What makes a great multi-day backpack? Which features and capabilities are the most important to look for when purchasing a new backpack? While the weight of a backpack is stressed by many as its most important attribute, we wanted to understand what backpackers want in terms of functional capabilities independent of backpack weight.
We put that question to 402 backpackers to find out the most important features a pack “must-have” before they’d buy it. We also asked them which features they wouldn’t want on a backpack, “can’t-haves”, that would cause them to avoid purchasing it.
|Backpack Feature||MUST HAVE||CAN'T HAVE|
|Adjustable/interchangeable length hip belt||81.34%||1.74%|
|Side water bottle pockets||76.37%||1.49%|
|Rear stretch pocket||61.44%||2.49%|
|Hip belt pockets||56.28%||2.99%|
|Adjustable length torso||36.57%||12.69%|
|Trekking pole holders||11.69%||21.64%|
The results provide valuable insights into backpackers’ pack preferences, what they view as vital features on backpacks and the features they strongly object to that would prevent a backpack purchase.
There were 402 participants in this survey.
- 81.34% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without an adjustable length hip belt or one with interchangeable hip belt sizes. However, less than 2% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had them.
- 76.37% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without side water bottle pockets. However, less than 2% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had them.
- 66.42% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without load lifters. However, less than 2% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had them.
- 61.44% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without a rear stretch pocket. However, less than 3% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had them.
- 56.28% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without hip belt pockets. However, less than 3% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had them.
- 42.79% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without back ventilation. However, less than 3% would refuse to purchase a backpack that had it.
- 36.57% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack that does not have an adjustable torso length, while 12.69% said they would not buy a pack that had one.
- 23.63% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without a top lid pocket, while 24.13% they would not purchase a backpack that had one.
- 12.19% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without a floating lid, while 33.33% would not buy a pack that had one.
- 11.69% said they would not purchase a multi-day backpack without trekking pole holders, while 21.64% would not purchase a pack that had them.
What do these results indicate?
Must-Have Backpack Features
Over 50% the backpackers we surveyed agree that the following features are must-haves when buying a new multi-day backpack:
- adjustable length or interchangeable length hip belts
- side water bottle pockets
- load lifters
- rear stretch pocket
- hip belt pockets
Adjustable Length or Interchangeable Hip Belts: Backpackers strongly prefer hip belts that are adjustable in length or available in different sizes independent of a pack’s torso length. While being able to choose different length hip belts for the same backpack has been the norm among cottage manufacturers like Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs for over a decade, backpack manufacturers that sell through brick and mortar or online stores have avoided it because it creates inventory headaches for their resellers.
That is changing as major manufacturers like Granite Gear introduce adjustable-sized belts that consumers can shorten or lengthen themselves, much like the current generation of adjustable torso-length backpacks. Check out Granite Gear’s new Crown 2 backpack which has an adjustable length hip belt, or the Lutsen model packs they introduced last year. Osprey Packs also taken a few steps on this direction with the adjustable Fit-on-the-Fly hip belt on the Volt, Viva, and Atmos AG backpacks. I believe we’ll see a lot more mainstream manufacturers offering adjustable length hip belts in the next few years.
Side Water Bottle Pockets: Backpackers prefer packs with side water bottle pockets, which can also be used to store gear.
Load lifters: Load lifters are also considered a multi-day backpack essential and provide another way to fine tune the fit of a backpack. It makes sense that a majority of backpackers want them on a multi-day backpack.
Rear stretch pocket: Having a rear stretch pocket that you can put wet gear or stuff layers into is also a must-have for backpackers, something over 61% of our survey respondents agreed on.
Hip belt pockets: More than half of our respondents also considered hip belt pockets a must-have. I would have thought that this number would have been higher, but that’s why we run these surveys. To measure preferences.
Can’t-Have Backpack Features
We structured this survey to capture the “can’t-have” features in order to understand what features backpackers don’t want when they purchase a pack. We found that the most objectionable pack features were a top lid, a floating lid, and trekking pole holders. I’ll leave it to you to speculate why this is.
About this Survey
This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.
While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=402 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.
There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.
The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the popularity of different backpack features and the reasons that their peers use to select the backpacks that they buy.