how to choose a backpacking pack
S Migaj (Unsplash)

For avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts planning on spending the summer hitting the trails, choosing the right backpack for carrying gear can really make or break the entire trip. Whether training to conquer miles of terrain on the Appalachian Trail or just spending weekends returning to nature, having the right gear is essential to the hiking experience and these tips can teach you on how to choose a backpacking pack to make the journey that much more enjoyable.

Find the Right Size

Choosing the right size backpack is pertinent to creating the best conditions for hiking and shoppers should consider a variety of options when searching for a new backpacking pack including carrying capacity, frame size, and hip and torso sizing for each individual.

Carrying Capacity

The carrying capacity of a pack will largely depend on the type of hike and contents of each pack. Making a list of all items needed during a hike can help backpackers ensure they choose the appropriate size of pack for their hike without overfilling a pack. Overfilling can cause discomfort when hiking and even lead to injuries like strained muscles or chronic back pain.

Average backpacking sizes can range anywhere from 6 liters up to over 50 liters and shoppers should make a list or gather all of the items they will need for their hike to ensure there is enough space to carry everything in a comfortable, organized manner. Additionally, many backpacking packs contain multiple storage compartments and pockets to provide users with easy to reach options for important items like water bottles, sleeping bags, electronics, and more. Shoppers should keep in mind that having multiple compartments can often increase the weight of hiking packs and this may be something to keep in mind for users looking to have the most lightweight, streamlined pack.

Sizing Guidelines

Backpacks come in a variety sizes for all different body types when it comes to frame size and lengths of shoulder, hip, and torso straps. The most important measurement to use when searching for the appropriate backpack size is torso measurements, not overall height.

Torso measurements should be taken by measuring from the area where the base of the neck connects to the shoulders then down to the lumbar spine at the level of the hip bones. Finding this measurement takes a little bit of practice and enlisting the help of a friend or store employee may be required. After having these measurements in hand, shoppers can utilize sizing charts to identify the right size pack for their body type. Many companies offer both men’s and women’s packs with women’s packs having a smaller and more narrow frame.

Adjustable Suspension Systems

Most backpacks feature a suspension system that includes adjustable chest and hip straps that aid in keeping weight evenly distributed during use to help avoid injury and make carrying gear easy and more comfortable for users. While it’s rare for chest or hip straps not to fit when an appropriately sized backpack is chosen, shoppers will want to ensure these features fit properly before purchase. Additionally, users may want to look for special features like pockets added to the front of hip straps for extra storage space for small items.

For backpackers using a pack with a shoulder suspension system, it’s important that the system fits correctly to help prevent against pain or injury when hiking. Load lifter straps are typically found at the top of the shoulder straps on backpacks and should be adjusted to a 45-degree angle to keep heavy packs from leaning backwards and help stabilize the pack while hiking.

Fastening sternum strap with hip strapped already locked for more comfortable hike
Fastening sternum strap with hip strapped already locked for more comfortable hike – solovyova (depositphotos)

Choose a Durable Material

One of the hallmarks of a well made backpack is the use of strong, durable material that’s able to withstand wear and tear along the trail. Most backpacks are made up of a variety of different materials but the type of material and its strength are important factors to consider when selecting a new pack, as well as considering special features like weatherproof coating and the use of eco-friendly materials.

The Best Material for Backpacks

While backpacks have been made from a variety of different materials over the years, the most durable fabric available on the market today is a special brand of nylon known as RipStop nylon. This material features a special layer of this durable nylon material that is integrated into the layers of fabric that aid in preventing rips and tears along the trail. This type of material is so strong that it is often used to make boat sails, parachutes, and hot air balloons.

Weatherproofing and Water Resistant Features

Most backpacking packs come with some form of water resistant features such as packable or integrated rain covers that can be used as needed to cover the entire pack during storms. Many hiking backpacks are coated in polyurethane which provides a waterproof seal to keep valuables safe. Additionally, good waterproof packs will have minimal stitching or seams as this area often allows water to enter the bag.

Water resistant backpack helps to keep your important stuff dry in a rainy day
Water resistant backpack helps to keep your important stuff dry in a rainy day – xload (depositphotos)

Eco-Friendly Options

For backpackers looking for an environmentally friendly option, companies like Patagonia and Fjällräven have a focus on sustainability with the use of recycled materials, chemical free solution dyes, and excellent craftsmanship that promotes sustainability through longevity. Additionally, many companies specializing in outdoor sporting gear have sustainability programs that donate time, money, and other resources to protecting the environment in various ways. These programs can range from conservation awareness efforts and teaching children about conservation to funding scientific research to study and implement the latest techniques in preserving and protecting the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Know Your Budget

When considering purchasing a new backpacking pack, it’s important for shoppers to know the budget they will be working with. While many name brand backpacks with all the bells and whistles can cost hundreds of dollars, there are plenty of available options out there for bargain shoppers. You might want to check out our best backpack brands section to see our top recommendation for backpack best suited for various purposes.

The average cost for a backpacking pack comes about to be about $2 per liter making a 30 liter pack around $60, a 50 liter pack around $100, and so on. Some packs with special added features often come with a higher price tag, but not all users will want to pay for these special details. Shoppers looking for a simple, budget friendly backpack should keep this in mind when selecting a new pack to ensure they are getting a fair deal.

For budget conscious shoppers, checking out gently used backpacks may be a great option to save a few bucks. In addition to online retailers like eBay, many brands and sporting good stores resell gently used items and even offer trade in programs where backpackers turning in their gently used gear may receive a credit for new gear, which in turn gives shoppers on a budget the chance to get their hands on some great gear at a reduced price.

Splurge on Special Features

Over the years, backpack companies have listened to the feedback from their consumers and are always on the lookout for ways to improve packs to help make trips easier. When shopping for a new backpacking pack, it’s a good idea to check out special features on the packs that may offer users a simple solution to some of the difficulties encountered every day with hiking.

External Straps and Loops System

Most backpacking packs are designed with external systems for easy grab and go access to items like hiking poles, ice picks, climbing helmets, and sleeping bags. While most packs over 25 liters will have all of these amenities, it may be more difficult to find on smaller packs and backpackers should shop around to find what they are looking for.

Hydration System Pocket

Having a hydration system pocket on a backpacking pack is a must for wearers to be able to carry enough water for multi-day hikes and excursions. Over the years, companies have developed specialized bladders that carry large amounts of water in a sleek and easy to carry pouch. The bladder has a long silicone hose attachment for easy access to water and most backpacking packs will have a pocket designed especially to carry this hydration system that has a small opening for the hose. The hose will exit the backpack at the top and attach to a small loop on the shoulder strap that allows the user to drink water straight from the pack without having to reach inside.

With the plethora of companies offering so many available sizes and features of backpacking packs these days, it may seem like an overwhelming and daunting task to find just the right pack to suit your needs without going crazy. But once you’ve found the right backpacking pack, creating memorable hiking experiences along the trail will make all of your hard work worth it.

Once you have found the backpacking pack that’s the perfect fit for your lifestyle, it’s important to keep the pack in good working condition by ensuring the pack is properly cleaned and maintained after each use. Taking care of a good backpacking pack can help build memories along the trail that will last a lifetime.

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