How to Buy a Backpacking Pack

A quick guide to choosing the right pack for your hiking trip


Can you imagine a hiking trip without a backpack? It is simply the most important piece of gear you own, because it holds everything you might need on your trek.

Purchasing a backpack can be a difficult decision because of the seemingly infinite number of possibilities. Here I’ve put together a list of what to look for in a backpack, and how to buy one for your specific hiking needs.

Related: How to Pack Your Hiking Backpack

1. Pack Capacity. What kind of hikes do you normally go on? Overnighters, day trips, long treks? Knowing the length of your trip will help you determine the pack capacity you need. Another thing to keep in mind is the season of your trip, because, for example you will need larger capacity to hold more gear/clothing for the winter months. Capacity is often noted in the name of the pack, for example the Osprey Atmos 65 Pack has a capacity of 65 liters. Capacities range from 20-80+ liters. Keeping in mind the season, and how much gear you may need, here is a basic breakdown of trip length and necessary capacity:

  • 1-2 nights: 20-50 liters
  • 2-3 nights: 50-60 liters
  • 3-5 nights: 60-80 liters
  • 5+ nights: 80+ liters

2. Weight. While the idea of extra pockets and accessories may seem appealing, it often adds unnecessary weight to your pack. Weight is very important because despite how much gear you can squeeze into the pack, if you can not comfortably carry it for an extended period you could cause serious harm to your back. There are many lightweight options, but here is a basic breakdown of usual empty pack weight, based on trip length:

  • 1-2 nights: 1.5 to 4.5 lbs.
  • 2-3 nights: 2.5 to 5 lbs
  • 3-5 nights: 2.5-5+ lbs
  • 5+ nights: 4 to 6+ lbs

3. Sizing and Comfort. Comfort is definitely important when choosing a pack. Most stores have pre-stuffed bags that you can try on in the store. At the store it is also important to figure out your size. There are general guidelines provided by manufacturers based on your torso measurement. Your best fit does not depend on your height, but your torso length. This is a popular misconception. You can measure this at home by having someone measure from the bony bump towards the top of your spine (the C7) to your hip bones, or go to an outdoor gear store where they will do it for you. The general sizing based on torso size is as follows:

  • Extra Small: 15” or less
  • Small: 15” to 17”
  • Medium/Regular: 17” to 20”
  • Large: 20”+

4. Frame. Today, most backpacks use an internal frame design but there are the more traditional external frames available. Internal frames are great for movement as they keep your pack very sturdy and stable. Although, external frames tend to help with heavier loads.

5. Features. Check out the different features that backpacks have to offer. For example, there are many that offer built-in hydration systems or splash covers to keep your backpack dry. Find the features that will provide you with extra comfort on your trip. But remember, keep that pack light.

With your perfect backpack, the biggest hurdle to planning a successful hike is out of the way. 

For 7 things you don't need while backpacking, click here.


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