How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

Backpack on ground

Published: July 14, 2021

When choosing the best hiking backpack, you should check the different types of backpacks and frames, the backpack fit, and suspension systems. If you want to select the most notable backpack, you need to know the possible different features. Those may include ventilation systems, pockets, pack access, compartments, paddings, and attachment points.

In this article, we covered what you need to know regarding camping backpacks. If you’re ready to buy a backpack, make sure to check out our Best Hiking Backpack of 2021, where we have summarized the top products on the market today.

Let’s get started!

Backpacks differ depending on their purposes and capacities. When you’re looking to buy a hiking backpack, it’s important to know what you should look for and what would be the best fit for your travels.

The different types of backpacks to choose from

Determining your ideal type of backpack is something you need to consider when you want to buy one for your adventure. In this section, we will be talking about the different kinds of backpacks that will suit your travel.

The specs you need to focus on when choosing your backpack is its capacity and the amount of days or hours you will be traveling.

  1. Day hike
    A capacity of 10 up to 25 L is recommended for such an activity. We suggest basic backpacks with accessible, small storages and an added rain cover on the external parts. Inside, it is recommended to have a hydration pack, dividers, and enough pockets to store your other stuff. For a secured carry, it should have cushioned or padded shoulder straps, a hip belt, and a chest strap.
  2. Weekend hiking
    You should look for a minimum of 20 L, but we suggest you search for a backpack with a 30- to 40-L capacity. It should have all of the features that you need for a day hike, plus attachment systems to allow you to carry other equipment that you can’t pack inside. This type of hikes usually last 2 or 3 nights, so it is better if you pack light things for your convenience.
  3. Multi-day hiking
    You will be on an adventure for approximatively 3 to 5 nights. A 35-L bag is satisfactory but a 50- to 80-L capacity is recommended. Special features, like a waterproof ability, are an advantage since you never know what the weather will be like while you’re outdoors.
  4. Extended hiking
    A larger capacity is recommended since you will be out for 5 nights or more. It will still depend on how or what stuff and equipment you are going to pack, but it still is a quite long trip.We suggest you choose a backpack with 65 L and up, especially if you are leaving in the winter, because you will need to bring equipment to keep you warm. If you’re travelling in the summer, you can select a lesser capacity. Also, when traveling with kids, adults are required to carry everything.

Different types of backpack frames

The body structure of a backpack is a footing that forms its shape. The frame is the component that builds up the structure of this equipment, so it is essential to choose the perfect fit that may fit your requirements for a backpack. There are three types of frames — internal, external, and frameless.

  • Internal frame

This type of frame makes the backpack embrace closely to your body. According to our testers, it is an advantage to have an internal frame on your backpack if you are trekking and hiking, as it is appropriate for your back and makes it compact and stable when you carry it. Indeed, the design shifts the weight to your hips.

  • External frame

The first thing you need you to know is that this type of frame is unstable compared to an internal frame. Indeed, external frames are designed outside the backpack, which hampers the hugging-fit feature. However, this is recommended if you carry heavy loads.

What is great about such backpacks is the allowance and the freedom of organization inside. We’re not saying that internal frames are tight and messy, but if the frame is outside the backpack, the space that it will consume from internal frames can be an advantage for an extra leeway for your things.

  • Frameless

This is the most common type of backpacks. There is no external nor internal frame attached to this design. It only means that you need to carry lighter and less bulky materials.

Although backpacks with frames are recommended, the type of backpack that you carry is still up to you. But, be aware that it is not advisable to carry heavy weights because there is no frame to support and lifting those. On the other hand, this is a great option if you are just going hiking in uncomplicated places. It is much of a care-free type of backpacking.

Fitting your backpack

When choosing the right backpack for you, you should not only be attentive to its features, but also to its size. The size that we are talking about is not the internal capacity, but the space it occupies on your back. Things to look for are the size of your torso, size, and the user’s class — whether they are male, female, or kids.

  1. Measure your torso
    As you have probably seen in stores, there are specific types of backpacks to be used by the person whose size exactly matches the measurements of the bag. The first thing you should do is try the backpack.However, you will never know if it actually fits you until you stuff it with your things. The length of your torso is not the same as the measurement of your whole body, which is from head to your feet; instead, it is only your torso’s length.

    Bear in mind that if the backpack has modifiable suspensions which work to appropriate the equipment to your torso, this will represent a bit of extra weight.

  2. Measure your hips
    This is important to check, especially for backpacks with hip belts. These work as another support for your compact carrying, however, they should be fitted well to your hips.Once you’ve measured your torso, try to adjust the hip belts to see if they can be securely adjusted to hug your hips. It will still rely on your hip size, so you better test it beforehand. Note that some hip belts may be loose because they are made for large sizes.
  3. Gender basis
    Although you might have found the perfect backpack for your body, we suggest you look for one that is specifically designed for women if you are a female. This will make your fitting easier than randomly picking a backpack on display.We all know that men and women have different torsos and hip sizes, so it is a specific factor you should contemplate. Manufacturers do not only structure the size, but also the form and construction of the whole backpack.
  4. Kid sizes
    Kids also have their own particular type of backpacks because not all adult’s backpacks may fit their size. Regardless of their gender, as long as it is comfortable for them and fits their size, it will be an advantage for them during your family adventures.Usually, the specs in this type of backpack are smaller and emphasize more comfort for the children.

 

Suspension system

This is the spec of the backpack which summarizes all the parts of the backpack that are involved when you carry it. Its key role is to equally dispense the total weight of your backpack to your entire body.

According to our hikers, who were able to test different backpacks, the durability and the adjustable suspension are significant details that your backpack should have. Even if it perfectly fits your torso and hips, the bag’s weight still plays a big role.

If you are carrying a heavy load, you should be attentive and make sure the suspension is great. But how to choose the best suspension for you? Let’s see below:

  • For backpacks with a maximum capacity of 10 pounds, you will need less suspension wherein the backpack is frameless and a standard hip belt without cushion.
  • For a maximum capacity of 20 pounds, a backpack with a frame sheet, a hip belt that is slightly cushioned, and a dense frame is suggested.
  • For a maximum capacity of 20 to 40 pounds, your backpack should have average features and should bear a more dependable, durable, and strong frame, as well as a hip belt.

Lastly, note that your backpack should make you feel the weight transfer. If it makes you feel the weight on your shoulders, it is a sign that the backpack’s fit is not appropriate to the length of your torso and the size of your hips.

Features you would want to have in your backpack

Apart from the important specs we have previously reviewed, there are other features you might want to take a glance at as they may bring more advantages than common and standard backpacks don’t.

Ventilation

Not all backpacks have this kind of feature. This aims to provide breathability to your back, even when you carry your backpack for a long time. Bags that lack this feature leave the user’s back sweaty. The typical design for this kind of equipment is a mesh on the back parts of the pack.

Pockets

Having a backpack with side pockets is a great advantage. It not only holds your tumbler, but can also be used to store different types of gears, like poles. These side pockets are stretchy or expandable. You could also find pockets on the hip belt and on the façade.

You easily access small storage on the hip belt when the backpack is already hugging your back. This way, you will not struggle from forcing your arms to reach the nearest pockets available on the front part of the pack. The size is quite similar to the front pocket — small but handy!

Lastly, you have the shovel pocket, which can be used for lightweight materials. However, some backpacks don’t have a full closure on this kind of pocket since this is primarily for portable shovels.

Compartments and backpack access

There is a main compartment and a sleeping bag compartment. The main one is where you store most of your stuff, while the sleeping bag compartment can be found on the lower part of the backpack.

There are also three types of access: top, front, and side.

The top access lets you open the upper portion of the pack. For the front, the common design is a vertical zipper that offers easier storage of your things. Although, not all backpacks have this. In our opinion, the best access is located on the sides because it exposes the storage of your backpack through side zippers.

Paddings and attachment points

Paddings are great to support your back and hips. The attachment points, which we mentioned earlier, permit you to attach loops if you want to carry an ax or other equipment.

 

Conclusion

As we are in the midst of discussing the different specs and features to consider when buying a backpack, we noticed that a user should be careful and ensure the best fit for their body type.

Some users don’t actually read reviews and guides before purchasing a backpack, which is a bit of a mistake. However, the specs and fit will depend on your preferences and perceptions. Either way, we strongly recommend having knowledge on the features of the backpacks as it will be an advantage for you when you use it.

To sum up, the focal specs we suggest you focus on are the different types of backpacks and frames, the backpack’s fit, and the suspension system. Other features we have defined are just minor attributes you can check if you want a complete package of the backpack you will buy.

Expect that this kind of equipment is considerably expensive, however, you can still ensure the quality. Cheaper backpacks may provide limited and less dependable features. So, be wise while dealing with the contrast of the backpacks because you should remember that you will be hiking in places where the surfaces and surroundings are not consistent.

Indeed, you might encounter rough, rocky, and high grounds that require you to focus on your body, thus, backpacks with internal frames are commendable in this kind of adventure. Just remember that a piece of equipment chosen randomly is sometimes inappropriate for your usage.

Be strict with the features because there are extra features that may be useless in the end.

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