Choosing a backpacking pack is an important decision. One that involves more than just an impulsive online checkout. Knowing how to choose a backpacking pack and what to look for when you’re shopping for one will help you make the best choice possible.
To help ease the decision-making process, I’m going to share with you 6 things to consider before buying your first backpacking pack. That way, you can confidently walk into your local outdoor retailer knowing exactly what backpack features you want.
6 Things to Consider Before Buying Your First Backpacking Pack
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To pick the right backpacking pack, head to your local outdoor retailer and try on different pack types, sizes, and brands. Not only to examine the nooks and crannies of the packs but to experience how they each feel on your back.
PRO TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask the retailer if they have weights to toss in the backpack! You can walk around the store knowing exactly how it’ll feel to carry 20/30/40 pounds of weight on your back.
The first thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is capacity.
Every backpacking pack has a listed gear capacity size – and this number is typically in liters.
Choose a capacity that suits the length of your trip and the amount of gear you want to carry.
Your personal gear quantity and weight will determine exactly what pack size you need, but as a general rule of thumb, these are the recommended pack sizes for different trip lengths:
- 40-50 liters – 1-3 nights
- 50-80 liters – 3-5 nights
- 70+ liters – 5+ nights
Note that it’s perfectly normal to own multiple backpacks for different trip lengths. But if you’re just starting, you’re probably going to look at 50-liter packs for 1-3 night trips.
The second thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is weight.
Just like your gear weight matters, so does the weight of your backpack! You do not want to start off with a heavy backpack before you’ve even begun to load it.
Your empty backpack shouldn’t exceed 5 pounds.
PRO TIP: A LOADED backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight, but I get into that more in my Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking.
3. Organizational Features
The third thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is organizational features.
Before choosing a backpack, consider what organizational features might make your hike easier.
These are some of the things I look for when it comes to backpack organizational features.
A hip belt and a top lid are ideal for quick access to necessities like snacks, toilet paper, a first aid kit, a head net, a map, and a headlamp. For items like these, you won’t want to have to unzip or untie the main compartment, frantically rummage through deep pockets, or unload gear to gain access to important items.
Another useful organizational feature to have are exterior straps. Exterior straps are handy to tie things like trekking poles or sleeping pads to the outside of your pack.
Different-sized pockets and compartments make for easier organization. Having a designated interior spot for your water bladder, a flexible exterior pocket for your rain jacket, and expandable side pockets for water bottles makes for a smoother trip.
Loops and bungees give you extra room for additional gear on the outside of your pack or the ability to hang gear out to dry or charge – like a wet rain jacket or a solar-powered lantern.
Multiple access points (top, front, back, and side) make it so you don’t have to completely unload your backpack every time you need to grab an item.
To learn more about how to pack your backpack efficiently for a backpacking trip, read my article here.
4. Waterproof Exterior
The fourth thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is a waterproof exterior.
Having a waterproof exterior and/or an included rain cover is a super important feature in a pack. If dew gathers overnight or rain falls on your pack, everything inside will get wet. And you definitely don’t want wet gear, especially wet sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes, etc.
PRO TIP: If you don’t pick a backpack with a rain cover or waterproof exterior, you do have a few options. One, you can buy a rain cover separately; two, you can buy waterproof stuff sacks to keep your gear dry (and organized); or three, you can line the interior of your pack with a trash bag to keep your gear dry.
The fifth thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is padding.
When it comes to pack weight, your hips, back, and shoulders will do all of the heavy lifting. To ensure that you’re comfortable carrying a load as heavy as backpacking gear, you’ll want padding on your pack.
Pick a pack that has padding all over, specifically on the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back.
Ready to get started backpacking? Read my Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking here!
The sixth thing you’ll need to consider before buying your backpack is ventilation.
Ventilation is very important, especially if you will be hiking in warm weather. And if you’re a beginner, that’s probably exactly the time of year you’ll be hiking.
Comfort is key when it comes to backpacking. If your body is sweaty from your pack rubbing against your back, you will be miserable, especially in hot weather.
When choosing a pack, select one with a breathable mesh framing system that will prevent your backpack from rubbing against your back and will keep your skin cool.
I hope this guide has helped you weed out what’s important when selecting your first backpack. It’s time to go pick out a pack so that you can start backpacking!
Head on over to Backcountry to buy top-rated, pro-approved backpacking gear!
In the meantime, here are some other backpacking and camping guides on the blog right now that you might find useful:
- 10 Essentials For Hikers and Campers
- Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking
- How to Practice Leave No Trace Principles When You’re Hiking and Camping
- 12 Tips for Sleeping Better While Camping
- Outdoor Hygiene Tips for Hikers & Campers
- Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers
- First Aid Basics for Hikers
- Night Hiking Tips: How to Hike For Sunrise and Sunset
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @alexysabroad 🙂
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