Imagining the perfect day hike or embarking on a sure-to-be legendary backpacking trip with a group of your closest friends? Yeah, we can relate to that. What you might not be thinking about in that daydream is the back pain you can get from a pack that doesn't properly conform to your body shape or the chaffing that can occur from continuous rubbing of a loose pack against your lower back as you explore.
When you're planning to outfit a trip into the backcountry, the pack itself is probably the first thing you’ll think of. And rightfully so, the word 'backpack' is literally 2/3rds of the word backpacking.
Believe it or not, backcountry backpacks are actually really personal. Different brands will fit you differently, just like shoes. The most important thing you can do during backpack selection is try on different backpacks to find what fits you best. Don't worry, you're safe trying a backpack from AP because of our generous free returns policy. A couple of important questions you should ask yourself are:
- How long do you need to wear a potential pack before you know if it’s right for you? Not that long actually. Put it on, put some weight in it (maybe 20 pounds), and see how you like it.
- How long are you planning to wear it for? Is it going to be 1-2 hours at a time or 6-8 hours? Probably the former for your first go and somewhere in the middle for subsequent adventures.
Your backcountry backpack is a long-term investment so you should look for something you will enjoy beyond your first outing or two. As you adventure with your backpack more, your relationship with your pack will grow. A good pack can last you upwards of 10 years and if you made a good choice when you picked it, you’ll genuinely mourn it’s loss when it finally gives out.
Let’s talk a bit more about ideal fit and the right compartment size.
About fit: you want to look for a pack with three key features: a hip belt, chest strap, and load distribution straps. Your hip belt’s primary function is to take the weight of the pack off your shoulders and put it squarely on your hips which is the most comfortable position for extended carry.
Once your pack is cinched down correctly, the objective is to have about 90% of the weight sitting on your hips. An added benefit is that your pack won’t jiggle side to side as you walk. Your sternum strap’s primary function serves to keep the load of your pack forward as well as keeping your shoulder straps from spreading (wider) on your chest as you hike. A secondary benefit is they also keep the pack more firmly held to your torso, minimizing friction against your movement, and reducing the amount of effort you have to expend ‘fighting your pack’.
The further back your backpack sits, the more it’s pulling against you. Most people prefer to hike at a forward lean so load balancing straps are meant to pull the back of your pack up or down (center of gravity) on your back. This can change every hour as the contents settle while you hike, so it’s important to be able to adjust the center of your pack’s gravity as often as you see fit. Stop as often as you need to, ask yourself “am I fighting against my pack?”, and adjust your load balancers accordingly.
About size: anything over 40L will work for ultra-light overnight excursion and you can get away with a 65L pack for multiple nights. For reference, if you’re used to a backpack for work or commuting, 40L is a bigger pack than you have probably ever used. While a 65L is a dedicated backpacking pack a 40L is a great day hiking pack and makes a great beginner pack. If you're just interested in hiking for now and aren't planning for overnighters in the foreseeable future, you can certainly get buy with anything from 16L up to 40L.
If you’re somebody who likes to go big, read this: for your first pack, do not talk yourself into anything more than 70(ish)L because you’re going to want to put more stuff in there than you need. And anything more than you need is just wasting energy.
There you have it. You can consider yourself well enough equipped to go forth and select a really good pack that'll serve as a trustee sidekick for years. If you're interested, we've got a small, but growing selection of day packs here at Advanced Primate that we think are outstanding choices.
Our guide for everything you need for your first backpacking trip. Coming soon!