To the new hiker, the necessity of a stocked hiking backpack become apparent almost immediately. After finding the perfect shoes, your bag is the second-most important item you’ll need to purchase to ensure a safe, comfortable, and pleasant hiking excursion. But what kind of bag should you choose for day hiking? There are many different types to consider. Your hiking preferences, trails, and expectations play into what kind of hiking backpack you choose. If you will just be out for the day and will return to your vehicle in the evening, you have several options.
Messenger Bags, Purses, or Satchels
Any bag that lies over one shoulder is a poor choice for any long distance hike, or any hike on steep hills where you may need to grab on to trees, rocks, or the ground to avoid slipping or losing your balance. These kinds of bags may sore the load-bearing shoulder or throw you off-balance if you decide to rock-hop, climb, or cross shallow water. However, for shorter trips or hikes over the flat, they may be perfect for carrying the bare essentials. If you plan on hiking on a bike trail, avoid taking a shoulder bag that could be snatched or snagged on a passing bicycle. You may be purposefully mugged, or simply cause an accident. Cross-chest straps are best, if you decide on this style.
Framed Hiking Packs
Most of these are far too large and bulky for a simple day excursion, but they bear mentioning. Framed packs are very light, but are largely used by people hiking overnight. Most are designed for carrying a bed roll and camping equipment, and usually have a waterproof cover that is secured over it. This can make accessing the contents a pain. While they have their uses, a back-frame style pack is usually too large and impractical for day trips. A noted exception would be parents with several small children tagging along. If a parent is carrying food, water, and comfort items for several small kids plus themselves, a framed pack may be perfect.
This is the type of bag I have carried for the last eight years of both hiking and everyday journeys. Do not misunderstand and purchase a cheap, shapeless, twenty-dollar nylon bag in the back-to-school section at WalMart. They don’t breathe, they tear, the zippers jam, and they are primarily made for a child’s shoulders. Look in a sporting goods store and expect to pay between eighty and $140 dollars for a good backpack for hiking.
The perfect bookbag-style hiking backpack will have generous padding against your back and on the shoulders. The padding should not be flat. It should leave the center of the spine open and leave the weight-bearing to the shoulders and the sides of your back. Look for lots of pockets and dividers both inside and on the outside of the bag. If there is a padded ‘slot’ built in for a laptop, simply stitch it to the back of the bag for more cushioning between your back and the contents.
No matter what kind of back bag you decide on, consider a small fanny pack to carry a bottle of water, your wallet, keys, any medications you may need on the trail, and other essentials. While they went out of fashion in the eighties, they are still available in sporting goods stores for precisely this reason. Taking off a back bag every time you want a sip of water or need to consult the map is irritating. Invest in a fanny pack to wear in addition to your back bag.
Buying a hiking backpack is a highly personal decision, and one you should take your time in purchasing. By keeping these tips in mind, you will be armed with the information you need to pick out the right hiking bag for your needs.
Personal Experience of 8 years on the trail