How To Choose A Hiking Backpack

There’s a few things you absolutely need to have a good hike and a backpack is one of them.

It can get a little confusing when picking out this piece of gear and I’ll show you everything you need to consider when choosing a hiking backpack.

I’m sure you’ll have all the information you need to select the best backpack for yourself.


This Video Will Help Explain Things

Here’s a good video to help you when making you choice:

Pretty simple, right?

Picking the Perfect Style of Hiking Backpack

The style of backpack you select is the first priority you should address. You need to choose a backpack that has enough pockets, padding and space, plus works for your type of hiking. There are also ventilation concerns for selecting backpacks designed for extended hiking expeditions. Hiking backpack designs are divided into four basic styles:

  • Daypacks – This style is usually smaller, with limited pockets. Daypacks are frequently designated as water-resistant as opposed to being waterproof. There are pockets for water bottles and other zipper pockets to secure personal items.
  • Weekend Backpack – For short weekend hiking trips you’ll need to carry more than you need for a day trip. However, you’re going to obviously need to carry more stuff. Weekend backpacks are designed to carry enough stuff for one to three days, while not adding a lot of weight to carry-on your back.
  • Multi-Day Backpacks – When you add more days to the length of your hiking trip, you’re going to need to add items you need. Multi-day backpacks are the third style to consider. This style of hiking backpack is larger than either of the previous styles. They frequently include dozens of individual pockets and extra padding for hiking long distances.
  • Extended Trip Backpacks – These are the larger backpacks for the voracious hiker. An extended trip backpack has multiple compartments to handle sleeping bags, personal hygiene supplies, plus essential first aid and preservation equipment. This style of backpack is usually much larger than other styles.

The best extended trip backpacks will have easy access clips to remove the backpack for rest periods. Extended day backpacks have support poles to allow you to sit them upright and secure. The padding will be important so you can comfortably hike hour after hour and day after day.

Compartments, Compartments, and More Compartments

The more involved your hiking experience, the more compartments you’ll want. Daypacks and weekenders are designed to carry a lot of stuff, but you can find models with dozens of individual compartments and pockets.

Look for a design that gives you just enough individualized storage compartments. Too many pockets can actually be counterproductive. Almost every style will have at least one easy-accessible water pocket. Since daypacks are usually pretty lightweight, you can access individual pockets by flipping the pack off your back.

For longer hikes though, look for models that offer easily accessible pockets. There are styles of extended trip backpacks that have small pockets on the shoulder straps and a waistband pocket. These are great for grabbing something quickly while continuing on your journey.

The Size of Your Backpack is Important

When choosing the right size hiking backpack, there are some fundamental guidelines you need to follow. Daypacks and weekend backpacks are much easier. They usually do not have a rigid frame to consider. These styles are adjustable, so your body size when choosing the right backpack isn’t as important.

However, multi-day packs and extended trip styles have frames. One size does not fit all. Being a tall person doesn’t always mean you want, or will need a taller hiking backpack. The most important body measurement when choosing your pack is your torso length.

If you’re an experienced hiker, you may already know what size backpack works best for you. However, if you’re a novice, purchasing your first full-sized backpack with supports, ask for the advice of an expert at a hiking supply store.

The formula for measuring your torso starts at the C7 vertebrae down to your pelvic girdle. By using this measurement, you’ll get a backpack sized to rest comfortably on your back, with a waist harness that rides correctly.

Backpacks that are too large or too small will ride uncomfortably and can actually cause back problems over the course of long hikes. Choose the right size backpack and if you’re unsure, seek help in determining what size will fit you the best.

Neither Rain, Sleet, or Snow Will Ruin Your Hike

Sometimes your hike may be for an extended period of time. Some people even hike across the country for weeks at a time. If that’s the case, you can’t guarantee what kind of weather situations you’ll encounter. Hikers, who will be also on the water for some portion of their hike, need to take into account water related accidents as well.

For this reason, it’s important to select a hiking backpack made from waterproof materials. This is where you should appreciate the difference between waterproof and water-resistant. The best way to explain the difference is to consider the difference between resistant and proof and what types of things to look for in a backpack.

Water-resistant – If a backpack is labeled as water-resistant, it may only keep your things dry in moderately damp situations. Your things will stay dry in a light rain, or damp environment, but if you get caught in a downpour, your belongings could be compromised.

A water-resistant backpack will do little more than minimally limit the chances of water damage. You should also be aware that the actual criteria for water-resistant is unclear. It can apply to the material the backpack is made of, or simply mean a water-resistant coating applied.

Waterproof – The best backpack you can have to prepare for weather related protection is a waterproof hiking backpack. Essentially, the backpack is designed to be submerged in water. For a hiking backpack to meet the rigid guidelines to warrant a waterproof designation, it must address the following features.

  • Zippers – There are going to be gaps in lower quality zippers. For your backpack to be fully waterproof, it needs to be made using coated zippers. If the backpack advertises as waterproof, it will have a superior set of zippers that are sturdy and most importantly, coated to stop water from getting inside your backpack.
  • Backpack Material – The fabric used for the backpack is a little more confusing. Some materials are little more than nylon coated with a water-resistant sealant. Regardless of the tightness of the weave, if the material is not waterproof, it will fail under certain conditions.

Flying to Your Next Hike?

For the avid hiker who likes to jump on an airplane and head to the site of a new adventure, the size of the backpack is important. The average restriction for carry-on backpacks is 45 linear inches. To get this number you need to multiply the length (height) + width + depth.

For example, a backpack that is 22-inches tall, 14-inches wide and 9-inches thick, will in most instances meet airline requirements for carryon luggage. If you select a hiking backpack that adheres to these measurement guidelines, you’ll be able to jump a quick flight and head out for your next hiking adventure without waiting in the luggage line.

It’s That Simple!

By using these tips, you should be able to choose a hiking backpack that’s perfect for your needs. If you’re unsure about some of these suggestions, there are forums and hiking blogs where you can pose questions and read advice from experienced hikers.

If you’re ready to pick out a backpack you should check out my top picks for the year. You can see them by clicking below:

My Favorite Hiking Backpacks

If you have any questions you can comment below and I’ll make sure to respond as quickly as possible.

Are you excited to pick out a new backpack?