Ok, we’re gear nerds till the bitter end—we go deep on topics like waterproof seam tape, ski core construction, and gram-shaving bike components. But one of our very favorite subjects of discussion is: backpacks. Brands we love have spent years fine-tuning their backpack designs for different sports and situations, and it’s fun to see what options are out there. And it’s especially fun to browse the gently used backpacks on Geartrade. Here are a few packs to think about as you add to your quiver.
Daypacks are what you want for your standard partial-day or full-day hike. Typically, as with all packs, their volumes are measured in either cubic inches or liters. For reference, a liter (L) is roughly 61 cubic inches. A 10L backpack is on the small end. You could stuff a water bottle and a spare shirt in there—which is fine if you have a simple agenda of going out for just a couple hours.
Daypacks range up to around 30L, which is a generous space you can pack all sorts of goodies into to make your day safe and comfortable. We’re talking first-aid kits, jackets, lunches, lots of water, and snacks. As you browse and consider your daypack options, think about:
- How often are you going to get into your bag’s main compartment or top pocket? If you’ll be reaching in often, think about easy-to-reach zipper access that will make the process fast and less disruptive.
- How much do you need to bring? Short missions require relatively little, whereas long days demand the Ten Essentials and plenty more.
- Do you want a built-in water hydration system? Or are you happy with old-fashioned water bottles?
- Are you primarily going to be trail running? If you are, you can choose a pack that’s more of a running vest—which will bounce less and carry the essentials within easy reach.
- Do you value a hip belt and sternum strap? (They’ll feel important if you’re weighing the pack down heavily.)
- Do lots of interior organizer pockets make you happy? Some people are sticklers for having a designated spot for every item they’re carrying. Others prefer the simplicity of one or two big compartments or pockets–nothing more or less.
- Will you regularly be carrying a camera? There are daypacks with special compartments for cameras and lenses if you’re packing something really nice that shouldn’t get scratched.
- Are there any specialized tools you’ll need to carry on the outside? For instance, if you’re crossing any steep snow fields, an ice axe in hand will lend a great sense of security–and those are most easily brought along if you have a pack with a designated axe carry loop.
As you’d suspect, overnight backpacks are bigger than most daypacks. You’ll probably want to up your liter capacity to 40-45L to accommodate a sleeping bag, tent, and other basics. Many people skip getting an overnighter-sized pack in favor of a bigger multi-day backpacking pack for the added versatility. But, thanks to the easy affordability of UnNew gear on Geartrade, you can consider adding an overnight pack to your arsenal. Since it’s no larger than you’d need for a simple two or three-day trip, you save weight and spare your shoulders the extra burden.
For overnight packs, you’ll want to consider:
- Do you have a compact enough sleeping bag, sleep pad, and tent to all fit in a 40-45L pack, plus clothes, water, stove, and the like? If you haven’t updated some of these items in a while, they may just be too much for this size of pack and you’ll need to either downsize with a smaller bag or tent, or buy a slightly bigger backpack.
- Do you want built-in hydration bladder space? This is really nice in daypacks, but many people find it cumbersome with overnight packs, as you need to use your water container to cook, clean, and filter water into. And a floppy hydration bladder can be awkward for these tasks. So it’s up to you: do you crave that convenient water straw, or can you make do with water bottles?
- Speaking of water bottles, if that’s the direction you’re going, do you want a pack with exterior bottle holders you can easily grab as you walk?
- Do you need a rain cover for your bag? These are sometimes included, but they’re sold separately too and typically brand-agnostic. They’re a godsend if you get caught in a storm—nobody wants to settle into camp with soggy clothes and sleeping bag.
- Do you want a hip belt with pockets? These can be pretty killer if you like stashing lip balm, smartphone, or a rolled-up trail map within quick reach.
Here’s where you bring the big guns. And it’s where every ounce starts to really count. The magic equation with backpacking packs is to get the most carrying volume you can get for the least weight. It sounds silly to the uninitiated, but seriously: every few ounces you save yourself—let alone every few pounds—makes it far more comfortable to walk farther and longer, with less strain.
Multi-day backpacking packs can range anywhere from 45 liters to 50, 70, or even 85L. You only need to land in the high end of that range if you’re really doing something epic—but if you are, you’ll need the space for all that extra food and fuel.
Here, really consider the weight of the pack above other factors. Many packs have neat-o features like designated compartments for sleeping bags, lots of organizer pockets, and exterior straps for carrying extra stuff. These features are cool but come at a price that slowly adds up—the weight of all those zippers, straps, and fabric hangs heavy on your scapulas. So consider carefully.
For a backpacking pack, you’ll want to consider everything listed for overnight packs, plus:
- Really, how much do you need to carry? It’s easy to misjudge. To assess, take a pack you already know the volume of, then lay out the things you’d be taking on a long trip. Get a sense of how much would fit in your existing pack and how much more room you’d realistically need for all that plus extra days of food and a water filter. That can give a rough idea of what liter volume to get.
You can technically go for a day of climbing with a large daypack, but it’s a game-changer to have a pack designed for climbing specifically. These packs accommodate a climbing rope, coiled or draped in a tidy fashion, and tethered down so it won’t slide or fall out as you hike. If you have a trad rack, set of draws, shoes, runners, harness, and all the other accoutrements of a climbing day, you can drop those easily into a big central compartment. Specially designed straps tether the rope neatly in place if it won’t easily fit into the main compartment.
A few factors to consider with a climbing pack:
- Many range between 25-35L, with some even larger. Do you have very bulky climbing gear (i.e. a big ambitious trad climbing day with a beastly approach) or can you go on the lighter end?
- Are gear loops on your hip belt important? They can be a nice addition to the gear loops you already have on your harness.
- Do you want ice axe loops for winter climbing? If there’s any chance you’ll use ice tools, you’ll need a pack designed to carry them on the exterior. Because interior stowage just ain’t gonna happen. (Thanks, sharp edges.)
This is one of our favorite backpack categories because, in many regards, it throws details to the wind: just grab a great big pack that’s kind of weathered and sturdy. This is the kind of pack you can hostel-hop with, throw on the roof carry racks of buses bouncing along jungle dirt roads, and dump onto a janky airline conveyor belt without hesitation.
We love finding an old, tattered yet serviceable pack and taking it on just the kind of trip it was born for: an adventure trip. There are many destinations in this world that just won’t accommodate a dainty roller-suitcase, from ancient cobblestones to gnarly dirt roads. For these trips, source the biggest cheapest UnNew thing and report back on its glory.
For these packs, consider:
- The size of the pack and the size of the glorious unknown experiences you’ll have.
Have fun treasure-hunting for UnNew Outdoor™ packs on Geartrade. And absolutely tag us as you post photos of your backpacks’ adventures, big and small.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.