A 60-liter backpack is the sweet spot for backpacking trips 5 days in length or less, including packs in the 55-liter to 65-liter range. This backpack volume is large enough to hold a sleeping bag, a one or two-person tent (or a hammock sleep system), extra clothes, a backpacking stove, water filtration gear, a hydration system or water bottles, and all the other personal items and nic-nacs that backpackers commonly carry.
But there are some nuances to picking a 60-liter backpack and some marketing mumbo-jumbo that can sting you if you’re not aware of it, as we explain below. The devil is in the details as they say, so here are the details to help you pick a 60 liter backpack with the type of storage you need.
Open and Closed Backpack Storage
It is important to understand what kind of storage is included in that 60-liter volume when buying a backpack and the balance between closed storage and open storage.
- Closed storage is protected from the elements (dust, rain) and usually includes the pack’s main compartment, zippered pockets in the top lid if it has one, and hip belt pockets. When adding up the volume of the main compartment, manufacturers include the volume up to the top of the frame, but don’t include the loose fabric above it called an extension collar, which can provide several more liters of storage.
- Open storage includes all the pockets, usually on the side or front of the backpack that are open on top for ease of access but don’t offer any weather protection. Many people carry a rain jacket or sweater, water bottles, a few snacks, and a wet water filter in their pack’s open pockets so they don’t have to stop and unpack when they need something.
How Backpack Manufacturers Measure Pack Volume
Most mainstream backpack manufacturers such as Osprey, Gregory, Granite Gear, Deuter, and REI only count closed storage when they add up the storage volume of a backpack. For example, if you buy an Osprey Exos 58 backpack, it will have 58 liters of closed storage. However, there is some variation to pack volume depending on the torso length you buy. For example, the Osprey Exos 58 in a size small has 55 liters of closed storage, the size medium has 58 liters, and the size large has 61 liters. When there are multiple torso lengths available, most manufacturers cite the volume or the medium size backpack. None of these manufacturers count the open pockets in their volume totals.
Other backpack manufacturers, most notably the smaller cottage and ultralight backpack manufacturers count the closed and the open storage of their backpacks when citing their total volume. For example, the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 backpack (in a size medium) has 60 liters of storage including 36 liters of closed storage and 24 liters of open storage. That’s a significant reduction in the amount of closed storage, which has ramifications for how much you can fit into closed storage and the type of weather conditions that the Mariposa is best suited for, whether you want to use a rain cover to protect items in the open pockets from rain or dry bags, and the space available to store larger items like a synthetic insulated sleeping bag vs one that’s insulated with down and therefore much more compressible.
Strapping Gear on the Outside of a Backpack
There’s another factor that can influence the backpack size you need and that is the ability to strap bulky items to the outside of your backpack. For example, foam sleeping pads, tent bodies, tent poles, snowshoes, fishing rods, and bear canisters can be carried on the outside of a backpack instead of inside the main compartment. You’d generally just do this with items that can get wet. But this is one way to really stretch the carrying capacity of a 60-liter backpack and something to look for when purchasing a backpack.
Here are some “anchor” points to look for if you want to attach gear to the outside of a pack:
- A floating lid is a top pocket (also called a backpack brain) that can be raised to compress gear against the top of a backpack. It’s commonly used to haul rope, a bear canister, and a sleeping pad. If you have a roll-top backpack, it may have a top Y-strap that can be used to the same effect.
- Side compression straps can also be used to strap gear to the side of a backpack, such as a sleeping pad or snowshoes. Look for backpacks that have two horizontal compression straps on each side of the backpack, rather than ones that zig-zig back and forth on a diagonal and are harder to use for this purpose.
- Sleeping pads straps give you the ability to strap a foam pad to the bottom of a backpack.
How much can you fit in a 60-liter backpack?
Ok, that’s a lot to think about….but how much can you fit into a 60-liter backpack? Well, it depends. If you buy a 55 liter to 65 liter back from a backpack manufacturer than only counts their closed storage in their volume spec, there’s a pretty good chance you can carry all of your backpacking essentials inside your backpack, including a bulkier synthetic insulated sleeping bag and a two-person tent. If your bulky gear, like a foam sleeping pad or bear canister, doesn’t fit, you can often attach it to the exterior of your backpack.
If you choose a backpack that adds the volume of its open and closed pockets together to get its volume, you may need to replace some of your bulkier gear with smaller or more compressible alternatives or eliminate it altogether. For example, you might have to replace a synthetic insulated sleeping bag with a more compressible down sleeping bag or quilt, switch from a two-person tent to a one-person tent, or leave your backpacking chair at home. Downsizing the storage volume volume that your backpacking gear requires can be expensive, but it generally results in a lighter weight backpack weight which can be beneficial if that’s your intent.
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