Backpack Type Buying Guide

Provided by ProLite Gear

We suggest you also read our other articles: Backpack Buying Guide, Backpack Sizing, and Backpack Anatomy & Features.

Backpacks come in different sizes, styles, and available features. Many backpacks have been developed for specific use in mind and they can greatly differ in their Backpack Anatomy & Features. Knowing the basic Backpack Types are a step in the right direction for Choosing the Correct Backpack. In general, backpacks can be divided into the following categories:

Waist Packs / Hip Packs / Fanny Packs / Lumbar Packs

Volume: up to 10 liters

These are not officially backpacks but they can replace your traditional backpacks for smaller day hikes. The simplest versions consist of just a pouch and belts. The pouch and the weight of the waist pack is located in the curve of your spine near your center of balance. This makes these packs very easy to carry as they put virtually no strain on your body. Some more advanced versions feature shoulder yokes that increase the stability and maximum load. Waist packs that are overloaded will start to sag at which time you are better off moving to a day pack. A typical waist pack has side pockets where you can keep your drinking bottles for easy access.

Hydration Packs

Volume: up to 10 litres

Hydration Packs consist of a bladder with a drinking tube around which the actual backpack has been built up. Some hydration packs consist only of the bladder and some shoulder straps while others might have a casing and side pockets which make them real backpacks. Larger backpacks generally do not have a fixed bladder but have a special compartment to facilitate the insertion of a bladder and have a hole for the drinking tube. Camelbak is one of the best known producers of hydration packs.

Day Packs

Volume: 15 to 35 litres

The name Day Pack already gives away its intended use: Day Hikes. Day Packs are typically small-sized backpacks with shoulder straps and no hip belt. Some day packs might have a chest strap to keep your shoulders from being pulled back by the weight of the pack. As the day pack increases in size and expected load, the necessity for a hip belt increases and some larger day packs feature smaller hip belts.

Midsize Packs

Volume: 35 to 70 liters

Throughout the years, improved technology has caused Hiking Equipment to reduce both in volume and weight. This has resulted in a need for midsize packs that can be used for multi-day hikes with a small inventory. These smaller packs are also ideal for people who go on day hikes but want to carry a lot of stuff like cameras or books. Midsize packs will mostly have all the features of expedition packs which are handled next.

Expedition Backpacks

Volume: 60 litres and up

As your need to carry equipment increases so will the size of your backpack. Full-sized Expedition Backpacks can carry enough gear to keep you on the trail for weeks. Expedition packs use a broad hip belt to redirect the weight to the hips instead of the shoulders. A lumbar pad protects the base of the spine from the added stress of a heavier pack. The heavier the pack, the more important its balance and snug fit become.

Interval Versus External Frames

Internal Frame Backpack Pluses and Minuses:

Internal frame backpacks have a streamlined shape because the frame, a flexible one, is inside the backpack. Since the pack is flexible and carries close to the body, it offers comfortable fit, low center of gravity, flexibility, and a relative freedom of movement to the user. Those features make internal frame packs an ideal choice for rock scrambling, off trail, winter ski touring, mountaineering. The drawback with internal frames is that they do not carry unwieldy loads easily and can become quite unstable and uncomfortable if you end up lashing large amounts of gear to the outside of the pack.

External Frame Backpack Pluses and Minuses:

External frame backpacks feature rigid, rectangular frames, typically made of aluminum or a more flexible plastic/nylon. The weight carries higher than a pack with an internal frame, so correct loading is essential. The frame carries the pack away from your back, improving ventilation and making the pack a cooler choice. Since the pack frame is somewhat rigid, it does tend to restrict moment. External frame packs also typically have a higher center of gravity, making them feel a bit top-heavy unless loaded properly. However, unlike an internal frame pack, the rigid external frame can carry ridiculously awkward loads quite comfortably and offer numerous lash points for attaching items .This feature may be appealing to the parent carrying almost all the gear while the other carries the child. External frame backpacks are ideal for very large and bulky loads and for long backpacking trips. But they are not for mountaineering or skiing.

Variable loading/closure choices in packs

Top Loading:

Features one top opening into which you load, cram and stuff your gear. Many top loaders have an extension collar or tube that will add additional volume should it be needed and a floating top pocket to fit over the main compartment. Top loading packs re the most water-resistant of all the pack designs simply because there are fewer openings and zippers. This design is deal for backpacking, mountaineering, winter camping.

Panel Loading

For those who want easy access to their gear. You can open a horseshoe-shaped zipper and see all that is inside the pack. Will not hold as much as other styles, and if a zipper fails -- Oy vey! Ideal for light weekend backpacking and adventure travel.

Hybrid or Combination Loading:

Offers the best of both packs: top loading for stuffing to the gills, panel loading for seeing what is inside without rummaging. More openings mean less water-resistance. A raincover is a must. Ideal for adventure travel, backpacking, hut-to-hut skiing.

The Backpack Types mentioned above mostly describe the size and volume of the backpack and its intended use. They can still differ greatly in the Backpack Anatomy & Features. We will look at these in the next section.

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