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Hiking Backpacks: How to Choose the Right Backpack for Hiking

Updated on March 10, 2011

If you have done hiking in the past, you know that one of the worst things that could happen during a trip is to wear an uncomfortable backpack. Because it could turn your walking into almost a torture. So, it is important for everyone doing hiking to have the right backpack for their travels. If you search the internet, you will see several backpack models for sale, with prices that vary wildly. Some of them are ridiculously cheap costing just about 50 bucks, some are seriously overpriced selling for U$S 600 or more (they call them “high-end” backpacks) and in the middle all the models and price combinations that you can imagine. So, to put a bit of order into this backpack maze, I am going to state the more important points to consider for choosing the right backpack for hiking.

Hiking in Baltoro Glacier

Seeing this guy so happy carrying this backpack to make a living, it is no wonder that some of us do the same for fun. On a second thought, he must be smiling because he could sit at last.
Seeing this guy so happy carrying this backpack to make a living, it is no wonder that some of us do the same for fun. On a second thought, he must be smiling because he could sit at last.

Internal or External Frame?

The backpacks designed for hiking, especially for hikes longer that a couple of days, are called frame backpacks, meaning that a frame supports the pack-bag and helps to put the weight on your hips. Because your hips are the place of your body that is better suited for carry weight. There are two designs: external frame and internal frame backpacks.

External Frame: originally, the backpacks were designed with a rigid frame, typically of aluminum tubing. The pack-bag is attached to this rigid frame. These models distribute the weight too high causing a loss of balance, less freedom of movement, and a bigger burden on your shoulders. On the other hand, they are cheaper and provide better ventilation than internal frame backpacks.

Internal Frame: nowadays, most backpacks for hiking come with an internal frame to support the pack-bag. The frame usually consists of a couple of flat bars (stays) integrated inside the pack. Internal frame backpacks are more popular because they have several advantages over external frame ones. The internal frame backpacks put the weight on your hips and hold your gear closer to your center of gravity giving you a better balance and freedom of movement. They fit better to your body and adjust completely increasing the comfort when walking. On the downside, internal frames tend to be more expensive. It is more difficult to find a specific item in them, because they have a single compartment that you can only access at the top. And lastly, internal frame backpacks will make you sweat more because they have to be carried closer to your body.

A confortable but a little heavy backpack: Gregory Baltoro 70
A confortable but a little heavy backpack: Gregory Baltoro 70

Fit

Fit is one of the most important aspects when choosing a backpack. A backpack that fits badly is a real pain during a hiking trip. Fortunately, many modern backpacks are designed in only one size and have an adjustable harness that fits well to the average person. The crucial measure is the torso length. Those with the torso too long or very short should have to be careful when choosing a backpack. To know if the backpack fits, measure your torso and check against the specifications of the manufacturer. When in doubt, wear the backpack with weight during several minutes to be sure that fits correctly to your body before choosing it.

Osprey Aether 70: A good backpack for extended hikes.
Osprey Aether 70: A good backpack for extended hikes.

What about the Capacity?

The rule here is to choose a backpack large enough to carry all your gear but not so large that you are tempted to carry more weight than you should. It is possible to do a general connection between the hiking days and the capacity of the backpack. Of course, it is only an estimation. Your hiking style, the different measures that manufacturers use, and whether you are traveling alone or not, will affect these numbers.

  • For travels of a couple of days in warm weather a 45 - 55lts backpack is enough.
  • For trips up to a week a backpack with a capacity of 60 - 70lts will be ok
  • For long hauls lasting more than a week consider one of around 80 - 90lts.

One good multipurpose backpack is the 60 +10lts. It is almost guaranteed that you always will hike with the backpack half filled or with several gear hanging. At last keep in mind that winter travel or technical equipment can increase these numbers.


Deuter Lite: For Those Searching Lightweight

Body Measuring Video

Conclusion

A good backpack that fits well to your body can enhance your hiking experience allowing you to focus on enjoying your trip. On the other hand, a backpack that it is not well designed or that fit badly could transform the easiest trek into a real pain. So, choose your backpack with care and spend your time enjoying your trips and no complaining about the pack.

***

Perhaps you may be interested in my Hub about the Best Pocket Knives

Photo of Baltoro Glacier Hiking is courtesy of: mariachily

Backpack Bargains

Teton Sports Fox 5200 Internal Frame Backpack – Not Your Basic Backpack; High-Performance Backpack for Backpacking, Hiking, Camping; Sewn-in Rain Cover
Teton Sports Fox 5200 Internal Frame Backpack – Not Your Basic Backpack; High-Performance Backpack for Backpacking, Hiking, Camping; Sewn-in Rain Cover

A better option for longer trips and still relatively cheap. Not the best, but good enough for a variety of trips. Idem at the above.

 

Comments

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  • chucksbaby profile image

    chucksbaby 7 years ago

    Good tips. However on capacity, I would say it depends on how much you plan to carry opposed to how long you'll be gone. I was on a 3 month backpacking trip and carried a 41 L pack (wish I had gone up a little bigger though) and my fiancé carried a 63 L pack.

  • profile image

    Hiking-Equipment 8 years ago

    Hi,

    A good summary and tips on backpack choice. I’m glad you suggested trying out a backpack loaded with some weight for a while before purchasing. Most backpacks will feel ok without weight in them. Loading the backpack will give you a greater idea of its suitability for you.

    Regards,

    Richard

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