hiking backpack

How to Choose the Right Hiking Backpack | Auswalk

We all walk for different reasons. Some to suspend reality, some to experience reality, some to forget and some to ponder, but nobody walks for a sore back.

Einstein famously walked to ‘work out the complex problems’ in his head. Can you imagine he was wearing a backpack that cut into his shoulders? Goodbye theory of relativity.

That’s how important choosing the right hiking backpack is. So, we’re going to run through a few considerations, before you make that all-important purchase. First of all, be aware you get what you pay for, so the more of your hard-earned coin you part with, the more your body will thank you for it at the end of a five-day hike.

Also, this is not a sponsored post. We’d never recommend a Ferrari when a VW will do.

This is written with over 30 years of delivering walking experiences in mind, all wrapped up into a tidy little package, especially for you. Backpack size, you might say.

So, let’s get on with it.














Unfortunately, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ for hiking backpacks. Although that would make life a lot easier, it’s simply not the case. The right hiking backpack depends on the type of walk you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how long the walk will be. Ideally, if you walk a lot you’re probably going to need a number of packs.

How you choose a new pack is based on your requirements, not someone else’s. What size pack is needed is correlated to what you need to carry, what equipment and food you need for the length of the trip/s you will be doing

How long will the walk be?

Day Walks
If the goal is to complete a day walk or a supported multi-day hike, for example, then a smaller hiking backpack is in order. However, be wary of going too small. Consider the weather where you’re going. What time of year will you be there? Will it be cold? Wet?  You may need room for a few extra layers, or your wet weather gear.  On an Auswalk trip where you come back to a base each night a 25 to 35 litre backpack will suffice.

Longer Walks
If you’ve set yourself the challenge of hiking the South Coast track in Tasmania or the Three Capes Track, you’ll need a hiking backpack with a 60-litre capacity, or potentially even larger. A walk like the Coast to Coast or a Camino another long distance walk will require some thought. How are you going to walk it, supported or independently? The bag choice will be completely different for each option.

International or Domestic walking
If the walk is in Australia it may be easier to take a bag that is suitable to the task. However if its an international walk then there may be other considerations that you might have to take into account like carry-on bag size and or if the backpack doubles as your main luggae bag.

Sizing general Rules with a disclaimer

Please do not use this as an overall measure of what you need to buy. But as a general rule, these are the backpack sizes you might consider for the length of the walk in days. There are many factors as I have said that impact the decision outside of the length of the walk.

One day under 25 litres

Overnight 25 to 35 litres

1 to 3 days 30 to 50 litres

3 to 5 days 40 to 60 litres

5 plus days over 70 litres

AusWalk Tip
One of the tricks we’ve picked up over the years is to look out all the gear we’re going to need, then take it down to the outdoor store, and literally stuff it into a few backpacks and try them on.

And don’t forget the water. If you have a water bladder or a system of bottles that works for you, fill them up and bring them along too.

It’s amazing what you can find out when you do that, and nobody is ever bothered, in fact, most working in these shops are keen outdoors people too, and they think it’s a great idea.

One size does not fit all back Pack

One size does not fit all Back Pack




How a backpack looks is a key factor for many, but I promise you, how it functions is way more important.

Frame type: Internal-frame backpacks versus frameless

Frameless packs are only a consideration when dealing with smaller day packs or for carrying small light loads over a day hike. Most backpacks these days have an internal frame which are a little rigid and stop gear moving around in the pack as you walk.

Top or Side Loaders

You don’t need to worry about this too much. How the backpack opens will have no bearing on its performance. Choose whatever you prefer, and then focus on the following features instead.


This is one of the most important factors to consider in my opinion, especially so if sweat a lot. Backpacks are split into two broad categories. Some use foam padding that sit comfortably on your back. Then there are those with a mesh ‘trampoline’ type structure that provides an air gap between you and your pack. The foam padding style packs are OK with both light and heavy loads but make your back sweat.

I prefer the trampoline-style backpacks that create an air gap between your back and the pack and minimises sweating. These packs work well no matter what you load up your pack with.

Waist Belt
No matter what size you’re looking at, I’d firmly recommend buying a hiking backpack with a decent waist, or hip belt, preferably with some padding.

The belt transfers much of the weight you’re carrying onto your hips, allowing your shoulders to relax. A fully loaded hiking backpack supported only by your shoulders is a quick way to ruin a perfectly nice walk I can assure you.

If you’re unconvinced, once again try before you buy, and see if you can feel the difference. And if you can feel it right there in the shop, imagine how it’ll feel after eight hours of pounding across a mountain range.

Built-in Hydration Sleeve
These are common these days but if you don’t like sucking through a hose from your water bladder to drink then don’t worry about it. The sleeves can be internal or external, external ones are easier to top up your bladder.

Extremely handy for those regularly used items such as sunscreen, mosquito repellent, cameras or mobile phones – switched to silent mode of course.

If you’re a photographer, easy access to side or top pockets is going to be very useful. Make sure they can fit your lenses and any other equipment you might need on a regular basis.

Although colour for style is secondary, colour for function can be quite important.  

Bright colours are handy for groups, so that Guides and walkers, for example, can easily spot each other out in the wild. As can rescue teams in case of an accident, heaven forbid.

Natural colours on the other hand, such as an olive green or a drab ochre, are much more suitable while looking for wildlife. So if you’re planning a walking safari, neon pink might not be the best look.


The days of external frames and heavy canvas bags that weigh a ton are well behind us, thank goodness.

Most well-designed larger backpacks now have internal frames made from lightweight materials, and the fabric will generally be waterproof to a certain extent.

‘Showerproof’ is what most claim, meaning you’ll be OK for a short time in light drizzle. For extended periods, however, or in a deluge you’ll still need a rain cover and an internal waterproof liner.

Rain Cover
Many hiking backpacks come with a rain cover included, often hidden in a pocket at the bottom so make sure you have a good look before you buy a piece of equipment you don’t need. This is the best option.

Waterproof Liners
You can buy these in shops, however, we’ve found that plastic bags and heavy-duty garbage bags can do the job, but not quite as well.

AusWalk Tip
Be sure to keep your most precious items in a ziplock bag, and put that inside a garbage bag (even two) inside your pack if you think you’re going to be out in the rain for a while.    


Much like yourself at the end of a week-long hike, your hiking backpack will be subject to some wear and tear. Buckles and zippers are generally the weakest points, and you should first ensure the zippers are heavy-duty, sliding easily back and forth before you slide over your cash.

Metal vs Plastic Zippers
It’s often said that metal zippers are less likely to warp or break than plastic ones. While that may have been the case in the past, technology from the yachting industry has improved plastic zippers no end.

In my opinion, they’re now more durable than their metal counterparts, with the added benefit of being waterproof, and easier to operate in muddy conditions.

When you look at a bag you’ll be able to tell if the plastic zippers are cheap and likely to break. If they’re well made, then it’s plastic every time for me now.

Buckles & Clips
Buckles and clips are another weak point, however, they’re easily replaced, and if I’m going on a long walk I often throw a few spares in the bag. Many outdoor stores stock replacement buckles, like the Sea to Summit Range for example.

AusWalk Tip
Or you could try Spotlight (the Australian sewing shop) for a range of generic buckles that will do the same job, for less cost. You’d be surprised how much useful ‘stuff’ you can find in there, that’s nothing to do with sewing!

Deuter backpack

Deuter backpack



Would you buy a pair of shoes that don’t fit you properly? No. Same with your backpack.
All of the following items are about comfort and fit. So if you like being comfortable, read on.

The first thing to check is that the straps have adequate padding. If not they’ll bite into your shoulders, and you certainly don’t want that. As mentioned earlier, also try the backpack fully loaded, to see how it feels with a bit of weight in it.

Make sure the pack is constructed to allow airflow between your back, and the hiking backpack.
This will prevent excessive sweating, especially important in warmer conditions.

The best hiking backpacks often have some form of netting on the back too. This keeps more of the load off your lower back, helping you not to sweat so much in the first place.

Adjustable Straps
As a key element in comfort, adjustable straps are simply a must.

At the very least, you need to be able to loosen and tighten the shoulder straps, the waist straps, and the heightadjustable sternum strap. All of these have a significant effect on how a bag sits on your back.

The better a backpack fits, the lighter the load will feel too.

A good bag will also allow you to adjust the length of the harness, altering the position where the shoulder straps attach to the hiking backpack. This means you can balance the weight in the bag correctly, taking even more stress off your back.

Outdoor stores often have a measuring and fitting service for good quality packs – take them up on it if you get the chance!

Women’s Backpacks
Some brands are now offering backpacks designed specifically for women, with sizes and harness configurations tailored to their body shapes. So if you’re struggling to find a pack that feels just right, give them a try.

Deuter Womens back pack 2

Deuter Women’s backpack


If you follow the advice above, you’re going to find out what a hiking backpack feels like when it’s fully loaded. Probably the most important factor when deciding on a new hiking backpack.

Ten kilos feels very different from five when it’s on your back I can assure you, so please do try before you buy. Even if you don’t have all your gear with you, some stores have ‘inserts’ of a variety of weights that you can experiment with, if you just ask.

Again, don’t forget the conditions. In winter you might need extra room for warm layers or wet weather gear, while in summer you’re likely to need a lot more water.

Two or three litres at least, for a full day walk in the heat.

So make sure your estimate of weight is as accurate as possible.

The very exercise of loading all your gear into a pack can sometimes help you trim down to the bare essentials too. Do you really need that bottle of red? Maybe get it delivered to your accommodation for the night instead, no?

Be sure to carry only what you need, is always a good guide for walking trips.



Sorry, all of the good backpacks cost more. None of them are exactly on the cheap side but they are worth it. It is as nearly as important as the right walking shoes. A good backpack will not cause the shoulder and back aches that a cheap backpack will. believe me. But it is a bit like buying a bed, it’s the most used piece of furniture in anyone’s house and needs the same consideration.



I have a number of packs I use for different types of walks, but then again I do walk an awful lot – it’s my job!

Most of our Guides, myself included, use Mont or Deuter backpacks. Mont is an Australian brand that’s extremely well-constructed, and Deuter is a German backpack that’s, well, it’s German-engineered, so enough said there. On an Auswalk trip where you come back to a base each night a 25 to 35-litre backpack will suffice.

For full-size packs, you might want to consider the 65-litre plus range from Osprey, an American brand with a great reputation.

All of these companies have excellent products, however, as we said at the beginning you pay for quality in this game – so they’re not exactly on the cheap side.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be walking a lot, what price do you put on your comfort?



And that’s it! Seems like a lot to take in.

In the end it’s all about getting something that’s comfortable, that’s going to last, and will carry everything you need it to. That’s all really.

Get those three things right, and you’ll be fine.

Best of luck with your choice, and I’ll see you on the track. If you are looking for a last minute walk click here!



How to Choose the Right Hiking Backpack | Auswalk has 2 Comments

  1. Nola Tyler

    12 December, 2018 at 8:19 AM

    You send the newsletter and I can read up on all these beaut walks thanks nola

    • majaduvnjak

      12 December, 2018 at 11:46 AM

      It’s great to hear that you’re enjoying our news Nola. Thank you for letting us know.

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