Backpacks: How to Choose

Planning to buy a new pack for the backcountry? There are three main areas where you’ll need to make choices:

Backpack capacity: The size pack you’ll need is tied to the length of your trip and how much weight and bulk you want to carry.

Backpack features: These are the refinements that affect how the pack works for you.

Backpack fit: Torso length, not your height, matters most.

 

Weekend (1-3 nights; 30-50 liters)

Efficient packers using newer, less-bulky gear can really keep things light on 1- to 3-night trips by using a pack in this range. Be aware that packing light requires self-discipline and careful planning. If you can pull it off, though, the light-on-your-feet rewards are fantastic.

Multiday (3-5 nights; 50-80 liters)

These are the most popular backpacking packs sold at REI and they’re an excellent choice for warm-weather trips lasting 3 or more days. 50-80 liter packs are also used for backcountry skiing, for day trips, overnighters and sometimes 2-night trips.

Extended-trip (5+ nights; 70 liters or larger)

Extended trips of 5 days or more usually call for packs of 70 liters or larger. These are also usually the preferred choice for:

  • Winter treks lasting more than 1 night. Larger packs can more comfortably accommodate extra clothing, a warmer sleeping bag and a 4-season tent (which typically includes extra poles).
  • Adults taking young children backpacking. Mom and Dad wind up carrying a lot of kids’ gear to make the experience enjoyable for their young ones.