Getting a backpack can be a daunting task - whether it's your very first ever backpack or a replacement to something you've beaten up to the point of no return. It takes lots of research and testing before diving in and making the purchase. If you're looking to purchase a new pack soon, here's my advice for you.
Determine Your Needs
Not all packs are created equally. Are you looking for something to take mostly on day hikes with an occasional overnight or two? Do you need a pack that will last you the entirety of a long-distance hike? By first determining exactly what you're looking for in a pack, you can immediately narrow down the field. If you're new to hiking and want a pack that can do both overnights and day hikes, I recommend a pack in the 50-65 liter range for all uses. A nearly empty 50+ liter pack can still serve you well on day hikes and carry the gear you'll need for overnighters.
Start Reading Blogs
Many people who are new to backpacking will often just walk into a big box outfitter and start searching for a pack. I highly, HIGHLY recommend you start reading blogs written by other hikers and pay attention to what type of gear they are carrying before you step foot into a store. By seeing what packs other hikers doing the type of hiking you're looking to do are carrying, you'll get an idea of what brands might suit your needs best.
Do Your Research
When it comes to backpacks, here are a few things I recommend you keep in mind while you're doing your research:
- Does the pack have a lot of straps or pockets? Often times, packs with a lot of straps often come with a heavier weight. Would you like to have a pack that weighs more than 4 lbs when it's empty? The answer is no.
- Does the pack come with interchangeable hip belts or shoulder straps? If you're looking to use the pack for a distance hike chances are you'll lose some weight and might need to change out some things. If your pack doesn't have these options it might not be worth the investment
- Does the pack carry the load you've got? If you're upgrading to an ultralight pack you might need to invest in some different gear. Nothing will ruin a pack quicker than carrying a heavier load than it is designed to carry.
- Do you need the features? Some backpacks these days come with built in solar panels or have specially designed electronics pockets. These are not often necessary for many people I've met. Is it TRULY something you need?
Educate Yourself on How to Fit a Pack
I cannot recommend this step enough - watch this video and learn how to measure your torso. No backpack on earth is one size fits all. Any big box store you shop in will try to convince you that an "adjustable" pack will fit you if you adjust it right. As a small-framed female backpacker I can tell you this is absolutely not true. Just because you're 6'5" doesn't mean you need a large pack either! By taking this step into your own hands you can safely tell any store employee the size pack you want to try on.
Try Out the Pack
This step is not always possible due to the numerous cottage industry pack makers out there these days. If you've decided a commercially made pack is for you, I recommend you go to the store and try it on. When you do this, they'll attempt to put weights or sand bags in the pack for you. Refuse this option and go to the gear you'll actually be carrying. Put ACTUAL GEAR inside the pack. If you're buying a pack to replace one you already own, bring your gear into the store with you to try it on. Not only will you see how the weight distributes, you will also see how the gear you already own will fit inside.
Make the Purchase
If you're on the fence about a pack, I highly recommend you don't purchase it. If something doesn't feel right, it won't magically feel right once you hit the trail - I know from experience! There are always other brands to try. Again - nothing is one size fits all! Many retailers have great return polices if you decide to try something from a website and it doesn't work for you.
Looking for recommendations? Here are my favorite packs to recommend to people looking to buy their first overnight packs. I highly recommend keeping your backpack's empty weight under 3 pounds if you can. What is the point in carrying a pack that weighs more than this when it's empty? It's just more weight you could be carrying in water or food!
These are the things I tell people who are looking to purchase a backpack. What are some important things you think about when you're updating your gear?