How To Choose A Backpack: Expert Guide

Rilor Staff
Update: July 17, 2021
Table of Contents

How to choose a backpack for your outdoor trip?

It seems an innocent question, but for enthusiasts who know their thing, it is an inquiry that must be answered. 

A good backpack can help ease your adventure. It lets you carry your essentials without becoming a burden. I've heard people complain that their packs are too heavy or bulky, and that's a predicament that you should avoid at all costs. 

Fortunately, there are a number of ergonomic and fully functional backpacks in the market today that you can use for camping, backpacking, hiking, and anything in between. If you are choosing one, the general guidelines can certainly help you narrow your choices. 

How To Choose A Backpack: An Overview

Whenever you are buying a backpack, you should take the following features into account. 

  • Capacity - You should get a pack that can hold all your items and is sufficient enough to cover the duration of your adventure. Of course, keep in mind that the size of the backpack influences its weight and bulkiness. 
  • Features - These are the specifications that can amplify the functionality of the backpack. 
  • Fit - Your size matters here. Pick a backpack that is not too big or too small for you. 

Different Kinds Of Backpacks Based On Capacity

Extended Trip Backpacks

  • Capacity - 70 liters or bigger
  • Trip Duration - 5 nights or more

If you are heading on a trip that will take several days (probably more than a week), you would need a large backpack. It is a requirement, especially during winter or high-altitude hikes. With a bigger pack, you will be able to bring more clothes, a better sleeping bag, and a large tent. But of course, these backpacks are also ideal for family camping, especially if you are bringing your children with you. Parents just don't want their little ones to carry the heavy stuff.

Multi-Day Backpacks

  • Capacity - 50 liters to 70 liters
  • Trip Duration - 3 nights to 5 nights

For most outdoor adventures, multi-day backpacks are already adequate. They work well for 3-season trips (summer, spring, and fall) that don't last for more than a week. But you can also bring these packs on short excursions, especially if you need to bring a lot of utilities for that trip. 

Weekend Backpacks

  • Capacity - 30 liters to 50 liters
  • Trip Duration - 1 night to 3 nights

If you usually go on an outdoor adventure during the weekends, these weekend backpacks are the best choice for you. They can carry items that can help you last up to nights. They are also a suitable option for weight-conscious backpackers. You should learn about light packing first before you can fully optimize the capacity of these weekend backpacks. 

Essential Features Of Backpacks


The frame of the backpack serves as its backbone. A properly designed frame helps in weight management as well as capacity optimization. But keep in mind that there are backpacks that don't even have frames!

  • Internal frame - Most of the backpacks today have this kind of frame. Specifically, the structure is integrated with the back panel of the pack, enabling it to embrace its user's body. Such a design is quite useful in providing stability, especially if you are trekking uneven, high-altitude terrains. A desirable internal frame pack has other innovative designs that help in transferring the weight to your hips. 
  • External frame - A backpack that has an outer frame has a visible supporting mechanism. It is usually made from aluminum and strategically integrated on the back portion of the pack. One thing that is notable about these external frames is that they are generally bigger than the bag. Because of such a design, an external frame is suitable if you want to carry a large and cumbersome item, such as a large-capacity tent. Moreover, they provide excellent air circulation and options for item organization. 
  • No frames - If you want to do ultralight adventures, then backpacks without frames are the best choice for you. Without the frames, much of the weight of the backpack has been removed. But of course, they aren't that great when it comes to item organization or handling heavy loads. Hence, if you are using these frameless packs, you need to make sure that you are not bringing too much. 

Air Circulation

I am pretty sure that you experienced a certain feeling of uncomfortable warmth when carrying a backpack. It is an indicator that the backpack doesn't have sufficient ventilation to aid in optimizing the air circulation in your back. The ideal backpack should have a mesh layer to wick off sweat. Meanwhile, other backpacks have vents or chimneys on them to deal with the same problem. 


Most of the backpacks today have access points on their top. That's the standard design. After all, accessing a pack on its back or sides is quite impractical and difficult. Other backpacks have panel access to their various parts, allowing you to open the bag to get your things without opening the top. However, such a design is only available for slightly expensive options. To overcome this problem, you might want to unload your backpack and get your essentials upon reaching your destination. You could also put the most important ones on the top so that you can take them easily. 

Storage And Compartments

There's a lot of options when it comes to backpack storage. Some people prefer having a backpack with multiple pockets. Others want to keep the numbers to a minimum. Of course, preference matters, but it would be great if you can know the types of pockets that are equipped in backpacks. 

  • Hipbelt pockets - They are placed on an area near your hips. You can stash small accessories on them, such as your phone or snacks. 
  • Elastic side pockets - These are the standard pockets you can see on the exterior part of the bag. They appear flat, but they can stretch to accommodate your water container and other similarly-sized items. 
  • Shovel pockets - These are pockets sewn in front of the backpack. They have buckles as a closure mechanism; they are originally designed to hold small shovels. But you can also put other things there such as maps and loose objects. 

Rain Protection

A backpack should have a sufficient defense against the elements. Rain and snow may appear the least you expect, so you might want your backpack to fend off these elements. A backpack that has water-resistance or waterproofing capabilities is a great choice here. Despite the presence of these features, this doesn't mean that water can't breach through the zippers and seams of the backpack. 

An excellent way to deal with this issue is to waterproof the items inside the backpack. You can do this by stashing them in waterproof stuff sacks. 


Padding is an essential aspect of backpacks. Those with minimal pads on their lumbar and hip belt region can cause their users to experience painful shoulders and lower back. But of course, the effectiveness of padding depends on the fit of the backpack. If it is too big or too low for you, a well-padded backpack may be rendered useless. 

Fitting And Size

The fit of the backpack is a significant consideration in choosing a backpack. Specifically, the pack should correspond to the length of your torso and the circumference of your hip. 

Length Of Torso

Most backpacks today are available in different sizes--from the extra-large units to the smaller ones. One of these sizes can fit your torso length. Of course, manufacturers don't follow the same sizing chart, so it is essential that you can check the labels to see the correct figures. There are also sizes intended for the female body. You should also check backpacks that come with adjustable suspension; such a feature enables the pack to respond to your torso size. However, keep in mind that the harness contributes to the weight of the backpack.

Circumference Of The Hip

Your hips handle a significant chunk of the weight of a backpack. Most belts can cater to a plethora of waist circumferences--starting from 20 inches up to 40 inches or bigger. If you have a small or narrow hip, you'll not easily find a hip belt that can fit your needs. At this point, you might want to go for a smaller pack to find a snug hip belt. 

In Summary

Learning how to choose a backpack is essential. After all, a backpack helps you accomplish every outdoor endeavor as comfortably and securely as possible. Regardless of your pursuit, you need a pack that has the right fit, capacity, and features. In this way, you'll be able to head out without having any qualms. 

That's it for now. If you have other related inquiries, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.

Other readings you may enjoy
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram