According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, hiking has seen an increase in popularity with almost 3 million more hikers each year since 2016. There has been about a 34% increase in hikers from 2015 to 2020 in the United States.
The increase in the popularity of hiking may be due to advertising, social media, Hollywood, and generational culture shifts. As a result, many people insist that you need specific gear to hike. Although hiking-specific gear can help you tremendously, if you are on a budget, there are many things you can use as alternatives.
For instance, a backpack for hiking can carry lots of gear for multi-day hiking trips, but you are still allowed to use your regular backpack for day hikes.
With that being said, you can use a regular backpack for short hikes. However, using a backpack specifically for hiking will provide more features that will help you for multi-day hiking. Hiking-specific backpacks are made to withstand the elements and can carry more gear than regular backpacks, which is why it may be worth getting one.
In this article, we highlight how to choose the right hiking backpacks and what differentiates them from regular backpacks.
Whether you’re going on a quick day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, you’ll need a reliable hiking backpack to carry your stuff in. If you’re not sure about which pack you should get, check out our article about the best hiking backpacks to see which ones are our favorites.
Regular vs. Hiking-specific Backpacks
Although you can use a regular backpack when you’re going on a hike, there are obvious advantages in using one that made specifically for hiking. These are the features that you can get from a good hiking backpack that will make your hike more comfortable.
Your backpack will shift around when hiking on uneven terrains, but if you don’t have much weight in it, this is not that big of a deal. However, if you are carrying a heavy pack, this shifting can throw you off balance, thus making you work harder and get tired faster. This may also be the cause of a fall and injury. To avoid this, a sternum strap is added to hiking-specific backpacks.
A hip belt helps distribute the weight from your shoulders to your hips. If you are not carrying too much weight, then a regular backpack without a hip belt feature will suffice. However, if you have to carry a lot of weight, you need to find a hiking-specific backpack that features a hip belt so that you will not get tired quickly.
Some regular backpacks feature thin hip belts to help stabilize your pack. However, they don’t help much in terms of weight distribution. Therefore, if you have to carry a heavy load, you need a backpack with a wide and thick hip belt.
Water bladders or hydration reservoirs are preferred by a lot of people because they make it easier to access water. Most hiking-specific backpacks have a small hole for a reservoir sleeve near the top of the pack to position the hose right near your mouth.
Some regular backpacks do not have this kind of feature. However, you can partially unzip it to make way for the hose, but doing this may run the possibility of your pack unzipping further and your gear may fall out of it.
Water Bottle Pockets
Most regular backpacks do not have pockets for water bottles, which can be a problem while hiking as every now and then, you have to stop and take your backpack off just to unzip it and get your water bottle out. This problem will hinder you from enjoying the hike and getting enough water intake.
This is another feature of hiking-specific backpacks that can help with stability as straps will allow you to adjust the volume of your pack, so that your gear will not shift around inside and throw you off balance.
Hiking-specific backpacks used for multi-day hikes often feature a top lid where you can keep the gear you use often. First-aid kits are also kept in this compartment for easy access. Furthermore, this will allow you to adjust the capacity of your pack and will provide protection against the rain.
The downside is that the lid can be annoying because of the long straps that end up on the ground when opening the pack. It can also make it harder for you to get your supplies out.
Straps for gear
Most backpacks for hiking feature straps on the exterior to let you carry more gear, including bulky items like sleeping bags and tents, and will allow you to access them more easily. You can also strap your rain gear and boots.
Like any valued investment, whether your hiking backpack is cheap or a high-end one, it’s important that you take care of it to ensure that it can last for years. Read our article for tips on how to clean and maintain your hiking backpack.
How to Choose a Backpack
Choosing the right backpack for your outdoor activity is important because while they may all look similar, they actually present a lot of differences in terms of functionality. To help you figure out what backpack is best for you, you first have to consider the features mentioned above and those listed below.
Choose by Activity
You can narrow down your search if you look for a backpack that is specifically designed for the type of activity you will do.
As mentioned above, you have to look for backpacks with hydration reservoirs or water bottle pockets, different suspension designs, and torso size options so that they can fit your body. It is up to you to choose packs with features that will make your hike more comfortable.
Choose a pack with a narrow profile to offer you freedom of movement when climbing. A padded back or framesheet can make it more comfortable to carry heavier loads and helps center the weight on your hips. Extra features may include a daisy chain for lashing your gear, an ice axe loop, and crampon patches.It is also best if the pack is made of heavier fabrics and has reinforcements to help prevent damages from abrasion. Some packs designed for climbing can also be used for backcountry snowboarding or skiing.
For running, it is best to choose a waist pack, water bottle pack, running vest, or even small daypack to fit your essentials. These are designed to minimize collisions against your body.You should also choose a pack that has easily accessible pockets. Some packs and vests are also compatible with hydration reservoirs.
Mountain Biking/Road Cycling
A compact backpack with a low-profile design will help keep it light and stable on your back while biking. Many these packs are compatible with hydration reservoirs and may be a bit larger to be able to accommodate bike tools, extra clothing, and gear.Some of these are designed with organization panels and laptop sleeves for commuting, while others have low-profile waist belts to avoid interfering with pedaling.
These packs are also designed with a narrow profile to allow freedom of movement. Packs for snow sports feature a sternum strap and hip belt to avoid swinging and have reinforced fabrics that are strong enough to withstand the elements.Most of these packs feature areas where you can keep your probe and snow shovel on hand, are compatible with hydration reservoirs, and provide insulation to keep the backpack from freezing.
If you pack minimally and only bring essentials, a technical backpack can handle a heavier load for overnight trips or hut-to-hut treks. A hipbelt and padded back are what most of these packs feature to provide comfort. They also usually have an internal frame with one or two aluminum frame stays to accommodate a heavier load.
10L or less
These are built for lightweight activities, such as short hikes, running, and road biking. They are compact and have a low-profile design to leave room for a few essentials.
These are often designed for mountain biking, hiking, traveling, or running and feature extra pockets for a better organization.
These are mostly for hiking and traveling and have enough capacity to hold clothing, food, and even a camera or book.
These are larger packs designed for climbing, non-summer hiking, mountaineering, or engaging in activities that require you to bring additional clothing, gear, or snacks.
Although you may use a regular backpack for short hiking trips, it is still better to have a hiking-specific backpack to provide comfort, easy access to your gear, and to avoid fatigue and injuries. A quality hiking backpack is a good investment, especially if you want to pursue hiking.
We listed above the things that you need to consider when choosing a backpack for hiking. If you choose to use your regular backpacks, that’s fine. If you choose to invest in a hiking backpack, we hope that the information that we shared will help you find the perfect hiking backpack for you.