How to choose the right backpack size for you (2023)

If you own many backpacks as we do, you may notice that they are Sort by liter instead of their inch-by-inch size. Mass, or bag capacity, is an important factor to keep in mind when buying a backpack. For example, a 15-liter backpack is suitable for everyday activities, but it probably won’t be large enough for an overnight trip.

It is difficult to convey the volume of a bag based on its size. Let’s compare two of my favorite bags: small rain measures 15.7 inches x 11.4 x 3.9 and Herschel’s Heritage measures 18 inches x 12.25 x 5.5. Giving a side-by-side visual comparison, they look quite similar, but the Rains holds 9 liters, while Herschel holds 21.5 liters.

So how exactly are liters measured and which quantity is right for you? We spoke to backpack brands to get answers. Once you’ve determined the right amount of liters for your needs, we have more recommendations than any person could ever need. Check out our guide to Best backpacks, Best Messenger Bags, The best recycled bagsAnd Best camera bagas well as options for those who like wallets and totes.

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How is volume calculated?

Photo: Herschel

Photo: Rain

When you think of liters, you probably think of water. While there may be brands that fill their bags with liquid and add the amount as they go, there’s an easier way to do it. According to Ahren Bonnema, product design director at JanSport, most brands use small plastic balls (think ping pong balls).

“We filled them up in a bag, zipped everything up, then poured the balls into a very large, graduated cylinder with liter markers on the side,” says Bonnema. . “It sounds a bit crude, but it’s surprisingly accurate and the industry standard used by most packaging brands.”

Since something like volume has to be popular, you expect that to move from brand to brand. “I personally have probably measured dozens of competitor packaging and it is not uncommon to encounter inaccuracies,” says Bonnema. Countless message boards and Reddit threads agree. Critics at Tree line evaluation noticed that the volume requested was different from the volume they measured. (Instead of balls, they used pinto beans!) The JanSport was not among the bags they reviewed.

This is frustrating, especially since most of us don’t have hundreds of pinto beans on hand. Fortunately, most of us don’t need such precise power measurements. If all you need is a running backpack to keep your phone, jacket and some snacks, you can comfortably assume that the 8 to 10 liter capacity will probably work. Now all you have to do is figure out what you need the bag for.

How many liters do I need?

What will you do? If you carry a backpack to work and all you need to bring is your laptop, wallet, pen, and notebook, look for a backpack with the right-sized laptop compartment. I use Rains in this situation to carry my 13-inch MacBook. But if you need a backpack to double as a diaper bag, to fill up with books for an entire semester, or for hiking and camping, the amount it holds starts to matter. more important.

Backpackies has a great video tutorial size comparison. With that advice and our testing, here’s the wide size guide we recommend:


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