Backpack Buying Guide

The Backpack is the king of the outdoor gear.  It will carry all your gear faithfully all day long, day in and day out.

It is one of the most personal pieces of equipment you will have next to maybe your sleeping bag, but unlike the sleeping bag it is displayed in full view for everyone to see.

While most of us are not entirely materialistic we do like to have a personal style in our belongings.

Before you go out and plunk down your hard earned money on a backpack lets learn a little more about what fits, what doesn’t and the different options available.

The first thing to consider when shopping for a new pack is size.

Many manufactures create their packs to different size and genders just like clothing.

Others make an adjustable one size fits all.

Both will do the job for most of us but if you are extra large or extra small you may want to look for a more custom pack to fit you.

Straps and things are adjustable but only so much so.   (The pack one the left is a woman’s extra small while the one on the right is a man’s extra large)

Next size considerations is the amount of gear the pack will hold.

The longer you plan to be in the field the bigger the backpack you will need.

Also the season that you plan to camp will make a difference as colder weather will require more gear, heavier cloths and sleeping bag and more calories in food.

Most backpacks are measure size capacity in liters (L) but a few will use cubic inches

The following chart is a good guide:

  • Summer weather 1 day hike 25L-35L or 1500-2000 cubic inches
  • Summer weather 1-2 Nights 40L-50L or 2500-3000 cubic inches
  • Summer weather 3-5 Nights 65L-80L or 4000-5000 cubic inches
  • Winter weather 3-5 Nights 80L-90L or 5000+ cubic inches

For weight capacity you should always strive to NOT carry more than 25% of your body weight for safety. 

Now that you have an idea of the size backpack you need the next thing is of we want an internal frame or external frame?

The pack on the left and the one above, you will notice has an external frame.

It has a outside metal frame that the backpack is attached to.

The advantages of the external frame is it can carry heavier weight, has a frame to lash gear to outside and the frame hold the pack away from the body so it is cooler to carry allowing airflow between the pack and your back.

The disadvantage of the external frame is that the weight is carried away from your body so balance and mobility are decreased over the internal frame.

This Military ALICE pack system is a external frame backpack with s shelf that can be added to the bottom of the frame to carry bulky items.  For some people this could be a ideal system.


Different pack have many different options the feature you find useful maybe different that someone else.  Lets take a look at some.

Pocket:  Personally I love a bag with lots of outside pockets. this makes it easier to organize gear and know what is where ( I like to put patches from different places I have traveled on the pockets, not only does this personalize and customize my backpack it is very useful if you need to tell a trail mate to get something out of your pack and where it is. )

Rain Cover: Many pack come with a free built in rain cover, this is a nice add on, if you don’t have a cover you will need to buy one or carry an extra poncho or some way to cover your pack in bad weather.

hydration bladder:  some backpacks have a hydration bladder built in while others have a option to add one later and some have no option at all.  Some people like hydration packs and others do not.

Straps, Lash points, and pass thru: I personally like a pack with lots of straps and lash points that I can use to cinch down gear, things like trekking poles can then be packed while not in use.  Another great feature is a outside pass thru to access gear on the bottom without unpacking the whole bag. 

Brands and Cost

Just like most things in life higher end brand names cost a premium.

The opposite is also true that low end backpacks are cheap but low quality.

If I was planning a hard core trek to Mt. Everest basecamp or thru hiking the Pacific crest trail I would spend the extra money on a big brand name backpack like REI, Gregory, Osprey, or North Face.

For most of us, what I call the weekend warrior, we will be using our pack once or twice a month for a long weekend or maybe a week summer vacation a cheaper bag will work just fine and save you half the cost or more.

This cost savings can really help the new camper and a cheaper backpack can always be upgraded a few years down the road when you know more what your preference will be.

==>MY Pick for a great starter Backpack is here<==

$79.99 at Amazon with Free Prime Shipping

TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack; with a New Limited Edition Color; Free Rain Cover Included

Features: Adjustable size fits people 5foot 1 inch to those 6 foot 4 inch with a 70 inch waist.

Perfect size for the weekend warrior 2-5 night trips

Pass thru side pockets

Hydration bladder ready up to 3L

Free Rain Cover

Compression straps and daisy chain for lashing gear

Limited Lifetime Warranty

Over 1000 reviews with a 4.5 Star average rating