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Backpacks: How to Choose


Shop Manager Allison doing some backpack R&D.


Your goal is to find a backpack that fits your:

Trip length (are you going out for an overnighter or for a week or more?)

Personal style of backpacking (are you more into comfort or weight savings? Is your gear old and bulky or weight and space-efficient?)

Body type (your torso length, not your height, matters most). Se article further down page...

This article is dedicated to helping you achieve a good match on all fronts.

Pack Basics: Choose the Right Capacity

MTO sorts its backpacks according to their capacity and end use - the volume of space available inside a pack. This is expressed in litres, and it's often indicated by in a pack's name. Why litres? Compared to cubic inches (65L = 3,967 cu. in.), they're easier to remember and to compare.


What volume is right for you? It varies by person, sometimes by a wide margin. The following chart provides a general guide for which pack sizes typically work well for backpackers during summertime hikes. Your results may vary, naturally. Think about the types of trips you most often pursue to gauge where you fit on this grid:

Type of trip*

Pack capacity (litres)

Empty pack weight kgs

Day or overnight (1-2 nights)


.75 to 2

Weekend (2-3 nights)


1 to 2.5

Multiday (2-5 nights)


1. to 3

Extended (5+ nights)


2 to 3.5

* Spring through fall; winter trips usually require a larger pack.


Some questions to ask:

Q: How many days is my typical backpacking trip?

A: MTO uses trip length as one way to categorise packs for easier shopping.

Q: What if I do both short and long trips?

A: Consider 2 packs: a smaller, lighter model for short trips and a large pack for longer trips or cold-weather hikes. Alternatively, choose 1 pack that can carry enough gear for the longest trip you expect to pursue. Larger packs (60L and higher) will work fine for shorter trips.

Q: What litre capacity might be right for me?

A: 60 to 80L (multiday) packs, the most popular packs sold at MTO, are an excellent choice for summer weather backpacking trips lasting 2 or more days.

60 to 80L packs are also used for:

Backcountry skiing: for day trips, overnighters and sometimes 2-night trips.

Climbing: for summit attempts that require an overnight stay during approaches.

Efficient packers using newer, less-bulky gear can really keep things light on 1- or 2-night trips by using a pack in the 20 to 50L range or on 2 - to 3 night trips in the 50 to 60L range. Just be aware that packing light requires self-discipline and careful planning. If you can pull it off, though, the light-on-your-feet rewards are fantastic.

Extended trips of 5 days or more usually call for packs of 80L or larger. Savvy ultralight specialists, however, often go long distances with packs smaller than this. Just be aware that until you have mastered ultralight packing techniques, a pack can fill up pretty fast, particularly when weather is unpredictable.

Packs 80L and larger are also usually the preferred choice for:

Winter treks lasting more than 1 night.

Adults taking young children backpacking. Mum and Dad wind up carrying a lot of kids' gear to make the experience enjoyable for their young ones.


Shop MTO's selection of Packs


Q: What if I consider myself an ultralight backpacker?

A: “Ultralight” is a term open to broad interpretation. At MT Outdoors we apply it to experienced backpackers who diligently minimise bulk and weight, even if doing so requires the sacrifice of some comfort and convenience features.

Depending on the skills and aspirations of the individual backpacker, an ultralight pack can carry sufficient gear for 1 night, 1 week or even a thru-hike.

Q: What time of year do I plan to backpack?

A: Summer? Stick with the guidelines outlined in the above chart.

If you explore in the chillier portions of spring and fall, regularly spend extended time at higher elevations (above 1000 meters) or camp in winter, a larger capacity backpack is the best choice. Larger packs can more comfortably accommodate extra clothing, a warmer sleeping bag and a 4-season tent (which typically includes extra poles).

A note on packs and litres: Litre counts apply to a pack's medium size, the average of its size range.