Choosing The Right Backpacking Pack
Nothing quite compares to the feeling of setting out into the wilderness with only the essential items in your pack. A weekend or multiday pack allows for the opportunity to disconnect from the stresses of daily life and spend several days in nature.
However, understanding how to pick a backpack for your adventure can be a difficult task. There are many different pack options available, making it intimidating for both beginning and seasoned backpackers.
Understanding how to select the appropriate backpack size (capacity) is the first step. This will vary depending on your planned activity, the number of days you’ll be gone, the time of year, the weather, and your own needs. A more minimalist backpacker may be able to get by for a week with a pack that can hold one person’s weekend’s worth of gear.
One thing to keep in mind when measuring capacity: hiking backpack sizes are sometimes expressed in cubic inches and other times in liters. For reference, just over 16 liters are equal to 1000 cubic inches.
Backpacking Packs Sizes
Overnight Packs: 25 – 35 liters
An overnight hiking backpack is the smallest of the backpacking packs and is designed to hold the essentials for a light packer for one or two nights. Your sleeping arrangement (tent, sleeping bag, pad), as well as perhaps an additional outer layer, must fit in an overnight pack (or be strapped to the outside). This size is perfect for desert camping, possibly without a tent, where you can spend a warm summer night sleeping under the stars. You can also use this size pack as an extended daypack.
2-3 Day Packs: 30-50 liters
Typically, a weekend backpack has a capacity of 40L and is large enough to fit extra layers of clothing, a sleeping bag for backpacking, a small tent, and a pad. You’ll also need to bring a small stove, food, and basic cookware, as well as a water purifier and filter, a first aid kit, and navigational aids. If you’re good at packing, you might also have room for glamping accessories like a coffee press, a lightweight chair, or a portable lantern.
Multiday Packs: 50-80 liters
A multiday backpack, which is typically a 50L backpack or larger, will have enough space for a light packer to spend five nights or more. In addition to extra clothing and layers, these are made to carry more food and cooking fuel than a weekend pack. Packs designed specifically for expedition or winter camping will be on the larger side (over 80 liters). These have to accommodate a warmer sleeping arrangement, mountaineering equipment, and first aid and survival gear. To attach gear or haul the pack itself, look for a suspension that is extremely robust and has lots of straps and loops.
How to Choose Backpack Size
Your pack must fit perfectly, and that is very important. The length of the suspension system and the width of the hip belt are the two components involved. You won’t be able to carry the load effectively if your hip belt is too big. Keep in mind that the majority of your weight should be supported by your hips, which will then distribute the weight to your larger bones and muscles. All packs will have a hip belt that can be adjusted, but some go a step further and offer interchangeable belts to achieve an even better fit.
The shoulder harness system operates in a similar manner. Not your height, but rather the length of your back—or, more specifically, torso—determines the size of your pack. It’s important to measure yourself because sizing varies between manufacturers. This is easy to assess with a partner (but not so much on your own.) The distance you need to measure is from your C7 vertebrae (the larger one at the base of your neck) all the way down to your iliac crest (essentially, the line running between the tops of your hip bones). You will probably fall within the 16 to 23-inch range; based on that measurement, look at the sizing charts for the particular pack. There are many packs out there with suspension adjustments, so you can find one that fits you perfectly.
Once you’ve chosen the ideal backpacking pack size, you’ll need to decide which features you need to prioritise on. Usually, additional features will cost more, but they will most likely also increase the enjoyment of your hiking adventure. The price tends to be higher for ultralight packs or packs with a sophisticated suspension and/or ventilation system.
External vs. Internal Frames
A quick word about the two main types of packs—internal vs. external frames—before we look at the features. The first type of backpacks that were ever used by hikers were those that had an external frame. This was the design of the first pack I owned and what my father and grandfather used. Only a few companies, like Kelty, continue to manufacture them because they are no longer as popular. Nevertheless, they do have some benefits, including the capacity to carry a heavier load, the option to strap a lot more equipment on the outside, better ventilation against your back, generally higher durability, and lower costs.
Internal frame packs typically weigh less and have a lower profile than external frame packs because their suspension systems are more compact and utilize various lightweight materials. Because of their lower profile, they are more useful in confined spaces like narrow, overgrown trails. Your balance and mobility will improve because the load is carried more compactly and close to the body. Off the trail, it will be simpler to transport in a car or airplane due to its more streamlined shape.
You can look for a variety of features when purchasing a pack. Many will raise the price of a pack while also significantly enhancing comfort and convenience. Aspects to consider include:
Compartments and storage
The majority of lightweight backpacks have a single top-loading compartment for holding your gear. Actually, you only need that. Extra pockets and zippers add bulk and complexity that is unnecessary. You’ll be all set if you place the items you won’t need until camp (tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove) at the bottom of your pack.
FRONT MESH/STRETCH POCKET
Large mesh or stretch material pockets are common in lightweight packs. These work perfectly for items that you need to quickly stow away but still have easy access to. Think of examples like a raincoat or a water purifier. It is also useful for drying out wet equipment.
HIP BELT POCKETS
With a light pack, you won’t need to stop as frequently, so you’ll want to have some essentials nearby, such as snacks, lip balm, sunscreen, a camera, and so forth. The majority of the packs have hip belt pockets built in, but if yours doesn’t, we advise purchasing aftermarket hip belt pockets that will fit your pack.
Sleeping Bag Compartment, Multiple Access Points
Given that many packs have a single main compartment for all of your gear, these are features to take into account if you want to keep your gear better organised. For longer trips, camping with children, or through-hikes, multiple or larger access points to the main compartment become crucial. You can expect to be getting in and out of your pack more frequently and wanting to access individual items without unloading everything.
If you opt for a more minimalist option, you can always invest in pack organization tools like stuff sacks, compression sacks, and dry sacks. Keep in mind that the more “organization” a pack has, the more it will typically cost.
TREKKING POLE & ICE AXE LOOPS
Loops for ice axes and trekking poles are a nice addition. When you’re not using your sticks, they make it simple to store them.
This is a nice feature because it gives your pack more versatility. Loops, daisy chains, and bungee cords can increase capacity by allowing you to lash extra gear to the outside of your pack. They can also be used to expose items (such as wet clothing or solar-powered devices) to the sun and air. When your pack isn’t as full, you can compress it to a smaller size with compression straps to prevent unnecessary movement.
The sternum strap (also known as the chest strap) fullfils the task of fastening the shoulder straps. By keeping the shoulder straps in place, it adds an additional level of stability. The sternum strap along with a hip belt are must-have items for me. By having these adjustments, you’ll feel that the backpack is easier on your back, shoulders, and hips.
Padded Back Panel (with Internal Frame)
For maximum comfort, the back panel should be padded and contoured . To prevent any back pain, it should support the natural arch of your back. The best backpacks are also the most ergonomic, and they have an internal frame. This adds another level of support while assisting in keeping everything in place.
Shoulder and Hip Belt Padding
You should anticipate carrying 80–90% of the weight of your pack on your hips. Padding becomes more important as you plan to carry a heavier pack. You need a lot of padding on the hips and shoulders, especially for weekend and weekly packs. Think about the following elements and features:
- Hip belts that can be heat-molded to a customer’s specifications are offered by some companies; however, this is typically something that should be done at a licensed dealer.
- Due to the fact that the pack won’t move as much as your hips do, pivoting hip belts can increase balance while enhancing comfort.
- In hotter weather, a pack can be made much more comfortable by using mesh and lightweight foams.
- Easy access to cameras, snacks, and other small necessities is made possible by hipbelts with accessory pockets.
Ventilation is key if you’re backpacking in warm weather. Materials like light mesh, perforated foam, and unique framing systems keep the majority of the back panel away from your skin. Although it’s generally accepted that this has no impact on a pack’s overall performance, it can significantly improve your comfort.
Generally speaking, relying solely on a backpack’s waterproofing is not a good idea. We always advise securing important items (sleeping bag, clothes, electronics, etc.) in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags because even seam-sealed packs made from waterproof materials will develop small leaks over time.
Inbuilt rain covers that tuck away are included with some packs, but rain covers are also sold separately for other designs. It’s a crucial factor to take into account if you plan on taking frequent hikes in the rain.
Numerous packs have top flaps that can be removed and used as lumbar packs. In addition, they are useful for holding small items you want to have easy access to (or simply if you want to save weight). If you are setting up a base camp and intend to go day hiking from there, this feature is nice because it gives you a practical way to carry a water bottle and other small items.
There are two ways to transport and use your water on the trail. Getting enough liquids is incredibly convenient thanks to water reservoirs (bladders). They have a variety of capacities, with an average of 13 liters. If your pack is compatible, it will have a dedicated compartment for slipping this into and a hook to keep the bladder upright. The mouthpiece and tubing will always be accessible thanks to the port and clip on the shoulder harness.
Pockets for water bottles are convenient, especially if you don’t use a hydration system. Water bottles have the advantage of being much easier to fill with filtered water and having a lower failure rate. A lot of people will combine the two.
It’s not necessary to spend a fortune on a sturdy backpack. However, buying a high-quality one that will last for many years and thousands of miles is not a bad idea.
On backcountry excursions, your backpack will be among the heaviest items of equipment you haul, so it’s critical to keep the weight as low as possible.
It’s not necessary for a backpack to be complicated to be exceptional. The best manufacturers of lightweight packs are frequently those that maintain streamlined and simple design elements. Your backpack is ultimately just a sack for carrying other equipment conveniently. Therefore, resist the urge to clutter your bag with an excessive number of extra compartments, pouches, zippers, clips, and straps.
Typically, either ripstop nylon or dyneema composite fabric is used to make lightweight backpacks. Dyneema composite fabric is usually lighter, water resistant and more expensive. Both materials are strong and excellent for use in backpacks.
Now that you have all the knowledge necessary to select the ideal backpack, all you need to do is choose a color! Enjoy your travels!