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November 26, 2021

What's the Difference: Climbing Pack vs Hiking Pack

A lot of outdoor activities use a lot of similar gear. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Hiking, climbing, backpacking, photography, trail running, and even kayaking all use packs of some sort. What are the differences between different packs and can you use the same pack for multiple activities?

We’re going to focus on the climbing pack vs. hiking pack debate because the overlap is significant but the nuanced, technical differences are important to consider.

Climbing Pack vs. Hiking Pack

First of all, what is a climbing pack?

In this recent article, we outline a few different types of climbing packs. It’s a great rundown of the different types of packs you might use if you’re a climber including sport packs, trad packs, rope bags, and crag packs. Check it out if you’re looking for a good place to start to understand the main concepts of a climbing pack.

Now let’s switch gears and identify the differences between hiking packs and climbing packs.

Hiking Packs

  • Hiking packs are engineered to carry more weight over longer distances.
  • Hiking packs frequently have more compartments and specific-use pockets like the mesh water bottle holders on the outsides, snack pockets on hip belts, or a small zipper pouch for things like keys, IDs, or chapstick.
  • Hiking packs have more built-in convenience so that you can access your tools easier on the trail.
  • Hiking packs are often made with rugged materials that’ll hold up to hiking but may not be as durable if constantly scraped against rocks and boulders.

Climbing Packs

  • Climbing packs are built to be rugged and functional without adding unnecessary weight. Everything about them seems to be lighter than a traditional hiking pack from the shoulder straps to the material to the buckles.
  • Climbing packs are often more cavernous to accommodate a variety of gear according to the user’s preferences and needs. Typically, a climbing pack has an opening in the top and not much else in terms of compartments and stow-away zones.
  • Climbing packs are more simple and streamlined in design. Fewer pockets mean fewer things to get caught on rocks or branches and tear.
  • Climbing packs are often made from material that’ll more easily bounce off of and glide over rocks.

With so many similarities, do you really need different packs for each activity or can you use a climbing backpack for hiking and vice versa? Do you really need a special backpack for hiking?

On the one hand, you don’t necessarily *need* specific packs for each activity. We recommend buying a pack that best suits the activity or activities you are most passionate about or most engaged in. If you hike more than you climb, you may want to get the best mountaineering backpack you can find in your budget. If you trad climb more than you sport climb, you may want to spring for a specifically engineered trad climbing pack.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how you choose to recreate the most. If you have ample space and consider yourself a gearhead, it might be worth it to have different packs for each adventure. And on the other hand, if you live in a tiny space - like a van, for example - doubling up and having multi-activity gear is critical.