How To Choose A Hiking Backpack

POSTED BY JESS FISCHER | MARCH, 3 2019

So you want to get into backpacking but you're not quite sure where to start. Or maybe you've been backpacking but you've just borrowed gear and now you want your own. With so much information and so many options for backpacking bags, it can be a little overwhelming. Believe me I know! I have owned two backpacks in my adult life; one I loathed, one I currently love. Let's get started!

What kind of trip are you going on?

For starters, you're going to want to figure out what you need from the backpack. Are you just going to be backpacking on weekends for 1-2 nights or are you planning for your trips to be a little bit longer? Personally, I chose a backpack that I could use for both; I usually only go on 2-3 night trips but I wanted something big enough to accommodate longer trips if needed. I just don't stuff the backpack to it's full potential for the shorter trips. Here are some size recommendations depending on the length of your trip/type of trip:

  • Weekend (1-3 nights; 30-60 liters)
  • Multiday (3-5 nights; 60-90 liters) *What I have
  • Extended-trip (5+ nights) or Cold Weather Trip (70 liters or larger)

"Liters" refers to how much space is inside of the backpack. A 50 liter backpack can hold 50 liters of gear. All backpacks will say how many liters they are, either in their descriptions or in the specs.

What kind of features do you want/need?

The next thing you need to decide is what kind of features you want your bag to have. Do you want it to have multiple pockets? A sleeping bag compartment? Does it need to be compatible with your water reservoir? Do you want a reservoir? Do you need certain pockets? All of these questions are important when thinking about what backpack you want to purchase. When I was purchasing the backpack I have now, I had a very specific list of requirements because the first pack I had bought was not the greatest. Out of experience, I knew I wanted a sleeping bag compartment, great ventilation, enough space for a quick weekend trip or a longer week trip, a pocket for my reservoir, a rain cover and at least a few little pockets on the outside of the bag so I could easily access things I needed. If you have no idea what you need, think about what you have now on your everyday backpack or whatever bag you usually take hiking; think about features you already like or dislike. Here are some things to consider:

  • Rain Fly: A rain fly is a waterproof cover that you can put over your entire backpack should it start raining. Sometimes they come with the bag, but if not you can buy them separately. I recommend having one to keep your bag and gear dry in any conditions.
  • Reservoir Compatible: A reservoir refers to the plastic pouch that fits inside your backpack that holds water. They usually have long hose-like spouts that wind through the top of the backpack so you can easily drink water on the go. Some backpacks have specific pockets, hooks and little holes to accommodate these reservoirs. Almost all backpacking backpacks are reservior compatible.
  • Pockets: Some backpacks have multiple pockets, some only have one big section. My backpack has a ton of little pockets as well as a top loading section where I can easily store my maps and other things I need to access quickly. Some people prefer to divvy their gear up in stuff sacks and then load those into one big pocket (I do this too).
  • Sleeping Bag Compartments: Some backpacks have a section at the bottom of your backpack dedicated for your sleeping bag or sleeping pad. They're usually separated from the rest of the bag by a single piece of nylon or material and can be detached if you don't want to use that area. I use a compression stuff sack for my sleeping bag to make sure it takes up as little room as possilbe.

Women's Backpacks

Osprey Packs Aura AG 65L Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest 55L Backpack

Gregory Deva 70L Backpack

Kelty Red Cloud 80L Backpack

What size backpack should you buy?

After determining what specs you want/need for your backpack, you have to figure out what size you are. Size is different than volume of the backpack in that size refers to the actual size of the pack (small, medium, large, etc.). I highly recommend visiting your local outdoor retailer to be fitted by a sales specialist or ordering multiple sizes to ensure you get the correct fit (you can return whichever sizes don't work).

When getting fitted for a backpack, the two measurements that will be taken are the length of your torso and your waist size. The size of your backpack does not have anything to do with you total height or weight. It has everything to do with the build of your upper body. Finding a backpack that fits your back well, is snug around your waist, and gets the weight up off your lower back is key.

 

Ultralight Backpacking

Another option while buying a backpack is whether or not you want to go the ultralight route. If you are looking to get into ultralight backpacking, one easy way to cut back on weight is to select a smaller backpack (45-55L or smaller) and/or choose a backpack that is framless and minimally padded. Of course, the gear that goes into the pack will have to be "minimalist" as well, but that could be a whole blog post for another day!

Men's Backpacks

Gregory Baltoro 65L Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest 55L

Osprey Packs Aether AG 70L Backpack

Kelty Red Cloud 90-110L Backpack

So, what do you think?

Does this help you begin to brainstorm what you think you may need in a backpack? An easy place to start is simply making a list of things you need for your backpack, how long you need it to hold gear for, and then what size you need to get. Another alternative to buying a backpack is renting one! There are tons of gear resources out there where you can actually rent really nice backpacks for a fraction of the price of buying one. You can really test drive a backpack without committing to the big purchase. Any other recommendations or questions? Comment below and let us know!

Jess Fischer

Jess, and her husband Michael, recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Richmond, Virginia. They were both born and raised Virginians, so they are excited to navigate life on a new coast! They are even more excited to document this new adventure on their blog. Check it out to follow along with their hikes and other adventures!

Jess Fischer

Michael and I (Jess) just moved to Portland, Oregon from Richmond, Virginia. We are both born and raised Virginians so this has been a really big move for both of us, but we're excited to navigate life together on a new coast! We're even more excited to document this new chapter of our lives here on Snows Out West along with all our hikes and other adventures we'll be doing after we move.

How To Choose A Hiking Backpack

BY JESS FISCHER | 3.3.2019

So you want to get into backpacking but you're not quite sure where to start. Or maybe you've been backpacking but you've just borrowed gear and now you want your own. With so much information and so many options for backpacking bags, it can be a little overwhelming. Believe me I know! I have owned two backpacks in my adult life; one I loathed, one I currently love. Let's get started!

What kind of trip are you going on?

For starters, you're going to want to figure out what you need from the backpack. Are you just going to be backpacking on weekends for 1-2 nights or are you planning for your trips to be a little bit longer? Personally, I chose a backpack that I could use for both; I usually only go on 2-3 night trips but I wanted something big enough to accommodate longer trips if needed. I just don't stuff the backpack to it's full potential for the shorter trips. Here are some size recommendations depending on the length of your trip/type of trip:

  • Weekend (1-3 nights; 30-60 liters)
  • Multiday (3-5 nights; 60-90 liters) *What I have
  • Extended-trip (5+ nights) or Cold Weather Trip (70 liters or larger)

"Liters" refers to how much space is inside of the backpack. A 50 liter backpack can hold 50 liters of gear. All backpacks will say how many liters they are, either in their descriptions or in the specs.

What kind of features do you want/need?

The next thing you need to decide is what kind of features you want your bag to have. Do you want it to have multiple pockets? A sleeping bag compartment? Does it need to be compatible with your water reservoir? Do you want a reservoir? Do you need certain pockets? All of these questions are important when thinking about what backpack you want to purchase. When I was purchasing the backpack I have now, I had a very specific list of requirements because the first pack I had bought was not the greatest. Out of experience, I knew I wanted a sleeping bag compartment, great ventilation, enough space for a quick weekend trip or a longer week trip, a pocket for my reservoir, a rain cover and at least a few little pockets on the outside of the bag so I could easily access things I needed. If you have no idea what you need, think about what you have now on your everyday backpack or whatever bag you usually take hiking; think about features you already like or dislike. Here are some things to consider:

  • Rain Fly: A rain fly is a waterproof cover that you can put over your entire backpack should it start raining. Sometimes they come with the bag, but if not you can buy them separately. I recommend having one to keep your bag and gear dry in any conditions.
  • Reservoir Compatible: A reservoir refers to the plastic pouch that fits inside your backpack that holds water. They usually have long hose-like spouts that wind through the top of the backpack so you can easily drink water on the go. Some backpacks have specific pockets, hooks and little holes to accommodate these reservoirs. Almost all backpacking backpacks are reservior compatible.
  • Pockets: Some backpacks have multiple pockets, some only have one big section. My backpack has a ton of little pockets as well as a top loading section where I can easily store my maps and other things I need to access quickly. Some people prefer to divvy their gear up in stuff sacks and then load those into one big pocket (I do this too).
  • Sleeping Bag Compartments: Some backpacks have a section at the bottom of your backpack dedicated for your sleeping bag or sleeping pad. They're usually separated from the rest of the bag by a single piece of nylon or material and can be detached if you don't want to use that area. I use a compression stuff sack for my sleeping bag to make sure it takes up as little room as possilbe.

Women's Backpack

Osprey Packs Aura AG 65L Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55L

Gregory Deva 70L Backpack

Kelty Red Cloud 80L Backpack

What size backpack should you buy?

After determining what specs you want/need for your backpack, you have to figure out what size you are. Size is different than volume of the backpack in that size refers to the actual size of the pack (small, medium, large, etc.). I highly recommend visiting your local outdoor retailer to be fitted by a sales specialist or ordering multiple sizes to ensure you get the correct fit (you can return whichever sizes don't work).

When getting fitted for a backpack, the two measurements that will be taken are the length of your torso and your waist size. The size of your backpack does not have anything to do with you total height or weight. It has everything to do with the build of your upper body. Finding a backpack that fits your back well, is snug around your waist, and gets the weight up off your lower back is key.

 

Ultralight Backpacking

Another option while buying a backpack is whether or not you want to go the ultralight route. If you are looking to get into ultralight backpacking, one easy way to cut back on weight is to select a smaller backpack (45-55L or smaller) and/or choose a backpack that is framless and minimally padded. Of course, the gear that goes into the pack will have to be "minimalist" as well, but that could be a whole blog post for another day!

Men's Backpacks

Gregory Baltoro 65L Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55L

Osprey Packs Aether AG 70L Backpack

Kelty Red Cloud 90-110L Backpack

So, what do you think?

Does this help you begin to brainstorm what you think you may need in a backpack? An easy place to start is simply making a list of things you need for your backpack, how long you need it to hold gear for, and then what size you need to get. Another alternative to buying a backpack is renting one! There are tons of gear resources out there where you can actually rent really nice backpacks for a fraction of the price of buying one. You can really test drive a backpack without committing to the big purchase. Any other recommendations or questions? Comment below and let us know!

Jess Fischer

Jess, and her husband Michael, recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Richmond, Virginia. They were both born and raised Virginians, so they are excited to navigate life on a new coast! They are even more excited to document this new adventure on their blog. Check it out to follow along with their hikes and other adventures!

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