What Is A Hiking Backpack? (Beginner’s Guide)

Are you ready to hit the hiking trail? You’ll need to bring along some supplies. A hiking backpack is the best way to carry your equipment safely and conveniently, but in order to pick the right one, you need to know what a hiking backpack actually is.

A hiking backpack is a backpack designed for use on the trail. They provide a safe, sturdy, and comfortable way to carry hiking supplies. There are many kinds of hiking backpacks. Some are intended for day trips with minimal equipment, and others are meant for multi-day treks with lots of gear.

When you’re out on the trail, you want a backpack that delivers. A specialized hiking backpack can help you maximize safety, comfort, and convenience on your trip. Read on to discover the key features and design functions of a hiking backpack, so you can choose the perfect pack for you.

Hiking Backpack vs Regular Backpack 

Hiking backpacks are not the same as regular backpacks. Though they function similarly, a hiking backpack is tougher and has features designed specifically for outdoor use. A regular backpack acts as an easy transportation method for your daily on-the-go belongings and isn’t meant for hard-use outdoors. There are several factors that differentiate hiking backpacks from the regular.


One major difference is in the structure. A hiking backpack is made specifically for those engaging in active movement, and it is designed in a way that aids that movement. It will often have an internal frame system and straps across the chest and waist, helping distribute weight more evenly across your body.

In contrast, a regular backpack usually just has two shoulder straps and no internal frame system. This makes the weight sag down where it sits at your lower back. This adds extra strain and isn’t ideal for physical activity. The structure is bare and isn’t meant for carrying lots of weight over longer distances.


Hiking backpacks are designed for heavy outdoor use, and they are made with material that reflects their intended purpose. A durable material like ripstop nylon or polyester is the gold standard nowadays, but you can still find canvas hiking bags if you look hard enough.

Furthermore, a good hiking backpack will be coated in weatherproofing material to withstand rain, snow, and wind. It will have double-sewn seams to prevent rips, and may be coated in polyurethane along the interior as well. This adds an extra element of protection, helping keep your backpack in commission for longer.

Meanwhile, your run-of-the-mill backpack may not be coated in anything at all. Regular backpacks aren’t meant for hard outdoor use, only storage and transport. They will usually be made of cheaper plastic or canvas, which won’t hold up for long in outside conditions.


A hiking backpack can come with all sorts of characteristics and features to make your hike easier. You’ll find straps and pockets around the outside, allowing you to stow gear and snacks for easy access on your hike. Often, the pack will have separated compartments for organization that you can access from different angles.

Hiking backpacks will have compression straps as well, so you can compact your pack and control its volume. This makes it easier to lug around clothes and sleeping bags, because you can shrink them down with the straps and make the load more manageable.

Many hiking backpacks also come with special compartments for water bottles along the side. Some even have a compartment for your hydration pack. The best hiking packs will have full load-adjustment and suspension systems that promote ventilation and keep you balanced on your journey. 

A regular backpack doesn’t offer any of these special features. They often have just two or three compartments for separating gear, and many of them do not have adjustable straps aside from the shoulder straps. They aren’t meant for creative storage, so you’re limited in what you can achieve with them.


A hiking backpack is infinitely more comfortable than a regular backpack. They generally have lots of extra padding around the shoulders, waist, and hips so that any pain from a bouncing pack is kept at a minimum and bare skin won’t get rubbed raw.

You can tailor a hiking backpack to fit your unique shape and size using its adjustable chest and hip straps. Many hiking packs have even more points of adjustment, providing a truly customizable experience that maximizes comfort and usability.

A hiking backpack sits higher than a regular one. If you strap it on correctly, you can distribute the weight in a much more comfortable manner. This not only saves you from back pain, but it can also take the strain off your hips, knees, and ankles. A regular backpack sits on the lower back. It can cause you a lot of pain, especially after periods of extended use.


A hiking backpack is usually larger than a regular pack. Depending on the type of backpack you have, you’ll be able to pack items like a tent, sleeping bag, and your cooking gear inside of it. It would be hard to imagine fitting all that gear into a regular backpack like those from your school days.

The capacity of a hiking backpack is measured in liters, and this will always be clearly displayed when you’re buying the pack. The number of liters you need depends on what you’ll be using the pack for. For day trips you only need 20 to 30 liters, but for overnight trips you could need 50 liters or even more.

A regular backpack generally won’t have a capacity of larger than 30 liters. Furthermore, it won’t be able to carry the same weight. Since it’s made of weaker material and lacks an internal framework, a regular backpack doesn’t have the same strength as a hiking backpack.

Different Types Of Hiking Backpacks

There are a ton of different kinds of hiking backpacks to choose from. Some are small, light storage packs suitable for day hikes and quick trips. Others are gargantuan packs meant to be carried the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. To get the most from your money, you need to examine what each type of pack is used for and determine the one that best suits your unique needs.


For shorter hikes where you won’t be spending the night outside, your best bet is to go with a daypack. These will have a capacity of between 20 and 30 liters and are meant to carry around some food, water, sunscreen, a light jacket, and some other odds and ends you might need on your hike.

Many daypacks feature a pocket specifically for your hydration pack, distributing the water weight evenly across your body. They will be made of moisture-wicking material that is breathable, lightweight, and strong.

Daypacks are the best option if you don’t need to carry around camping gear. They usually do not have an internal frame system since they aren’t designed to carry lots of weight. However, they will feature a waist strap and a chest strap for weight balancing. This makes them much more comfortable, but still small and easy to tote around.

Weekend Packs

A weekend pack is a full-on backpack, but it isn’t meant for long thru hikes. Instead, they are designed to be used for overnight trips of a night or two. These hiking packs feature an internal frame system. They will have straps and cinches across the sternum and waist, along with many other points of adjustment to make you more comfortable.

A weekend pack will have a capacity between 35 and 50 liters. This is large enough to fit a tent, cooking gear, and a sleeping bag, but it isn’t big enough to bring lots of extra clothing and other gear. You’ll find that a weekend pack has most of the features you need to hike comfortably over long distances.

The features will vary depending on the price, but you’ll generally have load adjuster straps, gear straps for the outside, plush padding around the tightest points, a steel or aluminum frame, and a hearty design made with water-resistant nylon polyester.

Trekking Packs

Trekking packs are also known as thru-hiking backpacks, and they are the largest type of hiking pack available. They generally run 50 to 70 liters, with the largest ones boasting a capacity of over 80 liters. You may need this kind of space for longer hiking trips that require more food, water, and supplies.  

You could also be venturing into colder areas where you need winter gear. Since cold-weather gear is more voluminous, you need more room inside to store. As far as features go, trekking packs are very similar to weekend packs.

You’ll find them chock full of comfort features, and they might have extra padding and additional seams for a stronger build. Since they’re designed for a larger load, they’re generally the most durable type of hiking backpack out there.  

How Much Does A Hiking Backpack Cost?

How much a hiking backpack costs will depend on the type and how many additional features it has. Generally, a daypack will cost the least amount of money and a trekking backpack will be the most expensive. However, you can find wide price ranges within all categories of hiking backpack.

What The Numbers Mean

You can pay under $100 for a hiking backpack, but you can also pay upwards of $400 for quality craftsmanship. Some brand names like Osprey and North Face can cost even more than that. The least expensive hiking backpacks will be from unknown brands or the store’s brand, but you shouldn’t discount a bag just because it’s cheaper.

As you’re going through the buying process, think about where you’ll be hiking and the features that are most valuable to you. For example, those hiking high up in the mountains with lots of snow should opt for bigger bags with better weatherproofing to protect gear more efficiently.

Meanwhile, hikers in hotter climes can opt for smaller bags. They don’t need to spend extra money for additional weatherproofing, as they are unlikely to face torrential rain or snow on a regular basis. They also won’t need to bring heavy sleeping bags or lots of layers, and it will help them more to have a lighter pack than it will to have extra space.

If you understand what you need in a backpack, you’ll be able to find one that fits your needs no matter your budget. After using it for a while, you’ll know when to upgrade and the features you want on your next backpack. Hiking is an adventure in every sense, and buying gear is no exception. So have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to try a pack with features you aren’t yet familiar with.

Why Do You Need A Hiking Backpack?

You need a hiking backpack because it is a comfortable, convenient way to carry your gear on the trail. Hiking backpacks are specifically designed for outdoor use to benefit you in every way possible on the trails, allowing you to bring all your necessities with ease.


It’s just not ideal to carry your supplies in a rucksack or a regular school backpack. Things can get heavy and move around a lot when you’re engaged in active movement. A hiking backpack’s straps allow the weight to sit evenly across your shoulders and hips, helping you move freely and making the whole hike more comfortable.

A hiking pack will also have padding around the cinches. As you tighten the straps and start to move, your skin can get rubbed raw when using a regular backpack. A hiking pack will have cushion, protecting you from the movement so you don’t get blisters or rub-burns.


As you hike, you use your arms and body for balance. Balance might not seem so important when you’re walking shorter distances in areas that have sidewalks and pavement. However, once you get on rougher terrain, you’ll quickly realize how necessary it is.

Unfortunately, a regular backpack offsets your balance. It pulls you backwards, disrupting your rhythm and potentially causing falls. A hiking pack works with your body, clinging to your shape through cinches and straps so you’re never thrown off-kilter. It keeps the weight at your hips instead of your spine.


Hiking backpacks are designed to prevent injury and can keep you much safer than standard backpacks. If you adjust your pack correctly and don’t overload it, you can carry a ton of gear without risking spinal injury. Your back, hips, and shoulders will be protected by the even distribution of weight.

Furthermore, you’ll be at less risk for rolled ankles and knee blowouts when you carry a well-balanced hiking backpack. You’ll be sparing your muscles because they won’t have to strain as much. This helps to protect your joints, ligaments, and tendons as well.

Can You Use A Normal Backpack For Hiking?

You can use a normal backpack for hiking, but it isn’t recommended in most circumstances. A regular backpack is designed to be carried only short distances, and most hikes are longer than that. When you go for longer treks with a regular backpack, it can get uncomfortable quickly.

A regular backpack doesn’t strap across your hips, so the weight sits much lower. This puts pressure on your lower lumbar spine and shoulders causing tight muscles, aches, and lots of pain. It will jostle around a lot more, which can throw off your balance, jeopardizing your safety on the trail with potential falls.

Overall, a regular backpack just isn’t as strong or durable as a hiking backpack. If you get caught in the rain without a weatherproof hiking backpack, chances are your supplies will get wet. The backpack itself can even deteriorate, as rain can rust zippers and cause fabrics to fade and lose strength.

However, there are a few cases where buying a hiking backpack won’t be necessary. If you only go hiking once or twice a year, you don’t need to make a major investment in hiking gear. If your hikes are very short, you might get away without bringing supplies with you at all.

Final Thoughts

A hiking backpack is designed to take all your hiking supplies with you comfortably and conveniently. Hiking backpacks are better than regular backpacks for use on trails. They’re better for comfort, balance, and safety. Considering your hiking needs will help you choose the best backpack for you.