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Backpacking Basics: What Size Pack for a 5-Day Trip?

One of the biggest challenges before a backpacking trip is selecting a backpack that actually works for you. Planning a trip longer than 3 days means you’re going to need more than just the bare essentials- plus lots of extra food. Backpacking packs come in all sorts of different volume sizes, from 25L-110L and higher, which means that there are a lot of different ways to choose poorly. This begs the question, “what size pack is good for a 5-day trip?”

If you’re going to be taking an extended backpacking trip (with no resupplies), it’s best to get a pack with a volume of at least 70L. That’ll give you all the space you need to pack extra clothes, sufficient food, and some of the creature comforts you might otherwise be forced to go without. If you’re an adherent to the “ultralight” philosophy or you’re smaller in stature, you may be fine with 50-ish liters of space. Most people, though, should go for 70 just to be safe!

Backpacker hiking along a green coastline

What size Backpack should you choose? 5 things to consider

Backpacks are measured in two ways: first to fit the person (S,M,L,XL), and then by volume, typically displayed in liters. The more liters in the pack, the more room it has. Day packs are generally less than 40L and are best used for, well, day-hikes, but they’re also great for overnighters. The next range of backpack sizes range between 30L and 50L and are perfect for weekend trips. Finally, anything larger than 50L is what you’ll find section hikers, thru hikers, and other long-distance backpackers using.

What backpack volume is right for you? The answer is largely determined by the length of your trip, but there are some other things you should consider.

1. Bigger person = bigger pack

The larger you are, the bigger your backpack should be. By this, I don’t mean getting a “large” fit instead of a “medium” fit backpack. I mean that you’ll need more space in your bag to fit clothing and food- because your clothing and food simply take up more space. Take it from someone who is 6’5″ and 220 pounds- the bigger you are, the bigger your pack should be. Otherwise, good luck fitting a pair of pants alongside your extra-long sleeping bag and sleeping pad in your 40L backpack!

The pack I use is a Gregory Baltoro 75, specifically chosen because 75L gives me more than enough room to fit all my clothes – which, again, take up a ton of space – alongside the food and gear I need. 

2. Friends can help you share the weight

Camping with a group isn’t only more fun, it’s a lot easier. A lot of the essential gear can be separated among different members of the group, lightening each person’s carry weight considerably. For example, when I hike with my wife, one of us takes the tent body and footprint while the other carries the tent poles and guylines. Backpacking with people is safer, easier, and more enjoyable!

3. Make room for luxuries and creature comforts

If you’re the type of person who likes to retain some of the comforts of home on the trail, you might want to budget a little extra space in your pack. This will give you some room for a blanket, a couple of books, or anything else that’ll make you more comfortable on the trail!For example, on a recent trip, I brought a book, a solar phone charger, and a bunch of Pop-Tarts even though I didn’t technically *need* any of it. Having the extra room in my pack made the decision to bring those things a no-brainer.

What size pack for a 5 day trip

4. Be wary of too much backpack

There is such a thing as too big. Buying an 85L backpack knowing you’ll never use it for a trip longer than two days is a perfect way to spend money that you don’t need to spend. Every time a backpack gets bigger, it costs more. For example, the Gregory Baltoro 65 is half the price of the Baltoro 100! Personally, I use the Baltoro 75 because, as previously stated, I’m a rather large guy who loves his food.

5. Don’t forget: you’ve got storage space on the outside, too

THe inside of your pack isn’t the only place you have to put things. A good pack will have a plethora of pockets, straps, zippers, and buckles that you can use to secure gear and supplies. This increases your packing capabilities and makes it easier to organize your supplies by priority. A smaller pack with tons of pockets and straps can actually be a lot more useful than a larger pack that doesn’t have enough exterior straps and pockets. For example, you can strap your sleeping bag, hiking poles, and other bulky items to the outside, giving you more room to pack inside.

Person with multi-day backpack in a canyon

What items should you pack for a 5-Day Backpacking trip?

Now that you know a little bit more about what size of backpack you need, what goes in it? There are a ton of variables here, which means you’ll be responsible for making the final call on what you bring and what you leave behind. The basics, though, of packing are as follows:

The Ten Essentials

The Ten Essentials for backpacking were first published decades ago in a book on mountaineering. They have since become the global standard for answering the question of many beginner backpackers: “what on earth should I bring?” The Ten Essentials covers all your bases and ensures you’ve got what you need to tear down the trail safely and deal with any emergencies that may arise:

  • Navigation: Map, GPS, or downloaded trails from AllTrails/Hiking Project
  • Light: Headlamp, flashlight, or both
  • Sun Protection: Hat, sunglasses, long clothing, sunscreen
  • First Aid: More than just bandaids and ibuprofen
  • Knife: You’ll use it more than you ever thought
  • Fire-Making Equipment: Fire-starter, waterproof matches, kindling, etc.
  • Shelter: Tent, bivy, or a tarp
  • Extra Food: So you can eat it!
  • Extra Water: So you can drink it! (Water filtration systems are invaluable, too)
  • Extra Clothes: Stay dry, stay warm, stay alive.

Other things to pack

Friends backpacking along a green ridge

Outside of the Ten Essentials, consider bringing some of these things to make your trip easier and more enjoyable!

  • Camping/Backpacking Stove
  • Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
  • Journal or Camera (or both)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Gaiters for foot/ankle protection
  • Bear Spray (if needed)

The truth is, there is an infinite number of things you could pack and a great many things you should pack- all depending on where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Do your research, don’t under-pack, and trust your judgment!

How much should your backpack weigh?

When everything is fully loaded, how heavy should your pack be for a 5-day trip? Obviously, carry weight will differ from person to person, so it’s hard to give an exact number. Most experts say that you should stick to a 5:1 person-to-pack ratio. This means that your pack should weigh no more than 20% of your total body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, keep your pack under 40.

Most people try to stay well below that 5:1 ratio, though. Ultralight backpackers routinely complete long hikes with a carry weight of less than 10 pounds. The actual weight of your backpack is entirely up to you- just don’t make it too heavy! Overloading your pack is exhausting and pointless at best; it’s dangerous and deadly at worst.

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