When preparing for outdoor activities like hiking, having the right backpack is essential. The backpack you choose can make or break your experience on the trail. There are several key factors to consider when selecting a backpack for outdoor activities.
Table of Contents
Size and Capacity
One of the most important features of a hiking backpack is having adequate size and capacity. The backpack needs to be large enough to hold all of the gear and supplies you’ll need for your intended trip duration and conditions. Generally, backpacks for overnight hiking trips should be in the 50–80-liter range. For day hikes, 25-40 liters is usually sufficient. For multi-day excursions lasting 3-5 days, choose a spacious 60–80-liter backpack with an internal frame to effectively distribute heavier loads.
Take into account these factors first, then find a pack with enough capacity. The right size and capacity backpack enhances mobility and prevents packing woes. When shopping at Prepared Bee, consider your intended trips, gear needs, and physique to find the optimal backpack for outdoor adventures.
Fit and Comfort
Proper fit and comfort are crucial when selecting a backpack for outdoor activities like hiking or camping. An ill-fitting pack can make even a short hike unpleasant. When trying on backpacks, pay attention to the shoulder straps, hip belt, and how the pack sits on your back. The shoulder straps should curve over your shoulders without digging in or restricting movement. Make sure you can lift your arms fully while wearing the pack. The hip belt should sit snugly around your hip bones to transfer weight off your shoulders to your hips.
Don’t overload the pack as these strains your body. Pack the heaviest items closest to your back and balance the weight evenly. For longer trips, choose a pack with an internal frame. This helps evenly distribute weight and keeps the pack from collapsing uncomfortably against your back. Proper pack fit greatly impacts your performance and comfort on the trail. Take the time to try on different packs weighted with gear to find the best size and fit before your next outdoor adventure.
Backpack weight is an important consideration if you’ll be carrying it for extended periods. Heavier packs require more energy to haul around and can quickly lead to fatigue. Look for packs made from lightweight yet durable materials like ripstop nylon or Dyneema fabrics. Aluminum or composite internal frames help transfer weight to the hips while keeping pack weight low.
Aim for the lightest weight pack that still provides sufficient capacity and features for your intended adventures. Going lighter helps reduce exertion throughout a long hike.
Padding and Ventilation
Proper padding and ventilation are critical features for outdoor backpacks to provide comfort, support, and breathability during hiking and camping trips. A backpack’s shoulder straps and hip belt should have thick, padded cushioning to evenly distribute weight and prevent pain or injury. The back panel that sits against the wearer’s back should also have ventilated, breathable padding to allow air circulation. This helps reduce sweating and the discomfort of an overheated back. Strategically placed foam pads along the pack’s interior and straps help stabilize contents while also protecting electronics, food items, and other gear from jostling during movement.
Ventilation is also key for preventing objectionable odors from sweat, dirty clothes, and damp gear that can build up inside a poorly ventilated pack. Backpacks designed for extended outdoor use often have mesh-covered foam pads along the back panel and shoulder straps to enable maximum airflow. Some also have external frames to keep the main storage compartment suspended off the wearer’s back several inches to allow air to flow through.
Adjustable sternum and hip straps further help stabilize weight and bring the pack closer to the body’s natural center of gravity. Well-padded, ventilated backpacks tailored for weight distribution and airflow provide hikers, backpackers, and campers the comfort and breathability needed to go the distance on the trail.
Compartments and Pockets
Organization is key for hiking packs. Look for models with separate compartments for your sleeping bag, clothes, food, cooking gear, and other essentials. Multiple pockets help keep items quickly accessible like water bottles, maps, snacks, headlamps, and more. Compression straps help stabilize loads and some pockets even double as attachment points. The right configuration of compartments and pockets keeps your most needed items close at hand on the trail.
Many hiking packs now come equipped to handle hydration reservoirs and bladders. They have a designated pocket to hold the water bladder and a channel through which the drinking tube can be routed. This makes hydrating while moving much easier compared to stopping to access water bottles. If hydration compatibility is important to you, be sure the pack you choose accommodates a reservoir.
Backpack frames help transfer the load you’re carrying to your hips. There are two main types of frames used in hiking packs: internal and external. The right frame system depends on your carrying needs, body type, and priorities like weight, ventilation, adjustability, and budget. Test out some options to see which works best for your packing style.
Internal frame backpacks have a frame sheet or set of stays built into the pack that provides structure while keeping a slimmer profile. These move more closely with your body but can cause sweat buildup on longer treks. Frameless packs have no solid frame, relying solely on the contents and fabric for structure. These are light but less comfortable with heavier loads.
External frame backpacks have a rigid aluminum frame that is visible on the outside of the pack. These distribute weight well and allow good ventilation between your back and the pack, but they tend to be heavier.
Some key backpack frame options include:
- Fixed frames are solid, rigid frames often with external aluminum stays. They are sturdy but heavy.
- Adjustable frames let you tweak the torso length and frame shape for a custom fit. They are popular on internal frames.
- Interchangeable frames allow you to swap different-sized frame pieces to get the ideal fit. You will find them on higher-end packs.
- Frame materials range from ultra-light carbon fiber to budget-friendly polypropylene plastic. This affects weight and durability.
- Load-bearing hip belts distribute pack weight onto the hips instead of the shoulders, which is crucial for heavier loads.
- Ventilation channels appear as grooves in frame pieces or mesh-covered pads to allow airflow next to your back. These channels reduce sweat buildup.
Some hiking backpacks offer bonuses like rain covers, attachments for trekking poles or ice axes, removable daypacks, and built-in sun shades. Assess if any extras may be useful for the types of trips or conditions you tackle. However, avoid packs with too many accessories that add unnecessary weight or bulk. Striking the ideal balance of functional features with little weight takes precedence.
Outdoor backpacks can range significantly in price depending on the size, materials, brand, and features. Entry-level outdoor backpacks typically start around $50-$100. These are basic models made of cheaper materials like polyester with few extras. Step up to the $100-$200 range and you’ll find backpacks with more durable fabrics like nylon, more organized compartments, and improved suspension systems.
In the $200-$300 range, expect even better materials like ripstop nylon along with more robust support systems. Many backpacks designed for multi-day hiking and camping fall in this range. They offer enhanced padding, ventilation, and support to comfortably carry heavier loads.
Beyond $300, you’ll find premium, high-performance backpacks. These cater to serious backpackers and mountaineers who need the best combination of lightweight, weather resistance, and load-carrying capability. Materials are exceptionally strong yet lightweight, like advanced nylons or Dyneme composites. These packs also boast heavy-duty suspension systems for hauling gear on extended trips. Height-adjustable torsos and customizable hip belts provide a dialed-in fit.
Overall, expect to spend $50-$100 for a basic outdoor backpack, $100-$300 for a mid-range all-purpose pack, and $300+ for a high-performance technical backpack designed for demanding adventures. The price reflects important factors like materials, comfort, and durability.
Trying It On
There’s no better test than loading a pack up and taking it for a walk. Swing by your local outdoor gear shop and try on multiple packs to get a feel for the fit. Packs should have an adjustable torso length and hip belt to dial in the ideal positioning. Move around the store and up/down some stairs to gauge mobility. Ask questions and take your time; finding the right backpack matters for outdoor adventures.
Take It Outside
Once you’ve purchased a pack, do a test run in the real world before your trip. Set it up just as you intend to use it then take it on a local trail for a few miles. This shakedown helps assess the fit and uncover any issues before you head into the backcountry. Breaking in the pack also lets the straps and backing form to your body. Consider it an investment for upcoming adventures.
Choosing the right backpack takes research, diligently trying on options, and testing it out beforehand. But having a well-fitting, functional pack can make all the difference when heading into the outdoors. Take the time to find your ideal hiking backpack and it will reward you with comfort, organization, and reliability out on the trail.