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You are in the market for a new hiking backpack, but you are not sure what size is right for you.
This hiking pack size guide gives you an overview of the main backpack sizes and appropriate ranges depending on how you plan to use it!
It doesn’t matter if you are planning a multi-night backpacking trip or a summer full of day hikes.
This guide has you covered!
What Size Backpack Do I Need For Hiking
This is a common question for hikers, both new and experienced hikers.
The answer isn’t always simple because a backpack may work perfectly in certain circumstances, but it may not be as perfect in others.
It can depend on how much weight you are carrying on your trip, the weather conditions, how long you plan to hike for, and a ton of other factors!
The easiest way to break it down is to categorize backpacks into their general use and the backpack sizes most commonly best for that use.
Determining the daypack size for you comes down to the intended use/duration of your hike.
In my experience, it is best to have at least one day pack and one overnight backpack, if you are interested in both.
If you only plan to do day hikes, then stick with that category of backpack size.
Short Day Trips
The range for shorter day hike packs hovers around 20L. A lot of daypacks you find on the market range from around 18L- 25L.
This range will suffice for 90% or more of hikers.
If you are an experienced hiker and have your essential gear dialed in, you could get away with something a little smaller. Though unless you move to an alternate type of pack, (chest pack, waist pack, etc.) you will mostly find that packs under 18L are designed for kids.
Having a larger backpack than the 25L range is more beneficial for longer hikes, but you can opt for that size if you feel more comfortable with one in that range.
Longer Day Trips
There is a small sweet spot between smaller day packs before you start getting into backpacks for overnight trips.
I think of this range from about 25L-30L (though up to about 35L would straddle both usages)
This backpack size is perfect for hikes that you anticipate being out for 6+ hours, if you need to carry extra clothing or gear, or if you want to carry the essentials for multiple people.
In my experience, anything in the range of 30-40L capacity is ideal for single-night trips. (Or weekend backpacking trips, if you like packing light)
This size range gives you enough space for the essentials, plus a sleeping bag, tent, and a couple of other pieces of gear, if you pack strategically.
If you are on your first backpacking trip, you may want to opt for a larger backpack (40L-55L) as it will afford you more space. As you gain experience, you can dial in your personal gear list and move to something smaller if you prefer.
Additionally, if you are anticipating carrying extra gear (extra food, clothing, bulky gear, or any other gear), I would recommend starting with a little larger pack.
I used one that was in the 48L range for my first backpacking trip, and it worked out perfectly!
This is probably the category with the most flexibility.
For multi-night trips, I have used as small as 38L and as much as 55L. It really comes down to personal preference and how much camping gear and clothing you plan to bring.
It is also dependent a bit on how packable your sleeping bag, tent (plus tent poles), and sleeping pad are because some can compress down into a stuff sack nicely. Others are not as packer friendly.
If you are going to need extra clothes, a rain jacket, and a large tent, you will want something in the 50L+ range.
If you have favorable weather and have your gear list narrowed down to everything you need and nothing you don’t, then you may be fine with something closer to 40L.
It is also worth mentioning that you have a lot more flexibility with a larger pack.
Carrying 30+ pounds in a 40L pack is going to feel really heavy. (It is not designed for that much weight)
Whereas if you only need to carry 20 pounds, a 55L backpack will feel quite comfortable! (It is designed to carry a bit more weight)
What Is Included In Backpack Volume
The advertised volume of a hiking backpack includes the main compartment, any exterior mesh pockets, any exterior zippered pockets, and hip belt pockets. (if applicable)
It is important to know this measure of carrying capacity because a lot of people assume that the volume of a pack is just the interior part.
How Is Backpack Volume Measured
Backpack volume is generally measured in liters, though you may see some measurements in cubic inches. (1L = about 61 cubic inches)
There are two main ways you can measure the volume.
The first being just taking the length, width, and height of the backpack. Multiplying these measurements together gives you the total volume. This can be done for the main compartment and any pockets.
The other method would be to fill the backpack with small pellets (or any small object) and then pouring all the pellets into a measuring cup.
It is important to note that however you determine the volume of the backpack, that is the maximum space available. It is practically impossible to fill every nook and cranny of your backpack with gear.
Choosing The Right Pack Size
Choosing the right pack size comes down to how you will use it and your comfort/experience level.
If you are looking to purchase one pack that can cover multiple different trips, then something closer to the middle range would work best (30L-45L).
You won’t be able to do longer trips with a 22L pack. Alternatively, you don’t want to have to be carrying a 65L pack around your local park on your Saturday morning hike.
If you want a pack with versatility, I would recommend something around 40L. If I could have only one pack, it would be in this range.
I remember starting out on my first hikes years ago with a reasonably sized backpack (around 20L) and having it filled with anything I thought I might need. Over time, I started to remove things I noticed I was never using and really dialing in my essential gear list for hiking.
Generally, as hikers gain more experience, they shrink their equipment to fit their preferences from that experience.
For me, this meant I could do longer trips with shorter packs. (and the weight savings made the hikes more enjoyable!)
I recommend people to naturally go through this process. Don’t take someone’s 50-piece gear checklist and think that you need that for every hike.
I recommend people start with 4 pieces of essential gear for every hike. Depending on the circumstances, you may need more. I have found that things I like to carry, some people think is unneeded, and vice versa.
Deciding the size of your backpack that you need for your first hike can feel daunting.
There are a lot of options out there, and they generally all fall under “Hiking backpacks”.
Knowing your intended usage and your gear list goes a long way to determining the right size for you.
Whether it’s a weekend camping trip or a leisurely day hike, find the right hiking backpack size for you and enjoy your next outdoor adventure!