How To Choose A Backpack

How To Choose A Backpack

Backpacking backpacks can be hard to choose from.

Getting the right fit is critical. When you head off on a hiking adventure, you’ve got to bring all your own gear.

That means trying different backpacking backpacks so you find one that fits your body and your needs.

– Updated 2/9/2020

Initial Considerations

Think about the length of your trip and what you may have to carry: you’ll have to choose from the right backpacking backpacks based on these needs.

There are several important things to consider as you pick from backpacking backpacks.

How long is the trip?

What’s your personal hiking style?

Do you have a long or short torso?

Most backpacks come with a capacity in liters: a weekend is 35-5 liters, a multiday pack is 50-80 liters, and an extended pack is 70 or more liters.

How To Choose A Backpack

If you carefully think about your needs, you can choose the correct pack.

Most weekend packs can be used for longer trips if you plan carefully, so the size really does depend on what you want to bring.

Similarly, you might need to bring an extended pack if you want to bring a lot of things, even if you take a shorter trip.

The right backpacking backpacks make all the difference on your trips, so think about the pros and cons of each bag type.

A weekend bag is easy to overfill if you’re not careful, but it’s also the lightest. A multiday pack is the most popular, and they’re also good for skiers, people taking day trips with kids, or people traveling across the country.

An extended pack is best when you need to bring heavy winter clothing or lots of equipment. Sometimes people who hike with children take extended packs, just to get a little extra room for gear.

There are even climbing packs that are great for climbers, since they come with plenty of additional features.

For example, consider the following add-ons for most climbing packs:

  • Ability to get the pack down to minimal weight by removing pieces, including the lid, framesheet and the hip belt, which is helpful during the push to the summit
  • In general, a more streamlined and higher profile bag, which helps the climber move without feeling his or her arms restricted
  • The ability to lash on tools using external attachment points
  • Additional webbing on the outside of the pack, called a daisy chain, which helps provide gear loops for attaching a helmet or tools
  • Reinforcements for the crampon patch, which helps stop the crampon points from ripping into the pack fabric
  • Additional loops on the hip belt and on the bottom of the pack, which can be used as clip on points for gear or attachment points for skis

The next step is getting the right fit.

Getting The Right Fit

Once you’ve found the right type of pack, you have to make sure the backpacking backpack fits properly.

The two most important kinds of fit are a size that’s right for your torso length, and a pack that fits comfortably and snugly on your hips.

All good backpacking backpacks must meet these two criteria.

How do you figure out your torso length? An easy way is to go to an outdoor equipment store and try on packs. Most are adjustable, so it should be easy to find one that’s your size.

Hip size is also important, because most backpacking backpacks weight gets supported on your hips. Make sure to measure your waist to get the right fit, and test out any potential packs before buying.

If you’re a teenager or a woman, there are specific packs that can fit better. The frames on these packs are narrower, so they’re better shaped to smaller backs.

There are also a few different ways to adjust your pack once you’ve got the correct size.

The load lifter straps attach to the shoulder straps, and they help keep the top of your pack in line. The sternum strap goes across your chest and helps keep the pack from shifting around.

It’ll be easy to adjust these straps once your backpacking backpack is on and filled up.

Choosing The Right Frame

There are three different types of frames for backpacking backpacks that you should consider.

Internal frame backpacks are most popular for hikers, since they’re easy to use and help keep your pack stable.

External frame packs are best if you have a lot of equipment. If you aren’t taking much stuff, a frameless pack can work.

Once you’ve found the right frame for your pack, think about the features you need. There are packs that unzip on the front or on the top, based on how fast you need your stuff.

Sometimes there’s a sleeping bag compartment to keep your bag dry.

You can find packs with a separate top lid to store often used items, and there’s a variety of pockets to look for.

With most backpacking backpacks, you should be able to find the following pockets:

  • Elasticized side pockets can lie flat when they are empty but expand and hold bottles, tent poles, loose objects, etc.
  • Hip belt pockets can be found on most larger packs. These pockets can hold the small things you want to be able to grab immediately, including your phone, food, a map, a small flashlight, etc.
  • Shovel pockets are flaps sewn on the front of a pack with a buckle closing the pocket. They were originally for holding your snow shovel, but you can find these pockets on many three season packs as well. They are great for holding your map, or jacket, or anything else that is important and does not weigh too much
  • Of course, look for a front pocket. These pockets can help hold smaller things that you may need to access quickly

Packs also have different kinds of ventilation, based on how the back is cut. Some have plenty of cutouts so you don’t get as sweaty.

Additional padding and extra accessories can be found if you know where to look.

Finding Extra Accessories

In addition to your backpacking backpack, you might want to get a rain cover.

This straps over your pack and keeps everything nice and dry. Some people actually make their own rain covers using a large plastic bag or garbage bag, which is a great solution for keeping your gear dry.

The only problem with these rain covers is that they can be tough to use in windy conditions.

If you know that you will be hiking through a windy area, you may want to get some dry gear stuff sacks instead.

You can put all your important gear inside these bags, and then stick them into your pack. The best part of these sacks is that you can add anything to the bags and change their contents at any time.

Another good accessory is a water reservoir, so you can fill up with extra water and sip it through a tube.

Some people like this solution more than a water bottle, since you do not have to stop to open your bottle every time you get thirsty.

If you are always pressed for time or want to set any speed records, finding a water reservoir for your pack can be a great choice.

You can also look for packs with extra loops for attaching tools, or even buy thick cord to create your own gear loops.

No matter what kind of pack you choose, the most important thing is to find one that fits you properly.

Your Next Step

Take the time to try on a few different types so you know what works best for your body.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from salespeople, because they have plenty of experience with outdoor equipment and know what to do!

Check for any important additional features that will help you out, like rain covers or a hydration reservoir. Also, check out our Beginner’s Backpacking Guide.

Then have fun and start exploring!

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