Picking the perfect backpack is not an easy task. First off, we have to acknowledge that there is no “one backpack to rule them all”. On the contrary, the market is vast and has a highly diversified supply of zillions of products to pick from. In my experience, choosing the right backpacking backpack really depends on two factors: purpose and budget.
Every destination has it’s own challenges and unique requirements. You have to take into account climate, altitude, terrain and most importantly, the main activity of the trip. Mountaineering, hiking, trekking and sightseeing are all activities with very different requirements. The ideal backpack for mountaineering would turn out to be extremely cumbersome for lugging around to hostels.
After you establish the purpose of your trip, there are three key considerations you should always assess before choosing your backpack: your weight, your body frame, and the gear you will take along. What kind of stuff are you going to carry? Are you planning on bringing camera equipment? How much food are you going to need? Do you need compartments for smaller items or only larger items?
There are two types of backpacks:
The backpack you pick depends mainly on your purpose as a traveller. Are you attempting to conquer every hiking trail you encounter? Or are you more of a casual tourist that just needs to keep their stuff organized during the move from destination A to destination B?
Internal or external frame backpack?
Nobody wants to spend a good amount of cash on something they’re going to regret. I will try to help you take the right decision by clearing out the differences between both styles.
External frame backpacks are able to carry much more weight because the packs stack above your head, placing the center of gravity much higher than in an internal frame backpack. And while it’s true that these backpacks can carry more weight, they’re also bulkier, making them difficult to deal with in small rooms and tight spaces.
Internal frame backpacks on the other hand are generally lighter and more comfortable to wear, but have less options for distributing the weight. As their weight concentrates at the middle of your back, they are not so suited for long hikes as they will wear you out faster.
In most cases external frame backpacks have lots of compartments that allow more options to distribute the weight. That’s something that you don’t typically get from an internal frame backpack. Most internal frame backpacks have only 1 to 3 compartments (top, primary compartment, lower compartment). Less compartments means finding the key to your room could turn out to be the most painful memory of the whole trip.
In an external frame backpack the tubular structure is clearly visible, while internal backpacks look more like the typical bag a kid could carry to school. The tubular structure in this case runs along the spine for lumbar support. Typically, internal frame backpacks are sexier in appearance, some having additional straps and zippers and others including locks to prevent the occasional pickpocket.
The price of external frame backpacks is relatively higher than that of their internal frame counterparts. If you’re on a tight budget and you’re not going to do any extreme hiking, an internal frame backpack might give you more bang for the buck.
Best Backpacks for long term travellers / backpackers
Finding the best backpack for the hostel hopping backpacker is quite a bit easier than the die-hard camper. If your plan is to travel light and move from hostel to hostel, finding a backpack will be a bit easier. 99% of the time, an internal frame backpack with enough compartments and a few bells and whistles will suffice. These are my recommended internal frame backpacks:
Durable and affordable, the Teton Explorer 4000 has (as it’s name states) 4000 cubic inches of storage capacity, which will be enough for 2 – 5 day trips. Many rate it as the best hiking backpack in the market because of the comfort it offers and its ability to store over 15 essential items including a sleeping bag. You can find these for $70.
The High Sierra Tech Titan 65 is adored by campers and hikers because of its 65 liters of storage space. It’s durability makes the Titan 65 an ideal candidate for long trips. You can find these from $100 and sometimes cheaper if you’re shopping for used backpacks online.
Osprey Packs Atmos 65
Osprey backpacks come in three models, small (62 liters), medium (65) and large (68) They’re all incredibly comfortable, the fabric is of excellent quality and the flashy colors make the three models quite attractive to look at. Compared to other backpacks offering similar features, the Osprey is one of the lightest in the market, and also one of the most expensive. You can get your hands on one for $ 200 – $400.
The Everest hiking pack has been appreciated for a long time by the travelling community as the most popular entry level bag. It’s made out of 100% polyester and has a capacity of 3,170 cubic inches which is roughly equivalent to 40 pounds of stuff. They sell for around $53.
The Arc’teryx Altra 65 Backpack is used for all sorts of activities such as trekking, normal travel and hiking. Usually, these multi-purpose backpacks have a volume capacity between 73L and 75L. Extremely comfortable, it’s ultra light material is also very durable and doesn’t tear easily, which of course is an added advantage for anybody embarking on long trekking. I’ve read reviews where people state they have used the Arc’teryx Altra for over 14 months without any visible wear, and I do believe it. This is a very high quality bag that sells for $400.
The Gregory Deva 60 Technical Pack has been specifically designed for women. Some of the features include an AFS suspension system, auto-cant harness technology and auto-fit waist belt system. Durable, lightweight and easy on the eye, it’s the ideal entry bag for a serious beginner. It costs around $240.
Just as the name implies, the ALPS Mountaineering Red Tail 3900 is a backpack specifically designed for your hiking needs. It has a capacity of 3900 cubic inches which translates to 64 liters, which is ideal for 3 – 4 day trips. The top of the red tail extends with a spindrift collar allowing hikers to overpack. It sells for $100.
The CUSCUS 6200ci is a 6200 cubic inch capacity bag with very sturdy stitching and strong zippers. It’s incredibly durable and has the best cost to benefit ratio of this list. It features a sleeping bag compartment, a heavily paddled back panel and high quality shoulder and waist straps. You can find one of these for as low as $40.
How to fit an Internal Frame Backpack?
Looking for advice on how to fit a backpack to your body size / type, check this video out by Tuja Wellness.
Best backpacks for hiking / camping
We’ve covered plenty about internal frame backpacks which are awesome solutions if you aren’t planning on long hiking or camping trips. But extreme trekkers, pro campers, and seasoned outdoorsmen usually choose external frame backpacks as their weapon of choice. This is mainly because they provide greater support for larger loads. If you’re going to be hauling cookware, large amounts of water, a tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag, you’re going to need more capacity than what an internal frame bag can offer.
Here are my picks for great external frame backpacks for hiking and camping.
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander 5350 Cubic Inches
The ALPS Outdoor commander has always impressed because of its versatility, durability and incredible capacity. The backpack can be separated from the tube structure allowing for other items to be carried on the frame, which is a nifty feature specially for hunters. The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander is a very affordable solution at $93.
The Kelty Trekker is made from polyester which makes it very lightweight and durable. The external frame is built with adjustable suspensions and plenty of additional accessories. You can find it from $127 to $180.
Well suited for people who like to hike a lot, the Large Alice pack is extremely durable, made from waterproof materials with sturdy stitching. It provides an excellent cost to benefit ratio at $62.
The Dragonfly is a backpack especially designed for pre-teens and youth hikers. It has a capacity of 2780 cubic inches which is more than enough to meet the usual expectations of a entry level outdoorsman. It features enhanced padding which helps a lot when carrying very heavy loads. The Dragonfly sells at $50.
The S-zone sport outdoor 60L Trekking Backpack is one of the most beautifully designed of the list. I really appreciate the foam back panel which helps the pack to stay cool and dry. It also has a compression lid on the top that allows an extra load of gear beyond it’s native capacity of 60 liters. Great value at $64.
The High Sierra Sport Company 40 is specifically designed for a one or two day trip. This is an extremely comfortable entry bag for younger hikers taking their first steps into the outdoor scene. It sells for $100.
The Mountainsmith Eagle External Frame Backpack is another backpack specifically designed for pre-teens. It’s outward appearance may not be so captivating, but it has a respectable capacity of 45 liters and features an external frame made out of 6061 aluminium alloy. It includes a mesh back panel, a top flap with a zippered pocket, a rain cover and deluxe shoulder straps. You can find it for $75.
One of the most durable of this list, the ALPS Mountaineering Bryce pack includes a high quality telescoping frame, hydration compatible, ventilated lumbar support, and mesh pockets. Sturdy, durable and highly reliable it has a 60 litre capacity and sells for $159.
How to Pack a Backpack Properly
Looking for more information on packing your backpack the right way. Check out this great video by REI.
What kind of backpack are you using? Comment below or tweet me @ibackpackcanada, I’d love to hear from other backpackers!
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