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what size backpack...i'm new!
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Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
what size backpack...i'm new! on 04/21/2008 09:40:20 MDT Print View

hey everyone! i'm pretty new...i'll be going on a 3-5 day hiking trip in the black hills in june and i'm wondering what size of pack i should buy?

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: what size backpack...i'm new! on 04/21/2008 10:48:33 MDT Print View


The general advice I like to give (and many others will agree) is to buy your backpack last. Buy the rest of your gear and then choose a backpack that holds it all and is comfortable. The disadvantage in buying the pack first is you will either end up with a pack that is too small/uncomfortable for the rest of you gear or you get a pack that is too big and bring along a lot more than you need because you have the extra space.

If you already have some gear, tell us what it is, and maybe someone will have a recommendation for you. Not to mention we just love giving advice on gear choices :).


John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Backpack size on 04/21/2008 11:51:21 MDT Print View

Welcome to backpacking - it's a really fun past time !

In my opinion; Bag size & frame needs mostly depends on the following choices / info: (Listed more or less in order of biggest effect on pack size &/or frame needs).

1. typical number of days of food you need to carry
2. Water sources plentiful or far apart ?
3. tent versus tarp ? Double or single wall tent ? Roomy or minimal size / weight ?
4. synthetic bag vs down, vs quilt
5. clothing needed for cold &/or wet
6. foam pad vs self-inflateable vs down mat ? How thick ?
7. Comfort items ? (Especially chair kit, pillow, etc)
8. Alchohol or butane stove fuel ? Number of people cooking for (Pot size) ? Daily ounces of hot water for meal choices ?
9. Water filter vs gravity filter vs chemicals vs light-pen ?

It's an enlightening exercise to add up the weights for the choices that yield more "camp-comfort" and compare them to the weight of the choices that yield more "hiking comfort" (ie: lighter weight pack).

Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
hmm on 04/21/2008 11:58:52 MDT Print View

well, heres all i know so far.

i have an Hennessy hammock, old school (really heavy) army surplus bag, small aluminum mess kit, enough clothes and rain jacket for 3-5 days. We will be carrying some of our own water and then use chemicals for other. and for food, we are going straight beef jerky as well as freeze dried meals for just two of us. Right now i have a Camelbak Kronos but i fear that that will be too small.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
size... on 04/21/2008 15:46:36 MDT Print View

If you're just starting out, maybe size is less of an issue for you and cost is more of an issue? If you want a decent backpack that will be forgiving to a backpacking newbie, I think the Mountainsmith Boundary is a good choice. I just picked one up for winter backpacking and at 75L, 4lbs (after removing the top lid and a few straps), and $130 from Campmor, it's a darn decent backpack. If you're using an army surplus sleeping bag, I'd recommend a large volume pack like this.

However (to confuse matters, lol), for most of my own 3-season backpacking, with up to 4 days of food, I generally use a ULA Conduit, which is a 50 L pack and weighs 20 ounces, though that's a frameless pack (you have to use your sleeping pad internally as a frame), and really doesn't work that well when you're packing more than one set of clothes, a synthetic sleeping bag, or a tent...just not enough volume. For loads under about 25 pounds, however, it's a great pack.

Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
what i'm really worried about... on 04/21/2008 22:41:02 MDT Print View

what i'm really concerned about is how to pack my sleeping bag on there...i think that i should have ample room it's just that my sleeping bag is huge! (i know i have to get a compression sack for it)...there is just no where to strap it!

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
what size backpack...i'm new! on 04/22/2008 00:45:42 MDT Print View

Could you stitch on some straps and buckles, or lashing points by hand ? Then you would get to use the gear you have on this trip, and take your time thinking about what to replace in the future.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: what size backpack...i'm new! on 04/22/2008 00:46:33 MDT Print View

There are very few practical backpacks large enough to put that sleeping bag inside. It could maybe be done with an expedition size 85L pack, but you will suffer from too heavy, too expensive, and too large later on. You would be better off to invest in a smaller and lighter sleeping bag and rent an appropriate sized backpack from the Rec Program at Black Hills State.

Or if you are absolutely in love with that sleeping bag, get an external frame pack like Kelty makes, and put the sleeping bag in a large compression dry sack that you strap onto the frame under the bag.

Neither of these sound like UL setups, so you may not get a lot of meaningful advice here.

Edited by jbrinkmanboi on 04/22/2008 00:49:12 MDT.

Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
well on 04/22/2008 01:08:14 MDT Print View

well i sure do love my bag...though it's weight is making me tempted to get something else!

Adam Rothermich
(aroth87) - F

Locale: Missouri Ozarks
Re: well on 04/22/2008 07:21:50 MDT Print View

You may think you love that bag, but try a decent down bag (or quilt) and you will soon forget all about it. Trust me...


Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
yeah, i'd like to on 04/22/2008 08:13:53 MDT Print View

i'd like to get one...just don't have enough cash flow!

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Rent A Pack from REI? on 04/22/2008 10:03:56 MDT Print View

Perhaps an economical solution for you is to rent a pack or sleeping bag from REI????

The cost might be worth it vs. spending your hard earned money on larger/heavier gear that you might quickly discard as you get lighter weight and smaller gear.


Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
... on 04/22/2008 10:06:19 MDT Print View

there is no REI close to me!

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Pack Size on 04/22/2008 10:48:09 MDT Print View

Maybe the best way to determine pack size (absent the opportunity to try out a bunch of packs) is to stuff your stuff into a bunch of garbage bags (don't forget to add food and water). I would buy a variety of sizes at the store and then see which one can handle all of your stuff (without excess space). I think that would give you a good idea the size of pack you need. A lot of packs have straps which allow you to tie stuff onto the outside, so you could probably make do if you buy a pack a bit too small. That way, you could still use the pack if you find yourself losing bulk (as well as weight).

As a general purpose, lightweight backpack, I recommend the Granite Gear Vapor Trail. At a bit over 2 pounds, there are definitely lighter packs out there (and ones that can hold more capacity) but I really like mine. The waste belt is great, the frame is strong and compression is really good. It has few bells and whistles, which to me is the essential part of ultralight backpacking. If you hunt around, you should be able to find one on sale somewhere. If you find that your stuff is too big for the Vapor Trail (which holds 3600 cubic inches) then I would recommend going to a different manufacturer. Unlike other companies (like ULA or Gossamer Gear, for example) Granite Gear doesn't seem to make any really big capacity, ultralight backpacks.

Jaiden .
(jaiden) - F
cheap down bag on 04/22/2008 15:01:42 MDT Print View

Well this may still be out of your price range, but I've heard good things about the campmor bag:

Avg. Total Wt. 2 lbs. 4 oz.
Stuff Size 7 in. x 14 in.
Temperature 20 F

It's not the lightest or the smallest, but it sure is cheap for what you get.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Re: hmm on 04/22/2008 15:21:53 MDT Print View

" surplus bag, small aluminum mess kit, enough clothes and rain jacket for 3-5 days."

Your gear choices are typical of traditional (heavy) backpacking that I see with Boy Scouts. Look at for recommendations on pack size for various trips. From memory, I believe 4000-5000 cubic inches is the traditional recommendation for 3 day weekend trips - but check since I haven't looked in years...

However, you should be aware there is a better way ! Only carry as much clothing as you can wear at one time & need to keep warm sitting in camp in the evenings + 1 extra pair of socks. Wear running shoes & 2 pairs of nylon dress socks instead of boots & heavy wool socks. Wear a bathing suit with mesh underwear instead of shorts. Use very light insulation (fleece &/or polypro long johns) - but couple them with a wind shirt &/or wind pants. Couple your windsuit with a poncho instead of a full rain suit and pack cover. Get a 30-40 degree sleeping bag and use it as a quilt while wearing your fleece and wind suit. Use a big tarp and groundsheet instead of a tent (add a sleeping bag cover (bivy) in the cold, and a bug net in the summer). Keep the 1 liter pot from the mess kit and get a lexan soup spoon plastic cup (+ medium sized ziploc bowl if cooking for 2 people). Use a foam pad, but place it on soft stuff like grass, pine needles, leaves, etc. Use a butane or alchohol stove rather than white gas. Use Aquafina (etc) water bottles instead of Nalgene or Camelback bladders. For "other stuff" whittle it down to a 2" swiss army knife, some bandaids, ace wrap, 1st aid cream, burn cream, a bandana, duct tape, a headlamp, extra lighter and not much else.

Alex Heesch
(heescha) - F
! on 04/22/2008 17:38:36 MDT Print View

those are some great great suggestions! thank you! so, when you say running shoes...what do you mean..just the basic pair or do you recomend one?

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
trail running shoes on 04/22/2008 17:54:48 MDT Print View

Not sure if that was directed back at the previous poster, but if it's an open question: lots of trail running shoes are out there. I own a pair of Vasque Velocity shoes. They're kind of heavy, but they fit well. That's a rare find when you're shopping in the size 15 range. I picked up a couple pairs of Montrail Hardrocks and Nitrus on SAC and am anxiously awaiting them to hit my mailbox. You can do a web search for "trail running shoes review" for several names of shoes. Do your homework and read some of the posts. A bonus would be to find a local shop that may stock them for you to try on before purchase. One thing I liked about the site is they claim a warranty as long as you keep the tags and fill out an RMA. I've not tested them on it, but I will if the Montrails don't fit.
Of all the things you use most in life, take care of your feet. If you don't, you will be reminded in every step.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Running shoes on 04/22/2008 20:43:08 MDT Print View

Any running shoes are fine for a 3-5 day trip.

Trail running shoes have more aggressive lugged soles (for traction in mud), slightly more stable "pryamid-shaped" heel foam &/or plastic "lateral stability" plates on the sides of the heel / sole junction, and a more rigid piece of plastic under the arch (so you don't feel the rocks).

New Balance 806's have been a historical favorite of the ultra-lite crowd, but it's because they last slightly longer and this is more important on multi-month "thru-hikes" of the appalachian trail, pacific crest trail, etc. It's MUCH more important to get something that fits perfectly than a little more durability though.

Also, a standard recommendation is get a pair 1/2-1 sizes too big since your feet will swell when you walk all day. For the same reason, a little extra width in the toe area is a very good thing. Err toward the 1 size too big if your pack is heavy rather than light. (This same recommendation holds true for boots too). You just lace them a little tighter at the beginning of the day so your foot doesn't slide around and cause blisters.

If your pack is really heavy, AND you have weak ankles that tend to sprain (or roll under) easily then light fabric boots that come up just over the ankle are probably better than running shoes. Just remember that airy and light is much better than waterproof and leather. I try to get my Scouts packs to 10-15% of their body weight, since otherwise they don't have a good time, and their shoulders and hips get really sore by day 3. At 15% of your body weight, running shoes are fine for everyone. At 25% of your body weight, running shoes are still fine unless you have extra weak ankles.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Re: yeah, i'd like to on 04/22/2008 20:55:58 MDT Print View

"i'd like to get one...just don't have enough cash flow!"

If it's not that cold in June, you may be able to get away with the comforter you use on your bed at home in the winter - as long as the shell and insulation are not cotton. It's not nearly as small and light as a 30-40 degree sleeping bag, but anything would be smaller and lighter than the heavy canvas, qualofill and #12 brass zipper on the military bags...

ps: You'll need the foam pad under you to stay warm in a hammock when the temperature is around 60-65 degrees or less. 24-26" wide ones work best for a hammock.