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A partner and I are hoping to hike over a 4 - 5 day trip in Glacier National Park in August (hot days and cool nights).

We are trying to decide on backpacking packs size.

We can share a tent and cooking supplies (and other small things).

We currently have this tent (REI half dome). (My estimates are this is about 19 L)

We will each have one sleeping bag like this (REI trailbreak 30) (About 6 L each).
We feel we can each go without a sleep pad if we do not have the space for it.

Then maybe something like a Jetboil and a water filter.

Of course there is clothes (rain stuff too), food, and other small items to pack along.

Now, normally people seem to recommend about 60L for a pack for 3-5 days. However, I don't know if these take into account the items that can be shared among a pair.

Instead, I was imaging a womans 45L pack for my partner and a mens 55L for myself.

So my question is, what packs should one get if they are backpacking with a partner on a 5ish day trip?

  • Sorry, I meant sleeping pad. I adjusted the question to reflect that. – thalacker May 25 at 20:39
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    Do not go without some sleeping pad/inflateable/whatever - that is a recipe for being cold and getting horrible sleep. – Jon Custer May 25 at 23:29
  • Thanks for the recommendation @JonCuster! We ended up getting a set of pads. – thalacker May 28 at 17:47
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    Pure volume is not everything. It really depends on whether you want to have stuff attached outside or not. Also a lot of packs have a variable volume like '55+10' which I personally find very convenient as this allows to increase the size of the pack a bit if necessary by putting stuff on top. Another point to consider is the comfort of you backpack. If I know I will have to carry a heavy backpack, I would always choose the more comfortable one, even if it is slightly too big for my current need. – Manziel Jun 2 at 11:45
  • The expandable volume is very helpful for maintaining a compressed load, as volume can vary over several days as food is eaten or clothing is used, for example. When attaching items to the outside, be sure that the pack has attachment points so that these items can be secured snugly, so that they don't flop around, and can be positioned so that they don't negatively affect the center of mass. – BalooRM Jun 2 at 14:49
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That 60 l figure is a middle ground. There are ultralight backpackers who could use a lot less, but that means spending huge amounts on minimalist kit, and refining your setup over time. I come more from the "be prepared" end of the scale, partly because I live somewhere with very changeable weather, and have a very old but very nice 60-75 l pack. That means it expands upwards, making it rather tall at the biggest size. I used it a lot trekking in groups of 2-3, with an appropriate size of tent, and one stove per group.

With up to about 3 days between resupply stops, this was plenty, even when we had to re-share the load within a group of 3 to help someone who was struggling. Sleeping bags are smaller now (when compressed), and tents can be. Sleeping mats have become much smaller (e.g. mine is 0.8 l) or foam ones can be strapped on the outside. Some form of sleeping pad is essential in most conditions; a sleeping bag is very poor insulation underneath, even if the ground is comfortable.

If you may be resupplying a small group in the field, you can't always optimise item sizes, and if you can only get huge bags of pasta and large loaves of bread, you'll struggle if you were totally full when you left home.

I suggest that your thought of 45+55 l between the 2 of you is a little small. Food, water (even if only for the day), and clothing make up a significant amount of the bulk, and the amount you need is per person; you'll also use a bit more fuel with 2. Another 5 l each would go a long way. It's impossible to completely avoid all gaps in packing so if you measure every item and add up the volumes, you'll underestimate your requirement; with practice you can get the gaps pretty minimal and still have the items you most need accessible.

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    You beat me to it. I think for 4-5 days 60 l is on the conservative end for an inexperienced hiker, but probably excessive for an experienced person with compact gear. Particularly this is the case as I am a big advocate for fitting all your gear inside, but then, I'm from an island nation where it rains a lot and wet gear sucks... – bob1 May 26 at 8:21
  • @bob1 you mean you don't like the roll-mat-in-a-bin-liner look? – Chris H May 26 at 9:23
  • not so much as don't like it, it's more that the bin liner rips on a rock at a rest stop and then my mat is all wet... I really need to get a properly compact mattress, it's just that they are so $$$ (NZ) – bob1 May 26 at 9:29
  • @bob1 yes, I actually used to use a rubble sack but even they don't last for ever. I have carried a foam mat inside (with everything else inside that) but it always seemed to use an unreasonable volume and make it hard to keep the weight close to my back. I haven't hiked with my new inflatable (actually meant for bikepacking where I hope to get away with about 35l plus a few things strapped to the frame), only tested it in the garden – Chris H May 26 at 9:40
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When it comes to selecting your packs, just forget about gear sharing aspects. Size your packs to be capable of supporting each of you as though you are going individually.

Two major reasons:

  1. Is this going to be the only trip you use these packs for? Probably not. Size them so you can go on other trips, as a couple or individually. A 45L is going to be roomy for day trips or pushing the limits for ultralight extended trips. A 55 is also going to be tight for extended trips but barely manageable in places with favorable weather.

  2. The volume savings from sharing gear really aren't all that substantial. I've backpacked with friends and my wife, sharing gear, and you really don't save a lot of volume. You can share your tent, cooking gear, and emergency gear. Pretty much everything else each of you needs to have. Cooking gear and emergency supplies don't take up much room to begin with. I store my tent on the outside of my pack, so a reduction in its size doesn't make any difference anyway. If you do store your tent in your pack, you generally can only split fabric and poles, and the poles don't take up much space, so you aren't saving a whole lot.

Splitting tent, cooking gear can have significant benefits with regards to weight, but volume it really isn't a big difference, in my opinion. Certainly not enough to go with a 45+55.

I would get at least a 60L pack for each of you, minimum. The weight difference between a 45 and 65 is not going to be significant in the pack weight, it's better to have a little extra margin.

Yes, owning a larger pack does have the risk of "I've got the space, might as well bring this one thing" and before you know it you're packed full anyway. But, you can avoid that with some self-restraint. But, if you can't fit all your necessary gear in too-small a pack, there is very little you can do.

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In addition to the good answer by @ChrisH. I'd like to add:

You don't loose much by bringing backpacks that are a bit to roomy. They might weigh a little bit more, but the difference between a 45l and a 60l pack is probably not very significant compared to your total weight, especially if you are new and and your gear is not heavily optimised.

However, what you gain by having a roomy backpack is comfort.

Packing your backpacks in an optimal way on your kitchen table before you start out for the trip is great fun. Having to play optimisation Tetris for an hour every time you break camp can cost a lot of nerve, especially considering rain, cold, mosquitoes, etc..

Therefore my suggestion would be: when in doubt I would go for the bigger pack.

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    This is at the risk of what tends to happen to me: the amound of gear adapting to fill the available space, not the other way round... – phipsgabler Jun 3 at 15:06
  • Another substantial increase in comfort is that packs in the 45 l range typically do not have "fully grown" hip belts, but 60 l packs do. With my big pack not quite full, I can often have the full weight on the hip belt and air my back (as long as the terrain is easy) - with the smaller pack full, that is not possible, its smaller hip belt just doesn't take the full weight. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jun 5 at 14:13
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I think you need to take 60 liters. It won't be much costly for you but you will have enough place for everything you need while camping. Modern backpacks are really lightweight and it won't be more difficult to wear 60litres than 55. And you can need it later when you will go camping alone. It's a really bad idea not to take a sleeping pad because there is a big risk to get cold.

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