 Hydration Pack

PACK WEIGHT:  1.21 lbs        

DIMENSIONS:  18H x 9W x 7D IN.                

H20 CAPACITY:  2.5L

STORAGE CAPACITY:    9.0L

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: Osprey’s great fit & breathability

Look, we love OSPREY. A lot. Like, an unhealthy amount. That’s because they are the folks who make our favorite backpacking packs, designed for long distance treks and adventures. The company’s recent decision to enter the MTB backpack game came as little surprise to us. After all, no matter what size a backpack is, isn’t it all about comfort and utility?

The VIPER 9 comes standard with a whole lot of both. OSPREY has been making some of the most comfortable packs on the market for some time, taking advantage of revolutionary flex-mesh technology for storage compartments that work and strap panels that flex and breathe.

The best thing about this pack? It’s got to be the fit. There simply aren’t enough backpack manufacturers out there for enough of them to come close to Osprey’s reputation for a well-fitting pack. And it’s not like they have some magic ingredient, either. The key to Osprey Packs’ comfort is their adjustability. You can always count on having multiple adjustment points, so you can keep the pack fitting right at all times, in all conditions, no matter what you’re wearing.

Compression straps are a big plus here. They allow the quick and effective addition of different gear to the pack, whether it’s a helmet for trail maintenance, or a pair of snowshoes for a quick trip across the powder.

So what’s the downside? Well, while we are big fans of Osprey’s ability to make a pack that feels great on the shoulders, they obviously have a bit of work to do in order to catch up to Camelbak on the actual water delivery system. The reservoir is a little bit more difficult to clean, and the drinking tube is set at an awkward position for no apparent reason that we can discern.

What’s the answer? You could quite easily swap out the reservoir, tube, & mouthpiece for your favorite style, then use the VIPER 9 for a comfortable carry with lots of stash space.

Pros
  • Compression straps allow for extra gear storage
  • Osprey makes a great fitting backpack
Cons
  • Osprey’s water delivery system is not as refined as Camelbak’s is

Best MTB Backpack for Bike Tours:

Evoc FR TOUR PROTECTOR Hydration Pak

PACK WEIGHT:  2.98 lbs           

DIMENSIONS:  22.8 x 10.6 x 7.5               

H20 CAPACITY:  3.0L (100oz)              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    30L

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: Great organization of cycling gear

So far on our list, we have looked at two smaller MTB backpacks that are more suitable for quick rides through the forest than they are for extended treks through the European countryside. That is not the case with the EVOC FR TOUR PROTECTOR. This is quite simply one of the largest and most long-distance-friendly MTB backpack that we had the opportunity to review. Honestly, we could not have been more impressed.

While not as prolific as Camelbak or Osprey, EVOC has nevertheless managed to carve out their own little space in the outdoor gear supply world, offering a range of quality products designed to compete with even their most long-standing competitors. Their MTB gear is particularly impressive. While products like the Camelbak M.U.L.E. are clearly designed to be more of a multi-purpose pack, the FR TOUR PROTECTOR is a dedicated cycle touring pack, with everything you need to make that tour a success.

The first thing we are talking about is the helmet stash. The pocket is large enough for most cycle helmets, however, might be a tad too small for your thicker motorcycle helmet. If that’s the case, then no worries, all you have to do is strap the helmet to the outside of the pack and then you are good to go.

We are somewhat disappointed by the lack of additional compression straps on this pack, as it seems to be the perfect size to handle additional gear for longer treks and expeditions. However the 6+ pockets more than make up for this, as there are plenty of ways to keep your adventure supplies organized and easily accessible.

Our only qualm? This pack was a little bit more expensive than what we were looking for in an entry-level MTB backpack, but then again, we are sure that the added quality and specialization would have been worth the extra $$.

Pros
  • LOTS of organized storage space & pockets
  • Great helmet stash space
Cons
  • A bit more expensive than its competitors

Best MTB Backpack with Back Protector:

Osprey Packs RAPTOR 14 Hydration Pack

PACK WEIGHT:  1.75 lbs         

DIMENSIONS:  10 x 9 x 19 inches               

H20 CAPACITY:  2.5L

STORAGE CAPACITY:    HIGH

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: Lightweight pack that functions like a heavyweight

Here is another Osprey pack that displays the company’s signature comfort and design alongside a few interesting features that sets this one apart from the group. Namely, the weight. Considering the storage capacity, this is one of the most lightweight packs on our guide. That makes it the perfect companion to any two-wheeled adventure, be it a ride around town or an overnighter down the coast.

The RAPTOR 14 absolutely kills it on storage. There are enough pockets to keep your gear totally organized and easily accessible, so you will never have to waste a bunch of time digging around for something when you need it fast. Things like FIRST AID, for instance, or an extra bike tube, or perhaps that oh so important ally, Gold Bond.

The Lid-Lock attachment is a great little innovation that allows you to keep your helmet attached securely to the outside of the pack. This keeps you from having to shove it in one of the other pockets, which is somewhat common on cheaper bike bags.

The RAPTOR’s last neat trick is the magnetic tube holder. It’s such a great and simple idea that we are here scratching our heads wondering why no one had done anything like this earlier. Unfortunately all these awesome things come at a price. And that price, well, is the price. While there are some MTB bags out there with a heftier price tag, this one is enough above the rest of the bags on our list that we figured we’d mention it. But from what we can tell, the RAPTOR 14 is the kind of purchase that’s worth every shiny penny.

Pros
  • Lightweight bag with great storage capacity
  • Lid-Lock attachment is simple & reliable
  • Magnetic hose holder
Cons
  • $$$

Best MTB Backpack Storage Design:

Evoc STAGE Technical 18L Bike Daypack

PACK WEIGHT:  2.2lbs         

DIMENSIONS:  19.7 x 11 x 4.7               

H20 CAPACITY:  Bladder not included              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    high (18L)

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: Storage design

Slightly larger in size than the RAPTOR 14, Evoc’s STAGE TECHNICAL 18L bike daypack is probably the largest pack that we looked at. The problem with bags of this size is that they usually become so wide and  bulky that they are actually slowing you down on the bike, acting like a parachute at times as your legs are pedaling against molasses. But Evoc’s design is wonderful. The pack is not only aerodynamic enough to perform just like a smaller pack would, but the layout of the pockets, zippers, & straps are close to genius level in their simplicity and function.

The back panel has a built in air-flow system, but there isn’t anything particularly impressive about it when you consider that just about every bike pack in this price range has pretty much figured out that technology. Still, it’s nice to know that your back is not going to be completely drenched in sweat just because you’re wearing a backpack. But the STAGE TECHNICAL pack is bigger than most of those packs, which is why we suspect that the ventilation system is not performing as well as we would expect it to. There is just slightly less room between your back and the bag; otherwise it might feel a bit off balance, especially in the wind.

For the price point you would expect that this pack came with its own water bladder, but that is not the case. While it certainly can be argued that this is helpful for people who already have a bladder that they like, or that different people prefer different sized bladders, it can also be said that some customers might feel slightly ripped off if they were like us and had a bit of a surprise when they did the unboxing. Still, the STAGE technical pack is worth the extra weight, and once you throw a bladder in there (Evoc does make bladders … you can just add one to your order) you’ll be good to go.

Pros
  • Great all-around design
  • Lots of well-organized storage
Cons
  • Water bladder not included

Best Multi-Use MTB Backpack:

Osprey Packs TALON 22 Hiking Backpack

PACK WEIGHT:  1lb 5oz         

DIMENSIONS:  17.9 x 8.7 x 8.9 in.               

H20 CAPACITY:  Bladder not included              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    22L

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: External hydration sleeve

Ah, the oft talked about TALON series of backpacks … the ones that no one can seem to ever shut up about. So what is it that has made this series of packs so darn popular for so many years in a row? After all, the Talon has been around for some time, and year after year, it has only gotten better.

If you were to ask OSPREY, they might tell you that the bag’s popularity lies in its incredible versatility. While it’s not an MTB mountain biking pack specifically, it has all the features that you would want in one and several more, including a tightly-fitting ergonomic design that is also aerodynamic for cycling.

As a hiking bag, this is about as good as it gets. The TALON 22 is the 22 liter model, which is in the middle range of the sizes that are available for this model. The problem with the smaller Talon 11 is that it’s just a bit too small for longer adventures, while the 22 is just perfect. Then there’s the 33 and the 44, which are certainly too large to be considered an MTB pack.

The external hydration sleeve is something that more pack manufacturers should pay attention to. It not only makes it much, much easier to fill, but in the case of a leaky lid, it prevents the leak from getting the contents of your bag soaked.

The hip belt is a bit small. In fact, the pack frame itself seems to run a little small. People with broader backs and shoulders are going to want to try this thing on to make sure that it doesn’t sit awkwardly against your back. The only other issue is that the hip belt pockets are just barely too small for a cell phone.

Pros
  • Great backpack for MTB or hiking
  • External hydration pocket
Cons
  • Small frame and narrow hip belt
  • Small hip belt pockets

Best Cheap MTB Backpack:

Camelbak 2016 SKYLINE 10 LR Hydration Pack

PACK WEIGHT:  2.1 lbs         

DIMENSIONS:  15.02 x 7.8 x 7.88               

H20 CAPACITY:  3.0L (100oz)              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    10L

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    Yes           

BEST FEATURE: AirDirector Back Panel ventilation

While I do a decent amount of aggressive downhill riding, I’m not much of an enduro guy. However I was particularly interested in a pack that claimed it could easily hold all my bike armor. The Skyline, although a touch small, was able to do just that as well as lots more.

Let’s start with the good news. The pack is sturdy and well made. The weight distribution is good for a pack of this size, and there are a number of effective pockets that are easily accessible for things like tools or your phone. The main pouch is big enough for a day trip, but not much more than that.

But what’s with the outboard pouch? There is one strap at play here, which makes it impossible for this pouch to hold anything securely even for a short period of time. Whether it’s a water bottle or another piece of gear, there simply isn’t a good way to keep it secured in there. And when you’re blasting down the side of the mountain, you don’t exactly want to hike back up to grab your stuff once you realize that it’s gone.

Our other issue was just the size of the pack compared to the advertised use. There really isn’t enough room in the main pouch to hold an entire set of armor, much less armor and a helmet and all the water, food, and tools you need in a good MTB pack. But overall it feels good on the back and stays firmly in place. Sometimes, that’s all we can ask out of a pack.

Pros
  • Great fit & good weight distribution
  • Sturdy, well made, thick nylon
Cons
  • Not big enough for armor
  • Outboard pouch is useless in high-speed situations

Best High-Capacity MTB Backpack for Hiking:

Kelty REDWING 44 Backpack

PACK WEIGHT:  2.6lb         

DIMENSIONS:  25 x 15 x 12 inches              

H20 CAPACITY:  Bladder Not Included              

STORAGE CAPACITY:    44L

BPA/BPS/BPF FREE:    N/A     

BEST FEATURE: Hybrid style design for both top-loading & side-loading

We know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to claim that the REDWING 44 is an MTB backpack? We hear you, and yes, it is a bit of a stretch. That’s because this pack is significantly larger than one you would want with you for an Enduro competition, for instance, or even for a long ride. It’s too bulky and wide for most cycling applications, actually, especially if you fill it to capacity. With that much weight on your bag it would be nearly impossible to keep your balance for very long.

So why, then, did we decide to include the REDWING 44 on our review? The answer is that we thought it would be a good exercise to compare some of the best MTB backpacks with something that was just barely outside of that definition.

This is a big pack, make no mistake. Not as big as some of the behemoth backpacking packs that are out there, but big nonetheless. There’s enough space to facilitate a long weekend trip, for instance, or a few nights in the woods.

The design is something of a hybrid. There is actually both top-loading and side-loading capabilities here, which is extremely important for accessing different parts of your pack at different times without unpacking everything and basically having a yard sale right there on the trail.

The front panel of the pack doubles as a stash pocket, which is probably our favorite part. It’s super easy to tuck a raincoat or sweatshirt in there and you won’t have to worry about it falling out. Laptop sleeve is present for the urban user, or it can be used as the hydration pouch if you are hiking or skiing.

Pros
  • Lots of storage
  • Both top-load and side-load capable
Cons
  • Too large for most MTB applications
  • Material is a bit thin and tears somewhat easily

Conclusion

There are a lot of good backpacks on this list, so many in fact that we aren’t going to bother trying to select just one pack above the rest as the best MTB backpack of 2019.

Instead, we are going to hand out a few awards.

The best multi-use MTB backpack goes to the OSPREY TALON 22, which is small enough for great performance on a bike but has the size and features necessary to allow it to double as a great hiking backpack.

The best MTB backpack for speed, however, goes to the OSPREY VIPER 9, which is quite simply one of the most compact and efficient little MTB packs that we have ever seen.

What to Look for in a Great MTB Backpack

If you just read out review, then you are likely already familiar with the factors that we considered when writing up our gear report. Here are those factors, as well as brief explanations of why it’s important.

Size & Shape

Most MTB backpacks are smaller than traditional backpacks and significantly thinner, or with a significantly reduced profile.

Why it Matters: Here’s the thing about mountain biking: it’s all about speed. That means that there is no part of you or the bike that is not battling against wind drag, not to mention the occasional errant branch that is out to pull you from the seat of your bike. So the overall size of the pack is going to make a big difference in how the bike is controlling.

many MTB backpacks

Storage Capacity

MTB Backpacks range in internal storage capacity, with the smaller models coming in around 9 LITERS and the largest models pushing 30 LITERS and above.

Why it Matters: The amount of storage capacity you need is dependent on how much you need to carry (duh) so it’s important to figure it out beforehand. Ask yourself: am I going to need room to store other gear, such as pads and armor?

big MTB backpack

Helmet Holder

Some backpacks utilize a specialized pocket that you can stick the helmet into. Other packs, like those made by OSPREY, take it a step further with a LidLock system that is simply a well-placed bungee strap.

Why it Matters: Don’t be that guy who wears his bike helmet around while inside. Please, just, don’t. Find a pack that can stash your helmet and you’ll be good as gold.

MTB backpack with helmet

Does Aerodynamics Matter for Mountain Bikers?

Aerodynamics, or ‘aero’ for the people in a hurry, refers to the way that pack design attempts to reduce wind and air drag through both shape and fabric type.

There is a great article on Bikeradar.com that goes further into the subject, if you’re at all interested in learning more about MTB and AERO.

Packing for a Bike Tour? Don’t Make These Mistakes

Unsure how to go about making your packing list for your next big bike tour? Worry not. Perry over at Bicycle Touring Guide has a great write up on how to avoid the most common pitfalls of bike tour backing, including an illuminating guide on how to make sure that the load is balanced, something that is a lot more important than you might think.

man on a bicycle

Frequently Asked Questions

• Q: Are they water/rainproof?

A: None of the backpacks on our Best MTB Backpack 2019 Buyer’s Guide are inherently waterproof. Most of these materials offer some degree of water resistance, however anything more than a slight drizzle and the contents of your pack might get wet.

Fortunately there is an easy solution to this problem, and it’s called a pack cover. These lightweight and removable covers allow you to make your bag waterproof in seconds, and they are usually made specifically for the pack model, meaning you will get a great fit every time.

• Q: Will it carry a ski helmet?

A: While it is always possible to buckle a ski helmet to one of these packs, it is doubtful that any of the LidLock systems will work with a ski helmet. This is because that system relies on bike helmet’s built in vents, which go all the way through the helmet.

Ski helmets on the other hand are solid all the way around, so there would be no way to use a LidLock system with a ski helmet.

• Q: Are they good for motorcycling as well?

A: Absolutely. There is no reason that any of these packs wouldn’t work just as well on a motorbike as they would on a mountain bike.

However, motorcycling usually requires even more protection than MTB, so it is unlikely that these packs will be big enough for that purpose. In addition, most motorcycles have on-board storage that can be utilized instead of a backpack, as the extra weight is not as big of an issue with motorized bikes and motorcycles.

• Q:  Are they machine washable?

A: Yes, all of the packs that we included on our list are totally machine washable, however, you are going to want to make sure to pay attention to wash and care instructions, as some packs might require special care in order to keep them functioning properly.

• Q: Will Osprey backpack hold Deuter or CamelBak 2L hydration pack?

A: One of the greatest thing about Osprey packs is that their hydration pockets are big enough to fit up to a 3L hydration pack without issue, so yes, it would be able to hold any 2L hydration pack that you happen to have.

• Q: Do they work just as well for skiing?

A: Actually, they work great for skiing. The fast downhill motion is very similar to what you might experience on a mountain bike, so many of the same design components that make these bags so good for MTB and Enduro would make them good for skiing and snowboarding as well.

      Wildproofgear