How to choose the right hiking pack

Choosing the Right Hiking Pack

With so many different styles and sizes of packs available, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here’s a few tips.

Tips for choosing a day pack

The choice of day pack will depend on how often you intend to use it and how much you want to carry. Some things to consider when choosing a day pack are listed below.

  • Use a bag with a waist and/or chest strap for good back support
  • Over-the-shoulder bags are generally not good for your neck and back.
  • You want a good backpack with two adjustable arm straps with padding on the shoulders.
  • A waist and/or chest strap will help distribute the pack’s weight evenly across your back.

Carry less than a fifth of your weight on your back

Keep your pack as light as possible. I’ve hiked with a range of pack sizes carrying a range of heavy packs and light ones, and I’m convinced that carrying a heavy pack takes a harder toll on me physically than carrying a light pack twice as far.

  • Day packs are designed to be light weight.
  • A normal bag might seem light when you start walking, but after even half a day walking in the heat it will feel like a tonne.
  • Adults should aim to carry less than a fifth of their weight and Australian chiropractors generally recommend children should be carrying less than a tenth of their weight.
  • When you consider that water will weigh roughly a kilogram per litre, you can see the weight quickly stacks up so it is important that the pack itself is as light as possible.

Ensure that your bag has room for everything

  • Day packs come with a range of features, such as built in emergency whistles, bungee straps for holding water bottles and small compartments for storing keys and wallets.
  • Consider what you are going to carry and how you are going to carry your water so you know what features you want.

Choose a bag that has good ventilation to reduce sweating

  • If you are walking in the heat or over long distances, a breathable air mesh fabric on the back is useful to help with ventilation and reduce sweating.

Find a bag that matches your height and build for comfort

  • Make sure you try your pack before you buy it.
  • You want a day pack that matches your height and build.
  • A comfortable pack is a hiker’s best friend and once you find the right pack you may find like me you use it for everything.

Adjust your pack

Backpacks come with a number of straps that allow you to adjust your load for maximum comfort. Every time you put on your pack it will require adjusting based on the varied loads you carry and the garments you will be wearing. Readjust your pack throughout the hike to ensure it is fitting comfortably on your shoulders and waist.

The essentials you should always carry on a day hike

What you carry in your day pack obviously depends on the weather, terrain, time of year and a number of other factors. However, whether I’m going for a two-hour walk or a day-long hike, I consider the following items the essentials you should always carry with you on a day hike.

Have at least 3 litres of water with you for the hike

  • This one is kind of obvious, but many people underestimate how much water to carry.
  • Keeping hydrated while hiking possibly requires its own post, but as a general rule I’d carry three litres for a day hike as a bare minimum.
  • This will depend on the weather, altitude, your personal health, how much you’re carrying, how strenuously you are hiking and so forth.
  • Either way carrying too much is better than too little.
  • Water is generally going to be the heaviest thing in your day pack so consider how you are going to carry it.
  • While your typical plastic water bottle is cheap, they don’t retain their temperature well and so by the end of the day you can be drinking warm water that tastes of plastic.
  • There are water bottles that are BPA free such as the Platypus bottles.
  • If you carry your water in bottles it is better to split your water up into say 4 bottles so you can distribute the weight in your pack more evenly or use water bladders which will do the same.

Keep a First-Aid Kit with at all times

Even if you are going for a short walk, there is always a small possibility you could break a limb, cut yourself or get bitten by insects or snakes, so you need to be prepared for the worse. Most first-aid kits are compact and contain all the essential items you’ll need.

If you are building a kit from scratch I recommend taking:

  • Compact first aid manual
  • Pressure immobilisation bandages
  • Regular roller bandages
  • Triangular bandage for breaks
  • Gauze or cotton pads for wounds
  • Assorted bandaids for blisters and cuts
  • Moleskin and/or blister kit
  • Ointment for insect bites
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Tweezers and splinter needles
  • Soluble pain relievers
  • Antihistamine
  • Insect repellent
  • Salt (for leeches)
  • Matches
  • Personal medications – with instructions
  • I personally carry and highly recommend that you always carry a personal survival kit.

Carry sunscreen with you and reapply regularly

  • If you are hiking for a day, you will need to reapply your sunscreen.
  • Sweat can also cause your sunscreen to rub off quicker than normal, so remember to take it with you.

Keep insect repellent in your bag just in case

  • Even if there are no signs of insects before you start your hike, the bush can be unpredictable or your hike can take longer than you anticipate and you can get caught out during dusk when all the beasties come out to nibble at your skin.
  • When the mozzies come out or you come across a swarm of sand flies you’ll be grateful for taking this with you.

Pack a torch in case you get lost or delayed back to camp

  • Even on day hikes, a torch is important in case you are delayed or misjudge how long it will take to get back to camp and end up walking at night.
  • I use a lightweight headlamp so I don’t need to carry it and it takes little room in my pack, but any lightweight torch will do.

Take plenty of food to replenish the energy you burn when hiking

  • You will burn a lot of calories when hiking so take more for lunch than you normally eat as well as snacks that are rich in protein and carbohydrates.
  • Also carry appropriate food. If it is hot, don’t take meat or dairy foods that are likely to spoil.
  • Even for a short walk, it is a good suggestion to carry extra food in case of emergency or delays in your hike.
  • A protein rich food that won’t go off is good to keep in your pack for emergencies such a cereal bar or dried fruit and nut mix.

Keep a pair of spare socks with you

  • I always take a spare change of socks on a day hike in case my feet get wet or sweaty.
  • A change of socks can be improve your mood dramatically when hiking as well as prevent blisters.

Pack a charged mobile phone, satellite phone or a UHF Radio for emergencies

  • If an accident does occur, especially something as serious as a snakebite, you need some form of communication.
  • Mobile reception can be unpredictable in the bush especially walking through rocky valleys or in remote locations, so I check my phone every so often and take note of where the last place I had reception was.
  • If an emergency happens then someone can go to that point and call for help.

Bring a good pair of sunglasses

  • The weather can be unpredictable.
  • It might start out overcast when you begin your hike but end up sunny.
  • So, if you aren’t wearing your sunnies then put them in your day pack just in case you need them.

Pack rain gear/warm clothing for unexpected weather changes

  • Sunny one minute, bucketing down with rain the next.
  • It is a good idea to carry a lightweight compact rain jacket.
  • In addition, you might want to carry warm clothing in case you get caught out after dark.
  • In remote locations or where tracks aren’t well marked, you may also want to take navigation tools such as map, compass or GPS.
  • Emergency blankets, warm clothing and multi-tools are also useful.
  • If you are going on an overnight hike then there are even more things you will need and other things to consider when choosing a pack.

Reflective safety blanket

  • Never go on a day hike without having a reflective safety blanket. You never know when you might need to do a spontaneous overnighter, and knowing you have one in your pack really helps to stay calm!

The essentials for hiking overnight

Day hikes are usually simple affairs that start and end at the door of your vehicle at a trail-head.

When you get the urge to travel further than your legs can carry you in a day, the affair becomes a bit more complicated. More skills, gear, food, and planning are required for a successful multi-day hike.

In addition to the above list you will also need to carefully consider the following items

  • Overnight Pack
  • Suitable Clothing
  • Shelters
  • Sleep Systems
  • Cooking Equipment
  • Food
  • Available Campsites

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