How to Choose a Multi-Day Backpack
Kelty September 27, 2022

A quick breakdown on how to choose the right pack for your next adventure

So. You’re comfortable with the out-and-back day trip, and you’ve completed a few awesome overnights. Rad! Now it’s time to see what you’re made of with a multi-day backpacking trip. You are in for a real treat, because nothing feels greater than carrying everything you need to survive in the wilderness on your back. Actually, scratch that—nothing feels greater than carrying all of your backcountry belongings in the RIGHT multi-day backpack. 

If you’ve ever tried to make do with a basic daypack or an overnight pack on a longer haul, you likely learned the hard way that it is NOT ideal. So, with this in mind, your friends here at Kelty have put together a helpful list of things to consider when choosing a backpack for multi-day trips. Here’s the 4-1-1 on volume, features, fit—and why Kelty should definitely be your first choice.

How Big Should a Multi-Day Backpack Be?

Pack volume refers to how much space there is inside your backpack. The outdoor industry typically measures this in liters, and the measurement is often conveniently listed right in the product name; like our Coyote 65 backpack. Because the title of this blog series is geared toward those with less outdoor gear experience, we’re assuming nobody reading this is an ultralight backpacker (these are the hardcore enthusiasts who will trim their toothbrushes to save ounces) and they’re not your problem.

While there are some outlying variables for choosing a multi-day backpack volume—for example, taller folks may be able to handle a larger pack, or require bigger clothing and more food, all of which weighs more and takes up more room—there are some basic guidelines you should follow. But in the most general terms, you’ll need at least a 15–20 liter pack for day hikes, a 30–55 liter pack for overnight backpacking trips, a 45–55 liter pack for weekend backpacking trips, and a 55+ liter pack for multi-day backpacking trips. 

What Are the Most Important Multi-Day Backpack Features?

Lucky for you, multi-day backpacks seem to get smaller and lighter every year. Lighter, because advancements in materials and design continue to shave off those pesky ounces—and smaller, because those advancements apply to ALL of your gear, which means your camp cargo is likely smaller and weighs less, too. While your pack preferences may be personal, there are a handful of essential features you’ll need on a 2+ day trip.

FRAME. Ultralight folks might like a frameless pack, but us mortals will probably want a frame backpack; this helps to distribute the weight of your cargo load evenly, so it’s more comfortable to carry over longer days or distances. Your best bet is an internal frame backpack, with an ergonomic (body-hugging) frame designed to transfer the bulk of your pack’s weight to your hips, rather than your shoulders and spine. NOTE: if you’re carrying something bulky like an inflatable SUP, you may want an external frame backpack.

ACCESS. The majority of multi-day backpacks have a top-loading main panel, which means that the main entry to most of your stuff is—you guessed it—on the top of your bag. While this kind of construction does require strategic packing (essentials last, kids!), it also keeps your bag lighter (fewer zippers) and more compact (compression straps). 

STORAGE. As mentioned above, zippers do add some weight; you want a multi-day backpack with SOME pockets and compartments, but not too many. At Kelty, we tend to believe in a dedicated pocket for one’s sleeping bag, so we don’t have to unpack everything, every night. We like to have at least one easy-access “stash” pocket on the front of the pack, for things we need close at hand (like maps and rain gear). And it should go without saying that every multi-day backpack should have water bottle sleeves on either side, for balanced hydration. 

Not strictly essential, but awesome to have in a multi-day backpack: a handy little pocket on your hip belt or shoulder strap, for smaller items like your phone/camera and lip balm—and extra straps or loops for securing everything from sunglasses to hiking poles or sleeping pads.

TORSO FIT + WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION. You’d be hard-pressed to find a multi-day backpack that doesn’t have a hip belt which is a good thing when you’re schlepping 30+ pounds around. You don’t want all of that extra weight sitting on your shoulders and compressing your spine, but it’s also crucial to pay attention to how well your pack fits the ol’ bod. 

A too-short torso fit will put the hip belt too high on your waist, which will result in hot spots and sore muscles, as well as putting more weight on your shoulders; a too-long torso fit will put ALL the weight on your hips, which can mess with your balance on the trail. No bueno! 

That’s why Kelty backpacking packs feature our FITPro torso adjustment system, for a just-right fit for everyone from Simone Biles to Shaquille O’Neal. Properly adjusted load-lifter straps will help transfer weight off your lumbar spine, and a sternum strap to ensure the most comfy, rub-free positioning, and you’ll be sitting…er…striding…pretty.

VENTILATION. Know what’s not pretty, though? Sweating through your shirt in the first hour of your hike. While many multi-day backpacks have some kind of ventilation in their basic design, we tend to think Kelty’s proprietary AmpFlow system is the best out there! Mesh panels with a nifty ribbed construction channel that funky tropical microclimate away from your skin, so your back gets a breath of fresh air, even on the hottest hiking days. 

So, what’s the Best Multi-Day Backpack Out There?

I mean, we’re obviously biased? But our bias is based on more than 70 years of experience, so we come by it honestly. Our newest multi-day backpack, perfect for shorter trips, is the Asher 55. Streamlined for lighter-weight pursuits, it’s got every one of the essential features mentioned above, with awesome retro color palettes and modern design. For longer adventures, our no-frills Coyote 65, 85 and 105 can accommodate just about anything you might want to bring, anywhere—with lots of smart organization to keep you all sorted out.
Stay tuned for more beginning backpacker tips, with great gear to get you out there in style—and be sure to follow @keltyusa for all kinds of cool camp content. See you out there!