The backpack is one of the most critical equipment items for a hike. It is your suitcase for the wilds. Aside from what you are wearing, everything else you will wear, eat, sleep in and equipment for all activities will be in your pack. Some things need to be more accessible than others, and the pack needs to be weighted for comfort since it will be on your back for long periods. Better packs are designed to handle the many needs of the hiker and climber with a bunch of convenient places to store items for quick access.
Packing for Overnight
I have created equipment checklists for several types of outings, namely the shorter hike, the longer hike and overnight camping. They can be found on the equipment list page of my site. Since this post is about packs for backpacking and camping, I’ll just talk about the added items for camping and the need for a bigger pack. See the full equipment list here.
The key additions are a bigger pack (50+ liters), tent, sleeping bag, pad, stove, food, fire-making items and some things for personal comfort and medications. The largest additions are the tent and sleeping items, but if you intend to bring food that is not dehydrated, that can consume room and weight as well. A water filter becomes mandatory; for day hikes it is optional.
Fitting and Adjusting the Pack
If you have never had your backpack fitted to you, I would take it into an outdoor equipment store to have some help with that by someone knowledgeable. Because of the benefits of proper fitting, buying a pack in a good outdoor equipment store rather than online is a good idea. The capacity of the pack you will need will depend on several variables including how many days you’ll be in the wild and whether you will need any special equipment. I’m sure that at a minimum you’ll need a 50 liter pack.
Loading the Pack
There are just a few principles to loading the pack in preparing for an outing. Heavier items should be lower in the pack so that it is not too top-heavy. This keeps most of your pack weight sitting on your hips not your shoulders. Also, heavier items should be closer to your back, the best example of which is the location a well-designed pack provides for a water bladder. A bladder with 2 ½ liters of water weighs 5 ½ pounds, which is likely the heaviest item in your pack, and it is right against your back where it should be. This is so the pack doesn’t cantilever away from your back creating more shoulder-strap pressure.
I have a few favorite utility locations on most packs:
- Light gloves and hat: put in outside web for quick access and easy stowage
- Clip GPS on upper part of shoulder strap with a safety line and small carabiner clipped on as well.
- Put all small items such as first aid, toilet paper, etc. in the top lid
- Put suntan lotion and energy bars in the side pockets for easy access
- If your phone is a larger one, either leave it behind or pack it and buy a compact camera for picture taking. It is easily stored in a waist strap pocket for quick access.
- Load extra clothing layers near top of pack for easy access if the temperature drops or you lose the sun to the clouds. Make rain gear the top item for quick access at signs of a drizzle.
Your backpack will probably weigh 30 – 35 pounds. With this much weight, you want to make sure you are carrying the pack properly.
At the outset of a hike, loosen the shoulder straps, mount the pack and tighten the hip-belt straps so that the weight of the pack is fully on your hips. Then snug the shoulder straps, but not so that your shoulders bear too much of the pack weight. Also snug up the two small straps on the back of your shoulders to the pack. They will pull the top of the pack closer to your back so that the pack contours to your back. That is the best position for the least pack fatigue.
Stowing the Hiking Poles
I’m a strong advocate of using hiking poles, but occasionally you have to store them when you ascend a more vertical pitch requiring you to use your hands on the mountain as well as your feet. Many packs have provision for this, the Osprey packs certainly do. When you need to stow the poles:
- First shrink the poles down to their shortest length.
- If you have no (or only small) baskets on the poles, insert the tip of the pole through the bottom loop on the pack and push all the way down to the handle. Rotate the pole a complete turn so that the loop tightens around the pole.
- Then rotate the pole further until the tip points up and against the pack.
- Part way up the side of the pack you’ll find either an elastic cord or snap-able strap; use either to secure the pole against the pack.
- Repeat for the other pole on the other side of the pack and you’re done.
With practice you can probably get good enough at that to stow the poles without even removing the pack, but it’s generally easier to remove the pack to stow them. When stowed this way, the handles won’t extend much lower than the bottom of your pack. This is especially good if you need to descend a steep pitch with your back against the mountain.
OK, here’s what you don’t want to do unless you are someone like Andy Mishmash who can backpack a long way with a 60-pound pack. He’s always surprising me with something—here he is with a full dozen eggs (heavy) unbroken. Now that’s a breakfast you don’t often get on a long hike!