More Packs than Shoes

Updated: May 12

Trail Tips: How to Get the Right Pack For You

Let's begin by all admitting that there is no single pack that is good for all adventures. That's why gear junkies like me own as many backpacks as shoes! With that said, there are some key features you should consider when picking a pack.

  • Volume/Size: All packs and especially backpacks are measured in liters and the size is usually in the name of the pack. For a simple day hike you are going to want something in the 15-25L range. This will hold your food, extra clothing, first aid kit and water. For multi-day hikes you will need to be 35-50L. However, remember that every extra liter of space costs weight, whether that is because you will just fill it or because the pack is just heavier. I don't mention the mega sizes of 50-70L here because they are limited to the truly off grid type of expeditions. If you have that much weight on your back, you better be prepared for some hard work.

  • Fit: This topic could be an entire article itself. The most important thing is that the pack feels good to you which often means adjustable strap systems. Key things to consider are the chest strap. Is it big enough or small enough for you. You don't want to be maxing it out in either direction. Also the most important size aspect for a bigger pack is the distance between the shoulder straps and the hip belt. I like the Deuter adjustment system for its simplicity and range. My 15 year old daughter has one that is keeping up with her growth well.

  • Accessory Systems: If you are like me you want gear on the outside of your pack for accessibility, but you don't want to sound like a one man band walking down the trail. This is where accessory systems for strapping on gear come in. Essential for me are integral water bladder system, ice ax clips, stretchy outer pocket and compression straps with buckles.

  • Compartments: The most popular backpacks are top loaders because of the reduced weight and the ability to overpack the top of the pack. I am something of a hybrid guy on this. I have top loaders for my bigger packs, but I like a side zipper I can use to get to the bottom without unloading everything. In a day pack I prefer a front loader because I am usually digging in it multiple times daily.

I could talk about this topic forever. We didn't even touch on waist packs or running packs. If you come on a Top Out Adventures trip and want to geek out, you just let me know. Check out our main page at or email me at

Dave is the owner and a guide for Top Out Adventures. His outdoor background is rooted in ultra-running, which has given him the chance to run around the world in the Rockies, Himalayas, Alps and Andes. He is also experienced in mountaineering and scuba diving, anything to get keep him out of an office. Feel free to reach out to him on Facebook at Dave Smithey or e-mail him at


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