Last Updated on May 15, 2020

In the article,  I mentioned that having a backpack too big pushed to fill it. When you choose a backpack hiking, so do not take a big one to be sure everything will fit in. In addition, a bulky bag (empty) weighs more than a small one – a useless weight that you will have to wear.

I do not advise either the opposite approach of choosing a small one, to be sure to go light (yes, I already heard that some people do this.

So, how to choose a suitable backpack volume? This is one of the questions that must be asked to choose a hiking backpack. And it is also the one that I am asked most often.

Before seeing how to choose the volume of best hiking backpack, let’s quickly see how to find it once you are in front of all these backpacks on this website.

Which volume to choose for your hiking backpack

Volume, Capacity, Litter

We often talk about volume, but you will also hear about capacity, litter or even capacity. These terms designate the same thing and are measured in liters.

Generally, the volume is indicated in the model name. For example, Supersacderando 35 would be a backpack with a volume of about 35 L.

This number represents the volume of the main compartment plus the volume of all pockets. Depending on the number of pockets and their location, two bags of the same volume will not necessarily appear as such.

Sometimes you will see two numbers. For example: Supersacderando 55 + 10. The second number “10” indicates the volume of the extension that is present in some backpack. This extension is usually present under a flap up (adjusting in height), as in the image on the right.

To choose the volume of his hiking backpack, I will not give you typical volumes because it does not really make sense. It’s not enough to ask me, “Francois, I want to go on a 3-4 day hike, what should I choose? “. In one case, I would recommend maybe 30 liters. In another, maybe 50 liters.

Instead, I will guide you through a few questions so that you can determine your needs and constraints and make the right choice.

Ask yourself the right questions!

When you choose a backpack, the obvious goal is for all your things to fit in without having to pack with your feet to close it (which is also a bad omen for seams and zippers).

Question 1

The First Question to Ask Is: What Types of Hikes Will You Be Doing With Your Backpack?

The ideal would be to have a backpack for each type of hiking so that it is very well suited. But in practice, it’s not really possible – especially financially!

Depending on your budget and the type of hike you are going to do, I advise you to have a single rather versatile backpack, or two (or even three) backpacks if you practice very different types of hikes. For example, you can have a backpack of 30 liters for small hikes and a bag of 50 liters for long hikes.

Of course, if you want to use a bag for several types of hikes, it must be able to contain the business for all these types of hikes. So, it will happen that your bag is not filled, when you will do a hike not requiring a lot of equipment. In this case, the compression straps are practical, to prevent your equipment from “moving” too much inside. The vacuum bag is a little heavy (compared to a smaller bag adjusted) but it saves you from buying several bags.

Let’s take a look at some different types of hikes and some of the factors that affect the contents of your bag:

  • The number of days of hiking.
  • Where you spend the night (shelter, tent, tarp, etc.) – for multi-day hikes.
  • If you need specific equipment (crampons for ice cream, kibble for your dog, etc.).
  • If you are completely independent (water and food), if you are refueling, if you take some meals in shelters.

Question 2

The Second Question to Ask Yourself: in What Weather Conditions Do You Plan to Hike?

The colder it is, the more clothing you will need to bring (and a “warm” sleeping bag) and the larger your bag will be. If conditions are wet, you will also need waterproof and spare clothing.

Which volume to choose for your hiking backpack

Question 3

Are You Going to Wear Other People’s Gear?

This can be the case if you are hiking with children or people of smaller size. This will affect the choice of the volume of your backpack. Similarly, if someone wears some of your material.

Question 4

Are You Going to Put All Your Stuff in Your Bag or Do You Intend to Hang It on the Outside?

Hanging up business on your backpack can increase versatility. But be careful, the hooked equipment must be stable, it is not annoying and it can be protected from rain if necessary.

Question 5

Do You Need to Carry “Unusual” Material in Your Backpack?

The 4 previous questions allow to determine the “classic” needs and constraints to choose the volume of your backpack, but there are some needs or personal constraints that only you can know.

3 Tips to Determine the Volume of Hiking Backpack You Need

As We Have Seen, the Ideal Is a Backpack:

Not too small, where all your equipment might not fit.

Not too big, which would not be practical, in which your material would “move” and which would not be optimized from a weight point of view. In addition, with a bag too big, you would be tempted to fill it with useless things.

If you need to remember just one thing from this article, it is surely this advice: choose your backpack once you have all the rest of your material.

This is the only way you have to know the exact volume you need. You will probably use your backpack for different types of hikes (which you have already determined previously). Gather all the equipment you will use on the hikes where you will bring the most material, without forgetting the water and the food.

Next, I suggest you use one of the following 3 tips to determine the volume you need:

Tip 1: Borrow knapsacks of different sizes from friends and try to get all your gear in, including food and water.

Tip 2: Fill trash bags of different capacities with all your hardware (not to mention food and water) or a bag which you know the capacity (travel bag for example).

Tip 3: Go to the store with all your equipment (food and water included) to try different backpacks. In addition, as the backpacks have different shapes, you can ensure that all your material fits well into the model that interests you. The disadvantage is obviously to arrive with all his equipment in a shop …

If you ever hesitate between two volumes (5 or 10 liters), I would advise you to take the largest, so it is easier to access your equipment. When everything is really “packed”, it’s not very funny.

Which volume to choose for your hiking backpack

Average Approximation According to the Type of Hike

As we have seen, you need to determine the volume of your bag according to your needs and constraints. I’m a little reluctant to give you typical values because it’s too general. For example, for the same hike, one person can have a bag of 35 L and another a bag of 70 L. So, if I do it anyway, it is to give you an idea.

These are only approximations, which are based on an average hiker in average hiking conditions (water supply possible at least once a day, no special equipment, nonextreme climatic conditions, not too bulky equipment, balanced sharing between teammates, etc.).

For example, this table is not valid for a person hiking in the high mountains and requiring mountaineering equipment, for a person hiking with children, for a person practicing ultralight hiking, etc.

This table should only be used to give you a starting idea. Never purchase a hiking backpack without first checking that the material you typically take with you fits in the bag.

Yes, but What Do I Put in?

If you have followed correctly, you must first gather all the rest of the material before you consider the volume of the backpack. But you are probably wondering what to put in your backpack. To give you an idea, you can download the list of material that I propose on the blog. If you are interested in a lighter list, you can take inspiration from the contents of my bag on the GR20.

Volume is not the only criterion for choosing a hiking backpack, but it is an important criterion. I have already seen some people with a bag too small and more material hanging on the outside than material inside. I made the mistake of the bag too big full. Maybe you’ve been done too?

If this article has helped you, do not hesitate to share it with your friends. Because if they choose a bag too small, you could end up wearing some of their equipment.


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