Hiking Backpacks and Walking Backpacks Guide
1 – Introduction To Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
Looking for hiking backpacks, walking backpacks, rucksacks or daypacks? Whatever term you use, before you buy, take time to think about what type of backpack, rucksack or daypack you need or want. Finding one that is right for your circumstances will take a bit of time, investigation, and a little smart shopping.
Your choice of hiking backpack, whether for day hiking, walking, backpacking, mountaineering, etc. will be one of the most important decisions you make regarding hiking equipment because it contain all the equipment you need throughout your trip.
The quality of hiking backpacks and walking backpacks has improved a great deal over the years. Outdoor activities are practiced around the world and the requirement for a variety of hiking backpacks that are both appropriate for the activity and of a high quality have increased.
Your choice of hiking backpack can make your trip into an enjoyable or unpleasant memory. For this reason, we strongly suggest that you never purchase a hiking backpack that you have not tried on or had fitted properly. The risk of pain and discomfort that could result is just not worth it. However, should you be replacing a hiking backpack you have already either used previously or tried on somewhere then shopping on the Internet and having it delivered is okay.
First, you need to decide what capacity of hiking backpacks will best suit you for your trip. Generally the intended use will dictate the capacity and style of hiking backpacks you need. To do this, no matter what hiking backpack you select, ensure it can carry at least your essential equipment. This will also depend on which type of hiker you are. If you are a minimalist and like to travel light in order to go further and faster, then you can select a smaller hiking backpack. If you like to be a completely equipped hiker, packing everything you may possibly need in order to be prepared for whatever happens then you will need to select one of the larger hiking backpacks.
Bear in mind, that if your hiking backpack is not large enough then you will have a problem on cold days when you need to carry extra equipment. Also, if your hiking backpack is too large, you may be tempted to take too much walking gear with you!
Contents On Backpacks For Hiking And Walking
You can use this guide to help with your selection of hiking backpacks and walking backpacks and to aid you when selecting the features that are most suited to your situation:
- 1 – Introduction To Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
- 2 – Benefits Of Backpacks For Hiking And Walking
- 3 – Categories Of Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
- 4 – Features To Look For In Backpacks
- 4.1 – Type Of Frame
- 4.2 – Torso Length
- 4.3 – Hip Belt
- 4.4 – Shoulder Straps
- 4.5 – Sternum or Chest Strap
- 4.6 – Other Straps
- 4.7 – Back Support
- 4.8 – Backpack Waterproofing & Waterproof Covers
- 4.9 – Pockets
- 4.10 – Attachment Points
- 4.11 – Other Features
- 5 – How To Fit Backpacks
- 6 – Some Brands of Backpacks For Hiking And Walking
- 7 – Summary On Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
- 8 – FREE PDF Copy Of This Guide
2 – Benefits Of Backpacks For Hiking And Walking
The general benefits of hiking backpacks or walking backpacks are:
- Container – They make it easy to carry your essential hiking equipment.
- Organizer – They provide a means of organizing your hiking gear.
- More Weight – They help you carry a load heavier than you could with just your hands.
- More Stable – They provide a means for stabilizing your hiking load.
3 – Categories Of Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
Many people who go out walking, rambling, hiking or backpacking repeatedly during the year.
Eventually they acquire a number of hiking backpacks to match the various activities and conditions they encounter.
Let me try to divide hiking backpacks into a number of major categories which roughly correlate to capacity and length of trip.
Bear in mind that there is some degree of crossover between these categories:
3.1 – Hydration Hiking Backpacks
Hydration backpacks are built for storing fluid, usually water, on your back instead of in bottles inside or on the sides of standard hiking backpacks.
These hiking backpacks can contain several litres of fluid but remember that this also means a heavier hiking backpack, until you consume it. The amount of fluid you need to take depends on the duration and conditions of the trip.
Hydration backpacks comprise a bag, also known as a reservoir, bladder or platypus, to contain the fluid and a drinking tube so you can drink whilst the hydration hiking backpack is on your back.
You can also get some hydration packs with additional sections and side pockets to carry something other than simply fluid.
3.2 – Day Hiking Backpacks (usually 15 – 35L)
Day backpacks or daypacks are normally lightweight and designed primarily for use over one day.
Many day backpacks do not have any internal support and the weight therefore hangs from the shoulders. As day backpacks are not meant for heavy weight bearing this is seldom a problem.
To help support some of the weight, most day backpacks have a chest strap to keep the pack tight to your body. If you intend to carry a heavy load, we recommend you find a day backpack with a hip belt so you can distribute the load better.
If you are contemplating the purchase of a daypack then make sure it has the features you need such as side pockets, padded back, etc, and that it rests comfortably on your back.
3.3 – Alpine or Climbing Backpacks (usually 35 – 55L)
Alpine or climbing backpacks are medium-sized hiking backpacks and commonly have some internal support together with a more substantial hip belt and chest strap which both help you bear more weight more comfortably.
To help with your dynamic body motion and stability, these hiking backpacks are generally tall and narrow and usually constructed with a single main section and either one front or lid pocket.
Side compression straps are often included so that you can adjust the hiking backpack shape and volume during your journey. Hip belts may also be detachable on some models.
Many day hikers buy this size of hiking backpack so that they can carry extra backpacking gear during a day trip.
3.4 – Backpacking (or Multiple Day Backpacks (usually 55 – 80L)
Backpacking or multiple day backpacks are larger as they are intended for use on trips over several days and are capable of carrying heavier loads.
Backpacking backpacks have an internal frame to provide some structural rigidity and to share the weight between your back, shoulders and hips.
Many backpacking models also have adjustable back systems to make sure you have a precise and comfortable fit.
Most backpacks in this category have several pockets to facilitate the storage and organization of you walking equipment.
These backpacks also usually include a handy bottom section with zipped access for ease of use.
3.5 – Expedition Backpacks (usually 60L plus)
Expedition backpacks have enough room to accommodate equipment for very long trips.
The major difference between expedition backpacks and multiple day backpacks is in the attention to body balance.
Expedition backpacks are designed with wider hip belts to ensure most of the backpack load is distributed on the hips, hence leaving the shoulders lighter.
Expedition packs are also designed to protect the spine on very long hikes at full load.
3.6 – Travel Backpacks (usually 50L plus)
Travel backpacks are specialist hiking backpacks which have the major advantage of a main zip panel access.
Zip panels can be opened similar to a suitcase, allowing easier packing and access to your hiking gear.
The zipper can be locked with a padlock; a great advantage whilst travelling around.
This types of backpacks also have concealable back systems to make the backpack much more airport-friendly.
The majority of travel backpacks also include a small day backpack which attaches to the front of the main backpack. This means it can be detached for a day trip or used as a piece of hand luggage when flying.
The advantage of an attached daypack is that when travelling, you only have to keep track of one item of luggage.
4 – Features To Look For In Backpacks
Apart from size, the features found in hiking backpacks make them suitable for specific purposes.
When you know what features you want in hiking backpacks it will be easier for you to find one which is perfect for your needs.
If you are new walker, hiker, rambler or backpacker you may not be aware of the technical differences between the various types of hiking backpacks.
Take a look at the following features for a greater understanding of what you should be looking for:
4.1 – Type Of Frame
When carrying more weight or travelling longer distances, you will need a hiking backpack with a frame.
The purpose of the frame is to keep the shape of the pack and to help distribute the load. Plastic and aluminium are common materials used to build frames.
These days, internal frames are the most common ones available and account for most hiking backpacks purchased:
4.1.1 – Internal Frame
These hiking backpacks usually have a metal or plastic frame sewn into the backpack for built-in support.
Plastic strips may also be used to wrap around your shape of your back so that the load is distributed across a large surface area. Extra metal components may also reinforce the frame.
The backpack is held close to your body, allowing more agility than with external frames and making it easier to handle in rough terrain.
4.1.2 – External Frame
These hiking backpacks have a rigid frame to which the pack is attached and the load tends to be carried very high. There is usually about a two to 3 centimetre gap between your back and the backpack, compared to an internal frame which touches your back. They are therefore cooler than internal frames.
Although external frames do not provide the same degree of stability, you could compensate for this by using walking poles. An advantage of an external frame over an internal frame is that you can be more upright when carrying a heavy load uphill. This enables you to look straight ahead and not miss any of the views.
4.2 – Torso Length
The key factor to consider when selecting a hiking backpack is your torso (or back) length. People equal in height may have different torso (or back) lengths and may therefore need to have a different size of hiking backpack.
Manufacturers may either provide hiking backpacks in a range of torso lengths, or provide hiking backpacks with a system of back length adjustment so that the back length can be varied for the perfect fit.
Note that the torso length of a female, and hence female hiking backpacks is typically shorter than for a male, as women have a different pelvic structure.
In order to measure the length of your torso you need a soft measuring tape that follows your back contours. Whilst standing up straight, get someone to take a measurement from the base of your neck, at the prominent vertebrae, to the top of your hip bone. As an alternative, if you do not have a soft measuring tape, use a piece of string to take the measurement and then measure that on a stiff ruler.
4.3 – Hip Belt
A hip belt enables you to move the weight of the hiking backpack from your shoulders to the lower part of your body, distributing the weight on to your hips.
A hip belt has got to support the hiking backpack and is crucial to comfort. If the hip belt twists, sags or turns upwards, weight will be deposited on to your bottom. A good hip belt will be stiff, pre-curved, and shaped to evenly distribute the weight, with contact all the way around the hips.
A hip belt does not have to be overly padded, although some padding adds to comfort, and substituting stiffness with extra padding just does not work.
A cone shaped hip belt is best for accommodating the female hip curvature. Some manufacturers have produced a separate range of hiking backpacks for women while others have designed canted (or tilting) hip belts that adjust to different angles depending on the hip size and figure of a woman. The hip belt can be adjusted to give the best angle of comfort and is an important consideration as 80% of the hiking backpack load is usually taken by the hips.
Please do not underestimate the importance of a hip belt, especially during long hikes with loaded packs.
4.4 – Shoulder Straps
The purpose of shoulder straps is to connect your upper body to your hiking backpack.
The bigger the hiking backpack, the softer, more padded and wider the straps should be.
Some of the better manufacturers design shoulder straps to follow the body contours, having a built-in curvature over the shoulder and down the side of the body, as opposed to a straight piece of nylon covered foam.
Backpacks designed for women sometimes have shoulder straps designed to accommodate the curvature at the bust.
Female hiking backpacks also have shorter, curved shoulder straps with a narrower take-off point from the backpack.
4.5 – Sternum or Chest Strap
The shoulder straps of most hiking backpacks have a chest or sternum strap attached to them which connects the shoulder straps together.
Some backpack models also provide a mechanism for adjusting the height position of the chest strap to suit the individual.
A chest strap distributes weight across the front of the chest, keeps the hiking backpack tight to your body, relieving the pressure at the front of the shoulders and from your back.
Chest straps also pull the shoulder straps closer to the centre of the body, allowing an increase in arm flexibility and range of motion. This also prevents the shoulder straps from sliding off the shoulders when leaning over or scrambling over rough terrain.
4.6 – Other Straps
These will be provided for different purposes:
4.6.1 – Load Stabilization or Top Tension
Load stabilization or top tension straps help you balance the load. They should leave the backpack just above the shoulders, around ear level, and run down to the shoulder straps at an angle of about 45 degrees. They allow you to adjust the distance between your back and your pack.
If these straps are below the top of the shoulder straps then they are not much use. On the other hand, if they are too high above the shoulder straps then they cannot stabilize the hiking backpack effectively.
When going uphill, these straps can be tightened to pull the top of the backpack close to your body for greater stability. When going downhill, they can be slackened to enable the centre of gravity to be moved more towards the middle of your body and the backpack. This feature is also an advantage in the summertime when the straps can be loosened to provide some ventilation between the backpack and your back.
Lower load stabilization straps from the sleeping bag section the hip belt may also be provided and can be used to minimize the hiking backpack swaying at the bottom.
4.6.2 – Backpack Compression
Backpack compression straps enable you to compress the pack size around the equipment loaded inside in order to provide a tighter and more stable hiking backpack. If your trip does not require you to have sufficient backpacking equipment to fill the pack to its full dimensions then compression straps are used to close up the vacant space in the hiking backpack.
Compression straps may be one or more simple strap and buckle combinations located either around the sides of the backpack or run vertically over the back of the pack. Head moulding compression straps can be used to position the backpack lid for more head clearance.
4.6.3 – Sleeping Bag Compression
Some hiking backpacks include vertical compression straps and buckles that pass over a sleeping bag compartment. These straps can be connected after your sleeping bag is stuffed half-way into the sleeping bag compartment and then tightened to compact the rest of the sleeping bag, making it easier to stuff. They can also serve a second purpose by providing a means of carrying a tent or sleeping pad securely on the outside of the backpack.
4.7 – Back Support
This provides some form of ventilated back support and is usually of two general types:
4.7.1 – Cushion
This variety of support system is usually a contoured sheet of foam padding to help relieve pressure points and reduce the contact surface of the back and hiking backpack to increase ventilation and provide optimum comfort. It keeps your backpack in close contact with your body to maintain a stable load distribution.
Cushions are usually covered with a mesh lining or synthetic wicking fabric to move perspiration away from the skin. It forms a soft and breathable cushion between your back and the backpack frame.
4.7.2 – Mesh Back
A mesh back support system keep the main body of the hiking backpack away from your back, allowing air to pass over it, cooling and venting as it goes. The result is a cooler, less sweaty back as more surface area of your back is available from which to lose heat. The air gap also puts the load further away from your back and you may feel the backpack pulling away from your back.
In order to facilitate the air gap, manufacturers finish up with long, thin, and sometimes curved packing spaces. This results in the hiking backpacks being low in volume and difficult to pack. The thinner the air gaps the better the load distribution.
Mesh is not as breathable as you might think, especially if it is made from solid nylon or something similar, so it may not be as cool as you think it should be. In addition, in cold weather conditions, wind can travel past your back giving you a cold, chilled feeling.
4.7.3 – Lumbar Support
A lumbar support pad may also be provided for the lumbar support region in order to reduce lower back pain.
4.8 – Backpack Waterproofing & Waterproof Covers
The majority of hiking backpacks are manufactured from proofed materials but not many actually claim to be totally waterproof. Materials, pockets, different shapes and other factors make it somewhat difficult to ensure a hiking backpack is totally waterproof.
Waterproof covers enable you to keep hiking backpacks, and their contents, dry in wet weather. They are more convenient in wet weather than plastic bags inside the backpack, which inevitably rip.
Also, waterproof covers that detach from the hiking backpack are easier to dry out and can be abandoned if travelling in dry climates.
One of the most improved features of recent hiking backpack designs is state of the art ultra seam technology which does not stitch using a needle and thread. Much to the delight of hikers, this technology helps to maintain a dry backpack interior.
A backpack liner made of plastic or waterproof material could also be used to prevent crucial items from getting wet.
4.9 – Pockets
There have been various reports which state that women like pockets to organize their hiking backpack contents, being a man I can say that men do also:
- Lid – roomy lid pockets are useful to access items that are needed often and quickly, especially with an internal mesh security pocket.
- Side – useful for items to be accessed often or quickly, these are often covered by compression straps.
- Front – you should use large front pockets carefully because if you put too much weight in them you could feel like you are being pulled backwards.
- Hydration – A lot of hiking backpacks have either an integrated plastic hydration bag or a facility to carry a water bag (reservoir, bladder or platypus) with the hole for its attached drinking tube. Something is needed such as an internal sleeve, clip, Velcro or hook to accommodate or secure the container, so that it does not drop to the bottom of the hiking backpack.
- Mesh Base – these can accommodate water bottles (or other items) for liquid refreshment on the move, although a hydration system is better. These can be used to store extra fluid in bottles as well as using a hydration system depending on the length of your trip.
- Bottom, Sleeping Bag, Laundry Pocket – At the base of the backpack, this pocket can be used to keep a sleeping bag or laundry items to prevent them contaminating the rest of your gear.
- Hip Belt – zipped pockets on the hip belt can be very useful to accommodate a compact camera, compass or energy bars.
- Map Pocket – This can be used to store your map with either a zip, Velcro or other fastener.
4.10 – Attachment Points
Attachment point on backpacks can be of a number of types such as:
- Daisy chains,
- Lashing straps,
- Velcro straps,
- Crisscross rope.
Think about what you need to carry on the outside of your hiking backpack and then look at the methods of attachment available on the hiking backpacks you are thinking about buying.
Items that you may need to secure on the outside of the backpack include an ice axe, hiking pole, tent, sleeping bag and/or pad.
4.11 – Other Features
Backpacks may also have a range of other features you may wish to consider if you need them, including:
- Two Way Zips – Avoid rummaging around for your gear when you have a two-way zip on the front which allows direct access to well-buried items, even when the lid is closed.
- Detachable Day Backpack – Larger capacity hiking backpacks for longer trips may also fitted with an extra bag which can provide extra space and is easily removable as well. It can quickly be transformed into a daypack by using its attachment ring and additional straps.
- SOS Label – This usually gives emergency numbers for Europe and international distress signals in case of an emergency.
5 – How To Fit Backpacks
Before buying hiking backpacks you must try them on. My advice for women is choose a hiking backpack especially designed for women:
- Weight It & Loosen It – Now most hiking backpacks can feel comfortable when they have no weight in them, so ensure there is a load in the backpack of about 10 kilos. You should also loosen all the straps.
- Put It On – Now you can try on the hiking backpack. Bend forward some whilst attaching and tightening the hip belt so that when you stand upright the load rests predominantly on your hips.
- Tighten It – Next, tighten the shoulder straps, ensuring that they are not too wide or too narrow, that is, just right for you.
- Adjust It – Play around with the sternum and load stabilization straps to adjust the weight distribution to establish which make you feel more comfortable. Please note that there is no single strap setting that will provide optimum comfort all the time during your trip. At times your hips could become weary so you can change the straps to shift more weight on to your shoulders. At other times your shoulders could become tired and you can tweak the straps to place more of the load on to your hips.
6 – Some Brands of Backpacks For Hiking And Walking
Some popular and famous boot brands are:
- Lowe Alpine,
- The North Face,
Other manufacturing brands of hiking backpacks to note are:
- Black Diamond,
- Eagle Creek,
- Mountain Hardwear,
Should you think I have missed out an important brand and think it should be included, then please get in touch with me.
Many of the organizations that manufacture hiking backpacks provide a range of products that suit a variety of activities and personal needs.
Take some time to research what you want by looking at the various brands.
All hiking backpack brands provide features that you should find useful and you are sure to come across something within your price range.
How about starting with the Google search engine or maybe with the list of hiking brands and links we provide on our hiking links page. Or how about taking a look at our list of hiking backpack brands in our post entitled Best Hiking Backpacks Brands.
7 – Summary On Backpacks For Hiking & Walking
Selecting the right hiking backpacks or walking backpacks for your adventures, like other types of hiking equipment, can be a tricky task:
- First decide on the type of walking you wish to undertake before buying your hiking backpack.
- Decide on what extra features you want.
- Then make sure you get a torso length measurement.
- Try on the backpack with a load of about 10 kilos.
Talk to the staff when you are trying on the backpack to extract any information you can.
This article is not a complete and perfect guide but it should help you recognize when any sales staff are trying to force the sale of an unsuitable hiking backpack.
We trust this article helps you select hiking backpacks that are suitable for your needs and therefore facilitates a comfortable, safe and enjoyable outdoor adventure.
Feel ready to shop for hiking backpacks now? If you do, take a look in our hiking backpack Amazon store to see if you can find what you want!
8 – FREE PDF Copy Of This Guide
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