how big of a backpacking pack do i need

The Ultimate Guide: Choosing the Right Backpacking Pack Size

How big of a backpacking pack do I need? Because, choosing the right backpacking pack is a crucial decision for any outdoor enthusiast. The size of your backpack can significantly impact your comfort, mobility, and overall enjoyment during your adventures. Whether you’re embarking on a weekend hike or planning an extended backcountry expedition, determining how big of a backpacking pack you need is the first step in ensuring a successful and comfortable journey.

This decision requires careful consideration of your trip’s duration, the gear you’ll be carrying, and your personal preferences. In this guide, we will explore the factors that influence your choice and help you find the perfect backpacking pack for your upcoming adventures.

Contents of the article

how big of a backpacking pack do i need? The Importance of the Right Size

When embarking on a backpacking adventure, whether it’s a weekend hike in the wilderness or a multi-week trek through challenging terrain, one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make is choosing the right backpack size. The significance of this choice cannot be overstated.

Your backpack is your constant companion on the trail, carrying everything you need for a successful and comfortable journey. Selecting the right size is key to ensuring that your outdoor experience is enjoyable, hassle-free, and, most importantly, safe.

Factors Influencing Backpack Size Choice

Choosing the correct backpack size isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It depends on a variety of factors, each of which contributes to a tailored decision. These factors include your trip’s duration, the season and climate of your destination, the gear and equipment you plan to carry, and your personal preferences.

To make an informed choice, it’s essential to consider these factors carefully. In this post, we’ll explore these elements in detail and provide you with valuable insights to help you select the ideal backpack size for your specific needs.

Understanding Backpack Capacities

A. What is Backpack Capacity?

Backpack capacity, often measured in liters, is the volume of space a backpack can hold. It’s a critical factor when determining the right backpack size for your outdoor adventure. The capacity indicates how much gear, clothing, and supplies you can carry comfortably. Understanding the various capacities available is essential for choosing the ideal backpack for your specific needs.

B. Volume vs. Weight: Finding the Balance

While backpack capacity is crucial, it’s equally important to strike a balance between volume and weight. A larger backpack can hold more gear, but it can also tempt you to carry unnecessary items, increasing the overall weight. Carrying an excessively heavy pack can lead to discomfort and fatigue on the trail. Therefore, it’s essential to consider both volume and weight when selecting your backpack size.

Types of Backpacks

A. Daypacks

Daypacks are the smallest among backpack varieties, designed for short hikes, day trips, or city exploration. These compact and lightweight packs are ideal for carrying essentials like water, snacks, a light jacket, and personal items. They offer convenience and mobility for activities that require minimal gear.

B. Weekend Packs

Weekend packs are slightly larger than daypacks and are suitable for 1-3 day excursions. They provide more storage space, accommodating extra clothing, food, and sometimes a small sleeping bag. Weekend packs strike a balance between size and versatility, making them perfect for short getaways.

C. Ultralight Packs

Ultralight packs are the choice of minimalist backpackers. They are designed for those who prioritize traveling light and fast. These packs are streamlined, often with fewer features and a reduced carrying capacity. Ultralight backpackers carefully select their gear to minimize weight, allowing for efficient and agile movement on the trail.

D. Expedition Packs

Expedition packs are the largest and most robust backpacks, built for extended trips lasting a week or more. These packs offer substantial storage space and durability to accommodate the extra supplies, equipment, and food required for extended journeys. They are an excellent choice for those venturing into remote or challenging terrains.

E. Hydration Packs

Hydration packs are unique in that they primarily focus on carrying water. These compact backpacks come equipped with a built-in water reservoir and a hose for easy sipping while on the move. Hydration packs are perfect for staying hydrated during high-intensity activities like trail running, biking, or day hikes, where accessibility to water is essential.

Understanding the different types of backpacks is vital for selecting the one that best suits your adventure. Your choice should align with the duration of your trip, the gear you plan to carry, and your personal preferences for comfort and mobility on the trail.

Choosing a Backpack Size

A. Minimalism: Packing Light and Right

The first principle in the MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) framework for selecting the ideal backpack size is minimalism. Packing light and efficiently is a foundational approach. By carefully curating your gear and supplies, you ensure that you carry only what’s necessary for your trip. Avoid over-packing, which can lead to a larger and heavier backpack. Select versatile items that serve multiple purposes to keep your load manageable and your adventure enjoyable.

B. Essential Gear: Building Your Backpack Checklist

The second element of the MECE framework focuses on your essential gear. Creating a comprehensive backpacking checklist is a systematic approach to ensure you have all the necessary items for your adventure. Start with the basics, such as clothing, shelter, food, and navigation tools. Tailor your checklist to the specific requirements of your trip, considering factors like weather, terrain, and activities.

Having a well-thought-out checklist helps you determine the minimum capacity your backpack must have to accommodate these essential items without unnecessary bulk.

C. Comfort and Fit: The Key to a Happy Back

The third pillar of the MECE framework is comfort and fit. No matter how efficiently you pack, if your backpack doesn’t fit well, your outdoor experience can quickly turn uncomfortable. Measure your torso length and consider your hip size to select a backpack that matches your body’s proportions. When trying on backpacks, make sure to adjust the straps for a snug and balanced fit. Comfort on the trail is essential to prevent discomfort, chafing, and strain on your back, shoulders, and hips.

Incorporating the MECE framework ensures that your backpack size choice is well-rounded and comprehensive. By embracing minimalism, curating your essential gear, and prioritizing comfort and fit, you’ll be equipped for a successful and enjoyable backpacking adventure.

How to Determine Your Packing Needs

A. Trip Duration

One of the primary factors to consider when determining your packing needs is the duration of your trip. Different trip lengths require varying amounts of gear and supplies. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Day Trips: For short day hikes or outings, you’ll need the essentials like water, snacks, a small first-aid kit, and a light jacket. A compact daypack is typically sufficient.
  • Weekend Getaways: Weekend trips, lasting 1-3 days, necessitate additional clothing, food, and sometimes a small sleeping bag. A weekend pack with a capacity of around 40-65 liters is suitable.
  • Multiday Adventures: If you’re planning a trip spanning 3-5 days, you’ll require extra gear, including a tent, cooking equipment, and a larger sleeping bag. Opt for a multiday pack with a capacity of 70-95 liters.
  • Extended Journeys: Extended trips lasting a week or more demand ample supplies and equipment. Choose an expedition pack with a capacity of 100 liters or more to accommodate your needs comfortably.

B. Season and Weather Considerations

The season and weather of your destination are critical factors influencing your packing needs. Here’s how they impact your gear choices:

  • Cold Weather: Cold seasons require bulkier clothing, insulated sleeping gear, and additional cold-weather essentials. Ensure your backpack has enough space to accommodate these items.
  • Warm Weather: For warm-weather trips, your clothing and gear can be more lightweight. This allows you to choose a smaller backpack.
  • Variable Weather: If your trip spans multiple seasons or involves unpredictable weather, flexibility is key. Your backpack should have extra room for layering options and versatile gear.

C. Trip Style: Hiking vs. Camping

Your trip style, whether it’s primarily hiking or involves camping, greatly influences your packing needs:

  • Hiking-Focused: If your trip is primarily focused on hiking, you can prioritize a lighter, more streamlined backpack to reduce the strain on your back. Your gear should be compact and efficient.
  • Camping-Centric: Camping trips require additional equipment such as a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear. In this case, a larger backpack with sufficient capacity for camping essentials is essential.

D. Personal Preferences

Your personal preferences play a significant role in determining your packing needs:

  • Comfort: Some backpackers prefer extra comfort and convenience, even if it means carrying a larger pack. They might pack additional items for enjoyment.
  • Minimalism: Minimalist backpackers aim to carry as little as possible, focusing on essentials only. Their backpacks are compact and efficient.
  • Adventure Style: The type of adventure you seek influences your gear. For photography, birdwatching, or other hobbies, you may need specialized equipment, which can impact your backpack size.

In conclusion, your packing needs are a reflection of your trip’s duration, the season and weather, your trip style, and your personal preferences. By carefully considering these factors, you can determine the right backpack size and packing strategy for your outdoor adventure.

Sizing Up Your Gear

A. Clothing and Layering

When sizing up your gear for a backpacking trip, start with your clothing and layering needs. Consider the following:

  • Clothing Selection: Choose clothing appropriate for the season and weather conditions. Opt for lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics in warm weather and insulating layers in colder climates.
  • Layering System: A layering system, including base layers, insulating layers, and outer shells, allows you to adjust your clothing according to temperature fluctuations. Ensure your backpack has space for these layers.
  • Extra Clothing: Depending on the length and conditions of your trip, pack spare clothing items like socks and underwear. These can provide comfort and essential backup.

B. Shelter and Sleeping Systems

Your shelter and sleeping systems are crucial to a comfortable night’s rest. Consider the following:

  • Tent or Sleeping System: If you’re camping, your tent and sleeping bag are essentials. Ensure your backpack can accommodate these items without compressing them excessively.
  • Sleeping Pad: Don’t forget a sleeping pad for insulation and comfort. Some backpacks have dedicated exterior straps to secure pads.
  • Tarp or Bivy: For minimalist trips, a tarp or bivy sack can be a space-saving alternative to a tent.

C. Cooking Equipment and Food

Food and cooking gear are vital for maintaining your energy on the trail. Pay attention to the following:

  • Cooking Equipment: If you plan to cook your meals, include a compact stove, pot, and utensils. Make sure your backpack has a designated space or pockets for these items.
  • Food Storage: Proper food storage is essential to prevent wildlife encounters. Consider bear canisters or odor-resistant bags. Ensure your backpack has a secure spot for food storage.
  • Water Filtration: Include a water filter or purification system. Some backpacks have side pockets or compartments for water bottles or hydration reservoirs.

D. Safety and Emergency Gear

Safety gear is non-negotiable for any backpacking trip. Ensure you have space for the following:

  • First-Aid Kit: Pack a well-stocked first-aid kit for injuries and emergencies. Many backpacks have specialized compartments for this purpose.
  • Navigation Tools: Carry maps, a compass, or a GPS device, and make sure they are easily accessible.
  • Emergency Essentials: Include items like a whistle, fire starter, headlamp, and multi-tool. These should be within reach in case of emergencies.

E. Optional Extras

Optional extras can enhance your backpacking experience but aren’t essential. These might include:

  • Entertainment: If you enjoy reading, writing, or other activities, bring compact entertainment like a book, journal, or deck of cards.
  • Comfort Items: Some backpackers like to include comfort items like a lightweight chair or portable pillow.
  • Hobby Gear: If you have specific hobbies like birdwatching or photography, pack the necessary equipment.

Remember that optional extras should not compromise the essential gear you need for safety and survival. When sizing up your gear, prioritize the essentials while leaving room for the optional extras that enhance your enjoyment of the trip.

Measuring Your Torso Length

A. Tools Needed

Before measuring your torso length, gather the following tools:

  • Flexible Measuring Tape: A flexible, non-stretch measuring tape is the primary tool you’ll need for an accurate measurement.
  • Assistance: It’s helpful to have a friend or partner to assist you with the measurement process, ensuring accuracy and consistency.

B. The Torso Measurement Process

Follow these steps to measure your torso length accurately:

  • Wear Minimal Clothing: To ensure precision, wear minimal clothing that allows the measuring tape to lie flat against your skin.
  • Stand Upright: Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Maintain good posture to represent your natural standing position.
  • Find the Bony Landmarks:
    • Locate the base of your neck (C7 vertebra) at the back of your neck. You can often feel a bony protrusion; this is the top point for measurement.
    • Identify your iliac crest, which is the top ridge of your hipbone on either side. Place your hands on your hips, and your thumbs will rest on the iliac crests.
  • Measure the Torso Length:
    • Have your assistant hold one end of the measuring tape at the C7 vertebra (top of the spine).
    • Extend the measuring tape down your spine, following its natural curve, to the point where it aligns with your iliac crest. This is your torso length.
  • Record the Measurement: Note the measured length in inches or centimeters. This measurement will serve as the basis for selecting the right backpack size.

C. Selecting the Right Backpack Length

Once you have your torso length measurement, you can choose the right backpack size. Backpacks are available in various sizes to match different torso lengths. Use your measurement to match it with the backpack size that suits you:

  • Extra Small (15-16 inches): Designed for individuals with shorter torsos, often women or shorter men.
  • Small (16-17 inches): Suitable for shorter individuals with a small to medium torso length.
  • Medium (18-19 inches): Catering to individuals with an average torso length, fitting most male and some female hikers.
  • Large (20 inches and above): Designed for taller individuals with longer torsos.

By measuring your torso length accurately and selecting the appropriate backpack size, you’ll ensure a comfortable and well-fitting backpack for your outdoor adventures.

Backpack Volume and Fit

A. Choosing the Right Capacity

Selecting the correct backpack capacity is crucial for a comfortable and efficient hiking experience. Consider the following factors when choosing the right volume:

  • Trip Duration: Match the capacity to the length of your trip. Short day hikes require smaller packs, while extended trips necessitate larger ones.
  • Season and Weather: Factor in the season and weather conditions. Cold weather demands more clothing and gear, which may require a larger backpack.
  • Gear and Equipment: Consider the specific gear you need to carry. Ultralight backpackers can get away with smaller packs, while specialized equipment may require more space.
  • Personal Preferences: Your comfort and preferences play a role. Some hikers prefer minimalism, while others like extra space for convenience and comfort.

B. Adjusting Straps and Load Lifters

Achieving a proper fit for your backpack is essential for comfort and weight distribution. Follow these steps to adjust straps and load lifters:

  • Hip Belt: Fasten the hip belt snugly around your hips, ensuring it sits on top of your iliac crest. Tighten it until the weight of the pack rests on your hips rather than your shoulders.
  • Shoulder Straps: Adjust the shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly on your shoulders. They should fit comfortably without causing any pressure points.
  • Load Lifters: Load lifters are the straps that connect the top of your shoulder straps to the main body of the pack. These help pull the load closer to your body. Adjust them to a 45-degree angle from the top of your shoulder straps to the backpack.
  • Sternum Strap: Fasten the sternum strap across your chest to keep the shoulder straps in place. It should be snug but not too tight, allowing for comfortable breathing.

C. Hip Belt and Shoulder Straps

Understanding the role of the hip belt and shoulder straps is crucial for backpack fit:

  • Hip Belt: The hip belt is the most crucial component for load-bearing. It should transfer the majority of the pack’s weight to your hips. A well-fitted hip belt reduces strain on your back and shoulders.
  • Shoulder Straps: Shoulder straps are for balance and stability, not for bearing the full weight. They help keep the pack close to your body. Adjust them to ensure they fit comfortably but don’t support the entire load.
  • Load Lifters: Load lifters are used to bring the top of the pack closer to your body. They assist in balancing the load and can prevent it from sagging backward.

Properly adjusting the straps and load lifters is essential for comfort and preventing strain on your back and shoulders. When combined with the right backpack capacity, a well-fitted backpack enhances your hiking experience and minimizes discomfort.

Selecting a Frame Type

When choosing a backpack for your outdoor adventure, it’s important to consider the type of frame. The frame of a backpack provides structure, support, and weight distribution. Here are the three main types of backpack frames to help you make an informed decision:

A. Frameless Packs

Frameless backpacks, as the name suggests, lack a rigid frame. These packs are lightweight and flexible, making them ideal for minimalist hikers and those who prioritize mobility and simplicity. Frameless packs are often used for shorter trips and lighter loads. They are best suited for experienced hikers who are comfortable with the weight resting directly on their shoulders.


  • Extremely lightweight and flexible.
  • Ideal for minimalist hikers.
  • Suitable for short trips and light loads.
  • More affordable compared to framed packs.


  • Limited weight support, with the load primarily on your shoulders.
  • Less stability, especially with heavy or uneven loads.
  • May not be as comfortable for extended trips.

B. Internal Frame Packs

Internal frame backpacks are the most common type used by modern hikers. These packs have an internal frame made of lightweight materials such as aluminum or carbon fiber. The frame is designed to follow the contours of your back, providing stability and weight distribution. Internal frame packs are versatile and can accommodate a wide range of loads, making them suitable for various types of trips.


  • Excellent weight distribution and stability.
  • Versatile and suitable for different trip lengths.
  • Contoured frames conform to your body’s shape.
  • More comfortable for extended journeys and heavy loads.


  • Slightly heavier than frameless packs.
  • Can be more expensive due to advanced materials and design.

C. External Frame Packs

External frame backpacks were popular in the past and are less common today. These packs have a rigid external frame usually made of aluminum. The frame keeps the pack away from your body, allowing air to flow, which can be beneficial in hot weather. External frame packs are ideal for carrying heavy, bulky loads and are often used by hunters and mountaineers.


  • Excellent for carrying heavy, bulky loads.
  • Good ventilation due to the pack’s position away from your body.
  • Easily attach gear to the external frame.
  • Great for specialized uses like hunting and mountaineering.


  • Less stability and comfort compared to internal frame packs.
  • Bulkier and less streamlined.
  • Not as versatile for lightweight or shorter trips.
  • Can be noisy and obstructive in tight or dense terrain.

The choice of frame type depends on your specific needs and preferences. Consider the type of trips you plan to undertake, the weight of your gear, and your comfort requirements. Whether you opt for a frameless pack, an internal frame pack, or an external frame pack, make sure it aligns with your outdoor goals and enhances your overall backpacking experience.

Material and Weight Considerations

A. Backpack Materials

The choice of materials in your backpack plays a significant role in its overall performance and durability. Here are some common backpack materials:

  • Nylon: Nylon is a popular choice due to its durability and resistance to abrasion. It’s also relatively lightweight, making it a preferred material for backpacks.
  • Ripstop Nylon: This type of nylon is reinforced with thicker threads woven into the fabric at regular intervals. It enhances the material’s strength and prevents small tears from becoming larger.
  • Polyester: Polyester is known for its resistance to UV radiation and moisture. It’s less prone to stretching and is often used in backpacks designed for wet or humid environments.
  • Cordura: Cordura fabric is highly durable and abrasion-resistant. It’s a common choice for backpacks that need to withstand rugged terrain.
  • Cuben Fiber: Cuben fiber is an ultralight, waterproof material used in some high-end backpacks. It’s incredibly lightweight and resistant to tears and abrasion.
  • Mesh: Backpacks often feature mesh pockets or panels for breathability and to store wet or easily accessible items.

B. Pack Weight vs. Durability

When choosing a backpack, you’ll need to balance pack weight and durability. Here are key considerations:

  • Durability: Durability is crucial for backpacks that will be subjected to rough conditions, heavy loads, or extensive use. Look for reinforced materials and robust stitching in these cases.
  • Weight: If you prioritize lightweight backpacking, you may need to sacrifice some durability. Ultralight materials can be less robust, so it’s essential to match the pack’s materials with the demands of your trip.
  • Type of Trip: Consider the specific requirements of your adventure. For a thru-hike where you’ll be on the trail for an extended period, a balance between weight and durability is essential. For shorter trips, you may prioritize weight savings.
  • Budget: High-quality, lightweight materials can be more expensive. Your budget may influence your choice of backpack material.

C. Ultralight Backpacks

Ultralight backpacks are designed for hikers who prioritize weight savings. These packs often use advanced materials and minimalist designs to reduce overall weight. When considering an ultralight backpack:

  • Minimalist Design: Ultralight packs feature streamlined designs with fewer pockets and compartments, emphasizing simplicity.
  • Lightweight Materials: Ultralight backpacks use lightweight materials like Cuben fiber, silnylon, or lightweight ripstop nylon to reduce overall pack weight.
  • Weight Distribution: Ensure that even with an ultralight pack, you can distribute the weight comfortably. The pack’s suspension system and straps should still provide adequate support.
  • Trade-offs: Recognize that ultralight backpacks may be less durable, have fewer features, and come at a higher price point due to the use of advanced materials.

Choosing the right backpack material and weight depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the demands of your outdoor adventures. Whether you prioritize durability, weight savings, or a balance of both, it’s important to find a backpack that aligns with your hiking goals and ensures a comfortable and enjoyable experience on the trail.

Top-Loading vs. Panel-Loading Packs

A. Pros and Cons of Top-Loading Packs

Top-loading backpacks are a traditional design where you access the main compartment from the top of the pack. Here are the pros and cons of top-loading packs:


  • Simple and Durable: Top-loading packs are known for their simplicity and durability. They have fewer zippers and openings, reducing the risk of damage.
  • Spacious Main Compartment: The main compartment in top-loading packs is often larger and can accommodate irregularly shaped or bulky items more easily.
  • Water Resistance: The design is naturally more water-resistant because the top flap usually covers the opening.
  • Better Weight Distribution: When packed correctly, top-loading packs distribute weight evenly, which can enhance comfort during long hikes.
  • Less Expensive: Top-loading packs are often more affordable than panel-loading counterparts due to their simpler design.


  • Limited Accessibility: Accessing items at the bottom of the pack can be cumbersome. You may need to unpack everything to reach something deep inside.
  • Organization Challenges: Top-loading packs may lack the organizational features found in panel-loading packs, making it harder to find and access smaller items.
  • Overpacking: The larger main compartment can tempt you to overpack, leading to a heavier load.

B. Pros and Cons of Panel-Loading Packs

Panel-loading backpacks have a zippered front or side panel, allowing easy access to the main compartment. Here are the pros and cons of panel-loading packs:


  • Easy Access: Panel-loading packs offer quick and convenient access to the entire main compartment. You can easily find and retrieve items without unpacking everything.
  • Organization: These packs often feature multiple pockets, compartments, and organization options, making it easier to keep your gear sorted and accessible.
  • Versatility: Panel-loading packs are versatile and suitable for a wide range of activities, including travel and outdoor adventures.
  • Hydration Compatibility: Many panel-loading packs have dedicated hydration sleeves and ports for water reservoirs.


  • Complexity: The multiple zippers and openings can be more prone to wear and damage over time.
  • Reduced Durability: The additional zippers and compartments can reduce the overall durability of the pack compared to a simple top-loading design.
  • Limited Capacity: Due to the additional features and zippers, panel-loading packs may have slightly less space in the main compartment compared to top-loading packs of the same size.
  • Cost: Panel-loading packs with advanced features can be more expensive than basic top-loading packs.

The choice between top-loading and panel-loading packs depends on your specific needs and preferences. If you value simplicity, durability, and are comfortable with carefully packing your gear for accessibility, a top-loading pack may be your choice. On the other hand, if you prefer easy access, organization, and versatility, a panel-loading pack might better suit your needs. Consider the demands of your outdoor activities and the type of gear you’ll carry when making your decision.

Organizational Features

A. Pockets and Compartments

Pockets and compartments are essential organizational features in a backpack. They help you categorize and access your gear efficiently. Here’s a breakdown of their benefits and considerations:


  • Organization: Pockets and compartments allow you to separate and categorize your gear, making it easier to find items when needed.
  • Quick Access: Smaller pockets on the outside of the pack provide quick access to frequently used items, such as water bottles, maps, or snacks.
  • Cleanliness: Keeping items in separate compartments can prevent dirty or wet gear from contaminating clean items.
  • Specialized Storage: Some pockets and compartments are designed for specific purposes, like hydration reservoir sleeves, laptop compartments, or sleeping bag compartments.


  • Weight: While compartments and pockets are useful for organization, they can add weight to your pack, so it’s essential to strike a balance between organization and pack weight.
  • Accessibility: The more pockets you have, the more places you’ll need to check when searching for an item. It’s crucial to remember where you’ve stored each item to avoid frustration.
  • Durability: Ensure that the zippers, stitching, and fabric used for pockets and compartments are durable and can withstand the demands of your trips.

B. Zippers and Closures

Zippers and closures are critical for securing your gear and keeping it safe from the elements. Here’s an overview of their importance:


  • Security: Zippers and closures keep your gear safely stored in your backpack, preventing items from falling out during your journey.
  • Protection: They offer protection from the elements, such as rain, dust, and dirt. Waterproof zippers and storm flaps enhance this protection.
  • Quick Access: Depending on the design, zippers can provide quick and easy access to specific compartments or pockets.
  • Lockability: Some zippers have locking features to secure your belongings when needed.


  • Durability: Ensure that zippers and closures are well-constructed and can withstand the rigors of outdoor use. High-quality zippers and reinforced closures are essential.
  • Ease of Use: Some zippers may be challenging to use with cold or gloved hands, so test them before your trip.
  • Weight: Zippers and closures add weight to your pack, which is important to consider when balancing the need for security with pack weight.

C. Attachment Points and Loops

Attachment points and loops are valuable for securing extra gear to the outside of your backpack. Here’s why they matter:


  • Expandable Capacity: Attachment points allow you to carry items such as sleeping pads, trekking poles, or ice axes externally, increasing your pack’s capacity.
  • Versatility: They make your backpack suitable for various outdoor activities, whether you’re hiking, camping, or climbing.
  • Accessibility: External attachment points provide quick and easy access to frequently used items.


  • Balance: Carefully balance the weight and bulk of externally attached items to maintain stability and comfort while hiking.
  • Protection: Ensure that gear attached externally is secure and won’t get damaged or lost during your trip.
  • Compatibility: Check that the attachment points and loops are compatible with your specific gear and equipment.

The right combination of pockets, compartments, zippers, closures, attachment points, and loops in your backpack will depend on your personal preferences and the type of outdoor activities you enjoy. Consider the specific needs of your trips and gear to make an informed choice about the organizational features that best suit your backpack.

Ventilation and Comfort Features

A. Ventilated Back Panels

Ventilated back panels are designed to enhance comfort during your backpacking adventures. Here’s why they are important and some key considerations:


  • Airflow: Ventilated back panels incorporate a breathable design that allows air to circulate between your back and the pack. This minimizes sweating and helps keep you cooler.
  • Moisture Management: Proper ventilation helps manage moisture, which can be especially beneficial during hot weather or high-intensity activities.
  • Comfort: A well-ventilated back panel reduces the discomfort of a sweaty or clammy back, enhancing overall comfort during your journey.
  • Hydration Reservoir Compatibility: Some ventilated packs come with dedicated compartments for hydration reservoirs, making it easier to stay hydrated on the trail.


  • Weight: Ventilated back panels can add weight to your backpack, so you should balance the benefits of comfort with the extra weight.
  • Versatility: While ventilated back panels are excellent for reducing heat and moisture, they may not be as suitable for cold-weather hiking, where insulation is more important.
  • Fit: The fit of the backpack plays a significant role in how well a ventilated back panel functions. Make sure the pack fits your torso length and body shape properly.

B. Padded Hip Belts and Shoulder Straps

Padded hip belts and shoulder straps are essential components of a comfortable backpack. Here’s why they matter and what to consider:


  • Weight Distribution: Padded hip belts transfer a significant portion of the pack’s weight to your hips, reducing the strain on your shoulders and back.
  • Comfort: Padding on the hip belt and shoulder straps provides cushioning, reducing pressure points and enhancing comfort during long hikes.
  • Adjustability: Quality padding should be adjustable to ensure a snug and secure fit, accommodating different body types and preferences.
  • Load Balance: Padded straps play a key role in distributing the load evenly, contributing to stability and balance.


  • Fit: The fit of the hip belt and shoulder straps is crucial. They should conform to your body shape and provide proper support.
  • Durability: Ensure that the padding and materials used are durable and can withstand extended outdoor use.
  • Weight: While padding adds comfort, it can also add weight to your pack. Strive for a balance between comfort and pack weight.

C. Load Distribution and Suspension Systems

Load distribution and suspension systems are vital for maintaining comfort and stability when carrying a backpack. Here’s why they are important and what to keep in mind:


  • Weight Distribution: Load distribution systems, often involving an internal frame, distribute the weight evenly across your body. This minimizes strain and fatigue.
  • Stability: A well-designed suspension system helps maintain balance, preventing the backpack from swaying or shifting during your hike.
  • Adjustability: Look for backpacks with adjustable suspension systems that allow you to fine-tune the fit according to your body and the weight of your gear.
  • Torso Length Compatibility: Ensure the suspension system is compatible with your torso length to maintain proper weight distribution and comfort.


  • Complexity: While advanced load distribution and suspension systems provide superior comfort, they can also add complexity and weight to your backpack.
  • Customization: Choose a backpack with a suspension system that can be customized to your body shape and size for the best fit.
  • Durability: The suspension system should be durable and able to withstand the rigors of outdoor use.

The selection of backpacks with ventilation and comfort features, such as ventilated back panels, padded hip belts and shoulder straps, and effective load distribution and suspension systems, greatly enhances your comfort and enjoyment during backpacking adventures. Carefully assess your specific needs and preferences to choose a backpack that optimizes these comfort features while meeting the demands of your outdoor activities.

Tips for Fitting a Backpack

A. Weight Distribution

Proper weight distribution in your backpack is crucial for comfort and minimizing strain during your hike. Here are some tips to ensure effective weight distribution:

  • Heavy Items Near Your Back: Pack the heaviest items, such as water reservoirs or cooking equipment, close to your back. This helps keep the weight centered and your center of gravity stable.
  • Lighter Items Higher Up: Place lighter items like clothing or sleeping bags higher in the pack. This keeps the center of gravity higher, aiding in balance and stability.
  • Use Compression Straps: Most backpacks have compression straps on the sides. Use these to secure and compress your load, reducing the strain on your back.
  • Keep Essentials Accessible: Store frequently used items, like snacks or a map, in easily accessible pockets or the top lid of your backpack. This minimizes the need to dig deep into your pack while on the trail.

B. Balance and Stability

A well-balanced and stable backpack is essential to prevent accidents and discomfort. Follow these tips for achieving balance and stability:

  • Center the Load: Ensure the weight in your backpack is centered and balanced. This prevents the pack from leaning to one side, which can lead to strain and discomfort.
  • Tighten All Straps: Regularly check and tighten all straps, including shoulder straps, hip belts, and load lifters, to maintain a secure and stable fit.
  • Load Near Your Body: Keep the majority of the load close to your body, rather than extending it far from your back. This minimizes swaying and maintains stability.
  • Balance Left and Right: Distribute weight evenly on both sides of your backpack. Avoid overloading one side, which can lead to imbalance and discomfort.

C. Adjusting Straps

Properly adjusting the straps on your backpack is essential for comfort and weight distribution. Here’s how to adjust them effectively:

  • Hip Belt: Fasten the hip belt snugly around your hips, making sure it rests on top of your iliac crest. Tighten it to shift the weight from your shoulders to your hips.
  • Shoulder Straps: Adjust the shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly. They should be snug but not overly tight, avoiding pressure points on your shoulders.
  • Load Lifters: Load lifters are the straps connecting the top of your shoulder straps to the main body of the pack. Adjust them to a 45-degree angle from the top of your shoulder straps to the backpack. This helps pull the load closer to your body.
  • Sternum Strap: Fasten the sternum strap across your chest to keep the shoulder straps in place. It should be snug but not constricting, allowing for comfortable breathing.
  • Torso Length: Ensure that your backpack fits your torso length properly. This is key to achieving an optimal balance and weight distribution. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for adjusting the torso length, if applicable.
  • Regular Adjustments: As you hike, periodically check and adjust the straps. Your pack’s weight distribution may change as you consume food and water or as you take off or put on layers of clothing.

Properly fitting your backpack, distributing the weight effectively, and maintaining balance and stability are essential for a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience. Regularly reassess and adjust your pack as needed to ensure it continues to meet your comfort and performance requirements on the trail.

Caring for Your Backpack

A. Cleaning and Maintenance

Proper cleaning and maintenance of your backpack are essential to extend its lifespan and keep it in top condition. Here are some tips on how to care for your backpack:

  • Regular Cleaning: After each trip, empty your backpack and shake out any debris. Vacuuming the interior can help remove fine particles. Brush off dirt and dust from the exterior.
  • Spot Cleaning: For small stains or spots, use a soft brush, mild soap, and water to clean the affected area. Gently scrub the spot and rinse with clean water. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations.
  • Deep Cleaning: Periodically, give your backpack a thorough cleaning. Follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. Typically, this involves hand washing with a mild detergent and warm water. Rinse thoroughly and let it air dry. Avoid using a washing machine, as it can damage the backpack and its components.
  • Zippers and Straps: Inspect zippers, buckles, and straps for damage or wear. Lubricate zippers with silicone spray to keep them moving smoothly. Repair or replace damaged components promptly to maintain the pack’s integrity.
  • Drying: After cleaning or if your backpack gets wet, ensure it dries completely before storing it. Hang it in a well-ventilated area, avoiding direct sunlight and extreme heat, which can damage the fabric and materials.
  • Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Refrain from using harsh chemicals or bleach when cleaning your backpack, as they can damage the fabric and cause color fading.
  • Patch Small Tears: If you notice small tears or holes in the fabric, patch them with repair tape or a fabric patch to prevent further damage. Larger tears may require professional repair.
  • Mold and Mildew: If your backpack develops mold or mildew, clean it with a mixture of water and vinegar. Ensure it dries completely to prevent further growth.

B. Storing Your Pack

Proper storage of your backpack when not in use is crucial to maintain its shape and condition. Here are some guidelines for storing your pack:

  • Clean and Dry: Always clean and thoroughly dry your backpack before storing it. Moisture and dirt left on the pack can lead to mold and damage.
  • Loosen Straps: Loosen all straps and suspension components to relieve tension and prevent them from losing their elasticity.
  • Air It Out: Store your backpack in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area. Avoid damp or humid places, as these can encourage mold growth.
  • Stuff It: To help maintain the backpack’s shape, consider loosely stuffing it with soft, lightweight materials, like clothing or a large stuff sack.
  • Protect Zippers: Avoid compressing your backpack for extended periods, as it can weaken the zippers and seams. If you need to save space, use a backpack cover or bag to protect it.
  • Hang It: Consider hanging your backpack in a closet or on a sturdy hook to ensure it maintains its shape and structure.
  • Regular Inspection: Periodically inspect your stored backpack for signs of wear, damage, or pests. Address any issues promptly.

By following these care and maintenance tips, you’ll help prolong the life of your backpack and ensure it remains in good condition for your future outdoor adventures. A well-maintained backpack will be reliable, comfortable, and ready for many more journeys.

Conclusion – how big of a backpacking pack do i need

Selecting the perfect backpack is the first step towards enjoying your outdoor adventures to the fullest. With the right pack on your back, you can explore the great outdoors comfortably and confidently. Remember, your ideal backpack is the one that suits your specific needs and preferences, whether you’re embarking on a day hike, a weekend camping trip, or an extended expedition.

From the size and frame type to the organizational features and comfort elements, your backpack should cater to your unique requirements. So, explore, research, and test out different options until you find the backpack that’s tailor-made for your journeys. Your perfect backpack awaits, ready to accompany you on countless memorable adventures.

Happy and Comfortable Backpacking Adventures Await!

Armed with the knowledge of how to choose, fit, and care for your backpack, you’re well on your way to enjoying happy and comfortable backpacking adventures. The right backpack, when fitted correctly and maintained diligently, will be your reliable companion on the trails, whether you’re exploring the wilderness, trekking through the mountains, or simply enjoying a day outdoors.

Your backpack isn’t just a piece of gear; it’s a partner in your outdoor experiences, helping you carry the essentials, stay organized, and find comfort even when the journey gets tough. So, gear up, pack your bag, and embark on your next adventure with the confidence that your backpack has your back, ensuring every step of the way is a memorable and enjoyable one. Happy backpacking!

Experienced backpackers have a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to selecting the right backpack size. Here are some valuable insights from those who’ve spent countless hours on the trail:

  • Test Different Sizes: It’s crucial to physically try on backpacks and load them with weights to see how they feel. What works for one person may not work for another, so experiment with different sizes and brands to find your perfect fit.
  • Consider Your Torso Length: Pay close attention to your torso length when selecting a backpack. A well-fitted backpack should match your torso’s length, ensuring proper weight distribution and comfort.
  • Prioritize Weight Distribution: The load should rest on your hips, not your shoulders. A well-fitted hip belt is essential for this. The shoulder straps are for balance, not for carrying the weight.
  • Don’t Overpack: Select a backpack size that suits the length of your trip and the gear you genuinely need. Overpacking can lead to discomfort and instability.
  • Personalize Your Fit: Backpacks often have adjustable components. Take the time to customize the fit to your body shape. This can make a significant difference in comfort during long hikes.
  • Consider Your Gear: The type of gear you carry can influence the size you need. Ultralight backpackers can get away with smaller packs, while those with specialized or bulkier equipment may require larger ones.
  • Don’t Rush the Decision: Choosing the right backpack is an investment in your comfort and enjoyment on the trail. Take your time, seek expert advice when needed, and make an informed decision.

Avoiding common pitfalls when it comes to backpack sizing is just as important as knowing what to do. Here are some mistakes to steer clear of:

  1. Neglecting Torso Length: One of the most common errors is selecting a backpack without considering your torso length. Ill-fitting packs can lead to discomfort and even injury.
  2. Guessing the Size: Don’t guess your size or select a backpack based solely on the advertised capacity. Always try it on and assess the fit.
  3. Overlooking Hip Belts: The hip belt is your best friend when it comes to weight distribution. An inadequate or improperly fitted hip belt can result in unnecessary strain on your shoulders and back.
  4. Ignoring Weight Distribution: Failing to understand the importance of weight distribution can lead to an uncomfortable and unstable hiking experience. Ensure that your pack is adjusted for proper weight distribution.
  5. Not Testing with Gear: Always test your backpack with the actual gear you plan to carry. This ensures an accurate representation of how it will feel on the trail.
  6. Disregarding Comfort: Prioritize comfort above all else. Even if a backpack looks great or has the right capacity, if it doesn’t feel comfortable, it’s not the right choice.
  7. Not Seeking Expert Advice: When in doubt, seek advice from experienced backpackers or visit an outdoor gear store. Experts can provide guidance and help you find the perfect fit.
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