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How to choose a hiking backpack

7 min. read
Juraj Haruštiak
You shall not go light on your gear, but every extra pound hurts twice as much on a hike. What to pack and what to leave pose neverending dilemma. You have to contemplate not only all the equipment, but also the backpacks itself. While choosing, you have to consider length of the route, type of the hiking activity, weather, the size of the backpack and also if it is made for a man or woman.
How to choose a hiking backpack
Short trip
Illustrated person stands on a rock and looks over the mountain panorama.
Usage: day hike without spending overnight, walk, travelling, casual wear
Size: up to 30 l
Weight capacity: up to 10 kg
Properties: slim, light, compact
Weekend hike
Illustrated hiker with hiking poles wanders in the hilly terrain.
Usage: multi-day hike with overnight in cabin
Size: 31 l – 50 l
Weight capacity: up to 12 kg
Properties: slim, tall, endurable, stable, waterproof, reinforced padded back panel
Multi-day expedition
Two illustrated hikers wander with hiking poles and outdoor mountaneering backpacks during an alpine expedition
Usage: multi-day expedition hike with overnight in the wild, long hikes
Size: more than 50 l
Wieght capacity: more than 20 kg
Properties: stable, robust, waterproof, reinforced thick-padded back panel, adjustable straps

Hiking backpack according to activity

Hiking and trekking backpacks

These backpacks are made for short single-day or multi-day hikes in the mountains, ideally staying overnight in the cabin. Thanks to their versatile properties, they are often used for travelling or casual wearing. Backpacks with lower size are popular alternative to city backpacks.
Women's grey-black Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 outdoor backpack, front view.
Ideal backpack for single-day or multi-day hike with staying overnight in the cabin.
If you are choosing a backpack for hiking, focus on materials of higher quality and durability. Superior backpacks feature highly durable and firm patented fabrics like CORDURA, RipStop or Manstar on exposed parts. Pay close attention to lower parts, seams and the quality of the zipper. The ideal choice is a backpack with reinforced metal or aluminum frame and certainly, it should have anatomical padding of the back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt. Some trekking backpacks have back panel reinforced by aluminium or metal. Although metal is stronger than aluminium, it is heavier and adds up to total weight.
Women's grey-black Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 outdoor backpack, back view.
Superior models are made of durable materials with anatomical padding of the back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt.
Top models also feature special technologies to support natural walking. The comfort is increased by a variety of inner compartments and outer pouches, practical pocket on a hip belt, attachments for trekking poles, integrated detachable ran cover or various other attachments or pouches for mobile phone. Focus on lite backpacks, because while scaling the mountain, you will curse every extra gram.
Women's grey-black Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 outdoor backpack, mobile phone attachment.
Various outside pouches and practical attachments for a mobile phone are a pleasant bonus.

Mountaineering backpacks

These robust backpacks are distinctive due to their higher size, exceptionally durable materials they are made of, and a number of practical elements, attachments and pouches. They have built-in reinforced frame and are made for carrying heavier loads on multi-day expeditions. On such hikes you have to have a sleeping bag, mat or a tent and all the provisions and equipment that would last for more days. The frame is designed to effectively distribute the weight, so the back, shoulders and hips are protected by thick padding.
Blue Tatonka Yukon 60+10 backpack for alpine expedition hikes, front view.
Mountaineering backpacs are robust, stable and exceptionally durable. They are made for carrying heavy loads on multi-day hikes.
Adjustable shoulder straps according to back's size present a practical ergonomic improvement. Another way to improve the comfort of your back can be achieved by one of the technologies to increase the air ventilation of the back panel of the backpack. It enables free air circulation around your back so it does not sweat that much. The fully loaded backpack must fit well even after several hours of difficult hiking, it cannot press anaywhere or swing from side to side. Better stability can be achieved by side compression straps and adjustable chest strap.
Blue Tatonka Yukon 60+10 backpack for alpine expedition hikes, detailed view of an adjustable shoulder strap.
Prime models have adjustable shoulder straps and breathable back panel.

Climbing backpacks

These simple backpacks by their design, are typically light, painted in bright colours and made of durable materials that can handle harsh conditions. While climbing, it is very important that the backpack does not move freely or press anywhere even while performing the most demanding moves. Climbing backpacks have a simple carrying system without metal frame and the back panel is just padded. Various attachments for rope, ice-axes or poles are a common feature. These backpacks usually comes with a size up to 40 l, however, while climbing high walls, it is recommended to choose a backpack with a size up to 24 l.
Light-blue Mammut Neon Light Ocean climbing backpack.
Backpack for mountain climbers is light and has simple carrying system with typical attachments for rope, ice-axes and poles.

Ski tour backpacks

Just like climbing ones, ski tour backpacks are known for being light and of a simple design without metal frame. The ski tour backpack is made of durable materials and the standard size is up to 40 l, offerring enough room to carry full avalanche gear, first aid kit, GPS, bivvy, helmet and attachments for rope, skis, snowboard or snowboard shoes. For shorter trips you should be fine with a lower size up to 20 l.
Red Ortovox Ascent 32 ski tour backpack.
Ultra light backpacks with simple design and size up to 40 l are used for ski tours.
The front opening enables a quick access to the main compartment of the backpack. Premium models offer a 3D foam system on a back panel, that evenly distributes the weight between hips and shoulders. Ski tour backpacs are made of extremely durable and ultra light patented materials, like nylon 100D Robic Ripstop.
The front opening and attachments for skis, snowboard, boots, poles and helmet are typical of ski tour backpacks.

Backpacks for bike, running and trail-running

These smaller ultra light backpacks offer a versatile usage. They are made of soft fabrics and due to their compact size and light weight, they are preffered choice also for a common walk around the city, beside biking and running. Models of higher-quality offer an air ventilation system of the back panel. Lower size of 15 to 20 l is preffered for unning and trail-running, while size up to 34 l is mostly used for biking.
Red 6-litre Salomon XT 6 backpack for bike and running.
The ultra light backpacks made of soft fabrics are very popular for casual wear beside running and cycling. Top models enable back ventilation.

How to properly pack your backpack

Packing is the key part of the hike preparation. Before you will start packing, think twice what you really need and try not to forget anything important and not to take anything useless. Read our tips how to pack your equipment effectively and how to ideally balance the backpack.
Put light and soft items at the bottom of the backpack. The bottom is the ideal place for a sleeping bag. In the middle back part, that is in direct contact with your upper back part, you should put the heaviest items, like camping stove or food supplies. This part will be the center of gravity of the backpack. The left and right side can be used for clothes or tent sheet. Put first aid kit, snacks, flashlight, sunscreen and bug spray in the top part of the backpack.

The best place to store your IDs, money and mobile phone is the integrated hip belt pocket or some other outer pouch. We recommend to pack each item into a separate plastic bag. That prevents your possessions to get wet in case of a sudden heavy rain. The water bottle should be in a handy place, you can put it in side netted pouch. Sleeping pad or cumbersome tent poles can be attached on the backpack by compression strap.
Properly packed large mountaineering backpack with attached sleeping pad.
Backpack needs to be well balanced, the heaviest items have to be stored in the middle part in the back. Attach your sleeping pad on the backpack and put your water bottle in the side pouch.

Outdoor Backpacks