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Expert Buying Tips to Help You Pick the Best Backpack

Backpacking lets you explore places in the wilderness that most people never see. Other than boots, no piece of gear will affect how much you enjoy a backpacking trip as much as your pack.

Here is the Gear Guy’s guide to picking the perfect pack.

BSA Ultralight 50 L ($100, scoutshop.org): Functional and affordable, this top-loading backpack has features seen in pricier packs, starting with shoulder hip belt and back padding, and an aluminum frame. The pack’s 50-liter capacity can handle multiday trips. Side compression straps stabilize partial loads, and stretch material in the pockets swallow items like water bottles, snacks and rain gear. The pack’s fabric also mirrors what’s used in more expensive packs, offering good durability. Bonus: Its unisex design adjusts to a wide range of torso sizes. Fits torsos 15-21 inches, 3 lbs. 6 oz.

HOW BIG SHOULD YOUR BACKPACK BE?

Backpacks with 40-50 liters of capacity are generally made for carrying some personal gear — sleeping bag, pad, clothes, some personal items and snacks — but not a full share of team gear.

If you’re planning an ultralight backpacking trek for a few days, look at backpacks that hold 50-65 liters of gear and weigh no more than 2.5 pounds when empty.

A 65-liter backpack is a good all-around size for weeklong trips. Some are fairly lightweight yet comfortable, carrying up to 40 pounds, sometimes more.

For gear-intensive multiday trips, look at 70-liter backpacks or bigger, with a supportive suspension system and more features.

Granite Gear Blaze 60 ($270, granitegear.com): This pack hauls 50 pounds comfortably, thanks to a lightweight framesheet and foam padding on the shoulder harness and hip belt, both of which are adjustable and calibrated to specific torso length and waist size measurements. The six external pockets include two spacious zippered ones on the hip belt and a deep stretch-woven front pocket. The removable floating lid converts to a chest pack that carries clipped to the pack’s shoulder harness. With its low weight, carrying capacity, features and superior compression, the Blaze 60 ranks among the most versatile backpacks on the market. Fits torsos 15-24 inches, 3 lbs. 2 oz.

GET THE RIGHT FIT

If you’re still growing, 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.

Whether the pack has an adjustable or fixed suspension, fitting it 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.

A pack fits better when your torso length falls within the pack’s fit range. Try on the pack to make sure it’s comfortable. If it isn’t, it’s not worth your money.

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

Deuter Fox 40 ($120, deuter.com): From a brand known for its tough and well-built adult packs, Deuter Fox 40 is an adjustable pack sized for young people. At 40 liters, it has enough capacity for your personal gear, and its suspension transfers pack weight onto the hips, as a good pack should. It has two external pockets, and you can hang your gear off multiple attachment points. It’s also made with durable ripstop fabric. Fits torsos 11-18 inches, 2 lbs. 14 oz.

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. Find one that meets your needs and backpacking style.

Gregory Zulu 55/Jade 53 ($200, gregorypacks.com): For those who are serious about backpacking and ready to step into adult-sized packs, the men’s Zulu and women’s Jade find a sweet spot in fit, performance and features. Gregory’s suspension system features flex panels that let the hip belt pivot and flex as a person walks to prevent hot spots. At barely more than 3.5 pounds, this pack is built to haul up to 40 pounds comfortably, thanks to an open-air ventilated back panel and the adjustable torso length. Nice touches: the U-shaped zipper opening up the main compartment, and integrated rain cover and the large hip belt pockets. Fits torsos 14-19 inches, 3 lbs. 6.5 oz.

BACKPACK PRICES

Higher prices usually mean greater comfort, more durable materials and construction, and sometimes cutting-edge technology. But any pack will get you into the backcountry.

Osprey Ace 50 ($160, scoutshop.org): The top-loading Ace series packs, including the Ace 38 ($140) and Ace 75 ($180), strike a balance between moderate price and the qualities of higher-end backpacks. The Ace 50’s adjustable harness covers a 5-inch range of torso lengths, while the Ace 38 fits torsos down to 11 inches and the Ace 70 reaches up to 19 inches. The LightWire frame and plastic framesheet handle loads of 25-30 pounds or more. Large stretch-mesh front and side pockets and zippered hip belt pockets (on the 50L and 70L) offer abundant external organization, and an integrated rain cover comes in handy. Fits torsos 13-18 inches, 3 lbs.

TRY ON THE BACKPACK

Follow the same rule for buying backpacks as you would for buying boots: Try them on first. Throw some weight in a pack and walk around. After going through all the above steps, this step will help you decide if the backpack is right.

19 Comments on Expert Buying Tips to Help You Pick the Best Backpack

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

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

    Kelty packs are number one !!!!!!

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

    El lobo 75 ALL THE WAY

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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