Travel Guide

How to Buy a Hiking Backpack

Being lifelong travelers, we all love our lightweight, multipurpose gear that can withstand the rigors of the road. Gear should be dependable, multifunctional, durable and perform beyond expectations. Nothing could be truer when it comes to buying a good hiking backpack, especially considering it’s going to be your home away from home. Traveling, especially long-term, will literally test the limits of your bag and your body, and as such this decision should never be made impulsively. Buying your backpack should not be a rushed decision and factors like trip length, capacity, material, functionally and comfort should always be considered. When I first got serious about investing in a good pack, I was at REI for a good 3 hours -I think they started to suspect I was applying for a job.

If my three hours was any indication, buying a good backpack is not an easy task. With hundreds of backpack manufacturers and styles, it can understandably be overwhelming. Whatever you do, don’t go cheap. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice and end up buying a new one anyways. A good backpack is an investment. You needn’t spend $500 on a backpack, but be wary of cheap, no-frills, run of the mill $70 brands, as you’ll regret the design flaws and absence of extras. Spend a little more for a good backpack from a trusted brand, and it will be your companion for many trips to come. The Osprey pack I eventually settled on has traveled with me from the U.S to the Middle East for 10 awesome years and I know it has another good 10 years to go.

Travel Backpack or Hiking Backpack

Before you begin shopping for the right pack, it’s important to know the difference between travel backpacks and hiking backpacks. A travel backpack is a backpack-suitcase hybrid with a zippered side panel similar to a suitcase. Hiking backpacks are the more commonly seen cylindrical top loading packs with straps, clips and a top lid. Some people have an opinion that hiking backpacks are only suited for the backcountry and has no place for the backpacker, I disagree. What works for you ultimately comes down to personal preference and style of travel. Travel backpacks are great for easy, organized access to gear and transporting from hostel to hostel. They also function well for short walks or even as a daypack.

On the other hand, if you possibly have camping or long treks in your travel plans. You may want to consider a hiking backpack. Hiking backpacks are design for comfort, proper weight distribution, and toughness. Unlike a travel backpack, hiking backpacks will have enhancements like full-sized hip belts. Shoulder and back suspension systems along with plenty of load bearing straps to mitigate discomfort. Granted the top down packing isn’t as convenient to access your gear. But that’s part in parcel to proper weight distribution. A good compromise would be to get a hiking backpack with side load access.

I am generalizing a bit as they do have travel backpacks that are in the upper capacity range with more advanced suspension systems. But if you’re going to get a 70L travel backpack, you may as well go with a hiking backpack. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did for that unexpected 20 mile trek to the next town.

Personal Backpacking Style

Next, determine the style of travel you normally like to do. Unless you’re willing to buy a different backpack for each trip. Figuring out your travel style will save you a lot of money in the long run. And give you a piece of foundation gear that’s ready for any trip. For instance, if you generally go on week long trips you needn’t get a high capacity bag and could probably get away with a 35 liter to 50 liter (L) pack. Whereas living long-term on the road may require 65L or greater.

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