Choosing a backpack can be a little overwhelming, but knowing what to look for will help ease the selection process. We’ve broken down a few of the most important categories of consideration—helping you make a confident purchase when the time comes to fork over your cold, hard cash. After all, this new pack is literally going to be an extension of your body, so the way it fits, the size, features, and materials used will all become crucial to your experience.
What will you be using your backpack for? Hiking, backpacking, travel, work, and school are some of the more common pack categories, but keep in mind that many backpacks out there do a little of each, and some of them do a little more. Narrow down what you’ll be doing with your pack, and go from there.
Backpacks are commonly listed in cubic inches and liters. For daypacks, anything between 10 and 30 liters is a good rule of thumb. Look for climbing, travel, and hiking packs with 15- to 50-liter capacities. For one or two nights in the backcountry, 50 liters is usually the sweet spot, and for epic trips lasting longer than three days, something with 50+ liters is recommended.
A backpack’s key features help determine what it’s best suited for. Capacity, compartments, lash points, straps, zippers, etc. all play a role in how it functions. Look for zippered compartments and laptop sleeves for school and work packs; consider more space, a comfortable harness, and hydration sleeves for backpacking. A combination of these features is ideal for added versatility.
It’s also a good idea to spend some time researching the materials and processes that go into various backpacks. Canvas is often a go-to fabric for urban packs due its proven durability, while technical packs are usually built with a variety of ripstop nylons because of the inherent low weight and beefiness associated with this material. A pack’s design and features are also key elements that dictate how user-friendly it will be and whether it’ll hold up to the bumps and bruises of daily use. Look for ripstop nylon and high-denier canvas fabrics, reinforced stitching, and compartments for all your gear.
A backpack that fits your body ensures the load remains supported, balanced, and comfortable as you move. For daypacks, contoured shoulder straps and a simple sternum strap usually do the trick, and for multi-day backpacking packs, use our backpack fit calculator to find the pack that’s just right for you.