Buying Guide

Hiking Backpack Reviews – Buying Guide For Hiking Backpacks

Good hiking backpacks are crucial for successful hiking adventures, and they come in a variety of sizes for a variety of uses – good for us! Because there are a variety of ways we all use them. For that reason, here is a buyer’s guide which will briefly go over the various features and prices to help you figure out what kind of hiking backpack is best for you before you delve into our hiking backpack reviews.

For the impatient or those buying a gift and looking for the best hiking backpack overall, you can check out our list of current top rated best hiking backpacks.

Here are some basics to help you pick the best hiking backpack for you.

Structurally, you have

  • frameless backpacks (like everyday backpacks)
  • backpacks with frames (you will want one of these for any serious multi-day hiking)

When it came to backpacks with frames, for a long time the hiking enthusiast was only left with external frame backpacks.

These days, most hikers prefer internal frame backpacks (in fact you are hard pressed to find external frame hiking backpacks now).

Internal frame backpacks as are a lot less cumbersome and provide the same convenience in comfort and weight distribution. And they look a lot snazzier too!

Sizing is another factor.

When you start looking at hiking backpacks you will see the different sizes such as:

  • 4000ci (about 65L)
  • 5400ci (about 75L)
  • 6200ci (about 88L)

Sometimes the “ci” (cubic inches) is even left out and you may see a product name like “TETON Sports Fox 5200″ which implies 5200ci.

Optionally, or additionally, you will see this in Liters (L). 4000ci is 65-liter, 5400ci is 75-liter, and 6200ci is 88-liter.

How is this meaningful?

When it comes to multi-day hikes. Single day hikes you can use an everyday backpack. For multi-day hikes:

  • 3000ci to 4000ci: The 3000ci range is good for a long day hike It is generally accepted that 3000ci provides enough storage for a long day-hike or even an overnighter. As you get closer to the 4000ci hiking backpack range, that is good for one to two night trips, especially in weather where you may need warmer clothing at night. The current bestseller in this category is the Teton Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack. You can check out the rest of the bestsellers on our list of bestselling small hiking backpacks.
  • 5000ci and up: when you start getting into week-long trips. You could survive on a smaller pack for “backpacking” trips such as the popular “backpacking” trips across Europe. But for week-long treks into the mountains you will have another set of conditions to deal with: colder weather, rougher terrain, lack of civilization. This means more gear and a larger backpack. The current bestseller in this size range is the TETON Sports Fox 5200 Internal Frame Hiking Backpack. And check the entire bestseller list on our post listing the bestselling medium hiking backpacks.
  • 6000ci and up: as you can imagine these are for the even longer hikes where you require more gear such as more clothes, tents, climbing axes, sleeping bags, food, water, camping stoves, and more. The current bestseller of this size range is the CUSCUS 120L Internal Frame Hiking Backpack. Check out the entire list here on our page with the list of bestselling large hiking backpacks.

Hiking backpacks, as opposed to regular backpacks, also provide a lot of different options for carrying gear.

They will usually have sleeping bag storage areas, hydration areas for holding water, and a lot of external straps and hooks to tie in other gear such as climbing axes. They will also have a lot of sizing straps because when you are packing that much weight, you want to make sure to properly pack and properly distribute the weight so you can carry all your equipment for the long haul.

So when considering buying your hiking backpack, you want to carry all the gear you need, AND at the lightest weight possible AND have it be as rugged as possible (heaven forbid a loop, zipper, or pocket breaks!). There are trade-offs. And of course all of this at the lowest price you can get.

Here are a few more important things to consider:

Load Support

As your pack gets heavier and the load gets heavier, load support becomes more important for you to be able to hike long ways in comfort. Besides packing the hiking backpack correctly, you will also want different types of support built within the hiking backpack.

Besides the backpack frames, you will want to look at one or more of the following:

Shoulder Harness:
Simple shoulder straps are sufficient for lighter loads, but as you pack in more equipment you will want more shoulder support such as the broader, curved, more well padded straps.

Chest/Sternum Strap
Look for a chest/sternum strap that will prevent your shoulders from being pulled back by the backpack. They will usually connect via a snap/clip in the front of your chest. From here you can tighten to keep the load from pulling down on your back.

Hip Belt/Strap
You can move the strain from your shoulders to your hips (closer to your core) by using a hip belt. The hip belts that provide support will go completely around full circle and not just from the sides. Padding on the belt will avoid painful cuts into your your skin.

Hydration Packs and Bladders
When going on a hike, water is the biggest point to consider. For multi day hikes you will want to think about 4 liters a day (sixteen 8oz glasses of water) of water consumption. Many hiking backpacks for this reason will either have built in water bladders or at least a opcket for you to provide your own water bladder. A hole is usually added so you can add a drinking tube for easy access to your water.

Rain cover
For those that expect to rough it in inclement weather, a built in rain cover is nice to keep your pack dry. Some of them include a separate splash cover also (not built in). Handy during storms or crossing water.

Hope this has been helpful!

Stay tuned for some bestseller lists where we pick out the best hiking backpack for different uses and the very best hiking backpack overall!

p.s. but in case that is too suspenseful, Teton Sports Hiking Backpacks is our first choice in brands when it comes to hiking backpacks. Very high quailty. They are a bit pricey. If they are out of your price range, our second favorite which provides very good quality but at a cheaper price point are the CusCus Hiking Backpacks. Look around! Read some hiking backpack reviews. Have fun!

p.p.s. REI has a great backpack buying guide here

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