Right now, Jon and I are the proud owners of three backpacks, each. If you told me a few years ago that hiking as a hobby would require me to buy more than one backpack and spend the money I do for them I would have thought that was crazy. The truth is, I use all three of my packs often and really do recommend having multiple packs if you plan to hike as a hobby.
Why do I have three different packs? Because I find that I need several sizes depending on the length of my hike and the season.
Pack volume is given in liters. Often the volume or capacity of the pack is written on it as part of the pack name (for example my Stoke 9 pack has a 9 liter capacity). The three packs I own are 9 liters, 30 liters, and 65 liters. Jon’s packs are 5 liters, 30 liters, and 70 liters.
|Pack Size (liters)||Gear Capacity||Uses|
|2-5||Water, maybe a Cliff Bar||Short hikes any season, or longer hikes in mild weather when a few liters of water is all you need.|
|9-20||Water, a sandwich, and a rain coat/ fleece||Day hikes in three seasons; when you might want to bring some extra food and clothing layers|
|20-50||Water, lunch, jacket, ultralight sleeping gear (bivi sack, or
hammock, or tarp and string)
|Long day hike with larger temperature variations, or 1 overnight|
|60-80||Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, extra layers, and food (don’t,forget the matches, compass, and first aid kit)||Weekend hikes outfitted for 1-3 nights camping|
I love the all three of my packs. The 9 liter is perfect for short hikes in hot weather when I want to stay hydrated and for hikes in rainy weather when I want to bring a light rain coat. I use my 9 liter pack for most of my local hikes. Unfortunately it can be hard to find packs around 9-10 liters, you may want to check the biking department of your store for more options. The 30 liter pack I used in Zion National Park, where we had longer hikes that needed extra food and layers for (it was October and the temperature swings were huge). My 65 liter pack is the only one big enough to let me pack my sleeping bag, pad, tent, cooking gear, and some other layering clothes for a multiple night trip.
When choosing a pack, fit is the most important criteria. Fit, Fit Fit!! If you are investing in a nice pack, go to the store on a day when you are prepared to spend a lot of time trying on packs. Make sure you have an employee help you size and fit the pack, and then weight it with gear or sand bags (good outdoor stores should have these) and wear the pack around with weight.
Most brands make packs in several torso sizes, and some have adjustable waist sizes too. Have an employee measure your torso size before you start. Before you put on the back, loosen the shoulder straps, belt, and ‘load lifters’. Put the shoulder straps on and lean over slightly. Adjust the shoulder strap length until the the waist belt is centered on your hip bones (approximately inline with your belly button). Snap the belt on and adjust it tightly. The last step is to adjust the load lifters. 90% of the pack weight should be on your waist. If the pack is heavily loaded you may feel a pull backwards on your shoulders. The load lifters and other straps should be adjusted to minimize this as much as possible. When removing the pack, loosen the wait belt first to relieve the tension so it doesn’t snap.
Make sure to try on several brands. You can even go up or down a size to feel the difference. I have slightly broad shoulders for a girl, so although my torso was size ‘small’, I found that the medium size fit my shoulders better and helped balance the load.
Today’s packs come with many features. While I wouldn’t let this control your decision, you may want to consider some of them or decide if you have a preference.
- Hydration – When I started to hike I didn’t have a hydration system, I carried a bottle of water instead. I found that everyone else was easily drinking water while still moving and I was getting dehydrated since no one else needed to stop often for water breaks. I very highly recommend a pack with space for a reservoir.
- Hip Belt – This should be a standard feature on most day packs and larger. If you have a pack that is 20 liters or larger without a hip belt, its likely intended for travel or school and not for hiking. I also prefer smaller packs to have hip belts as a good way to stabilize the load and keep it from moving while I’m scrambling over rocks.
- Exterior Gear Pockets – Extra gear pockets are nice, but they also add weight. A lot of light weight bags will limit the number of pockets they have. I personally really like pockets on the hip belt as great space for quick access to your camera or a granola bar. Jon’s only complaint about his Osprey Aether is that there could be more pockets.
- Rain cover – Not all packs come with a rain cover. If you have items you need to keep dry, especially layers of clothes for multiple day hikes you should invest in a rain cover.
- Gear hooks – Exterior hooks to attach trekking poles and other gear (wet towels and shoes, ice picks).
- Removable day pack – Some bags have removable smaller packs for short hikes.
- Frame – The frame helps distribute the load. There are several types of frames (internal, external, etc) and several materials that they can be made from.
- Whistle – Usually located on the sternum strap.
- Loading – Some packs, especially the larger ones, maybe either top loading or panel loading or have separate compartment for the sleeping bag.
Osprey is wildly considered to be the most popular and best brand for recreational hikers. Deuter and Gregory are also popular brands with similar features. Camel Bak makes packs for day hikes or shorter and feature integrated hydration systems. Personally REI brand packs are the ones that fit me the best. The REI flash (which Jon and I don’t own) is a popular smaller light weight bag.