A guest post by Richard Davidian Ph.D.
How to Choose an Easy Hiking Backpack
Every sport has its equipment. Some sports have very little equipment to choose from. Other sports have long lists of items that vie for your attention.
Hiking and backpacking fall into the latter category. There are many things to choose from in the way of equipment: clothing, tents, different types of food and backpacks are just some of the categories of choices that confront those who wish to enjoy the sport of hiking or backpacking.
Here we will talk about how to choose an easy hiking backpack to fit your hiking and/or backpacking style.
A backpack is like a tool. The better the tool is fitted to the job, the more efficient it is and the better it works. Likewise, the better the backpack is adapted to the type of hiking you like to engage in, the better it will serve you.
LOAD DISTRIBUTION AND BALANCE
There are two main styles of backpacks to choose from: internal frame backpacks and external frame backpacks.
Internal frame backpacks provide more stability. They give you the best in balance and freedom of movement because they hug your body closely. They excel over external frame backpacks when hiking in difficult and rough terrain.
External frame backpacks, on the other hand, although less stable, allow you to carry heavier loads. They are generally less expensive and work fine for easy terrain where you don’t have to scramble over rough or rocky territory.
Other features of a good backpack for easy hiking that contribute to improved stability are the hip belt, the padded shoulder straps and the sternum strap. Make sure these are included on any backpack you are considering.
Hip belts should be well padded and designed to place 80% of your backpack weight on your hips. When you try on a backpack for size, make sure the hip belt fits your waist and sits comfortably on your hips. The shoulder straps, which must also be well padded, should transfer the other 20% of the weight onto your shoulders.
The sternum strap fastens across your chest and keeps the shoulder straps from sliding off your shoulders, thus adding significantly to the stability of your backpack. Look for this feature as well.
If you choose an internal-frame backpack, you need to address a ventilation issue. Being snugly fitted to your body, this style of backpack can potentially leave no space between your back and your backpack to let air flow through.
Some manufacturers have solved this problem by including a mesh suspension feature that creates such a ventilation space. Finding an internal-frame backpack with this feature can save you a lot of sweaty misery.
An important thing to look for in a backpack is its load-carrying capacity. Don’t buy a backpack larger than your anticipated needs. You will be tempted to fill up all the space and thus add unneeded and unwanted weight.
If you only plan to do day hikes without any overnight camping on the trail, a good easy hiking backpack is one with a 30-to-40-liter carrying capacity. This can be a simple frameless rucksack or a more sophisticated day pack with a supportive frame.
If you plan to do some multi-day hiking with overnight stays along the trail, look for medium-sized packs with a capacity of 50 to 80 liters to supply enough room to carry your camping gear.
Nearly all backpack frames are made of aluminum. Don’t accept anything else.
In choosing the fabric with which your prospective backpack is made, you face a decision of whether to go lighter, sacrificing durability, or to focus more on the durability of your backpack and accept the added weight that it entails. A backpack with 140 denier (140D) weight falls into the lightweight category.
Material of a higher denier weight will give you more durability at the cost of heavier backpack weight. Pay attention to the material that your new backpack may be made of and find a compromise between lightness and durability that will best suit your hiking style. Look for the word “ripstop” in descriptions of the fabric. This feature adds strength to the fabric.
Getting the right fit for your backpack is essential, and you shouldn’t rush the process of obtaining it. The main thing here is getting the proper measurement of your torso. Technically, your torso is that part of your body from the iliac crest, that bony ridge at the top of your pelvis, to the prominent bone that sticks out at the bottom of your neck. Have a friend measure this distance carefully and use it to find the correct size in a backpack.
Give this measurement to your outfitter and work with him or her until you find a backpack that fits comfortably.
Staying hydrated is very important while hiking or backpacking. An easy way to stay hydrated is to have a hydration accessory in your backpack. This is a sleeve in which you can fit a bladder with a hose from which to drink water.
How easily you can access your gear is not the most important feature to look for in a backpack. However, it should not be ignored. Check to see how the pockets and zippered openings have been included in your potential backpack. These configurations can help you make a final decision between two similar backpack models.
The extra time that you invest in buying the right easy hiking backpack with the correct fit will be well worth it and yield great dividends in comfort and efficiency on the trail.