The Pros and Cons to a Bigger Backpack

The West Coast Trail is long. It takes most people 6 or 7 days to complete. I hiked it last year with some friends.

At the end of our second day hiking we were beat. We were tired and sore and just wanted to sit and rest and not move a muscle. We had hiked a considerable distance the first day and the second and were starting to feel the kilometers on our feet and the pounds on our backs.

Multi-day trips are the only way to see some beautiful places but they do involve carrying a bigger backpack with more gear. The biggest change from day-hiking or even just walking around the mall is how much you are carrying.

Day hiking is great. You don’t need to bring much, your pack is light and everything is good. Hiking for multiple days, everything is on your back. And it’s much heavier than just a small day-pack. One of the biggest complaints I hear about multi-day backpacking is how heavy the gear is.

Do you have to carry an enormous pack with you when you go multi-day hiking? Does it have to be really heavy? Let’s look at a few of the pros and cons to carrying a larger backpack.

Pros to carrying a bigger backpack

More space

Bigger backpacks give you more space. Even the same backpack in small, medium and large will give you more litres of space as you move up in size. There isn’t much leeway for which size you choose though since it’s dependent on your height.

What you can choose is how many litres you go with. Do you get a 60 litre pack for a multi-day trip? Do you get a 70 litre? Do you go small and get a 50 litre?

70 will give you more space to pack in or to fill up on the way. If you need to carry gear for a friend, you might have space if you have a larger pack.

There is a downside to having more space that we get into in the Cons section.

So what can you do with that extra space?

More gear

With more space you can have more gear. You can bring more stuff with you on your hike, more creature comforts, more food, more dry clothes. This extra gear can make a hike much more enjoyable. Along with having more space, bringing more gear has a downside to it as well that you will have to balance out for yourself. We get into that in the Cons section next.

Cons to carrying a bigger backpack

Heavier backpack

A bigger backpack means more fabric, metal and plastic to make it. Often larger backpacks have more padding so it’s more comfortable to wear. All these extra bits and pieces add up in weight. Bigger backpacks are heavier than smaller ones, even with no gear inside.

Heavier gear

Having more space and more gear with you is great for comfort and emergencies but there is a negative. The downside is that it weighs more. Every single thing you take adds more weight. When you are hiking many kilometres in a day, all this weight adds up to a pounding on your legs.

From experience I know that if you have space you will fill it. It’s like the backpacker’s version of Parkinson’s Law which says, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The backpacker version says, “if you have space in your backpack, you will fill it.”

More to store

Bigger backpacks are, well, bigger. They take up more room in your garage, in your car, in the tent. When you are strapped for space then you’ll want to look closely at how much you really have to spare for a large backpack.

Decisions

Now you have some decisions to make.

  • What gear do you want to bring?
  • How much do you want to carry?

For every item you want to take with you on the trip:

  • Is this truly a necessity or is it just nice to have?
  • For the necessities, is there a smaller lighter version of this you can take instead?