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How to Buy a Great Backpack


Backpacking expands your world, opening up vast backcountry areas for exploration beyond the reach of day hiking. But you’ll have to carry your portable home on your back.

Besides boots, no piece of gear will affect how much you enjoy this activity like your backpack. Follow the Gear Guy’s advice to make sure you get the right pack for your body and your adventures.

Gregory Wander 70 ($190, 3 lbs. 7 oz.; fits torsos 13-18 inches; gregorypacks.com): The Wander 70 could be the only pack a Scout ever needs. With 5 inches of fit range in Gregory’s Versafit adjustable suspension — including an adjustable hipbelt that fits a wide range of young waists — you could own this pack through high school. The internal wishbone frame carries 30 pounds comfortably, and the pack has tough fabrics (300- to 630-denier), multiple pockets and access points, a rain cover and the capacity for big trips — all while being light and compressible enough for overnighters.

HOW BIG?

The capacity you need in a pack depends, of course, on how much stuff you want to carry. For the beginner, opt for a heavier (read: less expensive) 65-liter pack that fits one person’s stuff — this is a good all-around size. Some packs in this category are fairly lightweight, yet they can comfortably carry 35 to 40 pounds.

For gear-intensive multiday trips such as mountaineering, look at 70 liters or larger. Bigger packs built for heavier loads have a more substantial suspension and more features — thus, they are typically heavier.

If you want to do some ultralight backpacking — maybe for a long-distance trek — you’ll likely need a pack that’s 45 to 55 liters and weighs no more than around 2.5 pounds when empty — which usually means it has minimalist features. This style of pack demands lightweight, compact gear, which can be pricier.

JanSport Katahdin 50L ($100, 2 lbs. 10 oz.; fits torsos 13-19 inches; scoutstuff.org): JanSport’s reputation for no-frills quality gear at a good price can be seen in this top-loading 50-liter pack. It has an adjustable suspension, and its 600-denier fabric will survive a lot of hard use. The Katahdin has simple but useful features, including large mesh pockets on the front and both sides, a spacious lid pocket and side compression. Its basic harness will comfortably carry 20 to 25 pounds.

GET THE RIGHT FIT

As a growing guy, stick to adjustable-suspension packs that can adapt to your body through the years. (Fixed-suspension bags are another option, and they are usually sold in more than one size — meaning you buy a new one when you grow out of it.)

Fitting a pack correctly is critical to comfort, and that requires knowing your torso length. Here’s how to measure it:

Stand straight and place your hands on the shelf-like top of your hipbones; your thumbs will point to a spot on your lower spine. Ask someone to extend a soft tape measure (or a string to hold against a stiff measuring tape afterward) from your thumbs to the bone protruding from the base of your neck when you tilt your head forward. That’s your torso length.

If your torso length falls at the top or bottom end of a pack’s fit range, it is possible neither the smaller nor larger size will fit well. If you still want that pack, try on both sizes, but make sure one is comfortable — or it’s not worth your money. You’ll find a better fit when your torso length falls in the middle of a pack’s fit range.

Expert tip: If all this measuring and pack-fitting sounds like too much, head to your local outdoors store, which could be a place like REI or a mom-and-pop shop. There you can ask an expert, who will help you find a pack that fits best.

BSA Technical Venturing 50L ($80, 4 lbs. 2 oz.; fits torsos 16-21 inches; scoutstuff.org): Need a basic backpack that leaves you some cash for other gear? This top-loading 50-liter pack has features like an adjustable suspension to fit growing hikers; ample shoulder, hipbelt and back padding; convenient zippered pockets on the sides, hipbelt and lid; a front zipper to the main compartment; a separate sleeping-bag compartment and side compression. But be careful with it: The 150-denier fabric isn’t as durable as others.

TRY IT ON

You wouldn’t buy pants without trying them on; the same goes for a backpack. Throw some weight in it and walk around.

Osprey Atmos 65 ($260, 4 lbs. 3 oz. to 4 lbs. 8 oz.; Three sizes, fits torsos 16-23 inches; scoutstuff.org): Osprey’s revolutionary AG (Anti-Gravity) suspension, a panel of tensioned mesh that enwraps your back and hips, feels different the instant you put it on — in a good way. All three sizes feature an adjustable harness and hipbelt, allowing a customized fit. It’s loaded with features: nine pockets, side compression, a trekking-poles attachment and durable fabrics (420-denier and high-tenacity nylon). The pack carries 45-plus pounds easily and still weighs less than 5 pounds when empty, making it versatile enough for weekend and weeklong trips.

PICK YOUR FLAVOR

Backpacks come in a variety of designs, differing in shape, how you open them (top-loading, one-zip panel access, roll-top), pockets and tons of other features. Don’t settle for a pack that doesn’t meet your needs and backpacking style.

Osprey Ace 50 ($160, 3 lbs.; fits torsos 13-18 inches; scoutstuff.org): Including the Ace 38 ($140) and Ace 75 ($180), there’s an Osprey backpack for any sized Scout. The adjustable harness covers torsos from 11 inches (Ace 38) to 19 inches (Ace 70). The wire frame and plastic framesheet handle loads of 25 to 30 pounds, and the Ace 50 and 70 hipbelts have the same adjustability as Osprey’s men’s Atmos packs. Throw in a large mesh front and side pockets, hipbelt pockets (on the 50 and 70) and a rain cover, and this is one of the best youth backpacks out there.

PRICE

What do you get for more money? Simply put, with backpacks, it’s usually a design and more dialed-in fit that result in greater comfort, more durable materials and construction for a longer lifespan, and sometimes cutting-edge technology.

My advice: Get what you can afford — and it is worth spending for more comfort, performance and durability when you can.

All prices are MSRP — manufacturer’s suggested retail price. You can often find better deals in stores or online.

29 Comments on How to Buy a Great Backpack

  1. i would really like a backback for outings

  2. hi I just joined scouts but I’ve done a lot of hiking and even some backpacking before and I need a good sturdy pack for backpacking anything that you would recommend for under $150? t

  3. Our troop collects used gear that scouts outgrow or replace. We loan it to new scouts to use until they learn what they like.

  4. Hi I just crossed over and i am going on a one and a half mile hike i have evrything i need,, but not a backpack. i need a blader but that is optional. please get back to me ASAP because the hick is in a week. thanks, me.

  5. im a new scout so what do i need

  6. Nice

    • go to academe sports has some great stuff good luck man boy scouts is hard but fun. DO NOT QUIT SCOUTS WHAT EVER YOU DO!!!!!!!!

  7. outdoorwoman17 // March 1, 2016 at 5:58 pm // Reply

    Hi! I’m looking for a really sturdy backpack. I want to start backpacking for at least three days (hopefully more!). I’m around 5’4 and I need a pack that will be able to hold my tent, sleeping bag/pad and cooking gear and the rest of my supplies. IS THERE A REALLY DURABLE PACK OUT THERE FOR LESS THAN $200?

    • You can get what you need for like 80 bucks good luck on you hike

      • I have a super durable pack mine was about $310 but is the best pack that youy could ever want. Aether AG70 i have back packed with this pack for 3 years and have taken it on 10 day trips. would really suggest it.

  8. Name Of Nicks // February 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm // Reply

    I’m 4,7 ish what is a good pack

  9. I’m about 5 ft2 and need a knew pack to start Boy Scouts. I’m about 95-100 pounds and I would prefer an internal framed pack. I live in New Hampshire, and there is rugged terrain and snow. Does anyone have a suggestion for a pack that’s under 180 that can stand these conditions and hold lots of gear?

  10. Using terms like “smaller guys and “larger guys” in your articled is not very helpful. How small is “smaller” and how large is “larger”? Since scouts’ sizes can range between a small 7 year-old and 6-foot tall teen I have no idea where my tall 10 year-old’s size falls along your two-category spectrum.

    • Matt — Torso size, as described in the article, is the most important measure. If you measure your son, it will give you an idea which packs listed in the article would fit him. I think the term “smaller guys” you are referring to is in the description of the REI packs; I’ve looked at those packs for my son as well, and if you look at the torso length specs at REI, you’ll see what they mean. The Passage 38 would probably fit most boys down through Cub Scout ages, while most boys 11 -18 would fit the 65.

  11. I need a backpack for a 4′ 5” person, any suggestions?

  12. SCOUTER HIKER // March 24, 2015 at 2:10 pm // Reply

    I was looking at an osprey under at 190$, but then I found the Back Diamond epic 45 at 123$, small, i am 5 foot 6 and am looking for a pack to last 3 to even a week hiking. Very rugged terrain. Any suggestions?

    • I have an osprey kestrel 48 that works great and I’ve held gear for 8 days in it and I’m gonna use it at philmont

      • i would go with a kelty red cloud
        if your a smaller frame you can even go with womens sizes.
        but kelty or gregory are the best in my opinion.

        osprey are so expensive and i feel they dont hold up!

  13. don’t forget about frameless packs they are a little bit hard to pack though because you have to do it precisely

  14. I bought a really good quality backpack at a thrift store for $20. It was really lightly used. Just shop at a thrift store and save a TON of money.

  15. I’m looking for a good pack for a younger scout that would fit for someone five foot three and is very light. I’m looking for something under $150

  16. I prefer using day packs without a any frame in them at all for multi day backpacking trips . I like the way it feels on my back and shoulders

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