Get Into the Hiking Spirit With These Different Types of Backpacks


The plan was simple, get away from the chaos of my life and find a few serene moments while wandering through the trails of nature. Easy, right? Or so I thought. I had everything that I could need for this hiking trip. The plan was foolproof. Just one itsy-bitsy problem that I sort of overlooked; my backpack wasn’t big enough for everything I needed for the trip. But being as resourceful as ever, I managed to cram everything into it after many attempts. Needless to say, my misadventures began there itself and continued throughout the trip. Cutting a long story short, my overladen backpack got torn into pieces after barely setting foot in the mountains. Lessons learned: get a good hiking backpack, according to your trip and needs and considering the weight you can carry; never overstuff it!

That’s the reason I decided to research the types of backpacks that hikers prefer, and have come up with a list. Mostly, trekkers carry backpacks according to their requirements. After all, it doesn’t make sense to go on a day trip carrying the burden of a heavy 70-liter rucksack. Why am I measuring a backpack in liters when it clearly has non-liquid volume? A backpack is measured by the volume of space available inside the bag. The weight you can carry in it usually doesn’t matter much. The standard set by the backpacking industry is based on the method of using 20 mm plastic balls as fillers inside the bag. Only compartments that are completely sealed by zippers are taken into consideration, leaving aside the bottle holders and other mesh pockets. Then these plastic balls are measured to get an accurate size of the backpack. However, there are some packs available in the market that are measured in cubic inches too.

A Good Backpack is Your Hiking Partner

A backpack becomes the best friend of a hiker while she is treading the path less traveled. In fact, the backpack gradually becomes an entity in itself. Wherever you go, you will be identified as a backpacker, after seeing a heavy load strapped to your shoulders. The fun thing is your backpack begins to mirror your physical state. After a few days of traveling and hiking, you know what people are going to infer after a glance at you and your pack. “She must have fallen down near the creek.” “She hasn’t taken a bath in a while.” “She’s probably lost and needs a place to stay”. In short, your backpack becomes you. It tells the world that you are living out of a bag and are happy about it; that you are open to mingle with the strangers. You are ready to accept any challenge that nature has in store for you. At the expense of exaggerating, I will say that a hiker is as good as her backpack.

Perhaps you have planned a hike and very studiously made a checklist of all the stuff you need for your trip. A good backpack will top this list. Assuming you don’t have it, and are going to purchase or borrow it, I am going to introduce you to some common types of packs to which most hikers are partial.

A man mountain climbing
Its name itself is a giveaway. It is typically used for a really short trip. Its size varies between 25 to 35 liters. It is used to carry only those items that are required for a day trip, that is to say, items like torch, rope, basic trekking gear, sufficient water, map, first-aid kit, pocket knife, sunscreen, etc. Stuff like sleeping bag, mattress, stove, minimum cooking utensils, etc. are typically excluded from the day hike packing checklist.

The best thing about a daypack is that you can also tote it around your campus, stuff it with encyclopedias for all you want, without worrying about it disintegrating into pieces. Most daypacks are either panel loader or top loader. A panel loading backpack has front loading capacity. It will probably have one main storage compartment and one minor or two main storage pockets. The compartments can be accessed with the help of U-shaped zipper. Basically, it looks like an ordinary knapsack, only made with durable material to withstand the strain of rough terrain. Such a pack provides easy access to your stuff. The main drawbacks include, zipper problems, poor fit, less water-resistant and relatively poor back support.

On the other hand, top loading daypack is a mini-sized rucksack, i.e., it is in the shape of a sack and the load goes on the top of each other in the main compartment. Such a backpack is closed with a drawstring and/or plastic clasps. It is usually easier to carry and looks less bulky. Moreover, it provides a flexibility in adjusting the load of the pack. Let’s just say that you are going to climb up a fierce mountain wall. Obviously, you will be loaded with all the modern gear that you could get your hands on.

A top loading daypack will provide firmer support to your back even when you have removed all the gear from it. That’s why nearly all the hikers prefer such a backpack.
Mid-sized Backpack
Tourist hiking
It is a backpack with 35 to 60 liters/2,100 to 3,600 cubic inches. Anything that exceeds 60 liters/3,600 cubic inches is meant for an expedition trip. Most hikers carry a backpack which has the feature of attaching a daypack or lumbar pack to it. This way, if they are maxed out on hiking gear, they can easily clip the daypack to the front side of the main backpack and be on their way.

Mid-sized backpacks are ideal for cross-country jaunts where you can stash up your main backpack in a hostel/hotel, and scramble your way to the top of a nearest hill.

If you ask me, I would say these backpacks are best for people with small body frame, particularly women.

I believe the happiest hiker is the one who can easily carry all his favorite toys comfortably packed in a backpack, and tread a strenuous trail without worrying too much about disentangling the pack from a vicious, thorny bush that stands on the way. Unfortunately, most hikers realize that they have over-packed only when they are miles from their home. However, their packs become considerably lighter with each subsequent trips.

Expedition Backpack

Long hiking trips or expeditions can be a crude mix of memorable, desperate and downright spine-chilling moments. It is, therefore, imperative to have a great backpack to keep you company in such an inexplicable journey. If your trip is expected to extend beyond a week, then an expedition backpack should suffice. Such backpacks generally have the capacity of more than 60 liters/3,600 cubic inches.

Before embarking on a hiking junket, every backpacker has to face the question of comfort. External or internal frame backpacks? Answer: It depends on your need and not to forget, your physical attributes.

External Frame Backpack
Backpacker woman hiking
External backpack sketch
These backpacks have external frames which are made of light materials like aluminum, wood or plastic. The backpack can be detached from the frame whenever you want. Also, you have the option to hang up your dirt-smeared boots or sleeping bag on the frame, cutting down the fuss of removing or packing the gear from/into your pack whenever you need them. It is ideal for carrying heavy and bulky weight, and it enables you to walk straight as well as comfortably due to its unique structure. The biggest downside to this pack is that it becomes inconvenient while maneuvering your way through a dense forest, tracing a river or other challenging situations. The metal frame might also squeak if not lubricated from time to time. It is generally preferred by young hikers who are not averse to carrying a bit of extra load. It is also a good choice while hiking in hot weather as it provides more scope for ventilation.
Pros: Cheap, suitable for groomed trails, apt for heavy loads.
Cons: Looks cumbersome, feels cumbersome, tends to carry the weight away from the body, lacks stability.
Internal Frame Backpack
Green and gray colored rucksack
Red and black colored bag

Flexible, compact, rigid, solid, comfortable and easy to maneuver. These words ought to describe an internal frame backpack. If you are hiking, walking off-trail, climbing or making a descent, these form-fitting packs will offer you stability and freedom of movement. An internal frame pack has one huge compartment with multiple zippered smaller compartments, unlike external frame packs. Moreover, it looks pretty cool on your shoulders, compared to a metal frame. After all, who can say no to sexy sports gear?

To know whether the internal frame backpack fits you properly, you need to first check the height of your torso. The hip belt should envelope around your hip area, and not the waist. You need to try different packs on and tighten the straps to see if they are hindering your movement. Nowadays, manufacturers design backpacks to accommodate most average body frames. In the end, you should just buy the pack that feels the most comfortable.

Pros: Very popular among hikers, suited to nearly everyone.
Cons: Expensive, gear can be hard to access if not packed right.
Comparing an internal frame to external frame backpack may not be right. Actually, it’s more like comparing apples to oranges!
Other Packs
Women hiking
Man hiker with bag
There are other packs too, that are pretty useful when you hit the trail. They are particularly handy when you are going for a pleasant day hike, especially to keep your wallet and water within your arm’s reach.
Hydration System
Though hydration packs are prerogative of bikers, they are not unknown to hikers. While hiking when you are long way from a faucet, thoughts of taking your bottle out to quench your thirst every few steps dents your already depleted energy reserve. Wouldn’t it be great if there is a water pack strapped to your shoulder? Well, your wish has come true in the form of hydration packs. And the icing on the cake? Some hydration system backpacks have enough space to accommodate your small stock of food, camera and other smaller versions of hiking toys that you don’t want to part with. If you are strapped for cash, then you can just buy the plastic bladder that makes hydration packs all so wonderful and attach it to your regular daypack; that’s that, you are good to go on a soul-searching or bushwhacking hike.
Waist Pack
It is particularly useful to carry valuables like wallet, a small camera, keys and stuff. Though it is preferred by hikers and tourists alike, it is not a backpack even if it is used more or less for the same reasons. To be called a backpack, a bag technically should be strapped to the shoulders. However, the waist packs that are available in the market come are very convenient, and hardly put any strain on the body of the hiker.
From Rags to Packs
Hiking couple
Hiking has been a popular sport since centuries. Wandering nomads did it. Then came the explorers in the search of new lands. From trailing the jungles for hunting down an elusive beast to spreading flower power in the hippie era, the evolution of backpacking has been an interesting one. The latest crop of backpackers wouldn’t be caught dead without their GPRS and other numerous gear that make their wanderings more fun. So, who invented the modern backpack? Asher ‘Dick’ Kelty did. Who was he? Not surprisingly, he was an avid hiker who loved climbing the mountains of Sierra Nevada, California. However, unlike other hikers who were content with carrying a military-style, cumbersome and crude two-strap bags, he came up with the idea of shifting the weight of the backpack from the shoulders to the waist. That’s how he changed the world of an average hiker.
Maybe hiking and backpacking will be your life, at least for a while. But that doesn’t mean you need to shove all your stuff, minus the kitchen sink, into your pack. Remember, you are going to carry it on your shoulders for long hours, every day on the trip. The key to packing light lies in buying a snug-fit pack that can carry only the things that you will want need for surviving in the wild. While shopping, try the packs on to see whether they match your height and personality. Don’t purchase a pack just for your next trip, think about the next 10 trips. A lighter pack will allow you to navigate your way through the aisle of a crowded bus, and make you less conspicuous to those thieving eyes. It will be a breeze to carry around, and you’ll understand this better when you’ll have to lug it on a steep stretch or even hoist it up a treacherous trail.

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