A backpack is perhaps the most important part of your hiking setup. Once again, it took me a little bit of time hiking before realizing that, but luckily, I have a few different suggestions after using several packs over the years. And, you don’t have to spend a ton to get something that will work for you.
Choosing a Backpack
Frame or No Frame?
Every backpack is different, but there is one major difference between the types of hiking backpacks that you can buy:
- Frameless – the backpack material is all that supports the weight of the bag
- Internal Frame – the backpack contains an internal (usually metal) frame that supports the weight of the pack and its contents, and keeps it aligned with your spine
A frame is important because it will keep your back from getting sore by distributing the weight along your spine and hips, rather than on your shoulders. A frameless bag with only a few pounds of gear might feel heavier than an internal frame backpack loaded with up to 30 pounds. Work smarter, not harder. For most people, I recommend choosing a backpack with an internal frame, unless you need the portability and flexibility of a frameless.
Backpack sizes are typically measured in liters, and can range in size all the way from the low end of about 25 – 30 liters (often called ‘daypacks’) and larger bags up to 80 Liters (typically referred to as trekking packs). Which size you need really comes down to what all you plan to have in your pack.
- 20 – 30 Liters – Daypack – for carrying an extra layer, food, some supplies, hammock, etc. This size will be too small to hold anything for overnight trips, such as a tent or sleeping bag.
- 40 Liters – Longer Hikes/Short Overnights – this size bag, while not a whole lot larger based solely on numbers, gives you a bit more space for gear, without becoming too large. This size pack can double as a day pack or a longer overnight pack.
- 50 – 60 Liters – Hiking Packs – this size is now large enough to accommodate your camping gear as well, and usually other items such as trekking poles, a sleeping pad, etc.
- 60+ Liters – Trekking Packs – these packs hold a ton of gear, and can accommodate everything you need for a multi-day trek
In addition to the volume size of a backpack, many internal frame packs come in different fit sizes. These are based on the measurement from the base of your spine to your C7 Vertebrae. This is an important part of selecting the right bag – here is a helpful article from Gregory Packs about choosing the right size. You may want to visit a physical store and have an associate help you take measurements.
The Packs I Use and Recommend
Beginner Backpack/Day Hike
Surprisingly, you don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent packpack to get you started. If you are building out your gear on a budget, the Ozark Trail 40L Eagle is a bargain internal frame backpack. At under $50, this pack was my main backpack for over a year, and still serves as an occasional backup to my other bags.
Several key features about this bag that are impressive, especially for the price point:
- Adjustable internal frame
- Multiple pockets with sturdy zippers
- Detachable rain cover
- Compressible (if you do not fill to capacity)
- Dual hip pockets
- Chest and waist strap
Overall, you can’t beat the value of this bag. It came with me to Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Spain, Portugal, and all over New York.
Pros: Affordable, decent quality, lightweight, good amount of features
Cons: Straps are not that comfortable, not a ton of exterior pockets (2)
Day Hike/Multi-Day Backpack
For most cases, the backpack that comes with me for hikes and longer trips is the Gregory Baltoro 65L. Gregory Packs decided to become a sponsor of Roulette Travel and our hiking tours, but I only accepted the sponsorship after testing the bag and falling in love with its functionality, thoughtful features, and overall build quality.
At 65 Liters, it can easily accommodate the following gear:
- Sleeping bag and pad
- Camera gear
- Rain gear
- Hydration pack
- Safety gear and first Aid kit
Several of the useful features and thoughtful design touches of the bag include the following:
- Rigid internal frame
- Suspension harness system with adjustable and comfortable straps
- Hip and chest strap
- Slanted side bottle holder – can take out bottle without removing backpack
- Shoulder strap clips
- Mesh outer pockets
- Multiple outside pockets
- Trekking pole attachments
- Dual hip pockets, one mesh, one waterproof
- Removable rain cover
- Molded zipper pull loops
- Hydration pack compatibility and pass-thru
- Configurable interior
- Removable drawstring daypack
I could go on for a while on more details, but you get the idea that it’s well thought out. I have had the bag for going on two years now, and can say that it has held up through miles of abuse across mountains and countries. Its been through California, Spain, all over the eastern seaboard, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and more.
One feature that has become priceless to me is the forward slanted bottle holder. While I use my Osprey reservoir inside my bag, I use this bottle holder to quickly store my DJI Osmo when not in use – and if I come across something I want to film, its quickly back in hand with a quick reach, like having a holster. Overall, its a key feature that I couldn’t live without now.
It also comes with a removable, drawstring style daypack. However, I have found that bag to be rather small, and instead, keep a collapsible daypack in the bottom of my pack instead.
Collapsible Day Bag
This is the Russian Doll of the bag world, the bag going inside of the bigger bag. I use this Venture Pals Collapsible Bag for when I am using my main bag as the bag for a trip that encompasses more than just hiking, so that I can grab just a few things to take with me if I’m not going for more than walk somewhere.
Another important function is that it allows me to have a bag to put my batteries and electronics in if the airline says my main backpack is too large to be a carryon when I am already at the gate.
When all folded up, it takes up about the same amount of space as two t-shirts. However, that portability comes at a price, as the thin straps of the bag will eventually cut into your shoulders if you stuff too much in the bag or carry it for long, and the thin back of the pack can get lumpy against your back as well. Overall, its a great backup to have when traveling, and very inexpensive.
This is a specialized need that I have when I am moving my camera gear either across or in water in order to get to a shooting location. With expensive camera gear often in my bag, relying on just a rain-fly over my bag can be risky. So, for these cases, I go with the RHIP backpack/rollerboard/day bag system. To read more about RHIP’s sponsorship of Roulette Travel, click here!