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Backpack buying guide

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“Backpacking lets you get away from the city and go to places that are magical and special,” says Eagle Scout Jon Almquist, who works for national outdoors retailer REI. “Not everybody can see those places. In order to get there you have to pay your dues a little bit. But if you do it right, getting there is half the fun.”

Doing it right means having a backpack that fits all your gear and, more important, fits you. There are some tricks to pack shopping, so we asked Almquist to fill you in.

WAIT! Although the following is still great advice, the Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the June 2015 issue of Boys’ Life.

MEASURE UP

You wouldn’t buy a pair of hiking boots three sizes too big. The same goes for backpacks.

“If you’re not an adult, don’t buy an adult pack,” Almquist says.

In order for you to carry the weight properly, a pack must fit properly. Sure, some guys who are 16 or 17 are already pretty much grown and they need a men’s pack, but most kids don’t.

“Prior to picking a pack, it’s important that you measure yourself,” he says.

The measurement you need is your torso length. Use a soft seamstress tape and have someone measure from the base of your neck (precisely, your C7 vertebrae, the most prominent bone at the base of your neck) straight down your spine until it is level with your hip bone (also called your iliac crest). Most adult packs have a fit range of 18 to 20 inches, while youth packs are more adjustable and fit torso lengths between 14 and 19 inches.

INTERNAL VS. EXTERNAL

There are two types of backpacks: External frames have a metal framework on the outside. Internal-frame packs have their support structure hidden within the pack like a skeleton. External-frame packs are less expensive, provide better ventilation in warm climates and are best for carrying heavy loads on smooth trails. Internal-frame packs are more form-fitting.

“They bring the load closer to your body. They are more comfortable and stable so the load doesn’t shift and is easier to carry off-trail,” Almquist says.

CAPACITY

The amount of gear a pack can hold is measured in either liters or cubic inches. A larger capacity is not always better. Be careful not to overfill your pack and carry too much weight.

“Once fully packed, try to keep your load within 25 to 30 percent of your weight,” Almquist says. “When I was a young Scout, I used to carry too much and struggle.”

A good rule for those not yet full grown: Look for a pack with a capacity of 50 to 65 liters.

BELLS AND WHISTLES

Naturally, the comfort of a pack’s shoulder straps and hipbelt are among the most important considerations, but thoughtful extras and handy accessories are worth mentioning. Some packs have built-in pockets for hydration reservoirs; others have a removable top that can be carried as a fanny pack for day hikes.

“Make sure the pack has enough exterior pocketing to handle your on-trail needs,” Almquist says.

And look for compression straps that help keep your load in place when the pack isn’t totally filled up.

HOW MUCH TO SPEND?

“You could spend $400 on a big brand-name pack, but if you target somewhere in the $150 range, you’re going to get something very good,” Almquist says. “There’s really no reason to spend more than that.”

WHERE TO BUY?

Shop at an outdoors specialty store with a knowledgeable sales staff who can help fit you with the right backpack.

“Try on at least three packs and then spend the time having each adjusted properly by the sales staff,” Almquist recommends.

Fill the pack with gear to simulate the sort of weight you’ll be carrying on the trail and spend at least 30 minutes walking around the store fully loaded. The hipbelt should rest on your hipbones, not your waist, and the shoulder straps should come within three or four inches of your armpit when cinched down tight. Don’t be swayed by color or name brand. Pick the one that fits best.

183 Comments on Backpack buying guide

  1. Is it worth my money to buy the Teton Scout 3400 backpack?

    • Although the Teton 3400 is a bit heavy and has too many straps for a 3400 c.i. pack it is a good starter for a youth especially at the price. I would not recommend carrying any more than 30 lbs with it, though. The shoulder straps and hip belt are too soft to provide a lot of support. Good for a weekend trek.

  2. I have the Osprey Ace and it is great. My mom got it for me and it has been all over. The shoulder straps hook to back board that you can move up and down depending on how tall you are. It comes with a rain cover too.

  3. I bought a high sierra titan 65 perfect

  4. i can stuff my backpack a lot try buying and rei they’re really good.

  5. I want to buy a High Sierra Titan 65 Internal Frame Backpack, but I am afraid that it will be to big. What should I do?

  6. High Sierra is one of the best packs I had a small one for three years now I have the swerve nothing wrong with the first just a little small. swerve is perfect.

  7. I am getting foxhound 50 pack.

  8. I’m thinking about getting the osprey aether 85 ,is that a good pack? Please respond.

  9. Heading to Philmont next year; reducing my pack weight by purchasing a “Go-Lite” 45. Weighs only 2.1# and uses your mattress pad as the back support, really cool; works great. This pack holds the same as my old pack but weighs 4.1# less. costs $99.00. This is a pack for smart scouts; tough-light-inexpensive-roomy.

  10. I hope you’re right knife expert because I’m getting the Teton 4000

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm // Reply

      Nice dude! let me know how it works for ya.

      • The Teton pack worked beautifully on a 4 day backpacking trip it balanced the weight out great and it’s super durable . It got dropped and thrown around and it still looks brand new. Great pack! :D

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // January 9, 2014 at 12:37 pm //

        Glad to hear it!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // December 9, 2013 at 10:41 am // Reply

      I have hiked over 75 Northern Idaho miles with this pack. I bought it at a outdoor store for $70. Most stores don’t sell their products at retail price because the retail price is always too expensive.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // December 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm // Reply

      Go to amazon and look at the reviews… and at the price. I have hiked over 75 miles with this pack and know what i am talking about.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // March 20, 2014 at 10:32 am //

        The two comments above were directed at a offensive comment that Father Time made that, thankfully, BL removed.

        by the way Father time, my knowledge is NOT confined to knives!

  11. old cruiser // August 27, 2013 at 1:03 pm // Reply

    I’ve packed on three continents, on lots of terrain. You’ve mentioned some good gear, but if you’d like good design and very good value, check out Alps Mountaineering. Prices are competitive and they offer very special discounts for scouts and scouters.

    • I can attest to the value, quality and customer service of Alps. Call and ask for their Scout Direct pricing. Quality is much superior to the Teton brand and very comparable to the big name brands. I am a Scout Master and personally own 5 Alps internal frame backpacks. The Caldera 4500 is my favorite. I also own external Kelty(s), Gerry(s), CampTrails and Jansport.that I let my boys use. The external Alps are a knock off of the Kelty Trekker.

  12. Where can I buy some backpacks?

  13. I’m looking into a kelty yukon 48 external frame. Is that a good backpack?

  14. Learn How to buy // July 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm // Reply

    Can you provide some additional information about this.

  15. outdoor man // June 17, 2013 at 9:00 am // Reply

    Any osprey you can use them then sell them like crazy

  16. I have the Outdoor Products Stargazer 8.0.It has a lifetime warranty and is made of rip stop nylon.it has a good amount of space has a removable internal frame and a comfortable padded hipbelt

  17. If you are willing to pay alot go with gregory baltoro 75. It is super comfy and feels like part of you. It has enough space for a weeklong winter trek. Expensive though…

  18. The North Face Terra 65 is a very good pack for $170. I took it on a week long trip in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness and it had plenty of room for all my gear and was very durable and comfortable.

  19. I got the Osprey Ace for Christmas. Great Pack!! :)

  20. i’m looking to buy a backpack for under 70 bucks.

  21. i need a good internal frame pack but it needs to be in the high 50s or else my parents wont let me get it. please help me now

  22. STARSCOUT2500 // December 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm // Reply

    I have a GOLITE Jam35 that weighs 1lb.11oz.

  23. I’m trying to find a cheep reliable pack! Before January 2013 because I’m going to a Science Camp and I want a good cheep and reliable pack.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // December 1, 2012 at 12:30 am // Reply

      As usual I recommend the Teton Sports Explorer 4000 or the teton scout 3400. both are cheap but extremely reliable!

  24. nice

  25. Thrifty Scout // October 26, 2012 at 9:10 am // Reply

    I just got a 4000 by Granit Gear, it’s awesome. Thanks for the tip.

  26. My youngest son (17- Eagle scout ) got a Duluth Pack 2800 ci We are minimalists, now he uses it all the time, school too. Nice to see him figure things out. Multi-use packs are great .This brand is guaranteed for life too. Find that anywhere else!

  27. I got a Kelty Coyote and I really like it and it holds enough, but if I was buying a new one I would either by the Kelty Red Cloud (The Coyote’s big brother that also has a sleeping bag compartment) or a Kelty Yukon (So I could strap stuff to the outside easier)

  28. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm // Reply

    Hey T-Man did you ever get that osprey? If so, hows it workin!

  29. yourmominator // October 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm // Reply

    i have a kelty and it ROCKS!!!!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 14, 2012 at 9:19 am // Reply

      Good for you! what is the name of your Kelty pack?

      • yourmominator // August 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm //

        I call it George.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // September 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm //

        Cool. I love people that name inanimate objects because im one of them!
        I have a snowmobile named Debbie, my LMF is named Ogla, my assisted Keshaw is Speedy Gonzales, and my 870 shotgun is named Maggie

  30. If you are looking for a good backpack,rei or keltys are the best,live in Alaska. I should know

  31. I like the osprey 68, I found it for $150 e-omc.com my parents still think its too much. What would you suggest I get?

  32. I need a good cheap(hopefull) backpack.any ideas?

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // September 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm // Reply

      I would highly recommend Teton Sports Explorer 4000 or Scout 3400. They are fairly inexpensive ($70-$65 for the Explorer and $50-$45 for the Scout) they are made of RipStop and are very good packs.

  33. Off-Trail-Monkey // August 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm // Reply

    Kelty packs are number one !!!!!!

  34. Like a BOSS // July 27, 2012 at 12:09 am // Reply

    El lobo 75 ALL THE WAY

  35. Sorry chad that was my bro who doesn’t even have a teton. Which is better out of the osprey range: the aether 70 or the kestrel 68? no other packs requested

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // July 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm // Reply

      Thats ok bro. I would probably go with the Kestrel 68. But they are both Ospreys and Ospreys are SUPER good quality so either one would work great.

  36. Knife overlord // July 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm // Reply

    Try Granit Gear, If it’s good enough for the military it’s tough enough for a scout. Made in the USA too.

  37. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // June 18, 2012 at 10:02 am // Reply

    I KNOW A GOOD PACK WHEN I USE ONE AND THE 4000 IS DEFIANTLY A GREAT PACK!

  38. Xtreme Bakpakr // June 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm // Reply

    The Jansport Scout 63 is so boss, it’s better than the CEO of Jansport!

  39. Which is better: The North Face Terra 55 or Jansport Carson? Please reply soon!!!

    • outdoorsman // July 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm // Reply

      id go with a terra 55. I have a kelty redstone 60 which is bigger and about the same price. Both are good packs.

  40. It may have hit a few sharp rocks and i bought it from Tetons website

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // June 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm // Reply

      I have a feeling your not telling me the whole story but here’s some buyers advice… buy it from a store so you can try it on and look over it for any deformities, or if you really think a pack made of RipStop (one of the toughest fabrics) can just fall apart for no reason then dont buy it again, its your money and your choice of what to do with it. But as for me, Teton is my number one backpack company.

      • Just face it man! Tetons are mostly badly made!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // June 18, 2012 at 10:01 am //

        THEY ARE NOT!!!!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // June 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm //

        I have the 4000 and my brother and another friend have the SCOUT 3400 and none of our packs have broken in any way yet. are we talking about the same Teton? maybe you got a bad batch or something… all I know is if I know two other people that have packs just like mine and have been very rough with them for over a year then you are wrong Tetons are not mostly bad you just had bad luck that all.

  41. Off-Trail Monkey // April 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm // Reply

    Alps Mountaineering and Kelty both make great packs of all sizes. I like the internals best.

  42. Chad 101 you are incorrect! I brought the pack back and got a new one and that one fell apart as well. I then swapped it out for a refund. Tetons suck! Long live LL Bean and REI!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // April 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm // Reply

      P.S. Mine is a Teton Explorer 4000. INDESTRUCTIBLE!!!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // April 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm // Reply

      I dont care what you say Tetons ROCK!! I dont know how you broke your two packs but I do know this The Teton Explorer 4000 will always be there when I need it! And it will never Break!!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // April 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm // Reply

      Well what TYPE of teton did you buy?

      • The Explorer 4000.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // May 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm //

        dude, HOW on EARTH did you break it! It is made of RipStop and is an EXTREMELY tough pack! did you stab it with your pocket knife or what? I beg you try the 4000 just one more time… and buy it from a different seller.

  43. Trail Monkey // March 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm // Reply

    Look at the Kelty series; They have super nice waist belts and superior back meshing to help keep you drier in hot weather. The are also very light yet strong enough for any outing. I prefer the comanchee model, 3# 6 oz.with 6 compartments.

  44. dolphins#1fan // March 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm // Reply

    What is a good backpack for the AT trial and Philmont

  45. Internal frames are the best for off trail hiking of mountaineering.

  46. I going to buy the Rei pasage 65 backpack and I can’t find a pack I like better. I am going to philmont this summer and that hip belt looks real nice.

  47. I just bought an Osprey Kestrel 58 Backpack for my son. Just wanted to add that Osprey will repair or, if they can’t repair, replace any of their backpacks for free, no matter how old the pack is! Dick’s wanted me to buy a one year warranty on a Northface pack that wasn’t as nice. If Osprey has that kind of warranty, their packs have to be good! The built in rain cover sold me on it too.

  48. the schnauzer // November 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm // Reply

    I have the osprey ace and i prefer it over the rei passage. though smaller, it has a higher quality feel and come with a rain cover! hooray for osprey!

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // November 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm // Reply

      I use a Teton 4000. how much $$ is the Ace?

      • the schnauzer // December 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm //

        149 bucks. totally worth it

      • I HATE Tetons. Worst quality ever. I bought one for a small weekend camp and it totally fell apart. now I have to use my 35l!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // February 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm //

        Dude give Teton another chance! My explorer 4000 is very good quality and has lasted me about 50 miles of rough hiking and im sure it is going to last me hundreds more! Maybe there was a defect in your pack… whatever the cause I encourage you to try them again. If they work for a experienced off trail Idaho hiker like me, they can work for you!

      • Minecraft // March 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm //

        I’m a new camper and I need gear what do I need

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // April 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm // Reply

      My mom has an Osprey I dont know what it is called but I know its a really good pack! Osprey makes some really good stuff!

  49. hello I am going to buy an extreme pak digital camo backpack. is that a good backpack?

  50. Person number 1 // November 2, 2011 at 6:45 pm // Reply

    I am looking at the Rei Passage 65 but what could I do about Rain Cover

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