Expert Buying Tips to Help You Pick the Best Backpack
By Michael Lanza
Backpacking lets you explore places in the wilderness that most people never see. Other than boots, no piece of gear will affect how much you enjoy a backpacking trip as much as your pack.
Here is the Gear Guy’s guide to picking the perfect pack.
BSA Ultralight 50 L ($100, scoutshop.org): Functional and affordable, this top-loading backpack has features seen in pricier packs, starting with shoulder hip belt and back padding, and an aluminum frame. The pack’s 50-liter capacity can handle multiday trips. Side compression straps stabilize partial loads, and stretch material in the pockets swallow items like water bottles, snacks and rain gear. The pack’s fabric also mirrors what’s used in more expensive packs, offering good durability. Bonus: Its unisex design adjusts to a wide range of torso sizes. Fits torsos 15-21 inches, 3 lbs. 6 oz.
HOW BIG SHOULD YOUR BACKPACK BE?
Backpacks with 40-50 liters of capacity are generally made for carrying some personal gear — sleeping bag, pad, clothes, some personal items and snacks — but not a full share of team gear.
If you’re planning an ultralight backpacking trek for a few days, look at backpacks that hold 50-65 liters of gear and weigh no more than 2.5 pounds when empty.
A 65-liter backpack is a good all-around size for weeklong trips. Some are fairly lightweight yet comfortable, carrying up to 40 pounds, sometimes more.
For gear-intensive multiday trips, look at 70-liter backpacks or bigger, with a supportive suspension system and more features.
Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($270, granitegear.com): This pack hauls 50 pounds comfortably, thanks to a lightweight framesheet and foam padding on the shoulder harness and hip belt, both of which are adjustable and calibrated to specific torso length and waist size measurements. The six external pockets include two spacious zippered ones on the hip belt and a deep stretch-woven front pocket. The removable floating lid converts to a chest pack that carries clipped to the pack’s shoulder harness. With its low weight, carrying capacity, features and superior compression, the Blaze 60 ranks among the most versatile backpacks on the market. Fits torsos 15-24 inches, 3 lbs. 2 oz.
GET THE RIGHT FIT
If you’re still growing, stick to adjustable-suspension packs that can adapt to your body through the years. Fixed-suspension bags are another option, and they are usually sold in more than one size — meaning you buy a new one when you grow out of it.
Whether the pack has an adjustable or fixed suspension, fitting it correctly is critical to comfort, and that requires knowing your torso length. Here’s how to measure it:
Stand straight and place your hands on the shelf-like top of your hipbones; your thumbs will point to a spot on your lower spine. Ask someone to extend a soft tape measure (or a string to hold against a stiff measuring tape afterward) from your thumbs to the bone protruding from the base of your neck when you tilt your head forward. That’s your torso length.
A pack fits better when your torso length falls within the pack’s fit range. Try on the pack to make sure it’s comfortable. If it isn’t, it’s not worth your money.
Expert tip: If all this measuring and pack-fitting sounds like too much, head to your local outdoors store. There you can ask an expert, who will help you find a pack that fits best.
Deuter Fox 40 ($120, deuter.com): From a brand known for its tough and well-built adult packs, Deuter Fox 40 is an adjustable pack sized for young people. At 40 liters, it has enough capacity for your personal gear, and its suspension transfers pack weight onto the hips, as a good pack should. It has two external pockets, and you can hang your gear off multiple attachment points. It’s also made with durable ripstop fabric. Fits torsos 11-18 inches, 2 lbs. 14 oz.
PICK YOUR FLAVOR
Backpacks come in a variety of designs, differing in shape, how you open them (top-loading, one-zip panel access, roll-top), pockets and tons of other features. Find one that meets your needs and backpacking style.
Gregory Zulu 55/Jade 53 ($200, gregorypacks.com): For those who are serious about backpacking and ready to step into adult-sized packs, the men’s Zulu and women’s Jade find a sweet spot in fit, performance and features. Gregory’s suspension system features flex panels that let the hip belt pivot and flex as a person walks to prevent hot spots. At barely more than 3.5 pounds, this pack is built to haul up to 40 pounds comfortably, thanks to an open-air ventilated back panel and the adjustable torso length. Nice touches: the U-shaped zipper opening up the main compartment, and integrated rain cover and the large hip belt pockets. Fits torsos 14-19 inches, 3 lbs. 6.5 oz.
Higher prices usually mean greater comfort, more durable materials and construction, and sometimes cutting-edge technology. But any pack will get you into the backcountry.
Osprey Ace 50 ($160, scoutshop.org): The top-loading Ace series packs, including the Ace 38 ($140) and Ace 75 ($180), strike a balance between moderate price and the qualities of higher-end backpacks. The Ace 50’s adjustable harness covers a 5-inch range of torso lengths, while the Ace 38 fits torsos down to 11 inches and the Ace 70 reaches up to 19 inches. The LightWire frame and plastic framesheet handle loads of 25-30 pounds or more. Large stretch-mesh front and side pockets and zippered hip belt pockets (on the 50L and 70L) offer abundant external organization, and an integrated rain cover comes in handy. Fits torsos 13-18 inches, 3 lbs.
TRY ON THE BACKPACK
Follow the same rule for buying backpacks as you would for buying boots: Try them on first. Throw some weight in a pack and walk around. After going through all the above steps, this step will help you decide if the backpack is right.
Is it worth my money to buy the Teton Scout 3400 backpack?
Although the Teton 3400 is a bit heavy and has too many straps for a 3400 c.i. pack it is a good starter for a youth especially at the price. I would not recommend carrying any more than 30 lbs with it, though. The shoulder straps and hip belt are too soft to provide a lot of support. Good for a weekend trek.
I have the Osprey Ace and it is great. My mom got it for me and it has been all over. The shoulder straps hook to back board that you can move up and down depending on how tall you are. It comes with a rain cover too.
I bought a high sierra titan 65 perfect
i can stuff my backpack a lot try buying and rei they’re really good.
Yes, REI is excellent with advice and quality.
I want to buy a High Sierra Titan 65 Internal Frame Backpack, but I am afraid that it will be to big. What should I do?
“Try before you buy” 🙂
are you buying for the looks quality or size?
i say just buy a radom backpack
High Sierra is one of the best packs I had a small one for three years now I have the swerve nothing wrong with the first just a little small. swerve is perfect.
I am getting foxhound 50 pack.
I’m thinking about getting the osprey aether 85 ,is that a good pack? Please respond.
Backpacker magazine rates it as average 5.5 / 10 stars.
Heading to Philmont next year; reducing my pack weight by purchasing a “Go-Lite” 45. Weighs only 2.1# and uses your mattress pad as the back support, really cool; works great. This pack holds the same as my old pack but weighs 4.1# less. costs $99.00. This is a pack for smart scouts; tough-light-inexpensive-roomy.
I hope you’re right knife expert because I’m getting the Teton 4000
Nice dude! let me know how it works for ya.
The Teton pack worked beautifully on a 4 day backpacking trip it balanced the weight out great and it’s super durable . It got dropped and thrown around and it still looks brand new. Great pack! 😀
Glad to hear it!
I have hiked over 75 Northern Idaho miles with this pack. I bought it at a outdoor store for $70. Most stores don’t sell their products at retail price because the retail price is always too expensive.
Go to amazon and look at the reviews… and at the price. I have hiked over 75 miles with this pack and know what i am talking about.
The two comments above were directed at a offensive comment that Father Time made that, thankfully, BL removed.
by the way Father time, my knowledge is NOT confined to knives!
I’ve packed on three continents, on lots of terrain. You’ve mentioned some good gear, but if you’d like good design and very good value, check out Alps Mountaineering. Prices are competitive and they offer very special discounts for scouts and scouters.
I can attest to the value, quality and customer service of Alps. Call and ask for their Scout Direct pricing. Quality is much superior to the Teton brand and very comparable to the big name brands. I am a Scout Master and personally own 5 Alps internal frame backpacks. The Caldera 4500 is my favorite. I also own external Kelty(s), Gerry(s), CampTrails and Jansport.that I let my boys use. The external Alps are a knock off of the Kelty Trekker.
Where can I buy some backpacks?
Try a camping store; they are all over the place.
I’m looking into a kelty yukon 48 external frame. Is that a good backpack?
All Keltys are exreamly good. just make sure you try it on before you buy
Can you provide some additional information about this.
Any osprey you can use them then sell them like crazy
I have the Outdoor Products Stargazer 8.0.It has a lifetime warranty and is made of rip stop nylon.it has a good amount of space has a removable internal frame and a comfortable padded hipbelt
If you are willing to pay alot go with gregory baltoro 75. It is super comfy and feels like part of you. It has enough space for a weeklong winter trek. Expensive though…
The North Face Terra 65 is a very good pack for $170. I took it on a week long trip in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness and it had plenty of room for all my gear and was very durable and comfortable.
I have that pack, it’s great
I got the Osprey Ace for Christmas. Great Pack!! 🙂
I hope your right im getting it for my bday.
i’m looking to buy a backpack for under 70 bucks.
The Teton Sports Explorer 4000 or the Teton Scout 3400
Teton makes good stuff.
i need a good internal frame pack but it needs to be in the high 50s or else my parents wont let me get it. please help me now
look at my previous comments
try tenton sports also save your bucks until popcorn sales are over so you can save,hope this helps,bye!
I have a GOLITE Jam35 that weighs 1lb.11oz.
I’m trying to find a cheep reliable pack! Before January 2013 because I’m going to a Science Camp and I want a good cheep and reliable pack.
As usual I recommend the Teton Sports Explorer 4000 or the teton scout 3400. both are cheap but extremely reliable!
I just got a 4000 by Granit Gear, it’s awesome. Thanks for the tip.
My youngest son (17- Eagle scout ) got a Duluth Pack 2800 ci We are minimalists, now he uses it all the time, school too. Nice to see him figure things out. Multi-use packs are great .This brand is guaranteed for life too. Find that anywhere else!
I got a Kelty Coyote and I really like it and it holds enough, but if I was buying a new one I would either by the Kelty Red Cloud (The Coyote’s big brother that also has a sleeping bag compartment) or a Kelty Yukon (So I could strap stuff to the outside easier)
Hey T-Man did you ever get that osprey? If so, hows it workin!
i have a kelty and it ROCKS!!!!
Good for you! what is the name of your Kelty pack?
I call it George.
Cool. I love people that name inanimate objects because im one of them!
I have a snowmobile named Debbie, my LMF is named Ogla, my assisted Keshaw is Speedy Gonzales, and my 870 shotgun is named Maggie
If you are looking for a good backpack,rei or keltys are the best,live in Alaska. I should know
Dude I envy you!
whats it like
aw dude… Ive been to Alaska only a few times but I love it! Its the most outdoorsy state in the US! its Fishing,hunting,camping, hiking and scouting heaven! Alaskan is one lucky guy in my opinion!
I like the osprey 68, I found it for $150 e-omc.com my parents still think its too much. What would you suggest I get?
I need a good cheap(hopefull) backpack.any ideas?
I would highly recommend Teton Sports Explorer 4000 or Scout 3400. They are fairly inexpensive ($70-$65 for the Explorer and $50-$45 for the Scout) they are made of RipStop and are very good packs.
Kelty packs are number one !!!!!!
kelty packs are great but almost always break the bank!
El lobo 75 ALL THE WAY
Sorry chad that was my bro who doesn’t even have a teton. Which is better out of the osprey range: the aether 70 or the kestrel 68? no other packs requested
Thats ok bro. I would probably go with the Kestrel 68. But they are both Ospreys and Ospreys are SUPER good quality so either one would work great.
Try Granit Gear, If it’s good enough for the military it’s tough enough for a scout. Made in the USA too.
I KNOW A GOOD PACK WHEN I USE ONE AND THE 4000 IS DEFIANTLY A GREAT PACK!
Is the 3400 worth my money
The Jansport Scout 63 is so boss, it’s better than the CEO of Jansport!
Which is better: The North Face Terra 55 or Jansport Carson? Please reply soon!!!
id go with a terra 55. I have a kelty redstone 60 which is bigger and about the same price. Both are good packs.
It may have hit a few sharp rocks and i bought it from Tetons website
I have a feeling your not telling me the whole story but here’s some buyers advice… buy it from a store so you can try it on and look over it for any deformities, or if you really think a pack made of RipStop (one of the toughest fabrics) can just fall apart for no reason then dont buy it again, its your money and your choice of what to do with it. But as for me, Teton is my number one backpack company.
Just face it man! Tetons are mostly badly made!
THEY ARE NOT!!!!
I have the 4000 and my brother and another friend have the SCOUT 3400 and none of our packs have broken in any way yet. are we talking about the same Teton? maybe you got a bad batch or something… all I know is if I know two other people that have packs just like mine and have been very rough with them for over a year then you are wrong Tetons are not mostly bad you just had bad luck that all.
Alps Mountaineering and Kelty both make great packs of all sizes. I like the internals best.
Chad 101 you are incorrect! I brought the pack back and got a new one and that one fell apart as well. I then swapped it out for a refund. Tetons suck! Long live LL Bean and REI!
P.S. Mine is a Teton Explorer 4000. INDESTRUCTIBLE!!!
I dont care what you say Tetons ROCK!! I dont know how you broke your two packs but I do know this The Teton Explorer 4000 will always be there when I need it! And it will never Break!!
Sorry all it did was just fall into a shallow stream and bam!
My Teton escape 4300 indestructible great pack. Plus I mean those sternum strap whistles. Way to go
Well what TYPE of teton did you buy?
The Explorer 4000.
dude, HOW on EARTH did you break it! It is made of RipStop and is an EXTREMELY tough pack! did you stab it with your pocket knife or what? I beg you try the 4000 just one more time… and buy it from a different seller.
Look at the Kelty series; They have super nice waist belts and superior back meshing to help keep you drier in hot weather. The are also very light yet strong enough for any outing. I prefer the comanchee model, 3# 6 oz.with 6 compartments.
What is a good backpack for the AT trial and Philmont
Internal frames are the best for off trail hiking of mountaineering.
I going to buy the Rei pasage 65 backpack and I can’t find a pack I like better. I am going to philmont this summer and that hip belt looks real nice.
I just bought an Osprey Kestrel 58 Backpack for my son. Just wanted to add that Osprey will repair or, if they can’t repair, replace any of their backpacks for free, no matter how old the pack is! Dick’s wanted me to buy a one year warranty on a Northface pack that wasn’t as nice. If Osprey has that kind of warranty, their packs have to be good! The built in rain cover sold me on it too.
I have the osprey ace and i prefer it over the rei passage. though smaller, it has a higher quality feel and come with a rain cover! hooray for osprey!
I use a Teton 4000. how much $$ is the Ace?
149 bucks. totally worth it
I HATE Tetons. Worst quality ever. I bought one for a small weekend camp and it totally fell apart. now I have to use my 35l!
Dude give Teton another chance! My explorer 4000 is very good quality and has lasted me about 50 miles of rough hiking and im sure it is going to last me hundreds more! Maybe there was a defect in your pack… whatever the cause I encourage you to try them again. If they work for a experienced off trail Idaho hiker like me, they can work for you!
I’m a new camper and I need gear what do I need
My mom has an Osprey I dont know what it is called but I know its a really good pack! Osprey makes some really good stuff!
hello I am going to buy an extreme pak digital camo backpack. is that a good backpack?
Is it internal or external??
It’s internal isn’t it!
if it is internal, has a padded waist strap, fully adjustable, and breathable then you have you self a good mountaineering pack.
I am looking at the Rei Passage 65 but what could I do about Rain Cover