Can a Backpack Used for Hiking Be too Big?

I have seen the question from the title asked by some people, and have noticed a variety of very different answers that address completely different aspects of a pack. So the question may be ambiguous, and it is properly answered here.

The term too big backpack may imply the following:
  • Too big regarding the pack’s volume (capacity).
  • Too big regarding the harness size.

I have seen some talking even about too heavy pack when addressing the question in the title, but this is clearly a completely different issue.

In any case, a hiking pack can be too big, but this is not always a big deal. Keep reading to find out why.

Can a Backpack Used for Hiking Be too Big - top picture with a mountaineer carrying a backpack in the mountains and a lake in the background.

Too big backpack regarding the volume (capacity)

This is one of the mentioned situations where the size is not a big deal. If I am forced to choose, I would rather have a bigger pack than a smaller one.

One reason for such a choice would be that modern packs usually have plenty of compression options, so with such compression straps you can physically reduce the volume of the pack. This is how you can stabilize the load if the pack is not completely full.

So there is no much harm if the pack is a bit too big. Of course, this means you carry a bit more of its material but this is less bad than you may think, see more below.

Volume to weight ratio of a pack. Why this is important?

This is the second reason when the actual volume may not be too big deal. Namely, one of the most important parameters of a pack is the volume-to-weight ratio or VW ratio. This means the bigger the VW number, the better.

Larger packs usually have this parameter better than smaller hiking packs. To realize this, it is best to use packs from the same series, but with different volumes.

So see the following packs:

  • Osprey Eja 38, the weight is 1.2 kg, so VW ratio is 31.7 l/kg.
  • Osprey Eja 48, the weight is 1.25, and VW ratio is 38 l/kg.
  • Osprey Eja 58, the weight is 1.3, and VW ratio is 44.6 l/kg.

Why this is so, why the VW ratio is better in the larger packs? The reason is simple, the heaviest elements of these packs are almost the same. This means the harness and hip belt combination with all its padding, straps, and buckles, plus the back panel, etc.

Extra fabric used for a physically larger pack is negligible. Though there may be more metal in the frame of a larger pack, but you have seen the numbers above.

In other words, if you are in situation to choose, and you know that there may be situations when you might need more volume, take Eja 58 instead of Eja 48.

In case that you are not familiar with these excellent packs, please see more about them in this video:

The best option – a backpack with an expandable or extendable collar

Now, in some situations a physically big pack may indeed look too big, and this may be even if you cinch it properly. Its lid is still big and its frame as well, so the pack may look bulky and awkward.

But no worry, there is a great way to have more volume in a smaller pack. Buy a pack with an extendable collar. With some good packs of that type you can have 10-15 liters of extra volume when it is needed.

You can see the Deuter Futura Air Trek 50+10 Pack as an example. The number +10 in the official name describes the fact that you can have 10 liters of extra volume when you expand the collar. The lid in such a pack is a floating type to accommodate such extra load.

Deuter has many packs with this feature, the picture below shows how this expanded collar looks in their Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL Pack for Women.

Expanded collar and adjusted lid in a Deuter pack.
Expanded collar and adjusted lid in a Deuter pack.

But how much extra weight do you have because of this? Well, you do not know unless you destroy the pack and measure.

However, this is practically just the extra piece of fabric used for the extension of the collar. The lid attachment straps are also a bit longer, see the picture above. So in my view, this extra weight is quite negligible compared to what you gain.

Too big backpack regarding the harness size

This can be a far more serious issue than the volume discussed above, and you should not make mistakes regarding this issue. Here is what this may mean:

  1. The torso range is with the numbers that do not fit your body size.
  2. The shoulder straps attachment points are more separated.

To understand the issues, it is again best to check some well-known packs, so take the Osprey Exos 58 Pack for Men. This pack is built in two sizes S/M and L/XL, and here is what you have:

Torso fit:
– S/M: 17-20.5 inches (43-52 cm).
– L/XL: 19.5-23 inches (50-58 cm).

Ultralight Osprey Exos 58 Pack for Men.
Ultralight Osprey Exos 58 Pack for Men.

As you see, there is a torso range for both options, and there is also a bit of overlapping. So, quite generally, it is best to do as follows:

  • Make sure you know your torso size.
  • Buy a pack with the proper torso range.
  • This is still a range, so if possible, go for a pack with an adjustable torso length. This will allow you for fine tuning to find the best possible fit.
  • In the case that you plan to order the pack online, try also to find it in your local store to see how it fits to your body.
  • One reason for the previous suggestion is that manufacturers to not provide info about the width of the shoulder straps attachment points. So if this is too wide, the pack will not be comfortable. The only option is to try it.


To summarize, a hiking backpack can be too big, and there are two aspects of the meaning of this. One is related to its volume and one to its harness size. The issue of volume is not so critical, as you have seen above, but the harness size is absolutely important.

I hope I did not miss saying something important, but if you think I did, please let me know, there is a comment box below.

This site is all about outdoors questions and answers and I add texts here on a regular basis, so bookmark it and keep as a reference. Check my texts about reasons for using a frameless pack and about finding a hiking pack for an X-small woman.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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