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How to Choose a Backpack for Hiking & Backpacking

Choosing the right hiking backpack is one of the most important things to do before you hit the trails. And if you haven’t looked at backpacks recently, you’ll be surprised at how good they’ve gotten. Made with rugged yet breathable fabrics, backpacks are now able to offer a great amount of support and comfort than ever before. The best hiking backpacks even come with a waterproof feature that can keep your gear dry for several hours. Not only that but backpacks nowadays weigh a fraction of affordable outdoor backpacks of what they did a few years ago.

So while picking a backpack may seem like an intimidating task, we have broken it down into five easy steps so that you can find the perfect pack without going broke or having buyer’s remorse! Let’s get started…

Related Read: Backpacking Essentials You Probably Won’t Have Thought Of

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1. What Kind Of Pack Do You Need?

The first thing you need to figure out is whether or not you will be carrying any heavy items in addition to your day-to-day essentials on this trip. If you plan on bringing along camping equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, stoves, lanterns, etc., then you might want to consider getting a larger bag that has enough space for all of these additional supplies. On the other hand, if you aren’t planning on taking anything extra except maybe some snacks and water during your hike, then a smaller, lighter packing option would work better.

Our top pick here comes from our friends over at Osprey who make amazing packs that fit both needs perfectly. Their new Voyager 35L model weighs just 2 pounds making it ideal for light hikers looking to travel lightly. It also features their signature Vibram® soles which allow trail users to walk comfortably even when wet.

2. How Much Stuff Will You Be Carrying?

This is probably the hardest part about buying a backpack because there really isn’t a set answer. In fact, different people carry vastly different amounts of weight depending on their individual preferences and requirements. So instead of giving us specific weights, we’re going to give you a general idea of how much stuff you should expect yourself to bring on your next adventure. For example, let’s say that you typically take 5 days worth of clothes plus 1 liter of drinking water per person each time you go camping.

Then you could calculate roughly how many liters total you could possibly take by doing a simple multiplication problem: 10 x 7 70 + 7 77 liters. That means that you could potentially fill up your backpack with almost 80 liters of luggage. Now, obviously that wouldn’t include anything else besides your clothes and water. But if you were to go above and beyond your personal average load size, then you might end up needing something bigger than 77 liters.

We recommend checking out our guide to packing lists for hiking, where we’ve included loads sizes based on the typical maximum capacity of various hiking backpack models. However, if you’re still unsure about how much you’ll actually need, check out our list below, where we detail exactly what kind of items you’d need to consider adding to your pack if you wanted to maximize its overall volume.

3. Can I Carry My Gear Inside Or Outside Of A Bag?

If you don’t mind exposing your belongings to potential weather hazards, then keeping them inside the main compartment of your backpack is usually best. This allows you to keep everything neat and organized while also protecting against moisture damage caused by rain or snow. Plus, if you have a waterproof liner for your bag, this can help protect your hiking gear too.

On the flip side, though, having things outside the backpack’s body may offer more options regarding storage. Some of these are external pockets on the sides or front of your bag. Others feature internal compartments or mesh dividers that separate your clothing into sections. Either way, they can provide more room inside so long as they won’t interfere with the functionality of your bag.

4. Should I Get Lightweight vs Heavy Weight?

If you already know how much you’ll use your bag before you buy one, then choosing between lightweight versus heavier weight backpacks becomes easier. Since most people tend to overestimate how much they’ll need, lighter weight backpacks often feel like an obvious choice since they weigh less but can hold plenty of stuff. The key difference between the two types of bags is that lightweight ones are made primarily using nylon fabrics whereas heavyweight ones are constructed using polyester materials.

While nylon tends to wear well and last longer over time, it’s definitely not as strong or durable compared to polyesters. Therefore, if you prefer to get a super sturdy piece of luggage, try sticking with a higher-quality heavyweight item. Here, we found another great review of popular brands including Gregory, REI, Kelty, and Marmot. 5. Do I Need Pockets To Keep Everything Organized?

The number of organizational features offered in your backpack will depend largely upon which brand you choose. Most manufacturers make some sort of pocket systems available, such as small zippered pouches or even larger zip-top pockets. These allow you to store smaller items like keys or wallets without taking away from the space reserved for storing other essentials such as food or sleeping supplies.

Regardless of whether you decide to add any additional organization features, be sure to pick something that offers enough extra room to fit all of your important travel necessities.

6. How Much Room Will There Be Around Me When Using It Outdoors?

Another thing to think about when shopping for a new backpack is the ability to comfortably sit upright at rest stops and around campfires. Your feet shouldn’t protrude past the bottom edge of the bag, nor should they hang down low. Instead, your heels should ideally stay just inches behind the top of the bag so that you can easily stand up straight.

Also, remember to leave ample space in case you want to spread out your belongings during cooking sessions. You don’t necessarily need to purchase the largest model possible; however, you do want to ensure that you have adequate space left over after stuffing it full of every single essential.

Recommended Post: 8 Android Apps for Hiking

7. What Is The Best Way To Pack Clothing Items?

 When packing clothes in a backpack, there are several different ways to go about doing it. One option is to simply throw each article of clothing into its own individual pouch within the backpack itself. Another common method involves folding multiple layers together and slipping them into a compression sack that fits inside the pack. Then, once you’re ready to head outdoors, you pull out the contents from the compression sack and toss them directly into their respective places in the backpack. If you’d rather avoid carrying around extra baggage, consider purchasing a compression sack to stash along with the rest of your equipment. 8. Are There Any Other Features That Matter Besides Size And Durability?

With many modern-day products, size isn’t always the deciding factor between high-quality and lower-cost versions. However, when it comes to buying backpacks specifically, size does play a role. After all, bigger doesn’t always mean better! Many packs come equipped with unique features designed to improve comfort, safety, convenience, durability, mobility, etc. For example, many models include padded shoulder straps, adjustable waist belts, drawstring closures, detachable water bottle holders, removable/adjustable sternum strap clips, and various other accessories. In addition to being able to find a variety of sizes, you might also want to look at what specific features your chosen model has instead of focusing solely on overall dimensions. 

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