There is nothing more exhilarating than getting out into nature and exploring all that Mother Nature has to offer. A hike can do wonders for your physical fitness, and it can do incredible things for your mood. If you enjoy hiking, there are several staple items that you are going to want to have in order to ensure your hike goes as smoothly as possible, and so that you can enjoy it as much as possible. While there are several different types of gear that you are going to want to have when you go hiking, and all of them are important, a backpack is one of the most crucial items. With a backpack, you can keep all of the essentials that you are going to want to have on hand while you are hiking within arm’s reach.
Shopping for a hiking backpack may seem like an easy task, but it can actually be more complicated than you might think. There are so many different options to choose from and features available that finding the right backpack for your specific needs can actually be downright challenging. To help you on your quest for finding the best hiking backpack, we have put together this handy buyer’s guide. This guide highlights the different types of hiking backpacks, the factors to consider when choosing one of these backpacks, the features that they can offer, and the best hiking backpack brands.
The Types of Hiking Backpacks
Unlike traditional backpacks, hiking backpacks are designed to be durable so that they can withstand the harsh elements that they may be exposed to. They are also designed to be comfortable to carry on long journeys, and offer convenient solutions for storing and organizing your essential items.
In order to find the best hiking backpack for your needs, the first thing you need to do is understand the different types that are available. There are three main types of hiking backpacks, which include:
- The daypack
- The internal frame hiking backpack
- The external frame hiking backpack
Below, you will find a detailed description of each of these types of hiking backpacks, including the advantages that they offer, as well as some disadvantages.
If you are going to be going on short hikes that are only a few hours long, a daypack is an excellent choice. Daypacks are designed to be used for a single day hike, climb, run or bike ride. Generally, daypacks are soft backed or frameless. They are lightweight and intended to hold light loads of around 10 to 15 pounds. This is the cheapest type of hiking backpack, and it is also the smallest, so if you have a lot of gear that you want to take with you, this probably isn’t the best option for you.
The Internal Frame Hiking Backpack
The internal frame hiking backpack is designed to be used for bigger and heavier loads that weigh 15 pounds or more. The frame is located on the inside of the backpack, and it can have one of the following constructions:
- Aluminum stays
- Plastic frame sheets
- Curved Delrin rods
The frame can also be constructed of a combination of these items. When properly fit, the internal frame hiking backpack hug the contours of your back, which thereby cinches the load in close to your spine, providing greater comfort on those long hikes. The primary function of the frame is to facilitate the transfer of weight to the hip area, which is where the body is most capable of bearing it. Because internal frames are generally narrower and closer fitting than external frame hiking backpacks (see below,) they are the best choice if you plan on doing activities that involved a lot of movement with your pack on, such as climbing, skiing, or bushwhacking, where you will need good arm clearance and a tight center of balance. If you tend to hike in hot weather, an internal frame hiking backpack with a “trampoline style” will place the breathable mesh across the frame to allow for greater air circulation without any major loss of stability. Do keep in mind that proper loading of an internal frame hiking pack is essential, as it will help to keep the weight well balanced and stable, and it will also keep you well organized.
The External Frame Hiking Backpack
Also designed to carry big, heavy loads, the external frame hiking pack is best suited for walking on trails, as opposed to doing activities that require a lot of movement with your arms, such as skiing, climbing or bushwhacking. The pack bag is hung off a simple exterior frame, so the load is positioned farther away from your back, and it can restrict the movement of your arms. Though this design might make the pack unstable for those who enjoy climbing, skiing or doing other activities that require the use of their arms while wearing their pack, if you walk on a trail, the external frame can actually be more comfortable. External frame packs have a higher center of gravity than internal frame packs, which has two advantages:
- It gives excellent weight transfer to the hips and it allows you to walk with a more upright posture (with big internals you have to lean forward to counterbalance the load).
- It offers great airflow between the pack and your back, which is great for long hikes in hot weather.
External hiking backpacks are highly regarded for offering plenty of pockets, for their durability, and for their comfort.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hiking Backpack
In order to choose the best hiking backpack for your specific needs, there are a number of factors that you are going to want to take into consideration before you start shopping. By taking key factors into consideration, you will be able to choose the best hiking backpack for your needs. Some of the most important factors to consider include the size of the pack, the fit and the cost of the pack, among other things. To learn more about these factors, and others that we think are the most important to consider when choosing a hiking backpack, please keep on reading.
The Fit of the Hiking Backpack
In order for your hiking backpack to be as comfortable as possible, you are going to want to make sure that you get the right fit. If you are going to opt for a daypack, achieving the right fit it pretty straightforward. The shoulder straps should wrap comfortably around your shoulders, without pinching or digging into your shoulders or under your armpits. The hip belt, which adds support to the pack and makes it more comfortable, should also be snuggly pull the bottom of the pack against your lumbar region to reduce the amount of sway and thumping of the pack as you walk.
Fitting larger internal and external frame hiking packs is more complex. Getting the right fit is absolutely crucial to you comfort. The suspension system is the most important factor that will determine the fit o f the pack, as it is responsible for bearing the weight of the pack and connecting it to your body. There are three types of suspension systems available:
- Fixed Suspensions: Although they cannot be adjusted, fixed suspensions are often available in a several torso lengths, which allow it to accommodate people of varying heights. The main advantage of a fixed suspension is that, with fewer moving parts, there’s a very solid connection between you and the pack, which means that the pack will be more stable.
- Adjustable Suspensions: This system has a shoulder yoke that moves up or down a track in the center of the back panel, which lets you shorten or lengthen the space between the shoulders and hips. As such, it fit a variety of body types. This also gives you the ability to change the way your pack fits if you develop sore spots while you are hiking.
- Interchangeable Suspensions: This system offers the best of both worlds. Some companies offer the ability to customize a pack by buying different size hip belts and shoulder straps.
The Size of the Hiking Backpack
You are also going to want to consider the size of the pack, as it will obviously impact how much you can carry in it. The capacity of a pack is measured in cubic inches; day packs range in size from 500 to 2,000 cubic inches, with the largest often capable of handling an ultralight overnight trip. Internal and external framed packs that are designed for long hikes vary in size, ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 cubic inches. Packs that are designed to be used for a long expedition can hold 4,000 cubic inches or more.
The Durability of the Pack
Hiking backpacks are exposed to a lot of wear and tear. Not only are they exposed to the elements, but they are also exposed to sweat and dirt, and other elements in nature that can damage them. You want to make sure that the hiking pack you choose is constructed of durable materials that can withstand the elements that it will be exposed to, and that is expertly constructed so that it stays together for a long time.
The Cost of the Hiking Pack
Another important factor to consider is the cost of the hiking pack. Hiking packs vary widely in price, with day packs being the least expensive. The more features and the larger the pack is, the more expensive the price tag will be. Make sure you set a budget before you start shopping so that you can avoid spending more than you are comfortable with.
Features Hiking Backpacks Can Offer
There are a number of features that hiking backpacks can offer. These features are intended to make the pack easier to use, and more versatile. As mentioned above, the more features a hiking backpack offers, the more expensive it will be. Here is a look at some of the most popular features hiking backpacks can offer.
Shoulder and Hip Belt Padding
Because you will be carrying most of the weight of the pack on your hips and shoulders, you may want to look for a pack that features padded shoulder straps and a padded hip belt. Padding will not only improve your comfort, but it will also allow for more stability.
Ventilation is a very important factor, especially if you will be hiking in warm climates. Hiking packs that feature light weight mesh or perforated foam will wick moisture away and keep you cool while you are hiking.
Packs that offer loops, bungees or daisy chains are an excellent feature to look for. These external attachments will allow you to attach items to the outside of your pack, which will improve the capacity of the pack.
Sleeping Bag Compartment
If you are going to be taking a sleeping bag with you, a pack that offers a sleeping bag compartment will give you a convenient way to store your sleeping bag.
A Rain Cover
To keep your items protected from moisture, look for a pack that comes with a rain cover. Slip the rain cover on and your pack and the items in it will not get drenched.
Some packs feature a hydration system. A pack that has a compartment to store a water bladder will allow you to keep hydrated with ease while you are on the trail. These packs also offer a tube or a mouthpiece that will connect to the water bladder so you can easily get a drink without having to take your pack off.
The Best Hiking Backpack Brands
If you want to get the best hiking backpack, you should consider purchasing one of these brands.
The North Face
The North Face is one of the most trusted producers of outdoor and camping equipment. Their hiking backpacks are durably constructed, offer a variety of features, and are built to last.
Another top hiking backpack brand is Thule. Their packs are expertly designed and use the highest quality materials. They boast an array of features that make them very convenient to use, and users report that they are very comfortable.
The hiking backpacks from Osprey Packs are also highly regarded. They are constructed of durable materials, offer a variety of features and options, and they are designed to last a long time.