Delights owners with its extremely durable construction. Cavernous size makes storage easy.
The zippers feel a bit flimsy, which is surprising given this backpack's price tag.
Straps are lightweight and won't dig into your shoulders, even on longer hikes.
Overall storage capacity is smaller than some similarly priced packs.
Surprisingly spacious and high quality given its affordable price tag.
A handful of consumers wish it offered more storage space.
Exceptional storage space, including handy pockets in the front, helps distance this pack from competitors.
Quality issues are a concern. Some owners wish for a more durable model.
If your knowledge of backpacks starts and stops at the Jansport and L.L. Bean backpacks your kids wear to school, we’ve made this shopping guide for you.
Hiking backpacks represent a far different design than those school backpacks. Try wearing your child’s backpack on a serious hike, and other hikers – as well as the forest animals – will most likely laugh you out of the area. A hiking backpack provides tough materials and plenty of pockets for carrying small and large items. It’s designed to be very adjustable, so the backpack can fit your body perfectly for comfortable hiking.
While examining hiking backpacks we consulted with expert Amy Horton, a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge.
You can count on our advice as being free of bias – we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Please continue reading this shopping guide to learn more about hiking backpacks and to select the best one for your needs.
Horton says the key to having a successful hike is comprised of three aspects of your backpack. Make sure you find a model that fits your needs in these three areas, and you’ll have the best experience.
Make sure the backpack you select will hold all of the gear you need to take. This need may vary from trip to trip, so look for a pack that accommodates the largest amount of gear you need to take. “Capacity varies widely between packs, and you should do some research on what you need,” Horton says.
No one enjoys a hike when the straps on the backpack are digging into muscles and skin. “Comfort is key,” Horton says. “You'll be carrying it on your back, most likely for a prolonged length of time, with anywhere from a little to a lot of weight.”
Think about how you like to hike or camp, such as whether you’ll be near water or in cold weather. Pick a hiking backpack that gives you features to deal with these conditions. “Features also vary from pack to pack, so do your research on what you think you need and/or prefer to have,” Horton says.
Trying to figure out the capacity of hiking backpack you need represents another challenge for hikers. The market offers many different capacity packs – you’ll need to spend some time thinking about how you plan to use the backpack.
When looking for the right capacity of pack, consider the type of gear you want to carry, and whether you’ll be hiking overnight or for several nights.
Understand that different backpack manufacturers list the capacity of the bag in different measurements. Some use liters, some use cubic inches, and some use cubic feet. About 28.3 liters equals 1 cubic foot. And about 61 cubic inches equal 1 liter.
For multiple-day camping trips, you’ll want the largest packs, those that allow a capacity of 65 or more liters.
These packs work great for winter weather gear, as well as tents, food, and cooking gear required for a long camping stint.
You can use this largest capacity pack for specialty gear as well, such as mountaineering tools.
For a pack you’ll take camping over a weekend, a capacity of 40 to 65 liters is common. These mid-size packs work for carrying a small tent, along with other gear you’ll need for a couple of nights. You can fit some cool weather gear in a pack of this size, but for a lot of winter gear, you’ll probably need a larger pack.
An overnight pack is identifiable by the tall and thin design. Most of these small hiking backpacks offer between 20 and 40 liters of capacity. This type of pack will work as a hiking pack for a day trip too. Just don’t expect to fit a tent or heavy winter gear in this pack.
Fit plays a key role in your enjoyment of your hiking backpack. If it doesn’t fit correctly, the pack may cause pain while you wear it, says our outdoor expert, Amy Horton.
“It is very important to buy the right size pack, especially if you're carrying any amount of weight,” Horton says. “You need to test out how it feels with as much weight as you will be carrying on the trip to really judge it.”
Measure your torso to find the best fitting hiking backpack. Use a measuring tape, and ask someone to help you. Measure the length from the base of the back of your neck to the tops of your hips. Use this distance in inches to find the proper backpack for your height.
Even after a lot of research on your hiking backpack, upon receiving the bag, you may find a few extras you didn’t know about. Some backpack makers include a few cool features that they don’t publicize well in the product information.
Our expert, Amy Horton, recommends inspecting your backpack carefully after receiving it. Become thoroughly familiar with any extra features so you can take advantage of them on your hikes. Some common features to look for include:
Sure, your hiking backpack’s primary function involves carrying your gear. But, as Horton says, hiking backpacks work great for other functions, making them versatile and valuable pieces of equipment.
When full, the pack works great as a comfortable backrest, either while in camp or while resting during the hike. “When you're taking a quick break and don't want to take it off, just sit on a rock, stay strapped in, and lean,” Horton says.
If you don’t have a bear container or food bags, you can store your food in the pack and hang it in a tree or on a pole while camping.
Soft-sided hiking backpacks work well as a pillow for a quick nap or for sitting on a soft surface, rather than the hard ground. “Just make sure not to sit on your water bladder and pop it,” Horton says.
Organize your clutter by using the pack’s capacity around the house. You can use it to store some of your camping gear, keeping it organized and ready to go, for example.
Place some taller items in the backpack to provide a bit of protection from the sun while hiking. “If it's tall and stuffed enough, it'll provide you some shade on the back of your body, neck, and head while you're wearing it,” Horton says.
Q. What are the most common mistakes people make when picking a hiking backpack?
A. According to our outdoor expert, Amy Horton, people tend to pick a hiking backpack too early in the research process. They end up with a model that doesn’t fit properly, has the wrong capacity, or has pockets in the wrong places. Not doing enough research, not getting fitted, not testing the pack out with weight before the actual trip, or buying something with far less or far more capacity than needed are the biggest mistakes Horton says she sees.
Q. What’s the best way to clean a soiled backpack?
A. To wash the entire backpack, remove the metal frame (if it has one). Submerge the backpack in warm water and mild detergent, then scrub it with your hands. Hang the backpack outside in the sun to air dry. If you only want to clean a small soiled spot, use an old toothbrush dipped in warm water with detergent to scrub the spot. If you have a waterproof backpack, don’t clean it often – you could wear away the waterproofing layer.
Q. Can I use the hiking backpack as carry-on luggage for an air trip?
A. As long as the size of the filled backpack doesn’t exceed the carry-on luggage size for your airline, you may use it on an airplane. However, be careful, as hiking backpacks tend to have more outer pockets, zippers, and straps than a typical carry-on bag. These hanging items could become caught in scanning machinery, or snagged when walking through tight spaces.
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