A backpack is your bread and butter on any hike worth its salt.
How to Choose Your Hiking Backpack?
It’s going to carry your shelter, food, navigational tools and extra layers for changing weather conditions. On top of essentials, you can pop in a battery pack for your phone, or a DSLR camera for that all-important selfie or landscape shot when you reach the cairn.
While packing a full kit for smaller routes can help you nail your hiking preparation, burn some extra calories, and be safe in the worst of scenarios, it’s not always essential for shorter and well-pathed routes.
# Day Tripper
When you’re heading to a well-known, short distance walk that is well signed and well pathed, you aren’t going to need to pack a Bear Grylls style survival kit. That means a smaller pack is going to provide you the space to enjoy your hike, knowing you’ve got the ‘bear necessities’ to keep you comfortable, safe and quicker on your feet. For day hikes 10-30 litre backpacks are going to be sufficient.
# Weekend Warrior
If you are off for a weekend away, you’ll either need a series of stop offs at quaint B&Bs and countryside pubs, or camping sites to pitch up, sleep and possibly try your hand at some campside cuisine; although Papa Johns and Dominos now deliver to many famous camping grounds (don’t do it). Particularly, if you are planning a more ‘in-tents’ night’s sleep, you’re going to need cooking equipment, gas and last, but not least, food.
Whether you plan a more glamorous weekend staying in B&Bs and hotels, or head into the wild, albeit under the shelter of a tent, you are going to need to expand your carry pack. With added route time adds the necessity for more gear. When your trip extends one day, you are going to need to expand to a 30/40 litre. If carrying camping equipment a 50/55 litre pack will be needed. The bigger capacity will provide space for a tent, cooking equipment, more layers and more food and water.
# Long Haul
Once your heading into longer and more challenging hikes you are going to need to be prepared for the hike itself, as well as unexpected extensions. This means on top of your essentials, extra gear and camping equipment, you are going to need lots of food and water. If you tackling more mountainous routes, you may also need to include climbing equipment. When the hike gets longer, so should your planning. Look at how many days you are going to be hiking, where you can stop to refill water or provisions and how long you might need to be self sufficient in case of emergency. At the higher end of long haul hikes, you may need up to a 70 or even 80 litre backpack. This is where more advanced backpack features come in.
An often-overlooked feature of a backpack is ventilation. You’d be surprised how much heat can get caught between you and your pack. As with your clothing, ideally you want a breathable material to avoid your back replicating a melting ice rink. The Quechua, particuarly, MH500 30L Mountain Hiking Backpack uses stretch net back design to allow air flow and cooling during your trek. This will improve comfort and avoid overheating during more strenuous hikes.
With a backpack during a hike you want to be able to have access to not only anything to anything that can help you during the hike but also to be able to capture that moment, which means accessibility has become one of the most important things when choosing a backpack, which means that compartments for not only the essentials but also your camera have become key in choosing the best hiking bag.
More compartments allow separation of electronic equipment and liquids, for example, as well as quicker access to snacks and water.
Even on a short route British weather can be temperamental, don’t leave yourself short.
Modern hiking backpacks regularly come fully waterproofed, if you are a regular hiker across the British Isles, rain can be an unwelcome guest even in the summer months. A waterproof backpack can save you setting up a rain cover when the heavens open.
If your backpack doesn’t feature built-in waterproof material, you can purchase a rain cover such as the Forclaz brand, which will safeguard your kit against the elements.
Purchasing a backpack with a warranty is always a good move. Both Quechua and Forclaz products come with a range of warranties ranging from two up to ten years.
Finally, when you are on your feet all day out in the great outdoors, you need comfort. The fit of your backpack is its most important feature. If you pack doesn’t fit right it’s going to cause discomfort, and over a long period can cause back problems. Make sure you choose a backpack that is suitable for your torso length and fits comfortably around your hips.
Belts & Straps
The various belts and straps on the backpack will allow you to customise the fit to your liking. This will allow you to distribute the pack weight more evenly, preventing injury and making for a more comfortable hike.
The hip belt should rest over - you’ve got it - your hip bones. Close the belt and tighten it to move the pack weight onto your hips (away from your shoulders).
# Shoulder Straps
You should tighten your shoulder straps so that the pack is close up against your back, which will push the load forward, rather than dragging back on your shoulders. Your shoulders should never be carrying the weight.
# Load Lifters
Another mechanism to reduce the load on your shoulders, load lifters are located just under the top of your shoulders, near your collarbone. Tighten these so the load lifters themselves are angled toward the pack at a 45 degree angle.
# Sternum Strap
Sternum straps lie across the chest, between the two shoulder straps. These function to pull the shoulder straps inward when tightened, adjust accordingly so that your arms are able to move freely.
Get Amongst it
Now you have a right sized pack, with the correct features for your terrain and weather conditions, adjusted correctly for your frame, it’s time to head out into the wild.