How to Choose Your Hiking Backpack – Detailed Guide

by Crazy Hiker
How to choose Hiking backpack for your hiking adventure by hikingpirates

Planning your next outdoor hiking adventure and wondering which backpack suits your needs? It’s a challenging task for every one of us. Choosing the right hiking backpack is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience.

The right choice can make all the difference. You’re excited about the adventure, but as you gather your gear, you realize the importance of choosing the right backpack.

A backpack that is too small won’t hold all your gear, while one that is too large may lead to shoulder, back, or knee issues. 

Here are some essential factors you should remember when selecting an ideal backpack for outdoor adventures. 

Determine Hiking Duration

It is a critical step in selecting the right gear, especially when it comes to choosing a hiking backpack.

Every hiking trip has specific needs depending on various factors, such as the type of hiking, duration, and the kind of terrain you’ll be covering.

The hiking trip length and type of trails let you decide the appropriate size and features of your backpack.

Here’s how to assess and categorize your hiking duration: 

Day Hikes

  • Day hikes typically last a few hours, with hikers returning home the same day. The duration of a short day hike is determined by the hiker’s fitness level. 
  • Backpack Capacity: For day hikes, a smaller backpack with 20 to 30 liters capacity is sufficient. It is suitable to carry essentials like water, snacks, a first aid kit, and a lightweight jacket.

Overnight Trips

  • Overnight trips involve spending one night on the trail. Good for short or weekend getaways.
  • Backpack Capacity: You need a slightly larger backpack, usually ranging from 30 to 50 liters. It allows you to carry extra clothing, a sleeping bag, and possibly a lightweight tent.

Multi-Day Backpacking

  • Multi-day backpacking is spending two or more nights on the trail, requiring additional gear and supplies.
  • Backpack Capacity: For extended trips, choose a backpack with a capacity of 50 liters or more. This size accommodates a tent, cooking equipment, extra clothing layers, and a larger supply of food and water. However, always remember that a larger pack will add extra weight and may delay you down.

Check out our curated selection of the best hiking backpacks available today to make your choice easier.

Best Hiking Backpacks of 2023

Teton Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack for Hiking

Mountaintop 70L/75L Internal Frame Hiking Backpack

Osprey Talon 22 Men’s Hiking Backpacks

Backpack Size Guide: Find the Perfect Pack for Every Hike

There are various backpacks available to choose the perfect hiking adventure backpack. The ideal backpack size is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience.

A good backpack is like a helpful friend on your hike. It makes your hike fun and enjoyable, not a painful uphill battle.

Whether you’re planning a day trip or a multi-day expedition, selecting the optimal backpack capacity ensures you carry what you need while minimizing unnecessary weight and strain.

Before anything else, determine the type and duration of your hiking trips. Consider the gear you’ll carry and its size.

When you’re hiking in the mountains for 6 hours, carry less weight. Depending on your gear and the length of your adventure, backpack sizes can range from 30 to 80 liters.

Most Important Features of Hiking Backpack To Enhance Your Hiking Experience 

Backpack attributes play a critical part in making buying decisions. Specific facts are vital for certain trips, adding comfort to the hiking.

Integrated rain covers are perfect for wet climates, while hydration-compatible backpacks are superb for staying hydrated in sizzling, dry regions.

However, in sub-zero temperatures, the hydration hose may freeze, so it’s essential to recognize these factors.

Here are the critical hiking backpack features to consider. Not all may be perfect for everyone, but attributes like sleeping bag compartments and removable daypacks can be beneficial.

1. Backpack Frame

When it comes to hiking backpacks, there are three types of frames, each with its benefits and drawbacks. Backpack frames are important for carrying heavy loads comfortably on hikes and expeditions.

They provide support, distribute weight evenly, and help maintain stability on uneven terrain.

Internal Frame

Internal frames are built into the backpack and are not visible externally. They typically consist of a lightweight and flexible material, such as aluminum or carbon fiber, formed into a frame or rods. 


  • Lightweight and comfortable for long hikes.
  • More streamlined and less likely to catch on obstacles.
  • Quieter than external frame backpacks.


  • May not be suitable for very heavy loads.
  • Less ventilation than external frames, potentially causing back sweat.
  • Access to the main compartment can be restricted by the frame.
  • Can be more expensive than external frame backpacks.

Ideal for: Day hikes, weekend trips, moderate loads, ultralight backpacking.

External Frame

For hikers carrying heavy or unconventional loads, an external frame backpack is specifically designed to meet those needs. 

External frames are visible on the outside of the backpack and are often made of aluminum tubing. The frame is attached to the pack, creating a rigid structure that holds the backpack away from the wearer’s back.


  • Excellent weight distribution for heavy loads.
  • Increased ventilation through the mesh back panel.
  • Easier access to the main compartment.
  • More durable than internal frames.


  • Can be bulky and uncomfortable, especially on long hikes.
  • Less streamlined and may catch on to obstacles.
  • Can be noisy when moving due to the metal frame.

Ideal for: Carrying heavy loads, long expeditions, and rugged terrain.


If you’re seeking an ultra-lightweight option, you may opt for a frameless backpack with a removable frame or no frame at all. Backpack frames play a crucial role in carrying heavy loads comfortably on hikes and expeditions.

They provide support, distribute weight evenly, and help maintain stability on uneven terrain.

2. Ventilation

When using an internal frame hiking backpack, sweating on your back is inevitable. However, you can minimize it with a good ventilation system.

Many backpacks come with an integrated ventilation system, such as breathable mesh, which allows air to flow and keeps the backpack a few inches away from your back, improving back ventilation.

3. Suspension System

Carrying a backpack for an extended period of hiking is not easy. The padding becomes more important in a backpack in such cases. Well-padded straps will prevent a sore back or shoulders, especially when carrying a heavy load.

  • Hip Belt: It sits snugly on your hips and takes most of the weight, making your hike much easier. Choose a well-padded, adjustable belt for optimal comfort and weight distribution.
  • Shoulder Straps: The cushioned companions, support your upper body. Look for adjustability, padding, and breathable materials to avoid digging straps and sweaty shoulders.
  • Sternum Strap: The balance bar, connecting the shoulder straps across your chest and stabilizing the pack, is especially important for steep terrain and heavier loads.

4. Pockets or Compartments

Your organized haven, keeping your gear easily accessible. Pockets are both loved and needed by hikers. Some prefer numerous pockets on their backpacks, while others find them bothersome.

If you’re a pocket enthusiast, the number of pockets will be a key factor in selecting your ideal hiking backpack.

  • Main Compartment: The spacious central hub, accommodating bulky items like sleeping bags and tents. Look for easy access features like a U-shaped zipper or compression straps for cinching down the load.
  • Top Lid Pocket: The quick-grab zone for essentials like snacks, maps, and sunscreen. Opt for a water-resistant compartment for extra protection.
  • Hip Belt Pockets: Your on-the-go buddies, perfect for sunglasses, a compass, or a small phone. Ensure they’re secure and easily accessible during the hike.
  • Side Pockets: They are often stretchable and perfect for carrying water bottles, additional snacks, tripods, or trekking poles. Their accessibility allows you to grab these items without removing the backpack.

Choose stretchy pockets for easy access and consider insulated options for keeping drinks cool.

5. Backpack Accessibility

A well-designed backpack streamlines your hiking experience. U-shaped zippers or front panels are good for easy access to the central compartment. Most backpacks are top-loading, accessed through a large opening at the top. 

Multiple pockets, including hip belts and side pockets, mesh pockets, and top lid compartments provide quick access to essentials. Some backpacks fold open like a suitcase, making it easy to find specific items. 

Prioritize a backpack that aligns with your hiking needs, offering seamless access to gear for a hassle-free adventure on the trail.  Focus on backpacks with smaller capacities, streamlined designs, and pack-on accessibility.

This lightweight approach lets you conquer big-mile days with confidence and pride.

6. Removable Day Pack

As mentioned earlier, certain backpacks come with a removable day pack, which is incredibly convenient for day trips from your campsite.

You can take them off and use them for shorter trips, like a day hike or exploring a city. It’s like having a small backpack inside your big one.

A smart way to make your backpack work for different types of adventures without carrying more than you need.

7. Hydration Compatibility

Many modern backpacks are designed to be hydration-compatible, featuring sleeves and ports for water reservoirs. This ensures easy access to water during your hike without having to stop and dig through your pack.

It can increase your efficiency and provide convenient access to water, eliminating the need for frequent water breaks. The hose connected to the water bladder easily attaches to a shoulder strap, allowing you to quench your thirst on the go.

8. Sleeping Bag Compartment

A rising trend in backpacks is the inclusion of sleeping bag compartments. Typically found at the bottom of the backpack, these separate pockets are specifically designed to store your sleeping bag. 

The compartment is shaped like a stuff sack, allowing you to store your sleeping bag without its compression sack or stuff sack.

9. External Straps, Hooks & Loops

Having the option to carry gear outside your hiking backpack is a treat. Sturdy straps located at the bottom, sides, or front are perfect for attaching tents or larger sleeping pads.

Hiking poles and ice axes are better secured to the side or front using loops or straps, as connecting them horizontally at the bottom could lead to entanglements or injuries on the trail.

10. Load Lifter Straps

Load lifter straps are a must-have for every trekking backpack. They play a paramount role in the backpack’s fit and can make the distinction between painful shoulders and consolation.

By altering these straps, you can ensure the backpack stays close to your back, providing balance and preventing annoyance. Avoid making them too tight; instead, aim for a 45° angle between your back and the backpack for an excellent fit.

11. Integrated Raincover

Surprise showers? No worries! Your trusty backpack hides a secret weapon: the built-in rain cover. A combined rain cover is a priceless feature in hiking backpacks.

Especially useful when hiking in rainy weather, wet climates, or any unfavorable weather conditions. Some backpacks come with a built-in rain cover that has its stash pocket.

These integrated rain covers are suitable as they stop the need to pack an additional item and remain securely attached to the backpack, providing trustworthy protection from the rain.


Choosing the right hiking backpack is a decision that directly impacts your comfort and enjoyment on the trail.

By assessing your specific needs, and considering factors like capacity, fit, durability, and features, you can find the perfect backpack for your hiking adventures. 

Invest time in research, try on different models, and don’t hesitate to consult with experienced hikers or outdoor gear experts.

With the right backpack, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle the trails and create lasting memories in the great outdoors.

FAQ About Choosing a Hiking Backpack

Is a 40L backpack enough for hiking?

A 40L backpack strikes the perfect balance between lightweight daypacks and heavy-duty 80L rucksacks. Highly versatile, they are suitable for both day hikes and overnight wilderness camping. Additionally, they provide ample space for climbing gear or winter hikes.

What makes a good Hiking Backpack?

A good hiking backpack should have durability, comfort, proper fit, ample storage capacity, weight distribution, adjustable straps, ventilation, and water resistance. Below are a few key features it must have:

Fit: Snug hip belt & adjustable straps to distribute weight evenly.
Capacity: Choose the right size for your gear and trips.
Features: Ventilation, hydration access, rain cover, organized pockets.
Durability: Strong materials to handle rough terrain and weather.
Personal preference: Choose what feels comfortable and suits your needs!

What is the most critical feature of a backpack?

When selecting a backpack, comfort is paramount. Ensure the backpack offers comfortable back panels, padded shoulder straps, and hip belts to enhance your overall experience.

How tight should a hiking backpack be?

Properly adjust the hip belt to be snug yet allow comfortable breathing. Ensure it stays in place without shifting up or dropping below your hip bones. Adjust the shoulder straps until they are comfortably snug and lie flat without bunching.

What is the difference between a backpack and a rucksack?

In general, backpacks are more petite and consist of a single compartment, whereas rucksacks are larger with multiple compartments. Rucksacks commonly come with a frame, promoting better weight distribution and increased comfort while carrying.

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