Gear Spotlight: My Favorite Hiking Day Pack!

by Girls Who Hike Los Angeles Ambassador, Sasha Pechenaya

It was exactly 1 year ago that I went on my first official hike with GWHLA with just a water bottle in hand. Trailing behind the ladies, I couldn't help but think how "official" everyone looked "hands free" with some blue tube contraption coming out of their back. The next day, I went to REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc) to purchase what would be the first of many backpacks I would trial throughout the year. The lovely thing about REI is that if you're a member, you can return anything within a year without a receipt. This is one of the many reasons I stay loyal to them. 

Now a backpack isn't just about what makes you look like the most experienced hiker or blend in the best, but what is most functional for you. 

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Think, "how much will I need to carry and what do I need immediate access to?" What are your priorities? Do you need to be hands free? Do you carry hiking poles (highly recommended, but that's a discussion of its own)? Are you trying to alleviate back or shoulder pain? Are you often hiking through narrower areas (think caves/tunnels/canyons)? Do you use your phone for pictures? We're getting there! "Do you have a medical need and/or hangry tendencies that would require easy access to food/snacks on the trail?"

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What are my priorities?:

 Water!

Hydration is key on hikes, especially those leading to higher elevations (reduces risk of acute mountain sickness). I don't know about you, but when I'm "in the zone," I hate stopping to pull out my water bottle or to take a sip because I can't seem to walk, drink, and not spill my precious water all over myself at the same time. This is why carrying a pack that has the ability to hold a bladder is so important. With a bladder, water is easily accessible during all moments of the hike. I even like to freeze my bladder the night before so I get cold water with every couple of sips. There are a variety of bladder companies and sizes, but I recommend getting the 3L capacity even if you don't need that much on the hike and fill it only half way. It'll come in handy for longer hikes or hotter days (or to help a friend who didn't bring enough).

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Snacks!

Sometimes you may be on the trail and giving your best mantras ("You're stronger than you think!" "Ain't no mountain high enough!" "You are a strong, confident woman!" "Quit whining, you're alive!") and yet even your best lines just feel like a sand bag weighing down each foot. Sometimes, all you really need is that bag of peanut m&m's or energy chews burried at the bottom of your pack. This is where one of my two favorite backpack features comes in...hip belt pockets!

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Now your favorite snacks, chap stick, and tissue packet are all within reach! You can even fit toothpaste, comb, beeper, retainers, floss, and OG cell phones in some pockets ("what's in my bag?" segment to come).

A second feature to hip belts that I love to nerd out about is the pressure that is relieved off of my shoulders and back. I always make sure that the hip belt sits above my hip bones and iliac crest (basically against my belly button) and is tightened just enough that I can still breathe. Then, I adjust the shoulder straps so they sit just above my shoulders lightly touching. My hiking friends are always amazed by how heavy my "day pack" is, but I can only feel the difference when I pick it up with my hand. The weight never bothers me when it's on my back, which is how it's supposed to be.

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Hiking Poles!

When I first bought hiking poles, I hated taking them because carrying them when they weren't needed always seemed like a hassle. I'd try to stuff them in my pack, but they would bump against the back of my head or it would just be hard to find a spot in my bag. Then, I discovered a day pack with a loop on the outside of the pack for the poles...genius! Even better, I discovered a pack with a loop for the poles on the outside of the pack and a loop on the shoulder strap so I wouldn't have to take off my pack if I were tired of holding the poles. Double whammy!
Brace yourselves for another nerd moment...I also like to use the front loop on my shoulder strap to strap my phone when I’m using my trekking poles and my third arm is not accessible to hold it. This may not work for everyone, but my phone is in a wallet case so something about that combination with the loop holds my phone securely. Please don’t bill me for your broken/lost iPhone XX and Android 17 as this may not work for you. *TRY AT YOUR OWN RISK*

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Ten Essentials!

REI compiled a great list of 10 essentials you should always take with you on any hike, no matter how “easy” you may think it is. The list can be found here. 

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html

That being said, even your 10 essentials should be prioritized in your day pack depending on what kind of hike it is. I like a pack that allows me to clip on smaller necessities (hand sanitizer, pepper spray, alarm) to the outside for easy access. I also like a couple pockets on the outside of my pack that I can stuff a hat, gloves, bandana, or buff in to adjust for the changing temperatures while on the go. I can even use some pockets to tie a jacket on so I don’t have to keep it tied around my waist. The possibilities are endless!

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It’s amazing how you can find the perfect backpack for YOU just by thinking about your priorities. You may not need a big backpack if you’re a trail runner or trying to squeeze through narrower spaces in canyons. You may not like the feeling of hip belts and do just fine by putting the snacks in the side pockets. It’s all about what works for you. If you’re still not sure, visit your local recreation and outdoorsy store as the folks there usually have a wealth of knowledge. 

On that note and 7 backpacks in 1 year later (including fanny, running, backpacking, summit packs), the Osprey Tempest 20 Pack was my winner. Not only does it have everything I listed above that suites ME, but it was on sale in a bright color (perfect for emergency situations where one might need to be located if all they choose to wear is black). Score!

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As always, please remember that I am just a regular hiker like many of you and the information listed here is from my personal experience through trial and error and with the big help of the hiking community. If you have any questions/concerns/feedback, please reach out!


Thanks for reading and happy hiking!

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Sasha is the Ambassador for our Los Angeles chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the Los Angeles chapter by clicking here.

To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.