How To Choose A Hiking Backpack For Your Next Adventures In 2023

How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

An ill-fitting backpack can quickly dampen your spirits on the trail. How to choose a hiking backpack suited for your body and needs for comfort mile after mile? Consider capacity, frame type, fit, features and budget to find your perfect match. The right pack carries your gear efficiently and keeps you comfortable in the great outdoors.

This article will guide you through the components to consider when choosing a hiking backpack tailored to your specific needs and intended trips into the backcountry.

Determine Capacity Needs

Day hike vs. multi-day backpacking

You must determine how much space the backpack will require to contain everything when you set out the necessary goods for your camping & hiking trip. Determine what needs to travel with you by carefully considering the distance, the season, and the predicted weather.

Weight you need to carry (gear, water, food)

You’ll need space for a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shelter, clothes, food, cookware, and more for an overnight summer backpacking trip. In shoulder season hikes when winter weather is possible, you may need to pack bulkier cold weather gear. On week-long thru hikes, you’ll have to carry consumables like food, fuel, and water for the duration.

Cubic inch/liter measurements

Take inventory of all the likely contents to estimate the volume your pack needs to accommodate it all. Backpack capacity is measured in cubic inches or liters. For ventures under 3 days, aim for a 35-50 liter pack size. 3-5 day trips often require 50-80 liters, while expeditions over 5 days may call for a 70+ liter backpack.

Once you’ve determined the duration and estimated what you need to carry, choose a pack offering at least 15-20 liters beyond your base volume needs. This extra room allows you to pack it all securely and provides flexibility if plans change. With your expected capacity needs in mind, you can then zero in on ideal backpack sizes.

Select Proper Frame Type

With your ideal capacity determined, the next key decision is selecting the right backpack frame type for comfortably carrying the required load. Backpack frames help transfer weight off your shoulders and onto your hips for improved comfort and stability under heavier loads. The major frame options each have pros and cons based on fit, weight distribution, and flexibility for the trail conditions ahead.


Frameless packs offer the lightest weight option, ideal for short trips with lighter gear loads under 20 pounds. They lack a rigid frame, relying on the pack material itself and compression straps to cinch down contents. While frameless packs maximize freedom of movement, the tradeoff is less load support.

External frame

External frame packs position a rigid aluminum or composite frame on the exterior of the backpack. They excel at bearing very heavy loads on multi-day treks thanks to good ventilation between your back and the frame. But they are less adjustable to unique body shapes.

Internal frame

Internal frame backpacks integrate a lightweight framesheet within the pack’s body, hugging closer to your form. This allows greater mobility through tight trails while still providing stiffness for load support and stability. Analyze the pros and cons of each frame type before deciding on the right pick.

Get the Correct Fit Backpack

Adjustability features

With frame type selected, ensuring your backpack properly fits your body is crucial for comfort mile after mile on the trail. An ill-fitting pack can cause shoulder, neck, and back pain or create instability as you traverse uneven terrain. Carefully measure your torso length and hip width to choose a pack with the appropriate frame size.

Load lifters and straps

Trying on loaded packs at your local outfitter allows you to test the fit. The hip belt should wrap snugly around your hip bones to take the brunt of the load off your shoulders. Ensure the shoulder straps fit your shoulders without pinching. Load lifters should pull the pack in tight to your upper back.

Women-specific designs

Look for adjustable torso lengths, hip belt sizes, and harness straps to dial in the ideal fit. Women-specific packs designed for the female form often improve comfort. Don’t hesitate to cinch and loosen all straps and make adjustments for your body. Taking the time to find an ideally fitted pack results in greater comfort, support, and enjoyment out on the trails.

How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

Consider Additional Features

After finding the right capacity, frame, and fit, you can narrow down your options by prioritizing additional features based on your hiking preferences. Carefully evaluate the little details that make one pack rise above the rest for your needs.

If you’ll be using your pack for hunting trips or Peakbagging, choose options with ample exterior lash points and straps to attach bulky gear. To shed pounds, seek out lightweight ripstop nylon or Dyneema composite fabrics. For hot weather treks, look for mesh paneling or suspended frames to maximize ventilation and airflow against your back.

Those often exposed to rain and wet trail conditions should consider a waterproof rain cover built into your pack. Fanny pack style waistbelts, trekking pole attachments, and easy-access side pockets for water bottles all enable quick on-trail access. Analyze the extras to find your perfect hiking backpack.

With the ideal capacity, frame, fit and features selected for your adventures ahead, you’ll be ready to hit the trail in comfort on many miles and memories ahead.

Brand Recommendations

With all the factors in mind for your ideal hiking backpack, trusted brand names provide a great starting point for quality options worth considering. Certain companies have long established reputations for durable, technical and comfortable packs to suit different needs.

Osprey is a leading choice known for their adjustable and ventilated suspension systems. Deuter packs offer ergonomic designs perfect for all-day comfort under load. Granite Gear focuses on ultralight and minimalist packs ideal for thru-hikers counting every ounce. Gregory makes technical packs catering to female anatomy for a better fit.

Do your research to find brands that align with your priorities whether that’s lightweight designs, maximum durability, budget-friendly prices, or customizable features. 

Don’t limit yourself to the most hyped brands either – many smaller cottage companies also make phenomenal packs.

Trying on a few top contenders can help you determine what brand lives up to their claims of comfort and performance for your body type and budget. 

Let their reputation guide you, but make the final selection based on what feels perfect once loaded up and fitted to you.

Budget Considerations

With so many backpack options available, setting a spending budget helps filter choices and set realistic expectations. Ultralight designs with premium materials and an abundance of features will cost more than basic entry-level packs.

For weekend and overnight trips, you can find excellent quality internal frame packs in the $100 to $200 range from brands like Teton Sports and High Sierra. Expect reliable construction and comfortable fits without a big price tag.

Mid-range backpacks from $200 to $300 offer lighter materials, greater adjustability and more load support from companies like Deuter, Gregory, and Osprey. This range hits the sweet spot for most dedicated hikers and backpackers seeking quality.

Higher-end and ultralight packs from acclaimed brands come in over $300. The investment gets you top-tier craftsmanship and space-age materials for extreme minimalists.

While more money often means more features and comfort, you can find the right backpack for your adventures at any budget. Define your must-haves, try on various packs in your range, and make selections based on performance, not just price tag.

Finding the best hiking backpack elevates your trail adventures. The right pack suited to your needs bears the load comfortably so you can focus on the journey ahead, not discomforts. Carefully prioritize capacity, frame type, fit, features and budget to simplify the search. Evaluate your expected carry weight and ideal fit. Ignore hype and choose based on how packs feel once loaded per your body type and hiking style. Invest time upfront to find the perfect pack to hit the trails with comfort, stability and enjoyment. The right backpack not only hauls your gear but also provides lasting comfort mile after mile in the great outdoors.

FAQs about How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

Here are some common FAQs and answers about how to choose a hiking backpack.

How do I measure my torso length for a backpack?

Measure from the bony protrusion at the base of your neck to your iliac crest (top of hip bone). Have someone else measure along your spine while standing. Compare to pack sizing.

What backpack capacity do I need?

Day hike – under 30L, 1-3 night – 30-50L, 3-5 night – 50-80L, 5+ nights – 70L+, Add 15-20L for comfort and extra room.

What’s the difference between men’s and women’s backpacks?

Women’s packs have shorter torsos, contoured shoulder straps and hip belts, and may come in smaller sizes. Good for those under 5’6″.

How tight should the hip belt fit?

Snugly wrapped around the hip bones to transfer weight off the shoulders. Not so tight it digs in.

How can I optimize backpack fit?

Try on loaded packs and make adjustments. Tighten/loosen shoulder straps, load lifters, compression straps.

What features should I look for?

Ventilation, hydration pocket/ports, rain cover, trekking pole attachments, durable fabric.

What’s the best frame type for me?

It depends on your load, torso, and preferences. Try on each to decide.

How much should I spend on a backpack?

$100-200 for entry level, $200-300 for mid-range quality, $300+ for high-end.

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