3 steps to choose the perfect backpack for your family
A backpack is not just any colorful bag with multiple straps and lots of pockets. It is a bag that has the power to make or break your backpacking trip experience. A backpack demands your full attention to the details, patience, and deliberation before bringing it home. I can say from my experience that finding the right backpack may get exhausting, especially the choices and all the jargons related to these backpacks make it even harder to choose one which is right for you.
Here is what I have learned from my seven years of day hiking and the last ten years of backpacking. I hope you will find it useful while selecting your trusty mate for your next adventure. Remember it is not a wand, which will choose you, you need to choose it!
Full disclaimer: I am not paid by any company, these recommendations are based on my family’s first-hand experiences.
Follow those three steps, and you will find perfect backpacks for your next outdoor adventure with your family.
1. Determine the size of your pack
For how long are you going on your adventure?
Are you planning a short trip of 1-3 days in the backcountry? Or your adventure entails 4-10 days of living in the wilderness?
Short trip calls for the smaller bag, I won’t recommend using your big backpack for shorter trips.
Where will you be sleeping?
Are you planning to sleep in your own tent? Or the trail has refugios, huts, gîtes, or homestays, which you plan to use?
Tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad take up a lot of volume in the backpack.
What is your plan for refueling?
Will your family cook meals themselves? Or are you thinking of dining at refugios, huts, gits, or homestays?
Food is one of the heaviest things in your bag, if you are not planning to cook for yourselves, you may not need a big backpack.
Will you have porters with you?
Are you planning something serious like high altitude in some remote place, involving porters to carry your stuff?
Lucky you! if you are planning to huff and puff on a rugged high altitude trail, keep your pack light.
Tip from the trail: Don’t allow countless options to boggle your mind. Unless you love to collect backpacks, you only need two backpacks. My husband and I never felt any need for a third bag during all those years of backpacking.
Here are my recommendations:
For Men & Boys taller than 5”: one 35-40 liter pack and one 70 liter pack
For Women & girls taller than 5”: one 35-40 liter pack and one 60-65 liter pack
For Kids: one 40-50 liter, preferably one which can grow with them for a few years
My favorite brands are Osprey and REI. We have been extensively using them without any problem. They both are highly adjustable and come with a hydration pouch. REI packs come with many pockets which you may find a must-have feature if you prefer to pack like me. Those packs are built to endure the rough handling by kids. Both come with a lifetime warranty, my daughter’s backpack had a little issue and Osprey exchanged her bag for a new one, no question asked.
Over the years, I have learned that two backpacks are sufficient to meet all our requirements, one small and one big, I never felt the need for any other backpack.
For younger kids, it is better to buy a lightweight backpack with a hydration kit. My son’s favorite is CamelBack.
2. Head to your local REI store and stay focused
Yes, I am recommending REI, because I love this company, its core values, and its helpful expert people. If you are not a member already, join the co-operative. You will get a decent yearly dividend based on your spending for more gear, yeah!
Once in the store, stay focused on the pack size you are looking for. It is easy to get off-track by those walls decked with bright-colored packs of mind-boggling features. Talk to an outdoor expert who will walk you through the pack fitting process, by measuring torso length and waist belts, determining the right packs in your required capacity.
3. Try short-listed packs and get your home for backcountry
Shortlist a few packs based on your personal preference, features (i.e., pockets), and cost.
Understand how to adjust those packs, get them fitted for you, fill one with rice sacks (REI has those to help you fill your pack), put it on, and shop for other gear. Try all shortlisted packs with rice sacks, and pick one which you like the most. Some bags come with a rain cover if your pack doesn’t come with a rain cover, buy a high-quality rain cover, which fits properly. You will be very glad about this later on the trail.
Voila! You got your pack and its cover, now repeat all the steps for each of your family members.
Tip from the trail: Let your kids choose their backpacks first, and wear them around in the store. Alternatively, make another trip to take home your packs. Selecting a backpack takes time, and little ones get bored quickly. We always take some interesting books with us on our REI trips to keep them busy or resort to the iPhone, if the situation gets dire.
Are you looking to buy or upgrade your backpacking gear? You may want to read this guide for backpacking gear.
Once all the packs are home, stuff them with some books and clothes and wear them around the home to get used to your pack. Make sure kids are fully comfortable wearing them and understand how to adjust them. In case you have any discomfort, get it resolved before heading out on your backpacking trip. One more thing, if it is your first backpacking trip, don’t forget to watch some extremely useful videos about how to pack your bag. Trust me, it is a science and if not done properly can cause back and shoulder pain even with the most expensive backpack. Now that you got backpacks, get your kids ready for their first backpacking trip, read great tips to start backpacking with kids.