HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BEST HIKING BACKPACK
The backpack is one of the most important items of equipment when hiking, which is why it should be chosen carefully. How do you get there? This is the purpose of this article.
Hello and welcome to this article, where we will see how to choose your personal hiking backpack.
The first step is to determine your needs using a few questions.
The second step is to recognize the different types of backpacks available and understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.
In step number three, we will see the most important features for choosing the best hiking backpack.
We will end with the best way to try on your hiking backpack, to make sure that it has no blemishes first, and that it really is the one that suits your needs on the other hand.
Now that you know how things are going to play out in this article, let’s start by determining your needs.
DEFINE YOUR NEEDS
- Do you prefer lightness over durability?
Just a quick note: if you’re careful, even a light backpack can prove to be very durable. And who says durability says reliability.
- Do you have a problem with attaching equipment (like a sleeping pad) to the outside of your backpack?
- Do you plan to sleep in lodges or in your tent outside?
- Do you carry everything (like kitchen utensils), or do you plan to eat in lodges for example?
- Are you used to going for day hikes or rather on multi-day hikes?
- Are you hiking alone or with a partner?
- If you do another outdoor activity (like skiing), do you prefer a multi-purpose bag or rather a bag for each activity?
- Do you have a problem paying more than $150 for a backpack that you like?
- Do you hike in cold weather? Because if so, you need to pack bulky clothes, a bulky sleeping bag, maybe two sleeping pads, etc.
- Do you suffer from excessive back sweating? If so, it is best to look for a bag with a ventilation system.
TYPES OF HIKING BACKPACKS
There are four types of hiking backpacks: trail bags, day-hike backpacks, multi-day backpacks, and ultralight backpacks.
It is for this reason that they are very small, very light, with a small capacity (less than 10 liters), and with an ergonomic design that allows them to remain stable and very close to the body, while preventing most friction.
This type of backpack has a built-in water bag, but if it doesn’t, it will surely have a dedicated slot.
This type of backpack can be a good option if you plan to hike for a few hours only, or if you just need to stay hydrated.
Since this type of backpack does not allow you to take clothes or a large capacity of water, you must be experienced (in order to forecast the weather for example) and familiar with the path you are going to take (to minimize your chances of getting lost and spending the night outside).
In terms of appearance, day hiking backpacks are similar to everyday backpacks, but sometimes they have an additional pocket to integrate a hydration system, sometimes even a ventilation system at the level of the back, straps and belts, designed for hiking.
With a capacity between 10 and 35 liters, they can allow you to take your fleece, a snack to eat during the day, and some small equipment such as a GPS, a compass, a first aid kit, etc.
Since they are not intended to carry a heavy load, most bags of this type are made without frames, in order to reduce weight and cost.
If you are a beginner and looking for something comfortable, reliable, and practical for a day hike only, this type of backpack is the best choice for you, so all you have to do is find the volume that suits you.
Besides the capacity, it also needs to be comfortable to allow you to walk longer, and more reliable to stay safe.
The comfort of these backpacks comes from their padded straps; stability comes from the frame and practicability comes from the fact that it contains several pockets, storage, and accessories, to attach your poles to the bag without having to remove it completely for example.
The design of the backpacks allows them to distribute correctly weight on different parts of your body.
This type of backpack stands out for its low weight – one of the most important things in hiking – because it has little or no padding in the straps and shoulder straps, no frame, and the use of fine fabrics.
All these sacrifices are made to lighten the bag, making it more fragile, therefore, it is obvious that you will not find an ultra-light bag with a large capacity (80 liters for example).
Most experienced hikers who prefer this type of backpack already have a lot of technique, and use the same equipment for two or three different purposes. For example, the groundsheet can work as a bag frame, the trekking pole to pitch the tent, etc.
Techniques aside, these hikers don’t overload their backpacks using such light equipment or hiking in summer climates, which typically require less gear or lighter gear.
Here is all the information for the different types of hiking backpacks. With this information, you are now able to choose a bag that suits your needs. If you are still hesitating between two models, the next part which talks about the features of choice will help you decide between two bags.
This is the last gear to look for because you must first have all of your gear to know what volume to choose for a backpack.
I’ll show you some volume estimates, but if you’re inexperienced the only thing you need to do is finish acquiring all your gear, then place it in garbage bags of known capacity, to know how many liters you are going to need in your backpack.
Since manufacturers use slightly different methods to measure the capacity of their backpacks, one can find a small difference between the true volume of two bags, even if they have the same volume indication indicated in their references.
The volume of your hiking backpack depends on:
- The length of your hike: several days require more food.
- The climate: winter requires equipment that is often bulkier.
- The quality of your gear: A quality sleeping bag takes up less space when it is packed.
- Your experience: An experienced hiker has an idea of how many calories they need, which calorie-dense foods require less space, etc.
To give you a rough idea of the backpack volume depending on the length of your trip:
- For a hike of a few hours (4 hours for example), which does not require clothing, except those you wear, a backpack of fewer than 10 liters will be sufficient to stay hydrated, with a few small pockets for your minimal equipment.
- For a day hike (12 hours max), you will need a backpack with a volume of 10 to 30 liters, to transport your fleece and have something to eat.
- For a 2 to 3 day hike, you need a volume of about 40 to 50 liters, to bring your sleeping system (tent, sleeping bag and groundsheet) and your food.
- For a 3 to 7 day hike, you need to bring more food, so a volume of about 50 to 70 liters.
- For a hike of more than 7 days, you will need a backpack with a volume of more than 70 liters.
Note that these approximate volumes count for hikers taking their sleeping systems and food with them. If you plan to spend the nights in lodges, reduce these volumes by 5 liters (the volume of the sleeping system), and if you plan to eat in these lodges, reduce the volume by another 10 liters.
An ill-fitting backpack means poor load weight distribution, which means discomfort, which will result in decreased performance.
For this, it must be understood that even if two people of the same size wear identical bags for that size, they can have different results, because what matters here is the length of the back and not the height of the person.
To find out your back length, tilt your head to find the first point which will be the bony bump in your neck (technically known as the C7 cervical vertebra), and the second point, which is the top of the pelvic bones (iliac crest ). Now measure between these two points, and get your back length.
You will need to look for a backpack that matches your back length or an adjustable backpack with a back length range that includes yours, instead of leaving with a bag that only fits your size.
To be sure that the bag matches your back length, the straps need to be around your shoulders (neither too tight nor too loose), and that the lumbar belt is around your pelvis (neither top nor bottom).
With a properly adjusted backpack, most of the weight of your load is carried by the largest muscles in your body, which are the hips, and the rest on your back.
The weight of your empty backpack contributes a lot to the comfort of your hike, and it’s the thing a lot of people don’t pay attention to, even though they know the weight on their back should be light.
But the thing to also pay attention to is that you should not go from a backpack of 2.5 kg to another of 800 g without reducing the weight of your equipment, because usually, a lightweight backpack is more fragile, therefore less reliable when overloaded.
Another thing to know about the weight of hiking bags is that you should only compare the weight of two backpacks when they have the same volume.
Fabric is also an important point to consider if you want a durable backpack.
Today’s backpacks are often nylon, and in several strengths, which we refer to as “Deniers” (120D, for example); the higher this number, the stronger the fabric, but heavier.
Polyester, which is a material similar to nylon, and also used in backpacks because it is light and quite resistant to tension.
If you hear a ripstop fabric, it means that the manufacturer used a special fabric structure to save weight, without losing much in tensile strength.
For example, since nylon is a lightweight fabric, it is reinforced using two types of fibers of different diameters.
Cordura is another material that is used in backpacks, but it is reserved for areas prone to abrasion.
Most people think waterproof is an important choice… Yes, but not as you imagine.
Since there are several effective techniques for keeping your things dry, such as using a rain cover or putting your things in a dry-bag, it is best to place the waterproofing of your backpack as the last criterion to look for, as it easily makes your bag quite heavy, especially in the case of very bulky bags.
STRAPS AND BELTS
The straps and belts found on backpacks are there for:
Transfer the most load weight to your hips to gain comfort, as far as the lap belt is concerned.
Bring the bag closer to your back to be more stable, or move it away to ventilate it, and in this case, we are talking about the shoulder straps load return straps.
Pull the contents of your pack close to your back, for more balance and stability, in the case of the compression straps.
The two load return straps that are less important are the chest belt load return straps and the lap belt load return straps.
The first is only to keep the shoulder straps in place, and the second is to help the hip belt conform to the shape of your hips, something that the padding of the latter already does.
Personally, since I get thirsty quickly when I walk, especially in hot weather, the criterion I like to incorporate into my hiking backpacks is the ability to stay hydrated while walking.
To do this, check that there is a hole to pass your bladder tube through the top of the back of the backpack.
The backpacks for women are not only small backpacks for men with a feminine color, they also have narrower shoulder straps and a shorter back length to suit the anatomy of women, as well as hip belts.
The more loaded the backpack becomes, the more you have to be careful that it belongs to your personal morphology.
If you can’t find the right bag for you, there is no shame in looking in bags of the opposite sex.
The back ventilation is a very important thing, especially in winter, because if you are like me, and you sweat easily from the back, go for backpacks with a mesh frame on the back of the bag, which leaves a little space between your back to promote air circulation.
Note that this system does not stop back sweating, it only helps to reduce the speed of sweating.
The openings play an important role in keeping our things organized in our backpacks. Because if you have only one opening on the top of the bag, to access an item that is in the bottom, you will have to take everything out and then put everything back, something that requires energy on the one hand and that will disrupt the rest of our business.
To do this, opt for a bag with three large openings, the first on the top of the bag, a second on the bottom of the bag, and a third along the entire length of the bag.
Even though a lot of zippers add a bit of weight to the bag, it’s worth incorporating them into the bag selection criteria.
Pockets are useful accessories for organizing your things, but more pockets mean more fabrics and more closures, so more weight.
To do this, think about what you are going to take with you and look for a bag with pockets only for these things.
Personally, since my phone is always with me, the pocket that is essential in my hiking bags is the one on the waist belt, as it allows me to easily check the route or see the time on my phone.
If a bag does not have the ability to accommodate a hydration system inside, the latter must have an open mesh pocket to keep your water bottle on the side of the bag.
If you are going to hang your tent or groundsheet on the outside of your bag, check that there are accessories and that they are large enough for your gear.
TRYING ON A HIKING BACKPACK
To try on a backpack in a store, you can first load it with two tents from the store to be the same weight you will be carrying on your treks.
The second step is to tighten the lap belt and shoulder straps.
Also, tighten the booster straps if available.
At this point, you will be able to determine if the size of the bag is suitable for your back length.
After finding the right bag for your back length, all you have to do is check a few things like:
- Check that there is no disturbance or friction between your body and the areas in contact with the bag
- Check that the bag does not block your walking movements
- Check that the bag is not making sounds while you walk
- Check that there are no defects in the seams, fabric, or in zippers.
- Check that the storage is large enough to accommodate all your belongings.
And there you go! Hope this article has been useful to you; If you have any question or suggestions you can put them in the comments below, I will respond to the comments.
Updated on January 23, 2021 by Ben