Outfitting yourself for backpacking can feel like an overwhelming task. There are so many choices. Too many, I think. So how do you start?
Using one of two criteria, “light” (under three pounds) or “ultralight” (1 pound or less), you can reduce the number of choices by 80-90 per cent. Backpacker Magazine, either the hard copy or the online edition, is a good place to find the lists of features and weights of a large number of packs.
Ignore the guides, like those in Backpacker Magazine, that categorize packs into daypacks, weekend packs, and weeklong packs. Ultralight and light backpackers can carry everything they need for a week or more in a so-called “weekend” pack, typically about 2000-2500cc's.
Next, use the Web to find local outdoor stores that carry the packs you have selected to check out. Add some weight (stores usually have weighted bags for stuffing into packs) to get a feel for the pack and the fit.
The 2-Pound Target
I think you can get everything you need, including good padding, support, storage pockets and other amenities by keeping your target pack weight around 2 pounds. Remember, to be light on the trail, you need to keep the weight of the base gear – pack, sleeping bag, tent/shelter, and sleep pad – as low as possible; low teens or below is a good goal.
If you follow these rules, you’ll still have plenty of choices, but will quickly narrow the list.
I own two packs. My original ultralight pack, an Osprey Aether (no longer available) weighs 1 pound, 9 ounces and is about 2000cc's. Because of requirements for bear canisters in many wilderness areas and the resulting need for a little more pack space, last year I purchased an Atmos 35 by Osprey Packs at 2 pounds, 9 ounces. It’s small, sleek, relatively light and comfortable, according to Osprey, with loads up to 30 pounds. However, I am not suggesting you carry that much weight and the Atmos 35 doesn't feel comfortable for me when loaded with 30 pounds.
Buy Your Pack First
I recommend that you purchase your pack before buying any other equipment. By choosing a smaller pack, you'll be forced to choose lighter and smaller gear to fill it.
Take your time choosing a pack. Have fun. Don’t let the so-called experts intimidate you.
Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.
Other posts in this series:
- Lightweight backpacking for beginners
- Choosing a shelter: tent, bivy or tarp?
- Choosing a sleeping bag: How much is enough?
- Sleeping pads: The comfort factor
- Choosing a lightweight backpacking stove
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