Our Top VPN Recommendations and What to Look for in a Best VPN
Relying on a VPN provider to act as a shield and protect your Internet activities requires a high degree of trust. This is especially true for sensitive online activities such as torrent file-sharing or browsing websites you’d rather keep private.
Free services may say they offer “anonymity” and claim not to keep logs of your online activities that could be traced back to you, but how can you know for sure?
Your online privacy is not something you should mess around with. This is why you should only use reliable and trusted services.
In this post, we recommend the best VPN providers on the market today. Of course you are encouraged to conduct your own research and decide for yourself. For that, the last half of this post outlines how to choose the best VPN for you.
Our Recommended Best VPN Providers
Not all VPNs are created equal. Some deserve a place in your privacy tool arsenal while others are best avoided. While writing our books and blog posts over the past several years, we have come to trust only a handful of VPNs.
Our recommendations are summarized in the table below and based on the following criteria:
- Privacy (no logging and strong customer privacy and security protections)
- Speed (fast downloading)
- Reliability (minimal downtime and connection drops)
- Ease of use (installation, setup and day-to-day use)
- Coverage (number of proxy servers and country locations)
- Value (cost, payment options, free trials or money-back guarantees)
Best VPN Providers at a Glance
Here are our carefully selected picks for the best VPN providers organized by category.
|Overall Best VPN:||IPVanish VPN - excellent for all VPN uses including P2P torrenting and streaming at great value (official site | read our review) now 15% off for 3 billing cycles exclusively for our readers|
|Value Priced VPN:||Private Internet Access - trusted and reliable VPN at a low price (official site | read our review)|
|Best VPN for Newbies:||PureVPN - most user-friendly interface (official site | read our review)|
|Best non-US VPN:||NordVPN or PureVPN - these VPN providers are headquartered outside the USA if you are worried about NSA spying|
|Fastest VPN:||IPVanish - today’s most technologically advanced VPN network (official site | read our review)|
|Best Android VPN:||Private Internet Access - quick connecting and hassle-free VPN for Android devices (official site | read our review)|
|Best iOS VPN:||IPVanish - slick design and fast connecting (official site | read our review)|
|Best VPN for Tor & Dark web:||NordVPN - ubercool ‘VPN over Tor’ & 'Double VPN' features (official site | read our review)|
|Best geo-unblocking VPN:||IPVanish or PureVPN - highest number of proxy server country locations (official IPVanish site | official PureVPN site)|
|Best Free VPN:||Hotspot Shield - but use only for Wi-Fi hotspots! (read our Wi-Fi Hotspot Security post)|
|Best Kodi VPN:||IPVanish VPN - trouble-free setup and fast connecting (official site | read our review)|
|Best Usenet VPN:||Private Internet Access - Usenet users should seriously consider using a VPN while downloading from newsgroups|
|Compare VPNs:||VPN Comparison table - leading VPN providers compared side-by-side|
How to Choose the Best VPN Provider for You
Emotions run high when talking about which VPN provider is the ‘best.’ Everyone seems to have an opinion, but remember, the assessment depends on many factors and everyone’s situation is different. You should consider the following criteria and factors when choosing the “best VPN” for your needs.
What will you use the VPN For?
First off, what do you want to use the VPN for? Remember, a VPN has many uses, so your choice of VPN will depend a lot on what your major uses of it will be.
For example, the needs of a person wanting a VPN to keep his or her torrent file-sharing safe is different from a business person wanting a VPN for occasional use at airport Wi-Fi hotspots and different still from someone wanting a VPN to watch streaming TV and live sporting events from all around the world.
Many of our readers are interested in staying anonymous while torrent file-sharing. Another major category of our readers want to unblock or bypass geo-restrictions for online content. Still others want to curtail the increasingly widespread practices of online tracking and profiling.
Top Tip – If your focus is on finding a torrent VPN for anonymous file-sharing there is even more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the right VPN. We have grouped these specific torrent VPN criteria towards the end of this post (jump down to them, if you’d like).
Your Experience Level
Your quest to find the best VPN will also depend on your level of experience and your comfort level with technology.
If you are completely new to VPNs and concepts such as IP addresses, proxies and encryption, your priority may be a user-friendly VPN with an easy interface – for example, check out PureVPN (or see our review).
More advanced users might be in the market for a VPN with extra features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection and different encryption & protocol options – check out IPVanish VPN (now discounted a further 15% for 3 billing cycles exclusively for our readers).
The price each VPN charges is an obvious factor in your choice and a very personal one. Some people can afford or are willing to spend more, others are not. Prices range from about $3 to 10 per month (about £2-7 or €2.70-9) depending on the length of the signup period you choose.
Always keep an eye out for deals as the best VPN providers sometimes have time-limited promotions or exclusive discounts, and almost always offer discounts for longer signup periods.
Money-Back Guarantees or Trial Periods
Before signing up to a VPN, especially any longer-term plans, check to see if they offer a money-back guarantee or offer a free trial. This way, you can make sure that everything works well for you.
Any reliable VPN provider will have a money-back guarantee. These guarantee periods can range from 3 to 30 days.
Take any speed ratings you find with a grain of salt whether stated on the VPN provider’s website or in reviews on other websites.
These speed ratings don’t often mean much because a VPN’s download speed will vary for many reasons. These include your distance from the VPN provider’s servers, the path your Internet traffic takes, what you are doing online, the load on the VPN (the number of total users at that precise time) and the quality of your ISP connection, just to name a few.
This is why one person’s experience with the speed of a VPN can be very good, while another’s is much less satisfactory. The best way to determine if the VPN’s speed is good for you is to sign up with a VPN that offers a money-back guarantee and put the VPN through its paces to thoroughly test download speeds.
Payment options may also be important to you. Some people are not comfortable paying by credit card and want to use PayPal or other payment options instead.
A small, but passionate, minority of VPN customers will want to pay anonymously for the service so they don’t have to share any information with the VPN provider that could potentially be traced back to them. This is possible by paying with Bitcoin which is widely accepted by the best VPN providers, including IPVanish.
Another way to avoid sharing your personal or financial information when signing up with a VPN provider is to use prepaid store gift cards that you have bought in person with cash. This is only offered as a payment option by a select handful of privacy-conscious VPN providers, including Private Internet Access.
- for more information, please see our post ‘Anonymous Payment Methods’
VPN Proxy Server Country Locations (Exit Gateways)
Most VPN providers will allow you to choose the location of the exit gateways your Internet connection uses when the VPN is activated. These are the countries in which the VPN’s various proxy servers are located. Having this choice gives you control over which country your IP address will appear to be coming from.
For example, if you want to access content that is only available to people based in the US and you live elsewhere or are travelling outside the US, you could choose a US-based exit gateway offered by your VPN to access the content that would otherwise be geo-blocked.
Generally speaking, you will want a VPN that has exit gateways in many different locations; the bigger choice of gateways, the better.
The number of exit gateway locations is most important to content streamers or online gamers that wish to “geo-shift”: to watch content and play games that are not available in their country or that are cheaper outside of it.
But exit gateways are also important for torrent file-sharing. You will want to see a VPN with exit gateways located in “torrent friendly” locations such as (in alphabetical order) Belgium, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey (this list is a good indicator.)
Anyone snooping on your Internet traffic (whether monitoring your P2P torrent activities or just generally tracking you online) will think you are based in the location of the exit gateway and detect the VPN’s IP address, rather than your actual location and true IP address. If the snoop traced back the traffic or IP address to the VPN’s exit gateway proxy servers, this would lead them only to the VPN service and not you.
Top Tip – If you want to make sure that the chain of discovery will end there and cannot be further traced back to you, make sure you choose a VPN provider that does not log its customer (your) activities. This is discussed in detail further below under the heading ‘Check the VPN’s Logging Policy’.
A Word about Technical Specifications
Sometimes you will see a VPN feature a long list of various technical specifications. These technical terms may include PPTP, L2TP IPSec, SSTP, OpenVPN, SSL and TLS. Don’t let these confuse you.
Whether you need to get wrapped up in these different specs depends on your needs. Each one has its intricacies, but they will all adequately protect you for day-to-day web browsing and media streaming. All of the technical specifications listed above will provide a secure (encrypted) connection and hide your true IP address, masking it with a decoy one.
However, for more sensitive activities – whether torrent file-sharing or accessing censored websites (for example inside China) – use one of the more secure protocols such as OpenVPN or SSTP.
What’s important is that the VPN’s available technical specifications serve your needs.
- If you need more information on the subject of VPN protocols, please see our post ‘VPN Protocols Explained’.
Customer Experience & Support
Customer experience and support should also weigh on your choice of best VPN provider. While the VPN provider’s website will tout lots of satisfied customers and glowing testimonials (what else would you expect?), some independent research is in order.
Seek out and search for information about customer experiences with the VPN. However, make sure that the information is from a trustworthy source of VPN information such as the torrent subreddit, Cogipas.com, TorrentFreak, Lifehacker or MakeUseof.
A Word of Caution about VPN Review Sites
When researching VPNs you will notice that there are lots of websites purporting to ‘review’ the best VPN providers. Keep in mind that many of these websites are not as objective and unbiased as they claim. Too often, these sites act unethically and pose as independent reviewers without disclosing their affiliations to the VPN providers they are ‘reviewing’, all in an attempt to lure you into generating commissions for them. Ethical practice (and the law in many places including the US) dictates that reviewers should expressly and prominently disclose – as we do in our sidebar – affiliate links.
Beware! – It’s no surprise that many VPN review sites try to maximize their profits by recommending the most expensive VPN providers. That’s good for their bank account, but not for you!
Special Considerations for Choosing the Best Torrent VPN
If you are in the market for a VPN to protect your privacy while torrent file-sharing (or using Popcorn Time or Torrents Time), all of the criteria discussed above still apply. But on top of those, you should also keep the following factors in mind when choosing a torrent VPN to protect your sensitive peer-to-peer file sharing activities.
Make Sure the VPN Supports Torrents – duh!
This may sound obvious, but plenty of VPN providers (and especially free VPNs and free proxies) do not support P2P file-sharing and won’t protect your privacy or identity if you use them to download torrents.
- For more, please see our post ‘Why Using a Free VPN for Torrenting is a Bad Idea’
A good example of a popular VPN provider that does not support torrent file-sharing is HideMyAss (or “HMA” for short). HMA is one of the biggest VPN providers around and is owned by a large parent company. While HMA is a great VPN for streaming, unblocking websites, protecting your everyday web browsing and other non-sensitive activities, you cannot count on HMA to have your back if you use their service for torrent file-sharing, period!
Remember also that Tor – The Onion Router (a free, open source anonymizing tool), is not suitable for torrent file-sharing. If you try torrenting using Tor, your true IP address will leak and expose you in the process.
Make sure the torrent VPN you are considering expressly supports torrent file-sharing (sometimes called p2p or peer-to-peer). Look for specific statements on the VPN provider’s website and documentation. These are not always obvious or easy to find as many VPN providers keep quiet about this and don’t loudly advertise that they support torrent file-sharing.
Adding to the potential confusion is that sometimes the claims made by a VPN (or proxy) are vague enough to make you think that they will also work for torrents. If you do not see support for torrent (or p2p) file-sharing spelled out in black and white on their website or by reliable sources of torrent information, the VPN probably does not work for torrents.
You can also verify that a VPN supports torrent by checking reviews, but keep in mind our warning above about “VPN review” websites!
Lastly, you could directly ask the service, but be skeptical about any claims that are not backed up. Do your research. If the VPN you are considering has a money-back guarantee or free trial offer (“try before you buy”), take advantage of this and verify that your torrent IP address is being safely hidden before signing up to the VPN on a longer-term basis.
Check the VPN’s Logging Policy
One of the most, if not the most, important things to confirm when shopping around for a best torrent VPN is that it offers very strong privacy protections for its customers (you!).
For example, do they keep logs? What kind of logs (connection, activity, others)? Do they disclose customer information? If so, under what circumstances? If you cannot find the answers to these questions, then write to the VPN to find out or do some more homework.
In order to ensure your maximum protection when looking for a best VPN for torrenting, choose one that does not keep any logs. This way, even if they are compelled to disclose information, there is nothing meaningful for them to disclose as they don’t keep any logs of your activities.
Top Tip – IPVanish VPN has a strict no logging policy which helps make it the overall best VPN provider, especially for torrent file-sharing.
No Logs Mean Snoops Hit a Dead-End
Let’s take an example. Anyone trying to snoop or monitor your torrent file-sharing activities will link your torrenting activities to the anonymous IP address assigned to you by the VPN. So even if a snoop went through the trouble of tracing back the traffic and IP address to its source this would lead them to the torrent VPN’s proxy servers, rather than to you. Because the VPN keeps no logs of customer activities, that’s where the trail would end: the snoop would hit a roadblock and your identity would remain anonymous.
This is why it is important to confirm the VPN provider is not logging user (your) activity. You will want the snoop’s back tracing to hit a dead-end at the torrent VPN provider and not be further traceable back to you.
As you can see, non-logging is a very important consideration for those seeking out a safe VPN for torrent file-sharing. However, it can be an important consideration for anyone wanting to keep any of their online activities private, anonymous and away from prying eyes.
Top Tip – If you are worried about NSA-style surveillance as revealed by Ed Snowden, you may want to consider choosing a non-logging VPN based outside the USA. In such cases, consider ExpressVPN, a non-logging torrent VPN based in BVI, a small Caribbean island.
Advanced Torrent VPN Features
Other advanced features of best VPN providers that will be of interest to torrenters will include a kill switch. This is a VPN feature that disables your Internet connection like a tripwire if your connection to the VPN unexpectedly drops. This helps ensure that your true IP address is never compromised.
DNS leak protection is a VPN feature that ensures some special connections your computer and other devices make at a very technical level are always routed through the torrent VPN. Again, this is to ensure that your true IP address is never disclosed to would-be snoops.