What Size Should My Pack Be?

Photo credit: Gideon Haden ChomphosyKnowing how to choose the right backpack isn’t as easy as it might seem. You can’t just find a hiking pack brand, select a pack with a cool name, and pick a color. Well, you can, but that won’t result in a pack that meets your needs. While there are a number of things to keep in mind when buying a hiking pack, pack size is one of the most important features to consider. But how big should your pack be?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic number when it comes to choosing a hiking pack. There’s no formula or equation that calculates how big your pack should be based on days or distance traveled on the trail. Pack sizes vary sightly from brand to brand, people have different needs and preferences when it comes to pack lists, and no two people have identical outdoor gear.  In other words, the size your hiking pack should be will vary from person to person. For example, you can have two people going on the exact same weekend backpacking trip carrying a tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, water, and insulation, and one of those people will need a 40 liter pack and the other needs a 50 liter pack.

Here’s a general guideline to use as a starting point

Day hike: 10-30 liter pack (610 – 1,800 cubic inches)

This is your standard day pack range. Most people won’t be able to carry what they need for an overnight trip in anything less than a 30-liter pack, but you should be able to fit everything you need for a day hike in a pack this size.

Overnight hike: 30-50 liter pack (1,800 – 3,000 cubic inches)

Only minimalists in warm climates will be able to successfully pull off an overnight hike with a 30-liter pack. A 50-liter pack, however, can fit everything you need for an overnight backpacking trip. you might be able to push a 50-liter pack to the 2-3 night range in warm weather.

Weekend hike: 50-70 liter pack (3,000 – 4,000 cubic inches)

Again, 50L is the low end of the spectrum, and it might not be enough for more thorough packers. A 70-liter hiking pack should accommodate most people looking to do multiple day hikes less than a week long.

Multiple day hike: 75+ liter pack (4,500+ cubic inches)

If you want to spend a week or more on the trail (think thru-hiking the AT or PCT) you want at least a 75-liter hiking pack. Once you get into this size range, however, usability of your pack goes down. Only purchase a 75+ liter pack if you’re serious about multiple day backpacking trips.

Here are a few questions that can help you choose the right size

Do I prefer to day hike or backpack?

If you day hike more than you backpack, you probably want to shy away from the 75+ liter range. Of course, if you do more backpacking, you don’t want to waste your time with a 30-liter pack.

How many packs do I want to own?

This might seem like a silly question, but it can help you determine which size pack you should buy. If you’re OK with owning a couple of hiking packs, buy a large pack that’s just for backpacking and a small pack that’s just for day hikes. If you want to own just one pack, try to split the difference and find something in he 40-50 liter range.

What temperatures do I normally hike in?

The colder the temperature, the bigger your pack needs to be. Insulation takes up space, whether it’s in the form of jackets, extra layers, or sleeping bags. Warm weather hiking lends itself to smaller pack sizes.

Do I tend to overpack or underpack?

Not everyone is a minimalist, and that’s OK. If you like to be prepared for anything, you need a larger pack that can accommodate for that.

Seriously, though. What size should my pack be?

The best way to find the perfect pack is to visit your local camping goods store. If you’re in Northwest Arkansas, bring your gear to us at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters and load it up in a pack! Of course, pack volume isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a hiking pack. We’ll also help make sure that your pack fits correctly. Stop by and see us before your next hiking trip!

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