Choosing the right backpack is critical. The ‘right’ backpack should fit your torso and feel comfortable, should be big enough to hold all of your gear, and should have the features which suit your needs/preferences. When buying a backpack, you need to consider the following:
- Capacity: It needs to fit all of your gear, including a bear canister (if you will be hiking on the JMT). Around 50-70L packs are appropriate for most hikers, depending on the volume of their gear.
- Frame: Does it have an internal frame, external frame, or is it frameless? Frameless backpacks are only appropriate for those with a low baseweight.
- Main compartment: Does it have panel access (U-shaped zipper), or is it top-loading (more common)?
- Material: Is it made of a durable material like nylon or ripstop, or a lighter material like cuben fiber?
- Organization: How many pockets does it have? What types? Can it hold a water bottle or hydration bladder?
- Compression straps: Does it have any?
- Shoulder straps: What shape are they? How much padding do they have? How wide are they?
- Hip belt: How wide is it? How much padding does it have? Does it have any pockets? What types of items can fit in the pockets?
- Back: Is it padded? Does it have ventilation?
- Weight: How much does it weigh?
It’s important to decide which features are the most important to you, because feature-rich backpacks tend to be quite heavy. It’s important to be mindful of the weight of the backpack when making your selection, though I would say comfort trumps all other considerations. Be sure to check out REI’s guide to selecting a backpack if you want more in-depth information about choosing a backpack.
The following backpacks are very popular among lightweight and UL hikers, and are large enough to fit a bear canister. There are many other options out there as well, so be sure to check out other hikers’ gear lists and forums like backpackinglight.com.