By Michael Lanza
If you’re super fit and strong, young, hike with a pack of any weight 50 or 100 days a year, and have never known any sort of injury or ache in your body, then don’t bother reading this article. But for everyone else, knowing how to find the right backpack for your activities and your body will make a world of difference in your enjoyment when carrying that pack for hours a day on a trail or up and down a mountain. The following tips reflect what I’ve learned about finding the right pack from hundreds of days testing all manner of daypacks, backpacks, climbing packs, and ski packs for more than two decades.
Follow these tips in chronological order to help you narrow your choices, and by the time you reach the point of trying on a few models in a store, you will know which pack is right for you. Please share any suggestions you have in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
#1 Decide What It’s For
It’s tempting, especially when you’re on a budget, to want to buy one pack that will serve every possible need for which you can imagine using a pack. While that approach is understandable, unfortunately, setting such broad expectations takes you in exactly the wrong direction in this important first step toward finding the right pack. Don’t sweat it out over whether your diversity of interests demands a larger quiver of packs than you can afford; in time, when you can, you will get another pack (we all do). Your goal here is to focus down and narrow choices.
Decide the one primary activity for which you’re buying this pack. Dayhiking? Backpacking? Climbing? The profusion of pack choices is largely the result of specificity in pack design—companies pursuing customers by making packs intended to be perfect for one purpose or another. Yes, you can find packs that are more generalist and all-purpose—for example, tough enough for climbing, but with adequate organization and capacity for backpacking, or big enough for weekend backpacking and not too big or heavy for dayhiking, and that may serve you just fine. But if you want a pack that’s ideal for, say, backpacking, then look for a pack primarily designed for backpacking.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.