Jun 10, 2024 7 min read

How to Choose a Backpack

Person in store comparing two backpacks, deciding which one to choose.

Choosing the right backpack is essential for any adventure, whether you're planning a day hike or a multi-week trek. With a wide range of options available, the process can be daunting for both beginners and experienced backpackers. This article will guide you through the key considerations for selecting the perfect backpack, ensuring comfort, durability, and functionality.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the size and capacity of a backpack is crucial for matching it to the length and type of your trip.
  • Different types of backpacks, such as daypacks, weekend packs, and extended trip packs, serve various needs and durations.
  • Key features like suspension systems, ventilation, and compartments significantly impact the backpack's comfort and usability.
  • Proper fit is essential; measuring torso length and adjusting straps can make a big difference in load distribution and comfort.
  • Material quality, including fabric type and water resistance, affects the backpack's durability and performance in various conditions.

Understanding Backpack Sizes

Training your brain to think of backpack sizes in liters will be helpful. This sizing metric tends to be a bit more mainstream and can often make choosing the right pack easier overall.

It’s good to start by knowing the length of your trip and the items you wish to carry (or, perhaps more importantly, how much weight you are willing to lug around on your back during an extended trip). Remember: bigger is NOT always better when you have to carry it up mountains and across international airports!

Types of Backpacks

Choosing the right type of backpack is crucial for ensuring comfort and functionality during your adventures. Different types of backpacks are designed to meet various needs and preferences. Here, we break down the main categories to help you make an informed decision.

Key Backpack Features

Suspension Systems

A good suspension system is crucial for distributing the weight of your backpack evenly. Look for advanced suspension systems that include adjustable shoulder straps, load lifters, and hip belts. These features help in maintaining a 45-degree angle between the pack’s load-adjuster strap and the wearer’s neck, which is ideal for comfort and injury prevention.

Ventilation Options

Ventilation is another important feature to consider, especially for long hikes. Backpacks with mesh back panels or ventilated channels can help keep you cooler by allowing air to circulate between your back and the pack. This is particularly useful in hot weather conditions.

Accessibility and Compartments

Backpacks offer a wide variety of storage compartments, pockets, and sleeves. Some people prefer a simple, streamlined pack with one main compartment, while others like having multiple places to stash their phone, food, water bottle, and other smaller items. Consider what you need to access frequently and choose a backpack with compartments that suit your needs.

Once you’ve decided on the right choice from all the backpack sizes available, you’ll want to figure out what features are important to you. You’re going to pay more for extra features, but they may make your trip more enjoyable. Ultralight packs, as well as ones with an advanced suspension and/or ventilation to keep you cooler, generally cost more.

Backpack Fit and Comfort

Measuring Torso Length

To ensure a proper fit, it's crucial to measure your torso length accurately. This measurement is more important than your overall height. Your body’s torso length should be within the pack’s torso range. You can either consult a store expert or have a friend help you with this measurement.

Adjusting Straps and Hip Belts

When adjusting your backpack, make sure the shoulder straps conform to the top and back of your shoulders, leaving minimal air space. The padding should end about 2 to 3 inches below your armpits. The hip belt should cover the top of your hip bones and support the majority of the pack’s weight. Aim for a 45-degree angle between the load-lifter straps and your neck.

Load Distribution

Proper load distribution is key to comfort. The hip belt should bear most of the weight, while the shoulder straps and load-lifter straps help balance the load. Here are some quick tips for load distribution:

  • Pack heavier items closer to your back.
  • Distribute weight evenly on both sides.
  • Use compartments to organize and balance the load.
Ensuring your backpack fits well and distributes weight properly can make a significant difference in your comfort and reduce the risk of injury.

Material and Durability

Fabric Types

The type of fabric used in a backpack significantly impacts its durability and weight. Common materials include nylon, polyester, and canvas. Nylon is often preferred for its strength and lightweight properties, while polyester is known for its resistance to UV damage. Canvas, although heavier, offers excellent durability and a classic look.

Water Resistance

Backpacks often come with some level of water resistance, but it's crucial to understand the difference between water-resistant and waterproof materials. Water-resistant fabrics can handle light rain, but for heavy downpours, a raincover is essential. Pack fabric interiors are usually treated with a waterproof coating, but water can seep through seams and zippers.

Reinforcements and Stitching

Reinforcements and stitching quality are critical for a backpack's longevity. Look for backpacks with reinforced stress points, such as the base and shoulder straps. Double or triple stitching in these areas can prevent tears and extend the life of the pack. Additionally, some backpacks feature a framesheet, usually made of plastic, located behind the padded back panel to give the pack vertical and torsional rigidity.

Gender-Specific Backpacks

When it comes to choosing a backpack, gender-specific designs can make a significant difference in comfort and functionality. These backpacks are tailored to fit the anatomical differences between men and women, ensuring a better fit and more enjoyable experience on the trail.

Design Differences

Women-specific backpacks often feature smaller frame sizes, making them ideal for young or shorter backpackers. The torso dimensions are generally shorter and narrower than in men's packs. Additionally, the hip belts and shoulder straps in women-specific packs tend to be contoured to accommodate wider hips and breasts. These design differences can also benefit smaller men who may find a better fit with women-specific packs.

Fit Considerations

When selecting a gender-specific backpack, it's crucial to consider the fit. Women-specific packs are designed to provide a more comfortable fit for the female body, but they are not exclusively for women. Smaller men can also take advantage of the features these packs offer. The shoulder straps are more contoured, and the torso options are shorter, providing a snug and secure fit.

There are several popular models of gender-specific backpacks available on the market. Here are a few examples:

  • Osprey Aura AG: Known for its excellent ventilation and comfort, this women-specific pack is perfect for long hikes.
  • Deuter ACT Lite SL: This pack offers a great balance of weight and durability, making it a favorite among female hikers.
  • Gregory Deva: With its customizable fit and ample storage, this pack is ideal for extended trips.
Choosing the right gender-specific backpack can greatly enhance your hiking experience, providing the comfort and support you need for a convenient and enjoyable long-haul flight experience.

Budget and Value

Balancing Cost and Features

When choosing a backpack, it's essential to balance cost and features. A higher price doesn't always mean better quality. Look for backpacks that offer the features you need without unnecessary extras that drive up the price. Consider what you'll be doing with the backpack and how much weight you can reasonably carry.

Long-Term Investment

Investing in a quality backpack can save you money in the long run. A durable, well-made backpack will last for years, reducing the need for frequent replacements. Think about the long-term value rather than just the initial cost.

A good backpack is a long-term investment that can enhance your adventures and provide reliable service for years.

Finding Deals and Discounts

To get the best value, explore affordable options without sacrificing quality. Here are some tips:

  • Shop during sales and off-season periods.
  • Look for discounts and promotions online.
  • Consider second-hand or outlet stores for high-quality backpacks at lower prices.

By following these tips, you can find a backpack that meets your needs and budget, ensuring a productive and enjoyable experience.


Choosing the right backpack can significantly enhance your outdoor adventures, whether you're a beginner or an experienced backpacker. By considering factors such as the size, features, and fit of the backpack, you can ensure that it meets your specific needs and preferences. Remember to think about the type of activities you'll be doing, the length of your trips, and the weather conditions you might encounter. Additionally, personal preferences like gender-specific designs and access methods can also play a crucial role in your decision. Consulting with experts and trying on different packs can help you make an informed choice. Ultimately, the perfect backpack is one that balances comfort, functionality, and personal style, allowing you to enjoy your adventures to the fullest.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose the right backpack size?

Choosing the right backpack size depends on the length of your trip, the type of activities you'll be doing, and the season or weather conditions you may encounter. Consider how much gear you need to carry and your personal packing preferences.

What are the different types of backpacks available?

There are several types of backpacks, including daypacks, weekend packs, and extended trip packs. Each type is designed to meet different needs based on the duration and nature of your trip.

How important is the suspension system in a backpack?

The suspension system is crucial for distributing the weight of the backpack evenly across your body. A good suspension system can enhance comfort and reduce the risk of injury, especially on longer trips.

What features should I look for in a backpack?

Key features to look for in a backpack include a good suspension system, adequate ventilation, and accessible compartments. Additional features like water resistance and durable fabric can also be important depending on your needs.

How do I ensure a backpack fits me properly?

To ensure a proper fit, measure your torso length and adjust the straps and hip belts accordingly. The load-adjuster straps should form a 45-degree angle between the pack and your neck to ensure comfort and prevent injury.

Are there gender-specific backpacks?

Yes, there are gender-specific backpacks designed to better fit the anatomical differences between men and women. These packs often have different strap placements and shapes to enhance comfort and fit.

Curtis Duggan
Curtis Duggan
Curtis is a serial tech entrepreneur, content creator and the host of the Remotely Serious podcast on the future of remote work and digital nomadism.
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