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Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack

Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack

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.

Backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park.
Mike Baron backpacking the Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park.

#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.

Plan your next great backpacking adventure in Grand Teton and other flagship parks using my expert e-guides.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


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See a menu of all of my backpack reviews and daypack reviews at The Big Outside, my video on how to load a backpack.

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.

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.


  1. Avatar

    Hey Michael, a great article from you. And you are much experienced. I am a new hiker. And I also like the article “Less Weight = More Fun”. Thanks.

    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks, Andrew, I’m glad you find these two stories helpful.

  2. Avatar

    Nice article Michael! I agree with you with keeping the weight under 30 pounds so that you can enjoy the adventure conveniently.

    • MichaelALanza

      Spot on, Kenji. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Avatar

    I was an Outward Bound instructor in my 20s but it’s literally been 30 years since I have gone on a long backpacking trip. My question is what would be the average amount of weight someone would carry for say a weeklong trip through the hundred mile wilderness in Maine or a 2 to 3 week trip to do the John Muir trail? I have no idea what the average weight for gear, food, water and clothing is if say there are two adults on the trip and the weight is evenly distributed between them.

    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Michael, that’s a perfectly legitimate question. Short answer: With modern gear and packing only what you really need, you can get base pack weight (without food and water) down to 15 pounds (or even less) without compromising comfort or safety, and certainly keep it under 20 pounds even with a spacious, sturdy two-person tent, warm bag, and cushy air mattress. Then factor in about two pounds per day for food, and roughly two pounds per liter of water, and your pack weight with a week’s worth of food, in a place with fairly frequent water sources, shouldn’t have to exceed around 35 pounds. Careful food and water planning and really light gear can keep it under 30 pounds.

      Check out my story “Ultralight Backpacking’s Simple Equation: Less Weight = More Fun” (

      Good luck.


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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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