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Just like with boots, everyone will be different with what works for them. When looking for a pack there are a lot of variables to consider, especially if you are new to hiking. This guide will give you some personal tips from me and some great resources to help you when you are ready to buy your next pack.
How long will be you hiking for?
With shoes, you needed to know the style of hiking you are doing but with a pack it is more important to know how long you will be hiking on an average hike in order to make sure the pack is large enough to hold everything you need. If you are planning on day hikes that are 5 miles or less, you would be burdened by the excess of a backpackers pack. Determining the length of hikes you will mostly be doing is important before picking out a pack. Even if you know you will have one overnight hike or one multi-day hike, it still may be better to rent the pack for that trip and purchase a smaller pack for the hiking you usually do. I use a very small day pack for the type of hiking I do (Osprey Daylite Backpack - Found Here*) It works for me because I hike with a partner and pack light but if I ever want to do even one overnight, I'll need a different pack. I didn't spend more on an overnight pack because it is something I do so rarely, it's not worth the extra money at this time.
Carry that Weight.
Yes, that is a Beatles reference and yes I know that song is not about physically carrying around weight. But it's a good song to sing to yourself when trying on packs because you have to remember that pack itself needs to be as light as possible because once it is filled with all the things you need for your hike "you're going to carry that weight for a long time," typically uphill, sometimes in harsh weather. Some stores have weights to fill the bags with, so you can walk around and see what it feels like with weight. Just like I strongly suggest you walk around in your boots as much as possible, walk around with a filled pack as much as possible to see how it will actually fit on your body with weight in it. Almost any pack will feel great when you put it on empty, you wont see if it works for your body until there is weight in it.
There are different sizes of packs.
Here I am not referring to how much the pack can hold but instead what size body the pack is designed for. There are also packs designed specially for men and women. This is because of how the pack will sit on your torso while you hike. I am taller and have broad shoulders so often I fall somewhere in-between the men and women's style of packs (the pack I currently have is considered a unisex pack and it works well for me.) I did not know that many women's packs don't work for me until I started trying them on and walking around with weight in them.
Think about Ventilation.
This is a big one for me. I sweat a lot and a pack resting on my sweaty back can make a hike not so great, even if you are wearing moisture wicking clothing. Many newer packs are designed to not rest directly on your back and because of this they allow for ventilation. These packs tend to cost a little bit more but it is something you should consider before making your purchase. Are you okay with a pack stuck to your sweaty shirt for that four hours of hiking or would a little air on your back be worth the extra cost?
Here I have given you a few things to consider before purchasing a pack. If you are looking for a more in-depth information on finding the right pack for you, here are some great links.
Outdoor Gear Lab - How to Choose the Best Backpacking Backpack
Wild Backpacker - Backpack Buying Guide
Backpack.com - Backpack Guide
Campfire Chic - Not a buying guide but great guide on fit and load weight!
REI - Backpacks: How to Choose
And if you want to start shopping - Backpacking Gear at REI*
Picking a pack is a process that requires you to find what is best for you. Again, reading reviews on the quality of product is highly encouraged but you wont know if a pack works for you until you try it on. It could be the highest rated pack for comfort online but it still may not work for you because everyone is different.