Guide to backpacks

Posted by Team Hawi on

“What backpack do I need?" is one of the most commonly asked questions by new hikers.

We try to explain some of the important features using some of our hiking bags

Size – Backpack size is measured in litres and is an indicator of capacity.  Runners use a small pack of around 8 - 12 litres, but a quality day backpack for a hike should be around 30 to 40 litres. The exact size depends on personal preference and how much you plan to carry.

If you re going out for multiple days, the size of the backpack will depend on how much you want to carry for the trip. We recommend 45 - 55L for weekend camping, 60L for 3 to 4 days and 70 - 85L for weeklong getaways.

Back support system – An ideal back support system should be sturdy, distribute the weight and have sufficient ventilation to avoid the sweaty back syndrome. Ventilation is usually in the form of a taught flexible mesh to support the pack on your back with a gap between this and the pack proper.

You can check out the backpacks your fellow hikers are using before you commit.

Hydration System – Hydration system starts with an internal pouch next to the back to hold a hydration bladder/reservoir. It also includes a small hole for the drinking tube to pass through.  The tube should have a neoprene (or other cover) to reduce the chance of your water freezing in high altitude. A hydration bladder is almost always sold separately from the backpack.

Hip Belt – These vary from a simple light padded belt on the smaller packs to a contoured and more heavily cushioned support belt in the larger capacity ones. A useful feature of some hip belts is a little zipped pocket, this is great for small items like a snack bar or lip-balm (Arimis!).

Sternum belt – These fasten across the chest and are designed to support and stabilise the load. They can be useful if you are hiking over complex or difficult terrain where stability is essential. Good quality backpacks will have an inbuilt whistle in the buckle. 

Shoulder Straps – All shoulder straps have a degree of padding, some more than others.

Tip: When trying on a backpack, fit the hip belt first and then adjust the shoulder straps.

Side Compression Straps – An important feature to allow you to cinch in a partly full pack and stabilise the load.

Trekking Pole attachment points – You will find these at the bottom of the pack, usually on the rear facing panel.  There is a corresponding attachment point higher up the pack to secure the shaft in place.


Elasticized Side Pockets – They lie flat when empty but should be deep and of a stretchy material to hold in place items such as water bottles, extra snack food and gloves. They are also useful to hold the sharp ends of hiking poles firmly and safely.

Lid Pockets – If the backpack you are considering has a lid like our 45+5L Bella 2166 (some do not, instead have a simple zip closure), then it should have external and internal zipped pockets. These are very useful for frequently used items such as gloves, hats and maps.

Rain Cover – Often, it is placed in a small zipped pocket at the base of the backpack. They can be quickly removed and pulled over the pack. Unfortunately, they are not foolproof. Do place your electronics in ziplock bags then put them in the backpack.

Separate Internal Compartments – These are a feature of the larger hiking packs. The bottom compartment is usually accessed via a zip. It is possible to zip out the divider to give one large compartment, which you would need to do if you are using a full size internal pack liner.



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