This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.
Why do you need a backpack?
Backpacking is all about what you can carry in your backpack. It’s how you can carry a tent, sleeping bag, clothes and cooking gear at the same time. Without a backpack we’re not going far!
You might be able to use the same hiking boots for backpacking as you do for day hiking, but your backpacking pack is going to be much larger. Measured in litres, day hiking packs are anywhere from 10-30 liters. They are big enough to carry water, lunch, a camera and jacket.
For backpacking, you’ll need something larger. Most people choose around 50 to 70 liters to hold everything for multiple days on the trail.
Get a pack big enough but not too big
Packs are measured in liters. 60 or 70 liters is pretty standard to start with for multi-day hiking. This gives you enough space to pack gear for a few days but not too much. Starting out, less expensive gear will be larger and less packable so a slightly larger pack will be helpful in holding it all. As you backpack more and upgrade parts of your kit, the gear will likely get smaller and lighter. With smaller and lighter gear, 30-50 liter packs can hold gear for multiple days.
Keep in mind bigger packs are heavier and give you more space to carry more stuff with you. You’ll be happier on the trail stuffing only what you need in a smaller pack.
Fit is most important when buying a pack
When buying a pack, make sure it fits before looking at any other features. Most backpacks come in sizes like small, medium and large that fit a range of back sizes.
Measuring your back usually means taking the distance from the top of your hip bones in the center of your back (big bones on either side of your body by your waist) to the C7 vertebrae (the bump on your spine near the top of your shoulders). Match this measurement up with the sizes of the backpack. Good outdoor shops can also help you fit a pack properly.
Load up some weight in the pack and walk around with it in the store. This will give you a good feel for how it’s going to feel with 30-40 pounds on the track.
Buy a Pack Cover or waterproof bags for gear inside
Most backpacks are not waterproof but you can buy a waterproof cover called a Pack Cover. Some packs come with this but most don’t.
They come sized for your pack. If you have a 50 liter pack, get a cover that fits a 50 liter pack. An alternative is packing everything inside your pack in waterproof bags like stuff sacks or garbage bags.
3 Backpack Suggestions
We can’t list every single pack here but here are 3 solid suggestions you might want to check out first.
Osprey Atmos AG 65
Osprey have been making day packs and backpacking bags for a long time.
The AntiGravity suspension on the Atmos AG 65 lifts the load off your back while keeping airflow high.
Gregory Baltoro 65
The rotating shoulder straps and floating hip belt in the the FreeFloat A3 system moves with your body as you hike and move. The AirCushion back panel wicks moisture and holds the pack slightly off your back for good airflow.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
HMG specializes in ultralight equipment for on the trail and in the mountains. The 3400 Southwest is a minimal backpack made from Dyneema that only weighs 2 pounds and can hold 55 litres.