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How Do I Know What Size Hiking Backpack to Get? 

 November 4, 2021

By  Diane Wuthrich

Having everything you need for a hiking trip is crucial for safety, comfort, and enjoyment. Hiking backpacks are an important investment to keep all your belongings as you go on your journey. But with the range of sizes out there, how does one choose the right size for a hiking backpack?

The duration of a hike should be the top consideration when choosing the size of a hiking backpack. For day hikes, choose one that’s between 10-25L, a weekend trip requires 20-25L, 3 or more days should be at least 35L, at least 50L for arduous multi-day hikes, and 60L and up for multi-week trips.

There are other factors involved when determining the right size for your hiking backpack. Read on to learn more.

What Size Backpack Do I Need for Hiking?

A hiking backpack of the appropriate size is required for all types of adventures.

Whether you are going on a relaxing day hike or intend to conquer challenging terrain coupled with unforgiving weather for several days, a backpack is among the top accessories needed for outdoor trips. It’s designed to carry all the items you need for a fun and safe trip, which is why it’s so important to choose a pack of the proper size.

Hike Duration

How long your hiking expedition will be is the primary consideration when deciding on the capacity of your backpack:

Day hikes

A day or travel pack that is 10-25L large is perfect for a short day hike. It will have just the right amount of space to carry your water bottle, snacks, and other gear including a jacket or change of clothes and sun protection.

Weekend hike

A backpack that’s 20-35L large is recommended for a two or three-day hike. You will need slightly more gear, especially if you will be carrying your own camping or cooking gear as opposed to spending the night in a hotel or other accommodations.

Over 3 days

You should be using a backpack with at least 35L capacity for hikes that are 3 days or more. This is recommended even if you are going to be staying in rented accommodation. Keep in mind that the longer your hike is, the higher the chances are that you may be exposed to unpredictable weather so you should prepare for this by packing enough; in addition you will also need more clothes and have more gear for hikes this long.

Multi-day hikes

If you are heading out to a multi-day camping and hiking trip, you should consider a backpack that can fit 50L and up. It will allow you to bring all your essentials plus other gear including a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent more. However, it’s not uncommon for some hikers to use backpacks this size even for weekend trips if they have to carry three of the biggest and bulkiest hiking gear themselves: tent (or any other form of shelter for the night), sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

Multi-week trips

For trips that entail 2 weeks or more of hiking especially in the backcountry, it’s best to go with a backpack that is at least 60L or more in capacity. It will allow you to carry everything included with smaller trips as well as other gear that you might need for added comfort because it’s likely you will need bulkier goods such as:

  • larger first-aid kit
  • cooking equipment
  • food to sustain you for 12 days or more

Take note of the backpack weight too, before and after it’s been packed. Loaded hiking backpacks (or any backpack for that matter) should not weigh more than 20% of your own body weight to prevent any shoulder or neck pains, and to prevent injury.

Hike Location

In addition to the length of your trip, where you are camping also plays a big role. For example, you would be needing significantly less clothing if you will be spending a week in the beach, as compared to the cold mountains or backcountry.

This is why it’s important to invest time in researching the climate of the destination you intend to travel to. It also helps to check the forecast right before you leave to double check that you have everything you need to stay dry, warm, and comfortable no matter what happens.

Remember that if you are hiking in the mountains, no matter what the altitude is, the conditions can change at any time without any warning. For these reasons you will be needing a windproof jacket, waterproof clothes, and a change of clothes. Similarly, the weather can also change when you are in an island; rain, fog, heat, and humidity can strike at any time.

If you are hiking in a destination with arid climates, there can be stark differences in the temperatures during the day and at night. In the daytime, you’ll need light clothing, while thicker clothing to keep you warm is necessary for the nighttime.

The climate of the destination you are traveling to will impact the type and amount of gear you will be packing, thus it will impact the capacity of your backpack. In addition, it should also guide you on the material your backpack is made of, as well as any technical features you should look out for.

Body Fit

Last but not least, before you shell out money on a hiking backpack that ticks all the boxes capacity-wise, you should also make sure it’s the appropriate size for your size and frame.

Here are some tips:

1. Get your torso length. To do this, stand straight with your head tilted back then locate your C7. It’s the bump near the intersection of your neck and shoulders. After this, use your thumbs to locate your hip bones by drawing an imaginary line from left to right hip bone.

Ask a friend to measure the distance from the C7 down to the area between the hip hones. This is your torso length.

2. Next, get your hip width. Use a measuring tape to locate your hips, then measure the length between. This measurement will help you ensure that if you get a hip belt on your hiking backpack, it will fit properly.

Keep in mind that the hips are higher than your waist, so it should have a similar measurement to your pant size with a small difference.

Once you have these measurements in place, you can use the size charts provided by backpack manufacturers. It will provide guidance on whether you should be buying small, medium, or large size pack though backpack sizes can vary depending on the brand.

Backpack Fit

If you have already found a backpack that meets all your needs size and capacity wise, try it on to see how it feels. It’s always ideal to buy a backpack with a good warranty policy so that you can return it if it doesn’t fit properly, or exchange it for a better suited model.

Popular Hiking Backpacks to Consider

There’s a great variety of hiking backpacks in different sizes out there. Finding exactly what you need should be easy as long as you know what size you are looking for. Here are some examples that are available on Amazon:

-   Day hikes: Teton Sports Oasis 1100 Hydration Pack
-   Over 3 days: G4Free Lightweight Packable Hiking Backpack 40L
-   Multi-week: Osprey Atmos AG 65

Frequently Asked Questions

How to wear a hiking backpack

Once your hiking backpack has been loaded, there’s a right way to wear it.

Many beginners make the mistake of hoisting it up using the shoulder straps. This can wear out the harness while making it difficult to balance the pack and get it onto your back.

The correct way to put on a loaded hiking backpack is to loosen all of the straps a little, tilt the backpack upright, then stand by the back panel. Be sure that you are standing with your legs apart and knees bent, then grab the haul loop, lift the pack up your thigh while keeping a grip on the haul loop. Slide your other arm through one of the shoulder straps until the padding cradles your shoulder.

Next, lean forward then swing the backpack onto your back. The hand that was holding the haul loop can then be slid through the other shoulder strap.

Adjust and tighten the straps to the right fit.

About the author

Diane is our head writer and researcher for our backpack informational content. Her everyday carry is a Herschel.

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