Backpack recommendations for the thoroughly confused
May 28, 2016 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I'll be honeymooning in Iceland soon, and we'll be doing lots of light hiking and general wandering around. I'd like to take a backpack, but there seem to be lots of options and I'm not sure what I'd want.

- I'm rather out of shape. On bike rides I get a very sweaty back if wearing a backpack. That's not so bad when I have a shower waiting for me, but might get uncomfortable on long hikes followed by long drives. So breathable and light would be nice. Definitely not the monster-sized "backpacking through Europe" things I've seen.

- I'm 6'6" tall. Smaller backpacks can be uncomfortable.

- I'll be carrying maps, lots of water, and at times a jacket or sweatshirt, so it should be able to accomodate all of those.

- It would be nice if it would work for future more generic backpack use (biking to and from work mostly, but also some domestic plane travel).

I'd love both specific recommendations as well as advice on how to narrow down the 34,810 Amazon results for "hiking backpack".
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was reluctant to get a backpack for a long time because I didn’t like a sweaty back, and I ended up getting the smallest one I could find with a ventilation gap between my back and the pack, which was the Osprey Stratos 26 litre. The woman’s equivalent seems to be called Sirrus, if that’s relevant.
It’s not the smallest day pack you could possibly use, but it’s not enormous and I’ve been very happy with it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 10:21 AM on May 28, 2016

Seconding the Osprey packs with ventilation gaps. I have one and it's great!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:27 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes. The ventilation will change your world. I, too, like the Osprey backpacks, but you could search for others with a similar ventilation system. Sometimes it will be referred to as a suspension system.
posted by Weeping_angel at 10:47 AM on May 28, 2016

The disadvantage of a ventilation system is that in most cases they stop the pack being folded in half, which means I have one without so that it fits in my big backpack so the whole lot can be checked in.

You might have more luck searching for a daypack or similar as that tends to mean a smaller pack that you just use to carry what you need for the day. You sound like you need less than 30L capacity (mine is 35L and I carry full waterproofs, 1.5L water, maps, extra layers, lunch and various survival stuff).
posted by kadia_a at 11:05 AM on May 28, 2016

I'm also here to recommend Osprey packs. For my daypack I have a 22 L Talon. I also know several other people that have the same one (including some taller people), and it's a really nice pack. A good size for either day or overnight use and that mesh ventilation gap does actually help. I also have a larger Osprey for full on travel use. They're all cleverly designed and well made. They come in different sizes which changes the frame length, so you should be able to get something that fits really well.
posted by shelleycat at 11:06 AM on May 28, 2016

1. Figure out how much stuff you want to carry. As a smaller person and a bit of a minimalist, I use an 11 liter pack for most day hikes and it can fit 3 liters of water in a bladder, a meal or two, a down jacket, and waterproof shell, plus my wallet/sunglasses/etc. If you plan on carrying more, don't have clothing that packs down as well, or want extra space, you'll want something more in the 18 liter range.

2. Some backpacks come in sizes - either S/M/L/XL or short torso/normal/long torso. Look for one that is L/XL or long torso.

3. Ventilation is amazing - look for something with mesh and suspension for maximum ventilation. Osprey puts this in smaller packs than most other manufacturers.

4. Try it out! REI has a bunch of packs and you can see how big of one you'll need to fit all your stuff and whether it's comfortable.

5. Style - do you care if it looks like an outdoorsy backpack or not?

In your shoes, I'd try one of these
Osprey 22L
Osprey 18L
Osprey 24L

P.S. If you're an REI member, you can get 20% off any full price item for the next 3 days.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2016

Oh, also both my husband and I have Talons. His is blue, mine is green so we don't mix them up. We each have the straps adjusted differently on our particular pack making them both fit really well despite our different size and shape.

I think that going somewhere to try packs on is really helpful with finding what works for you. And don't be afraid to adjust straps etc while you're doing it, because that can make quite a difference too.
posted by shelleycat at 11:13 AM on May 28, 2016

I think you want a daypack, which is for day hikes or everyday use, rather than formal overnight backpacking.

You might pay a bit more, but this will be a lot easier if you go to your local hiking store or REI.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Wirecutter has s couple of recommendations for lighter, packable daypacks here. I can't vouch for either, but their reviews are usually pretty good. Agree that this is something you want to try on before buying - ideally with a similar weight in it to what you'll be carrying. REI and other stores usually have weights in store for this purpose.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 11:59 AM on May 28, 2016

Thank you all so much for the recommendations. Just wanted to clarify something that came out a little vague before: I think a day-pack style would be a much better fit than something really directed at hiking (I'll be using it for both, but more "day to day" use than hiking use).
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2016

Just dropped in to say "I don't think you want a hiking backpack." Look for one that's aimed at urban trekking and carryon-only travel. I've been eyeing the Tortuga daypack for myself recently to replace the bog-standard Victorinox backpack I've had for the last 7+ years and probably put 15k miles on. I have a hiking pack, and it's brilliant...for backcountry hiking. I'd strongly recommend something quite different, and the ability to zip away the straps and make it as unfussy as possible is far preferable to trying to stuff an ill-behaved Humboldt's squid into the overhead compartment. For a (much) larger solution for longer trips and/or more kit, the Tortuga Travel backpack is the gold standard.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:20 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I read this correctly this is more a pack for use on trains, planes etc and some light day hiking? Check out the Patagonia Atom Sling or the Under Armor or Nike packs meant for city athletes. They tend to be better looking- not garish colors- and are so common that you won't stand out anywhere in the world. They're well designed for doing exactly what you want. Plus they run about $40-50, less on sale.

For day hiking on a long trip I would normally recommend something like the REI Flash series or the Patagonia Ultra light that stow away into a tiny space but it doesn't sound like that's what you really need.
posted by fshgrl at 1:27 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just go try some on. Being 6'6" you are going to find that many packs are too short for you, so trying them on is really going to be the most important part. This is not something to buy from Amazon, unfortunately.
posted by ssg at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2016

I took an Osprey Talon 22 to Iceland last summer and found it was perfect for day hikes and generally bumming around. Keep in mind that in Iceland, you are not going to get overheated while walking around. We had one day in Reykjavik, in late July, when the temperature reached the upper 60s Fahrenheit, but otherwise, highs were in the low 40s to low 60s. At the Latrabjarg puffin cliffs, I was wearing long underwear under my hiking pants, Thermoball jacket, and windproof shell, and I felt a bit chilly. As our guidebook said: "If you're thinking of packing a pair of shorts in case you have a warm day: don't."
posted by brianogilvie at 7:06 PM on May 28, 2016

Just go try some on. Being 6'6" you are going to find that many packs are too short for you, so trying them on is really going to be the most important part. This is not something to buy from Amazon, unfortunately.
Quoted for emphasis. In your size you are going to need to try packs for size -- you should anyways, but in your case it will be an absolute must or you risk winding up with a pack where the hip belt rides uselessly halfway up your abdomen or where you have to let the shoulder straps all the way out.

I'm 2" shorter than you (and probably a good deal heavier) and while I have a venerable Dana Designs pack for full-on backpacking it's a real challenge for me to find a comfortably-fitting day pack (which is what your use scenario suggests you want.) Based on my experience I think it's very unlikely you'll get a good fit from a one-size-fits-all pack design; at a minimum you will need ones which come in regular and long torso versions or S/M/L/XL.

Ideally you would bring with you to the store a reasonable approximation of what you plan to carry in the bag and you would test load the bag to see (a) that it fits everything you want to fit, and (b) that it rides comfortably with your gear in it. If the staff at the store where you are shopping give you funny looks or act like you are eccentric for wanting to try this, leave the store and go someplace where the staff actually understand backpacks and their use. If you have more than one choice of pack that fits you comfortably and both look like they're decent build quality, pick the one where gear is easier to access.

And if you find anything that works really well, please post the results here. After close to 20 years of yeoman service from an old MEC daypack, it suffered catastrophic zipper failure. The next time I was in a Canadian metropolis I took the pack back to MEC and inquired about repair, which I was told was not an option. They gave me some credit towards a replacement pack and I reluctantly, almost tearfully gave up my old pack for a new model and.. I hate the new one. Within 2 days of light touristing in Montreal the stitching on the chest strap had come undone and I had to take it back to MEC to be re-sewn. And the way the pack is designed it's a 5-minute ordeal to undo all of the clips and drawstrings securing access to the sole storage compartment. I would very gladly buy another pack, if only I could find one that would fit well, but currently I'm stuck with this awful p.o.c. until I can find something -- anything -- better.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:28 PM on May 30, 2016

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