Ask yourself what you need a pack for. Dave Stewart from Mountain Designs says there are many factors in selecting the right pack, such as "the time of year, whether tents are needed ... and how much food you'll be carrying". A tall person may need more storage space because their clothes and sleeping bag will take up more room.

Be cautious about packs with an abundance of special pockets and straps to attach tent poles, sleeping mats, ice axes, and other equipment. Chris Tews from the Mountain Safety Council says that these "often add to the cost without adding value for your particular needs". The items in external pockets are likely to get wet before those protected by your pack liner.

Pack types and sizes

Packs are measured by their carrying capacity (in litres). The following packs are best suited to different activities and types of trampers, so make sure you get a pack that suits what you'll be doing. As Chris Tews points out: "people tend to fill a pack, whatever size it is, so a careful choice of size is the first step in keeping your load light".

Day pack

Day packs (15 to 35 litres)
Lucy is a vigorous day walker. She needs a pack that combines small size with the support and comfort of larger models.

  • Day packs generally include padded harnesses or moulded foam, to make sure your back stays comfortable.

  • Hip belts are common - they take off some of the load.

  • There may be pockets for extra storage space.

  • Prices range from $50 to $200.

Overnight pack

Overnight packs (35 to 50 litres)
Jesse goes for short weekend expeditions. A small overnight pack keeps down his carrying weight.

  • Packs in this size range tend to be streamlined, targeted at those who like to travel light and also alpine climbers.

  • Make sure the fabric is tough and water-resistant.

  • Some will have a fixed harness, so make sure it fits properly before buying - you won't have much flexibility in fitting later on.

  • Prices range from $120 to $500.

Multi-day pack

Larger (multi-day) packs (50 to 90 litres)
Theresa does short weekenders but also longer multi-day tramps. Like many people with a mix of needs, she's bought a pack with a capacity of 70 to 80 litres.

  • These packs should have an adjustable harness, allowing a better fit to your back (see "Adjusting your pack").

  • The frame and straps should be well padded for maximum comfort.

  • Some packs will have separate compartments at the base, but we recommend keeping everything within one space - that way your pack liner covers all your gear.

  • Prices range from $400 to $600.

Travel pack

Travel packs (50 to 95 litres)
Emmett likes to travel but also enjoys the odd tramp. He wanted something that could double for both activities.

  • Travel packs tend to be shorter and squatter than dedicated tramping packs.

  • Many are designed as a hybrid pack/suitcase, and while they can be useful and versatile, they're not recommended for serious tramping.

  • They tend to have more compartments, straps, and zips, as well as a detachable backpack.

  • Prices range from $180 to $500.
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