Let’s talk Backpacking Packs
If you are new to backpacking this post is going to introduce you to several different types of backpacks and what each provides, to allow you to pick the best backpack for you, and possibly your family. If you’re not new to backpacking, but want to get some more insight into the options out there and why different packs can be utilized in different ways to optimize the positive outcome of any trip, this post will speak to you too.
To learn more about backpacking packs, I highly recommend reading this from REI: How to Choose a Backpack.
Most Important Criteria: Size and fit.
When picking out a pack for overnight backpacking trips, the most important things to consider are the size of the pack and the size of your torso and waist (not your height).
Why pack size matters: Size matters because you need a pack that holds everything you want to carry for the amount of time you are going to be in the wilderness. There are many different sizes out there to choose from, so you’ll need to decide how long most of your adventures are going to be. 1-2 nights? 2-4 nights? Or weeklong immersions in nature? The longer you plan to stay in nature, the more capacity you’ll need your pack to have. Or if you are a lightweight packer, you can make due with a smaller pack, but you will still need the essentials to survive and a pack to fit it in.
Why size of Torso and waist matters: There are many things where gender doesn’t matter, but when it comes to a comfortable experience backpacking, getting the right pack is pretty important. I used to think it didn’t matter and used men’s packs or unisex packs, but when I started hiking further and for longer periods of times, I found the women specific packs had a few features that made a big difference in making my trips more comfortable and even allowed me to go further because I didn’t fatigue as quickly from an ill-fitting packs.
Women and kid specific packs are narrower and shorter than men’s packs and they have smaller hip-belts to accomadate smaller waists. Women’s packs also take into account women’s chest differences when it comes to the contouring of shoulder straps.
Best Packs Based on Cost, Size and Comfort
There are an overwhelming amount of backpack options out there and here I will break down what backpacks will work for hikes of 1-5 nights (unless you’re an ultralight packer and can use if for longer treks too;), at different cost points, and size for comfort per individual (women and kid specific).
3 Things I look for in cheaper packs:
– Hydration compartment (does it have a space for a hydration pack?).
– Pockets and compartments (Will I be able to organize things the way I want?). Some cheaper packs only have a huge compartment and a few side pockets, while others have the main compartment divided with easy access to gear and a variety of pockets to organize smaller objects I like to keep handy.
– Loops and hoops to attach bungees cords on the outside of the pack. Cheaper packs tend to be smaller or not have the same capacity or organization that more expensive packs have, so being able to attach gear to the outside (like tents, sleeping pads and poles) is essential.
– Reviews. Do they say anything about the pack ripping out or the zippers breaking? You want a pack that will last more than a trip or two, so listen to others who have used and reviewed that particular pack and see how it rates.
Best packs under $100:
TETON Sports Scout 3400
If you’re looking for a cheaper pack that has an amazing amount of features that most of the other more expensive packs have, this is a great option for you. It is a great pack for weekend adventures. Amazon has numerous backpacks under $100, but the this one seems to outshine them for its quality and durability.
High Sierra Women’s Summit 45L
This women’s specific pack is a great smaller, narrower option for both women a older or larger kids. It would be tough to pack for extended trips over 2-3 nights, but it is a great choice for weekend trips and lightweight packing.
Kids Deuter Fox 30
This is an excellent pack for young kids for under $100. The Deuter brand carries three great packs, so for the younger ones, I would start with the Fox 30 or Climber, and for older kids, there is the Fox 40.
Best Packs Under $150:
Kelty Coyote 80
A great back for extended trips without the pricetag of the higher end packs, this pack can hold a lot. The Kelty brand always seems to hold up longer than the other cheaper brands and the quality for the price is great. Especially if you don’t plan to go backpacking every weekend. This is a great middle-of-the-road pack for anyone wanting a large quality pack for under $150.
If this is too large and you want something smaller for weekend trips, the Kelty Redwing 50 is a great option as well.
Kelty Women’s Redwing, Dark Shadow, 50L
This Kelty women’s specific pack holds enough for a weekend away and the straps and loops to attach more gear on the outside if you need to. It wouldn’t be big enough for longer trips or for packing extras for the kids, but it’s perfect for weekend get-aways.
Gregory Mountain Products Icarus 30 Liter Kid’s
Best Packs Under $200:
The North Face Terra 65
Osprey Packs Stratos 50
The Osprey name is synonymous with good quailty backpacks and versatility. The stratos 50 is a bit small for longer trips unless you know how to pack light. It’s a great daypack for longer hikes and overnighters, but has the ability to carry more if you strap things to the outside.
Osprey Packs Sirrus 50 – Women’s
Osprey Ace 50 Kid’s
For larger kids, but still under $200, there is the Osprey Ace 75. But I would only recommend it for older kids who are experienced at backpacking and can carry more weight and gear. Here is where I end the kid specific packs. You shouldn’t need to spend more on a pack for a growing kid and if your child loves backpacking the Osprey’s here should meet their growing needs, and if they outgrow the kids packs, they can move up to the adult sizes.
Best Packs Over $200:
Osprey Packs Atmos AG 65
This is a great size pack for going on weeklong treks or longer. It has enough room for everything you’d need and it’s super comfortable. It even touts having “Anti-Gravity Suspension” which sounds really cool and great if you’re carrying you’re entire home and supplies with you for a week or more!
Granite Gear Blaze 60L
Granite Gear is quickly becoming known for their comfort and versatility. For a wonderful, detailed review,
check out The Big Outside,
and for the women specific version:
Granite Gear Blaze 60L – Women’s
Best Packs $300+
Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro 75L
For long weeklong treks and durability, this pack holds everything you need. The Baltoro brags a 3D Air technology that equates to a comfort unsurpassed by other packs. This pack holds a lot, so you don’t have to worry about leaving things behind, but it also isn’t the best for ultralight through hiking either. It allows you to carry extras, including the kids gear that they aren’t able to carry for themselves yet.
Osprey Packs Ariel AG 75 Women’s
I’ll end with my favorite backpack. The Ariel is a rather large pack for women, but if you plan to take your kids with you or if you want to try weeklong adventures, this pack is perfect. This is the one I currently own and I absolutely love it. It is a bit large for solo weekend getaways, but if I take extras to create certain experiences to enjoy my time of solitude in the woods, it will hold all that I want and still be comfortable to carry.
It is also big enough for winter gear if I choose to do an overnight snowshoe excursion.
If you prefer a bit smaller version with the same comfort and durability from Osprey, you might want to try the Ariel 55.
The Right Pack for You
When it comes down to it, the right pack is a personal preference. You get to decide what works best for you. This is just a guide to help you narrow down your search and give you options based on what I’ve learned and the research I’ve done. I hope it helps you in finding the right pack for you. Please let me know if you have any questions or have any feedback to share about your search for backpacking gear.