Hammocker’s Guide To Backpacks
Good and proper planning makes the difference and defines your experience, the most important thing for any adventure to be successful is proper preparation. Having the perfect backpack won’t mean much if it is poorly packed. Efficient packing is easy to learn and relies on a few principles. There are many resources to assist and most manufactures of backpacks provide detailed assistance.
A good tip is to visualize your backpack broken down into three zones, the first being the bottom, core and top. Before going on your first trip, practice packing and unpacking your backpack at home so that you can quickly load up after breaking down your camp, this will save you time and you will become more efficient.
How To Choose A Backpack That’s Right For You
What is the best backpack for you? It depends on what you’re doing, when and where you’re going, and how long your trip is. Knowing these things will help you determine how much equipment you need to carry. Additionally, you’ll also need a pack that properly fits and a suspension system that can handle your body and the weight you put on it. The choices and options are endless.
Choosing A Daypack
Choosing the right volume, there are countless backpacks on the market, ranging from simple daypacks to full-size models designed for extreme long endurance. Packs also include interior sleeves specifically designed to hold a hydration bladder. Packs have been getting smaller, lighter and more advanced over the past few years. Not due as much in part to pack technology in packs but advancements in camping gear. These days, sleeping bags, stoves, and other essentials are all becoming lighter and more compact.
Pack volume refers to how much space there is inside the pack, measured in liters, some in cubic inches. Many backpacks include the volume in liters within the name, such as the Teton range or North Face Terra… you get the drift.
You will find whilst doing your research that most of the backpacks on offer have a number rating. This number refers to the pack’s volume in “liters”. For shorter trips 1-3 nights, 35-50 liters will be sufficient. Multi-day trips 3-5 nights will require 50-80 liters. These packs are the most common and most versatile due to the pack’s’ ability to compress down to a smaller size, or extend out and increase the capacity. Longer trips or trips in the winter where you’ll be carrying much more gear so plan to use 70 liters plus.
That depends on what you’re using it for and what you need to carry in volume and even packs for Women and Men as women have smaller torso sizes, women-specific packs should have shoulder straps and hip belts designed to better fit a woman’s body shape.
Which Volume Is Best For You?
Day Hikes 15 – 30 Liters (L)
Overnight 1-2 Nights 30 – 50 Liters (L)
Weekenders 2 -3 Nights 45 – 55 Liters (L)
Extended Trips 3+ Nights 55 Plus Liters (L)
Volume conversions Liters (L) vs. Square Inches (in3) volume is measured in both liters and square inches. Most manufacturers provide the customer with both depending on where the pack was manufactured and this will vary.
In addition to capacity, backpacks are sized often M and L. The size is measured by a person’s torso length. Your outdoor equipment store will have them sized for you.
Internal-frame backpacks are by far the most common packs sold. The benefit is a pack that is designed to remain stable on uneven and rough terrain. They feature a variety of load-support technologies designed to transfer as much of the load to the hips as possible.
External-frame backpacks are the old school backpacks featuring a large metal frame. These are much less common today than they were 50 years ago, but many people still swear by them. The external frame packs offer superior ventilation and have great load transferring capabilities. They are great for carrying irregular loads and the modular design allows you to rearrange gear in a large number of ways.
Frameless backpacks are suitable for experienced backpackers that are looking for an ultralight option. While they are not great at transferring the load to the hips, they are mainly used by ultralight hikers so the weight is already greatly reduced.
Backpacks come with numerous features that to consider when making your purchase and depends on your intentions and requirements. The standard pack will be top-loading, but some may feature a zippered front panel that can be opened to expose the full interior of the pack. Additional pockets should also be taken into consideration and great for travel type backpacking as they make easy access for essentials like phone, guides other convenient on hand basics without digging through your whole pack like a goffer.
Pockets on packs allow for great organization, attachment points, bungee cords, clip-on points, daisy chains, and ice axe loops all allow you to strap or clip extra clothing and gear to the outside of your pack and the list goes on…. Keep in mind that if you’re scrambling through bushes and other obstacles, these attachment points might catch.
Backpacks Material & Fabrics
Nylon and polyester are the most popular pack materials. The higher the denier, the stronger and heavier the fabric like as in my hammocks article in more detail. The bottom of the pack should be made of a high-denier fabric to withstand abrasions. Unless you’re backpacking exclusively in dry climates, buy a rain cover sized “skin” Some packs now have integrated covers included to fit your backpack.
A minimalist backpacker chooses the lightest and most compact gear. They would rather sacrifice equipment others might consider essentials or necessities rather than carry a larger load. For this backpacker, the sleeping bag is likely insulated with the highest thermal retention value, forget about taking a change of clothing. This is where a hammock backpacking comes to be an essential. Hammocks are light weight and the lowest impact on the environment of any form of shelter.
If you’re a “typical” backpacker who takes the normal amount of gear choose a pack on the bigger end of the scale. For winter, you’ll need a much larger backpack to carry additional clothes, and a warmer sleeping bag or under quilt for your hammock.
Determining Torso Size
Whichever backpack you choose, it needs to match your torso length. To determine your size, reach behind your neck, bend your head forward, and find the C7 vertebra: It’s the bone that sticks out the most on your upper spine. Next, locate the iliac crest. It’s the top of the hip shelf on the sides of your hips. Have somebody measure the distance from the C7 vertebra down to the point of your back the same level as your hips iliac. This distance is your torso length.
For the pack to fit correctly, the distance from the top of the shoulder strap to the hip belt needs to accommodate your torso length. Keep in mind that torso length is not the same as a pack height. People have different builds so tall person can have a short torso, while a smaller person can have a relatively long torso. A good full-size backpack should list a torso-length range in inches or centimeters.
Some packs have an adjustable torso length, meaning the distance between the shoulder straps and the hip belt can be lengthened or shortened, while others have fixed lengths. Some packs are also sold in multiple sizes, so the torso length can vary from size to size. Your torso length is a critical for choosing the right pack for you.
How To Fit A Backpack
Preparing the Backpack, Place about 15 or 20 lb. of weight in the backpack. Anything will do. Just make sure the load is evenly distributed in the pack, with some of the weight up high. Also make sure that the shoulder straps, waist belt or hip belt and load straps are reasonably loose.
Tighten the shoulder straps after putting the backpack on, you’ll first want to tighten the shoulder straps. This pulls the pack a little higher up on the hips. Then tighten waist belt up nice and snug or firm but not so much that you cut off circulation. It will have to be somewhat tight to support the pack’s weight.
Waist Belt Positioning
Slip your fingers inside your waist belt and find your “iliac crest”. The top edge of the waist belt should be about 1 in. above the iliac crest.
Shoulder Strap Positioning
Now look at how the shoulder straps are fitting. If you’re alone, get in front of a mirror and stand sideways. The shoulder straps should be flush with your shoulders and upper back. There should be very little space between the backside of your shoulders and the straps.
If there’s too much space between the straps and your shoulders, that indicates the backpack’s suspension isn’t matching your torso length, and the distance between the shoulder straps and waist belt needs to be shortened. The pack’s suspension can’t be shortened far enough, or if the backpack isn’t adjustable, you’ll need to try a shorter model.
If the shoulder straps are wrapping around your shoulders correctly, but the waist belt is positioned too high in relation to the iliac crest, then the distance between shoulder straps and waist belt needs to be increased.
Load Strap Positioning
The load straps attach the top section of the pack to the uppermost portion of the shoulder straps. The straps ideally should be at about 45-degree angles up to a 15-degree deviation is okay. Tighten or pull the straps to bring the pack a little closer to your body and to keep the load balanced over your hips, but don’t yank on the load straps so hard that they cause the front of your shoulder straps to dig in. Play with the adjustments a little to find the sweet spot.
Where Should My Backpacks Weight Be Distributed?
No matter how strong your shoulders are, you don’t want all the weight to fall there for hours on end. Your legs are much stronger and support the extra weight of a fully loaded backpack.
Correct Hiking Posture
Check to see where you’re feeling the pack’s weight, lean forward just a little, bending at the hips. This will help as you will normally carry a backpack in this posture. It’s your body’s and gravity’s way of maintaining your equal balance by positioning the load over your own center of your gravity. If you to stand straight you will discover that the bottom of the pack presses too much into the lumbar region of your lower back.
Packing Your Backpack
We will cover packing more detail in another post, but begin by packing the bottom of your pack. This is where you’ll place items that you won’t expect to use until camp set up. Most people will squeeze their sleeping bag into the very bottom. This is also where you’d want to keep your sleepwear, sleeping pad and Hammock, basically your night time essentials, except your headlamp or flashlight. Always keep your these somewhere that’s easy to access.
The core area will be where the bulk of your gear goes. The key factor is when packing the core is to center the heavier items. Heavy items too low and the pack will begin to feel like it’s sagging and weighted and will pressure your lower spine. Too high and the load will feel top heavy and create balance and instability. Place your food, water, cooking and fuel above your sleeping bag and close to your spine. These generally are the heaviest items and you will want them centered. Fill in the remaining space with clothes, camping hammock, rainfly and rain jacket to help stabilize the heavier items in the center. I usually place my hammock near the top or center core.
Benefits Of Good Fitness
If you exercise already regularly you will get the most from your planned backpacking adventure. The best way to train for long distance hiking is to hike regular short distances and often. Begin with shorter hikes on the weekends, and walk as much as possible every day. Walking will get your hiking muscles ready than walking a lot!
There are endless training programs to assist but I don’t think you’ll need it, just start packing a few items in a pack on your regular exercise and just increase the weight to get yourself accustomed to carrying a heavier pack. As you are getting stronger, increase the difficulty of the hikes and start carrying a pack close to the weight you expect to take on your backpacking trip.
Even if you aren’t able to hike or don’t have the access to trails, you can still get into good hiking shape by adding more walking into your daily routine. Take the stairs whenever ride a bicycle or walk instead of driving to short destinations. There are so many benefits to your overall health not just hiking preparation.
Your First Hammock Backpack Adventure
For beginner backpackers, having an experienced companion or two to go backpacking with is good for both learning skills and safety not to mention more fun! For beginners, a one-night trip with a total distance of around 10-15 miles is recommended. Breaking trips into smaller hikes limits Fatigue. The first day, set up camp at your destination. Then use the second day to take a day hike explore or just relax at camp in your hammock and soak up the surrounding nature…
#natureisourtherapy. The third day is hike out. This plan will enable you’ll catch a break in between two full days of carrying your full pack. There’s endless resources for choosing the perfect destination for your first adventure or even season veterans. Guidebooks are great at pointing out the most popular trails camp locations, remember to check for any permits you may require and conditions including weather. Talk to parks and talk to the park rangers for updates. They’ll be able to point out their favorite trails that meet your ability level and give you the most up to date trail conditions.
Remember it’s is your equipment that defines your adventure and most importantly choose equipment suited to you!
But most importantly….