How To Choose Your Hiking Backpack: Expert Advice

How To Choose Your Hiking Backpack: Expert Advice

Hiking is a rewarding experience. It gives you the chance to reconnect with nature, rediscover the beautiful surroundings, and assess a new level of inner peace. Still, one of the things that make hiking so valuable is that it provokes you to surpass challenges.

And one of these challenges is carrying a heavy load on your back. Whether you are touring the Appalachian Trail, or you’re attempting to cross the Darien Gap, you must depend on a reliable hiking backpack. This is one of the most important pieces of equipment for hikers and campers.

So, you should take the time to select the right one for your needs. Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced hiker, there are some considerations that you should keep in mind when you’re shopping for backpacks. We plan to address them in this article!

What Is A Hiking Backpack?

First things first: a hiking pack is specifically tailored to address the needs of hikers. In other words, it has to accommodate the necessary items for the hike, such as clothes, food, tent, and other important objects.

The design of a backpack made for hiking should maximize your comfort during the trip so that you don’t tire excessively. Evidently, backpacks come in a multitude of sizes and have various features.

Two men with backpacks.

Depending on where you’re traveling to, and the duration of your trip, you should choose the one that addresses your specifications. We’ll explain more about this throughout the article.

Types Of Hiking Backpacks

As we said before, backpacks come in different styles, sizes, and with distinct features. Knowing the main types of backpacks out there is the first step to making a fully informed purchase.

Typically, backpacks are separated into the following categories:

Small/Lightweight/Hydration Packs

To start with, the volume capacity of hydration packs is up to 10 liters. Therefore, most daypacks have a frameless design, featuring soft foam whose purpose is to offer cushion.

As you might expect, they are tailored for short distances, since they cannot accommodate too much equipment.

On that note, if you’re a committed minimalist backpacker, a lightweight hiking backpack will be down your alley.

Bear in mind, though, that you cannot fit more into it than the following: a lightweight rain shell, a few snacks and gels, and a hydration reservoir.

Overnight Packs

Most daypacks or hydration packs cannot be used for overnight or weekend backpacking because such a trip implies carrying more gear with you. All that stuff necessitates extra space, even if you prefer hiking the minimalist way.

When you’re planning a 1-3 night trip, you should get a hiking backpack with 30 to 5o liters of volume. Although you might be attempting to pack lightly, you should be able to include your list of necessities.

Technical Packs

A technical backpack is also meant for those with a minimalist mentality. That’s primarily because it could easily handle an overnight load for hut-to-hut hikers or ultra-light backpacking.

Technical pack.

Most technical packs incorporate a hip-belt for comfort, as well as a padded back. What is more, many manufacturers add an internal frame with either one or two aluminum stays, so that the backpack would accommodate heavier loads if needed. 

Midsize Packs

During the last couple of years, thanks to state-of-the-art technology, hiking equipment has significantly reduced in volume and weight; which is terrific news for us – eager hikers.

Plus, this had led to the creation of midsize packs, whose capacity ranges from 25 to 60 liters.

These can be utilized in the case of multi-day hikes with a small inventory. Such a pack would be ideal for people who like to carry a lot of additional stuff such as cameras, books – you name it.

What is more, some midsize packs allow you to attach a lumbar pack or daypack to it. This could be very handy, especially if you’re staying in a hostel/hotel and you don’t want to carry the whole load with you, at all times.

Expedition Packs

Moving on to expedition packs, these are designated for long, strenuous hiking trips. To that end, if you anticipate that your trip will last for more than a week, we would have to say that an expedition pack might be right for you.

Generally speaking, the capacity of an expedition pack exceeds 60 liters/3,600 cubic inches. Such a pack should incorporate most of your conventional gear, as well as some extra additions that will make your trip more enjoyable altogether.

Necessary items such as camp shoes, clothes, a 2-3 person tent, a synthetic sleeping bag, pillow, first-aid kit, and cookware should fit into an expedition pack.

Concurrently, expedition packs feature a broad hip belt, whose purpose is to redirect the weight to the hips, instead of the shoulders. What is more, a lumbar pad safeguards the base of the spine, minimizing the stress exercised by a heavy pack.

As a general rule, when it comes to heavy packs, balance and a snug fit are primordial in order to prevent muscle strain and pain.

Hiking Backpacks Materials

One of the most important factors that establish a backpack’s durability and reliability is the material. On that note, most backpackers on the market are made using the following materials:

Pack-Cloth Nylon

Pack-cloth nylon is one of the main materials used for manufacturing durable hiking backpacks. Another fundamental advantage is that this material has excellent UV resistance, meaning that it isn’t prone to UV degradation.

At the same time, pack-cloth nylon is resistant to abrasion and punctures.

Cordura

Cordura, also referred to as air-treated nylon, was originally designed by DuPont, in 1929. It is actually the brand name for a range of durable fabrics utilized in producing backpacks, luggage, military wear, and other wear-resistant items.

Cordura label.

The greatest advantage of this fabric is its abrasion resistance. Not to mention that it is also lightweight. For the most part, high-end, rough backpacks are made of Cordura, so that they can withstand outstanding wear.

Rip-Stop Nylon

Rip-stop nylon has been developed in order to replace the typical nylon material. Distinguishing between the two is easy. For starters, rip-stop nylon features a regular grid pattern of heavy threads.

The threads have the purpose of preventing the tear if the backpack is torn or punctured. On the other hand, when torn, nylon has the tendency of ripping, when a certain amount of pressure is applied.

Therefore, the rip-stop design offers protection and durability, something that each backpacker appreciates. At the same time, rip-stop nylon is waterproof, while being lightweight.

Polyester

In comparison to nylon, polyester has a higher resistance rating to UV degradation. Nonetheless, it isn’t as durable as nylon. It can be tough enough for certain conditions; yet, it is less likely to be adequate for rough hiking trips.

The Anatomy Of A Hiking Backpack

Next, we would like you to get acquainted with the anatomy of a backpack. Knowing the features that backpacks should have and their purpose will make it easier for you to narrow down your choices during the shopping process.

Internal Or External Frames

Presumably, the first decision you might be required to make is choosing between an internal and external frame backpack. Most people know that external frame backpack is the traditional pack style.

The primary advantage of external frame packs is that they allow you to carry a heavier load.

At the same time, you have the option of strapping plenty of gear on the outside.

It’s worth noting is that such a backpack has better ventilation than its counterparts.

Nonetheless, the design used in the making of internal frame backpacks makes them a better option for numerous reasons. Considering that the suspension system is considerably smaller, internal frame packs tend to be more lightweight and lower profile.

Internal Or External Frames on a backpack.

Plus, given that you carry the load so close to your body, this will result in a compact configuration. That will enhance your mobility and balance during each hike.

Also, if you plan on traveling with your backpack via plane or train, an internal frame pack is much more flexible than its counterparts.

Shoulder Harness

Simple shoulder straps are appropriate in the case of lightweight packs, for 1-day hikes. Nonetheless, when it comes to heavy loads, the shoulder harness system should feature a curved, padded design.

Hip Belt

The primary purpose of the hip belt is to transfer the strain from the shoulder to the hips. If you haven’t used a backpack that had a hip belt until now, it’s high time you did – it can make the world of a difference. A hip belt is significant especially when it comes to heavy loads, keeping the weight of the pack closer to the center of gravity.

Hip Belt Padding

You should know that most of your pack’s weight is distributed on your hips – up to 90 percent, to be more precise. Therefore, the heavier the pack you’re wearing, the more effort and stress you’re placing on your hips.

Hence, in order to maximize your comfort, some packs have hip belts. You can customize them through heat molding, which could greatly increase your comfort.

At the same time, the hip padding will increase your stability, preventing your pack from shifting whenever your body is moving.

Chest Strap/Sternum Strap

In order to prevent the shoulders from being pulled back, a chest/sternum strap could even out the weight. For the most part, these straps are connected across the chest via a clip-lock.

Hydration System

Staying hydrated during a hiking trip is a must. As a result, each hiking backpack comes equipped with a hydration system.

Hydration system on a backpack.

There are two primary ways in which you can access your water when you’re on the trail. On one hand, there are water reservoirs (bladders), and on the other hand, some backpacks feature elasticized mesh holsters on the sides, so that you can hold your water bottles.

Inner And Outer Pockets Configuration

The way in which the backpack is organized matters just as much. This could either make packing effortless or all the way more complicated.

Considering that you intend to keep your gear organized, having access to multiple compartments is definitely handy.

Rain Cover

Although most backpacks are made of waterproof, or at the very least, water-resistant materials, the hiking area is filled with surprises. So, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for whatever may lay ahead of you, weather-wise.

That’s why some packs have integrated rain covers you can tuck away. Meanwhile, other models sell rain covers separately.

Either way, having a rain cover is a must, especially if you anticipate crossing rivers, or the weather isn’t that pleasant during your hikes.

External Attachments

This is another excellent feature that makes your pack more versatile altogether. Loops, bungees and daisy chains might optimize your hiking pack’s capacity.

This way, you can put extra gear on the outside of the backpack. Or, alternatively, you could choose to expose some of your items to the sun and wind – such as a wet jacket or solar-powered device.

Compression straps enable you to cinch your pack down to a smaller size if your carrying load has diminished. This way, you won’t have to deal with a backpack that is constantly shifting back and forth.

Why Do You Need A Backpack On Your Hiking Trip?

Your backpack is your best friend, your companion during each hike. In fact, whenever I hike, I can say that my backpack becomes an extension of myself. That’s because it illustrates the physical state I’m in.

Teton Sports Scout 3400 Hiking Backpack Review

At the same time, when you’re hiking, your goal is to save up your energy in order to accomplish your goals. And a good hiking pack allows you to do so, as it distributes the weight evenly on the back and hips, without causing you discomfort, or tiring you excessively.

How To Pack A Hiking Backpack?

Although there’s no fixed science concerning packing a large hiking backpack, having a few guidelines to follow might help.

For starters, a well-loaded backpack will feel perfectly balanced and comfortable, when resting on your hips. On that note, packing could be broken down into three major zones, aside from the peripheral compartments.

  • Bottom zone: Bulky gear that you won’t need until you camp
  • Core zone: Dense, heavy items
  • Top zone: Bulkier essentials that you might need during the hike
  • Accessory pockets: Essentials that you need at hand
  • Tool loops and lash-on points: ideal for overly-long, oversized items

Another common question regarding packing a hiking pack is: what are the essential gadgets that shouldn’t miss from my checklist? We’ll mention some of the most important ones.

  • Compass – If you’re thinking that having a compass during your hiking trips is so last season, think again. Navigating in nature can be tricky, due to poor visibility, especially during the cold season. Even if you have a watch or smartphone featuring a GPS system, it is utterly useless if your battery is dead. Having an old-school compass is a backup plan you’ll be happy to rely on
  • Penknife – The outdoor world is filled with unanticipated events. And if you plan to camp, as well, having a penknife is extremely important. Although they might appear outdated, they are small, sturdy, and useful
  • Multi-tool – Having a multi-tool during your camping adventures is a must. It can be used as a screwdriver, bottle opener, pry tip for opening canisters, so on and so forth. It occupies the minimum amount of space in your backpack, and having it at your disposal is more than handy
  • Headlamp – Even though you don’t plan on hiking after nightfall, you can never fully anticipate how many hours it will last until you reach your camping spot. As a result, having a headlamp with you is mandatory if you’ll be required to hike in the dark for a while
  • First-aid kit – If something unexpected occurs during your hike, you’ll have what you need to treat a scratch, injury, so on and so forth

Important Manufacturers

Getting your backpack from a reliable manufacturer can be reassuring. That being said, we would like to present some of the most renowned names in the world of backpack manufacturing.

Teton Sports

Teton Sports is, without a doubt, a reputable company when it comes to producing top-of-the-line hiking backpacks. As a matter of fact, each Teton Sports hiking backpack is a proof of attention to details, high-quality and excellence.

Most of their products are excellently rated by customers, which is remarkable for any company. Concurrently, the firm’s history of designing first-class quality gear featuring cutting-edge designs definitely places it on the very top.

The manufacturer’s priority is to create products that address the needs of the most pretentious customers. And it does that successfully.

Osprey

Second on our list is Osprey, which was born in California, in 1974. At that moment, the manufacturer’s objective was to engineer innovative backpacks of high quality.

Thanks to its pioneering, ambitious spirit and approach, an Osprey hiking backpack has become synonymous with quality and performance.

The company provides a full range of products designated for different hiking environments. This gives customers the chance to choose the item that addresses their needs best.

What is more, Osprey is committed to protecting the environment. That is why the firm strives to repair products, as opposed to replacing them; when that is a possibility, of course.

Jansport

Jansport is another company that is widely known for the backpacks it produces. The firm is known to manufacture durable, quality and reliable items only. In fact, the manufacturer’s lifetime warranty is one of the things that set it apart.

To that end, if your Jansport hiking backpack breaks down, due to whichever reason, the company promises to address the problem. Depending on the severity of the situation, it will either fix the issue or replace the product altogether.

Since it was established in 1967, one can tell that Jansport is truly experienced in creating top-quality products.

Kelty

Kelty backpacks are distinguished by their durability and endurance. This is crucial when it comes to investing in a high-quality hiking backpack. Hence, every Kelty hiking backpack features outstanding craftsmanship.

Kelty’s heritage goes back to 1952 when the company came into being. Thanks to innovation and technology, their products have been continuously enhanced. As a result, their products have a come a long way, presenting an excellent price-quality ratio.

Different backpacks.

How To Clean A Hiking Backpack?

If you want to ensure that your backpack will stand by your side for a long time, then you should take proper care of it. That also involves cleaning it on a regular basis.

First and foremost, you should consider the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations before proceeding to clean your hiking backpack.

Some might advise you to submerge the pack into a bathtub, while others are against that.

However, in general, you should take into account the guidelines below:

  • First and foremost, you should gently vacuum clean all the compartments of the pack, to eliminate remaining dirt, dust, so on and so forth
  • You shouldn’t wash a pack in a washing machine, nor should you dry it in a dryer
  • Avoid using hot water; it is best to wash the pack with lukewarm water and a soft sponge. This way, you won’t harm the protective coatings of your backpack
  • After having washed the pack, you shouldn’t leave it to dry in direct sunlight, as this could degrade the fabric
  • Typically, you should clean the zippers regularly, in order to remove fine dust, sand and other tiny particles that might prevent them from working properly. Once again, steer clear of scrubbing the zippers, since they have water-resistant coatings, as well. If you’re dealing with stuck zippers, you can always use a zipper lubricant to solve the issue

Conclusion

To sum up, we hope that our comprehensive guide to choosing a hiking backpack has served as a good guidance. The next step is assessing some hiking backpack reviews, to ensure that the product you’ve set your eyes on is, indeed, the right one for you.

Man backpacking.

Make sure you have a look at our buying guide, as well. We will review a bunch of hiking packs, to help you make a sensible purchase. As always, email us or comment below if you have any questions or thoughts on the subject! Happy hiking!

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