Choosing the Right Backpack

When you travel as much as I do you learn how to pack a lot in a little, which means that a backpack is an essential piece of equipment when you go out on a hike. Of course, in my case, it’s essential for just about any traveling I do.  

So if you are planning a great hiking trip your first order of the day is to find a good backpack.

backpackI’ve had many backpacks over the years, and I’ve learned that knowing exactly what I need before I head to the store saves me a lot of money.  Here are my tips for getting the right backpack for you.

  1. Think about the kind of hiking you do: day-hiker or multi-day; fair or foul weather; summit climbs or treks.
  2. For day packs, be sure to get a hip belt which distributes the weight better.
  3. Hydration packs (they have a water reservoir built in) are great for hot season hiking. These packs are small, but you can still carry other stuff you need.  Just be careful with these packs; they can leak.
  4. Multi-day packs give you enough space for at least a two day hike.  Again, purchase a hip belt to spread the weight.
  5. Get an internal frame backpack instead of one with an external frame. It’s actually hard to find one with an external frame anymore, but you might be buying second-hand, so watch out for this.  The internal frame ones are nice and compact, and lighter.
  6. Size matters. If you are a day hiker, a 30 liter pack is plenty big enough.  But if you are taking multi-day hikes, you’ll need at least 35 liters and maybe as big as 65 or more liters.  If your multi-day gear is older stuff, you’ll need a larger pack.  The newer gear is less bulky so you need less space.  If your multi-day hike is less than 4 days, a 40 to 65 liter pack will do.  For longer hikes, you might want one larger than 65 liters.
  7. For foul weather, you definitely need a large pack to carry extra clothing and a thicker sleeping bag etc.
  8. Size to fit your body also matters. A lot!  Extra small, small, medium, large?  You have to get the right fit or you will be off balance and the strain on your body will not be fun.  You’ll need to measure your torso length.  Start from the back of your neck at the first vertebra you can feel sticking out.  Measure down your spine to where your hip bones intersect with your spine if there was a line drawn between them.  If this measurement is 15.5 inches or below, you’ll need an extra small pack.  If the measurement is 16 to 17.5 inches, you’ll need a small pack.  Between 18 to 19.5 inches, get a medium, and 20 inches or above, get a large.
  9. Generally, a middle of the road fabric works for most hikers. Lightweight is great for the weight, of course, but it tears fairly easily.  Thick fabrics are great for rock climbing because they don’t rip easily, but they are heavy.

There is no perfect backpack.  You have to decide which one works best for you, and the best way to do this to try it on.  Go to the store and try on several until you find the one that feels best.  Then, take that one home and load it with 15 to 20 pounds of gear.  Walk around with it on your back and check for spots that feel uncomfortable etc.  If the store won’t let you exchange, bring your gear with you and check it out right in the store.  This might be the best idea anyway because the salesperson can help adjust the straps and give you advice.

Good luck and I hope these tips have helped.