What Hiking Backpack Should I Buy?

I am going to attempt to hike this fall, winter, spring. I have been reading your website extensively and have ordered boots (Asolo Stynger) and am hoping they fit when they arrive late this week!

I’m now leaning toward the Marmot Diva 35 backpack. However, I’m a bit confused. You explained very well how to measure for a backpack but the Marmot seems to be either small or medium depending on capacity as opposed to size. Is this correct? In one photo, the medium looks very large for just a beginning hiker to do day trips and yet my measurement is 18 1/2 in. What do you suggest?

Since the pool closes on Labor Day, I decided I would try hiking! Thank you for your time. Many thanks for your wonderful website!!!



Hi Marcia!

Thank you for your great comments, and I am excited that you will be hiking this fall, winter, and spring! I definitely hope you like the Asolo Stynger boots. They are a good choice.

REI Traverse Daypack
REI Traverse Daypack - A good choice for a 30 Liter pack

Backpack Sizing:

As far as a backpack, yes, the Marmot Diva will be too big for just regular day hikes. I use mine when I’m snowshoeing, or on very long day hikes (meaning I’m out for 8+ hours and need lots of food, water, clothing layers, etc.)

There are 2 things to know about size:

  • Size of the pack in terms of capacity. You probably saw on this page on Hiking Lady about the differences between 20 Liter packs, 30 Liter, etc.
  • Size measurement is Small, Medium, Large, etc., which is based on your body size (the length of your spine).

Panel Loading vs. Top Loading Backpack?

The Marmot Diva pack is a “top loading” backpack, so even though it is 35 Liters, it can handle even more than that because of how it is designed.

I’d recommend a “panel loading” backpack for dayhikes. I use the REI Traverse pack (30 Liters) for dayhikes when I don’t need to carry along as much stuff.

Gregory Maya Backpack
Gregory Maya Backpack - a 17 Liter daypack that is a good choice for dayhikes

An alternative to that is the Gregory Maya pack. This pack is even smaller than the REI Traverse pack and its capacity is 17 Liters.

Note that neither of these packs come in sizes, but are rather One Size fits all. They are very adjustable, and unless you’re getting into packs that are 35L+ (and especially backpacking packs for overnight trips), the size factor is less important.

Happy trails!
Hiking Lady

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  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Rhianne, that is so exciting that you’ll be doing a lot of hiking and backpacking this summer! I would recommend that you go for a larger pack since you want to be out for multiple days at a time. You can always cinch it down for shorter trips. Have fun on all of your trips!

  2. Rhianne says:

    I am about to go to college and I plan to do a lot of hiking/backpacking this coming summer and while I am at school. I am looking into buying a high-quality pack that can handle all my adventures to be. I have found several different brands and styles that I like, but my dilemma is that I do not know how big to go. I am naturally a very light packer, so I don’t need anything huge, but I will probably be able to do more frequent (but shorter) trips rather than anything extending over a week. All that being said, I am determined to get out there for as long as I can, as often as I can. Would you advise going with the option of a smaller, more lightweight pack to accommodate the shorter but more frequent (less than a week) trips, or should I just go ahead and get the bigger one so I can take it for a long time? I don’t want to buy anything more than the essential, which is why I am hesitant to get a larger pack when many of my trips will not require that much gear capacity.

    By the way, I am female, athletically built, 18 years old, and about 5’8”, 140 lbs. Carrying a large, fully loaded pack is not an issue for me physically.

    Thank you so much for your help!! You have a great site, by the way 🙂

  3. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Tami,
    Thanks for the note! That’s wonderful that your daughter is getting into backpacking and going on that trek next year! The great news is that companies are now making women’s specific packs to accommodate some of these gender specific “issues” we have! So first off, she’ll need to look for a women’s specific backpack… and she’ll need to pack as lightly as possible (the rule of thumb is to pack <1/3 of your body weight, so ~36 pounds for her)...so that means ultralight gear (pricier, but it will make your daughter's trip fun not torture). Be sure to get her a good pair of trekking poles for added stability.

    When you go to the store for the backpack, the first step will be to get her spine measured…she’s likely going to wear a size Small or XS women’s backpack. Make sure she tries walking around the store with it with weight in it so she can find one that is comfortable for her. The DDD bosom could get a bit tricky…. I’m 5’3 and about 115, but don’t have the generous bosom that your daughter has, so I have never had issues with the sternum strap. My favorite backpack is the Gregory Deva 60, primarily because the suspension system is so comfortable with heavy loads. It is pricey, but comfort on the trail is priceless in my opinion! The sternum strap is fairly adjustable…so it may work out for her.

    Good luck, and hope this is helpful! Be sure to read this page on Backpacking packs for women as well. 🙂

  4. Tami says:

    Hi there, My daughter is following a tradition set by her older brothers…Going on a Trek at Philmont Scout Ranch with her Daddy the summer of her Senior year. (yes-2013!)
    So, as I prepare to buy gear for her, we need some pointers–How do we find a pack that will fit her small stature (5’2″), allow her to carry her weight for the crew without tippping over (she is only 110 lbs…) and accomadates her, ummm…bosom (32 DDD)without chaffing.
    The local outdoor store is family owned and staffed by guys, so I’d like to have some of the these questions figured out before we go in to the shop….
    The other girls in her Venturing Crew don’t quite have the same needs so they have been little help.


  5. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Dianna,

    Sorry to hear about your lower back problems! Hopefully you can do some yoga and back exercises to help strengthen your lower back.

    Does wearing a backpack aggravate your back pain? If so, perhaps you want to consider a hip pack. Here’s information about hydration specific packs, but there are larger versions to carry more gear, if necessary.

    If you are definitely looking for a backpack, not a hip pack, my advice is to go to an outdoor store and load them up with some weight to simulate what it would be like to be carrying water and gear. Walk around the store as much as you can and pick whichever one is least painful on your back. My guess is that ones with sturdier hip belts that distribute weight onto your hips rather than your shoulders will be better for you, but you’ll have to determine that by testing.

    Hope that helps! I’m glad that your back problems aren’t keeping you off the trails!

  6. Dianna Chipkin says:

    I have lower back problems, but love to hike. Please recommend which day hiking backpack to buy.

    Thank you,

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