How to Choose a Hiking Backpack: Complete Guide

Read our guide for some important factors that you should take into consideration when you’re shopping for a hiking backpack, as well as some helpful tips.

From attending classes when you were a young elementary school student to toting around gear for your little ones, a backpack is an accessory that you’ve relied on for most of your life. Planning on hitting the trails? – You’ll need a backpack for that, too!

When you’re hiking, a backpack is an absolute must. It keeps all of those must-have items within easy reach, yet keeps your hands free to use.

Like every other type of hiking gear, you’ll find that there are tons of different types of backpacks to choose from. With so many options, trying to pick the perfect pack can seem like a daunting task.

To ensure you make the right selection, we’ve put together this handy list of valuable information. Below, you’ll find some important factors that you should take into consideration when you’re shopping for a hiking backpack, as well as some helpful tips.

Factors to Consider

First and foremost, you’re going to want to take some important factors into consideration before you head out on your quest to find a hiking backpack. These factors include the following…

The length of your hike

How long will you be hiking? If you’re only planning on hiking for an afternoon, you’ll need to pack a lot less gear than you would if you were going to be packing for a multi-day excursion.

With that said, you could use a larger pack for a shorter trek, but do you really want to carry around unnecessary weight?

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re treks are going to be short-lived, an afternoon or even a full day, a backpack that’s somewhere between 10 and 25 liters will provide you with more than enough space to stow the essentials; a bottle of water, some food, insect repellent, sunscreen, first aid supplies, and even a change of lightweight clothing.

If you’re going to be going out on the trails for up to three days, you’ll want to go bigger; between 20 and 35 liters is recommended.  This will give you room to pack larger quantities of food, as well as cooking gear and camping equipment.

However, do keep in mind that you’ll only be able to pack enough for yourself in a pack of this size, so don’t plan on packing for more than one person.

If you’re super adventurous and you’ve planned a hike that will span across several days, to stow all of the supplies you’ll need, you’re obviously going to require a bit more space.

We suggest going for something that’s no smaller than 35 liters, though you could go even bigger. You want to have enough space to pack up first aid supplies, water, food, cooking and camping equipment, a few changes of clothing, toiletries, and even a change of shoes.

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The location and the time of the year

Another important factor that you’re going to want to take into consideration is when and where you’ll be hiking. The location and the time of the year will have a big impact on the conditions that you’ll experience; for example, the type of gear you’ll need if you’re planning a trek in snow-covered mountains will be a lot different than the equipment you’ll require for a hike through a rainforest in the summer.

Take the time to do some research before you shop for your pack. Find out about the climate of the local area where you’ll be trekking, as well as predicted weather patterns.

This information will not only help you decide what you should pack for your hike, but it can also help you determine what type of pack you need; in other words, the size of the pack. The more varied the climate and weather, the more gear you’ll need to pack, and therefore, the larger the backpack you’ll want to bring with you.

Additionally, the local can help you select features that will help to improve your comfort while you’re toting around your backpack.

For example, if the area is hot and humid, something that’s made of lighter weight materials will be a much better option than something that’s bulky and will take a long time to dry out.

Your budget

It’s also a good idea to consider your budget before you start shopping. Hiking backpacks vary widely in price; some can cost a few hundred dollars as more. Therefore, it’s a good idea to consider how much you can comfortably afford to spend before you head out.

Generally speaking, the higher the quality and the larger the backpack, the more expensive the pack is going to be. With that said, however, you can find some great hiking backpacks at affordable prices, but you may have to do some searching. See if you can find coupons or shop during seasonal sales and you may be able to find some great discounts.

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Features to Consider

Now that you know what factors you should take into consideration before you start shopping for a hiking backpack, let’s take a look at some of the important features that you should consider.

The Fit

Just as important as the size of the backpack is the fit. Whether you’re only hitting the trails for a few hours or for several days, you want to be as comfortable as possible, and the fit plays a huge role in your comfort.

Despite what a lot of people think, a hiking backpack should properly fit the length of your torso, not your height. For example, if you’re pretty tall but your torso is short, you want to choose a shorter pack as opposed to a longer one.

Additionally, you want to ensure that the backpack offers a snug grip in your hip area. At least 80 percent of the weight of your backpack will be supported by your hips – not your back. Hip belts help to support the back to your back, and generally, these belts are adjustable and can accommodate hips that vary in size; approximately 20 inches to 40 inches or more, typically.

With that said, if your waist is particularly narrow, you may find that you’ll have a hard time getting a standard hip belt to fit your frame. If that’s the case, you should consider looking for a hiking backpack that features an interchangeable hip belt so that you can switch the size to one that better suits your needs.

A good backpack is essential for hiking
A good backpack is essential for hiking


Another element that plays a big part in your comfort is padding. A properly padded pack will help to prevent the straps and back from rubbing against your skin and creating chaffing, which can be quite uncomfortable.

The best hiking backpacks feature padding on the straps, in the lumbar region, and along the hip belt. However, keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid excessive weight; lightweight padding is the way to go, as it will avoid adding more weight to your back, thereby improving your comfort.


Pockets are super important, too. They divide your back into several compartments so that you can keep things neatly organized and easily locate what you need when you need it.

Examples of some of the different types of pockets you should look for include:

  • Shovel – These pockets are secured to the front of the pack bag and usually feature a buckle closure at the top. As the name suggests, this pocket was originally designed to hold a shovel, but they can also be used to stow lightweight items, such as jackets or maps.
  • Front – A front pocket is often positioned on the exterior portion of the shovel pocket. This type of pocket can be used to store smaller, lightweight items.
  • Elastic – This type of pocket will lay flat when there’s nothing in it, but it can be pulled out to accommodate a piece of gear – hiking poles or a water bottle, for example.
  • Hip BeltFor any items that you want to reach really quickly without having to take off your backpack, you’ll want a hip belt pocket. These pockets are situated along the hip belt (as you can probably guess) are located on the exterior of the hip belt. They usually feature zipper closures and are ideal for stowing things like your phone, some cash, sunscreen, and wipes.

Access to the pack

When it comes to accessing your pack, there are two options:

  • Top-loadingTop-loading backpacks are the most common designed. With these packs, you would place the things that you don’t need to have as readily available on the bottom and the items you need to reach with ease on top.
  • Panel – There are some packs that also feature front panel pockets. The panels can be zipped open, allowing you to access the entire interior of the pack.

Attachment points

Lastly, if you are going to be traveling with tools that you want to easily access – an axe, poles, etc. – look for a pack that features exterior attachment points.

Summing It Up

Picking the right backpack is vital to the success of your hiking excursions. Take the above-mentioned factors and features into consideration and you’ll be able to find the perfect pack for your treks.

Jake is an explorer, he loves all types of outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing & hiking. Jake has been a full-time writer & blogger for many years now and he's here to share his passions with the BeActiveOutdoors readers. Contact Jake@beactiveoutdoors.com

1 Comment

  1. Really great article . your budget sense really helped me this time . thanks a lot

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