When picking out a backpack for a camping trip, a hiking adventure, or a tactical excursion, there are a lot of different things that need to be considered. One of the main questions that you need to ask, which will truly determine the kind of backpack that you buy, is the length of your trip. It is true that not all backpacks are equal in functionality – and the level of functionality depends largely on the duration of the trip the backpack is being made for. Because a lot of outdoor adventures rely on surviving on your own, you need to have all that you could possibly need in your backpack. This capacity, which is measures in liters, directly correlates with trip duration.
- Overnight: 20 – 30 liters
Overnight camping trips don’t require a lot of stuff, just the bare essentials.
- 1 – 3 nights: 35 – 50 liters
Anything more than overnight requires more preparation and more food. For 1 – 3 nights, 35 – 50 liters of capacity is good to put in the bare essentials, a book or two, and extra food.
- 3 – 5 nights: 50 – 70 liters
More than 3 nights almost turn your trip into a week long one. Pack essentials, extra food, extra clothing, and extra reading material.
- 5 night or more: 70+ liters
Anything more than 5 nights requires a bigger backpack! Decide on the duration of your trip and how often you’ll get a chance to restock as this will help you figure out how much of food and essentials you’ll need to carry on your back between fill-up points. The amount of stuff you need on your back will tell you how big of a backpack you need to get.
Once you’ve decided what size your backpack should be, there are further options for each type. One big question is whether you want a top or side/front loading backpack. Both have their pros and cons.
Top Loading Backpacks
These are a standard choice long duration and long distance trips and it is the loading style that you’ll find in almost all internal frame backpacks. It keeps your equipment and essentials closely packed to your body allowing for better balance. The only downside is that you have only one opening on the top, and if you’re not used to packing systematically, you’ll constantly find yourself in need of something that is at the bottom of the pack.
Side/Front Loading Backpacks
This is the style we are used to with regular, everyday backpacks such as laptop bags or book bags. They have a lot of different pockets that allow for better organization of equipment. They are great for short trips on medium-difficulty terrain, but not a great choice for longer trips because they don’t sit comfortably and the various pockets means that the equipment might shift and cause loss of balance – which, on rough terrain, can lead to serious injury.
So, when choosing a backpack, be mindful of the duration of your trip and also of how much accessibility you’re looking for. But keep in mind that, in the case of backpacks, there is a huge tradeoff between accessibility and comfort.