How to Purchase the Best Hiking Backpack

Hiking Backpack Guide

One of the most important decisions that a hiker can make is choosing a hiking backpack. With all of the different models and designs of bags on the market, you have to understand what you are looking for in order to make a good decision. The tips and tricks below will help you choose the right backpack for your needs so pay attention.

Deciding on the Right Capacity

When you begin looking for different hiking backpacks one of the main things you should be paying attention to is the overall capacity of the bag. Most backpacks measure their capacity in liters, and it’s important to understand how much you can hold in a backpack based on the number of liters that it will hold.

While the only way to know if all your gear is going to fit is to test out an old backpack that you know the size of. After you know how much gear will fit into your backpack, you have a benchmark to work from.

If you don’t’ have a backpack that you know the size of, you can rely on these standard sizes based on what you plan on doing with your bag.

  • 20 – 50 liters: These bags will only carry enough gear for you to stay out on overnight trips that last for one to two days long in most instances.
  • 50 – 60 liters: These bags hold enough gear to make it through a two to three day trip comfortably.
  • 60 – 80 liters: With this sized bag you can go between two and five days out in the wild depending on how much gear you need.
  • 80 liters and up: You will only need a bag that is 80 liters and up if you are planning on staying out in the wilderness for more than five days.

Getting the Right Fit

After you know what size pack you want you have to decide which ones fit your torso properly. If you decide on a bag that doesn’t fit you properly it could cause you a lot of discomfort during a camping or hiking trip if you are walking over long distances.

When you carry a backpack on your back your hips should be supporting the weight more than your back is. Make sure that you pick a bag that fits your torso well, and that stays tight against your hips.

A good way to determine if the bag is right for you is to place weight in the pack and walk around with it and feel where the weight sits on your body. If it is sitting on your hips you should be fine, if it is pulling on your shoulders and back more than anything you are in for some discomfort.

Good hiking backpack stores will have weighted bags available for you to try out to get a feel for them. If you are purchasing a pack from the Internet, you should try out comparable bags in a store before making the online purchase, or you risk getting something that is not going to fit you properly.

Carrying Your Gear

Since a hiking backpack is going to be carrying all of your gear you should consider how you would like to carry that gear when making a purchase. If you have a large number of small objects you will need some pockets and separators inside the back in order to hold them. If you are mainly concerned about a few large items then you will want a bag that isn’t divided on the inside so that the items can be carried easily.

Elastic Pockets

Elastic pockets are perfect for carrying water bottles or tent poles, and they are tight against the bag when they aren’t being used so they don’t take up any additional space.

Shovel Pockets

Whether you want to carry around a small snow shovel or a dirt shovel you can store it in a snow shovel pocket. These are slit pockets at the top of the bag with a clasp for the handle of the shovel.

Sleeping Bag Compartment

Many people prefer to store their sleeping bags in a stuff sack, but if you aren’t among that majority you want a bag that has a lower sleeping bag compartment. This compartment opens with a zipper and is the perfect size to hold a full sleeping bag.

Top Lid

Bags with a top lid compartment are excellent for carrying quick-access items such as bug spray or small first aid kits. These compartments quickly zip open and are easier to access than things buried down below.

Attachment Loops

If you will be carrying several different handled tools such as trekking poles or a hatchet you should look for a bag that has attachment loops on it. These loops securely hold handled items to the outside of the pack.

Other Considerations

Now that you know the main features that you have to look for when choosing a backpack, it is time to deal with all of the extra considerations that you need to make when picking out a hiking backpack.

Keeping Your Items Dry

Most hiking backpacks are created to be water resistant, but that doesn’t mean that water won’t get into your bag during a downpour. In instances like this you have two options. You can either place your bag into a waterproof enclosure that will keep it dry, or you can keep all of your items in waterproof bags within your backpack.


Some packs just weren’t designed with comfort in mind. Even though they may be sturdy enough, large enough, and have enough support for your body, you may not get enough padding. Make sure to assess the amount of padding against your lower back as well as on your hips which will be taking most of the weight from the pack.


Many of the internal-frame bags that are very sturdy in design, provide a poor level of ventilation on your back. That means that you’re going to end up with a sweaty back after wearing the bag for an extended period of time.

Certain internal frame bags have ventilation chimneys built into them, or spacers that keep the bag off your back slightly. This is important to consider for comfortable traveling.

Material Strength

If you are rough on your gear you have to make sure you are getting something durable. Look for heavy weight materials for a more rugged bag. If you want something light weight you will have to settle for less durable materials, and that means you will have to be careful with how you use them.

Choosing a hiking backpack shouldn’t be a simple process because it has to match what you are doing with it. It’s important to take your time picking out a hiking backpack, so you get something that is going to work well for all of your backpacking trips.

Join the discussion