Obviously, the sport is called backpacking, so the backpack is one of (if not THE) key pieces of gear to make sure you get right. I’m not even going to touch on the argument of external versus internal frame. When you think of the old school Boy Scout backpacks that have a big steel frame to which the backpack and other gear are strapped, that’s an external frame. Most modernly constructed backpacking packs are internal frame packs, which have a rigid structure built into the portion that touches your back and that’s it, generally.
The key things that make a backpacking backpack (or, “pack”) different from a school bag (or, “daypack) are this frame, the hip belt, and the sternum strap. A pack is designed and meant to hold up to 1/3 of your body weight comfortably and without putting excess strain on your back and shoulders. A daypack is not designed for this purpose. Therefore, if you’re planning on bringing enough stuff to survive in the woods for at least a day and a night, make sure you’re looking at a pack.
I use the Osprey Viva 75, which apparently isn’t being made anymore. Here’s a picture from 2015!
That’s legit the only picture I have of my pack without a rain cover on it, and right now it’s in the storage unit, so that’s what you get. PRO TIP: Get a rain cover that fits your pack size. These are great for rain and also for keeping the pack relatively clean when you put it on the ground.
Key thing 1: The hip belt should generally be at least an inch wide and padded with ventilation for optimum comfort. This is designed to wrap AROUND (not above or below, but AROUND) your Iliac crest, which is the portion of your hipbones that stick out. This area is the most structural part of your entire body and the place that will bear the weight of your pack.
Key thing 2: The sternum strap is typically much thinner and is meant to help balance the load of your pack from shifting on your shoulders. It should be comfortably snug and positioned in roughly the middle of your breast.
Key thing 3: Your pack should be sizeable. If it’s not, MAKE CERTAIN that you get the correct size for your measurements. Your outfitter should measure from your C7 vertebrae (the one that sticks out when you tilt your chin down) and your Iliac crest (see Key thing 1). This measurement is what you will use to select your pack size. An improperly sized pack will not fit correctly, will not distribute weight correctly, and will cause pain and possibly injury over a longer trip.
Key thing 4: CARRY ONLY WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED. Don’t buy a pack with a bigger liter volume than you actually need. If you do, you will be tempted to carry additional things that you don’t need, and TRUST ME, that weight is better off being water than additional shit you don’t need. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. When you’re preloading and weighing it, make damn sure you include however much water you’ll carry, because it’s the heaviest thing in your pack.
PRO TIP: When you are wearing your pack and the hip belt is secured, it should feel relatively weightless. This is because your hips are meant to be supporting the weight. If you feel a pull on your shoulders, adjust the fit and hip belt until you don’t. AT THAT POINT, tighten the shoulder straps until they are comfortable and prevent the pack from wobbling around. You may need to adjust the straps and belt throughout your trip as the composition of your pack changes (you use water, add water, just shove everything together because it rained and everything sucks, repacked everything neatly because it was sunny and breezy and everything is grand, etc).