The chances are that whatever size or type of backpack you choose, you are going to be carrying it for whole days at a time. Whether you are taking enough gear for a day hike or hiking a multi-day trial, the comfort of your backpack depends on choosing the right one for you and for your activity.
We have some advice on how to choose a hiking backpack and share our five important hiking backpack features to look out for.
1. The Right Backpack Size
There are two factors that will help you to decide the size of backpack you need: your own size and your planned activity.
One thing to remember is that the bigger your backpack, the more likely you are to fill it with heavy gear and find yourself with too big of a load to carry. If you are running or cycling you may prefer a lightweight backpack to keep you balanced. A 10 to 25-liter daypack should be big enough.
If you are hiking, you’ll be able to carry a bit more weight, and you may be away from civilization longer, but a 20 to 40-liter backpack should give you enough space for your requirements.
If your trip is longer and you are planning to be hiking for a few days, you will need a hiking backpack that can hold somewhere between 50 and 70 liters to take all of your camping gear and food.
When it comes to your own size and strength, the generally accepted rule is that your filled backpack should not weigh more than one-third of your body weight. In reality, however, this is not always possible. Experience with different loads and weights is really the only way to find your backpack carrying comfort zone.
By far the best way to ensure that you avoid back, shoulder, or hip pain when carrying your backpack is to make sure that it is the right length for your back. Measuring your back between hip level and the base of your neck will give you your back length. Once you have that, you can compare with the dimensions given in a technical specification.
Some larger backpacks have adjustable back lengths. Make sure to check that the hip straps sit in line with the top of your hip bone (women’s hip bones are slightly higher than men’s). Adjusting the main shoulder straps will also help with this.
2. Backpack Straps and Belts
Many people think that the shoulder straps on a backpack are most important but, on a correctly fitting, larger backpack, it is the hip belt that takes a big percentage of the weight.
Because the hip belt is working so hard, it needs to be sufficiently padded and fit snugly. Once you are satisfied with the hip belt on a rucksack, check out the shoulder straps, the heavier your backpack is, the more padding you’ll need.
Some people prefer to walk without doing up the chest or sternum strap across the front of a backpack but this is not always a good idea as this strap has been designed to keep the shoulder straps in the optimum position for comfort.
Larger backpacks may also have load lifter straps, which bring the top of the backpack close to your back and help with balance.
Consider keeping all of the straps on your backpack done up and tidy in order to avoid them catching and pulling you off balance. Keeping straps around storage zones tight can also remind you not to overload your backpack before you set off.
3. Backpack Back Panels
Carrying a backpack can be hard work, and it’ll sometimes make you sweaty. During a long day in the hills, this can become uncomfortable and later in the day that wetness has a tendency to make you cold.
Look for features such as back meshes or ventilated padding, which will increase airflow and help you keep your cool.
4. Backpack storage features
Most hiking backpacks come with multiple storage zones. These make it easier for you to quickly find gear when you need to and can help you separate out wet and dry gear.
Look for lid compartments with loops to keep your keys safe, external pockets for quick access and internal pouches designed to hold water reservoirs. Other useful storage features include external systems to carry trekking poles and hip belt pockets to allow access to items without removing your backpack.
Some backpacks will also have a stuff pocket for a rain cover and an internal pocket in the lid for valuables. Before you get too carried away looking at storage, it is worth remembering the more features your backpack has, the more it will weigh.
5. Useful Backpack Accessories
Your backpack will be the workhorse of your hiking expedition but there are a few little extras that can make living with a backpack easier.
One of the important things to remember is that rain can get through both your backpack and its rain cover. Packing gear into dry bags before it goes into your backpack not only keeps your gear dry, it helps you to quickly find things when you need to. Buy different colored dry bags or label each one with permanent marker pens.
Compression sacks are also useful if you need to squash gear (especially your sleeping bag) down to fit it into your backpack. They work through a series of straps and force the air out of gear. Storing your sleeping bag this way is fine while you are out on the trail but remember to give it more space in a bigger bag when you store it at home.
If your new backpack has an internal hydration pouch, then it makes sense to invest in a hydration reservoir that allows you to drink without stopping to find your water bottle. Hydration reservoirs can be vulnerable to damage, so always carry a hard water bottle as well and make sure that you monitor how much you drink, particularly when the temperature is high.
Packing your gear into your backpack and heading for the hills can be great fun and give you a real taste of independence. Take the time to choose the right backpack for you. If you have questions, leave a comment below!