Selecting the Perfect Hiking Backpack

Embarking on a hiking adventure opens the door to exploring the natural beauty that surrounds us, but to fully enjoy the experience, selecting the right hiking backpack is crucial. Understanding the intricacies of backpack size and volume is the first step towards a tailored outdoor journey. It’s not just about the amount of equipment; it’s about matching the backpack to the duration and demands of your trip. Equally important is the aspect of fit and comfort, which hinges on the fine balance of properly measured torso lengths, adjustable straps, and personalized testing—ensuring that your chosen backpack feels like an extension of your own body. Plus, the features and accessibility components of a backpack can dramatically streamline your hiking endeavors, allowing you to focus on the path ahead with all essentials within easy reach. Let us delve into the nuances of choosing the perfect hiking backpack, a silent yet significant companion on your trail-blazing excursions.

Determining Backpack Size and Volume

Choose the Right Backpack Size for Your Next Hike: Packing it Up, Packing it Right!

Embarking on a hiking trip is both exhilarating and liberating, yet one pivotal choice can make or break your adventure before it even begins: selecting the right-sized backpack. At first glance, this task might seem straightforward, but with countless options, understanding the nuances of a perfect fit and appropriate volume becomes crucial for trail comfort and efficiency.

Understanding Your Trip

Hiking outings are as varied as the landscapes we traverse, so consider the length of your journey and the gear required.

  • Day Hikes: For day-long excursions, opt for simplicity—lightweight packs ranging from 10 to 30 liters should suffice to carry water, snacks, a first-aid kit, and a few layers for changing weather.
  • Overnight to 3-Day Hikes: Stepping up to multi-day treks calls for more supplies. A pack between 30 to 50 liters allows room for extra food, a sleeping bag, and perhaps a change of clothes.
  • Extended Adventures: If the trail is your home for several days or more, consider backpacks from 50 liters upwards. These larger packs store additional clothing, food, emergency gear, and specialized equipment like climbing ropes or photography tools.

Focus on Fit, Not Just Literage

While size matters, fit reigns supreme. Regardless of your trip’s duration, a pack’s fit influences the enjoyment of your hike.

  • Torso Length: Fit your pack to your torso, not your overall height. Measure the distance between the C7 vertebra at the base of your neck and the iliac crest at your hips. This is where the majority of the pack’s weight should sit.
  • Waist Size: The hip belt should wrap comfortably around the iliac crest so weight is efficiently transferred off the shoulders and onto the hips, which can carry more efficiently.
  • Adjustable Features: Look for backpacks with adjustable straps and load lifters, ensuring you can fine-tune the fit based on the weight and distribution of your gear.

Think About Features

Backpacks come with various features including integrated hydration systems, rain covers, and various compartments that enhance functionality.

  • Hydration Compatibility: For easy access to water without having to stop, consider a pack with a built-in hydration reservoir or at least a compartment to store one.
  • Compartments and Pockets: Think about how you pack and access gear. Separate compartments can keep sleeping bags or clothes away from other gear. Hip belt pockets keep essentials like snacks, a compass, or a phone within reach.

Try Before You Buy

When possible, visit an outfitter and try on several packs with weight added. Walking around with a weighted pack reveals much about how the size and fit will handle on the trail.

Understanding Weight Distribution


Illustration of a backpack showing weight distribution

Understanding Backpack Fit and Comfort

When ensuring a comfortable fit for your hiking backpack, it’s crucial to pay attention to the following key factors:

Shoulder Strap Adjustments

Once you’ve got the right torso measurement and waist size, shoulder straps are your next fitting frontier. They should wrap comfortably around your shoulders without any gaps. The padding should end just above the bottom of your ribcage, not lower. Look for straps with ample padding and adjustability to avoid pressure on the shoulders.

Load Lifter Straps

These are small straps at the top of your shoulder straps. They play a vital role in bringing the top of the backpack closer to your body. A proper angle of 45 degrees is generally recommended for optimum comfort. Incorrect adjustment here can shift the weight improperly, leading to discomfort and potentially a harmful carrying posture.

Sternum Strap

This horizontal strap offers an extra point of stability by preventing the shoulder straps from pulling backwards. It should sit about an inch below your collarbones and should be snug but never so tight that it restricts breathing. This strap helps redistribute the load and reduces the strain on your shoulders.

Hip Belt Positioning

A well-fitted hip belt can make a world of difference. It should rest on top of your hip bones and wrap around your iliac crest, not your waist. A proper hip belt will carry the majority of your pack’s weight, relieving your shoulders and back. Remember, the padding should be substantial enough to prevent it from digging into your hips.


A sweat-soaked back can turn a hike into a soggy affair. Look for backpacks with some form of ventilation system—a mesh panel or foam ridges—to create airflow between the pack and your back. This maximizes comfort, especially during longer treks or in hotter climates.

Movement and Mobility

When trying on backpacks, mimic the actions of hiking – walk around, climb stairs, and bend over. The pack should feel like an extension of your body, remaining snug and stable without restricting your movement. If your arms cannot move freely, or the backpack shifts with every step, it’s likely an ill fit.

Fine-Tuning While on the Move

Throughout your hike, body shape can change slightly as muscles warm up or fatigue. Consequently, ability to fine-tune adjustments on-the-go can be a valuable feature. Look for easily accessible pull cords and adjustable straps.

Packing Layout

Lastly, remember that the way you pack your items will affect the overall comfort. Heavier items should be closer to your back and high in the bag. This centers the weight, making it easier to carry, and reduces the strain on your body. Utilize side pockets and attachments for items you need quick access to, balancing the load side-to-side.

Choosing the right backpack is just the start. Properly adjusting and loading it are necessary steps to a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience. Keep these tips in mind for your next adventure and save yourself from the common discomforts that can turn a great hike into an arduous trek.

Image of a hiking backpack with well-adjusted straps and a comfortable fit, ready for a hiking adventure.

Considering Features and Accessibility

As avid hikers know, the journey doesn’t stop at the trailhead; it’s an ongoing quest to optimize every aspect of the trek. While we’ve dissected fit and size, let’s delve into some lesser-discussed, yet vital features of backpack functionality and ease of access.

Shoulder Strap Adjustments

Shoulder straps aren’t just about comfort; they contribute to load stability too. Look for padding that eases pressure without adding excessive bulk or heat. Seek out straps that are easily adjustable while wearing gloves, as seasons and altitudes can demand swift changes in apparel.

Load Lifter Straps

These nifty straps, located at the top of the shoulder straps, should angle back towards the pack at about a 45-degree angle when fitted correctly. Proper use can bring the pack closer to your center of gravity, vastly improving balance on uneven terrain.

Sternum Strap

A sternum strap’s role is twofold: it prevents shoulder straps from slipping and can help redistribute the weight of the pack. Not just adjustable in length, the best sternum straps can slide up and down to find that ‘sweet spot’ regardless of chest size.

Hip Belt Positioning

The hip belt manages the lion’s share of your load, aiming to transfer weight to your hips. Many have padding and should sit comfortably over the hip bones. Adjustable hip belts that pivot and move with your body enhance comfort further, following your natural gait.


A sweat-drenched back can be an unwelcome consequence of a good pack. Consider tension-mesh suspensions that create airflow between your back and the pack. Proper ventilation can make or break the comfort level on a long haul.

Movement and Mobility

A stiff pack hinders mobility, so it’s important to have a degree of flex that complements the body’s movement. This feature becomes particularly important when tackling steep inclines or navigating through dense brush or downed logs.

Fine-tuning While on the Move

Sometimes adjustments are required ‘in-the-field’, so to speak. Straps and belts that can be fine-tuned to your changing needs throughout the hike—perhaps as hydration bladders empty or snacks are consumed—are invaluable.

Packing Layout

External pockets, tool loops, and attachment points can make or break the user experience of a backpack. Items needing quick access like rain gear, water filters, or snacks should have a dedicated, reachable place. Similarly, a well-designed sleeping bag compartment can simplify camp setup when fatigue sets in.

Finding the right backpack is like a good friendship—it should be dependable, adaptable, and supportive. Whether scaling peaks or tracing riverbeds, the attention to these details often makes the difference between a memorable hike and an enduring epic. Happy trails, indeed.

Image of a backpack displaying its features for a website.

As you venture back from the peaks and valleys, your trusty backpack resting at your side, reflect on the difference a well-chosen companion made. It’s not just a container for your gear; it’s a pivotal part of the hiking experience, influencing your comfort, efficiency, and overall enjoyment. By now, you are equipped with the insights needed to navigate the myriad options of backpacks, from size and fit to the various features that punctuate your adventures with convenience. May the backpack you choose be a reliable partner on many trails to come, as you feel the freedom of the wilderness with every step you take and every breath of crisp, fresh air you inhale.

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