When gearing up for your upcoming backpacking trip, it’s absolutely vital to pick the right backpack. Beginners often overlook the backpack issue and instead focus on the camping and survival gear, such as bear sprays, tents, backpacking stoves, and so on. These do matter, but the right backpack is the cornerstone for comfort since you’ll be on foot most of your trip, and an aching back and shoulders is the last thing you want.
We believe that a guide is better than a top list – remember the “teaching a man to fish” concept. So we asked experts from this outdoor sports store to prepare an ultimate backpack guide that answers all your questions.
When choosing a backpack for your trip, you should consider your backpacking style (which hints at backpack weight and gear accessibility), capacity, fit, and features. Let’s tackle each.
There are two types of backpackers: those who prioritize speed and those who prioritize comfort. The former travel fast and light, while the latter have more gear that naturally slows them down.
So, as a big-mile backpacker, you’ll be stressing weight reduction. You’ll want your backpack to be as lightweight and small as possible so it won’t add a couple of excessive pounds to your shoulders when loaded. Fortunately, many modern top-tier packs for ultralight backpackers are made from advanced materials that allow them to be lightweight and rugged. Also, when speed is of the essence, you want to make as few stops as possible. Therefore, your backpack should have adequate pack-on accessibility to keep all the necessary gear, food, and water at hand. Look for front and lateral pockets featuring elastic bodies instead of zippers and an internal sleeve for a hydration pack.
The weight of a backpack correlates with the number of features and comfort enhancers (cords, pockets, clips, padding, etc.) – the more features a pack has, the heavier it is. You need to ask yourself what’s more important to you. But usually, comfort-enhancing features are worth going for.
Those who don’t pursue speed and long distances will likely want to pack all the survival and camping gear they’ll need during their trips. Since weight reduction is no longer in question, you should stress weight distribution aids and pack capacity instead.
A pack volume depends on the trip duration and the number of stuff you’d like to pack. By the way, many outdoors newbies use the terms backpacking backpack and hiking backpack interchangeably, while it’s not quite correct. Since hiking implies returning home by the end of the day, hiking packs have a smaller carrying capacity, usually up to 35L. The best hiking backpacks may feature little back support and padded shoulder straps, but usually, they lack performance enhancements.
On the other hand, backpacking is a multi-day trip that implies spending at least one night outdoors. That means you’ll need to bring cooking supplies, camping gear, warm clothing, and other stuff.
There are three types of backpacks featuring capacities ranging between 30-70 liters.
Weekend backpackers planning a 1-3-night trip opt for 30-50L. But pay attention that if you want to be on the lighter end of this range, you need modern lightweight and compact camping equipment and excellent packing skills.
Multi-day backpacking enthusiasts planning to spend 3-5 nights in the wild will need a pack with a capacity of 50-70 liters. Such backpacks are an excellent choice for warm-weather trips and for those who combine backpacking with other activities.
An extended trip lasting more than 5 nights will require a 70+ liter backpack. Such capacious packs are also great for shorter winter trips.
To sum up, a medium-sized 60L backpack will cover most backpacking scenarios. But if you want the best backpacking backpack that perfectly fits your needs, consider your gear (total weight, size, and number) and the season thoughtfully. Since big-mile backpackers opt for a lighter and more compact solution, a 30-50L backpack is preferred.
Size & Torso Measurement for a Backpack
We can’t stress enough how important it’s to choose a perfectly sized pack. If one is too small or large, it won’t distribute weight well, and your shoulders, back, and hips will tire very quickly.
To pick the right size, you need to measure your torso length. It’s from the knobby bone that sticks out at the base of your neck when you lean your head forward and the hip shelf (the line of the iliac crests). Backpacking backpack sizes vary by gender and manufacturer, so you should always check product specs. Men’s backpacking backpacks tend to be larger, while women’s packs usually feature shoulder straps and hip-belts that contour breasts and wider hips.
Since your hips must support about 80 percent of the pack’s weight, you need to choose one featuring a hip-belt able to cinch around your waist tightly.
Let’s briefly describe each feature intended to enhance load carrying.
Load-lifter straps connect the top of the shoulder straps to the top of the pack frame, and their purpose is to prevent your pack from leaning backward and sifting side-to-side, which causes shoulder fatigue. A 45-degree angle is considered the perfect adjustment.
Other straps that help achieve a balanced construction include a sternum strap clipping across the chest, compression straps along the sides, and a hip-belt stabilizer.
All packs for backpacking fall under one of the following categories: frameless, internal-frame, and external-frame.
Frameless backpacks are lightweight and will suit fast-and-light backpackers concerned about weight reduction. However, the frame is crucial in ensuring comfort, so you should pack less gear into your backpack to maintain an adequate comfort level.
An Internal-frame backpack is the most common design. Since the frame is hidden inside the back panel, it’s closer to the body and tends to transfer more weight to the hips.
External-frame backpacks feature aluminum hardware on the outside and are chosen for carrying exceptionally heavy loads.
Some other features to look for include:
Padding. Cushioning in the hip-belt, shoulder straps, and back eliminates points where more pressure is applied, preventing soring spots caused by friction.
Ventilation. Breathable mesh and ventilation chimneys in the back panel prevent a sweaty back.
Pockets. Look for hip-belt pockets that provide instant access to small items (snacks, phone, etc.), elastic side pockets for a water bottle and tent poles, a shovel pocket, and a top lid pocket.
Panel Access. It will provide lateral access to gear in the main compartment without unshouldering the backpack.
Sleeping Bag Compartment. Located on the bottom, it saves space inside the pack and allows you to access your sleeping bag without unloading other gear.
Raincover. An exterior waterproof fabric intended to cover the whole backpack.
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