Best Hiking Backpacks for Beginners Guide

Embarking on the world of hiking can be as thrilling as stepping into a new country. It’s a journey of discovering not just the boundless beauty of nature but also your own resilience and spirit of adventure. With so much to take in – the sounds of a gushing stream, the sight of towering trees, the exhilaration of reaching a new summit – it’s easy to forget the silent companion that makes it all possible: your hiking backpack. Choosing the right backpack is not just about picking up a bag; it’s about finding your ideal travel partner for the trails. This essay is dedicated to helping beginners navigate the vast sea of backpack options, focusing on types, key features, fitting, budget-friendly picks, and care tips to ensure your adventures are nothing short of spectacular.

Understanding Backpack Types

When you’re ready to hit the trail, picking the right hiking backpack can make or break your adventure. Just like a pair of hiking boots needs to match the terrain, your backpack needs to fit the trip. Whether you’re planning a leisurely day hike or a months-long thru-hike, there’s a backpack out there designed for your journey. So, let’s dive into the different types of hiking backpacks you’ll come across.

Daypacks are the sprinters of the backpack world – small, agile, and perfect for short trips. These come in sizes from about 10 to 30 liters, providing just enough space for your water, snacks, a first-aid kit, and maybe a rain jacket. Daypack enthusiasts love their compact size and that they don’t have to lug around excess weight. Plus, many now include hydration bladder compartments, making sipping on the go a breeze.

Then we have overnight backpacks, which range from 30 to 50 liters. These are the middle-distance runners, designed for one to three nights. With this kind of backpack, you can pack extra food, a sleeping bag, and even a light tent alongside your day hike essentials. They are a step up in size but still focus on keeping things relatively lightweight and manageable.

For the long haul, we turn to the multi-day backpacks, holding court at 50 to 80 liters. They’re like the marathon runners – prepared for long distances and carrying heavier loads. When you’re away for more than a few nights, this backpack has the room you need for all your gear, extra clothing, and food supplies. Features like adjustable straps, a supportive waist belt, and multiple access points make these packs comfortable and practical for longer adventures.

Finally, for those embarking on extended journeys or perhaps tackling a bulky winter kit, there are expedition backpacks. These heavy-duty haulers can exceed 80 liters and are built to carry serious loads. Ideal for expeditions and extended trips, they come with features like detachable daypacks, sleeping bag compartments, and numerous pockets for organization. While they offer extensive storage and support, they’re also the most sizeable and heaviest of the bunch, designed for those truly epic adventures.

various types of hiking backpacks displayed

Photo by mohamadaz on Unsplash

Key Features to Look For

Choosing the right hiking backpack isn’t just about selecting the right size; it’s also about the essential features that make a backpack functional and comfortable over long distances and varying terrain. Whether you’re planning a short day hike or a multi-week expedition, understanding these key features will help you make an informed decision.

Comfort and Fit

: Above all, a backpack must be comfortable. Look for one with adjustable shoulder straps, a padded back panel, and a hip belt. These elements distribute the weight more evenly across your body, reducing strain on any single part. A good fit ensures the backpack sits snugly against your back, preventing it from shifting as you move and potentially throwing you off balance.


: Nobody likes a sweaty back. That’s why many hiking backpacks feature a ventilated design on the back panel. This can come in the form of mesh materials or a suspended mesh back system that creates an airflow gap between your back and the pack. Keeping you cooler and more comfortable, especially in warm weather, is crucial for an enjoyable hiking experience.

Water Resistance

: While not all backpacks are fully waterproof without a cover, having a water-resistant backpack can make a world of difference. Look for materials like ripstop nylon with a water-repellent coating. For those hiking in particularly wet climates, a backpack with an integrated or separate rain cover is a must-have to protect your gear from the elements.

Pockets and Organization

: Accessibility and organization can make your hike more convenient. A backpack with multiple pockets, including a top lid pocket for small items, side pockets for water bottles, and hip belt pockets for snacks or a phone, ensures you can easily reach your essentials without stopping to rummage through the main compartment. A sleeping bag compartment and external tool attachments like trekking pole loops and ice axe loops are significant for longer adventures.

Hydration System Compatibility

: Staying hydrated is essential on the trail. Many hiking backpacks come with a hydration reservoir sleeve and an exit port for a drinking tube, allowing for hands-free hydration. If you prefer using water bottles, ensure the side pockets are deep and secure enough to hold them in place.

Load Lifters and Compression Straps

: Load lifters are straps located at the top of the shoulder straps that can be tightened to bring the weight closer to your body, improving stability. Compression straps, found on the sides and sometimes the bottom of the backpack, can be tightened to compress the load, making the pack more compact and easier to carry.


: Finally, durability is key. A hiking backpack should withstand abrasion, tears, and the general wear and tear of outdoor adventures. High-denier fabric and reinforced stress points are indicators of a robust backpack designed to last for years of trails and treks.

In the quest for the ideal hiking backpack, remember that personal preference plays a significant role. What might be the perfect pack for one hiker could be uncomfortable for another. Therefore, trying on multiple models, ideally with weight added, will help ensure you find the backpack that’s just right for your body type and hiking needs. With these essential features in mind, you’re well on your way to choosing a backpack that will be a comfortable, functional companion on all your hiking adventures.

image of hiking backpack with essential features like ventilated back panel, hydration system compatibility, and load lifters

Photo by jibarox on Unsplash

Fitting and Comfort

When diving into the world of hiking, selecting the right backpack is crucial for a comfortable adventure. Beyond the type of backpack—be it a daypack or an expedition pack—understanding how it should fit can make or break your hiking experience. Let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of ensuring your backpack fits like it was tailored just for you.

First off, the backbone of a good fit is the torso length. Unlike regular clothing, backpacks size by the length of your back, not your height. It’s a common misconception that a taller person always needs a larger pack. To find your torso length, measure from the nape of your neck to the small of your back, aligning with the top of your hip bones. Most outdoor retailers offer sizing tools, but a tape measure and a friend can get the job done too.

Once you’ve got your torso length down, it’s time to consider the hip belt. This unsung hero carries the majority of your pack’s weight, offloading it from your shoulders. The hip belt should wrap snugly around the top of your hips, allowing you to tighten it without any padding overlap. When adjusted correctly, it will rest over your hip bones and not your waist, distributing weight more effectively and reducing fatigue.

Shoulder straps, the next piece of the puzzle, should hug your shoulders without any gaps. A common mistake is to tighten these straps too much, transferring undue weight onto your shoulders instead of your hips. The straps should curve around your shoulder, with the padding ending just below your armpit. They should allow for a natural, unrestricted movement.

The sternum strap, often overlooked, plays a critical role in stabilizing your load and offering additional support. Positioned across your chest, it should be tight enough to hold your shoulder straps in place but not so tight as to restrict breathing. A good rule of thumb is to align it about an inch below your collarbones.

Adjustability is key across all these features. Look for a backpack that offers ample adjustment opportunities, allowing you to fine-tune the fit as you move and as your load changes. Remember, even the best-fitting backpack can become uncomfortable if not adjusted properly for the day’s hike.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a loaded test. Before hitting the trails, load up your pack with the weight you expect to carry and walk around. Pay attention to any pressure points or discomfort, which can signal an improper fit. Adjust as needed and experiment until you find the sweet spot. Stores specializing in hiking gear are usually equipped to help you with this process, offering weighted bags to simulate a real hiking experience.

In the quest for the perfect backpack, remember that perfect means perfect for you. Individual preferences and body shapes vary greatly, so what works for one hiker might not work for you. Taking the time to ensure a proper fit can elevate your hiking experience from merely enjoyable to truly remarkable. And remember, the best backpack is the one that feels like an extension of your body, seamlessly supporting you as you explore the great outdoors.

A hiking backpack with various straps and features, suitable for different body sizes and shapes

Photo by sunlingyan on Unsplash

Budget-Friendly Picks for Beginners

When hunting for the best value hiking backpacks for beginners, it’s crucial to consider a few essential features that can make or break your hiking experience. Ventilation systems, for example, are a lifesaver on warm hikes. Brands like Osprey and Deuter offer backpacks with tensioned mesh back panels that create an airflow channel between your back and the pack, reducing sweat and increasing comfort.

Water resistance is another factor not to be overlooked. While few backpacks are entirely waterproof without a cover, many are made with water-resistant materials that can protect your gear in light rain. Look for backpacks with included rain covers for added protection during downpours.

Pockets and organization are key for easy access to gear without having to dig through your entire pack. A well-designed pack will have a variety of pockets, including top-lid pockets for small items, side stretch pockets for water bottles, and hip belt pockets for snacks or a phone.

Hydration system compatibility is a must for ensuring you stay hydrated on the trail without having to stop and search for your water bottle. Most packs have a sleeve for a hydration reservoir and ports for the drinking tube, making sipping water convenient and hands-free.

Load lifters and compression straps can greatly improve your pack’s fit and stability by allowing you to adjust the load closer to your body and distribute the weight more evenly. This feature is particularly important in larger packs designed for multi-day treks.

Durability should not be overlooked. Look for backpacks made from high-denier fabric that can withstand the wear and tear of the trail. While more durable materials may add a bit of weight, they will save you money in the long run by lasting many seasons.

Among the best value hiking backpacks for beginners, the Osprey Talon 22 (for day hikes) and the REI Co-op Trailbreak 60 (for multi-day treks) stand out. The Osprey Talon 22 offers an exceptional balance of comfort, weight, and features, including a seamless hipbelt interface that users love for day trips. For those looking for a pack suitable for longer adventures, the REI Co-op Trailbreak 60 features adjustable torso lengths, substantial storage options, and an integrated rain cover, making it an excellent choice for new hikers looking to tackle more extended trails.

Remember, the right backpack will depend on the specifics of your hike and personal needs. Consider the type of hiking you plan to do, the gear you need to carry, and most importantly, how the backpack feels when it’s packed and fitted to your body. Happy trails!

A variety of hiking backpacks displayed on a shelf, showcasing different sizes and features for beginners to choose from

Photo by blavon on Unsplash

Maintenance and Care Tips

Keeping your hiking backpack in top condition is essential for ensuring its longevity, comfort, and functionality. Proper maintenance and care can make all the difference in your hiking experience and save you money in the long run. Here are some valuable tips on how to maintain and care for your hiking backpack.

Cleaning Your Backpack

After a hike, your backpack may be dirty, sweaty, or even a bit smelly. Start by emptying your pack completely, including all pockets and compartments. Use a soft brush or a cloth to remove any loose dirt or debris. For a deep clean, hand wash your backpack with mild soap and warm water, focusing on any dirty spots. Avoid using harsh cleaners or bleach as these can damage the fabric. Rinse thoroughly and air dry your pack away from direct sunlight, as UV rays can weaken the material over time.

Zippers Care

Zippers are often the first part of a backpack to fail, but with proper care, you can keep them sliding smoothly. Dirt and debris can cause zippers to stick, so it’s important to clean them regularly. Use an old toothbrush to gently scrub away grit. If your zippers start catching, applying a lubricant such as silicone grease can help. Be careful not to overdo it, though, as too much lubricant can attract more dirt.

Fabric Maintenance

Rips and tears can happen, especially on rough terrain. Patching holes as soon as they appear can prevent them from getting bigger. Sew smaller tears with a needle and thread or use a gear repair tape for quick fixes. For more significant damage, a professional repair service may be necessary to ensure your backpack’s integrity and water resistance are restored.

Straps and Buckles

Inspect straps and buckles for wear and tear. Loose threads should be trimmed and burned lightly with a lighter to prevent fraying (be careful not to burn the strap fabric). If buckles break, most can be easily replaced. Keep spare buckles in your repair kit, as they’re weightless lifesavers on the trail.


How you store your backpack when it’s not in use is crucial for maintaining its shape and functionality. Never store your backpack wet or damp as this can lead to mold and mildew. Ensure it’s fully dry before storing it in a cool, dry place. Do not hang your pack by its straps, as this can distort them over time. Instead, store your backpack flat or loosely stuffed with clean, dry clothing to help maintain its shape.


Over time, the water-resistant coating on your backpack may wear off. Re-waterproofing your backpack can enhance its durability and protect your gear during wet hikes. Use a spray-on or wash-in water repellent designed for outdoor gear. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, as the application process can vary.

General Tips

  • Regular checks: Before and after each hike, inspect your backpack for any signs of wear or damage. Early detection can prevent minor issues from becoming major ones.
  • Avoid overloading: Even the most durable backpacks have weight limits. Overloading your pack not only makes it uncomfortable to carry but can also stress the fabric and seams, leading to premature wear.
  • Be mindful of sharp objects: Pack sharp or pointed gear carefully. Use protective sheaths or wrap these items to prevent them from poking through the fabric and causing damage.

By following these maintenance and care tips, your hiking backpack can remain a reliable companion for many adventures to come. Good care not only extends the life of your backpack but also ensures it stays functional and comfortable, letting you focus on enjoying the trail ahead.

Illustration of a person caring for a hiking backpack, emptying it, cleaning zippers, patching fabric, and inspecting straps and buckles

Embarking on a hiking adventure with the right backpack can transform an ordinary trip into an extraordinary journey. Understanding the different types of backpacks, what features to look for, how to ensure a comfortable fit, and knowing which budget-friendly options are out there positions you for success from the get-go. More importantly, learning how to properly care for your backpack will keep it in great condition, ready for all the adventures that lie ahead. Remember, the right backpack not only carries your gear; it carries your dreams of discovering the wonders of the natural world. Start your journey equipped with knowledge and enthusiasm, and the trails will be yours to conquer and enjoy.

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