The good camping backpacks out there will hold everything you need and allow you to keep your hands free and eyes on the trail…or wandering campers! Whether you need a pack for snacks and water bottles or a tent, cookware, and sleeping bag…there are a myriad of backpacks to choose from.
It’s easy to get caught up in the look of a pack…we all do it. And while looks are always a consideration, be sure to evaluate the important stuff first: How much can it hold? Are its compartments accessible? Can I clip/strap gear to the outside of it? Can it hold water (bladders)? Does it have compression straps? Does it have load-bearing straps?
Camping Backpack Buying Guide
Here’s a quick checklist to help you choose the right camping backpack:
One of the features that I think is a must-have is a load-bearing or suspension strap. These are horizontal straps that connect across your breastplate and waist to keep the pack snug against your body. Wearing a backpack with shoulder straps allows uneven loads to swing which can make you lose your balance or injure your back. These straps are a necessary feature for long hikes or heavier loads.
Another feature that’s easy to overlook, but extremely handy are the exterior loops. I took the CamelBak MULE on a multi-day hike, and despite its small 540 cubic inch capacity, I was able to strap gear to the sides, back, and bottom of the pack with minimal problems. Look for the external loops.
And finally, consider the environment that you’re heading into. If you’re going to a campground where coolers are plentiful and water is readily available, hydration may not be a backpack consideration. If you’re planning on hiking in the summertime or taking long excursions away from the camp, consider a pack with the ability to store a bladder of water. A 70-ounce bladder is not too much water for a hot day and it’s much easier to carry than 4 water bottles!
Best Camping Backpacks
Below are some camping backpacks from small day-packs and hydration packs to the full-frame packs to hike the Appalachian Trail. Pick the one that makes the most sense for your trip:
Hydration backpacks are great for a day hike. You can use these to carry 2-3 liters of water, a small first aid kit, a survival kit, poncho, phone, keys, and more.
Overnight backpacks are appropriate for a weekend campout or hike and will hold a small tent, sleeping bag, first aid kit, food rations, water, survival kit, keys, phone, and more.
Multi-Day Frame Backpacks
If you’re going to be on the trail for 5 days or more, chances are your gear will exceed 35 pounds. If this is the case, a frame backpack will help the weight-bearing distribution (i.e. save your back!). These packs have 3x-4x the capacity of daypacks and allow you additional room for water purification, cooking items, extra clothes, and severe weather gear.