Finding the best backpack – hitting the trail?

Man in the mountains

Calling all hikers: Why do you hike? Is it for the view you find at the summit? The nature and wildlife did you encounter along the way? The challenge and improvement it brings to your physical fitness? Whatever it is, you are going to need a backpack that fits your needs.

No matter your reason (or combination of any), hiking can be strenuous. Protecting your back, shoulders, and all other joints is paramount. Hiking even a short distance with a backpack that is too heavy or ill-fitting may lead to soreness or injury. If you’re feeling up to your eyeballs in options, don’t worry, we’ve got your pack!

Choosing the Perfect Backpack

Here are a few tips to help you choose a backpack for hiking, so you can focus more on your trek and less on an aching back!

Tip 1: Shop for Your Typical Hike Length

Hiking fact: You’re going to need to carry far less on a weekend hike than on a week-long expedition. The longer your trek, the more you’ll pack. On a breezy six-mile paved stroll, you may not need anything other than water, but on a three-day mountain ascent, you’ll need food, water, extra clothing, shelter provisions…and possibly more!

Hiking packs typically come in three different sizes:

  • The Weekender. This size of backpack is usually up to 50 liters in capacity and is best for 1-3 nights of hiking. This size of pack will typically be the easiest on your back—if loaded wisely. Remember that small packs will mean being selective in what is brought and economical in your packing.
  • The Midsize. If you’re looking to hike for 3-5 nights, the medium may be the best hiking backpack for you. Most midsize packs hold up to 80 liters of supplies. You might also opt for this size of backpack for hiking even on shorter trips if you prefer to pack extra supplies or are engaging in other activities on your trip like cross-country skiing.
  • The Long Trip. A hiking backpack holding more than 80 liters is suitable for adventurers whose trips last more than five nights. This size might also work for you if you’re packing supplies for two people in one bag (such as for children) or if you’re a wintertime hiker. Bigger backpacks will allow space for bulky winter clothing, sleeping bags, and other provisions.

Tip 2: Browse Hiking Backpack Features

Just as car models can be basic or fully loaded, your hiking backpack can contain the bare necessities or be packed with features. What’s best for you will depend on how long you hike, the conditions you hike in, and what you like to pack. There are many features you can shop from for comfort or luxury—such as ventilation to prevent sweaty backs, multiple attachment points, and convenient specialized compartments—but there are a few to focus on when your priorities are preventing soreness or injury in hiking.

First, you’ll want to determine which hiking backpack frame is best for you.

  • Frameless backpacks are either the prime solution or the worst possible choice depending on how you hike. Fast, light, and short hikes that don’t require extensive supplies could breeze by without the extra weight of a framed backpack’s boning. But if you overpack, your spine and shoulders may pay for the heavy unsupported load later.
  • Internal-frame backpacks hide the support structure of the pack within the back panel. Most of these packs are designed to transfer the weight of your supplies to your hips, lifting stress from your shoulders and spine. This is one of the most popular pack types.
  • External-frame backpacks may be your best contender if you often carry bulky, heavy supplies, such as an inflatable kayak or oversized tents. As the name reveals, the hardware that supports this pack (often an aluminum frame) is visible on the outside.

For prevention of injury or muscle strain, also consider the padding of a pack. Lightweight packs with minimal support from the hip belt and lumbar pad can lead to sore spots in the shoulders, lower back, and hips. To combat this, add a thicker cushion in the hip belt to your list of perfect hiking backpack requirements!

Tip 3: Consider How Your Pack Should Fit

A 6’4 hiker will need a very different pack from their eight-year-old daughter. Torso length, waist size, gender, and age should all be factored into your browsing filters.

Some brands and pack models come in multiple sizes ranging from extra small to large. Look for the length details of each size by locating a product’s specs on its website. If you’re lucky, you may find a pack that features adjustable suspension, which can be adjusted to fit your torso. Unfortunately, an adjustable harness will add weight to your pack.

Because so much of a pack’s weight should be supported by the hips, finding a pack that properly fits your waist is important. Standard hip belts will accommodate a wide range of waist and hip circumferences from the 20-inch to the 40-inch range.

Lastly, be sure to filter your selections if you are shopping for a women’s or youth pack. These types usually mean shorter and narrower dimensions. A child’s backpack will usually be smaller in liter capacity to keep weight minimal, while a woman’s pack may have contoured shoulder and hip straps. You also want to make sure you properly pack your backpack.

Take Your Time, Explore Your Options, Find Your Ideal Pack

If you were overwhelmed about finding the best hiking backpack to help prevent back soreness, we hope this advice has helped you find a starting point. You will surely find the pack that will carry you through every adventure. Your back, shoulders, and hips will thank you! You also might want to check out the Chi Machine to soothe and relieve those sore muscles after a long hike!