How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

Posted by Kirsten on 2023 Aug 3rd

How to Choose a Hiking Backpack

Ah, the world of hiking packs.

It is yet another category of gear that seems simple until you start doing some research. There are different categories, multiple sizes available, body type specific packs and much more.

This blog isn’t covering one-size fits all day packs. This is about packs suited for multi-day adventures with custom fits and features that you didn’t realize were important.

Before we get going, the Ultralight world is its own beast so we have a series of blogs dedicated specifically to that category. If that’s what you are looking for, you can find them here.


Alright, let’s jump into the world of Hiking Backpacks.

As usual, the best starting point is to determine how and where you plan to hike most often.

  1. Are you hiking solo, with a hiking buddy or a group?
  2. Are you hiking with a dependent such as a dog or kids?
  3. How many days do you plan to hike?
  4. What will the weather be like?

Why this matters

  1. If you are hiking solo, then you will need to pack everything. If you are hiking with a friend or group, you can share gear such as stoves, dishes or your shelter system. This means you don’t have to carry as much in your own pack. Not yet sure what you need to pack? We have some free Hiking Checklists to help you out! Find them here.
  2. If you are hiking with a dependent, you will need to carry more gear. Depending on your dog’s ability and size - or your kids' ability and age, they can probably carry gear too but you still need to be prepared to carry everything in the event they are no longer able to.
  3. The number of days is essential as this determines how much food and fuel you will need. Obviously, you will need to bring more on a 7 day hike versus a 2 day hike. If it’s the type of hike where someone can drop off supplies to you, then that’s a factor to consider as well since that could mean your pack can be smaller.
  4. The weather is always key when planning for outdoor adventures. Winter hiking requires gear that is heavier and bulkier than summer hiking. 

Once you’ve determined how you intend to hike, you can now look at different packs to see what features are relevant to you.


The Pack Size

Pack sizes are listed in terms of their Volume size. Mid to Large size backpacking packs range from 40L to 70L.

This is where knowing what gear you plan to hike with is key. The more you need to pack or the more bulky your gear, the larger your pack will need to be.

An average pack size for a 3-4 multi day hike with average gear is often 50L. A larger volume pack (65L-70L) is ideal for longer hikes as well as for someone of larger build whose clothes and gear is naturally going to need more room than someone of petite stature. Even though we aren’t discussing the Ultralight backpacks, most high quality packs - like the ones built by Osprey - are still decently lightweight.


Pack Features

A typical hiking backpack will have a large opening at the top with a storage lid, side pockets for a water bottle and hip belt with some storage included as well. As you begin to level up, an overwhelming amount of features can be included.

Some features you’re likely to encounter:
  • Side or bottom access
  • Seperated storage on bottom of pack
  • Sleeping Pad straps
  • Clips throughout the pack for additional storage of items such as trekking poles
  • Integrated raincover
  • Removable daypack
  • Safety whistle on Chest clip
  • Custom fit (adjustable shoulder straps, torso length, hip belt size)

While there are certain pack features that you may predetermine you require, many are things you will discover you crave while hiking. Every hiking trip will be a learning experience as you tweak your process through trial and error.

If you’ve never embarked on a multi-day hike, and you do not own a mid to large size Hiking pack, we recommend borrowing a pack from a friend first for a short hike to test things out. This will be an excellent indicator as to what you truly need.


The Most Important Step: The Pack Fit

Osprey technical packs are designed in series with a Men's/Unisex Fit and a Women's Specific Fit. A women's specific fit from Osprey means the packs have:

  • A shorter torso length
  • Narrower, shorter harness with curves designed to accommodate most women's necks, shoulders and chests.
  • A hipbelt designed to wrap naturally around the curves of woman's hips, offering better load stabilization and support. 

A great mid-size pack from Osprey is the Rook 50/Renn 50. The fit is adjustable but it is one size. Then there are packs such as the Atmos and Aura. This pack series comes in different sizes and are fully adjustable.

To determine the right size and fit, there are guides and charts available online like this one from Osprey, but ultimately, the best thing to do is to try the packs on and have an outdoor gear expert fit the pack to your body. You may identify as a woman but find that a men’s pack is more comfortable for your body, and vice versa. It’s hard to know for sure until you’ve tried some packs on, with weight and walked around.

Any pack can be relatively comfortable for a day hike - but once you’re on Day 3, your pack is going to feel much different as your body becomes sore and tired. Beginning with a great fit can make or break your level of enjoyment on a hike.


We may be sounding like a broken record if you've read through our other posts, yet it's still important to say: gear is subjective and backpacks are no exception. With a bit of testing, you can find a pack that will suit your hiking plans and is right for your body!

To browse our current inventory, visit this page and to learn more about Osprey, take a read through this blog.