How to Choose the Right Backpack

Backpacking season is in full swing, with many folks being on the trail since March and April, en route to completing their thru-hikes. Some of these folks are seasoned hiking veterans and have dialed in their backpack for maximum carry efficiency and load, while others are learning along the way, tweaking and changing their backpack as they go along. A few things to keep in mind before buying your pack will help prevent you from tweaking, changing, and wasting money on a pack which is ill fitting and painful to carry.

Choose your gear before you choose your backpack.

It is easy to buy a pack, because we think it looks cool, or is the latest rage. But this can easily lead to a pack which is wrong for your adventure. If, say, you are making a trek into the ultra light world and decide on purchasing a frame-less pack, keep in mind they work well for loads 20lbs and under. Anything thing above 20lbs and that wonderful frame-less all the rage pack quickly starts to become not so wonderful as you make your way down the trail. Conversely, if your load is very little, under 15lbs, having a large pack capable of carrying 60lbs is overkill. There is also a tendency to fill these large packs with meaningless items in an effort to help it take shape and not look like a drooping mess when worn. More stuff means more weight. More weight means a rougher time for you on the trail.

Be honest about your needs and know the difference between needs and wants. It helps to have an experienced person shakedown your gear. You’d be surprised how what you think you need you really don’t and is just adding weight. Paring down your gear will better help you select the right size backpack. If your trail follows a stream, do you really need to carry a gallon of water? Take advantage of the stream and carry a much lighter weight water filter you can use along the way, instead of carrying 8lbs of water on your back.

Hint– Stay away from Survival sites. They’ll make you believe you need a bunch of items which do nothing more than add weight. Before you know it, you’ll need a 7lb pack capable of carrying 60lbs worth of gear.

Be smart about your gear choices.

Get fit for your pack. Know your measurements.

When it comes to pack comfort, a properly fitting pack goes a long way. If you’re torso length is 18″ for instance and you buy a pack better suited for someone with a 23″ torso, that hip belt to help carry the load is not going to work well for you. The opposite is also true, so make sure you get measured at REI or some other pack outfitter or measure yourself at home, it’s easy.


In addition, you’ll want to make sure the waist belt size properly fits. Many packs have the option of having different size waist belt configurations.

Don’t fall for the bells and whistles

It is easy to get lured into buying a pack with tons of pockets and compartments, but be mindful all that extra fabric and extra zippers also add weight. Keep it simple here to save on weight. Also, don’t be tricked by some of the lower end pack offerings. Load lifters on inexpensive packs are usually there for show and don’t really perform the way load lifters were intended.

Don’t be afraid to modify your pack.

This one is not for the inexperienced or feint of heart, because if you don’t know what your doing, it is possible you ruin a pack. That said, modifications can turn a good pack into a better pack, if by nothing else, reducing it’s weight by a substantial margin and making it more of a dream to carry. In my case, I took a pack and cutoff the hip belt*, load lifters, and top lid (brains) and was able to reduce an already light pack from 1lb 14oz down to 1lb 7oz. Believe me, every ounce you save will make for a more enjoyable trip.

*  I cutoff my hip belt, because for as low a weight I carry, I don’t need it.

I hope this quick write up helps you find a proper pack suitable for your needs. Above all, continue doing research and get some trail time in to help build your knowledge and experience. Don’t be swayed into getting something because it’s all the rage in your community. If it is, do your research and find out why before committing. Bad reviews are just as important as good reviews, so use both.

Remember this is your hike. Be smart about it.

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