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Fall Backpack Buying Guide

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

Fall Backpack Buying Guide

Fall is an incredible time to spend outdoors. From anglers fishing the fall run to campers enjoying the changing of the seasons, everyone can enjoy the best part of fall, FEWER BUGS. But in all seriousness, fall’s cooler weather and relatively long days grant adventurers the ability to spend time outdoors in comfort. One piece of gear that is essential for outdoor activities is a backpack. Backpacks come in different sizes and designs based on the owner’s needs.

While there are dozens of styles of backpacks with unique features ideal for niche activities, prospective shoppers can separate packs into three major categories: sport pack, day pack, and frame pack. We will give the rundown of these pack designs as well as some of our favorites in each category.

Sport Packs

The sport pack is a style of backpack intended for active movement in the outdoors. Sport packs have a volume between ten and fifteen liters. These smaller packs are also narrower than traditional school-type backpacks, often a few inches narrower than your torso. Sport packs feature additional straps like chest straps and a waist belt to keep the backpack firmly in place while moving. These features help keep the pack from snagging on branches and keep the weight from shifting while you climb, run, or bike.

The reduced capacity of sport packs is to keep the weight and bulk to a minimum; roominess is not the goal of these packs. Most packs designed for hiking or running will have enough room for a hardshell jacket, a snack, and a couple of tools should you need to replace a tire on your trail ride. To compensate for the lack of volume, most sport packs double as hydration carriers with a removable bladder and drinking tube. It’s not unusual for there to be a few attachment points to clip a carabiner or bottle of sunscreen. If you are trying to jam a picnic and change clothes into a sport pack, you will have a hard time. These packs should be used for individual needs and just for excursions, not camping.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

Some Of Our Favorites

Daylite 13L Backpack

The Osprey Daylite pack is a lightweight single-pocket sport pack designed for fast-moving trips. The EVA foam back panel conforms comfortably to your back while giving decent ventilation. The combination of mesh shoulder straps and nylon waist and sternum strap keeps the pack in place no matter how fast you ride.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide


Mountainsmith Clear Creek 10 Hydration Pack

The Clear Creek Hydration pack is designed around the ability to carry a 3-liter hydration bladder. The pack features a zippered mesh front and top panel to fit the bare essentials. Some additional space can be made if opting for a smaller capacity bladder.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

CapacityWeightMaterialPack AccessPockets
10 liters1 lb. 6 oz.NylonTop1 +

Day Packs

The day pack is the backpack group with the most diversity. These are the larger “catch-all” backpacks. Usually, the storage volume of a day pack is between 30 and 40 liters, but there are many brands that offer packs on either side of the average. Day packs characteristically have two larger pouches to organize and store gear; there are also an additional two or more smaller pouches that work well for storing smaller pieces of equipment. Many day packs further have elastics and pouches on the outside of the pack to grant quick access to a water bottle or rain poncho. Day packs are designed for carrying more weight than sport packs and feature padded shoulder straps and a cushioned, ventilated back. Cushioned straps are critical for reduced strain while hiking. The ventilated straps and back will keep you cooler while reducing the possibility of chafing on your hike.

A knee-jerk response is the day pack will serve a majority of outdoor enthusiasts as well as any other style. Fall is a great time to be out, but the weather can be unpredictable. A warm afternoon can become a cold evening, so having the extra storage to pack a warmer layer with gloves and a hat can save the day. Being able to carry extra snacks or tools makes daypacks a prime choice for backcountry outdoorsmen who could need anything from binoculars to a pack saw. Day packs are an excellent choice for the solo adventurer doing an overnight trip or the day hiker who plans on a second activity. While these concepts might be a little abstract, we urge you to read our favorites for this section to see the diversity that the day pack group has.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

Some Of Our Favorites

Router 40L Backpack

The Northface Router combines minimizing with utility and answers nearly all the needs of the modern adventurer. The storage pockets are designed to hold a laptop and other devices during the week and be exchanged for a hydro flask and soft shell on Friday afternoon. The Router isn’t just a great day pack; it’s a great everyday pack.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

40 liters4 +YesNylon2 lbs.

Osprey Manta 24 Hydration Pack

With seven pockets, the Ospreay Manta is ready to be filled with all manner of gear for your day trip. Pair that with the built-in hydration carrier, and there’s nowhere you can’t go. While this may not always match your costume, I’ve found plenty of use carrying this around during Halloween when kids may need to lighten their candy stash or put on an extra layer as the sun sets.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

CapacityWeightMaterialBPA FreeAccessPockets
24 liters2 lbs.NylonYesPanel7 +

MYSTERY RANCH Coulee 25 Pack

The Mystery Ranch Coulee day pack is designed for fast access and quiet use. Users can easily open the entire pack with the unique zipper design allowing for fast top pouch access or laid out for easy loading. The bag features multiple straps for tightening down the load to the pack and the user. Technically, this pack is a frame pack with an internal frame, but its use and size make it best described as a day pack.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

25 liters2 lbs.NylonTop/front1 +Yes

The Frame Pack

Unlike day packs or sport packs the frame pack has a solid frame. Originally outdoor gear companies built frame packs of wood or steel, but neither was particularly light. Today’s packs are most often a plastic or polymer blend, granting packs the same rigidity while being lightweight and ergonomic. Most frame packs have a frame that sits inside the backpack, and some more modular style packs like older military surplus or hunting packs have an external frame. The external frame allows gear or a successful harvest to be attached to the frame as needed.

Frame packs are big backpacks. Often frame packs are between 50 and 70 liters though some extreme packs get even bigger. Frame packs are most often a single large pocket with a top opening. Many have a lower zipper to access gear stored at the bottom of the pack, like a sleeping bag. Some frame packs have an additional top pouch that converts into a detachable sport pack. With so much capacity, backpackers can carry a week’s worth of clothing, a tent, a sleeping bag, and additional camp gear. Putting an entire camp on your back would be exhausting, so frame packs are designed to distribute weight evenly between your shoulders and hips. Frame packs with the added bulk and weight need to be adjusted to the wearer and packed correctly. Once you get the fit right and your gear stowed, there is nowhere you cant adventure. While starting a south-to-north trip on the Appalachian Trail may be a little late in the year, a frame pack would get you an extended weekend away anywhere you choose.

Our Favorites

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

Some Of Our Favorites

Mountain Hardwear PCT 55 L Pack

The Mountain Hardwear PCT 55 may not be the largest frame pack, but it is undoubtedly one of the most versatile. This pack comes with multiple large external pockets to make it easy to organize. It also comes with a removable sport pack and hydration carrier. The extended mesh back support keeps airflow between you and the pack, with the hip belt moving independently of the frame to keep from the feeling of tipping over.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

55 liters2.2 ozNylonTop3 +Yes

Mountainsmith Lookout 80 Pack

The lookout 80 is a massive 80-liter pack that maintains a surprisingly light profile. The pack is just over four pounds unloaded, even with its internal aluminum frame. With plenty of attachment points, you can load this budget-friendly pack and still look for more to fit.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

80 liters4 lbs.NylonTop / Panel2 +

REI Co-op Tarn 40 Pack – Kids

As a parent, I have joked how I wish my kids would pull their weight. With the REI Tarn 40, at least my eight-year-old can. The Tarn is a scaled-down version of REI’s top-loading internal frame packs. The frame is adjustable, so she can keep her backpack for our family hikes as she grows.

Fall Backpack Buying Guide | GearPro Guide

40 liters2 lbs. 10 oz.NylonTop4 +Kids'


Whether you plan to hike your way into dispersed camping in Big Cypress National Park or take a ride through your local park, having the right backpack for fall activities is key to your enjoyment of the season. There are many more options out there than our favorite. Take a look for yourself. Only you can decide if a slim sport pack is what you need for trail running or if you need to pick a day pack with more room to fit the kid’s collection of fall foliage they will undoubtedly want to bring home.

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