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Hiking Backpacks

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Hiking Packs

When faced with literally hundreds of packs on REI.com or in an REI Co-op store, deciding on one can seem a little daunting. Fear not, there's a pack for every back, including yours.

Picking the right hiking pack is a three-step process:

Decide the pack size (gear capacity) you need.

Decide which pack features you want.

Make sure your pack fits you well.

Choosing Pack Size (Capacity)

The capacity you choose depends on the length of your hike and how much gear you plan to carry. Below are some guidelines for pack capacity (measured in liters).

Daypacks (up to 35 liters): If you're not sleeping in overnight, then you just need enough for the Ten Essentials, including trail food and clothing for the weather.

Weekend backpacking trips (30 to 50 liters): Your essential gear now also includes things like a tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag.

Multiday trips (50 to 80 liters): The more days you're out overnight, the more food and clothing you'll need.

Extended trips of 5+ nights (70+ liters): Your gear needs won't change significantly from a multiday trip but carrying that much food dictates an even bigger pack.

Need quick recommendations? Check out our picks for the best backpacks.

Backpack Features

Backpacks offer an array of features, such as adjustable torso loop, a removable daypack, hipbelt pockets or sleeping bag compartments. A few things to consider:

Frame: Smaller capacity packs like daypacks typically have no frame, while most larger packs have an internal frame that helps support the load and transfer the weight onto your hips so you can carry that weight more comfortably. A few packs have an external frame that is visible outside the pack.

Suspension system: This consists of the frame, hipbelt and shoulder straps-everything engineered to make the pack fit comfortably and carry the load in balanced manner.

Ultralight design: Ultralight backpacks cut weight by using light-yet-strong materials. The lightest packs inevitably trade some durability and structure to save those ounces.

Storage: Most packs load from the top and have a lid with storage pockets. Others load from the side or have bottom sleeping bag compartments. More pockets help you stay organized.

Tool and lash-on loops: Tool loops simplify stowing unwieldy equipment, like an ice axe or trekking poles, on the outside of your pack. Lash-on loops let you strap on other items you don't want to stow inside.

Reservoir compatibility: If you like to hydrate on the go, look for packs with this feature-a sleeve inside to hold a reservoir (sold separately). Hydration compatible packs also have a port for the sip tube.

Pack Fit

The key to choosing the right (S, M, L) size pack is to measure your torso length. Read How to Size and Fit a Backpack to learn how. Or schedule an outfitter session (virtual options are available) with an REI fit specialist. Note: Some packs have an adjustable torso length, but you still need to measure your torso length in order to set that.

Fine-tuning the fit later, especially on the trail, is also important. The How to Size and Fit a Backpack article explains those steps, too.

Women's packs: Packs designed to fit women have subtle differences, including shorter torso lengths, shoulder straps designed to contour around the bust, and hip belts that accommodate wider hip structures.

More to Consider

Accessories like hydration reservoirs, pack raincovers and accessory pockets can make your pack more functional. A good pair of hiking boots and a pair of trekking poles will make it easier to balance a load on your back.

More Reasons to Shop at REI

REI carries top brands like REI Co-op, Osprey, Gregory and Deuter. We also have a backpacking gear checklist, day-hiking gear checklist and a library of hiking articles to help you enjoy your time on the trail.