Your A-to-Z guide to buying the perfect backpack for you.
These packs are used for single-day hikes, climbs, runs or bike rides. In general, daypacks are soft-backed or frameless. Daypacks are lightweight and intended for light loads (10 to 15 pounds). Good daypacks have hipbelts to prevent the load from thumping on your back with each stride.
Fitting a daypack is pretty straightforward, which is why many of them come in only one size. The shoulder straps should wrap comfortably around your shoulders, without pinching or digging under your armpits, and the hipbelt (usually just a length of webbing) should snug the bottom of the pack against your lumbar region to eliminate sway or thumping as you walk.Shop all daypacks
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These packs are used for bigger, heavier loads (15 pounds and up). Frames–either aluminum stays, plastic framesheets, curved Delrin rods, or combinations of those things–are located within the packbag (as opposed to external frames; see below), and when properly fit, they hug the contours of your back, thereby cinching the load in close to your spine.
The main job of the frame is to facilitate weight transfer to the hip area, which is where we humans are most capable of bearing it. So a good, supportive hipbelt is also critical.
Because internal frames are generally narrower and closer fitting (than externals), they're the best choice for any sort of dynamic activities like climbing, skiing, or bushwhacking, where you need good arm clearance and a tight center of balance. If you typically hike in hot weather, look for an internal with a “trampoline style” back, which means that breathable mesh is suspended across the frame to allow air circulation without any major loss of stability.
Proper loading of an internal frame pack is key, not only in order to keep the weight well balanced and stable, but also to keep you well organized.
With bigger internal and external frame packs, fit is a key issue—the most important one you'll face. Fit is all about the “suspension system,” which is the part of the pack responsible for bearing the weight and connecting it to your body: the shoulder straps, the hipbelt, the frame, the back padding, and the lumbar area. There are three types of suspension systems:
Also used for big, heavy loads, these packs are best for walking on trails (as opposed to skiing, climbing or bushwhacking). That's because the packbag is hung off a simple exterior frame, so the load is positioned farther away from your back. And though this might result in a wobble-fest for climbers or skiers, trail walkers who carry big loads often love them. (Tip: Use hiking poles for stability.)
External frame packs have a higher center of gravity than internal frame packs, which has two advantages: It gives excellent weight transfer to the hips and it allows you to walk with a more upright posture (with big internals you have to lean forward to counterbalance the load). Plus, they offer lots of airflow between the pack and your back, great for long, sweaty days on the Appalachian Trail or anywhere that heat is a factor.
Externals are known for their plentiful pockets and ultimate trail-livability, but there are still a few tricks to loading them.
What size pack do you really need? Get a pack that's too big and you'll be sure to fill it with non-essential junk and end up tired and sore. But go too small, and you might not be able to fit the stuff you do need, like safety gear.
Backpack sizes are listed either in cubic inches or liters, which can make comparison-shopping a bit tricky, especially for online shoppers who aren't able to actually see the packs before they buy. That's why we've done the conversions and broken it all down for you. The below lists are very general rules of thumb, and will depend on the sizes of the items you're packing, of course.
Size: Less than 2,500 cubic inches or 40 liters
Size: 2,500 to 3,999 cubic inches or 40 to 65 liters
Will hold: All of the above, plus:
Size: 4,000 to 5,999 cubic inches or 65 to 95 liters
Will hold: All of the above, plus:
Size: Greater than 6,000 cubic inches or 95 liters
Will hold: Winter-worthy versions of all of the above, plus:
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