In the backpacking world, you may have come across mentions of the "Big 3." This term refers to three items that can take up most of the weight that you are carrying with you. They are your backpack, sleep system and tent. Ultralight hikers may try to get away with whittling down these items to the lightest of the light. But when it comes to your backpack, going with the lightest option may not always be the best decision. You need to consider the overall weight of what you plan on carrying. What about comfort? And with so many options out there, people often worry and agonize over picking the right backpack. The goal of this guide is to show you what our backpack options are and hopefully guide you to the backpack that is going to be the best for you.
Choosing a backpack based on features
Perhaps you already have an idea of what kind of volume and weight you plan on carrying in your backpack. If this is the case, you might be interested in the features that we have incorporated into our packs. The chart below organizes our packs into three different categories; streamlined design, organization and weather resistance.
- Streamlined Design - these backpacks were designed to be lightweight. They all have a simple design with little in the name of features and have one main compartment. The Versalite Series and Ridge Line Pack don't have an internal frame, having a simple foam pad instead. These packs are for the most part more suited for Light & Fast pursuits. The Alpine and Expedition packs are much more suited for carrying heavier loads.
- Organization - these packs are designed with a multitude of pockets to help you organize your gear. The packs that are between 20~30L are excellent choices for day hikes. The 30L+ packs are suitable for overnights and multiday trips.
- Weather Resistance - these packs were designed to help keep your gear dry. These packs feature the Roll-Up Closure system to shut water out. The Storm Packs are made with a material that prevents the ingress of water, while the Altiplano Packs use an inner dry bag, the Aqua Barrier Sack. Although these packs have an incredibly high level of water resistance, that doesn't mean they are waterproof. Rain they can handle but full submersion is not advised.
At a glance, the chart also organizes the packs by their volume. Lower capacity packs on the left, higher capacity packs on the right.
Choosing a backpack based on volume
Perhaps you're not sure what volume you need? A good starting point when trying to pick out a backpack is to answer the question "How do I plan on using it?" If you mainly plan to go on day hikes, then you wouldn't necessarily need something that is designed for multi-day backpacking. The opposite is also true. A tent, sleeping bag, days worth of food and everything else you might need for multiple days on the trail isn't going to fit into a 20L day pack. How you plan on using the backpack is going to determine the size of the backpack that you are going to need.
For convenience, we’ve organized our backpacks below according to what activities we think they are best suited for:
- Day Hikes
- Trail Running
- Snow Sports
A Note on Volume
Not all backpacks are created equal. We've divided our daypacks and overnight packs into two categories based on what we think most users are going to choose their pack by; carrying capacity.
Even though two backpacks may be designed with the same volume, other design factors can impact how a backpack performs in the field. The packs we've placed in the "Lighter Loads" category are designed to be lightweight. This means these packs have a certain number of trade offs to get to a lower weight. For example, if you look at the day hike category, most of the "Lighter Load" day hike packs lack a hip belt. Putting any kind of serious weight into one of these packs could get uncomfortable as the weight is going to focus on your shoulders. The "Lighter Load" packs also share a common design where they don't feature an internal frame. Again, serious weight inside one of these packs could lead to discomfort. A special note for the Versalite and Altiplano series. Since they are made with a lightweight material, extra care needs to be taken to prevent tears say from snagging on a tree branch or from sharp edges inside your pack.
On the other hand, we feel that the packs we've classified as "Heavier Loads" will do a much better job of hauling your gear around. Most of these packs have more robust back panels and shoulder straps. Some of these backpacks also feature robust hipbelts for helping keep the strain of heavier loads off your shoulders. And the materials in these backpacks are a little more forgiving durability wise, compared to the Versalite and Altiplano as mentioned above.
As the name implies a day hike is a hike that can be typically be accomplished in a day. These backpacks have a lower volume since you are carrying the items you need for your hike and nothing extra. Many of the backpacks in our day hike lineup have pockets to help organize your gear.
Pack Contents: Rain jacket, insulating layer (down or a fleece), snacks, water, first aid kit, emergency sheet, etc.
Overnight backpacks can be used for shorter trips spending the night in the great outdoors. Our 30L to 45L range of packs are suitable for overnighting. However, depending on the size and weight of your tent and sleeping bag, your overnight trip might not fit into the volume of an overnight backpack.
Pack contents: Sleep system (sleeping bag and pad), tent, food, rain layers, insulating layers, stove, change of clothes, first aid kit, emergency sheet, headlamp, etc.
Backpacking packs are large volume packs for carrying more gear that most people require for multi-day trips. Or, for shorter trips where you are carrying larger items (like a winter overnight, which requires a larger sleeping bag, bigger tent, and more layers of clothing).
Pack contents: Sleep system (sleeping bag and pad), tent, increased amounts of food, rain layers, insulating layers, bear canister, stove and extra fuel, change of clothes, first aid kit, emergency sheet, headlamp, a water filter, camp shoes, etc
Montbell trail running packs are low profile, lightweight packs for carrying what you need on your run (these could certainly be used as a day pack too!). The two shoulder pockets are compatible with hydration flasks or for securing snacks or a cellphone.
Pack contents: an ultralight rain jacket/wind shell, a hydration bladder and snacks.
These packs were designed to carry skis or a snowboard when hoofing it in the backcountry. They all feature an easy access gear pocket for avalanche tools.
Pack contents: Avalanche probe, shovel, extra clothing, room for layers you take off when you get too hot, snacks, water, first aid kit, emergency sheet.
You may have noticed that some of the backpacks above don't have top lid. For those that want to expand their carrying capacity and organization abilities, we do make optional top lid.
- L.W. Top Lid: Altiplano Pack series
- Top Lid M: Alpine Packs series
- Top Lid L: Expedition Pack
All of our backpacks are hydration bladder compatible. See each backpack's page for compatibility details.