One of the main items you need for backpacking is a pack! Who would’ve thought that you need a pack for backPACKing. The pack is vital because it becomes a part of your body and contains all of your belongings. It can be difficult to figure out which pack you may want for yourself. There are many different brands that are all great, but vary between styles, features, and fits. This blog post will tell you what features to look for in a pack and we will recommend some of our favorite brands. We will also tell you our method for packing your pack. It can really make a difference if you pack it correctly.
First off, you need to figure out what kind of trip you are planning. Do you want to be ultralight? Do you want to carry more luxury items? The gear you plan to carry, and the length of your trip can determine the pack capacity you will want. Anywhere between 30 – 80 liters is the range you will be in. For a one nighter in the summer, you could get away with a 30 liter pack if you are ultralight. In the middle of winter for a few day trip, with some luxury items, maybe an 80 liter pack would be more your fit. A good medium would be between 50-70 liters. This way, you can use the pack year round and fill it to the brim, or maybe have more wiggle room. Just listen to yourself and know if you want to have a lighter pack, or if there is no way you are going to give up some of your luxury items.
When you go for a pack fitting, bring some of your gear with you, or bring some fillers so you can try on the pack with the amount of gear you are planning to take. It is important to get a feel for what it’s like when packed. Wherever you plan to get your pack, have one of the employees help you. You need someone to measure your torso and help you learn the best way to put the pack on and tighten all the straps.
Your torso length is going to be the most important measurement for your pack fitting. Once this size is determined, depending on which brand you like, get your size. Sizes can vary between brands so be sure to check. When you put on the pack, naturally you will lean forward to compensate for the weight on your back. From here, you will want to go ahead and buckle your hip belt and tighten it. You want most of the weight to rest on your hips rather than your shoulders. Then you can start tightening your other straps so that it fits properly. Here is a description of some other the other straps you will want to tighten.
Load Lifter Straps: These straps connect the top of the shoulder straps to the top of the pack, and when tightened correctly, they prevent the pack from leaning away from your back. Ideally they should be positioned at a 45 degree angle.
Sternum Strap: The sternum strap clips over the chest, connecting both shoulder straps in the front. This enhances stability. Some packs allow for this strap’s height to be adjusted to that it sits comfortably on your chest.
Compression Straps: These tighten along the sides of a pack. They should be extended when a pack is very full and cinched down when a pack is almost empty. These allow for the wearer to achieve a balanced pack even if it is not completely loaded down. These are one of the main features that make a pack versatile enough for a day hike or a multi-day trip.
Hipbelt Stabilizer: This strap can be tightened around the hipbelt, improving balance and comfort.
Again, having a professional help you is important. Here is a video to help illustrate.
What do you want in a pack? There are many different styles and features to decide between. You can have the bare minimum, or all the bells and whistles. Pockets are probably the most noticeable and useful features. Here are examples of pockets you might see on a pack.
- Side pockets – ideal for water bottles and snack.
- Front pockets – usually one or two and good for extra items you might need during the day such as rain poncho, headlamp, etc.
- Brain – removable, but can fit a water bladder, or light jacket in the top
- Hip belt pockets – some packs come with built in hip belt pockets, or you can purchase a detachable one. These are ideal for chapstick, camera, maps, etc.
- Water bladder pocket – this feature is in some packs and is located on the inside of the pack right on your back. It is designed for a water bladder and there is usually an area where the bladder hose can come through the top.
- Wallet pocket – this is usually a very small pocket on the inside of the pack to keep valuables such as wallet or keys.
Here are some other pack features you may want to consider.
- Frame vs. frameless – frameless is only for experienced, ultralight backpackers. Most packs nowadays are internal frames. These can usually be removed and are made of plastic or related materials. You can also look into external frame packs if you are old school.
- Trampoline back – this feature allows the pack itself to sit off your back to allow ventilation.
- Sleeping bag compartment – some packs contain a separate space on the very bottom of the pack designed for your sleeping bag. There is usually a zipper on the outside to access this compartment.
- Extra straps – most packs already have the compression straps along the sides, but some contain extra straps for sleeping pads, tools, or water bottles.
Of course, when you are deciding which features you want, keep into consideration that they can add weight. They may seem nice when you are looking at them, but really think about if you will use them and how much they can benefit you.
Packing your pack
This part is vital for how the pack sits on your back and feels as you are hiking. The diagram below shows the proper weight distribution you should have for your pack. Ideally, you want your lighter stuff on the bottom, heavy stuff resting in the middle on your back, and medium weight objects on top. Here is a quick overview of items you might include in these areas.
- Bottom – sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes
- Middle – food, tent,
- Top – first aid kit, stove and pot, jacket
- Outside of pack – water, snacks, map,
It can take a while to really get a feel for the best way to pack your pack. It is not always going to be the same. You will want to carry some items on the outside of your pack for easy access, but try not to get carried away. If you don’t use it during the day while hiking, pack it away.
Another great trick for packing, use a trash bag liner to line your pack. This keeps your stuff dry and it acts as a stuff sack. You can take your sleeping bag, clothes, sleeping pad, etc out of their stuff sacks and just cram them all into your trash bag in your pack. This trash bag will not be opened until you get to camp so if it rains, the important stuff stays dry. It also helps fill gaps that may be in your pack. When items are in stuff sacks, they each become a certain shape. These shapes may not fit together too well and will leave some gaps. When you take them out of these sacks and virtually put them in one sack (your pack) they can all mold together and fill that space.
The packs we carry in the store include Granite Gear, Osprey, and ULA. These brands are the most popular in the hiking community right now. They also cover the variety of packs I have talked about in this blog. If you want a more ultralight pack, the ULA OHM or the Granite Gear Virga 2 are lightweight, frameless, and have just three pockets. We also have some of those packs that contain more features such as the Osprey Exos and the Granite Gear Lutsen. Here are some of the staffs personal favorite packs.
Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – I carried this pack the entire trail. It weighs two pounds and is 60 liters in volume. It has three pockets total and I was able to get the women’s style that included a slightly wider and more padded hip belt. The roll top acts as a compression so the pack itself felt like a big stuff sack. The pack is made from Cordura fabric which is very durable and there have been no rips or tears in the whole time I’ve had it.
ULA Circuit – This 68 liter pack will not disappoint. Owned by several of the employees it has three pockets total, two side pockets and one large back mesh pocket. The side pockets are solid and made so they won’t tear even when you’re cramming water bottles and snacks into them. The back pocket is mesh and can stretch and ventilate wet items. It also has the hip belt pockets to carry easy access items such as a map. It is a roll top as well and the pack is made from Robic fabric so it is super durable.It weighs just 2.5 pounds.
ULA Catalyst – This pack is slightly larger and heavier than the Circuit. It weighs 3 pounds and has a 75 liter capacity. This pack is definitely a popular one for starting out. It is large enough, but still light, so you can carry a few more items. You may not have all the lightest weight gear so this pack is perfect because it can carry up to 40 lbs. It has similar features as the circuit such as the pockets and roll top, it is also made from Robic fabric.
Osprey Exos – This pack has a 58 liter capacity and weighs 2.4 pounds. It was the most popular pack on the Appalachian Trail in 2016. It has the trampoline back to keep the pack off your back and allow ventilation. It has three mesh pockets, two on the sides and one on the back. It also has the hip belt pockets and several additional straps to tie on extra items if need be. It includes a removable floating top lid with an internal key clip and underlid zippered mesh pocket. The pack is made out of High Tenacity Nylon.
These are some of our favorites but there are so many more! You can check out this post by “The Trek” that shows what backpacks were the most popular on the Appalachian Trail from 2016 thru hikers.
We hope this has helped you with your pack decisions. Please stop by the store or give us a call for more information or if you want to do a pack fitting! Remember we also do pack shakedowns in the store and we have the virtual shakedowns if you don’t live nearby. Check back next week for more information on gear you will need on the trail!