Camping Skills

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Backpacking Gear Checklist Choosing a Backpack
How to Choose a Tent How to Pack a Backpack

Choosing a Backpack

The Standard:
An internal frame pack with 4,000 to 5,000 cubic inches of capacity offers good versatility. Make sure the torso fits, then look for a firm hipbelt, curved shoulder straps that end just below your armpits, and enough clearance for your elbows and thighs.

Lid Pocket - Detaches and doubles as a hipsack or daypack.

Heavy Duty, Coated Fabric - Turns back thorns and raindrops. Stress points reinforced with super strong ripstop cloth.

Storm Collar - Extends the size of the pack for extra big loads.

Compression Straps - Nylon webbing belts around the sides and bottom compartment of an internal frame pack that cinch the pack's contents tight to provide a smoother, more stable ride and eliminate load-shifting. Also, good place to store trekking poles, tripod, or hang extra clothes.

Mesh Pockets - Give you quick access to snacks and water bottles.

Wicking Synthetic Fabrics - Fabric that typically lines the back panel (padding), hipbelt, and shoulder straps to move perspiration away from skin.

Load-Lifter Straps - Webbing straps connecting the top of a pack and the pack's shoulder straps that pull your load higher for a closer fit, more load control, and better balance.

Shoulder Straps - Curved anatomically so they don't slide or pinch neck.

Built-in Bladder - Many hikers have forsaken water bottles in favor of a hydration system, a water bladder with an attached drinking tube that hangs near (or clips to) a shoulder strap for easy sipping while you hike. Some pack makers incorporate hydration systems into their pack designs. These packs feature special pockets to hold the bladder and small, reinforced holes through which to feed the drinking tube.

Canted Hipbelt - The padded belt--usually well-contoured and a bit stiff--that lashes the pack to your hips. Canted belts adjust to several different angles to match hip shape and pivot or mimic wearer movement.

Back Padding - A contoured sheet of foam padding, often with a mesh lining, that forms the soft, breathable cushion between your back and the frame of an internal frame pack.

Do you want water-bottle pockets or a bladder-ready pouch? This and other decisions about features will help you design the perfect pack.

For This Terrain

Frame Type

Look For These Features

Smooth trails


Adjustable torso, well-padded hipbelt



Narrow profile, minimal straps, larger capacity



Squat profile, minimalist hipbelt


For This
Trip Length

Size (cu. in.)

Look For These Features


2,500 to 3,000

Single-stay or hoop, minimal harness and hipbelt, external lash straps for sleeping pad


3,000 to 4,500

Stays and/or hoop, padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, compression straps on larger models for cinching small loads


4,500 to 6,000

Framesheet and stays, firm hipbelt and shoulder straps, load-lifter and lumbar straps, extension (or spindrift collar) on packbag, daypack-conversion lid

Expedition/ winter

6,000 +

Framesheet and stays, wide hipbelt with winter stiffener, panel- and top-loading access, large lid with daypack conversion, extra-large sleeping bag compartment, multiple lashing options

For These Uses and Preferences

Look For These Features

Tote skis, snowshoes, or tools (like a tripod, ice axe, shovel, ice-axe loops, and a shovel pocket/panel or fishing rod)

Ski or gear loops, side-compression straps, ice-ace loops, and a shovel pocket/panel

Need organization

Outside pockets, panel- and top-loading access, sleeping bag compartment


If you have a question, comment or suggestions, please E-mail:  Michael Warner

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