I am just getting into backpacking and have been borrowing my friend’s giant 75 L pack for overnight and weekend trips. I am ready to invest in my own pack but am having trouble deciding on a size. I am on a budget and looking for something versatile. While most of my trips will be 1-3 night trips in cool-hot weather (not extreme cold), I am hoping to take some longer trips in the future (7 days+). It seems that a 55-65 L pack is the sweet spot for versatility. And I have been looking at the REI traverse. However, I know most-if not all-of my tips in the near future will be weekenders at the longest. Is it overkill to buy a 65L pack when it will be used most frequently for overnighters? My biggest items to pack are my big Agnes frying pan 3 tent and a bulky sleeping bag. Otherwise I pack pretty light and am able to control myself with the amount I load up with. I hate to buy something way too big, but also don’t want to skimp on space now and regret it if I am able to take longer trips in the future. Also, I feel like because I have been carrying such a big pack, I am unable to compare it to a more appropriate capacity for the length of my trips.
Thanks in advance!
One pack rarely does it all. You've got some good ideas, and i appreciate that you're trying to find a single solution, but differing lengths of trips call for different backpacks. Too big and your stuff sloshes around, which is annoying at best. Too small and you won't be able to fit that extra warmth layer when the temperature drops.
I generally get by with a 50-55L bag -- for me, that's the sweet spot. But it's too small for when really cold weather comes.
@Abi Welcome to the awesome world of backpacking! Finding the right pack (size and fit) for yourself can be exciting and can be essential to enjoying your adventures. Do you happen to live near an REI where an expert can help you find the right pack? REI offers personalized outfitting services where you could bring along some of your gear you mentioned, and see how each pack works with the gear you already have and love.
You can sign up for an outfitting appointment here, REI Outfitting
REI also offers workshops. In workshops, people can gain all kinds of helpful knowledge to get the most out of their adventure and gear. Some workshops I would recommend are, "How to Pack a Pack" and "Lightweight Backpacking."
You can find all the workshops in your area here, REI Workshops
The lineup of Workshops will vary by location.
@Abi I had the same dilemma when I was first starting out. I eventually settled on a 50L Osprey Atmos. It works great for me on anywhere from 1-night to 6-night trips.
Regarding your question about space, let me share my "eyes-wide-open" moment. When I got my first & new pack home, I thought I'd be able to get by with my existing bulky sleeping bag too. Man was I really wrong, it took up over half my pack! There was NO way that was going to work. I realized right away that I immediately needed to reduce my bulk if I was going to make my pack work, which I did with a highly-compressible down-filled bag.
You may want to consider that maybe the reason you're looking for a big capacity pack is to accommodate your own bulky/heavy sleeping bag. I had to meet my budget too, but my own bulky sleeping bag was a definite non-starter. So invested a little more into a down bag, and it was so worth it. I'm not saying that's what you should do, but that is what I did under similar conditions myself.
Oh, and having a pack fitting at an REI really helped me out too. I hope this helps. Best of luck.
@Abi what a very, very cool and exciting time making the leap to get your own gear!! I love researching, getting and testing new gear almost as much as I enjoy getting it out on the trail. Almost :). I would absolutely agree with @REI-EthanS about getting into your local REI if you have one to talk to one of the folks there to get sized but I'd go one step further and take your gear with you to put it in the pack to see if it fits and walk around the store a bit to see how it feels.
For me, I have an Osprey Atmos 65 that I absolutely love. It's not "ultralight" but (for me) very comfortable and I like that there's really good airflow between the pack and my back, especially when it's hot. Most of my trips right now are 1 to 3 nights and, on the 1 night trips, it's probably overkill but I can tighten the straps and it's fine. I've got a 35L pack (also Osprey) that I originally bought for overnights but between my tarp, hammock, quilt, underquilt, camp clothes and food, I just can't comfortably fit everything in the 35L pack. I'll be the first to admit that there are a few things that I could cut back on (my first aid kit is too big, I carry two extra sets of socks, etc.) but if I did, I know me, and I'd obsess about 'what ifs' while on the trail.
I agree with the preceding comments and would only add that it is easier to cinch down a slightly larger pack that overstuff a smaller unit. Try renting first, if possible. Sound like you are goig to be in the market for a down bag. They are expensive, but you will never regret a carefully considered purchase.