A comfortable hiking backpack will transform your hikes. A bad backpack, however, will greatly limit your potential. With all the options out there, it can be difficult to know the difference between a good backpack and a bad one. Among a huge variety of shapes, styles, and sizes—how do you know which is best for you?
The first thing you need to consider is the size of the backpack. Different hikers have different needs, and picking a backpack that is too small or large for your journey means you will have to overstuff it, or underfill it. If you do this, the weight won’t be evenly distributed and the backpack might put too much pressure on certain parts of your back. This will become painful after an hour or so of hiking.
To combat this, write down everything you will need for your upcoming trek, or what you carry on your usual hikes. This should give you a good idea of how many liters your backpack will need to be. Typical backpack sizes are small, medium, and large, and many have a range of adjustability in torso height and hip belt. You should consider the length of your torso, rather than your height when choosing a backpack; if you are tall but you have a small torso, a medium backpack will probably fit best.
The ultimate goal is to find a backpack that will have room for everything you need without being too big, creating a potentially overweight pack.
The next thing you need to consider is the carrying capacity of the backpack and your end goals. For example, if you are traveling on planes or buses with the pack, you’ll want to make sure that it can fit in overhead compartments.
The length of your trip is the main thing to consider when it comes to carrying capacity. If you are planning hiking trips that will last for more than one day, you will need an overnight backpack with at least a 35-liter range. Multi-day packs typically range around 45 liters up to 70 liters. This will have enough room for water, hiking gear and oversight provisions. However, if you only plan hiking trips that last a few hours, a smaller backpack will be just fine (15 liters or 22 liters are common sizes for day hikes).
Once you have worked out the best size and volume for your backpack, you can start to think about the backpack suspension system. Hiking packs are fairly heavy, so it’s important to find a backpack that spreads the weight around your body evenly, with no pressure points. If you buy a bag that has no suspension, your shoulders will carry all the weight and within a few hours, you will be in pain.
The ideal hiking backpack will come with a decent hip belt, chest or sternum strap, and shoulder straps. This secures the pack to your body so you don’t feel the weight as much. It also means you can move around freely without worrying about your backpack falling off or coming loose.
It is best to choose backpacks that have thick, padded shoulder straps that will dig into your shoulders less, and the thickness of the straps will help to distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders.
Do your homework and spend some time trying on packs before making your purchase.