Pairing With The Perfect Pack

By Shelby DeCusati, Girls Who Hike Georgia Ambassador

How do you know when you've found the right pack? I get this question a lot whether it's for day hikes or for overnight trips. Packs are an essential necessity to have when hiking and exploring because they hold tools and materials you will need or want along your path. 

I will admit for a while I hiked with a hand-me-down pack from my brother. He has always been a major motivator and inspiration to my hiking; from hiking with his Boy Scout troop to through hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He was always getting new gear or making modifications to what he already had. This allowed me to become knowledgeable over time about what to look for but also provided me chances to experience some of the latest gear.

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While I was using the hand-me- down pack, I was just considering whether or not hiking would become a real hobby of mine. I remember the first backpacking trip I took. I carried a pack that was definitely not the right model for me to carry! The material of the pack was so heavy it made the items I carried feel even heavier. Additionally, it did not provide the comfort, padding, or support I needed throughout the trek. By the end of our 20+ mile weekend trip my back ached and I had blisters rubbing in areas they just shouldn't- ouch! So the lesson learned, as I became more of an avid hiker and adventurist, is that it was about time I invested in my very own pack.

So, what do you look for? What are most of the considerations one should have when shopping for a pack? The essential features for my future backpacking adventures were capacity, comfort and fit, and last durability refinements.

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Capacity is vital because this affects the size of the pack and the length of your trip. The larger the capacity, the more room and bulk that pack will be able to carry. Backpacks listed by adventure length and capacity:

Weekend packs- are for 1-3 nights or carry 30-50 liters. These packs are for efficient weekend packers that can keep their gear light and be self-disciplined with careful planning. The light factor can make this pack extremely appealing and rewarding as you are on your feet the whole time carrying this pack.

Multi day packs- are for 3-5 nights and can carry between 50-80 liters. These are usually the most popular packs sold. It allows for you to fit all of your hiking essentials and also provide you with comfort. This is because these packs can last more than 3 nights, are great for day trips, backpacking overnights, summer weather or back country ski trips. 

Extended trip- are for 5 days or more because they can hold over 70 liters. This pack can be a preferred choice for adults that take young children backpacking or for winter treks. This pack can accommodate extra gear and comforts that one may need for extreme cases or in order to carry more than one person's gear at once. 

Backpack frames are another key element to keep in mind because these frames are what manage and model the weight that you carry. There are 3 frames: internal-frame, external-frame, and frame-less. Internal frames help keep hikers stable on rocky and uneven terrain and incorporate a variety of support technologies to transfer the load towards your hips. External-frames can be best when carrying heavier or irregular items in a load. These offer fantastic ventilation and organization for the hiker to customize. Frame-less packs are for the ultra-light adventurists who hike fast and want to save on the weight they plan on trekking along the path. 

Backpack fit is the last and most crucial of all elements. I highly suggest going into the store, speaking with a sales specialist, and even trying backpacks on before purchasing. The right fit for you will be appropriate for your torso length and not your overall height. It also will fit comfortably and snug on your hips. There are some varieties of packs that come in different sizes according to length and gender. Some can even provide features like adjustable suspension so you can modify and customize your pack to personally fit your torso. The only drawback about an adjustable suspension is that it can add extra weight to your pack. 

The waist size can also affect the sizing of your pack. The backpack’s weight, or at least 80% or more of the weight carried, should be supported by your hips. Backpacks have hip belts that can accommodate and adjust to hip sizes (usually from around 20-40 inches). Hip belts are an important factor in order to make sure it is tight enough to support a majority of your weight. Some packs even offer an interchangeable hip belt option; which allows the option to change out one size for another that best fits your needs. 

Lastly, women-specific packs are important to take a look at. These packs can offer smaller frame sizes, torso dimensions narrow and shorter than men's, and hip belts and shoulder straps that are contoured with the female hiker frame in mind. 

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As I went to the store, tried on packs, and considered these essential features I found the best pack for me, the Gregory Deva 60 pack. This extraordinary brand is well known for its comfort, durability, and specialized features. This pack offers removable vented back panel features for customizable support and comfort. The women's back framing is built well to provide extra cushioning for those heavier loads. It has a bottom and top entry point along with a separator in the middle; which allows hikers ease of locating gear within the pack even if it's at the bottom of the pack. Also, plenty of customizable elastic and zipper storage pockets along with water reservoir and carrying pouches for water bottles. Adjustable and customizable compression straps along the sides and top to keep items safe, stable, and secure within the pack. The head of the pack (rock sack) has buckles that can easily be tightened or loosened to fit the hiker’s needs. When the buckles are release from the rock sack, they can be clipped together to become its own separate pack as needed. It includes an integrated rain-cover that stows into its own compartment to offer peace of mind in inclement weather. Lastly, one of my favorite packs is the removable ultra light day pack-perfect for day trips and Summit hikes.

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Shelby is the Ambassador for our Georgia chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through GWHGA by clicking here.