So, you are ready for a big weekend trip to the mountains.  You have your tent, your stove, clothing and food, and you must now stuff it all into one simple backpack.  Now, this backpack is not a regular school child’s book bag; it is much more.  It will carry everything that you need for your entire camping trip.  A good backpack will make hiking a breeze, but a bad one will make your trip miserable.  So skip this misery and read through the following guide to help you find the right backpacking backpack.   

Internal Frame VS External Frame

External frame backpacks used to be the pack of choice, but today, they are almost nowhere to be found and with good reason.  These packs can generally fit a lot of camping gear, but its advantages stop there.  Internal frame packs are much more comfortable and create a better center of gravity when you are hiking.  Because internal frame backpacks create a much more pleasant hiking experience, the external frame has become nearly extinct. 

How Long Are Your Backpacking Trips?  Backpacking Internal Frame 70LCredit:

Most manufacturers break their backpacks up into three categories:

  • Daypacks
  • Weekend Trip Packs
  • Extended Trip Packs

Most backpacks will have a number attached to their model name, which indicates how large the bag is using liters as a scale of measurement.  This is an important number when comparing backpacks between and within the above categories. 

Daypacks are small and should only be used for hikes lasting less than a day.  When going on a multi-day trip, you will more than likely want to include a daypack with all of your gear.  Daypacks are generally well under 40 liters in size. 

Weekend trip packs should carry enough gear for a two to four night backpacking trip.  If you have compact, ultra-light gear, you might be able to stretch out a weekend trip pack for a few more days.  Weekend packs are between 40 and 75 liters in size.  Female packs generally hold less than standard male packs. 

Extended trip packs are obviously the largest of the three types of backpacks and will hold enough gear for a trip lasting more than four days.  Extended trip packs are sized around 65 liters and much larger. 

You should always purchase the largest pack you ever intend to use.  If you plan on a weeklong backpacking excursion but usually just participate in weekend trips, you should buy an extended trip pack.  It is always better to have a pack with a little extra space than to have one without enough room for all of your gear. 

When And Where Do You Backpack? 

Here are some guidelines for pack sizing according to when and where you backpack:

  • Summer Backpacking: Use the above guidelines
  • Spring, Fall, or Winter Backpacking: Consider the purchase of an extended trip pack
  • High Altitude Backpacking: Consider the purchase of an extended trip pack

If you ever plan on a winter backpack or if you frequently camp at higher (and colder) altitudes, then you should consider the purchase of an extended trip pack.  With this larger pack, you will always have enough room to carry your warm winter gear.  Again, you should purchase your backpack based on the largest amount of space that you will ever need. 

Do You Bring A Bear-Proof Container?

Bear-proof containers are highly recommended and required in many different mountain ranges through the United States.  If you carry a bear proof container with your gear, make sure that it will fit into your new pack.   All extended trip packs should be able to carry these animal-proof containers but these containers may not fit in some weekend packs.

If a bear-proof container is not required, you can save space in your pack by hanging your food from a tree. 

What Gear Do You Carry?  Backpacking Internal Frame 4500Credit:

If you carry larger and heavier gear, you will definitely want to consider the purchase of a larger backpack.  But, if you have a lot of ultra-light equipment, a weekend trip backpack should suffice.  Keep in mind the bulkiness of the gear that you carry.  Some backpacks have a lot of little pockets and pouches that will help you organize all of your stuff. 

There is no right or wrong with the type of gear that you pack, but lightweight gear is becoming increasingly popular in the world of backpacking.  This gear will shed weight off of your back and will help create room within your pack.  With all the innovation within the last ten to twenty years, lightweight gear is every bit as sturdy and dependable as “normal” sized gear—it just might be a little smaller.  Choose the gear that is best for you but just understand that the comforts of larger gear could make for a much more uncomfortable hike. 

How To Fit Your Backpack

A properly fitted backpack will make your extended hiking trips much more pleasant than the miserable alternative.  To ensure the proper pack fitting you will need to take into account your body features. 

Torso Length

The length of your torso—not your height—is very important when fitting your backpack.  Pack torso length comes in extra small, small, regular, and large sizes.  Be sure to look at manufacturer specifications to ensure you find the correctly sized backpack for your torso. 

When your pack is properly sized for your torso, this will ensure that about eighty percent of the weight of your backpack will rest on your hips. 

Waist Size

Most hip belts are adjustable and should fit hikers of any size.  People with extremely small waists may need to purchase a new hip belt. 

Women and Children

Many backpacks are made specifically with the small frames of women and children in mind.  On female packs, straps and supports are adjusted and optimized for the frame of a woman. 

Other Considerations

Be sure to consider the other backpack features listed below.  While not critical for a good backpack, they could dramatically improve the comfort and usability of your backpack. 

Pockets and Pouches – Well-sized and places pouches will help you stay organized on your next wilderness outing.  Some backpacks feature a top pouch that can also be detached and used as a hip pack.  These pouches and pockets are good for storing items like sunscreen, bug repellant, and a map that need to be readily accessed. 

Padding – Properly placed padding will greatly increase the comfort of what is usually a very uncomfortable piece of gear. 

Ventilation – Many new backpacks have a mesh system that helps vent the sweat off of your back while hiking. 

Hydration Compatible – Most backpacks nowadays include an interior pouch to store a camelback or other hydration pouch.  If you have ever used a water pouch before, you will never want to go without one again.