If I had to pick one size backpack to recommend to any new backpacker, it would be 65 liters. It’s just so versatile!
A 65 liter backpack can hold what you need for a luxurious weekend trip or a multi-month thru hike. It’s spacious, but it’s not so huge that you’ll be tempted to grievously overpack. A lightweight 65 liter hiking pack can easily slim down to fit a smaller load, while a more traditionally designed backpack can haul a surprising amount of weight.
If you’re thinking about a new pack for your backpacking adventures, this post will help you decide whether a 65-ish liter backpack is right for your needs and how to choose between the many great options available in this size range.
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Is 65 liters the right pack size?
Wondering whether 65 liters of backpack space is too much, too little, or just right for your needs? Here are a few ways to think about it.
How big is a 65 liter backpack?
Backpack sizes are usually measured in a unit of volume called liters. A typical Nalgene or Smartwater bottle, for example, each hold 1 liter of water. A 65 liter backpack would, in theory, hold 65 liters of water if you filled it full of water (directly, without the bottles) and it didn’t leak. This may or may not include pockets on the sides, back, or hip belt, depending on the pack manufacturer.
In more familiar terms, the dimensions of a typical 65 L pack are around 32″ x 15″ x 12″. That’s well into backpacking pack territory; don’t expect the slim fit of a day pack here. A full 65 liter hiking pack will extend upward behind your head, maybe even above it. But when packed thoughtfully, a 65 liter pack can still be manageable, even by smaller hikers.
Is 65 liters big enough for backpacking?
For most people and most hiking routes, yes, a 65 liter pack is big enough for backpacking. It’s perfect for a long weekend even if your gear list isn’t exactly lightweight. With a thoughtful lightweight backpacking setup it’s big enough for a week without resupply.
There are only a few categories of hikers who will find a 65 liter pack to be restrictively small. Here are some cases where 65 liters may not be big enough for backpacking (especially if more than one of these applies):
- Winter hiking or mountaineering, where lots of bulky warm layers and winter gear are needed
- Long unsupported trips, where you need to carry more than a week of food
- Technical trips where gear (ropes, climbing protection, crampons, etc) is needed, along with a significant amount of food and other gear
- Backpacking with young children who can’t carry their own gear, so the adults need to carry more
- Backpacking with a heavy or luxurious gear list and many days of food (but you might want to consider lightening up your gear list to make your hike more enjoyable).
Folks in those categories often carry 75+ liter “expedition” packs. But for most standard backpacking trips, 65 liters should be enough.
A small number of dedicated ultralight hikers might find a 65 liter pack too roomy. These folks may prefer a 45 liter pack or similar, or at least a very lightweight 65 liter pack (like the ULA Circuit, discussed below) that can be compressed for smaller loads. For lots more detail on various pack sizes, see choosing a pack size for hiking.
How much does a 65 L hiking backpack hold?
When thinking about how much any backpack will hold, it helps to break things down into two main categories: gear and food.
Gear usually takes up the same amount of space throughout a trip, unless you lose or acquire something along the way. Your gear volume can be made smaller by 1) not bringing things you don’t need, and 2) choosing lightweight and compact versions of the things you do need. See Lightweight Backpacking.
Food takes up space on a per-day basis. A rough rule of thumb is that one day’s worth of food for one hiker takes up 1.5 liters of space. This can be more or less, of course, depending on caloric needs, what kind of food, and how it’s packed. Experienced hikers know how to choose calorie-dense foods that weigh less and take up less space.
With that in mind, here are two examples of different trips and gear styles that will both fit into a 65 liter backpack:
Luxurious overnighter: 2 days of food (1.5 x 2 = 3 L), not-so-lightweight gear list and luxury items (62 liters)
Fast-and-light weeklong trip: 7 days of food (1.5 x 7 = 10.5 L), lightweight and minimalist gear list (54.5 liters).
Either of these setups can be stretched even further (more luxuries or more food) by strategically attaching a bulky item to the outside of the pack. For example, if you carry your tent on the outside of your pack, you free up several more liters of space inside. Some people also carry a bear canister outside their pack, freeing up all the food space inside.
Popular 65-ish Liter Hiking Backpacks
If you’re feeling convinced that a 65 liter pack is right for you, here are some of the most popular and well-regarded options to choose from.
Though 65 liters is 65 liters, it’s still important to choose the style of pack that best suits your preferences, gear style, and budget (minimalist or fully-featured, lightweight or heavier, inexpensive or fancy).
Pay attention to the pack weight itself, and the recommended max load, to find the right balance of comfort and weight savings. Packs in the 3-5 lb range tend to have more pockets, compartments, and a more robust suspension system suited to carrying heavier loads.
Packs weighting less than 3 lbs are more minimalist and work best for lightweight gear. In the long run, lightening your gear list and switching to this style of pack (see the Circuit and Mariposa below) will make backpacking a lot more enjoyable. But until your base weight is under 20 pounds, you’re probably better off with a more robust pack in the 3 to 4 pound range.
Osprey Ariel Pro 65L – Women’s
Weight: 3 lbs 14 oz
The Ariel 65 Pro is a lighter and more streamlined version of the Ariel 65, designed for women who value efficiency and lighter weight while still carrying some serious gear in serious environments. It has fewer external pockets and lacks the full-featured suspension system of the regular Ariel, but is still very comfortable.
Osprey Aether Pro 70 L – Men’s / Unisex
Weight: 3 lbs 13 oz
The Aether 70 Pro is the men’s version of the Ariel 65 Pro (Osprey tailors pack size by gender for some of their models), designed for men who value efficiency and lighter weight while still carrying some serious gear in serious environments. It has fewer external pockets and lacks the full-featured suspension system of the regular Aether, but is still very comfortable.
Gregory Maven 65 – Women’s
Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz
The Maven is a mid-weight yet full-featured 65 liter backpack designed for multiday adventures. The women’s specific design comes in two sizes and adjustable torso length for a perfect fit, and the generous mesh pockets make it easy to reach essentials on the go.
Gregory Paragon 68 – Men’s
Weight: 3 lbs 11 oz
The Paragon is a mid-weight yet full-featured 68 liter backpack designed for multiday adventures. The two sizes and adjustable torso length ensure a perfect fit, and the generous mesh pockets make it easy to reach essentials on the go.
ULA Circuit – 68 liters
Weight: 2 lbs 5 oz
The ULA Circuit is a popular lightweight backpacking pack for thru hikers and other fast-and-light types. If your total pack weight is below 35 pounds and you can stay organized without all the pockets and compartments of a traditional pack, the Circuit is a great choice. It comes in a range of torso lengths, hipbelt sizes, and two styles of shoulder strap to accommodate any gender or body type.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
Weight: 2 lbs
The Mariposa is another very popular lightweight backpack used by thru hikers and other distance-focused backpackers. At 60 liters it’s a bit smaller than others in this list, but its lightweight design is best suited to a more minimalist gear list anyway.
Osprey Ariel 65L – Women’s
Weight: 5 lbs 2 oz
The Ariel 65 is a popular workhorse with two sizes, female-specific fit, and adjustable torso length. It’s not the lightest backpack out there, but it’s designed to carry heavier loads in relative comfort.
Osprey Aether 65L – Men’s / Unisex
Weight: 5 lbs 2 oz
The Aether 65 is the unisex version of the Ariel 65, a capable and full-featured workhorse of a pack. It’s fairly heavy at over 5 lbs, but the suspension system makes carrying heavy loads as comfortable as possible.
Kelty Coyote 65L
Conventional Style – Budget
Weight: 4 lbs 10 oz
The Coyote 65 is a traditional (i.e. heavy) backpacking pack with plenty of compartments and features at an affordable price. It comes in only one size, but if that size fits you and you have a lot of weight to haul, it’s a reliable pack at a great price.
That’s a sampling of the best 65 liter hiking packs out there. There are certainly others to choose from, since 65 liters is a very popular backpack size. But those classics span the range of quality packs in different styles, weights, and price points.
Whether you’re a weekend warrior, long-distance thru hiker, or anything in between, it’s hard to go wrong with a 65 liter pack. Throw in a little bit of gear and food, or a lot, and hit the trail!
More Backpacking Resources
If you’re into backpacking, you might also like these:
- Lightweight Solo Tents: Visual Guide to Price vs. Weight
- John Muir Trail: What I Wish I’d Known Before My Hike
- 5 Ways to Carry Water While Backpacking
Or, visit the hiking and backpacking resources section for much more!
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