How To Choose A Hiking Backpack

hiking backpack and a great view

A hiking backpack is an essential item when you are going hiking for any length of time. There are many different types of hiker backpacks you can choose from. It is important to choose the right one for your personal comfort and that you don’t hurt yourself from straining too much.

There is a big choice of different hiking backpacks. In this quick guide the idea is to give you a simple way to choose the right one for you.

Size And Use

The first step in this process is to decide on what size pack you are going to need. This is determined to a large extent by the length of your trip, as the longer the trip the more gear you are probably going to need. The guidelines here are for someone new to hiking and backpacking. It’s not for someone who is an ultra-light backpacker.

This guideline is for spring to fall and excludes winter as a larger pack is usually needed:

Daytrip or overnight – Up to 50 Liters Capacity

1 to 2 night trip – 50 to 60 Liters

From 3 to 5 nights – 60 to 80 liters capacity

Over 5 nights – over 80 liters capacity

Get a pack that is going to meet your expected needs. You don’t want to buy one that is bigger than you need, because if you don’t fill it you gear will move around in it. Also, there is the temptation to fill it with stuff you don’t really need making it all heavier to carry.

Torso Length

To have your pack sitting on your back and hips comfortably it is important to have one that is right for your torso size and not your body length. It is your torso where the pack is going to be carried and this is how the size of packs are measured.

To measure your torso you will need a friend and a soft tape measure. You need to measure from the seventh vertebra in your spine to your hip line. The seventh vertebra is the bump in the middle of your neck. It is most noticeable when you lean your head forward. This is the top of the measurement.

The bottom is in line with your hips. You can find this by placing your hands on the top of your hips bones and point with your thumbs towards your spine.
Your friend then needs to measure along your spine from the 7th vertebra to your hip line.

Waist

When you are carrying your pack the weight will be carried on your hips and backpacks have a waist strap to keep the pack on your waist and hips. You measure this by measuring around your hipbones as this is where you place the hip strap.

Types

There are 3 main types of backpacks available:

Daypack – as the name implies this is for day trips and they have a capacity up to 30 liters. They normally do not have a frame.

Internal frame – the packs have a frame to hold the pack in to shape that is internal. This is now the most popular pack. They can handle any type of hiking and backpacking and come in different sizes. They have good padding and allow for better distribution of weight. They hold the weight close to your back. The airflow over your back is restricted which can result in it getting hot and you will have to dig more to locate your stuff.

External frame – these are for weekend and longer trips. The external frame allows you to carry more stuff on the outside of your pack. It sits slightly off your back allowing better ventilation to your back. It will shift around more than an internal frame pack but it is easier to find something in it than an internal frame pack.

Features

The features you need to look at that will help in your comfort and convenience:

Shoulder straps – wide and padded but firm so they don’t slip

Hip Belt – This bears the weight of the pack and needs to be semi rigid with soft broad padding.

Pockets – With these you need enough pockets for stuff you want quick access to while you are hiking without having to dig into your pack – this will be things like first aid kit, compass, maps, matches, trail mix  etc

Top flap – this handy for storing other things you want to access quickly like sunscreen, insect repellent , cameras and other stuff.

Back pads and stays – some packs include back pads for comfort and stays to keep the back off your back for better ventilation

Durable material – the pack should be made from waterproof /water resistant material with tightly stitched seams. Any internal seams covered with material to prevent wear. The base needs to be made of very durable material as this is going to need to stand up to more wear and tear. The zippers need to be up to job.

Compression straps – these straps are on the outside of the pack and are used to compress the pack. These help to reduce the size and stop your stuff from moving around in the pack and holding it closer to your pack.

Getting the right hiking or camping backpack comes down to you knowing what you are going to use it for to determine the capacity and your own personal torso and hip size to get the most comfortable to avoid back strain. Depending on your experience you also need to consider the weight of the pack when it is full of your items as experts recommend the weight be no more than 25 -30% of your body weight.

Now you’ve chosen your pack it is important to know how to pack your backpack so that you get the most out of it in terms of carrying all your stuff in the best way.

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