BackpackingBuying Guides

What to Consider When Buying a Backpacking Pack

posted by Jason Stone July 11, 2019 0 comments

The experience of carrying nothing but the essentials with you on your back carries with it an independence and free feeling that can’t be compared. But choosing the proper backpack for you is a decision that requires some research because there are simply so many options available. Whether you’re buying your first backpacking pack or upgrading, the search can be overwhelming.

So we’ve created this guide to help you hone into your needs and narrow down your choices.

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Let’s start with key features.


The capacity of your pack is a first stop on your backpack buying journey. Volume will be representative (and limit) the amount of gear you will be able to carry. I’ve been backpacking for years, and I’ve accumulated lighter and more packable gear. Most experienced backpackers I know can manage the majority of trips with a 40-50L pack or so.

Some folks choose to buy a larger pack simply to have the option of more capacity, should they need it. It’s been my experience that if you have the space, you’ll fill it, so I often challenge my ability to bring less stuff with smaller and smaller packs. Some of you just starting out backpacking with less packable gear may find that a higher capacity backpack is suitable as you work toward smaller gear.

Consider what types of trips you’ll be taking. Are you packing climbing gear with ropes and protection? Winter gear with thicker layers, larger sleeping bags, bigger tents? If so, you should definitely increase your size search to handle the extra gear.


An All-Around Backpacking Pack We Love:

Osprey Atmos 65 and Aura 65 for Women

Though it’s a bit on the heavy side for an ultralight backpacking setup, the Atmos and Aura from Osprey are worth every oz. It’s sturdy, durable, versatile, and has all the bells and whistles for possibly being the only pack you’ll ever need.


Here’s an overview of the most common backpack volume ranges, and their most common uses:

Overnight Backpacking Packs: 35 liters or less

These days, I can easily get away with a 30-liter pack on an overnight or two. But it’s important to note that that includes a hammock setup, with no tent, a 40 degree down sleeping bag, and a precise amount of food. In other words, minimal. Think summer nights with a good forecast in sight.


“Overnight” Packs We Love:

Gregory Zulu 30

Patagonia Ascensionist 30


Multiday Backpacking Packs: 35-50 liters

Multiday packs, or weekend packs as they’re sometimes called, have plenty of space to carry everything you need including a tent, stove, cookware, sleeping bag and pad, water filter, extra clothing, first aid etc. Often, even with all these essentials, you’ll have extra room for some luxury items like cocktails, coffee, or campsite games.


“Multiday” Packs We Love:

LOWER CAPACITY: Granite Gear Crown2 38L

The Crown2 38L is just plain cool, and versatile, and so darn affordable. So we said “why not” to a few of them, and never looked back. Granite Gear is a trusted name, and the Crown series is taking the industry by storm.

HIGHER CAPACITY: Arc’Teryx Bora AR 50 Men’s and AR 49 Women’s

In terms of total backpacking pack perfection, the Bora 50 gets as close as any. Everything we ever test from Arc’teryx is BEST-IN-CLASS and we’ll argue (nicely :)) with anyone saying otherwise. Trust us, this baby is worth every penny of the $500 it costs.


Extended Trip Backpacking Packs: 50-75 liters

Extended trip backpacking packs are designed for longer, 5+ day treks, bringing the same essentials you would on any trip, just with more food, cooking fuel, clothing and other longer trip essentials. There are also mountaineering packs that are more beefy, often large than 75L capacity to accommodate critical climbing and survival equipment.


Extended Trip Packs We Love:

Osprey Aether AG 70 and Ariel AG 65

A time-tested favorite in the backpacking community, the Osprey Aether and Ariel are about as customizable as it gets. With the ability to customize the hipbelt and shoulder harnesses, and one of the most trusted internal frames in the industry, the Aether and Ariel have stood the test of time as just plain awesome.

Fjallraven Kajka 65 Men’s and Women’s

Carry more gear more easily with the smooth-carrying Kajka 65 Backpack from Fjallraven. Easy adjustments for fit and three different access points make this no-nonsense pack an easy choice.


Backpack Features

Backpack Frame Type

  • Internal-frame backpacks: One of the key innovations in backpacking packs over the last 20 years has been the internal frame. Internal frames are designed to be a lightweight load support system. They keep your load stable on uneven terrain and keep the weight sturdy and firm on your hips. Internal frame packs are light, sturdy, and a must-have for the modern backpacker.
  • External-frame backpacks: While external packs are somewhat of a thing of the past, an external frame pack might still be used for uneven, heavier loads. Think of a foldable kayak, or carcass of an animal after a hunt. External frame packs often have one large compartment and multiple outer pockets for organization of gear.
  • Frameless backpacks: For those of you that are committed to the lightest and fastest, an ultralight frameless backpack might be the right choice. Some packs have even have removable frames for enhanced versatility and serious weight shed.


A sticky, sweaty back sucks. Many backpacking packs now have superior ventilation systems. Stay away from flat-back packs, especially with heavier loads.

Harnesses/Hip Belts

Lighter weight packs are designed to carry lighter loads, therefore having shoulder harnesses and hip belts that are lightweight as well. Even if you think it can fit – capacity wise – packing heavier loads into an ultralight pack is not a good idea. Make sure your harness and hip belt match your load.

Compartments, Pockets, & Access

Most lightweight backpacking packs have one main compartment with top loading access. Having only this compartment and only top access can frustrate a lot of people, but I’m from the school of keeping things simple. One compartment is really all you need.

Pockets, zippers and additional compartments add unnecessary weight but can often create some nice features. Some pockets are nice, like a hip-belt pocket for your phone, or a lid pocket for keeping certain items more accessible. A sleeping bag compartment, with separate access, is nice and keeps a shock absorbing cushion under the rest of the weight of your pack.

Some packs also have front-loading access. This can be very nice when you need to remove and repack certain items often like ropes and climbing gear OR if you simply like the convenience.

When it comes to extra pockets and zippers, I challenge you to go with less. I’m confident you won’t miss them.


Your backpack, along with your tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, will be the four heaviest items in your backpacking setup. So we often recommend shedding as much weight in these four items as you can.


Proper fit is crucial. It’s also a brutal element to get right without having the pack fully loaded on your back. Measure your torso length and hip belt size before purchasing and make sure you have the right sizes for your body. Buy a well-trusted name brand pack, in your size, and you’ll be in good shape.

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