You know what they say, once you find the right backpack, you never go back. But, of course, backpacks are a very personal choice, and there’s no one “best” option for everyone. So we’ve compiled this Backpack Buying Guide to help get the process started.
You’ll learn about different sizes and standard features of hiking backpacks, daypacks, and bags for weekend trips. We hope that you will have found your perfect fit by the end of reading this guide!
There are four main types of backpacks available, each with pros and cons depending on the kind of trip you’re planning. We’ll take a closer look at each type in the following sections.
These packs are designed for day hikes, weekend adventures, and even long-distance treks. Hiking backpacks are typically smaller than other types. As a result, they tend to have a more ergonomic fit, making them ideal for long periods of carrying weight.
In addition, they are generally more durable than different types. Still, they tend to be heavier due to the materials used for construction.
These packs are designed for a single day’s adventure and usually contain a hydration bladder pocket, mesh pockets to hold water bottles. And there is space for other gear and often roomy compartments that you can use to fit larger or bulkier items.
Weekend Trip Backpacks
Weekend trip backpacks are designed for multiple days out, but not the extended wilderness adventures of hiking backpacks. They tend to have more storage space than day packs, emphasizing heavyweight durability reduction. When buying a bag for multiple-day trips, it’s essential to consider the weather conditions.
Campers need a pack that can hold their gear and food while remaining light enough to carry all day long. A camping backpack will usually be more significant than other types with more compartments but may sacrifice durability due to weight reduction methods like mesh pockets.
Backpack Types by Day Drip
Weekend (1-3 nights; 30-50 liters)
A pack in this range is ideal for efficient packers on 1- to 3-night journeys who use more modern, less bulky equipment. Use a backpack in this price range if you want to keep things light for one or two nights. If you can do it, the light-on-your-feet advantages are fantastic.
Multiday (3-5 nights; 50-80 liters)
You’ll want a pack in this range if you’re packing for three or more nights out. A high-quality backpack with an average capacity of 50 to 80 liters will serve you well for most trips of three nights or more, like backcountry activities, alpine climbing, and mountaineering.
Extended (more than five nights; 80+ liters)
A pack in this range is ideal for efficient packers on multiday trips lasting more than four days. It’s also a good pack if you’re carrying heavy gear or need to keep your load organized. Finally, if you’re taking a lot of bulky items, this is the pack for you–keep in mind that it’s also the heaviest pack size.
Other Types of Backpack
Women-specific packs are designed with the female body in mind. Depending on the manufacturer, they come in different shapes and sizes. Still, generally, they’re shorter and have shorter shoulder straps closer to the center of gravity. They also tend to be more comprehensive in the hip belt, suitable for having wider hips.
Osprey, Gregory, and The North Face make packs for women, while Kelty makes unisex models designed for smaller people.
If you’re buying a pack for your child, make sure it has an adjustable torso length. A fully-grown adult who is very short might still be able to fit into a kid’s pack. Still, it won’t have the weight-carrying capabilities of an adult-sized model.
Things to Consider Before Buying
Are you looking to buy a new backpack pack? There are a few areas where you’ll have to make decisions.
The amount of weight and bulk you’ll need to carry is determined by the length of your journey and the number of items you wish to take. You’ll want a smaller bag that can still take the essentials for day trips. However, if you’re headed out for several days or even weeks at a time, you’ll need a larger pack.
A weekend trip with camping gear and clothes is an example of the type of load that would require something in between.
Most backpacks are designed for one of three torso lengths or heights. You can determine your torso length by measuring your spine from C-T vertebrae to the top of your hip bones.
Once you’ve determined the right size pack for your adventures, there are several features to consider. For example, a water-proof rain cover is recommended when hiking in wet climates. At the same time, mesh pockets are ideal for holding snacks and water bottles.
The final factor to consider is how the backpack fits your body. Find a pack that feels comfortable on first use, and be sure to walk around with it fully loaded to see if the weight distribution is suitable for you.
Quality materials and construction should be your top priority. A lighter-weight backpack may use less durable material but typically comes with a higher price tag.
When it comes to price, higher does not mean better! A high-quality backpack can last many years of regular use.
When deciding between two packs, choose the lighter one or consider how to divide up your load.
All backpacks are water-resistant, not water-proof. If you’re going on a trip where your gear might get soaked through or very dirty, be sure to buy a pack that comes with a rain cover.
Packs made from mesh or nylon are designed for breathable airflow, making them a better choice for warmer climates. If you’re wearing your pack in colder weather, go with one with less mesh or is made from a material that will insulate you.
Major Backpack Features
Internal-frame backpacks: They fit close to your body, with most of their weight resting on your hips. They distribute weight well and can be very comfortable but are usually smaller in capacity.
External-frame backpacks: These have a rigid frame that extends away from your body, giving you more storage space. They typically have a higher capacity and are usually heavier, but they can be very comfortable for back problems.
Frameless backpacks: This backpack lacks a frame with less support and is usually unsuitable for heavy loads. It’s also important to note that frameless packs are generally only ideal for day hikes or light loads.
One of the key features to consider with backpacks is ventilation. For example, when you’re hiking, your gear mustn’t be going to trap your sweat and cause you to become uncomfortably hot.
Pockets and Compartments
A smaller number of pockets and compartments can help keep things organized. Still, a more significant number may be better if you’re frequently in and out of your pack.
It is a feature you’ll see on internal-frame packs only, and it consists of a pad that rests against your lower back. It can help take the strain off your hips and make it easier to carry a heavy load for long periods.
Hip Belt and Shoulder Straps
Most backpacks have a padded, adjustable hip belt that should help take the weight off of your shoulders.
Shoulder Strap Padding
It’s also essential to find a backpack with thick, well-padded shoulder straps so that they don’t dig into your shoulders while you’re wearing the pack.
They go across the top of your shoulders to help pull the load closer to your back. They are usually included with higher-end packs and can make a difference in how comfortable your bag is.
The sternum strap sits across the chest and helps take some of the strain off your shoulders and back. It’s usually adjustable so that you can find the perfect fit for your body type.
These straps help compress your gear and hold it in place, so they’re beneficial if you want something that isn’t going to shift inside your bag.
Sleeping Bag Compartment
This compartment is usually located at the bottom of your pack. It makes it easy to pull out gear for nighttime without unpacking everything. It’s also an easy way to store your sleeping bag if you’re not using it while hiking.
Backpacks with hydration reservoirs are designed to hold water bladders. They usually have a special pocket for the bladder and an exit port where the tube can come out. They’re great for longer trips where you’ll need to carry or store water but don’t work as well if you want to take other items in your pack.
Rain Cover: If your pack is not water-resistant, it’s essential to buy a rain cover. These are usually inexpensive and can be found in most outdoor stores, or you could make one yourself if you have the time.
Hydration Bladder: If you’re going to be hiking for several hours or more, you must have a way to bring water with you. A hydration bladder can be placed inside your pack and is very convenient, though it does add weight and bulk.
Camping Gear: If you’re camping, it’s essential to consider how much of your load will be made up of sleeping equipment vs. clothes and food. If you’re going on a long trip, bring separate bags for different parts of your gear to make it easier to access in the dark.
Cookware: When backpacking, consider only bringing the cooking gear you’ll need for each meal, as it can make your pack very heavy.
Cooking Gear: Cooking gear can usually be found in most outdoor stores or online retailers, but it’s essential to read reviews and find a reliable option.
Knives: A sturdy knife is necessary for preparing food and cutting branches. But most camping stores only sell knives as part of a set that includes other cooking gear you may not need or want to carry around with you all the time.
Cup/mug: Consider investing in a collapsible cup to save space.
Cutting Board: A cutting board is a good option if you know you won’t be able to find any flat rocks or sturdy sticks for preparing food. It’s also straightforward to clean and helps prevent contamination of your gear. In addition, it is crucial for water purifying tablets with limited shelf lives.
Bear Canister: If you’re going to be camping in an area where bears are a concern, your food and smell able (toiletries) must always remain sealed up. Bear canisters come in various sizes, so make sure the one you choose will keep all your gear safe from hungry wildlife.
Insect Protection: Unless you’re in a freezing climate, it’s essential to consider some insect protection. Bug nets work well for keeping mosquitoes and other bugs away from your face.
However, it can be not easy to sleep under when they start swarming around at dusk if they don’t have ventilation holes. You’ll also need something that keeps out crawling insects like ticks, spiders, and ants.
Mosquito Repellent: This item can be challenging to find in stores as it’s straightforward to pack. But you should have some on hand if camping in a buggy area.
Sun Protection: Sunburn is no fun and can even become dangerous if you don’t treat it immediately. Make sure to pack sunscreen and lip balm with a high SPF rating, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Bug Spray: The same goes for bug spray, which is another item that’s easy to forget about until mosquitoes already swarm you.
First Aid Supplies: Your first aid kit must contain enough supplies to treat the common injuries you might sustain if backpacking. If there’s a chance of severe weather or natural disaster, make sure your kit is well-stocked with extra supplies.
After you’ve decided on the type of backpack you want, it’s time to fit it. It should be sized according to your torso length (not your entire height) and hip circumference. You can follow our instructions in our article on Finding Your Torso Size and Hip Circumference.
Packs come in various sizes, from tiny to enormous, and they fit all sorts of torsos. Manufacturer and gender determine these ranges. For information about the size of a specific pack, look under the product specs tab. In addition, many packs include an adjustable suspension that may be adjusted to suit your torso, especially if you’re between sizes.
Measure around your hips, where the top of your thigh intersects with your hip bone. It is typically about 20% of your height. You can also measure the circumference around your hips, which is usually about 12″ (30 cm), and add 12″ (30 cm) to that number.
Torso Length vs. Hip Circumference
If you have a short torso or relatively small hips, you’ll want to look for a pack with an adjustable suspension. Also, make sure the shoulder straps are well-padded and flexible if you have long arms.
When you’re ready to buy your next backpack, check out our guide on how to choose the best one for your needs. Consider a small day pack or an overnight camping backpack if you’re unsure where to start.