How To Choose a Backpack

backpack sizing

Backpacks are essential to being prepared for your next adventure– and whether you’re packing for the beach or navigating an airport terminal, it’s important to choose the right one for your specific needs.

This guide will help you choose the right backpack for any activity—wherever you’re headed.

Top 5 Factors for Choosing a Backpack

There are a few features to look out for while shopping for your next backpack.

  1. Size & Capacity: Look for a backpack that’s big enough to stash all your gear but not so big that it becomes a challenge to wear or too heavy to carry.
  2. Weather Resistance: Water resistant backpacks are a great option if you’ll be doing activities on the water or exploring the outdoors in rainy weather.
  3. Quality Materials: Invest in a durably constructed backpack that’s reliable. When choosing fabrics, look for something durable like a canvas or a polyester with a high denier (D) - a term that indicates a fabric’s thickness. In general, a higher denier (600D+) means greater durability.
  4. Hip Belts: A hip belt is useful when you’re hauling a heavy load but isn’t necessary for smaller packs. If you opt for a backpack with a hip belt, check out padded and adjustable options for added comfort.
  5. Organization: If you’re working from “home” on your next surf trip, tablet or laptop sleeves are a must. Top-loading and front-loading backpacks mainly come down to personal preference. Pro tip: find a backpack with a water bottle pocket to save you from buying water at the airport or while traveling.

How To Select the Right Backpack Size

backpack capacity

The most commonly asked question is “What size backpack should I get?” The answer depends on your specific needs, including the length of your outing and how much weight and bulk you want to carry.


Here are suggested backpack capacities for different purposes:

Capacity Purpose 
5–15 liters (XS) Hands-free substitute for a purse
15–25 liters (S) Everyday adventures, running errands
25–35 liters (M) Work, school, carrying electronics, overnight trips
35–45 liters (L-XL) Weekend trips, travel


Standard Backpack Sizing

Backpacks are often available in a range of sizes, from extra small to large. These sizes generally correlate with your torso length but can vary by manufacturer and gender:

Size Inches
Extra-small Up to 15+”
Small 16”–17+”
Medium 18”–19+”
Large 20+”

Different Types of Backpacks

To help you get started with choosing a backpack, we’ll explain the purpose of each type below.

Everyday Backpacks

backpack for every day

Basic daypacks sport a traditional design and typically have 15-30 liter capacity. The best everyday backpacks have a front-loading main compartment, large front pocket, padded shoulder straps and a grab handle.

They’re made from a variety of materials such as nylon, polyester, cotton and leather. Canvas backpacks are popular cotton-based alternatives that are sturdier and more durable. Drawstring-style backpacks are also practical for space-saving and can fold into small bundles.

Travel Backpacks

backpack for travel

Most travel backpacks meet carry-on compliant dimensions, but make sure to check with your specific airline. Designed with organization in mind, thoughtful pockets separate electronics and other accessories. They are made to maximize space and can sometimes be a substitute for traditional luggage. Choosing the best travel backpack correlates directly with the purpose of your trip.

Back-To-School Backpacks

backpack for school

As a staple wardrobe accessory, back-to-school backpacks can be as stylish as they are functional. They typically contain front-loading compartments for class materials and a standard 20-40 liter capacity. They should be comfortable enough for all-day wear, spacious enough to hold a day’s worth of gear and durable enough to last the school year—or longer. Cute back-to-school backpacks often sport attractive designs and fun accessories, like matching pencil bags or lunch pails.

For ultimate comfort, look for ergonomic features like contoured shoulder straps and adjustable-height sternum straps. These features keep your backpack from bouncing around.

The same considerations can be made for the best backpacks for college.

Beach Backpacks

Whether you’re heading to the beach for a day or going on an extended vacation, the right bag can amplify your fun in the sun. Beach backpacks are designed with outdoor use in mind and can include features like mesh compartments, water resistant pockets, and even integrated cooler storage.

Mesh-style backpacks are a popular option for sandy families, best suited for carrying toys and towels and reducing messes.

If you’re looking for versatility, convertible beach bag backpacks combine the functionality of a backpack with the accessibility of a tote bag.

Bringing snacks or drinks to the beach? A beach cooler backpack features a separate insulated compartment for keeping food and beverages cool.

Choose the right backpack based on your needs and enjoy your next adventure.