Have you ever been on an overnight hike where you've had to leave some things behind because they just wouldn't fit into your bags? Or have you been lugging around a backpack full of gym gear when a duffle bag might be more sufficient? No matter where you're going or what you're doing, the bag you take can be quite important – from comfort to size and even additional features. In this BCF'ing Buying Guide, we'll walk you through what size bag is best suited for which activities, explain the importance of a backpack with a frame for trekkers and hikers and so much more. Wherever your next adventure lies, BCF can help you choose the best hiking pack or backpack for your needs.
What is the best hiking backpack and camping bag?
The best hiking bag and travel pack can only be answered by asking a few more questions such as how long you want it to last and whether you'll be in remote locations (to ensure sections for food and a hydration bladder). You'll need to consider what you'll be using the pack for. In the case of single day use or simply to carry gym gear, you likely won't need a 150L travel pack such as you would for a few nights hiking and camping. How often you use it will also come into play as you may want to look into stronger, sturdier packs that are more durable. Speaking of durability, the weather conditions you'll be facing will also be a factor that can help determine which hiking pack is best for you. Don't forget to consider how far you will be carrying the bag and how much weight you intend to carry in it. We cover all this and more in the following buying guide.
What are the different types of packs and bags?
Backpacks and travel bags are the ultimate piece of gear for hiking and camping, able to store a whole range of clothing and other items while evenly distributing the weight. For a single overnight trip through to a week-long expedition, knowing the different types of backpacks available will help you find the most suitable option for your outdoor adventure. Holding anywhere between 6L up to 150L, each bag type boasts its own unique features and benefits, designed to serve different purposes.
As their name implies, daypacks are intended for single-day use meaning they are often smaller than your standard hiking pack. The smallest of the backpack family, day packs typically measure anywhere up to 50L and do not have an internal frame to carry heavier loads. Many daypacks are used with a specific activity in mind such as school, a short hike or climb, to carry gym or sportswear and gear and even commuting or travelling short distances.
The travel pack goes by many different names these days, also being referred to as the hiking backpack or even the trekking pack. Featuring thick and sturdy shoulder straps the travel pack has become popular among adventurers – particularly backpackers and hikers. Hiking packs offer good support with internal frames and additional loops or straps for sleeping bags and other such items. BCF's range of hiking and trekking packs have a capacity between 65-80L.
A cylindrical, watertight container, dry bags are mostly used in watersports such as kayaking, canoeing and rafting. However, they have also become popular for boaties and anglers as well as campers and hikers who travel through rivers or wet weather conditions. Using a Ziploc type mechanism, the opening of the bag is rolled down a few times and clipped together with buckles to ensure valuable items do not get wet. At BCF, you can find dry bags up to 35L.
Duffle bags are great for carrying personal items on short trips such as an overnight camp or for daily use as a gym bag. Though they have a large capacity (up to 150L), they can be quite heavy and hard to carry long distances. They are often built with cloth material though you may find a few made of studier tarpaulin for a tougher construction. Each duffle bag comes with a large shoulder strap or two shorter carry handles.
What size hiking pack do I need?
A pack too small means not enough room for all your goods and having to sacrifice a few items. On the other hand, a pack too big and you'll find it uncomfortable to carry with extra weight for no reason so it's important to find that perfect in-between. To find the right size hiking pack for your needs, consider what you want to take with you. Some items you might want to take with you, depending on what you're using the travel pack for and how long you'll be using it at one time, includes:
- Water – some packs come with a pocket for a hydration bladder while others may offer a mesh netting on the outside to slip a water bottle into for easy access
- Food – snacks and freeze-dried food or a camping stove and fuel for meals in the bush
- Clothes – a jacket for if the weather turns or a change of clothes if you're on a multi-day trip
- Sleeping gear – for overnight hikes a sleeping bag or mat to strap to the outside of your pack will come in handy
- Tech – speakers, a handheld GPS, PLB or if you don't want to carry your phone in your pocket
Once you've got an idea of what you'll need to carry, you can start to consider the size of the pack you'll need. Our BCF'ing experts have provided a guide below to help you decide.
- 10-30L packs are best for short, half-day hikes, school or work and single day tours
- 30-50L packs are suitable for extended hikes and one to two nights camping
- 50-110L+ are your largest packs designed for 3-7 days of hiking and camping and backpacking around the globe. These can also be great for cold weather camping as you can fit more of the bulky clothing that comes with subzero weather.
Read more about making everything fit in our How-To Pack a Hiking Backpack Guide.
Depending on the type of backpack you purchase and the size, there are several different types of features that may be included in your pack such as:
The Hip Belt
- Sits on top of your hips and secures your bag so it doesn't move around when walking
- Ensures the weight of your backpack is supported by your leg muscles rather than your shoulders
- May feature padding and lumbar support, making heavier packs more comfortable, as well as small, zipper pockets for east access to essentials.
- Should sit at least 5cm below your armpits at the front and sit snug over your shoulders
- Usually padded so as not to cause discomfort and chaffing
Load Lifter Straps
- Connect the shoulder straps to the top of the pack to help lift the weight off your shoulders
- Used to prevent the pack leaning backward and putting pressure on your lower back
- Should form a 45-degree angle from the shoulder straps to the pack
- Used to connect the two shoulder straps across your chest or sternum so they don't slip off
- Helps to secure and stabilise the pack
- An extra loop at the back or top of your pack that is used to correctly lift your backpack onto your back without injuring yourself
- Can also be used to clip in extra items
- Additional clips or loops for attaching items such as sunscreen, trekking poles, tools and more
- Inside pockets to keep everything organised and separated into sections
- Outside pockets for water bottles, tools, GPS, etc.
- Some packs have an internal sleeve for a water bladder; however, you can purchase a hydration pack separately for those that have an external pocket for it
- There are several different styles for openings of backpacks that will allow you access to different section of the bag
- Top opening is the most common though it is recommended you also purchase a dry bag or pack liner if not included
- Side opening can be more convenient as you can access each layer of items in your bag
- Bottom opening allows you access items at the bottom of your bag which tends to be things you don't need often or heavier, bulkier items such as a sleeping bag
- Some bags may feature padding along the back of the pack to ensure nothing inside will poke through
- Can also be made from breathable mesh to help with sweat
- Larger, heavier packs have a frame to support the weight and help minimise movement
- Creates an airflow between your back and the pack