How to Choose a Backpack

by Ben Rockis

One size doesn’t fit all. And neither does the style, weight, or even the brand when it comes to fitting a backpack. Over the years, I’ve helped countless customers of all shapes and sizes find a new backpack. Whatever the gear guides and magazines may say, there is no “best” backpack for everyone, but there is the best pack for you.

What size are you?

The size of a backpack is a function of your torso length and waist. Two people of the same height and build will often wear different sizes. The best way to figure out your size is to visit an experienced pack-fitter at a trusted gear store. Ask them to measure your waist and torso before trying on backpacks.

How much space do you need?

Whether you’re shopping for your first backpack or replacing an old one, the first thing you need to do is determine how and what you will be using it for. Are you a weekend warrior? Or are you planning a multi-week adventure or thru-hike? The length of your average backpacking trip should help you determine what liter size to buy.

How much weight will you be carrying?

If you’re planning to go ultralight, the backpack should be the last piece of gear you buy. A backpack is only as comfortable as the weight it was designed to carry. What do I mean by that? Let’s say you buy Osprey’s new ultralight Levity, but you’re still using your heavy old tent and sleeping bag. The suspension system on an ultralight backpack is not designed to comfortably carry much more than 20 lbs.

On the flip side, if you’re planning a long-haul expedition or winter camping trip, you’ll want to buy a backpack that’s suited for carrying a lot of weight. I usually recommend beginners buy a backpack that’s capable of carrying 25 to 35 lbs comfortably.