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Introduction to Backpacks: The Best High Sierra Backpack for You, Your Trail, and the Season | High Sierra Backpacker

Introduction to Backpacks: The Best High Sierra Backpack for You, Your Trail, and the Season

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 12 June 2018

Best High Sierra Backpack for Various Applications

Getting the correct backpack for your backpacking depends on properly determining what you are going to need out of a backpack. The proper backpack for a five day cross-country Wintertime snow trip is going to be different in a number of ways than the proper backpack for a two-day Summer hike along well-marked trails. 

Thus we have a seasonal difference in gear demands. The internal framed pack holds the load closer up-against the body, generating more heat and better balance. The external frame hangs and spreads the weight better on our bodies and provides superior ventelation and stability on Summer trails.

My Best Backpacks, Considering External Framed


Also See

Members Favorites Internal Framed Backpacks.

Ultra Light Backpacks


My Preferences

I use an external framed old-school Camp Trails backpack that weighs 5.5 lbs for Summertime and a very old North Face  internal framed backpack that weighs 5 lbs for Wintertime use.


Fits the Situation

Besides the task-specific requirements that define different backpacks as the "best" for a particular application, we must also consider issues of fit, weight, durability, and of course, cost. Getting the "best" backpack for you is dependent on properly balancing these selection factors to best fit your specific needs, style and budget.


Weaknesses & Strengths
Application Dependent

Lightweight materials deployed on ultralight packs will be torn to shreds route-finding along many untrailed and unmaintained routes through the Sierra Nevada. These same gossamer-light sacks can prove superior on our long-distance Summertime hikes on well-maintained trails than our heavy duty cross-country bruiser. Or not.

Our backpacking trip may well include sections of cross-country navigation as well as long stints along the uber-well maintained Pacific Crest Trail. We must choose the gear that suites the hardest part of our trail. The same is true if we are just getting started: Wisdom  may be to select the pack that gives us the greatest flexibility of use, the one that gives us the ability to use it in Winter as well as on cross-country route finding, and on well-maintained Summer trails.


The Core Use

We might start with a good all-around pack, then add specialized packs as our increasing skils increase the range of our routes and open all seasons to our exploration and engagement.


3 Basic Backpacks

The types of backpacks available can be broken down into three basic groups consisting of external framed, internal framed, and ultralight backpacks. Each type of backpack has many different designs, differing capacities, different strap, belt, and webbing setups.

It is important to know that there are no "right" or "wrong" backpacks as backpack selection is as dependent upon personal uses, tastes, and style as upon any set of rules. Yet you can make mistakes.

Think about It

Running an ultralight backpack on an off-trail trip through heavy brush can tear up the lightweight fabrics used on ultralight backpacks. Using an external framed backpack for a long Winter trip can be much colder than using an internal framed pack who's close fit keeps your back warm, while an internal framed pack's position against your back during Summer can contribute to overheating.

The real question here is what works best for you? As with any other gear question the answer comes by figuring out your needs and tastes and testing various solutions.

The Basic Considerations

The first factor you should consider is your experience level and the length, duration, and  style of backpacking trips you expect to execute with your pack. If you are just getting started backpacking you will be beginning figuring out how much food, clothing, shelter, and water you will need to carry to keep you safe and comfortable for the duration and expected conditions of your trip.

My point is that it is best that you get a few trips under your belt to work out your gear to  find out exactly what kind of setup works best for you. This means that you should borrow a backpack from a friend or try to buy a cheap used pack at a flea market, from REI returns sale, or from Craigs List.

My observations indicate most experienced and professional folks are going with medium-weight internal framed packs for Summertime use in the High Sierra. These are generally the Osprey and Gregory-style packs.

Also See

Members Favorites Internal Framed Backpacks.

My Best Packs, Considering External Framed

Ultra Light Backpacks


The goal is to get the cheapest backpack possible that you can experiment with. If you are getting started backpacking you are going to develop a system to store your food and cooking gear, your various layers of insulation and shell, and your sleeping and shelter gear. During this process your increasing experience will point you towards the packs that will serve you well through the changing seasons and across every grade of trail and all the difficulties of route finding.


High Sierra Four Season Backpacker's Gear List

Gear List: Backpack Selection


Check the Members Favorites

Best Internal Framed Packs

Best Ultra Light Packs


Best Backpacking Boots

Best Backpacking Stoves

Best Backpacking Cookware

Best Backpacking Water Purification

Best Backpacking Tents

Best Sleeping Bags

Best Sleeping Pads

Best Backpacking Shirts & Pants

Best Backpacking Camp Chairs


Originally Published
2012-11-08 15:00:02 -0700

Thank you for this post, been looking for a good packpack to hike in the Alps in Europe. Also, I'm looking to write a similar article for my Dutch website BackpackExplorer. Will definitely use this information!

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