For any outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking in the remote backcountry or just venturing out on established hiking trails with their family, an appropriate backpack is invaluable to a successful and enjoyable outing. Wearing a backpack allows you to have convenient access to necessary supplies, but there are many factors to consider before making your final choice. There is a wide range of different pack options on the market today, and there is one out there that is perfect for all of your specific needs and preferences.
Backpack Considerations Overview
- Capacity: How much gear can the backpack hold? This includes food, water and other essential items.
- Fit: Your personal measurements, particularly your torso, are extremely important in selecting a pack that fits well.
- Features: Are you looking for just the basics in a backpack, or are you interested in several specialty features?
- Weight: Determine if the heaviness of the backpack itself, before any gear, is a deciding factor in your purchasing decision.
The capacity of a backpack indicates how much available space the bag has for all of your required and preferred gear. There are varieties available for trips of any length, from overnighters to more intensive extended trips of a week or longer.
Day – A day backpack is typically between 15-30 liters, and it is a great choice for a short hike where minimal provisions are necessary. Packing light is critical if you choose this type of pack.
Overnight – This type of pack will have just enough space to fit your food and water and other supplies for a night of camping. Generally these backpacks hold from 30-50 liters. This size of pack will also work for day trips where the availability of additional gear is desired.
Weekend – A weekend pack can carry between 45-55 liters, and is ideal for up to three days of use. With this pack you will be able to carry a small tent, a few changes of clothes, and even a small stove and cookware.
Multiday – For trips longer than three days, you will want a backpack with a capacity of 55 liters. A pack of this size will allow you to carry enough provisions and equipment for several days. These packs are also a good choice for winter camping trips.
In order to be able to comfortably carry all of the gear you need for whatever your length of trip, it is critical that your backpack have just the right fit. There are a few key factors to ensuring your new backpack fits just right, and to guaranteeing your comfort throughout your next hike.
To make sure your backpack fits you just right, you first need to measure the distance from the base of your neck to the top of your hips. This is your torso size, and is the most critical measurement to consider as you select the best backpack for you. You want to ensure that your pack fits tightly enough across your hips so that the pack will not shift too much during use. Packs usually come in torso sizes ranging from small to large, and there are even options that can be more adjustable if that is preferred.
Selecting a pack that corresponds with your waist size is also very important. Since your hips typically should support approximately 80% of your backpack weight, you should make sure the hip belt size will work for your waist measurements.
Determine if you would like more specialized strap options to ensure your fit is even more customized. Load lifter straps fasten onto the top of the pack frame, and keep the backpack from weighing down your lower back. Another strap option is the sternum strap which helps to increase stability by connecting the two shoulder straps together.
You may even select a backpack that is specifically designed for either women or youth, as these options provide a fit that is customized for smaller body types. The torso proportions on these packs are shorter and narrower than a typical men’s backpack. Packs created for children also usually come with a suspension that adjusts as needed as the child grows.
Frame type –
- External frame – A backpack with an external frame is an optimal choice if you will be carrying especially heavy gear, or if you have a lot of irregularly shaped items. These types of packs also have great ventilation and allow you to carry various items on the outside.
- Internal frame – Packs with this style of support are great for maintaining your stability when you hike, particularly on variable landscape. These varieties are generally more compact and keep the load more centered to keep you balanced as you walk.
- Frameless – This is a more simple option that allows you to carry your gear easily; these are a good choice if your supplies are very lightweight. These packs do not come with much support, but they are also fairly inexpensive so they work well for shorter trips.
Pockets – The number and type of pockets on a backpack may be a deal breaker for some. You can find several different pocket types on backpacks today, such as shovel pockets and those designed for easy access to your phone and other key items.
Attachment Points – This feature is invaluable if you usually carry hiking poles or even an ice ax, as these loops provide a place to fasten this type of gear for easy access. It is extra convenient to have a few bungees that can be used to carry a jacket or even solar-powered devices offering extra convenience.
Padding – Most packs now come with some extra padding in strategic locations, particularly in the shoulder and hip areas. The hip belt padding is especially beneficial, as it provides extra cushioning in the area where you are carrying most of the backpack weight.
Ventilation – There are packs on the market that utilize mesh panels in the back to allow more breathability and lessen the inevitable sweaty feeling. This new design keeps the pack from pushing against your back, and provides instead the comfort of the ventilated material.
Sleeping Bag Compartment – If you have a separate area just for your sleeping bag, it will allow you to be much more organized with your gear. This space provides quick accessibility to your sleeping bag and can alternatively be used for other gear you want to be able to get to easily.
Rain Cover – Even though most backpacks are made of waterproof exterior material, there are still spots where rain can seep in. If you plan to hike or camp in an area where rain is probable, having a rain cover is invaluable to protecting your gear.
Hydration Reservoir – Most backpacks provide a sleeve inside that allows you to keep a hydration pack inside. This reservoir area also typically provides a spot to slip the straw through for easy use.
Luckily for outdoor enthusiasts today, backpacks are not nearly as heavy as they used to be. There are a variety of fairly lightweight options for adventurers looking to purchase a pack in today’s more broad-ranging market. There are a diverse number of pack selections that weigh between 3.5 and 5 pounds, which is an ideal weight for most users.
When deciding which weight of backpack is best for you, consider first how much gear you will need to carry. Ultralight packs of less than 2 pounds are most effective if you keep your gear to 30 pounds or less. If you try to put too many items in a light pack, the result will be much less comfortable to carry for any length of time.
If you do decide that an ultralight pack is the way to go for your needs, there are both frameless and regular frame options. The frames on these lightweight backpacks come in two main options: simple and tensioned air frames. The air frame option provides the greatest amount of ventilation, as it provides space in the back to allow air to move between you and the pack.
A frameless lightweight pack is recommended only if you plan to carry a load of 15 pounds or less, although more sizeable loads are possible if necessary. A heavier load will result in reduced comfort though, so it is optimal to minimize the amount of gear you carry if possible when using a frameless backpack.
Questions to Think About Before Your Backpack Purchase
What length of trip will you primarily be using the backpack for?
Do you prefer to take just basics along on a hike or do you like to be prepared for anything?
How long are your usual trips?
Is having a lightweight pack important to you?
Do you like to carry a lot of extra / supplemental gear?
Will you be backpacking in extreme climates?
What special features would you find most beneficial?
Is a lightweight backpack the best option for you?