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How to choose a hiking backpack?

Choosing a hiking backpack requires to consider a handful of criteria. This includes your body type as a hiker, the type of hikes you plan on doing, their duration, etc. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you make the right decision and be prepared for your next hike!

choosing a hiking backpack

Carrying system, adjustability, materials, the key features of a technical backpack


Carrying system


The carrying system includes the hip belt, shoulder straps, chest strap and back panel. The shoulder straps and hip belt are adjustable and padded for optimal comfort and to offer a perfect fit. They are critical elements for stability. A well fitted pack means better carrying comfort!

It is important to choose a backpack with a carrying system that offers the right balance between comfort and performance. Some models, especially backpacking rucksacks feature straps to attach a sleeping bag or mat, this offers a more balanced centre of gravity to better spread the load and reduce the weight resting on your shoulders.

How to adjust your backpack?


To perfectly fit your backpack, Glisshop recommends loosening all straps. With the pack on your shoulders, the 1st step is to place the hip belt on your pelvis, on the iliac crest. Once adjusted, it transfers almost all of the weight on the hips, relieving the shoulders. The 2nd step has to do with the shoulder straps. Simply pull on the straps without overtightening. Ideally, the shoulder straps shouldn’t rest on the shoulders. They simply serve the purpose of bringing the pack close to your back. The 3rd step consists of adjusting the chest strap just above your chest. It simply prevents the shoulder straps from slipping from your shoulders. The 4th and last step deals with the load lifters, located just above the shoulder straps. Simply tighten them so that the top of the pack lies on the shoulder blades, avoiding the unpleasant feeling of it sliding backwards.

Choosing your backpack size according to your body type


It is essential to choose a backpack that fits your body type, to prevent back pain and poor adjustments. Men's, women’s and children’s backpacks have specific sizes and shapes to fit various profiles.

Women’s backpacks


Women’s backpacks generally have shorter back panels and are narrower at the shoulders. Some brands such as Deuter develop models specifically for female hikers.

It is worth noting that most backpacks are unisex. Some women’s models can very well fit smaller men. Carefully check the technical characteristics before ordering to make sure a particular model will fit you.

women's hiking backpack

Children’s backpacks


Children’s backpacks are designed for young hikers. They are generally small and lightweight to correspond to the size and weight of kids.

children's hiking backpack

Choosing the right backpack capacity


The first element to consider is the volume. Backpacks come in a variety of capacities, from smaller packs for day hikes to multi-day trekking backpacks. Make sure to pick a model that matches the length of the hikes you plan on doing. If you are preparing a trip, do not go too big, it will prevent you from taking too much with you and carrying too much weight. You need to adapt to the activity you are preparing for.

The weather is an essential element to take into account as well. Good weather conditions require less equipment than poor weather, which demands at least a change of clothes and a rain cover. It's up to you to define your needs beforehand.

The right backpack size for various types of hikes

Fast hiking backpacks

For fast hiking or speed hiking, lightweight and compact packs below 15 litres are better, to carry the bare minimum such as a rain jacket, snacks, small accessories, a bottle or water bladder. For instance, the RAB Tensor 10 or Millet Mixt 15 are perfect for this kind of use.

fast hiking pack

Daypacks for short hikes

For day hikes, a 15 to 30 litre pack is enough most of the time. In fair weather, a 15 litre pack can be a good option, while in uncertain or bad weather, a 30 litre model allows to carry extra layers. For example, the Dakine Heli Pro 20 or Lafuma Active 24 are great picks for day hikes.

daypack

Backpacking packs

For 2 to 3 days of hiking, a 30 to 60 litre backpack is generally required to carry your sleeping bag, mat and the rest of your camping gear. Various models from Osprey or Gregory are perfectly suitable.

hiking backpack for 2 days

Trekking backpacks

For multi-day adventures, you’ll need a trekking backpack with a capacity of 60 litres or more, to carry all your hiking equipment. For example, the Vaude Avox 60+10 or Deuter Aircontact Core 70+10 are ideal for long expeditions.

trekking backpack

Useful hiking backpack features


Make sure the pack has the features you need, for instance:

  • bottles holders or a water bladder compartment
  • outer pockets to have easy access to important items such as cereal bars, keys or a phone
  • a main compartment, paired to one or multiple auxiliary compartment(s)
  • straps to fasten a sleeping bag or mat
  • loops to attach trekking poles

Some packs also feature detachable pockets to adapt their volume and provide a better organisation of your hiking equipment.

hiking backpack features

The importance of a ventilated mesh back panel


While hiking packs generally have a padded back panel with a ventilation system to prevent excessive sweating in the hiker’s back, some models feature a suspended mesh or ventilated back panel. It such cases, the back panel doesn’t rest directly on your back, but tensioned mesh does, promoting airflow. This type of backpack is particularly appreciated in hot conditions. These models are better suited to less rugged trails and lighter loads.

hiking backpack ventilation

Strength and materials


Make sure you backpack is made of water-resistant materials to protect your equipment from the elements.

Even though the construction depends on the manufacturer, it is important to choose high-quality materials such as ripstop nylon or high-tenacity polyester for better durability. To reduce the environmental impact, you can find an increasing number of backpacks made of recycled materials, in factories that rely on more direct supply chains for better sustainability.

hiking backpack

Weight


The weight of your backpack shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when planning a multi-day hike. choose a lightweight yet durable pack that won’t encumber you. It is important to find the right balance between backpack weight and carrying capacity to retain optimal comfort. Even when it comes to trekking packs, you should pick a model that can carry a heavy load while being lightweight.

hiking backpack weight

How to try a backpack on?


Once you’ve found the right pack, try it on, preferably with a load that is close to the one you’ll be carrying on your hike to make sure it is comfortable to wear.

It is important that the hip belt and shoulder straps fit perfectly to prevent pelvis and shoulder pain.

The hip belt should be on your hips and not your waist. Keep in mind that the weight of the backpack should rest on the pelvis rather than the shoulders.

Once the hip belt is positioned, adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack lays against your back. Ideally, you should be able to slide your fingers between the straps and your shoulders. Make sure the shoulder straps don’t touch your armpits either.

After adjusting the hip belt and shoulder straps, check if the top part of the pack is level with your shoulder blades and not higher. If the pack seems too low or too high, you can adjustable the back panel length if the model offers this option. Take a few steps and try to identify what could imper your range of motion and cause discomfort.

One last tip to pack your backpack


It is critical to balance the weight in the pack. Heavy items should be placed close to the spine, for better load distribution.

hiking backpack guide

Comparision of various hiking backpack frame types

Backpack type Pros Cons
Internal frame

Even weight distribution on your back

Lighter than external frame backpacks

Perfectly fits the contour of your back

Less support for heavy loads

Less suited to long hikes

External frame

Even weight distribution on your back

Allows to carry heavy loads

Provides easy access to your equipment

Greater capacity

Perfect to carry backpacking sleeping bag/tent mat

Feels stiffer when moving

Heavier

Less suited to shorter hikes

Frameless

Very lightweight

Allows to carry only what you need

Also works for your daily life

No balanced weight distribution on your back

No support for heavier loads

Smaller capacity

Not as suited to multi-day hikes