How to Pick the Right Hiking Backpack for You

How to Pick the Right Hiking Backpack for You
Image: iStock
At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW - prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

If you’ve been spending the past 18 months getting out and about in nature, you’ll know how much fun hiking can be. Before you set off, though, you’ll need to invest in the right equipment. Most importantly, the right hiking backpack.

Investing in the right backpack isn’t something that can be done in the spur of moment. Ideally, you’ll take the time to do some research first and figure out exactly what you need. If you’re wondering where to start or what things you need to consider, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know before your next outdoor adventure.

How to choose the right backpack

You’re truly spoiled for choice when it comes to backpack shopping. While this can initially seem like a good thing, it can also make it more difficult to choose the right one. There are four key factors you should always consider when choosing a hiking backpack – we’ve laid them out for you below.

Capacity

First and foremost, you’ll want to get the size of your backpack right. Its sole purpose is to fit all your belongings so making sure it has the capacity to fit everything you need is the most important factor to consider.

Before buying your bag, you’ll need to figure out how much gear you’ll be taking with you. This will give you a pretty good indication of how big the bag needs to be. You can also look at how many pockets and compartments the bag has. Does it have drawstrings to keep everything secure? Does it have bungee cords to hold things like shoes? Does it have a roll top? These are all the questions you’ll need to ask before making your purchase.

For 1-3 day trips, you’ll be wanting to look for a backpack around 30-50L. For 3-5 day long trips (or anything longer), you’ll be looking at something around the 50-80L mark.

Weight

Once you’ve figured out how much storage the bag needs to have, you’ll also need to account for how heavy it is when empty. This is especially important for longer hiking expeditions as you’ll want a fairly lightweight bag to cancel out the weight of your gear. If you’re hiking up a mount for 6 hours, you’ll want the least amount of weight on your back as possible.

Several styles of hiking backpacks have been especially designed to be as lightweight as possible. They utilise creative weight-reducing measures like removable covers that can be stripped off when they’re not in use and lightweight fabrics as well. If the weight of your bag is of considerable importance to you, be sure to do some research on the design of the bag.

Fit

Given how long you’re going to spend with this thing on your back, you want to ensure it’s as comfortable as possible. Finding a bag that’s the right shape for your body and can sit comfortably on your back, shoulders and waist is really important for long hikes.

Be sure to check the length, width and height measurements of the backpack to see how they’ll fit around your body. Many backpack brands offer multiple sizes of the same style to ensure a perfect fit.

Frame

There are three frame types used in hiking backpacks so you’ll want to pick the one that best suits your needs.

  1. Frameless – If you’re looking for something extremely lightweight, a backpack with no frame is your best option.
  2. External Frame – This is designed for hikers carrying heavier loads. While they offer decent ventilation, they’re less common unless you’re carrying abnormally sized equipment like inflatable boats.
  3. Internal Frame – This is the most common type of frame. Designed to hug the hiker’s body shape and disperse the weight equally, it’s an incredibly popular option. Ideally the majority of the weight should be on your hips instead of your shoulders, so certain backpacks utilise a structural technology which ensures the load sits here.

Best hiking backpacks Australia

hiking backpack

Earth Pak Waterproof Backpack 35L ($109.41)

If you’re off on a water-based adventure that’ll see you kayaking and fishing – this is the perfect pack for you. It’s 100% waterproof with a reinforced strip at the top to give you extra peace of mind that no water will get inside. There’s plenty of extra storage with pockets both inside and outside the bag but is still lightweight enough that you can carry it all day.

Zomake 40L Hiking Backpack ($38.99)

While it may be shorter than some of the hiking backpacks out there, don’t be fooled by its size. In fact, you’d be amazed at just how you much you can actually fit inside this backpack. Inside, you’ll find a variety of compartments designed to keep everything separate with a wraparound drawstring to keep it all secure. Padded shoulder straps and a shock absorption panel also ensure all-day comfort. If you’re a beginner hiker, you can’t look past it.

Drop 40L Ultralight Backpack by Dan Durston ($291.91)

This backpack is renowned for its innovative design. With the slogan ‘pack smarter, go further’, it’s all about ensuring you get the most out of your hike. Weighing under a kilogram, the bag is ultra lightweight, making it perfect for a week-long trek or a quick weekend stint.

hiking backpack

FE Active Dry Bag Waterproof Backpack 30L ($49.99)

Whether you’re hiking in the rain or snow, this backpack can handle any kind of weather conditions that are thrown at you. With bungee cords to hold sleeping mats and fishing gear and a complimentary carabiner to string hiking shoes to – there’s as much storage outside this bag as there is inside. This spacious backpack will be your #1 companion on any hiking adventure.

Mountain Hiking Backpack 40L ($69)

While it may look a little full on, this backpack has actually been designed for occasional walkers. With a ventilated back, easy-to-open compartments and wide shoulder straps, it’s really easy to use. It also comes with a 10-year warranty if you’re looking for some added protection.

hiking backpack

NH 500 Adult Hiking Backpack 20L ($39)

If you’re headed out on a day trip and need to take a few gadgets and gizmos along – this is the perfect backpack for you. With five compartments and a rain cover, it’s the perfect companion for day hikes on relatively flat terrain.

Tamacoma Hiking Backpack 75L ($55.74) 

Given the size and capabilities of this hiking backpack, its price point is extremely reasonable compared to most. Ideal for longer hikes and overnight camping trips, it’s extremely durable and water repellent to boot. With eight different pockets built-in, there’s no shortage of space to store everything from bug spray and snacks to pocket knives and water bottles.

hiking backpack

Prion Wilderness Equipment 85L ($558.95)

Coming in at a whopping 85L+, this bag is all about off-track adventures that take your far from the beaten path. Despite its heavy load, this backpack has been designed for maximum comfort and is weather-resistant as well. Detachable compartments, multiple pockets and a shoulder harness are just some of the selling points that make this backpack so popular among hikers.

Log in to comment on this story!