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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; 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.


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; 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.


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; 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.


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; 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.


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; 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.


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.

104 Comments on How to Buy a Great Backpack

  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! 😀

      • 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 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 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


  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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