6 Kinds of Backpacks for Every Kind of Adventure. From Thru-Hikes to Family

My Teton Sports Hiker3700 Backpack at the Top of Yosemite Point, Yosemite National Park 2015

I grew up in a backpack. I have photos of me and my fuzzy, blond, 2-year-old hair getting carted through the aspen-tree lined trails of Steamboat, Colorado, by my adventurous dad and his cool outdoorsy friends.

Backpacks have been a part of my life from day one. And it feels like I’ve owned seemingly every single variety and brand of backpack possible.

Which is why having a good backpack is like having a good friend. It’s reliable. Dependable. At times has deep pockets. It can give plenty of space when you need it. And, most importantly, a good backpack, like a good friend, holds onto you and won't let go, even in the most treacherous of conditions.

Here's a list of the 6 types of backpacks for every kind of adventure:

Sea to Summit ultra light pack overlooking the Snake River, Idaho, the Deepest Canyon in North America 2014

1 - The Super Lightweight
This Sea to Summit collapses down to the size of a plum. I bring this with me ALWAYS when heading out on an overnight backpacking trip with a more substantial pack. Allowing me to ditch the big-pack in a bush, and take only essentials – water, food, first aid, camera, extra layer – if I’m adding a summit push or want to do a spur trail. Super lightweight, stripped down to essentially parachute cloth, it's as if I have nothing on my back.

REI Flash 22 Day Pack at Muir Beach, Golden Gate National Recreation Area 2014

2 - The Day Tripper
I’m still deciding how I feel about my REI Flash 22 day pack. Since it’s on the lighter side of day packs, it doesn’t have much support and I do feel like it HANGS on my back as I load it with more weight, especially water weight. But you know what, it’s done the trick. It has seen hundreds of miles, weathered a massive Tecnu explosion, and survived countless tosses against craggily rocks.

The deep, tough side pockets are essential for easy access to water, camera or map on a day hike – I’m constantly pulling things in and out of them. And all day packs have holes for reservoir tubes these days. This type of pack is like an essential organ or limb for any hiker – we can’t live without it, we carry it around with us 24/7.

Another shot of the Teton Hiker3700 multi-day pack. Hells Canyon Wilderness, Idaho 2014

3 - The Overnighter
My Teton Sports Hiker3700 has seen a number of 2-3 overnight trips now and some incredible wilderness views to boot. The internal frame can be customized to my torso just perfectly – so that it feels like a hug and a comfortable second skin to help carry the extra overnighter weight. 

This pack has pockets in all the right places – critical for smart packing. Bottom, base compartment for evening and night gear. Side pockets for easy day access. Camera pocket on hip strap. Side straps for trekking poles, rain gear, wet-nasty smelling things. Extra straps for tents, sleeping pads. And find the secret-y pocket at the bottom – open it up and you’ll discover a Fisherman’s Yellow rain cover keep your gear protected from the elements. 

This particular pack is LIGHT. I love it, and have enjoyed testing it out on all sorts of terrain from endless switchbacks to long-distance rolling trails. 

4 - The MotherLode
These are Pacific Crest Trail worthy packs. Appalachian Trail worthy thru-hiker packs. The pack I took for my 2.5 months backpacking through New Zealand. This pack’ll carry everything we've ever cared about. I’ve had thirsty and awesome friends carry a case of beer in these packs for Yurt trips on back-country ski weekends. The essential component is that it is COMFORTABLE on our body with the extra-heavy weight and that we LEARN how to pack it properly and leave non-essentials behind. No kitchen sinks allowed, friends....... 

Kelty Kid Carrier backpack, Aspen, Colorado 2003
5 - The Kid Carrier Backpack
For outdoorsy families, it's all about the baby/toddler backpack so you can get little ones out into the fresh air with you -- a key ingredient to family harmony. We just gave away our kid carrier Kelty pack that made its way through three kids and years of schlepping on trails. Make sure you understand the correct way to safely strap-in your little one and also how to carry it on your back properly so the weight distribution doesn’t tug or pull in the wrong places. And this pack won’t last long because soon your little one will be wanting to "Do It All By Myself, Daddy" so you’ll need to graduate to…….

Jansport. First Junior Kid's backpack. 2005
 6 - The First Junior Pack
Adorable, mini, little-kid packs are a shining moment in a parents’ life and are usually immortalized by three thousand pics. I picked up this Jansport at REI years ago, and after the kids outgrew it, I commandeered it back and you’ll see me using it for short day hikes.

Camelback used to make a mini-reservoir pack that was perfect for little ones, but looks like they've discontinued it. Take a look at companies like Osprey to get starter packs age 5+.

Jansport now 2015 a mini-day pack, view of Mt Tamalpais, Bay Area, California 

So, pick the backpack best suited for your adventure. Learn it’s quirks and it’s secret spots. Treat it with care but don’t worry about the bumps and bruises and tears in side pockets along the way – they’re all part of the great story and the true backpack friendship you’ll have to talk about for years to come..... And, yes, please, ditch the fanny pack.

How many favorite packs do you have in your life these days?

-Outdoorsy Mama

For more information:

Disclaimer: Teton Sports is a Sponsor of Hell Hike and Raft and as a crew-member, I was given the pack for gear testing. All opinions are my own, as always, and there is no obligation to write about their product.


  1. Hi, great post! I find my Osprey Poco Premium backpack makes me tight between my shoulder blades, just below my neck. Any tips for a better fit?

    1. hi San! thanks so much for connecting. love our backpacks :) let me ask around in my community about that particular pack..... in the meantime, are you making sure to carry as much weight as possible on your hips, not your shoulders, and the shoulder straps are adjusted so they have the pack hug you? ....also, don't be shy about walking into an REI or any mountain shop and asking them to help u adjust. even if u didn't buy it there.... we're all in the same Outdoor crew together. wish i could help you in person :) stay tuned! -om

    2. yes! as i hoped, San, i was able to ask for help with your question from the fantastic hiking group Hike It Baby (if you don't know them, you need to look them up!) and member Lindsy knows that pack and has this advice for you: "I have had this same problem, but was able to fix it with a few things. Make sure the torso length is right for you. You might have it too short so the pack is riding up too high. Also make sure you tighten the straps on TOP of the shoulder straps so that the pack is close to your body. Check to make sure that most of the weight of the back is on your hips and that the strap is very tight. Stretching your back in the "cat/camel" pose before you hike can help. We all tend to be tight in this area and the pack makes you have very straight posture. If you have a foam roller, try stretching on that as well." cheers and i hope this helps! -annie

  2. Oh, I will be so sad if Camelbak has discontinued that little mini-pack. It's what we've always given on our kids' 3-yr-old birthday, and we've got twins turning that age this summer. Bummer. Thanks for the tip on the Osprey alternative!

    1. hey michelle! i know -- i looked thru CamelBak for those little mini-packs and i couldn't find them offered on their site any more. i bet there is back-stock in other outfitters online if we did a real search, so you might try that, but from what i could tell CamelBak isn't making them anymore, at least when i wrote this..... if you find otherwise, def let me know. thanks so much and so great you've got the kids out on the trails! :) a

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