Hikers can turn themselves into backpackers simply by loading some overnight gear into a backpack and making a day hike into an overnight or multi-night hike. To start choosing a backpack, you should consider how long you would like to stay out for your hike. While many of the things you pack will take up the same amount of room regardless of how long you are out (for example, your tent and sleeping bag), longer trips means more food, more water, more clothes, and sometimes, more luxury items to remind you of home. The larger the size of the pack, the more days you can stay out exploring.

Next, you want to consider if you want an internal frame or an external frame pack. The packs of yesterday were typically external frame type packs, but in the last decade, internal frame packs have surged ahead of their external frame forefathers. While external frame packs offer a good space to weight ratio, internal frame packs are often more supportive of your back, leading to a more comfortable hike. The majority of the packs sold in outdoors stores sold today are of the internal frame variety, with few external frame options even available.

Finally, you need to buy the right size pack that fits your torso size. While today’s packs can be adjusted, most come in various sizes to best fit individual backs. To measure your torso length, stand straight and tilt your head forward to find the bony protrusion that juts out (it may be helpful to have a friend help you find this point). This is your seventh vertebra and the top point of your measurement. Then find your iliac crest, or the top of your hip, by placing your hands comfortably on your waist. That is the bottom point. The measure between the two points determines your spinal length, and that is the length you should use to measure for your backpack.

Plan to spend at least a half day trying on different packs to see which offers the most comfortable fit for your back. Ask the salesperson at the outdoor store to load up the pack with heavy materials to simulate carrying a heavy load of gear. That way you can check to make sure the weight is distributed evenly across both your hips and shoulders.

Today’s packs are lighter and more advanced than ever before. Less weight on your back leads to more comfortable hikes, which means you can go out and explore more places than ever before.