A backpack may seem like a standard accessory—many people have been using them since they were in kindergarten! But depending on your intended use, not any old backpack will always do. It's important to have a functional, appropriately-sized, and well-fitted backpack designed for your specific activity, whether that's hiking, backpacking, ultralight backpacking, or traveling.
Whether you are doing a quick after-work hike or embarking on an all-day, peak-summiting excursion, an appropriately-sized pack with features that meets your needs will undoubtedly make the experience better. While there's no set-in-stone size for a day hiking backpack, a volume of 20-30 liters is appropriate. This volume provides enough space for essential gear, such as water, rain gear, snacks, and a first aid kit, as well as some extra space for luxury items, such as a hammock. If you are someone who plans to be hiking all day, a backpack closer to 30 liters is appropriate, while if you typically go for shorter, less strenuous hikes, you may opt for something smaller.
In addition to having the right size, it is also important that the backpack is comfortable—after all, hikes may include challenging footing, large elevation gain, narrow passes, and rock scrambles. Most day hiking backpacks are one size fits all, and will have multiple adjustment points so you can get the best fit.
Additional features to look for in a day hiking pack include hydration compatibility, weather resistance, external water bottle pockets, a sternum strap, and a large main compartment. While some of these features may be very important to one person, someone else may care less. When shopping for a backpack, look for an option that has the features that you deem most important.
On a backpacking trip, the backpack is one of the most important parts—it's even in the name! When choosing a backpack for a backpacking trip, size and fit are of the utmost importance. Nothing ruins a trip like a sore back and shoulders from an ill-fitting, overstuffed backpack.
When choosing your backpack volume, you have to consider what you will pack. Everybody has different priorities on a backpacking trip…there are the minimalists who opt to bring only the essentials and there are people who don't mind carrying extra weight for some luxury items. Will you be carrying food? Do overnight temperatures call for extra layers? These are important things to consider when deciding what to pack, and therefore, what size backpack you need. Backpacking packs range from 30 liters to 85+ liters with packs in the 50-liter range being the most versatile.
In addition to choosing the correct volume, the fit of a backpacking pack is extremely important. Backpacking packs are designed so that the weight of the pack is distributed proportionately, with the majority of the weight being carried by your hips rather than your back and shoulders. This helps prevent injury and keeps you going strong for miles. Some packs may be one size fits all, and others will be sized based on torso length. Multiple adjustment points, including the hip belt, shoulder straps, and sternum strap will help get the perfect fit so that the pack sits close to your body, allowing for balance and maneuverability.
Just like with a day hiking backpack, different people look for different features. An integrated or included rain cover, external gear straps and accessory loops, trekking pole attachments, and a main compartment divider are some key features that you may look for when shopping for the perfect backpack.
For ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers, shaving ounces is the name of the game. The backpack should be equally as lightweight as the gear inside of it! The weight-to-volume ratio and the durability of the backpack will be the most important things to consider when choosing a backpack meant for thru-hikes and ultralight backpacking trips. You need to have enough volume for all of your essential items, including shelter, sleep setup, and cooking equipment, without the pack itself weighing you down. A volume between 30-50 liters is ideal for many ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers since their gear is generally extremely packable and food is often re-stocked along the way on longer trips. While weight may be the priority, it's also important to take the pack's durability into consideration. A broken or torn backpack can ruin a trip by altering the pack's fit and comfort or even losing its functionality.
Travel and commuter backpacks have come a long way since I had my first two-pocket Jansport backpack in elementary school! While you may not be doing strenuous exercise with your everyday backpack on, it's still important that a backpack is sized right, fits well, and is functional for your specific needs. A separate padded compartment will protect your laptop or tablet. A wide mouth for the main compartment will allow you to fit bulkier items inside. A backpack that fits close to your body and has multiple straps will make a commute via bicycle safer and more comfortable. These are all important features to take into consideration when choosing a backpack for everyday commuting and travel.
Whether you are planning a multi-month thru-hike or searching for a backpack to carry your essentials during your daily ten-minute commute, don't settle for a backpack that will leave you with sore, chafing, and without enough space to fit everything you need! Connect with a Curated Camping and Hiking Expert to find a backpack that fits well and has all the key features you need!