Backpacking 101: The Backpack

Questions to ask yourself before purchasing your first backpack


Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, spring and summer always meant time spent outdoors. Whether my summers are spent waterskiing at the lake, horseback riding, hiking, or camping, I love being able to experience all of the ways that Oregon offers unplugged entertainment. We have such a multitude of camping and hiking options here in the Pacific Northwest that the opportunities are truly endless. For all of the camping and backpacking that I plan on doing this spring and summer, I realized that it was finally time to buy my own backpack.

After trying on about eight to nine backpacks in varying sizes and brands at a few different stores around Portland, I ended up deciding on the women’s Osprey Aura 50 Pack. Made for lightweight backpacking, thru hiking, and overnight to extended trips, the Aura series was by far the most comfortable backpack that I tried on. If you are an REI member you have until April 13th to use your member dividends and take 20% off a full-price item, and that means great deals are to be had if you are looking to buy any big-ticket items.

1.    Try on as many variations of backpacks as your patience allows
Have someone properly fit you and weight your pack, then take a hike around the store. This was the most important step for me. Originally I had been dead set on a different brand before I tried a few models weighted and realized how all the straps dug into my shoulders. If it’s not comfortable in the store, it’s probably not going to be comfortable out on the trail. Also, trying on as many packs as possible helped me to narrow down exactly what I liked and didn’t like as far as fit and features. The fit of your backpack could be the difference between a great trip and a terribly uncomfortable one.

2.    Read customer and industry reviews
I say this more as a guideline than as a fast and true rule, because nobody can tell you exactly which pack will be the best for you and your backpacking needs. Only you can decide which brand, model, and size will be the best fit for you. That being said, reading customer reviews of what other people used their backpacks for was especially helpful in determining the size of backpack I wanted. Nearly everyone who rated the Osprey Aura 50 used the backpack exactly how I intend to use mine. Also, in reading reviews you can pick up great tips and tricks from new backpackers to old pros alike.

3.    Be realistic about what you will use your pack for and/or what you can carry
Being an ambitious person by nature, I caught myself thinking, “Oh yes, I will absolutely use this for three week trips out into the wilderness.” Obviously, I was getting ahead of myself. Be realistic when searching for a pack. The 50 model ended up being a good match for me because 30-40lbs of gear is most likely all that I will be carrying. A few questions that helped me decide on my pack: will you be sharing gear with friends or family? What sort of specific gear will you need for the environment you will be backpacking in? How much weight can you comfortably carry for three miles, five miles, or sixteen miles?

4.    Think about all the possible scenarios that you could use your pack
Since I will be using my backpack for travel and overnight camping trips, my needs are much different than someone wanting an 85L pack for extended backpacking trips or expedition mountaineering. As mentioned above, you should be realistic in how you will use your pack, but also think about the all of the different situations that could get you your money's worth out of the pack. In addition to hike-in camping, I'll be using mine for travel. If you're trying to get multi-use out of your backpack, there may be a few other deciding factors on the one you choose. For example: when traveling do you really want a neon orange backpack visible from outer space while navigating through backstreets in Bangkok or Prague or Buenos Aires? Probably not.

At the end of the day it all comes down to how you want to use your backpack and what model is the most comfortable for you. Do you have any backpacking tips or fun places to go in the Pacific Northwest? Let me know in the comments. 

Adventure on, 


P.S. This is not a sponsored post, I bought my Osprey backpack with my own blood, sweat and tears (and money.) All opinions are all 100% my own.