How to Buy a Hiking Backpack

They’re out there; in all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors, but without any idea on how to choose a hiking backpack, you are most likely to end up with a crappy one.

If you’ve learned the hard way how costly making the wrong decision can be when it comes to picking outdoor gear, then you know better than to set p onto the market blindly.

Chances are, that’s why you’re here, to find out how you can pick that ideal backpack that can offer you the value you pay for.  

Luckily enough, we understand how crucial making the right decision can be, so we put together the most important bits that you need to arm yourself with when heading out for the hunt.

So Please, Read on!

How to Buy a Hiking Backpackperson wearing a backpack

The frame should be your first stop

If you really want to get the bang for your dollar, then a solid backpack frame is your best bet to getting just that.

A frame is to a backpack as a chassis is to a vehicle, so if you want a backpack that’s built for heavy-duty performance, you have to be keen on this feature.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that there’s more to a backpack frame than you might think.

The different frame design

There are three types of backpack frame; internal frame backpacks, external frame backpacks, and those without any frame at all.

Internal frames usually feature two aluminum or flat bars that run parallel to one another and are located beneath the back panel of your backpack.

Other frames feature two metal bars crossed in an X-pattern, but there are those with thin metal rods, and they are strong too. These frames offer an impressive rigidity and transfer backpack’s load to the hip area.

External frames, on the other hand, run along the perimeter of your backpack. These are great if you intend on packing a heavy and irregular load.

And these too are ideal at offering better ventilation as well as allowing the greater organization of your gear.

Then there’s a framesheet, most commonly made of plastic, located beneath the back panel of your backpack, out of sight.

This feature is usually used alongside the metal frame for extra rigidity around the torso area as well as enhancing the vertical rigidity of your backpack.

Frameless backpacks might sound like a bummer, but these ones too are built to give you outstanding performance, but they are lightweight too, which is a big plus.

So if you plan to travel light and fast, this one should be your go-to backpack.

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack-overlooking a valley

Check the back panel

Just as the name suggests, a back panel is that section of the pack that leans against your back, but there’s more to it.

In most packs, it is designed to keep the contents inside the backpack from poking you, which can be very uncomfortable.

But there’s a caveat since this area usually causes a lot of sweating in the back area, especially during hot days. That’s where the other feature that you need to be very keen on comes in, the ventilation.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

Selecting the right fit

Size is of crucial importance when it comes to just about any piece of gear, and backpacks are no exception. And as such, the secret to finding a comfortable backpack is finding a backpack that straddles the whole of your back.

That allows your back area to take the load, this can make a great deal of difference when it comes to comfort.

Among the things that you need to be keen on here is how snugly the pack is on your hips, as well as if it matches your torso length. So first get to understand your torso as well as hip size so you can make an informed decision here.

  •         Torso length

Camping backpacks come in many sizes; some are small, others are large enough to carry more than just a few clothes. However, what you need to be keen on here is the torso length of your backpack.

Women and men’s torsos are different, which is one reason you need to choose wisely, so you can get the ones that best match your gender. But there are also different sizes to choose from, which means you will need to pick wisely too.

Others come with adjustable suspension that you can modify to get that perfect fit for your torso length, and this can be very essential if you are a mid-size person.

The only caveat is that this adjustable harness can add some weight to your backpack.

  •         Women-specific packs

Another important consideration that you have to make is to choose a general backpack or a women-specific one.

The difference here is that women have smaller frame sizes than men’s, with shorter and narrower torso dimensions, and their specific backpacks are designed as such.

Besides, the shoulder straps, as well as hip belts, are designed to contour perfectly with the women’s body frame.

Some of the Best daypacks for hiking also come in a wide range and variety for every female and are worth checking out some of the amazing choices here.

  •         Youth-specific packs

Another design that manufacturers have turned to in order to ensure the young ones can also enjoy the outdoor adventure without taking a toll on your finances.

One thing that truly makes these backpacks great for youth is their adjustable suspensions.

This design allows them to accommodate your child’s growth. They literally grow with the kid, which means you won’t have to purchase new backpacks every season.

However, women’s backpacks, as well as smaller versions of men’s backpacks, also work great for youths, thanks to their sizes, which fit perfectly with smaller youth’s frames.

  •         Waist size

The last thing that you need to be very keen on is the waist size, and this is crucial since most of your backpack’s weight should rest on your hips, thus it’s essential that it fit just fine in this area.

Thankfully, you can find packs of different waist sizes out there.

Besides, some have adjustable hip belts for a perfect fit, while others feature interchangeable hip belts, so you can swap the belts for the one that fits best.

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack-person walking through a wood

Compartments and pockets

Having decided which backpack offers the best fit, it’s time to look at yet another crucial aspect; compartments and pockets for organizing your gear.

The good news is, backpacks are made with your need for enough space for your gear in mind, and most of them have more than enough of these to cater to your needs.

The main compartment is the largest space. This should be spacious enough to fit in such items as food, tent, stove, fuel, and other larger gear that you might have brought along.

In most cases, the main compartment is easily accessible from the top; although some travel packs and smaller daypacks’ main compartments are usually accessible from their front side.

Then there’s the sleeping bag compartment, which, as the name suggests, is designed to accommodate your sleeping bag.

This is quite often separate from the backpack’s main compartment (usually located towards the bottom), thus offering extra space and flexibility.

Pockets are the other types of spaces you get with a backpack. And this ranges all the way from elasticized side pockets (that lie flat if empty but can hold a water bottle) to hip belt pockets for smaller items that you would love to access quickly.

There are also front pockets (some of which are zippered) for smaller and less bulky stuff, shovel pockets, usually at the front, and with a buckle closure at their top, built to hold your snow shovel.

Access to your items also matters

This is where things can get a bit complicated if you often happen to pack your bag without much thought of how to access the items inside. Not to worry though, the design of your backpack could come to the rescue.

 Top-loading openings come in as the most common types out there. In this type, you need to be very keen to ensure the items you don’t need much go to the bottom, and the handy ones are on top.

There are panel access backpacks with a zippered front panel that can fold open, thus giving you access to the inside of your backpack.

As we’ve mentioned, if you usually have problems with packing handy items deep inside the pack, this might be the best choice for you.

Some backpacks even feature a detachable top lid, which helps offer additional space while protecting the backpack from the rain but also doubles as a hip belt daypack once detached from the backpack.

These ones are great for flexibility, convenience, and cutting on costs since you won’t need to get a daypack separately.

External gear attachments

Besides the space that you get with the interior of your backpack and its pockets, some manufacturers also include options for attaching external gear, which helps keep your hands free.

These attachments are ideal for such items as an ice ax, which can be very handy for climbers. Another item you might like to attach here is a trekking pole(s), just in case you run into tough terrain where you need extra balance.

A daisy chain also proves to be very helpful for attaching different types of items as a helmet or other tools.

Not forgetting, some units have gear loops located on the hip belt area or on the lower section of the pack where you can attach skis and other such items.

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack-woman wearing a backpack

The suspension matters, too!

All said and done, it’s time to figure out whether you’ll be able with carrying your backpack with comfort despite the weight.

This is where the suspension comes in, allowing you to distribute the weight across your body to alleviate the load on any particular area.

  •         Hip belt

Designed to wrap around your hips, a hip belt helps support most of the pack’s weight, so it’s a very essential part of the suspension system of your pack.

As a result, hip belts on larger backpacks feature heavy padding and are rigid enough, while those on smaller packs are designed to take on a lighter load, and with less padding.

And if you go for a daypack, which is built for hiking light and fast, you’ll notice that it has only a simple waist strap with virtually no padding.

For climbers, a hip belt could be restrictive when tackling the climb, so it’s best to go for a pack without this feature altogether.

It’s important, however, to ensure that the hip belt is centered over your hipbone and not resting on your waist.

Also, you should ensure it is snug enough, leaving just about 3 to 6 inches between its padded potions or over its buckle area. Any distances longer or shorter, and you might need to get a more fitting hip belt.

  •         Shoulder straps

It’s simple! These are designed to ensure some of the load rests on your shoulders so as not to overload your hip section. Some padding is crucial here too for comfort, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be too thick.

However, it’s crucial that the straps conform to your anatomy, especially on the top and the back area of your shoulders, while allowing the pack to rest on your body.

On the front side, ensure that the padding of your straps ends somewhere about 2 to 3 inches below the armpits.

Any lower or higher than this could be a bit uncomfortable after some time and quite unbearable after hours of hiking; consider changing the straps or the pack. 

  •         Sternum strap

This strap doesn’t have much to do other than keeping your pack steady. Located just over the sternum area, it is designed to connect your shoulder straps.

It might not sound like a necessity, but having it in place could be a big plus.

  •         Load-lifters

These might not be on all backpacks out there, but they allow you to distribute the pack’s weight and balance for a better experience.

Load-lifter straps are attached at the top of your backpack and onto the upper end of the shoulder straps; this allows you to adjust them to lean the pack either towards or away from your body, without offsetting the balance on your hips.

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack-people hiking along a ridge


It’s also important to ensure that crucial points of contact between your body and the backpack are well ventilated to avoid excessive sweating along the way, which could prove to be very uncomfortable.

This is where such features as suspended mesh back panels come in, especially in internal frame backpacks.

Other backpacks have such features as “chimneys” built into the panels, thus offering great airflow into the areas of contact and allowing you to stay cool throughout the hike.


The areas where your backpack and the body are in contact could end up being a bit sore, and thus it’s the padding job to prevent this from happening.

Some of the great backpacks out there come with padding in the shoulder and back areas, as well as some minimalistic padding on the hip belt and lumbar pads for the lightweight packs, so be on the lookout for that too.

Other features

Such other features as a rain cover also help make things easier for you, especially when heading out during the cold and wet season. All these features and possibilities lead us to ask what is the best backpack but this can only be answered by you.

Another feature that you should go for is a hydration reservoir.

This internal sleeve for keeping your drink allows you to enjoy a hands-free hike as you can tuck the water away from inside the pack and sip through a sip tube. However, it’s worth mentioning that this one is usually sold separately. 

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been thinking of getting a camping backpack for your upcoming adventure, this post should have helped you understand what to look for when you finally step on the market.

Don’t make the wrong choice and waste your money on a junk pack that won’t make the cut.

Some, if not most of the packs out there have all of the features we’ve discussed here, it’s all up to you to go for the one that has all you are looking for.

Finding a quality backpack might take you some time and cost you pretty penny, but you’ll be thankful you went that extra mile to put your money on a good one. 

If you have any more questions about How to Buy a Hiking Backpack, I’d love to hear them and I’ll be more than happy to answer them in the comments section below.

Remember! Leave it cleaner than you found it, only footprints not rubbish.



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