Complete Guide on How to Choose a Backpack

Backpack against a tree

If you have a passion for hiking, you more than likely are aware that the backpack you take with you for the adventure can either make or break your hiking experience. Regardless of the hiking that you want to embark on, it’s important that you choose the right backpack. That way, you will enjoy a great deal of comfort and reliability, hence enjoy your trip to the fullest.

The information in this guide should come in handy if you’re in the market for a great hiking backpack, so read on to discover more.

How Backpacks are Measured

One of the most important factors in choosing the right backpack is knowing how backpacks are measured. That’s in consideration that size is a good indication of the backpack’s capabilities and limitations as well.

Besides, the size of your backpack in relation to your body size and needs can make the difference between enjoying comfort and safety or not. A backpack that is of the right size will be comfortable to carry around and reduce the possibility of accidents related to instability. The size of a backpack is dependent on its volume and dimensions.

Measuring the Volume

The backpack volume can be denoted in cubic inches or liters, depending on the manufacturer’s preferences. To measure the backpack volume, you would have to determine exactly how much each compartment within the backpack can store.

However, it’s good to keep in mind that not all manufacturers measure the volume of their backpacks this way. Some consider the size of the open pockets in a backpack’s exterior when measuring its size. As such, the backpack may seem large, which is not the case.

Measuring the Dimensions

The dimensions of a backpack basically refer to its length, width, as well as depth. The dimensional size of a backpack helps you know how the bag will sit on your body. For example, the bag’s length can give you a good idea of where the bag will end on your lower back.

Choosing the Right Capacity For You

When choosing a hiking backpack, two vital factors should guide you in making the right choice. One of those factors is the duration of your hike, and the other is your body size.

Picking a Hiking Bag Based on the Duration of the Hike

The duration of your adventure will determine the most appropriate backpack size. The following are the three main hiking trip types, and the appropriate backpack size for each:

1. Weekend (1-3 nights): 30-50 liters

A backpack that can carry 30-50 liters is a perfect choice if you want to pack light. Such a backpack can be used for simple hiking trips with a total of 1-3 nights. One thing to keep in mind is that packing light will require a great deal of planning and discipline, to avoid running out of vital supplies.

2. Multiday (3-5 nights): 50-80 liters

Hiking backpacks that fall in the 50-80 liters range are the most commonly purchased. They are a perfect choice if you want to go on a warm-weather trip that will last 3 or more days. They can also be used for backcountry skiing and day trips if you have many essentials to carry with you.

3. Extended trip (5 or more nights): 70 liters or more

If you’re planning to go on a trip that will last five days or more, you will require a backpack capable of taking 70 liters or more. Such bags are also perfect choices for winter treks that will last more than 1 night, as well as trips that involve adults taking young children with them.

Picking the Right Backpack Size Based on Your Body Size

When picking a backpack based on your body dimensions, you should not concentrate on your overall height. Instead, pick the ideal backpack size based on your torso length. The most effective way to measure the length of your torso is by using a flexible tape measure. You can ask a friend to help you out with accurate results.

The following are the steps that you should follow when measuring your torso length:

1. Lean forward and try to locate the bony bump on the back of your neck, that is, between the length of your shoulders. This should be the upper area of your torso length and is known AS the C7 cervical vertebra.

2. Next, move your hands downwards, past your ribcage to the area on top of your hipbones. Stick your thumbs inwards, and then point your index fingers forward to draw an imaginary line between your thumbs. This area, also known as the iliac crest, should be the bottom part of your torso length.

3. While standing with your back straight, ask your friend to measure the length of the area between your iliac crest and the C7 cervical vertebra.

With the resulting length, you can now pick a bag that fits your body size. In addition to measuring your torso length when picking a backpack based on your body dimensions, it’s also advisable to measure your hips or waist size. That’s considering that most of the weight of your backpack will rest on the waist or hips region of your body.

You may want to pick a bag with adjustable suspensions for even greater comfort since you can modify such a bag to fit your torso.

Additional Factors to Consider When Selecting a Hiking Backpack

In addition to the features that determine your comfort and safety when carrying the backpack around, you can also pay attention to the following features when selecting a hiking backpack:

1. Backpack Frame Type

Hiking backpacks can be categorized depending on their frame type. The mainframe types are as follows:

  • Internal-frame backpacks

Bags with a body-hugging internal frame are designed to ensure the hiker’s stability, even on rough terrain. They use a couple of load-supporting technologies to transfer the weight to the hip region for added stability.

  • External-frame backpacks

Such backpacks are a good option if you will be carrying a heavy and irregular load. They offer great ventilation as well as varying gear organization options.

  • Frameless backpacks

If you are an ultralight enthusiast who likes hiking fast, you can go for a backpack that does not have a frame. You can even opt for a hiking pack that has a removable frame for increased convenience.

2. Ventilation

Mostly a problem with internal-frame backpacks, the sweaty back syndrome can reduce your comfort during a trip, making it less enjoyable. To combat this issue, you can pick a backpack with a suspended mesh back panel, also known as a tension-mesh suspension. This panel creates some ventilated space between your back and the pack to enhance ventilation and increase comfort.

3. Compartments

Depending on your needs, you should choose a backpack with enough compartments to carry all your items. There are different kinds of pockets to consider when it comes to choosing a backpack with the compartments that you require:

  • Elasticized side pockets: These lie flat when they don’t have anything in them but stick out when something like a bottle is put in them.

  • Shovel pockets: These are flaps found on the front side of a backpack and can be used to hold a snow shovel, jacket, maps, or other loose, lightweight items.

  • Hipbelt pockets: These pockets are used to hold small items that you may want to reach quickly, such as your smartphone, packets of energy gel, and more.

  • Front pockets: Mostly featured on the exterior of a shovel pocket, these pockets are meant to hold small, less bulky items that you may need at one point during your trip.

  • Sleeping bag compartment: This is a convenient stash compartment mostly located around the bottom area of the backpack. It comes in handy if you don’t want to stuff your sleeping bag into the backpack or if you want to carry other gear that you can retrieve without having to open the main compartment.

  • Top lid/removable daypack: Most of the backpacks with a top lid feature it as a removable pack that can be used in various ways, such as being converted into a hip-belt pack.

4. Padding

Some hiking backpacks are designed with extra padding around the hip or lumbar region and the shoulders to reduce sore spots.

5. Attachment Points

Even though every backpack will feature tool loops for things like an ice ax, some backpacks specialized attachment points such as a daisy chain, reinforced crampon patch, and more.

Even though the additional features of hiking backpacks usually come in handy in various situations, it’s good to keep in mind that they can affect the bag’s final pricing. As such, it’s only rational that you go for the extra features that you surely need.

Final Thoughts

If you love the outdoors, it’s considerably important that you pick the right backpack for your trips. By doing so, you will enjoy your outdoor adventure even more due to the added comfort and safety. With this guide, you should be in a better position to find the ideal hiking backpack based on the size, volume, and additional features meant to improve comfort and usability.

Even as you read buying guides to help with selecting the right backpack, however, keep in mind that you are the one to make the final decision based on personal factors such as your budget.

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