What Makes a Good Hiking Backpack: The Essential Features Explained 

 May 31, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Let's face it, there are very few things worse than heading off on your much-awaited hike and realizing halfway through that you're gear isn't up to the job. Save yourself from potential back pain, potential gear failure, and a potential snafu in your hike altogether - let's talk about what makes a great hiking backpack.

When purchasing a hiking backpack, make sure it has the correct size and fit for your body and has comfortable straps. Additionally, consider backpacks with pockets for storage and rain-resistance materials for added protection.

There is a wide variety of packs, sizes, and features available on the market, and if you don't know what to look for in your ideal hiking back, you might find yourself stuck with an unsuitable bag. Don't worry, however - we've got the essential features for a great hiking backpack broken down for you.

Ready to get your hike on and skip the potential gear-fail? Read on - let's find out what the essential features of a good hiking backpack are!

Comfort is Key

Comfort is key when choosing the right hiking backpack. It is important to select a backpack that fits your body type and lifestyle. Adjustable straps and buckles should be taken into account so you can personalize the fit of the bag, however, comfort should be at the forefront of your selection criteria. If a pack doesn’t feel good when it’s empty during a store trial, then it certainly won’t feel right when it's filled with all your outdoor essentials.

From padded shoulder straps and back panels to lumbar support straps and sternum straps, there is a range of features to look for that will help ensure ultimate comfort for long treks. The shape of the bag is also a factor since this impacts load distribution on your back. A wide profile with an angled top provides more comfort than a narrower design which could dig into your shoulders or hips.

Some people opt for lighter backpacks that prioritize weight over extra cushioning or padding in order to save energy during a strenuous hike, but the fact is that better comfort equals a more enjoyable outdoor experience overall.

Regardless of what kind of hiker you are - from newbies to experienced adventurers - taking time to consider comfort features when selecting a backpack will help make sure you never have to sacrifice style or performance for peace of mind during your adventures.

Having considered how to maximize comfort in your hiking backpack, it is now essential to look at what other features may affect the way you carry and utilize your gear on the trail, namely adjustable straps and buckles.

Adjustable Straps & Buckles

When considering a hiking backpack, adjustable straps and buckles are an essential feature. Without the ability to adjust the fit of the backpack, it can be difficult for a hiker to achieve comfort. It is important for straps to be able to be loosened or tightened depending on the body size of the person wearing the pack, as well as the weight of the items being stored in it.

Some straps may feature buckle cinch systems that allow for further adjustment. These systems have metal rings and plastic buckles, making them quicker and easier to use than traditional webbing. Different types of buckles allow people to find a setup that works best for their specific needs.

For example, cam buckles are great for quickly adjusting the tightness of straps, while flat bar buckles are a great choice when carrying heavier loads, as their design creates an even distribution of force on shoulder straps and hip belts.

On the other hand, some argue against having adjustable straps and buckles on hiking backpacks since they may add extra bulk and complexity to the product. They might not offer enough benefits for inexperienced or occasional hikers, or those going on shorter hikes with lighter weight packs.

Adjustable straps and buckles provide greater flexibility when selecting a hiking backpack given their ability to provide a more comfortable fit for people with different body sizes and weights. Ultimately, this will lead to a better overall experience whether someone is just starting out on their hiking journey or is an experienced outdoorsman.

No matter your experience level or how long you plan to hike for, having adjustable straps and buckles provides greater comfort while on the trail. This allows you to focus on what matters most: enjoying nature as comfortably as possible which is why padded shoulders and back support comes into play next.

Adjustable straps and buckles provide the flexibility to choose a hiking backpack that fits comfortably no matter a person’s body size or weight. This ensures a better experience on the trail, whether someone is a beginner or an expert hiker. Additionally, padded shoulders and back support aid in providing comfort for hikes of any length.

Padded Shoulders & Back Support

After considering adjustable straps and buckles, having a well-padded backpack is essential when it comes to a good hiking experience. The ideal pack will have padding on both the back and the shoulder straps, which helps to distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly and reduce the amount of strain on your body. The padding should be comfortable against the skin, allowing any moisture to help prevent irritation and chafing.

It's also important to consider how much back support your backpack provides. Some packs feature extra support built-in, such as lumbar pads that add stability and comfort during long treks. Backpacks with frames provide even more support as they allow you to strap some of your gear, like a sleeping bag or tent, to the exterior of the pack. A frame keeps most of the weight close to your center of gravity helping to ensure better balance and control over your movements.

The type of padding and back support that you choose for your backpack should depend entirely on what kind of activities you plan on doing. If you're going for light hikes or day trips, then minimal back and shoulder padding should be fine. But if you're planning overnight trips or longer hikes, then a pack with more padding and/or back support is recommended as it will give you added comfort while out on the trail.

Finding a good hiking backpack means looking at all the features and determining which combination will work best for your needs. From adjustable straps and buckles to padded shoulders and back support, there are many factors to consider when choosing the right pack for optimal performance in any hike or outdoor adventure. With a little bit of research and testing out various models, you can find a great hiking pack that meets all your requirements so you can enjoy every step along the way.

When selecting your hiking pack, also make sure that its design matches up with your size and weight capacity needs – if not, even with all the essential features in place, it still may not be suitable for what you need it for.

Design: Size & Weight Capacity

When considering design, size, and weight capacity are two major considerations when shopping for a hiking backpack. It's important to look at the volume of the bag in liters (L) as well as its total weight capacity; both need to be considered in combination with the intended use and duration of your trip.

Before settling on a purchase, it's best to assess your own needs; will you be carrying a lot of gear? Do you need to bring a tent or sleeping bag with you? Will your supplies weigh more than 20 lbs? Answering these questions can help you gauge the size capacity you need. If a backpack feels too light or is small in volume, it may not offer enough space for all your necessary items or for heavier loads.

On the flip side, lugging around an abnormally large backpack isn't wise either; having too much space means packing excess items that may take up valuable energy and weight capacity. Overpacking also has the potential to disrupt balance on strenuous trails.

No matter what type of trip is being taken, selecting the right size backpack is essential to create a solid balance between comfort and convenience while traversing natural terrain. The way forward is to choose a pack that meets your demanded load and provides optimal, comfortable fitment with adjustable straps.

With all that said and done, it’s time to move on to sizing your backpack - the proper fit will drastically reduce fatigue and make enjoying those magnificent hiking adventures much easier.

Sizing Your Backpack

After discussing the design considerations of size and weight capacity, it is also important to consider how you need to size your hiking backpack. Just as with clothing, all brands of backpacks tend to fit differently and require different sizes. Many manufacturers will list measurements for minimal torso length, chest width, and waist circumference that you should be aware of before purchasing a backpack online or in-store.

Other factors such as your height, body shape, and even gender can help the salesperson or fitting assistant provide you with the correct size bag for your body. Wearing a well-fitted pack not only helps ensure maximum comfort but also prevents chafing and keeps you balanced all throughout your hike.

However, finding the perfect fit is challenging due to varying sizes and shapes between manufacturers. Therefore, when possible it’s important to try on any packs during the purchase process while wearing the clothes, layers, and boots that would be typically worn on a hike.

Finally, when properly sized, most backpacks should leave approximately 2 inches of space between them and your shoulders as well as about 3-4 inches at the waist belt level. With these general guidelines in mind plus today’s innovative technologies regarding pack construction and design - preparing for a hike has never been easier!

In the next section, we’ll take an in-depth look at one of the most important properties of a great hiking backpack: materials and utility belt system.

Material & Utility Belt System

The material and utility belt system of a good hiking backpack is essential to its usability. Backpack materials are classified into three general categories: Natural fabrics, synthetic fabrics, and leather. Depending on the terrain and conditions, one may be better suitable than the other.

For instance, if hiking in extreme conditions where exposure to moisture is possible, waterproof synthetic fabric could be an ideal choice. On the other hand, natural fabrics provide superior breathability and are lightweight, but may not withstand exposure to water as well as synthetic fabrics.

Additionally, it’s useful to look for backpacks featuring multiple pocket compartments for organizing items such as snacks, utensils, first aid kits, maps, camping gear, and more. Make sure these compartments have high-quality zippers that are easy to open and close with secure fastening capability.

An adjustable sternum strap can also help secure your gear and distribute weight evenly across your body. Furthermore, a waistband or hip belt with pockets offer extra storage space so items like cellphones can be kept within quick reach for convenience.

When choosing a backpack for hiking trips it’s important to consider the material it’s made of along with the quality and arrangement of the utility belt system that comes with it. Ultimately these elements contribute to both the comfort and durability of the hiking pack, which is critical when out on extended or extreme trips.

With attention paid to these details, you should find a suitable item capable of withstanding environments faced while hiking while still comfortably supporting all essential items needed for the journey ahead.

When shopping for a good hiking backpack make sure stringent standards have been met regarding construction and durability aspects to ensure proper protection during prolonged exposure to wear and tear - because nothing ruins a trip like discovering that your beloved backpack has ripped!

Sturdy Construction & Durability

Now that we have discussed the material of the backpack, let's move on to its construction and durability. A good hiking backpack should be designed with a rugged and durable exterior that can handle the rough terrain and environments encountered on long hikes. Not only should the materials be strong but also durable and lightweight. 

The backpack should include multiple buckles and quick-release fasteners that allow you to quickly adjust the fit for comfortable carrying during extended periods of time. Additionally, reinforcements such as sliders on straps or foam frames are essential for protecting against wear and tear.

Furthermore, when it comes to day packs or backpacks with low capacity, consideration must also be given to their lighter weight construction that allows for extra comfort while you're out in the wild. However, these lightweight backpacks may not provide enough durability to withstand rigorous use in harsh conditions over extended periods of time.

Therefore, evaluating each situation is important when choosing between a heavier, more durable pack versus a lighter pack that may not last hundreds of miles; more frequent replacement may be required.

Ensure that your chosen backpack offers a sturdy construction that keeps both your belongings secure and provides maximum protection against the elements. This way, you'll have peace of mind knowing that your backpack won't fail even when put to the test under tough conditions. As they say, it pays to purchase quality equipment when embarking on an outdoor activity. After all, you don't want a cheap bag leaving you stranded miles from home with no supplies!

Consider what type of pockets and compartments the bag has - what shape and size will work best for organizing and stowing away items quickly? Pockets help create easy access points so that you can quickly reach for items without having to fumble around inside your bag looking for them. 

They also help keep organization tidy and accessible in one place; you wouldn't want any items flopping around during those long treks! In the next section, we’ll look into why pockets and compartments are considered important features in finding the right hiking backpack for you.

Good Pockets & Compartments

Moving from sturdy construction and durability, a great hiking backpack must also have good pockets and compartments. A good design is one that closely fits the user's needs in terms of organizing their items - different people will bring different things with them on a trek, so flexibility is paramount. The number of pockets and compartments should be well-thought-out to provide just the right amount for as much storage as necessary without sacrificing convenience or bulkiness.

When it comes to size, bigger is not necessarily better; having larger pockets may mean sacrificing lightweight fabric that can cause tear or ripping when there's too much weight inside and considerable space can lead to unnecessary disorganization and disorder. On the other hand, bags with too few pockets may require additional purchase of attachable pouches which can add extra weight while taking up valuable space.

Moreover, it is important to consider what kind of items will typically be stored in each pocket or compartment, including potential items like personal care items, snacks, water bottles, flashlights, or electronics. A combination of generously sized but organized compartments helps users keep their bags well-organized and maintain quick access to frequently used items during a hike.

With all that said about pockets and compartments, it's essential to make sure a hiking bag offers additional ways for the user to stay hydrated during the trek.

Hydration Accessibility

Hydration Accessibility is an important feature to consider when choosing a hiking backpack. While it’s not always necessary, having easy access to your water source can make a big difference when out on the trail. This convenience can make your hike more enjoyable and prevent dehydration by encouraging you to stay properly hydrated at all times.

Some backpacks have dedicated pockets or compartments specifically designed for hydration bladders. These systems make it easy to get to your water as well as keep track of where it is stored in relation to the rest of your gear. The drawback with this kind of system is that you are limited by the size of the bladder and must ensure its compatibility with the pack before purchase.

Alternatively, some backpacks offer hydration hose ports that allow you to connect a hose from an external reservoir (such as a regular bottle or sports flask) directly through the pack. This offers greater versatility compared to the internal bladder solution but requires more setup time and larger external containers.

The best choice for you will depend on how much water is required on your hikes as well as how easy you want access to be during breaks. If convenient hydration accessibility isn’t critical, then either option may work just fine. However, if staying properly hydrated is key, then evaluating each backpack based on both ease of access and capability may be the most prudent solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size of hiking backpack is most suitable for different types of hikes?

The size of the hiking backpack that will be most suitable for a particular type of hike will depend on the length and conditions of the hike. Day hikes typically require smaller backpacks of around 20-50 liters, while multi-day backpacking trips may call for a larger bag in the range of 50-80 liters. For winter and alpine hikes, heavier duty packs with more padding and carrying capacity should be chosen, usually ranging from 60 to 100 liters.

When selecting a pack size, it is important to consider the amount of gear that will likely need to be carried. If a hiker plans to bring a lot of extra items, then choosing a larger-sized pack could be necessary. It’s also helpful to plan for contingencies, such as additional layers or supplies needed if bad weather is encountered during a trip. Ultimately, when it comes to size, it's important that each individual finds a pack that best meets their own needs and preferences.

What type of material should a hiking backpack be made from?

A hiking backpack should be made from a durable, waterproof material. Nylon is the most common choice for hiking backpacks due to its lightweight construction and dependable robustness. It's also resistant to tears and abrasions which makes it a great choice for hauling heavy loads over tough terrain. It also repels water long enough to give you plenty of time to make it back to camp before getting soaked.

For added protection against moisture, many bags are now available with dual-layer fabrics composed of a nylon shell surrounded by a waterproof coating or film laminate. This combination ensures that no matter what Mother Nature throws at you, your belongings will remain dry and safe.

What are the most important features to look for in a hiking backpack?

When looking for a hiking backpack, the most important features to be aware of are its size; the type of frame it uses; the material used for its fabrication; the presence of multi-compartments or pockets; and adjustable straps.

  • Size is an essential factor when determining which backpack is best suited for a particular person and their hiking needs. Backpacks come in various sizes, from small day packs to larger backpacks designed for extended trips. The amount of gear someone will be carrying should be considered when selecting a backpack size - too small and it won't fit all the necessities, too big and it could become cumbersome.
  • The type of frame also plays an important role in choosing the right pack. Internal frames provide excellent support while keeping the load close to one's body and providing good balance on uneven terrain. External frames are better suited for heavy loads but sacrifices body contour and maneuverability in exchange.
  • The material used in constructing a backpack is another key factor to consider. Generally, more expensive backpacks tend to be made from high quality materials that will withstand frequent use such as Nylon, Polyester or Ripstop Nylon, which are highly resistant to tears and punctures.
  • Multi-compartments or pockets are great for helping people organize their gear and keep items accessible at all times when on the move. Look for backpacks with ample pockets located in convenient locations like waist belts or sides that have zippers so items can be kept secure yet easily accessible.
  • Adjustable straps are essential features of a hiking backpack as they help ensure your load feels comfortable and safe while you’re on your journey. Properly adjusted straps can distribute weight evenly across your body, increase stability on uneven terrain, make more room to store gear and improve general comfort while trekking outdoors.
About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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