In this series, you’ll learn all you need to know about hiking apparel. This month’s focus being the hiking backpack.You absolutely need a good, solid hiking backpack for every one of your adventures. As your backpack will be right there with you, you should make sure that you choose the right one, as there's no one-size-fits-all hiking backpack. The one that you should pick depends on what you're doing, when and where you're going, and how long you’ll be carrying it. In addition, you'll also need a hiking backpack that fits properly and have a suspension system to support your body and the weight you put on it. Don't fall into the trap of buying a cheap pack. If you buy a good-quality hiking backpack, it will last you for many years to come.
Choose your Hiking Backpack for comfortability
Purchasing the wrong hiking backpack will mean you're stuck with an uncomfortable and awkward bag all day on your hike. A few straightforward choices will make sure that you choose the best in comfort, style and convenience.
There are quite a few hiking backpacks on the market. They range from small daypacks to full-size hiking backpacks for both men and women that are designed for up to six-month hikes
Luckily for your back, hiking backpacks have been getting smaller over the past 20 years. This is due to the advancements in camping gear over the years.
The term' pack volume' refers to how much space there is inside the backpack, measured in litres (or in some instances, cubic inches). Many backpacks that can carry weight include the volume, in litres, within the name.
Which volume of hiking backpack is best for you? The answer to this depends on what you're using it for and what you need to carry. For a day hike, between 15 and 20 litres is fine. For a backpack for the weekend, 55 litres and above is usually OK.
Whichever hiking backpack you choose, for whatever occasion, you’re going to want the backpack needs to match your torso length for ultimate comfort and support.
To determine your hiking backpack specifications, reach behind your neck and bend your head forward. Find the C7 vertebra, which is the bone that sticks out the most on the upper portion of your spine.
Next, locate your iliac crest. It's from the top of the hip shelf to the sides of your hips. Finally, get a friend to take a cloth measuring tape and measure the distance from the C7 vertebra right down to the point of your back which is at the same level as your hips' iliac crest. This measurement is your torso length.
For the hiking backpack to fit correctly, the distance from the top of the shoulder strap to your hip belt needs to accommodate your torso length. Remember that torso length is not the same as your height. A tall person may have a short torso, while a smaller person could have a relatively long torso. All full-size hiking backpacks should detail a torso-length range in inches.
Be aware that some hiking backpacks for sale have an adjustable torso length. This means that the distance between the shoulder straps and the hip belt may be lengthened or shortened while others may have fixed lengths.
There are two types of foam which are used in hiking backpacks.
Open-cell foam is a very soft – as well as compressible - foam which is often seen in high-end, self-inflating camping mattresses. This type of foam is not great for backpacks that will carry weight. This is because under the weight of a loaded hiking backpack, the foam will compress to the point that it is not effective at providing much comfort and padding.
In contrast, closed-cell foam consists of air chambers that are surrounded (or closed) by foam and not connected to each other. Essentially, these are encapsulated pockets of air cells.
Closed-cell foam, which is also called Ensolite, is more appropriate for padding on the straps of hiking backpacks as it doesn't compress as easily as open-cell foam. Since the air cells are encapsulated, Ensolite doesn't absorb water like open-cell foam, which can soak up water like a sponge.
Mesh back panels in any hiking backpack for sale, holds the main body of the pack a distance away from your back. As such, it allows air to pass over it, allowing cooling and venting as it goes. That means that you have a cooler, less sweaty back and more effective physiology in warm conditions as there's more surface area which is available to lose heat from.
On the flip side, the air gap means that the load is carried further away from your back. In turn, this could mean you are able to feel the pack levering away from your back. In order to accommodate the back system, backpack manufacturers end up with a long, thin, sometimes curved packing space making them deceptively low in volume and awkward to pack.
Once you’ve nailed down your hiking backpack specifications, ask yourself if you would be comfortable carrying the weight of the hiking backpack. This depends on the pack's suspension. If you're carrying 30 pounds with a flimsy hip belt, all the weight will fall onto your shoulders, and after a while, you'll be in pain. To choose the proper pack suspension, it helps to understand the different components.
Understanding the Technical Specifications of Hiking Backpacks
Understanding the hiking backpack specifications will help you tremendously when choosing a pack suited for your own hiking and backpacking needs.
For multi-day backpacking trips, you'll definitely need most of the structural parts of a backpack to be present in order to provide maximal support, along with comfort.
When looking at overnight hiking backpacks, you'll find that a lot of the storage and usage features come down to personal preference. The ones which you choose depend on how you like to organise your things in your pack and what gear you will be carrying.
Most daypacks range from 20 litres to 35 litres on the high-end. While a smaller-sized backpack is usually sufficient for 1/2 day hikes, you'll want to have a larger pack, in the 35-litre range, for all-day hikes so you can carry extra water, food and clothing.
When you're carrying heavy loads in your pack, the majority of the hiking backpack's weight (as much as 80%) must be supported by the hip belt.
Large hiking backpacks that are designed for long-distance hikes will use a heavily padded and relatively rigid hip belt. This wraps anatomically around your hips.
Smaller backpacks, which are built for lighter loads, have hip belts with fewer amounts of padding. A daypack that is designed for very light loads may offer just a webbing waist strap that has no padding at all. Climbers and skiers may choose a minimal hip belt in order to increase their freedom of movement.
Nylon and polyester are the most popular materials in hiking backpacks for sale. The higher the density of the fabric, the stronger (and heavier) the fabric. The bottom of the hiking backpack should be made of a high-denier fabric in order to be able to withstand abrasions.
Components of a Hiking Backpack
Understanding the anatomy of a hiking backpack for men is important. It helps you choose a hiking backpack for the weekend based on your needs. Often, we see trekkers buying hiking backpacks without judging them on key parameters. It's only during/after the hike that they realise what could have been better about the backpack.
Most of the modern hiking backpacks, which are designed for multi-day hiking and trekking, have an internal frame which provides structure to the pack as well as support to the wearer. Some ultra lightweight hiking backpacks for the weekend are frameless to save weight. In addition, there are very few backpacks out there that have external frames these days.
Adjustable straps that are between the top of the shoulder straps and the rest of the hiking backpack are designed to bring the weight of the pack towards your torso. This assists in preventing any unwanted movement of the pack. When adjusted correctly, these straps also help to lift some of the pack weight off your shoulders.
The height of a sternum strap is often adjustable up and down the shoulder straps. The straps may be tightened and loosened across your chest. Some buckles on these backpacks which carry weight even have a handy emergency whistle built into them.
Hip belt and hip belt pocket
A good hip belt should be padded as well as breathable with adjustable straps which tighten or loosen the belt in order to obtain the perfect fit. Some high-end hiking backpacks for sale have hip belts that pivot on the rest of the pack. This allows the load to move with you as you walk, as opposed to against you.
Shoulder straps and harness
Good shoulder straps must be padded, shaped to your body as well as breathable. They also need to be adjustable at their base.
For a fit that is unique to your torso size, you need to be able to adjust the shoulder harness of your backpack for the weekend up and down. High-end hiking backpacks also allow you to change the width of the shoulder straps by adjusting the harness laterally.
Hydration port and clip
In order for a backpack to be hydration compatible ideally, it needs to have a port or hole where a hydration hose may be fed out of the main compartment and down to the shoulder strap.
Some backpacks that can carry weight have a clip or attachment point on the shoulder strap onto which your hydration hose can be clipped. The reason why this is here is to prevent the end of your hose from flailing around as you walk.
Compression straps are often found on the sides and /or bottom of hiking backpacks. They can be used in order to secure gear onto the outside of the pack, as well as clamping down internal contents to ensure the pack is as compact and stable as possible.
Side pockets are superb for holding water bottles which can be accessed easily without taking off your backpack. These pockets are usually made of mesh or other lightweight fabric. In addition, they have elasticated tops in order to secure the contents of the pockets.
Top lid and rain cover
Most hiking backpacks close with a lid which buckles down over the front of the pack. Some lids are adjustable so enabling you to store extra stuff underneath them as well as on top of the main compartment. Some also come off completely in order to save weight or to be converted into a summit pack.