Selecting a Backpack
The key to selecting a backpack is to first decide how you will use the backpack. Whether you're a hiker who needs to carry three days' worth of gear on your back, or if you're just looking for a school backpack that can fit your laptop, there are specific, specially-made backpacks available to suit your needs.
Types of Backpacks
Choosing the pack that's right for your specific needs will make carrying your gear easier and more comfortable. The more weight you carry, the more supportive your backpack needs to be.
Daypacks can be used for both everyday purposes and on the hiking trail, so determining which backpack you buy should be based on how and where you will use the pack. The features included in the backpack you choose should be based on your intended activity. Daypacks are designed to comfortably carry your whole day on your back.
School Backpacks / Work Backpacks
- Designed to carry multiple books, papers, travel accessories and more
- Generally soft backed or frameless
- Internal pockets can fit all your gear, many are laptop/ tablet compatible
- All-purpose bag that can go anywhere
- Easy-access pockets for storing MP3's, school supplies, cell phones and more
- Styles fitted specifically for females are available
Best for: School, work, travel
Day Hiking Backpacks & Packs
- Intended for use by hikers and campers on shorter trails and trips
- Generally soft-backed or frameless
- Lightweight and intended for lighter loads over shorter distances
- Waist belts prevent loads from continually tapping against your back and focus weight on the hips
- General capacity range is 500-2,500 cubic inches
- Back panels for comfort
- Extra pockets to store your gear
Best for: Single day hikes, climbs, bike rides, travel
- Designed to provide water while you're on the move
- Users drink water via a tube equipped with a non-leaking valve
Hydration daypacks offer the most water capacity and storage space
Hydration Packs End Use
- Hike: Cargo capacity along with hydration that can carry your lunch, binoculars, first aid kit
- Bike: Backpack style with a hydration tube so you can sip water without taking your hands off your bike
- Winter/Snow: Extra carrying space and tubes are insulated so that the water does not freeze
- Run: Specially designed for carrying hydration, fuel and recovery items during longer runs
Internal Frame Packs
- Internal frame built into the pack behind the shoulder harness gives you a narrow profile, permitting more freedom and movement
- Frames have flat bars or "stays" that can be removed and bent to fit the user
- More flexibility than external packs, they move with your body
- Hugs the body to hold equipment on the hips, giving you better balance and stability
- Compression straps keep loads from shifting inside the pack
- Adjustable suspension system designed for optimal fit
- Most include built-in-sleeve for hydration
- Most popular style of pack for hiking designed to include extra features
Best for: Off-trail hikers on rough terrain, climbers, mountaineers
External Frame Packs
- External frame supports heavy loads from attached pack and harness
- Evenly distributes weight between hips and upper back
- External frame packs have a high center of gravity, which has two advantages: It gives excellent weight transfer to the hips and it allows you to walk with a more upright posture.
- Cooler to carry in hot temperatures because the pack does not rest against your back, allowing air to circulate. Great for long hikes on hot days.
- Offer multiple external lashing points for attaching extra gear
- Good for growing scouts because they have more adjustability in terms of fit
Best for: All levels of hikers traveling long distances to remote locations while carrying heavy loads
Sport Specific Packs
Many packs are specially designed to help meet the needs of your favorite sport. From carting your gear to supplying hydration, these packs help you stay on your game.
- Fitted around your waist for convenience and accessibility
- Lightweight and compact option for travel
- Great for runners because some can hold water bottles and gear
- Frame child carriers are for trail hikers and all campers
- Transit child carriers are more compact, used for traveling and everyday use
- Most have a maximum weight limit of 40 lbs.
- Convenient storage options to store a multitude of belongings and gear
- Accommodate women's smaller frames with narrow shoulder-strap spacing and shorter torso and back panel length
- Some packs come with hip belts specially designed to fit women's hips
- Feature curved shoulder straps that contour to a woman's shape
Capacity is the amount of space available inside a backpack. Measured by volume in cubic inches or liters, it is helpful to buy a backpack according to how much space you need. You want to get the appropriate size because you don't want to have too much extra weight and space, or not enough. Things to ask yourself when looking at size: How long will you typically wear this backpack? What environment will you use this backpack in? And how much gear does this backpack need to hold?
Pack Capacity for Internal Frame Packs
Pack Capacity is the amount of volume that an internal frame pack can hold. External frame packs may have a larger capacity than internal packs because sleeping bags are attached to the frame. Internal frame packs require you to store your sleeping bag in the pack, which takes up more space.
- Most backpacks are made with nylon because it is a durable, abrasion-resistant and sturdy fabric. Many nylon backpacks are coated with a water resistant sealant as well
- Ultra-light backpacks may use thin Denier rip stop materials to save weight
- Some pack bottoms are reinforced with a strong material like Hypalon or heavy-weight Cordura to increase durability
- Most trail and hiking backpacks are built to be breathable so they are not water resistant. Some packs come with a rain cover that shields your pack from wet weather. If your pack does not come with rain cover, you can purchase one separately
- Should feel stiff enough to support the weight of the pack without sagging
- Contoured (S-curved) straps curve around your neck for comfort
- Different foams in shoulder and hip belts provide different comfort levels
- Open-cell: next to your body comfort
- Closed-cell: excellent for support
- Compression-molded: best support available
- Laptop/Tablet Compatible: Space for laptops/tablets, chargers and cords
- Drawstring: Easy opening and closing
- Top Loader: Simple in design, easy to stuff, accommodates wider gear (for example, a soccer ball)
- Sling: Across the body strap
- Rolling/Wheeled: Great for travel and toting heavier loads, easy and convenient movement with bag
- Mesh: Breathable fabric, see-thru for easy access to gear
- Women's Fit: Specially designed to fit women's shapes
- Waist Belt: Most hiking backpacks have a waist belt to better accommodate heavy loads and transfer weight to the hips. Some packs even feature detachable waist belts.
- Rain Cover: Sewn to bottom of some backpacks, wrap around the pack to make it completely waterproof. Rain covers can be bought separately.
- Hydration compatible: Either features a built-in-sleeve for water, or compatible with hydration insert for easy hydration on the go
- Trekking Pole Loops/ Storage: Hiking backpacks feature external loops to hold trekking poles
Fit Guide for Large and Overnight Packs
Fit is the single most important factor when it comes to selecting the right backpack. For large internal and external frame backpacks, it is not your height that determines your backpack's fit, but your torso length. If the pack is too long, it will sag. If the pack is too short, it won't support your lower back. Your pack should have a comfortable and snug grip on your hips.
Determining Pack Size
If you're buying a pack online, you don't have the luxury of getting fitted in the store. In order to figure out the right fit for you, you need to measure your torso length at home. Once you know your torso length, make sure it is in the size range of the pack you're choosing. Compare the specs of each pack to your measurements, ensuring you get the correct size and fit.
Start by measuring from the bony protrusion at the base of your neck between your shoulders to the small of your back (level with your hipbones) with a flexible tape measurer. Measure down your spine and follow the curves along the way. You should have your hands on hips and your fingers touching the two bones that protrude from the front of your hips, and thumbs on your back of your hips.
Determining Hip Belt Size
The hip belt (1) should cup your hips and when cinched tightly, the pads should not touch.
- Women with straight or narrow hips may prefer a standard hip belt
- Women (and men) with more curve to their hips should choose a women's-specific model
Shoulder Strap Size
Shoulder straps should anchor to the backpack just below the bony protrusion at the base of your neck and the crest of your shoulders. They should wrap comfortably, yet securely, around the shoulders and should be at least 5" below the armpit.
These are meant to keep your shoulder straps from sliding off your shoulders under a load (2). They are not meant to support weight and should never be pulled so tightly that they restrict breathing.
Loading Your Pack for Camping and Hiking Pack
- A lot of packs have zipper compartments to store your most frequently used gear, giving you easy access on the trail
- If your pack doesn't have a separate bottom, the most sensible place to pack your sleeping bag is in the bottom of your pack, as you won't have to remove it until you set up camp
- Prioritize your items. Frequently used items go in pockets at the top of your pack, and least likely to use items go at the bottom of your pack
- Internal frame packs: Heaviest gear should go in the center of your pack for optimal stability and balance
- External frame packs: Heavy duty items at the top
Tips for Loading Your Pack
- Put your most frequently needed items within reach such as your cell phone, maps, GPS, snacks, etc.
- Tighten all straps to eliminate empty space and gear shifting
- Bring duct tape for quick fixes with poles, tent fabrics and panels
- Don't attach too much to the external area of your backpack, it can get lost easily in brush and affect your stability
- If you will be carrying a heavy duty backpack with a large load, use trekking poles because "four legs are better than two"
Care and Maintenance
- Zipper repair: You can use paracords or even dental floss for a quick fix to a zipper with a needle and thread
- Duct tape: Always a good item to carry in your backpack. Duct tape can be a quick fix for torn fabric, broken equipment and accessories
- Paracords: Can be used to repair a broken zipper, or replace a zipper pull. Can temporarily replace straps as well
- Hang dry in closet after season to ensure quality and long-lasting use
Frame Pack Comparison Guide
The Frame Pack Comparison Guide is a convenient resource for customers looking to purchase a hiking pack. With information on pack size, capacity and weight, the guide will steer you in the right direction when choosing an external or internal frame pack from DICK'S Sporting Goods. For a more detailed version of the Frame Pack Comparison Guide, click here.