How To Choose & Buy The Right Backpack

Picking the right travel backpack is an important part in planning your trip. Too big and you’ll have too much extra weight to carry around. Or you might not get your bag on an airplane! Too small and you’ll never fit all your stuff in the thing! Pick the wrong material and your stuff will be soaked in the rain.

There are so many backpacks out there that it can be very confusing knowing how to pick the right one.

There’s actually a science to knowing what the best travel backpack is – and how to pick it! When I first started traveling, I spent weeks picking out my first travel backpack. I tried on dozens, did hours of online research, and packed many to get a feel for what they would be like. It was a time-consuming process. That research paid off though as my first backpack lasted me 8 years. In fact, the only reason I bought a new backpack was because an airline lost that bag. Otherwise, that backpack would still be around today.

There are many travel backpacks in the world – and even more places where you can purchase one.


How to Pack a Backpack

A well balanced and well packed backpack can feel a lot lighter than one that’s packed poorly. In this video, Miranda walks you through her guide to a perfectly packed pack.

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What to Look for In a Backpack

Backpack Features

Backpack Frame Type
Internal-frame backpacks: The majority of packs sold at REI today are body-hugging internal frame packs that are designed to keep a hiker stable on uneven, off-trail terrain. They may incorporate a variety of load-support technologies that all function to transfer the load to the hips.

External-frame backpacks: An external-frame pack may be an appropriate choice if you’re carrying a heavy, irregular load, like toting an inflatable kayak to the lake. External frame packs also offer good ventilation and lots of gear organization options.
Frameless backpacks: Ultralight devotees who like to hike fast and light might choose a frameless pack or a climbing pack where the frame is removable for weight savings.

Some packs feature a suspended mesh back panel to combat the sweaty-back syndrome you tend to get with internal frame packs that ride against your back. Also called a “tension-mesh suspension,” this is a trampoline-like design where the frame-supported packbag rides along a few inches away from your back, which instead rests against the highly breathable mesh.
Ventilation “chimneys” that are built into back panels and promote airflow are another option meant to solve the same issue.

Pack Access
Top-loading openings are pretty standard. Items not needed until the end of the day go deep inside.
Panel access: Some packs also offer a zippered front panel which folds open exposing the full interior of the pack, or a side zipper, which also makes it easier to reach items deeper in your pack.

Elasticized side pockets: They lie flat when empty, but stretch out to hold a water bottle, tent poles or other loose objects
Hipbelt pockets: These accommodate small items you want to reach quickly — a smartphone, snacks, packets of energy gel, etc.
Shovel pockets: These are basically flaps stitched onto the front of a packbag with a buckle closure at the top. Originally intended to hold a snow shovel, they now pop up on many 3-season packs, serving as stash spots for a map, jacket or other loose, lightweight items.
Front pocket(s): Sometimes added to the exterior of a shovel pocket, these can hold smaller, less-bulky items.

Removable Daypack / Top Lid
Some packs are designed with a removal daypack that is perfect for day trips, summit hikes or supply runs during a thru-hike. Some packs have top lids that detach from the main pack and convert into a hipbelt pack for day trips.

Sleeping Bag Compartment
This is a zippered stash spot near the bottom of a packbag. It’s a useful feature if you don’t want to use a stuff sack for your sleeping bag. Alternately, this space can hold other gear that you’d like to reach easily.

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How to Pack a Backpack for Backpacking

We have put together a quick infographic for you that summarizes the key take-away points. 

The Secret to a Comfortable Backpack

Learn the secret to a comfortable travel backpack. This infographic shows you how to pack a backpack and how to adjust a backpack for a pain-free trip.