Backpacking backpack suggestions
March 5, 2009 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a backpack. A backpacking backpack, that is. Uses will generally be 3 season backpacking for anywhere from a weekend to a week, at the most. My budget is 200-225. Suggestions?

Am I right to think I should be looking in the 4000 cu. in. range for volume? I've done a fair bit of backpacking, but I've always just borrowed gear and now I've started slowly accumulating my own so I don't know a whole lot about technical aspects.

Suggestions for specific brands are okay, but I feel like I already have a pretty good idea of that (Lowe Alpine, Gregory, Marmot, Osprey, etc.) Specific pack suggestions would be best. I'm 5'11 and male if that makes any difference.

Also, 225 would be stretching things. Stuff in the 175-200 range would be ideal. I realize dropping 400 on an Arcteryx bag would get me higher quality, but I just can't do that.
posted by Autarky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The most important part of finding a good backpack is trying it on and seeing what is comfortable for you--it's like buying a mattress. Go to your local R.E.I. or independent mountaineering store and tell them exactly what you wrote here.
posted by halogen at 10:55 AM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: Have you spent much time trying on different packs at a specialty outdoor shop? I used to work at one, and we'd spent an hour or more with customers, fitting them into our sample packs loaded up with enough weight so they could see if the fit was good. Sometimes it's not just about specs and volume, but about fit (like how one pair of shoes feels comfortable to you but not someone else).

So my suggestion is to to go to your local outdoor shop and try on several. Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2009

Gregory Forester.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:57 AM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: I just bought an REI brand pack that I'm pretty happy with, although I've only gotten a chance to use it once. It is certainly nothing fancy (especially compared to my friend's new Arcteryx), but seems to be made pretty solidly and has exceeded expectations so far. For the price (which is cheap), I think its hard to beat. I think that 4000 cu in is going to be a tad small for week-long trips--you can probably get by, but it will be tight. I do primarily weekend/long weekend trips so I was looking in that size originally, but ended up going with a slightly larger pack (4800 cu in) so I could do longer trips without needing a bigger pack, but YMMV.
posted by jtfowl0 at 10:57 AM on March 5, 2009

this will really depend on what size/shape you are. if you're pretty average, you can probably get away with a REI/EMS bag, but if you're huge, tiny, or oddly shaped you'll have to splurge.
i happen to be both tiny and oddly shaped, so i got a gregory bag- many of their models have harnesses and hip belts that swap out and come in multiple sizes and that you can adjust a gazillion ways. plus they wear like iron
posted by genmonster at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2009

Buy now, go to R.E.I. and get last years model. Spend a ton of time fitting.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2009

I don't know how much the weight of the pack matters to you, but here are some links to ultralight backpacks. You might also look into making your own backpack. There are a bunch of instructions on the web.

If weight/customization doesn't matter then going to REI is a great suggestion.
posted by gregr at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2009

A. I love my Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone. It holds 3800 cu in with the top rolled down and a lot more if you stuff the lid. You can find em for under $150 now. 3 lbs too If you can find a place to go try it on, go for it.
B. Listen to bluedaisy's suggestion.
posted by andythebean at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2009

I'm perfectly happy with my old, external frame Jansport Carson 90 (bought 5 years and many miles ago for $60 and is still perfect!), but if it breaks or I decide to go with an internal frame, I have my eye on the Kelty Red Cloud.

I second what others have said: Go try some on and see which fits you best. Take advantage of the staff's knowledge -- just because a pack initially feels uncomfortable doesn't mean a few tweaks couldn't make it perfect. BUT then go home and see how much of a discount you can get by shopping online ( often has good prices). REI is a great store for window shopping and certain types of gear, but you'll likely find much better prices elsewhere -- including their own website.

BTW- I prefer external frame because I like to lash stuff to the frame, and because it's just easier for me to handle. Most others will disagree.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2009

In contrast to what coolguymichael has said, please buy from a local shop. Please do not be that guy who comes in, spends 2 hours with a staffmember, and then buys online. You can buy packs online more cheaply (in part) because they don't provide you with that invaluable help.
posted by andythebean at 12:19 PM on March 5, 2009

Yeah, I should rephrase -- if you have a local gear shop, go there and spend a little more $$. If all you have is REI or Bass Pro or one of the other big guys, don't feel bad about buying online.

Unfortunately, I don't have any local camping stores to support (that I know of). I DO have some great local scuba shops, though, and totally agree that the service there is worth paying more for.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2009

let me rephrase: In contrast to what coolguymichael has said, please buy from the store (preferably a small shop; they'll have the most knowledgeable staff) that gives you good advice and spends time to help fit you, even if its a "big guy".
posted by andythebean at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2009

I've used both Gregory and REI-brand expedition packs, both to great effect. Most REI packs will fit your budget, as will some of the Gregory packs, such as this one.

I like the small outfitters too, but the staff at my REI is just as good at carefully fitting packs, and their prices are far better.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2009

In addition to REI packs, take a look at Kelty. Nothing real fancy, but tough, simple, functional packs. Mine's still going strong. I'm also a strong supporter of REI, and I actually don't have any qualms about supporting them over a local shop, partially since REI is local to me, but mainly because they have a knowledgeable staff, good prices, and an unbeatable return policy. (I'm also a member).
posted by craven_morhead at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2009

i'm not sure where you are, but Mountain Equipment Co-op is incredible. recently, i visited their Toronto store and was fitted for a backpack. my specifications (comfortable, durable, ability to house lots of stuff without being too bulky, less than $200) weren't too much to ask; a staff member showed me my options and fitted me on the spot. excellent service, tons of choice, and great prices. if you're in Canada, i'd give them a go.
posted by gursky at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2009

I have a Mountainsmith internal frame that I bought from REI, and I love it -- exceptionally well made, excellent fit, lots of adjustments, holds a ton, etc. Like others, I bought mine from REI and received excellent pre- and post-sales support.

I think the average moderately priced backpack now includes so many great technical features that it's really just a matter of finding the one that fits your body the best. Like a quality pair of boots, you want a pack that has the trifecta of good design, good materials, and good construction.

Go to your local store. Try on a bunch, load them with the ubiquitous bags of sand, and see how they feel.
posted by mosk at 1:51 PM on March 5, 2009

I'm chiming in with the others to say that the fit (with weight inside) is the most important thing. I have a Gregory pack that I love, though I would probably tweak how some of the pockets and zippers go if I had my druthers. But I bought it after trying on every pack in the store that matched my volume requirements, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Obviously you're never going to feel perfect while hauling 30+ pounds on your back, but you will try on packs that are immediately, clearly, not right for you. You will also find others that feel good, and from there you can narrow the field based on quibbles like the angle of the water bottle holders, or the fact that the frame makes too much creaking noise when you walk.
posted by vytae at 2:16 PM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: Ditto every "go to the store and get fitted" comment. Just be sure they load up the pack with weights so you get the feel of a full pack. Empty fitting is almost useless.

But... before buying a pack, I suggest you determine what gear/food you'll be carrying, and how you'll stow it. Will your tent fit inside the pack or will it be internal? Same for your bag/bedding/pad, and also for your hydration storage. Hanging any of this outside your pack rather than stuffing it inside will make a huge difference in the type of pack you buy.

I've owned eight packs (and still have four), and my storage philosophy has changed over the years. I used to stow my tent and bag on the outside of the pack, but now everything is inside. I line the pack with a thick-mil "contractor bag" to keep everything dry during heavy rains, and shove everything inside except for two water bottles, lunch and my emergency kit. My old packs with outside straps, pockets and such are no longer used, as this extra weight is superfluous. However, I hike with other folks that have pack flies, internal hydration bags, external pockets... and they like it. I think you should determine what you're going to carry and how you'll stow it first. Then start trying packs on (with weights) until you find the best fit (and best price for your budget).

I hope this helps!
posted by F Mackenzie at 3:50 PM on March 5, 2009

(internal=external in previous post)
posted by F Mackenzie at 3:51 PM on March 5, 2009

I got a North Face internal frame backpack from a North Face outlet store outside of palm springs for less than your budget. I can't remember how many cu. in. though, but I've had it ~6 years and many miles, and it's still in perfect shape, even with airline baggage handlers trying to hurt it.
posted by defcom1 at 4:09 PM on March 5, 2009

I have enjoyed my Gregory backpack but i do not have much experience with other brands.

Nthing getting fit up at the store. I also suggest bringing some load to the store you get fitted it. I brought a "normal" load that I thought I would be using and tried it out for a few minutes, the store was fine with that. If you are going camping bring your tent and bag and see how it attaches.

I would suggest checking out the local stores (which ever you have), EMS and REI are all over. I actually got my last bag at Paragon Sports in NYC, expensive but great selection.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 5:05 PM on March 5, 2009

Just a suggestion... speaking from experience, the thing I'd look for in my next backpack is a smaller backpack attached to the big one.

very useful. allows you to carry more in general, plus you can easily switch to exploring mode with a smaller backpack.
posted by PowerCat at 6:32 PM on March 5, 2009

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