How To Choose A Backpack


This post is part of our series ‘get ready for the outdoors‘.

Are you planning to purchase a new backpack for a backpacking or camping trip? But don’t know where to start… It’s not always a straightforward decision given the sheer volume of backpacks on the market. And your bag is going to be at the heart of the action carrying all of your essential items and playing a pivotal role in your comfort throughout the hike.

There are a few main areas you will need to consider before choosing which backpack is right for you:

1. Capacity: This relates to how big your bag is, this will be determined by how much gear you will need to carry/how long you are planning on being away for. 

2. Features: These are the features of a backpack which make it more convenient for you to use. 

3. Fit: Your body shape and size will dictate the fit of your backpack. Whilst many come in standard sizes, it’s always worth checking the size guides as it will make your trip much more comfortable. We cover this in more detail. 

Different Types of Backpacks

Weekend Packs (1-3 nights, 30-50 liters)

Weekend backpacks are typically to be used for shorter trips lasting 1-3 nights. However, if you are very disciplined when it comes to packing and only take with you what you need then the length of time could be extended . 

Remaining strict whilst you pack will allow you to be much lighter on your feet and make backpacking less tiring. 

Multi-day Packs (3-5 nights, 50-70 liters)

Multi-day packs are the most popular size choice of backpack to go for. Pack light and it can still be used over a weekend. Fill the bag up to the brim and it can be used for a week or more. 

Extended-trip Packs (5 + nights, 70 liters +)

Extended trip bags really are massive in size and can hold a tonne of gear. If you are thinking of remaining light weight whilst hiking, you are probably better off opting for a multi-day pack and packing very strict. 

Large backpacks can also be used for shorter trips, especially when the weather is cold as it allows you to carry extra-clothing layers. 

I managed to use a 70-liter backpack to carry all of my gear for a 4-month backpacking trip around South East Asia (although I did just take ultra-light clothing).

Ultralight Backpacks (1-day, < 30 liters)

Ultralight backpacks aren’t used for overnight trips. They are only big enough to carry your bare minimum essentials whilst on a hike or camping trip. 

They also usually feature a removable or no frame support to save on weight. 

If you are just looking for a ‘day-pack’ to use whilst hiking then an ultralight backpack could be a great option. 

Many of the larger multi-day bags come with a removable ultralight backpack to use specifically whilst hiking after you have set up camp. 

Backpack Features

how to choose a backpack

Backpack Frame Type

External Frame: Frames can sometimes be external frames that are visible on the outside of the backpack. These usually offer the strongest back support and are great for carrying uneven and heavier loads.

External frames also offer great ventilation and many ways to strap extra gear to the exterior of the backpack. 

Internal Frames: Internal frames are built into the back of the pack. They still offer good support and help distribute the weight evenly across your lower back and hips to make hiking on uneven trails much easier. 

No Frame: Backpacks with no frame are only seen on ultralight backpacks or day packs as you usually aren’t carrying enough load to warrant the extra support. 

Pack Access

Panel Acess: Panel access bags feature front and/or side zippers which once folded open expose the entire interior of the bag. This makes accessing everything on the inside very easy. 

Top Loading: Top loaded backpacks are the most standard option. They make organizing and packing the bag easier as you can place items which you don’t need as frequently at the bottom and your most important items near the top. 

backpack ventilation mesh

Backpack Ventilation

Some backpacks feature mesh backs that offer ventilation and prevent your back from becoming sweaty. The mesh also acts like a trampoline and prevent any hard items in your bag from resting against your back. 

backpack pockets

Pockets

Side Pockets: These are usually stretchy pockets on the side of the bag which are great for storing a water bottle and other items you need easy access to.

Hipbelt Pockets: These pockets are useful for any smaller items you need on hand. The beauty of these pockets is that you can access them quickly without taking your backpack off. 

Shovel Pockets: These are the flat ‘stitched on’ pockets you typically see on the front of the bag. They were originally made to hold a snow shovel, but they are great for stashing a map and compass. 

backpack padding

Padding

Padding is particularly important to make your hip belts more comfortable whilst using a large backpack. If you have opted for an ultralight backpack with no frame or back support then extra padding is a great way to kep the bag comfy on your back whilst remaining lightweight. 

backpack attachment points

Attachment Points

Attachment points on a backpack come in very useful whilst outdoors. Whether you carry an ice axe, trekking pole or your roll mat. They can all be attached to the outside of your bag when not in use – keeping your hands free and leaving more room inside of your bag for gear. 

Most attachment points will be strapping or stitched fabric with a hole for poles and carabiners (so you can attach anything you want). 

Backpack Raincover

Rain Cover

There is nothing worse than loading your bag with a week’s worth of clothes and food for it to all get soaked in a downpour on day 1. 

If you expect rain (or even don’t!) it’s always best practice to pack your rain cover in your backpack. 

It’s an item you hope not to use, but you’ll be thankful when you do. 

Backpack Fit

Once you have settled on what kind/size of backpack you need and the features that you want. It’s time to consider the backpack fit. 


The right fitting backpack will fit snuggly around your hips, and be the right length for your torso (not you height).

Waist

Roughly 80% (sometimes more) of the weight of a backpack is supported by your waist & hips. This makes it much easier to carry heavier loads over uneven terrain and long distances. 

Most hip-belts are widely adjustable and can accommodate sizes ranging from mid 20″ to mid 40″. If you have a narrow or wide waist, look for a bag with removable hip belts so you can purchase another set that will be better suited to your size. 

Torso

Your toro is the distance from your waist to the bottom of your neck (easier to take a measurement on your back). 

Backpacks usually range in sizes from small to XL or more. Before purchasing a backpack make sure to check the manufacturers sizing guide to help you choose a height of backpack to fit your torso. Getting this right is crucial in ensuring that your backpack remains comfortable for longer periods of time. 

Youth Backpacks

Whilst a younger adventurer should be able to fit into an extra-small or small adult backpack, some manufacturers do create youth-specific backpacks which are often shorter and include a narrower waist. They even sometimes feature more adjustability in the frame and hip belt to accommodate a child’s growth. 

Additional Options

Other additional backpack fitting options include adjustable straps on the shoulders to help raise the backpack for a comfier fit on your back and hips. And an adjustable sternum strap which connects across your chest and prevents the backpack from ‘slouching’ back once tightened. 

Ned

Growing up in the Lake District, UK I've always been surrounded by nature, whether it's snowy mountains, lakes, or the sea. Throughout school, I gained qualifications in Outdoor Education, and mainly focus my time camping, hiking & kayaking.

Recent Posts