5 Common Mistakes When Buying a BackpackPublished on 05/17/2023 · 13 min readLooking for a new backpack for hiking and backpacking? Read this first! Below are the top 5 mistakes people make when buying a backpack.
Photo by Holly Mandarich
Hiking is an incredible way to get outside, enjoy nature, and challenge yourself physically and mentally. Having the right hiking gear can make a huge difference between making your hike an enjoyable adventure, and an uncomfortable—possibly even dangerous—experience.
Backpacks are one of the most important pieces of gear when it comes to hiking since it carries all the essentials from your food and water to your first aid kit, extra layers, and more! Whether you are headed out for a short, hour-long hike, or a multi-day backpacking trip, it’s important to have a comfortable, well-fitting backpack.
But with so many options available, choosing the right backpack can be overwhelming. In this article, we'll discuss the five most common mistakes people make when purchasing a hiking backpack, so that you can avoid them and choose the perfect backpack for your next adventure!
1. Choosing the Wrong Size
With backpack sizing, carrying capacity and fit are two key considerations when it comes to choosing a pack!
Opting for a pack with insufficient internal capacity means you won't have enough room to carry all your essential gear. Picture the disappointment of realizing that your sleeping bag won't fit or that you have to leave behind crucial items like a rain jacket or a first aid kit. Yikes! Insufficient space limits your ability to be prepared for unexpected weather changes or emergencies. It's essential to carefully assess your gear requirements and choose a backpack with the appropriate internal capacity to ensure you have enough room for everything you need!
A pack that is too large for what you’re looking to use it for (for example, purchasing a large backpacking pack for day hikes) can be equally annoying. It will be more weight that you have to carry, and the larger internal space will likely have you over-packing and struggling to find the items you need quickly since you’ll have way more space to dig through.
To figure out what capacity backpack you need, ask yourself what kind of hiking you are doing and what you’ll need to bring. I find it helpful to make a list of things I plan on packing beforehand! Here’s a general cheat sheet of what size pack you would want for certain types of hiking adventures.
- Shorter Hikes: 10-20L
- For shorter hikes that last a few hours, a lightweight backpack with an internal capacity of around 10-20L should be sufficient. This size can accommodate essentials like water, snacks, a small first aid kit, and an extra jacket or layer.
- Day Hikes: 20-35L
- Day hikes typically require carrying additional gear and supplies. A daypack with an internal capacity of 20-35L is perfect. It allows you to carry more food, water, some extra layers, a rain jacket, a camera, and other necessary items.
- Overnight Trips: 35-55L
- Overnight trips require more gear than day trips since you’ll need your camping equipment as well as the items mentioned above that you’d bring along on a regular day hike. A backpack with an internal capacity of 35-55L provides enough space for a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooking supplies, food, and clothing for shorter trips of only one or two nights.
- Multi-Day Trips: 55L+
- For multi-day backpacking trips, a larger backpack is necessary to accommodate additional gear, food, and supplies. Depending on how long your trip is, 55L is generally the smallest you’d want, but if you’re going for a longer period of time or in an area that gets colder weather, you might want to look for something closer to 70L. The 55-70L range allows you to carry a tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, food, clothing layers, a water filtration system, and other necessary items for an extended period in the wilderness.
These are just general ranges, so the pack size you want might vary based on your preferences, specific gear choices, and the duration of the trip!
Equally important as the internal capacity is the fit of the backpack itself. Neglecting to choose a backpack that fits your body properly can result in discomfort, pain, and even injury during your hike.
A backpack that is too large or too small can throw off your balance and strain your back and shoulders. Improper weight distribution due to an ill-fitting pack can lead to unnecessary fatigue and muscle strain, detracting from the enjoyment of your hiking experience. Take the time to measure your torso length and refer to manufacturer sizing guides to find a backpack that offers an adjustable and comfortable fit to ensure a more pleasant and pain-free hike or backpacking experience!
The right-size backpack should feel like an extension of your body, allowing you to maintain stability and maneuverability as you traverse the trails. By choosing a properly-sized backpack, you enhance your hiking experience by ensuring optimal comfort, safety, and agility throughout your hike!
2. Overlooking Features
The next most common mistake I see hikers make when choosing a backpack is not factoring in the features that would be helpful in a backpack.
Different backpacks come with different features, such as hydration bladder compatibility, multiple pockets, and gear loops. Consider your specific needs and the types of hikes you plan to go on when choosing a backpack. Don't overlook features that could make your hiking experience more enjoyable and convenient.
For example, I find that I drink more water when I hike if I have a hydration bladder, as opposed to just having my water bottle in a side pocket. It’s inconvenient for me to be without hydration bladder compatibility and only just a side pocket, but at least I can reach my bottle with one hand and don’t need to take my pack off to access it.
However, if it doesn’t have either and I have to store my bottle in the main compartment, this becomes the worst-case scenario because I have to take my pack off to get my water bottle and I end up drinking way less water!
Here are some other features you might find in a hiking pack:
- Hip Belt with Pockets
- Pockets on a hip belt are always nice because they can store small things that you might want fast access to such as a GPS device or a cell phone.
- Sternum Strap Whistle
- Most Osprey brand packs have this feature. It’s essentially a small whistle that can easily be blown while you have the backpack on. Though I haven’t had to use mine much, it’s a great safety feature if you fall while hiking and need to signal for help, or if you and a hiking partner get separated!
- Adjustable Suspension System
- Many hiking backpacks offer an adjustable suspension system, allowing you to customize the fit according to your torso length.
- Integrated Rain Cover
- Some hiking backpacks come with an integrated rain cover stored in a designated pocket. This rain cover provides protection to the backpack and its contents during wet weather, keeping your gear dry and protected. It would be a great feature to look for if you tend to hike in rainier areas like the Pacific Northwest.
- Trekking Pole/Ice Axe Attachments
- Hiking backpacks designed for more rugged terrains or mountaineering often include attachments or loops for securing trekking poles or ice axes. These attachments allow you to conveniently carry and access these essential tools when needed!
- Compression Straps
- Compression straps are adjustable straps located on the sides or front of the backpack. They enable you to compress the load and keep it stable, preventing items from shifting during your hike. Compression straps also help in reducing bulk when the backpack is not fully packed.
- Large Looped Zipper Pulls
- This might seem like a small feature, but especially when backpacking, it’s nice to have a large zipper pull on your pack. When I’m tired from hiking all day, especially at elevation my motor skills are not quite as sharp as they normally are, so anything that makes it easier to get in and out of my pack is helpful!
- Multiple Compartments and Pockets
- Most hiking backpacks have multiple compartments and pockets to help you organize your gear efficiently. These compartments allow you to separate and access different items easily, such as a dedicated compartment for a hydration bladder, a sleeping bag compartment, or stretchy mesh side pockets for water bottles.
These are just a few examples of features you might find in a hiking backpack! Some might not be necessary for your particular intended use, but it’s good to consider these things before settling on a backpack.
3. Sacrificing Quality and Durability for Price
High-tech hiking backpacks can get pricey quickly! While it's tempting to choose a cheaper backpack to save money, sacrificing quality for price can be a mistake that affects your overall experience on the trails!
Hiking backpacks are subjected to rigorous conditions and demanding environments. They endure the weight of your gear, the roughness of the trails, and exposure to various weather conditions. Choosing a backpack with poor quality and inadequate durability can result in some real problems!
Firstly, low-quality materials and construction may lead to premature wear and tear. Weak seams, flimsy zippers, and inferior fabrics are more likely to fail when subjected to the stresses of hiking. You would hate to have a zipper break or a strap tear in the middle of a trail, leaving you with limited options to secure or carry your gear! I’ve even had friends who have a small rip in a pocket of their pack that they don’t notice until too late and some small but important items such as their headlamps have fallen out on the trail. Don’t let that be you! Investing in a backpack made with high-quality materials and solid construction ensures that it can withstand the demands of hiking and last for many adventures to come.
Another issue that comes with a lower-quality pack is overall carry comfort. A poorly constructed backpack can result in discomfort and fatigue much faster than would occur in a higher-quality pack that was designed with comfort in mind. Hiking involves carrying a significant load on your back, and a poorly designed backpack may lack the necessary features for proper weight distribution and ergonomic support. Inadequate padding, lack of adjustability, and uncomfortable straps can lead to painful pressure points, chafing, and soreness. A high-quality backpack, on the other hand, will offer features like padded shoulder straps, a supportive back panel, and a well-designed hip belt, which help distribute weight evenly and provide enhanced comfort, allowing you to focus on enjoying the hike rather than dealing with discomfort.
It’s totally reasonable to want to save some money when shopping for a backpack, but sacrificing quality and durability for a cheaper price when choosing a hiking backpack can lead to a host of issues such as premature wear and tear, compromised gear safety, and discomfort during your hikes!
A high-quality backpack may require a larger upfront cost, but it pays off in the long run by providing you with a reliable, long-lasting, and comfortable gear-carrying solution for all your hiking adventures.
4. Forgetting About Comfort
It’s easy to get caught up in the capacity, weight, and price, and often overlook a crucial element: comfort! Getting an uncomfortable pack can take what could be a lovely day out in nature and turn it into a miserable trek.
As we’ve talked about above, hiking often involves long hours on the trail while carrying heavy loads on your back. Without a comfortable backpack, you may find yourself battling discomfort, pain, and even potential injuries.
One of the key aspects of a comfortable backpack is the fit. Look for adjustable shoulder straps, a padded hip belt, and a contoured back panel to ensure a secure and comfortable fit.
Another factor that contributes to backpack comfort is weight distribution. A well-designed backpack will distribute the weight of your gear evenly across your body, minimizing strain on any one area. A comfortable backpack will have a supportive suspension system that allows you to adjust the load and ensure proper weight distribution. This helps prevent muscle fatigue and reduces the risk of developing discomfort or pain during your hike.
Ventilation is another crucial aspect of backpack comfort, particularly in warmer climates or during strenuous hikes. A backpack with adequate ventilation features, such as a breathable back panel or mesh material, allows air to circulate between your back and the pack. This helps to minimize sweating and keeps you cooler and more comfortable during your hike. It’s especially important on backpacking trips to stay well-ventilated because it’s a bummer to arrive at camp the first day already dripping in sweat!
Finally, the overall design and ergonomics of the backpack contribute to comfort. Features like load-lifter straps, sternum straps, and compression straps allow you to fine-tune the fit and stability of the backpack. These features help to distribute the weight more effectively and ensure a snug and comfortable fit, reducing the strain on your body.
To sum all of these points up, don’t get caught up in the features so much that you overlook comfort! You’d hate to be so uncomfortable with your pack that it distracts from the enjoyment of your outdoor experience.
5. Not Testing The Pack
The final common mistake I see people make is not testing the backpack before going on long treks with it. While researching and reading reviews can provide valuable insights, physically testing the backpack is essential to ensure it meets your specific needs and preferences.
Testing a backpack allows you to assess its comfort, fit, and functionality. Everyone's body shape and hiking style are unique, so it’s important to make sure that your pack works for you! Trying on the backpack gives you a firsthand experience of how it feels on your shoulders, back, and hips. It allows you to gauge if the straps are comfortable and adjustable, if the hip belt sits properly, and if the overall weight distribution feels balanced.
It also gives you an opportunity to assess its functionality. You can check how easy it is to access different compartments and pockets, whether the zippers are smooth and durable, if the closure mechanisms (such as drawstrings or buckles) are easy to use, and if it will fit all of your gear. By physically handling the backpack, you can also get a better feel for its build quality and how sturdy the materials are.
Before taking your new pack out on any long treks, load it up with some gear and walk around your backyard or neighborhood to assess how comfortable it is. This will save you a ton of pain and fidgeting on the trail, and will give you an opportunity to exchange it for a different size or pack if it doesn’t fit your body or requirements!
Talk to an Expert
With so many options to choose from, picking the right hiking backpack can be a daunting task, but by avoiding the common mistakes we've outlined in this article, you can find a backpack that will meet your needs and make your next hike more enjoyable.
Take the time to consider the features and size you need, do a bit of research into high-quality backpack brands, and make sure the pack you purchase is a good fit by testing it out!
If you have questions on what size might be right for your specific adventure, what brands make great backpacks, or how to choose the correct size, reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated! We’re always happy to help you find the perfect gear for you!