Hiking Backpack – Watch the Weight!

All hiking backpacks are not the same; they are designed for different uses. It is important to give some thought to how, and where, you are going to use your new hiking backpack. After all, you will have to carry it up and down hills, jumping streams, scrambling over rocks, and still have enough energy to enjoy your hike!

Your full pack should not weigh more than about 25% to 30% of your body weight. Carrying a lighter load will make the hike easier, and also help prevent accidents caused by fatigue and unbalanced backpacks.

The size of your hiking backpack depends on what type of hiking you usually do. If you only go on day hikes, with an occasional overnight, then you should opt for a day backpack. If you mainly go on week long trips, you should get one of the mid to larger backpacks.

The larger hiking backpacks have padded shoulder straps, and I would recommend them also for day packs. You may not be carrying as much weight, but there is no reason to be uncomfortable, and sore shoulders can ruin even a day hike.

Waist belts are a must for larger hiking backpacks. Not only do they transfer most of the weight to your hips, but also ensure a more stable and balanced load, which prevents accidents when climbing over rocks and moving over rough terrain. Most backpacks also have smaller straps, which fasten across your chest, for even more stability.

Another feature of most hiking backpacks is external pockets. Use them to store items you want quick access to, like water bottles, medical kits and other small items. Large zippers in the lower part of a backpack make it easy to reach stuff packed at the bottom.

You do not need a clean set of clothing for every day. Get quick drying hiking shirts, and wear one while the other dries. One pair of boots is enough, but pack about 4 pairs of socks. Carrying enough drinking water, and food, is much more important than an extra pair of pants.

Size your new hiking backpack to accommodate everything you need to take with you, without stuffing it to capacity. An overloaded bag will usually be very uncomfortable, and can be dangerously unbalanced. Rather select one a bit larger, and resist the temptation to fill it just because there may be some space left.

Features of Hiking Backpacks

If you know which features you’re looking for in a backpack you will be able to find the hiking backpack that is perfect for your needs.

There are several types of backpacks for hiking: the diffIf you know which features you’re looking for in a backpack you will be able to find the hiking backpack that is perfect for your needs.
There are several types of backpacks for hiking: the difference is not only in size but also in the features you find in each of these backpacks that make each of them perfect for specific uses.

Hydration
Many backpacks have a plastic hydration bag integrated, or have apposite room to carry a water bag with the hole for its attached drinking tube.

Waterproof covers
No backpack is 100% waterproof and this word is often abused: materials, pockets, different shapes and other factors make it rather impossible to make a backpack completely waterproof.
Some backpacks have a waterproof cover that you use to wrap the entire backpack putting it in a waterproof bag. This may sound an weird solution but will actually make your backpack waterproof during storms.

Shoulder Straps
This part connects the upper part of your body to the backpack. The bigger the backpack, the softer, padded and wider the straps should be. The straps of most backpacks have a chest belt to keep the backpack tight to your body relieving the stress from your shoulders and from your back.

The hip belt
The main purpose of this belt is to move the weight of the backpack from your shoulders to the lower part of your body distributing the weight on your hips. Never underestimate the importance of a hip belt, specially during long hikes with loaded packs.

Cords
Every backpack has external cords that are useful to fix additional equipment to the backpack such as hiking poles. The position of these cords can vary from a pack to the next. Despite it’s always possible to find a suitable position for your equipment you might want to check if such cords are positioned where you need them to be.

Internal or External Frames
Today the internal frame is by far the most common one. The frame keeps the pack in shape and helps distribute the loads. Plastic and aluminium are the materials used to build the frames.erence is not only in size but also in the features you find in each of these backpacks that make each of them perfect for specific uses.

Lightweight Hiking Backpack

Having a good hiking backpack is essential to having a good trip. A good lightweight backpack that you can keep on your back for long hikes can help to save you problems such as back trouble and will allow you to see more, be more comfortable and also carry more during your trip.

A good hiking backpack is the foundation of your hiking gear. You will always need to be carrying a fair amount of gear when you’re planning on hiking and camping. For a full day hike or even a multi-day hike you may need to keep a fair amount of rations and equipment with you so that you can survive and be comfortable throughout the course of your trip. Luckily there are now new lightweight materials which can really cut down the size of your pack allowing you to carry more and feel comfortable even when you are walking for the entire day.

Depending on the type of trip that you’re going on you may want to look into getting several different types of lightweight camping backpacks. If you’re going for just a short stay you may want to bring a smaller pack so that you can hike further and be more comfortable. Having empty bag space or carrying a pack that is much larger than you need for just a short stay is extra weight that is not needed and will simply add to your fatigue over the course of a hike. Owning several different size backpacks will allow you to tailor your backpacks specifically for your trip.

Getting a very small lightweight hiking backpack that will allow you to bring a few sets of clothes and maybe some small rations is perfect for a one or two nights stay. These types of backpacks are extremely snug fitting and will hold just enough gear to get you through a short trip. Using one of these bags will ensure that you’re not carrying extra weight and rather than having a large pack that is cumbersome and awkward as well is mostly empty for the trip you have a small formfitting bag that contains just the supplies that are required.

A larger and heavier hiking pack made out of lightweight materials such as a 3000 to 7000 in.³ backpack will allow you to do a multi-days hike. Picking out one of these backpacks so that it will fit you correctly will ensure that you can be very comfortable throughout the course of your hike. Straps can be adjusted for your comfort. Pick one that is very light and also rugged. Luckily with materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre as well as heavy canvas weaves, hiking bags today have become stronger than ever before. Hiking bags even come complete with special Camelbak attachments to allow you to carry water with you while on the go. Using devices like these can help to reduce the strain on your arms and keep all of your materials on your back so that you can move faster and more comfortably.

If you are in the market for a lightweight camping backpack be sure to consider the amount of time that you’re going for, the amount of space that you need, as well as picking out a backpack that is comfortable for you. Ultimately during hike your backpack is going to be your lifeline and will carry the tools that you need to survive: picking one should not be taken lightly.

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack

Being lifelong travelers, we all love our lightweight, multipurpose gear that can withstand the rigors of the road. Gear should be dependable, multifunctional, durable and perform beyond expectations. Nothing could be truer when it comes to buying a good hiking backpack, especially considering it’s going to be your home away from home. Traveling, especially long-term, will literally test the limits of your bag and your body, and as such this decision should never be made impulsively. Buying your backpack should not be a rushed decision and factors like trip length, capacity, material, functionally and comfort should always be considered. When I first got serious about investing in a good pack, I was at REI for a good 3 hours -I think they started to suspect I was applying for a job.

If my three hours was any indication, buying a good backpack is not an easy task. With hundreds of backpack manufacturers and styles, it can understandably be overwhelming. Whatever you do, don’t go cheap. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice and end up buying a new one anyways. A good backpack is an investment. You needn’t spend $500 on a backpack, but be wary of cheap, no-frills, run of the mill $70 brands, as you’ll regret the design flaws and absence of extras. Spend a little more for a good backpack from a trusted brand, and it will be your companion for many trips to come. The Osprey pack I eventually settled on has traveled with me from the U.S to the Middle East for 10 awesome years and I know it has another good 10 years to go.

Travel Backpack or Hiking Backpack

Before you begin shopping for the right pack, it’s important to know the difference between travel backpacks and hiking backpacks. A travel backpack is a backpack-suitcase hybrid with a zippered side panel similar to a suitcase. Hiking backpacks are the more commonly seen cylindrical top loading packs with straps, clips and a top lid. Some people have an opinion that hiking backpacks are only suited for the backcountry and has no place for the backpacker, I disagree. What works for you ultimately comes down to personal preference and style of travel. Travel backpacks are great for easy, organized access to gear and transporting from hostel to hostel. They also function well for short walks or even as a daypack.

On the other hand, if you possibly have camping or long treks in your travel plans, you may want to consider a hiking backpack. Hiking backpacks are designed for comfort, proper weight distribution, and toughness. Unlike a travel backpack, hiking backpacks will have enhancements like full-sized hip belts, shoulder and back suspension systems along with plenty of load bearing straps to mitigate discomfort. Granted the top down packing isn’t as convenient to access your gear, but that’s part in parcel to proper weight distribution. A good compromise would be to get a hiking backpack with side load access.

I am generalizing a bit as they do have travel backpacks that are in the upper capacity range with more advanced suspension systems, but if you’re going to get a 70L travel backpack, you may as well go with a hiking backpack. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did for that unexpected 20 mile trek to the next town.

Personal Backpacking Style

Next, determine the style of travel you normally like to do. Unless you’re willing to buy a different backpack for each trip, figuring out your travel style will save you a lot of money in the long run and give you a piece of foundation gear that’s ready for any trip. For instance, if you generally go on week long trips you needn’t get a high capacity bag and could probably get away with a 35 liter to 50 liter (L) pack, whereas living long-term on the road may require 65L or greater.

Size is pretty subjective though and shouldn’t be the only determining factor. Some people are able to pack very bare bones, where others require a bit more. Consider these factors:

How long is your trip:

Depending on the length of your trip the capacity and overall weight of your pack will vary. Short trips require less capacity, and long trips typically require more. But be aware that the bigger the pack the heavier it will become. 50lbs may not seem a lot at first, but 2 months in and it will feel like a ton of bricks.

What Type of Activities will you do:

I personally feel that one bag can rule them all since I generally use my pack for everything. However, this may not be the case for everyone. Knowing what type of activity you’ll be doing will help you zero in on that perfect backpack. If you’re not planning on carrying it around much, consider a travel backpack or even a wheeled backpack, whereas if you foresee yourself doing long treks then a hiking backpack may be more suitable. I like to be prepared for any type of spontaneous activity, so I lean more towards hiking backpacks. Also, hiking backpacks are generally made a bit tougher, so keep in mind that the more challenging the activity, the greater the stress on the bag.

Lightweight or the kitchen sink:

Although I mentioned earlier that size is not the main determining factor, it’s still important to consider capacity based on what you plan to bring. If ultra light is your goal, avoid high capacity backpacks as you’ll invariably bring too much or if you do manage to pack light your backpack won’t distribute the weight properly. Conversely, if your backpack is too small, you won’t be able to fit everything in. Have an idea of the gear you’re bringing and pick the capacity of your bag accordingly. Don’t hesitate to bring your items to the store to see how it fits in the packs. A reputable retailer, like REI, won’t have a problem with this.

What To Look For In A Hiking Backpack

Backpacks vary in functionality as much as they do in appearance, with the more expensive models having the most bells and whistles. As with everything, your decision here is closely related to what type of traveling you like to do.

Water Resistant

Your pack is probably not going to be completely waterproof. Meaning, if submerged, or in a torrential downpour your clothing and equipment will still get wet. Although most backpacks now come with a rain cover, you still want it to be made of a tough, rip proof, and lightweight silicone coated nylon or Cordura type material that allows rain or water to bead off and not soak through.

Detachable Daypack

this option is really a personal preference, and not really a deal breaker, as many travelers bring an additional pack for day trips. But for those focused on traveling light, carrying two bags can be cumbersome. I personally like the option of a detachable daypack as I have it only when I need it. On my Osprey, the top lid doubles as a daypack. Not as comfortable as a dedicated daypack, but it serves its purpose.

Heavy-duty Lockable Zippers

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. No matter how good the material of the backpack, if the attachment points, like zippers, are weak the whole bag is worthless. Make sure the zippers are tough and lockable where applicable.

Pockets and Compartments

The more compartments the better. Good backpacks usually have a number of compartments to help store and separate your gear so you won’t have to sift through layers of clothes just to find your chapstick. For instance, maps can go in the top flap, while your flip-flops are stored conveniently in the side pocket. However you decide to pack, separate pockets allow easy and quick access to your gear. Most backpacks will also have strategically placed pockets, like on the hipbelt, so you can get to your gear without having to drop your pack.

Lightweight Internal Frame

Backpacks generally come with an internal frame, external frame, or no frame at all. I strongly recommend a lightweight internal frame made from strong carbon fiber rods. This provides more load support and just looks better. External frames are bulky, conspicuous, and use dated technology and frameless backpacks have awful load support at higher weights. Trust me, without proper weight distribution, you’re shoulders are going to feel every single one of those pounds.

Side Load Access

I’m seeing less and less of this function on the newer backpacks, but if you do happen to find one with side access you’re golden. You’ll be able to access items from the main compartment of the bag without digging in from the top. You’re life will just be that much simpler.

Suspension System with Padded Shoulders and Load Bearing Straps

Don’t even consider buying a backpack unless it has either an adjustable or fixed suspension system, along with a bunch of load bearing straps. The suspension system is the part that usually rests against your back and where the padded shoulders connect. Fixed system means that it fits to one torso size, whereas the adjustable system can be calibrated. The whole system is meant to help stabilize load and transfer weight to your hips. The load bearing straps, like the sternum strap, will also help move the weight around minimizing pain and discomfort.

Ventilation

To minimize the discomfort from an annoying sweaty back, get a backpack with ventilation. Most internal-frame packs will have some sort of ventilation system or design feature that promotes airflow, creating a permanent breathable layer between yourself and the backpack. Although not essential for load support, it certainly increases your comfort level.

Padded Full-size Hip belt

This is probably the most important feature of any backpack since your hips will be carrying 80% of your backpacks weight. The padding in the belt will help you avoid fatigue, discomfort, and of course load distribution. Make sure you get one that’s full-size, where the padding comes around your hip bone to the front, and isn’t just a thin strap with a clip.

Multiple Straps and Tool Attachment Points

This feature is a personal preference and doesn’t really impact comfort and load distribution but I do feel it’s just as important. I like the idea of having excess straps, clips and tool attachment points. You’re able to perform on-the-fly spot fixes for a variety of unexpected circumstances, making your backpack function more than just as a bag. You’re able to tie, hook, and rig a whole mess of things while on the road without having to carry additional gear. Some backpacks have begun to include “daisy chains” (typically found on climbing packs) which is a series of tool attachment loops.

Internal Hydration Reservoir

An internal compartment that holds your favorite hydration bladder (i.e. Camelpak, Platypus) so you have hands free access to H2O. Openings on the backpack will allow you access to the sip tube making it a very practical feature during your long treks. You won’t have to dig into your pack or stop your momentum looking for your water bottle.

What size backpack do I need

There’s no definitive rule for this question, as it completely depends on your own travel style, trip duration and weather. Generally, the colder the weather the greater the capacity needed; the greater the capacity the greater the overall weight. I try to pack light and bring only what fits in the backpack. So the best advice is to find a bag capacity you’re comfortable with, and pack in only what you absolutely need and what fits. I’ve provided a very broad guideline below:

Trip Length /Capacity in Liters (L)

Day Hikes 25-35L

1-3 Nights 35-50L

3-5 nights 50 to 75L

5+ nights 65+L

How to find the right fit

For the best comfort and proper load distribution you need to make sure your backpack fits correctly. Ideally, you should try it before you buy it, but that’s not always an option. To find the correct fit you’ll need to find your torso length, not your height, which is the distance, in inches, between your 7th cervical vertebra, and your iliac crest. In other words, from the base of the neck to the top of your hip bones. Once you have this measurement, use this guide:

Backpack Size /Torso Size in Inches

Extra small 15 ½

Small 16 to 17 ½

Medium/Regular 18 to 19 ½”

Large/Tall 20 +

As for your waist size, most backpacks have adjustable hip belts so finding your precise hip size is not as important as determining your torso length. Just make sure the belt sits on top of your hips, with about an inch above and below the belly button.

How much should I spend on a Hiking backpack

You’ll find backpacks ranging from under $100 to as high as $600. Unless you have an unlimited budget and want the latest model just because, it isn’t necessary to spend more than $300. With that being said, I would also stay away from anything under $150 as they will be lacking on essential features like a suspension system or a padded hip belt. Buying a backpack is an investment, and the last thing you want is for the seams to rip or a shoulder strap to tear off when you need it most. Just make sure your backpack has, at a minimum, the above features and fits comfortably.

The Best Backpack Brands

There are hundreds of great brands out there with an equally daunting number of styles and models. I’m not really the authority on which brand is better than the next. I can only tell you the brands I prefer and those whose quality I have confidence in. I’ve been using the same Osprey backpack since 2004, and my wife has been using a Gregory for nearly as long. I can honestly say, that after relentless airline abuse, backcountry trips, and overseas adventures, not a single strap, zipper or clip has ever needed replacement. Worth mentioning as well, Osprey and Gregory offer lifetime warranties on all their bags. You’ll probably never need it, but it’s great to know that the company stands behind their products.

Osprey

With 40 years experience manufacturing backpacks, and a lifetime warranty, Osprey exudes quality. They have one of the largest selections of styles and sizes for all sorts of adventuring, and their packs sport the latest backpacking technology. Osprey is my personal favorite and go to brand of choice; you really can’t go wrong with these guys.

Gregory

Like Osprey, these guys specialize in backpacks. My wife will attest to their quality and comfort. She has used her backpack for close to 10 years without a need to ever repair or replace. Gregory also stands behind their products with a lifetime warranty.

The North Face

Originating in San Francisco, The North Face has been developing adventure gear for over 40 years. I’ve never had the pleasure of using their backpacks, but with their pedigree and lifetime warranty, I would feel confidant carrying their packs any day of the week.

Arc’teryx

Along with having a really cool name, Arc’teryx pumps out some pretty awesome products. They are one of the more expensive brands out there, but if you’re willing to pay the price, you’ll most certainly get the quality

Deuter

A low to mid range brand, Deuter is a solid choice if you want function for a reasonable price. They’ve been in the backpacking game since 1968 and are very popular amongst Europeans.

Backpack Accessories

Rain Cover (separate or built in)

Most backpacks are water resistant but not waterproof, making them susceptible to persistent rain exposure. It’s a worthwhile addition if your backpack doesn’t already come with a built in rain cover. You needn’t get a fancy one or spend a lot of money, just make sure it fits your pack size. I use REI’s Ducks Back Rain Cover, and it works perfectly fine.

Airporter Bag

The last thing you want is to have your backpack damaged before you even start your trip. With all the straps, exposed shoulder, and hipbelt, it’s easy for something to get caught and tear right off. An Airporter bag will cover your entire backpack (think bag within a bag) and protect it during transport. As well, you can put a lock on the lockable zippers as an extra layer of theft deterrence. I have the Osprey Airporter LZ. I wish it was lighter (weighs about 1lb) but I suppose it’s worth it for the extra peace of mind.

Well, there you have it, my “how to buy an awesome hiking backpack” guide.

Hi I’m Carey. An aspiring scuba diver, novice spelunker and avid adventurer, I have a penchant for getting lost with an established track record for choosing the worst places to eat. With a healthy aversion to staying in one place for too long, I am the ceaseless wanderer and explorer. I recently traded in the suit for a backpack, and am now pursuing to live a life of travel. I travel to learn, I travel to live and I travel in search of the epic adventure.