How to choose a backpack for day hikes

How to choose a backpack for day hikes

Picture this: you’re finally going to dust off those old walking shoes and go for a long nature walk with a friend.

You grab your son’s old school backpack that’s been sitting in the cupboard for years (why is it that kids never actually move all the way out). You pack a couple of litres of water, some lunch, a camera. Better put in a rain jacket and some first aid supplies. All set.

Hmm, it’s a bit heavy on the shoulders. But you’ll get used to it.

By lunch time your shoulders and back are aching and you’re walking with your hands under the shoulder straps to get some relief.

By the end of the day you’re ready to throw your backpack off a cliff and book in for a neck and shoulder massage on the way home. “Is this what it’s supposed to feel like? Where did I go wrong?”

Well, first you should have insisted that your son store his stuff in his own house or throw it out – he’s 35 after all.

Second, that old backpack that hangs off the shoulders has some vital features missing.

The key to choosing a backpack for day hikes is to carry most of the weight around your hips, a little weight on your chest and a very small amount on your shoulders.

I like to imagine my backpack as an adorable little monkey hugging you from behind (the cuter your daypack is in your imagination, the less you’ll want to throw it off a cliff). Here are some features to look for:

A sturdy waist strap is a really useful feature. The monkey’s legs. Pull the strap in firmly, at about belly button height and just above the top of your hip-bones. Thick waist straps are better than thin ones and some padding around the back and sides of your hips can be a great comfort on a long walk.

The shoulder straps are the monkey’s arms.  Because he’s also holding on with his legs, there isn’t much pressure on your shoulders at all. The shoulder straps shouldn’t pull down over your whole shoulder – often their point of contact is just above the collar bone and there’s a small gap above your shoulder.

Sadly (although lucky for you), your monkey was in a terrible nuclear accident and sprouted two more arms.  These are sternum/chest straps, which you should be able to adjust the height and width of to suit your body type.  You want to feel some comfortable backwards pressure across your chest, about midway up your sternum.

Bonus tips when choosing a backpack for day hikes

  • When you shop for a daypack, put some weight in it to see how it sits.  All bags feel good when they’re empty.
  • Are there pockets on the sides that fit your water bottles? If you’re not sure whether you’re a water bladder or a water bottle person yet, it might be good to get a pack with side pockets just in case.
  • One feature that many people are going for these days is a frame and mesh panel which holds the bag off your back and allows air to flow through the gap. Just be aware that this feature tends to reduce the volume of your pack and pushes your centre of gravity even further backwards.
  • Side straps on the pack which pull the bag in when it’s not full can be used to make it sit closer to your body. This means you’ll have a more comfortable centre of gravity and you won’t get as tired.
  • Get a backpack with a waterproof cover that can zip out from underneath when the weather turns.

Was this helpful? Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below what you look for in a day pack.

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2 Responses

  1. Katrina
    Katrina at |

    Hello again, many thanks for the research you put in to write up this blog re: backpacks. I’ve printed this out and will take it with me to the local camping stores. Cheers, Katrina.

  2. Tracy
    Tracy at |

    Good reminders thanks Simon. Problem is my reputable knapsack flops over on the ground when I take it off whereas my daggy old one with few features stands up perfectly, is lighter and more compact. Decisions, decisions

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