How to properly size a backpack for hiking. We analyze 5 types based on travel

How to size a backpack for hiking

Picking the right sized backpack is very important. There is a wide range of backpack types and sizes available in the market.

Don’t waste your money on buying the large big backpacks that make you carry extra weight or too small that doesn’t even fit your essential stuff. Choosing the correct size depends on your travel needs and occasions. 

How would you pick the right size backpack?

Backpacks are grouped into many different categories depending on travel duration, style, etc. Before you buy a pack, make sure to consider the type, fit, capacity, features, and quality. This guide will help you choose the perfect size backpack. 

Let’s start with the Backpack types! 

Types based on travel

If you are planning to on a day trip, or for a weekend stay, hiking trip that will last a month, vacation, or mountaineering expedition, the choice of a backpack will vary with the occasion. Furthermore, the type and destination of the trip you are planning has a significant say in choosing the backpack.

For short day trips, there are small size and compact backpacks whereas large light-weight packs for a long tour. All bags come with the standard volume measurement in liters; you need to know which bag size you need. 


Capacity (L)



30 - 40

One-day trip

Weekend Pack



Expedition Pack


Extended tour

Bullet Packs


Climbing and hiking

Avalung Packs


For skiing

Hydration Packs

5- 50

For cyclists and runners


A daypack is the most versatile and common backpack type that has a length of about 2500 cubic inches. Having a pack with a capacity of 30 to 40 liters, you won’t have any trouble carrying it around on a single-day or short trip.

These backpacks are great for an overnight stay, weekend trips, or warm weather backpacking, where you don’t need to carry a lot of heavy gear. They also make excellent travel and school bags to carry electronics and books.

A daypack is ideal for carrying all your essential things such as a wallet, small gadgets like a phone or camera, documents, maps, snacks, water bottles. It is a perfect choice for a one-day hiking trip.


If you are looking for a multi-day pack that has a capacity between 50 to 70 liters, weekend-pack is the solution. It is great for carrying some additional items as well as clothing, tents, sleeping bag with more food and fuel.

This type of backpack measures 2500-4000 cubic inches in length and can work for a multitude of different trips. 

Expedition backpack

If you want to carry a lot of gear, then an expedition or extended pack is for you. It has 80+ liter capacity and designed to haul a ton of things, making them suitable for mountaineering or for extended winter backpacking to carry lots of heavy clothing.

These backpacks measure to be over 6000 cubic inches. They are also great for parents who are backpacking with children to carry the kids’ stuff in the pack.

Bullet packs

These backpacks are also called climbing backpacks with a capacity of 10 to 20 liters. They are made from ultra-durable materials to withstand damage during hiking and are different from regular daypacks.

A bullet backpack comes with unique features like rope, carabiners, and grappling hook attachments that aid in climbing or hiking. They come with mesh pockets like other backpacks for carrying a water bottle but have no external compartment.

Avalung packs

Avalung pack is also known as skiing backpack are designed especially for snowboarders and skiing. They come in different sizes ranging from small compact to large size for carrying a water bottle and essential gear.

These backpacks use the latest technology and feature air pipe or integrated avalung for survival during an avalanche. Moreover, they have extra space for holding your ski gear.  

Frame type

A pack’s frame is designed to transfer weight from your shoulders and onto your hips for more comfortable and convenient carrying. There are two main types of frame:



  • Light-weight
  • Plastic/aluminum or carbon fiber frame
  • Common
  • Easy to move around 
  • For climbing and hiking 
  • Heavy
  • Metal frame
  • Less common
  • Durable
  • For walking on trails

Internal Frame

The internal frame is more common nowadays, and there are a few ways that a pack can have an inner frame. Delrin metal tube or rods runs around the outside of the backpack, a v-shaped metal support rods, or even a simple plastic or aluminum sheet.

It is capable of carrying heavy loads of more than 15 pounds. Usually, the internal frame is narrow and offers close-fitting; it is excellent for skiing, mountaineering, and hiking activities that require hand and arm movements.

They provide stability and support during hiking by evenly transferring weight-load to hips. 

It is crucial to load your internal frame backpack properly to let the compression straps do their work allowing the holder to keep the bag tightly behind him for balanced weight and support on rugged trails. 

External Frame

An external frame backpack is for those who want to carry heavy loads. The frame is constructed from durable metal to withstand the weight and then layered with polymer and plastic that makes it stronger.

They are an excellent choice for trail walking or hiking on even surfaces.

The weight load isn’t carried on your back as they feature an exterior frame allowing you to hike in an upright posture.

As these types of backpacks have a high center of gravity, they offer an excellent transfer of weight to your hips. Also, the external frame backpack lets more ventilation of air during hot days. They are not so readily available nowadays. 

Frameless backpack

Some ultra-light backpackers choose a frameless pack to keep things light and comfortable. This type is more commonly used for day trips and features durable, sturdy straps attached to carry the backpack on your shoulders.

These don’t do as good of a job of transferring the weight to your hips, but this won’t be an issue if you are carrying light stuff.

The right backpack fit

The most crucial thing about choosing the backpack is finding the one that fits you comfortably. Backpacks are available in various torso lengths or frame sizes that can match your back size.

When you buy the bag, try on a variety of different sizes to get your perfect fit. Once you get a pack that is fit for you, you can then also use the straps to get help in size adjustments.  

The right fit for you is the one which offers:

  • Appropriate torso length size 
  • Comfortable hip grip

Many backpacks have a suspension that modifies to fit your torso. The suspension types used in packs are: 

  1. Fixed: No adjustability is offered, but they have different torso lengths to suit people of various sizes. The fixed suspension has the advantage of providing a close connection between the pack and user enhancing the stability.
  2. Adjustable: Featuring an up and down moving shoulder yoke, this suspension type lets the hips and shoulder space to lengthen or shorten to provide a perfect fit to different body sizes. In case you experience aching spots, there’s always an option to change the pack’s fitting.  
  3. Interchangeable: Some manufacturers offer different or customized shoulder straps, load lifters, sternum strap, and hip belt to people. 


Keep in mind that any elements you add to your backpack also add to the weight. Make sure to strike a balance between the ease of use of pack and additional weight that you wish to add. There are tons of different features that you find on backpacks, but keep in mind to look for features that add value. The common ones are:

Backpack Access: Most bags have top-loading access that opens up to reach your stuff. There are packs available with side zipper panels or U-zippers that give you access to the main compartment to get items that are in the bottom or middle.

Removable daypack: Some backpacks come with detachable pieces or removable reservoirs that turn into daypacks for quick day hikes and trips. The top or front lids are detachable for converting into hip belt packs.  

Pockets: Backpacks feature many types of pockets such as elasticized mesh pockets on each side to hold a water bottle, umbrellas, tent, etc. Two pockets on the hips are for small items that you need to stash like a smartphone. The shovel pockets in the front to store quick-reach items. 

Mesh contoured-back and ventilation: A backpack that allows proper air ventilation is excellent to combat sweaty back during prolonged, vigorous hiking. Most packs feature a back panel of mesh that is highly breathable for continuous airflow.

Waterproof fabric: Though many backpacks in the market are made from waterproof or water-resistant material like nylon, the water may pour in through zippers and seams.

For extra protection during rain, backpacks also have integrated rain covers so that the exterior and the interior fabric remains dry. Your stuff stays safe and doesn’t end up wet, smelly and moldy after a rainstorm.  

Padded straps: To prevent sore spots on back and hips, you should look for cushy padded shoulder straps and hip-belt that distribute the backpack’s weight evenly.  

Choose a backpack that is durable, affordable, and most comfortable to you! 

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