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What To Look For In An Expedition Backpack

Updated on April 4, 2013
Gregory Denali Pro 105 Backpack
Gregory Denali Pro 105 Backpack

Planning a backpacking expedition longer than 1 week can be very involved and can take a long time. This is because you need to bring along enough gear to keep you alive for that time while away from home. It isn't as simple as grabbing a few granola bars and a sleeping bag. That being said, having the right backpack for your trip is the first place to start.

An expedition backpack needs to be large enough to carry all of the gear you need to carry, but comfortable enough to distribute all of that weight. Below, we will discuss what to look for in an expedition backpack, so read on.

Size Of Expedition Backpacks

When it comes to expedition backpacks, one of the most important characteristics is the internal capacity. Often, the internal capacity will be given in cubic inches. For a trip lasting a week or longer, you will need to pack a lot of food and other gear, so more room is obviously better. You will want to look at backpacks in the range of 5000-7000 cubic inches for your trip.

Most expedition backpacks on the market will fall somewhere in this range. But don't just pack stuff in your bag because it fits. Weight can be a killer on the trail, and you will still need to trim the excess weight as much as possible.

Another common characteristic is the ability to store gear on the outside of your pack. Daisy chains (the ribbon fabric that usually swirls down the front of your pack on the cargo net), cargo nets, and compression straps, as well as outer pockets, allow for extra gear storage. Keeping gear you need quick access to in these locations is ideal.

Osprey Xenith 105
Osprey Xenith 105

Different Gear Access Options

Because expedition packs are so large, it is often difficult to access gear that you need without having to take everything out of the pack. Many expedition packs now have several access points to your gear. Make sure your bag has at least a top and side access point. A bottom access point is useful for just grabbing your sleeping bag out without having to dump everything else out.

Convertible Waist Pack

A lot of the expedition backpacks also feature a convertible waist pack. The top pouch on some models is removable, which allows you to do some day hikes from a base camp without having to carry your entire pack. This is a really nice feature, especially for those backpacking trips that establish a base camp rather than a hike through trip.

In the video below, the burly gentleman shows the ability of Gregory's Baltoro line of backpacks to convert into a day pack with the top lid.

Gregory Baltoro Review

Additional Features To Look For

There are several other features to look for in an expedition backpack. These include:

  • ice axe loops
  • separate sleeping bag compartment
  • hydration compatible
  • sleeping pad straps
  • compression straps
  • superior suspension and padding
  • optional rain fly

Ice axe loops are handy in an expedition that features ice and glacier navigation. Having a separate sleeping bag compartment helps to load your pack correctly (with heavier items higher up rather than at the bottom), as well as compartmentalizing your gear. All backpacks now a days are hydration compatible, but some use different techniques to store the water in easier to access locations. Compression straps help you to tighten your load to keep moving gear from throwing off your balance. Sleeping pad straps allow you to store your pad outside the bag. Expect rain on an extended stay backpacking trip, so keep your gear dry with a rain fly.

Expedition backpacks need to be as comfortable as possible. This is the most important feature to look for, and might require you to test a few out to see which one you like the best. If you go with a pack that isn't comfortable to wear, you will be struggling on the trail. The suspension system, along with the harness and waist belt, distributes the weight do your legs rather than your back. You get what you pay for in this department, so be prepared to pay more money for more comfort.

Arc'terxy Bora 95
Arc'terxy Bora 95

The Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing an expedition backpack, keep all of these different characteristics in mind. You will obviously need to pack a lot of food and other gear items, so the bag needs to be large. But it has to be a high quality backpack that is comfortable. Remember these things as you search for your trekking backpack.

Once you have your expedition backpack, the rest of your planning can proceed. Meals, packing gear items, the route, and your party can all be planned out. Remember to bring a camera along to make memories on the trail. Good luck and happy trails!

For an in depth article on some of the top expedition backpacks on the market today, click the link below.


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    • nekillpack profile image

      Nate 4 years ago from Utah

      Ha Ha, yeah the backpacks out there now almost allow you to bring everything including the kitchen sink

    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Very informative---a fry cry from John Muir who took tea leaves, bread crumbs and a rolled up blanket to hike in the Sierras. If no water was available, he mixed tea leaves with his saliva to make tea in his mouth. Nonetheless, most of us would die a la John Muir.

    • nekillpack profile image

      Nate 4 years ago from Utah


    • profile image

      lesliebyars 4 years ago

      Nice information and I enjoyed the video. Keep up the good work.