In this review, we have teamed up to write the top 5 things we look for when purchasing a new backpack. Hopefully this will help you consider what you really want in a pack before you purchase a new one.
Dayton – Back Ventilation: I got my wife to scratch my back after a long hike once. She learned her lesson. My back needs to get some cool mountain air flowing on it to keep it happy. I look for a pack that allows airflow to my back.
Jeff – Rain Cover: Built-in rain covers are great for sudden downpours you might experience on the trail. They stash in a special pocket at the bottom of the bag and all you have to do is zip it open and pull the cover of your bag and you’re good to go.
Jake – Pockets/Compartments: I’m a huge pocket guy! I like my gear organized and compartmentalized. That being said, this isn’t a deal breaker. Obviously, there should be different areas on a pack to store different gear, depending on how often you need to access it and where the weight is stored. There are certain items I want to grab in a second and others I won’t need until I get to camp and others still I won’t use at all unless there’s an emergency. All these should have their specific place in my pack. I want to feel like I’m carrying a backpack, not a stuff sack. Storage sacks can help if you have a pack that doesn’t have as many pockets, but try to think about where you would put the gear you already own on the pack you’re looking at. (See #1)
Dayton – Rain Cover: I really like having a built in rain cover. At the very least, the company should have a separate cover that you can purchase specifically for the pack. Weather is unpredictable. I’ve been in the dry desert of Southern Utah when a sudden rainstorm poured on us. I was able to keep my gear dry by having a built in rain cover.
Jeff – Hydration Sleeve: The bag needs a place to store a 3-liter water bladder and a way to run the hose out to the shoulder strap for easy access on the trail.
Jake – Weight: With the ultra-light movement in full swing these days, pack weights are decreasing more and more. The days of heavy and cumbersome metal exterior frames are all but gone. Find a pack that’s lightweight to begin with and your legs and back will thank you. I carry enough weight in food, water, and gear as it is. Why not start off right and have a pack that only weighs a couple of pounds?
Dayton – Water Bladder: I tend to drink a lot of water when I’m hiking. Having accessible water helps me stay hydrated. I certainly don’t like setting up camp with a dehydration headache.
Jeff – Outside Pockets: I don’t like the rucksack style packs that don’t have pockets and only one access to the main compartment of the bag. I look for pockets on the top, back, and especially on the waist belt. I use these to stash stuff I’ll need on the trail for easy access.
Jake – Warranty: Warranty is a big thing for me. I take care of my stuff, but I also put it through a lot. I won’t buy a pack unless it has a lifetime warranty. These things are too expensive to have to shell out $300 every few years because of a tear, broken zipper, or ruined seams. You’re buying into the company who makes the product. Look for a company that stands by their work and their products. Choose wisely.
Dayton – Carry Capacity: The adventures I go on do not require a pack larger than 75 liters. I can easily pack a 4-day trip in a 75-liter pack. If your pack is not sized for the adventure then you’ll either leave things behind that you may need or you’ll have dead weight from the unused capacity.
Jeff – Weight: The larger the pack you buy the more it will weigh. Pretty obvious, right? I need the extra room but I want it to weigh less. Be prepared to spend more money for this. I made the mistake of buying a large pack that fits all my gear but the pack itself is over 5 lbs. My new pack is less than 5 lbs. and will fit all my gear just great. You can find lightweight packs by checking out the material, the frame and the overall design.
Jake – Comfort/Fit: This is obviously huge. I can tell by trying a pack on in the store if it’s comfortable or not. If I’m taking this thing for miles on my back, I want it to fit me well. I want it to feel good, like it’s a part of me. If it passes the first impression test, I add weight too it and walk around the store to let that weight set in. Where does the weight of the pack feel like it sits on you? Is it on your hips? Your lower back? Your shoulders? Are the straps easily adjustable to move the weight to the appropriate spots? And buy a pack that is the right size for your body/torso. So many new packs are adjustable to accommodate growth and load size. All things to consider.
Dayton – Fit: I think fit is the most important thing that I look for. I owned a pack where the waist strap was adjustable from 32” to 56”. The waist straps fit around my waist but didn’t snug tight enough to center the weight on my hips and not my shoulders (I wear 31” jeans). It has been hard to find a pack that has a sufficient carrying capacity but that will also fit my waist. There are packs out there that do fit my around my waist and can carry all of my gear.
Jeff – Size: The size of the pack is the first thing I look for. I know that I will be carrying a tent on most of my trips and I don’t like strapping it to the outside so I need one big enough to fit it inside. I also want the ability to go on longer trips. I will need added space for food. I also count on taking all the cooking gear and other miscellaneous gear I’ll need. I look for a pack that’s about 70 liters or more.
Jake – Is it for me?: I realize this is a culmination of everything I previously mentioned, but does this pack meet my needs? After backpacking and camping for as many years as I have, I know what I like. I have a certain way I pack my gear. There are things I will always take with me and I want those things in certain places on my pack. Will what I already have fit the way I want it to on this pack? I try to envision my gear on that pack to see if it will be functional for me. I want my stuff protected, but accessible. Does it fit my style and can it hold up to what I’m going to be doing? Mountain trails, desert canyons, underground caves… My pack has to be able to survive it all.
We hope this has helped you to decide what it is you want in your backpack. Happy trails.