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Backpack Buyers Guide - From day hikes & trail running to treks, expeditions & travel

Posted by Mountain Equipment Sydney Staff on

Outdoor Backpack Buyers guide 1

Heading out on your next adventure? Here’s a quick guide on what to look out for when buying your next pack, whether it be for a day walk, multi day trek, weekend adventure or general travel.

 

Active Day Packs


A typical day pack is generally around the 20-30L mark, designed to hold your essential items for the day. The volume of your day pack will largely depend on the activity, duration, and the amount of gear you are taking. This might include water, food, warm clothing, wet weather gear and a first aid kit. These packs are compatible with a hydration bladder for more strenuous activities, or warmer days when carrying extra water is necessary.


Day packs can feature a back system that supports weight right against your back, or a vented system, where there is a gap between your back and the pack. The shoulder straps and hip belt are thinner and have less padding (compared to larger packs) due to the limited carrying capacity and smaller load.


Day pack harnesses usually come in a single size or a limited size range. This is because the smaller weights aren’t designed to be carried on your hips via the hipbelt, instead the weight is designed to be carried up higher towards the shoulder blades. As such the weight is carried on the shoulders which for anything from 1-8kg is generally more agile and ergonomic. Smaller day packs usually either have a simple webbing hipbelt or a lightweight padded one, these are mainly to stabilise the pack and stop it moving around.


Running Vests & Packs


For trail runners, or long-distance road runners, a specific running vest is recommended. These are designed to carry weight close to your body and is balanced between your chest and high on your upper back, which is the most ergonomic way to carry load while running. Most come with soft bottles that sit at the front of the vest, that acts to balance the weight in front with your main kit which is carried behind you. Most running packs have the option to add a hydration bladder in the back should you need to carry extra water, and storage space for mandatory gear.
Often running vest style packs come sized like you would a t-shirt. It’s important to spend the time and fit these correctly.

Outdoor Backpack buyers guide trail running vests


Hiking Daypacks: Longer Days & Overnight


These packs are generally around the 30-40 litre mark. They feature a more supportive harness and hipbelt, and designed for loads around 10-15kg. Most hiking packs in this range are top-loading with one main storage compartment, smaller organisational pockets, and extra attachment points on the outside of the bag for bulky equipment. Some packs do come with a convenient zip access (instead of top loading), a good option as a larger everyday pack or travel pack.


These types of packs sit right in the middle of the volume rang and bridge the gap between smaller day packs and full-fledged hiking packs. They are perfect for day hikes in the cold when you might want to carry some bulkier insulation, or on treks like Everest Base Camp or Camino where you are going from guest house to guest house but may also want your down jacket and sleeping bag with you during the day. They are also perfect for overnight hikes where you can share your tent with your partner. Another great use for this type of pack is hut hiking in places like New Zealand. Because you aren’t carrying a tent you can still hike for a week with a 40L pack. Of course, there is the weight weenies as well who can still manage to do a full-on weeklong off-track hike using a 30-40L pack, but this does take discipline. The last great use for this volume pack is as a carryon pack for adventure travel. It means you get the maximum on board capacity to give you the biggest “on the go” pack when you get to your destination. Often people might couple a duffel bag with a 40L pack if they’re basing themselves somewhere and going on many shorter adventures.


Overnight hiking packs often come in different harness sizes and the harnesses are highly adjustable.

Outdoor Backpacks buyers guide overnight packs


Backpacking and Multiple Day Packs


These back packs can range from 50-100 litres, come with padded shoulder straps and structured waist belts to help carry the extra weight. The capacity of your pack will depend on what you are doing, where you are going and how much gear you need to take. Bear in mind that not all packs are made equal, and pack features vary depending on the intended use. For example, the harness of a 60L hiking pack is designed to carry weight comfortably over a longer period of time (normally a few hours over course of the day, over multiple days), while a travel pack of the same capacity would only be carried for a shorter duration. For this reason, the harness construction of hiking packs tends to be more complex, compared to that of a travel pack, which is much simpler in design, therefore, it is important to choose the correct type of backpack for what you are doing.
The correct pack fitting is essential for larger packs where you are carrying extra weight on your back for an extended time. Along with ill-fitting footwear, a poorly fitted pack can have major consequences, and carrying a heavy pack as ergonomic and stable as possible will make your trip much more enjoyable. For more information, please follow our pack fitting guide.


Outdoor Backpack buyers guide hiking trekking packs

 

Activity

Duration

Bag size

Running or Cycling

Up to half a day

5 – 20 Litres

Hiking

Full day

15 – 40 Litres

Multi day Hiking

2-7 days

40 – 60 Litres

Travel or Multi week Hiking

7+ days

60+ Litres

 



What does it mean when it is woman’s specific?


On average women tend to have shorter torsos in relation to their height when compared to men, therefore, women’s specific packs will normally have a shorter back length. The other fit difference is that the hip belt is usually longer in relation to the back length as women’s hip bones tend to be wider in relation to their height when compared to men. Women’s packs also have narrower shoulder straps that contour away from the chest area. Getting the right fit doesn’t always mean you should get a women’s specific bag however. Modern backpacks have so much scope for adjustability that many women might find a men’s or unisex pack will fit just fine or vice-versa.

 

 What Backpack Features Do You Need? 

 

All backpacks will fall somewhere on the scale between absolute minimalist and fully featured. On one end you pretty much have a stuff sack with shoulder straps and on the other a fully fledged travel pack with multiple entries, rain cover, multiple compartments, outside stuff pockets and options for attaching more gear.  It is important to understand the benefits of both and then work out where you want to fall in the middle. 

Minimalist packs are often favoured by climbers and mountaineers and not just because they are light weight. Yes the weight is an advantage but if you're stuck up on an alpine climb and are days away from civilisation you cannot effort to have a zipper, seam or buckle break. So having less on your pack means there's less to go wrong. Also with the good brands of packs, having less investment in features means the brands often put more investment into better quality, more durable, lighter and ultimately more expensive materials. This can also be a huge plus. The other reason to go more minimal is if you're doing activities where the backpack cops a real beating. Rock climbing often involves scraping packs agains cliffs, but there's also off track hiking where there are snags a plenty. 

On the flip side - having features is great. Having multiple entries while your hiking means you can easily get to your tent or dry clothes which are normally packed right down the bottom. Things like external stuff pockets and rain covers can make your trek easier and more pleasant. Even just having a hipbelt pocket to stash your phone or jelly beans in certainly can lift the spirits when you find your self exhausted and still a couple hours from camp. For hiking especially, it's when these features start to take over from the critical things is when they either enter the "travel" realm or just become gimmicky. Hands down the most important things for a rucksack are the harness and the quality of the main compartment. This is 90% of why you buy a hiking pack so make sure they are what you need for your adventure. 

 

This buyers guide was intended to be a quick overview of outdoor adventure backpacks and rucksacks. There are many more areas to discuss and delve into. If you have more questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us on 02 9264 5888 or via web@mountainequipment.com 

We'd love to help out further. 

Happy hiking! 

 

Written By: Hannes Petzer & Sheila Alexander


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