Buying a pack is a big purchase, and there is a lot to take into consideration whether you’re aiming for day hikes, weekend overnights, or longer backcountry endeavors. Depending on what type of hiking you plan on doing you want to take capacity, fit, and style, as well as other smaller details into consideration. Ideally, this pack will last you for years of backcountry ventures, so choose carefully and take the following factors into consideration.

1. Capacity

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A hydration pack is a good option for a day hike, where you really only need water, some snacks, and an extra layer.
Gregory Mountain Products

The first thing is assessing what the pack will primarily be used for. Day hikes? Weekend trips? Thru-hiking? There’s a pack for all of those and lots of options in between. Hydration packs between seven and 15 liters are great for shorter day hikes where all you need are a few snacks, water, and an extra layer. A full-day mountain adventure calls for a pack between 20-30 liters. This gives you enough capacity for more layering options, food, and a headlamp in case the day gets long. Overnight packs get significantly larger, as even a one-nighter means you’ll need to add shelter, a sleep system, and cookset to your pack getup. Overnight packs for short trips or lighter base weights run around 40-50 liters. Longer backpacking trips or heavier loads call for a pack between 55-70 liters.

2. Fit

No matter how much you love the pack, if it doesn’t fit your body, it can result in discomfort or even injury over the long haul. A well-fitting pack should sit comfortably on your hips with weight distribution that allows the majority of the weight to sit on your hips—not dragging on your shoulders. Measure yourself before shopping: Backpacking packs come in different torso lengths, with sizing denoted by the measurement from your C7 vertebrae to your iliac crest. This handy guide will help you figure out what size pack you should look for. Shoulder straps should follow the natural shape of your shoulders, sitting securely but not restricting range of motion.

Try on the fully weighted pack whenever you have the chance, working through all of the adjustments to ensure proper fit and weight distribution. Many outdoor gear stores have employees on hand to help with adjustments and determine if the pack fits correctly.

3. Style

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Think about the type of exploring you want to do when choosing a pack.
Gregory Mountain Products

Most packs fit into two broad categories: highly featured and ultra padded, or lightweight, streamlined models that still offer support but use lighter materials with pared-down features. Be honest about what kind of backpacker you are. Are you a person who values luxe comfort and carries a heavier base weight? You’ll want a pack with more padding, features, and support. If you’re moving fast and light in the backcountry, consider a slimmed-down pack built with lightweight materials. These lighter packs still offer support in the form of internal frames, but have less padding and features than the beefier models.

Consider your pack weight and opt for the style that will best align with what you’re already carrying. If your base weight is more than 15 pounds, you’ll want a pack with heftier materials and more substantial support. Many pack listings include a maximum carry weight for comfort and support, and don’t forget to account for food and water when calculating an approximation of your total load.

4. Overall Organization

How do you like to organize your pack? Do you shove everything into a main compartment? Do you have a system of stuff sacks for smaller items and appreciate everything in its place? Do you carry a hydration reservoir? Evaluate your own tendencies for backpacking and hiking, and make sure the pack fits that criteria. If you’re a hiker who enjoys knowing where small items are at all times, you probably want a pack with more pockets and opportunities for organization. If you tend to hike long miles and not unpack until the end of the day, you could be perfectly satisfied with a simpler pack that shaves weight and features while still allowing easy access to the main compartment.

5. Accessible Pockets

51Bi6iPLGcqnceVqT1tPNSWhen everything has its place in your backpack, things are easier to find.
Gregory Mountain Products / Bob Plumb

Whether you’re on the trail for the day, a week, or six months, there will be gear you want to access without dumping the entire contents of your pack. Once you’ve been hiking enough, you’ll develop a system and will have certain items like snacks, headlamp, or that one perfect layer you’ll want to be able to grab quickly. The three handiest pockets to consider include hip belt pockets, a stretchy front panel, and a zippered top lid. Hip belt pockets are perfect for an energy bar on the go. The top lid is a wonderful feature for quick access to a guidebook, headlamp, or compact water filter. A large mesh pocket on the outside of the pack is ideal for an extra mid-layer to throw on during breaks or a raincoat for when the sky decides to spontaneously open up.

Written by Matcha for Gregory Mountain Products.

Featured image provided by Gregory Mountain Products