Hey everyone this is my first post. Its been a while since I've done any backpacking (10-15 years) and wow has the gear changed and I'm trying to get acclimated.
I got rid of my old pack as I never really liked it, it was always too big and too heavy. So now I'm looking for a new pack, one that lightweight and comfortable, big enough to carry my older heavier gear, but small and light enough to allow me to eventually get to a light weight status.
My trips will mostly be long weekends, I can't imagine a trip over 1 week. What size packs do most people use and recommend, 30L, 40L, 50L? I think my last pack that I disliked was 70L.
Loc: Torrance, CA
The answer is, of course, it depends. The pack has got to fit your equipment and packing style. The standard advice is to buy the pack after you get your other equipment. You can bring everything with you to the store so you can see how the pack fits you with your equipment. That's great advice. I will add its not a bad idea to get a pack a bit smaller than you think you need to prevent you from bringing all the stuff you don't need.
I use a 60 L pack which I got as a newbie. When it was new I thought it was too small. Now, even with a bear cannister, it is too big for me by myself. As luck would have it I've started taking my son backing with me and his gear has more than filled in the missing space. If I was going to go by myself more, I would probably look at 45-50 L bags.
Loc: Portland, OR
I follow your thinking here and see how it came about. If you have no pack, obviously you will need to buy one. If you have older, heavier, bulkier gear already, you would like to replace it bit by bit, using the old stuff until you can afford to buy some newer, lighter gear.
The basic difficulty is that trying to carry a lot of weight in a small, lightweight pack usually doesn't work very well. The heavier your load, the heavier your pack must be to have a sufficient suspension system to carry that weight in anything resembling comfort. If your load is too much for your pack you'll be unhappy and it won't be the fault of the pack.
Your first job will be rethinking what you take with you to make sure it is the most streamlined, minimalist load you can manage. This includes possibly replacing a few old items right away with newer stuff that saves you the most weight at the least cost per ounce saved. Maybe replace your old stove with a homemade alcohol stove, and remove all the cotton clothes from your list by spending time in thrift stores looking for cheap synthetic clothes that you find comfortable.
After you've done this preliminary work of rethinking your load, you can move ahead with getting a pack that best fits that load. If it turns out your passion for backpacking is reignited, you will certainly end up replacing that pack further down the road, as you replace more of your old gear and clothes and possibly plan more adventurous trips. It is a process and you're at the first steps down that trail.
Loc: Portland, OR
If you think you've already pared your load as much as you are likely to, then the best-practice method for selecting a pack is to take what you have and physically load it into the pack you are considering buying and walk around with it for a while. At least 15 minutes but a few hours is a far better test of how you will eventually use it. You can do this either at a local outfitter store, using packs they have in stock, or else order one or more packs online and be prepared to return those which don't work.
As we've often said to the many people who've asked similar questions in the past (it's perhaps the most frequently asked question we get here) a good pack is not chosen by brand or capacity, but by how it fits your gear and your body. No one can predict that over the internet. You have to discover it on your own by trial and error.
Loc: Portland, OR
I'm not sure it will do you any good, but I usually use an approximately 50L pack for a summer season solo hike up to 4 or 5 days. I only know this because the maker incorporated the size in the pack's 'name'. They have since redesigned it.
For more than 5 days I would typically use my somewhat larger pack, the exact size of which I forget, because I've had it for 8 years and the size isn't printed on it anywhere. And they stopped making it several years ago. Oh, and the maker recently declared bankruptcy.
When I backpack with my wife, I typically use yet a third pack. On those hikes I act as the 'mule' in order to keep her pack weight below 20 lbs. I have no idea what the capacity of this pack is in cubic inches or liters. It was a no-name off-brand pack I bought long ago and modified for my use. It may be no larger than my other two packs, but it can carry a heavy load very comfortably, so I typically choose it for my 'mule' loads.
But, of course, what I use is specific to my gear and hiking style. For example, I never tie anything to the outside of my pack, so every item must fit inside, and I don't typically use compression sacks so there's a bit more bulk to deal with than if I did. YMMV.
One last thing, a pack may be advertised as, let's say, 50L, but that capacity may be designed and distributed very differently in every pack. One might divide it into compartments and pockets of various sizes. Another pack might be designed with a huge exterior mesh pocket that makes up a third of your 50L capacity. Yet a third pack might be no more than one big bag with no further pockets. Any of these configurations might be just what you are looking for, while the others would be extremely inconvenient, even though all of them are "50L".
Edited by aimless (01/27/1501:04 PM) Edit Reason: added a last observation
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I have only one backpack (although I have several day packs). Its body is a little over 40 L; even for a 10-day trip I've never needed the extension collar. It does have qute ample outside pockets, which probably add another 5-10L. I suspect that if the pack had no exterior pockets (not that I would buy it if that were the case), I'd need close to 50L. Do note that my gear is much lighter and probably less bulky than yours.
You can guesstimate your gear volume by packing it into a box (include food and water), making the top as level as possible, and measuring length x width x height (of the gear) in inches to get cubic inches. For purposes of estimating, divide cubic inches by 60 to get liters. Be sure, also to weigh the gear (subtract the weight of the box), because any reputable pack will have a maximum recommended weight that it will carry (usually available on the manufacturer's website).
Each pack is made differently, and volume measurements are not always standard. I remember trying one pack in which the stays bent well into inside of the pack, which made for more ventilation for my back but severely reduced the interior volume and would have made it impossible to carry a bear canister or anything else bulky. In addition, everyone's gear is different.
It's important that your pack not only fit you but fit your gear and be comfortable with your gear inside. The only way you can find out for sure is to load up your gear inside, and that means taking the gear to the store with you.
Box up your gear, plus the equivalent in bulk/weight of a week's food and a day's water, and take it to the store with you. It's best to go at a slack hour and make an appointment first (ask for their most experienced pack fitter). That's really the only way you're going to find out. Even if you plan to order a pack, do the store bit first, which will give you a better idea of what you want.
If you order via the internet, then have the gear plus food/water ready before the pack arrives. As soon as the pack arrives, without removing any tags, load it up and carry it around the house for a couple of hours. Boring, yes, but you'll find out whether or not the pack is a keeper while you can still return it. Be prepared to pay the return shipping charges on several packs until you get the one that works for you.
Edited by OregonMouse (01/27/1504:14 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Thanks for the advice so far everyone. I certainly understand fitting the pack to your gear which is a really good suggestion. I guess in my case its hard as I do want to upgrade my tent and bag, which are the 2 biggest bulkiest items. Luckily my first trip will be with a buddy so we can split a lot of common items.
Based on the comments realistically it looks like a ~40L pack would be too small, and I should focus more on the ~50L size maybe even a ~60L. I want to check out TNF Banchee, and Osprey Stratos and Exos packs. I know these aren't Ultra-Light weight like some of you use, but they are a lot lighter than what I'm used to.
Loc: Nacogdoches, TX, USA
It's too bad you already got rid of your old pack. You could have used that until you replaced your other bulky items. My pack is very uncomfortable on my shoulders after a few miles, but if it's a choice of that or not getting to go backpacking, I'll take the discomfort. Of course, I'll upgrade when the time is right.
The journey is more important than the destination.
Loc: Louisville, KY
You can save a ton of weight and pack space just looking at options for a tent... or hammock. I don't recall if you hike alone or with a spouse, which is definitely something to consider. I find on solo trips I can carry a LOT less equipment because I can stay comfortable much easier than my wife, who requires more luxury items. I use a 30 liter pack for trips of 3 nights or less and have no problem fitting my sleep pad, tarp, hammock, food, and even a small book. For longer trips you'll probably need to go 45-50 liters, or plan resupply points for food.
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