When it comes to making sure that you have the right equipment to take out on the trail, having a good hiking backpack is absolutely essential. When I first started exploring the great outdoors, I would make the mistake of thinking that my standard bag would fit the bill. Trust me; there’s nothing worse than attempting to lug a purse around trails!
I quickly learned that, just like a great pair of boots, a proper backpack is essential to success. Learning how to choose the perfect pack can make all of the difference for you and your family!
The Best Way To Choose A Hiking Backpack
What qualifies as an amazing backpack is different for everyone, but there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
Know What Size Backpack You Need
I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: your pack size matters! If you’re only heading out into the beautiful outdoors for a few hours, you can easily get away with a simple twenty-pound bag. This might seem like a lot, but you need to bear in mind that it will securely adhere to your back, and it’s far different than carrying twenty pounds in your hand. Overnight bags need to be larger to contain all of the supplies that you will need, especially if you’re hiking with small children. Since I generally bring my kids with me on the trail, I find myself carrying things that they can’t lug around with them.
You don’t need to bring everything plus the kitchen sink. Knowing how long you are planning on being gone for will allow you to pack correctly and have access to anything that you need.
Make Sure It Supports Your Back Properly
Anyone who has ever experienced shooting pains in their lower back knows just how critical back support is. Your pack needs to fit on your back properly, and also offer a certain level of support. This is why you can’t merely repurpose your child’s old school backpack as one for hiking.
The ideal pack will have a built-in frame that sits comfortably on your body and balances all of the weight accordingly. You can opt for an external or internal frame. I generally hike with backpacks that have an internal frame because I don’t carry too many other pieces of equipment. If you are attaching other items to the exterior of your bag, you might want to find one that has an external frame. This will keep everything snugly attached and lend itself to a far more pleasant experience.
Think Critically About Function
We all have different ways of doing things, and your backpack’s function is critical to both your hiking success and your overall comfort level. Find a pack that works with you instead of against you! If you have plenty of small items that you need to carry along, you might want to opt for a pack that has plenty of zippered compartments, both on the inside and on the outside. If you have several large items, or if you have zippered pouches that you can put into the backpack, top-loading packs are suitable. Just make sure that you keep everything that you need to access quickly right on top of the pack.
You can also buy a hip belt that straps around your pack and can hold smaller items, like chapsticks, gum, or your phone. There are endless options and ways that you can accessorize and customize your pack, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
Shop For Your Size
If there’s one certainty in the hiking world, it’s that there is no “one size fits all” option. To sit comfortably for more extended periods of time, your backpack needs to be aligned with the length of your torso. To measure your torso, simply bend over and find the very top of your spine. You should be able to locate this fairly quickly with your head bent down. It’s located right at the base of your neck. Your torso ends where your hip bones begin.
A common mistake is thinking that tall people will have longer torsos. Your torso length is not necessarily related to the overall size or length of your body. In order to fully understand what kind of pack you need, you’ll want to accurately measure your torso and go from there. Make sure that you do this with all members of your hiking party, including children.
Consider Getting A Waterproof Bag
There’s nothing more exceptional than hitting the trail when the sun is shining and the day is beautiful, but a little rain is likely to fall on almost every adventure. Consider investing in a pack that is waterproof or buying a waterproof cover for your existing bag. Those who are hiking in rain or snow need waterproof bags for sure, but even casual hikers might experience a sprinkle or two. Waterproofing protects your belongings and also gives you a tremendous amount of peace of mind. Even if it’s not wet or snowy, you’ll know that you are fully prepared for whatever Mother Nature wants to throw at you.
Padding Is Your Friend
Just like you need an internal or external frame on your pack, you also need a healthy amount of padding to make sure that your body isn’t suffering under its weight. That’s why padding is your friend! Your hips are especially susceptible to wear and tear, and the best packs take this into account with a generous amount of padding in that delicate region.
Shoulder pads are another big “must-have”. Even the best packs will lean hard into your shoulders and could lead to slouched posture or even pinched nerves. A little planning can go a long way when it comes to taking care of your body. If you do find yourself with shooting shoulder pain or aching hips, make sure that you take a long look at what your pack is made out of. It might be time to invest in something that is a little more adept at keeping your precious body working to its full capacity.
Know When To Invest
Just like with hiking boots, backpacks are one place that you do not want to cut corners. That doesn’t mean that the most expensive option is the best: often, the more quality packs are more in the middle. What it does mean is that you need to know where you should spend some extra cash to make your hikes more enjoyable and cut back on aches and pains later.
Good quality materials, waterproofing, and plenty of padding are great places to start. You should also think about what you’re planning on using your pack for, and how much wear and tear it will get out on the trail. If you are ambling over large rocks, you will need a sturdier pack with a lot of support. If you are making your way down a largely flat but beautiful stretch of terrain, you will not need as many bells and whistles.
Don’t cut corners when it comes to fit or comfort, and know what sorts of things are non-negotiable. Other aspects, like brand names or even overall aesthetics, are less important than functionality.
Consider Shopping At A Brick And Mortar Store
It’s much easier to make online purchases, and generally, you will get what you want, but you should really consider looking for your perfect pack at a brick and mortar store. Since each pack is different, and you’ll need to try on several to check for fit and comfort, being physically present is absolutely critical.
Most outdoor stores also have knowledgable associates who can answer specific questions and lead you in the right direction. You are far more likely to run into a fellow hiker with intimate knowledge of what you need out on the trail. If you are hiking with children, make sure that they are present for the fitting. You will need to take a look at their torso length and have them walk around with the pack on to get a feel for it. Some people even bring weights with them to test out the backpack in the store. Simply having a little something in the pack is a much better simulation and will make your choice far clearer.
You can also quickly return the pack to a brick and mortar store if you need to. Although you can certainly return online purchases, it’s really not the same. You can bring the pack back and explain why it didn’t work for you, and then seek advice on how to address your problem. Since finding the perfect pack is really a question of trial and error, it’s critical to shop at the right store. Of course, you can buy other hiking gear online, but boots and packs are a different animal, and you should treat them that way in order to maximize the chance that you’ll get the right fit at the right time.
There is the right pack out there for just about everyone. It’s merely a matter of discovering which one is most appropriate for you and going from there. This checklist will provide you with the clues that you need to make an informed decision and make your hiking experience all the better.
Once I found my perfect pack, I noticed that my hips and shoulders hurt less and that I was far less concerned about the pack itself and more engaged with the nature around me!