What are the characteristics of trekking and hiking backpacks? In this article, we explain them to you and help you choose the one that suits you best.

  • Backpack tips: Before you buy

At a time when lightness seems to be the priority, we must keep in mind the fact that we can put ourselves in danger by wanting to save a few grams.

Hence, the importance of carefully choosing the backpack you will need.

  • First, it is necessary to know what activity we will carry out (the duration, the degree of technicality, the place… etc..).
  • Then, we will have to determine what equipment will be essential for realizing this activity, both the technical equipment and that dedicated to your protection (for example, you must always bring a coat or a raincoat, whatever the weather., etc…)
  • Then, we can choose the most suitable backpack for the activity we want to carry out and which will be able to transport all this material.

We should never go through this process backward, which, unfortunately, many people do:

  • Choose a minimalist backpack to leave with little weight, and put only what it can hold, putting aside essential items to go on the mountain safely.

That being said, we don’t recommend doing the reverse either:

  • Filling the backpack with things we won’t need on the pretext that we still have room.

Lightness versus comfort: a necessary compromise

As we said, a backpack that is as light as possible is not necessarily the best choice. When choosing it, it must, of course, be light. Still, suppose the load was to affect the structure of the bag, such as the lumbar belt, the back part, or the shoulder straps. In that case, this can become counterproductive: the weight of the load in a properly designed backpack must be well distributed so that fatigue is felt as little as possible.

If the chosen backpack is not properly designed, or if we ignore the lumbar belt for lightness, the weight will be “more felt” and will unbalance us. We will finally have the feeling of carrying more weight than if we carried the same weight with a bag, providing adequate benefits.

Every gram counts, but the weight must be reduced thanks to the lightness of the materials used in the design of the bag and its design and not by omitting certain elements that constitute it. A bag without adequate back support can quickly become torture with the feeling of carrying twice the weight supported.

In summer, it is possible to provide smaller bags for less than a day excursions or if you are doing a short hike since the weight carried is generally reduced. On the contrary, if we plan to venture into the mountains for a longer route or more than one day, the above elements will be of great importance.

As we will see, the backpack must adapt to our body. This is even more important than lightness. This is why there are models for women with, among other things, different straps and a higher carrying belt.

The different parts of a backpack: the importance of good weight distribution

It is interesting to know the different parts that make up a backpack. We will also discover what many people do not know: it is not the shoulder straps that must support the weight loaded in a bag.

1. The carrying belt: the most important part of the backpack

As we told you, many of us would mistakenly believe that the shoulders must bear the weight of a backpack. This is not the case: the carrying belt must support at least 75 and 85% of this weight. If you do not support this weight percentage at the level of the belt, either your backpack is not the right one, or it is badly adjusted.

A trick is to adjust the belt with free straps, putting all the weight on it. When we see that it holds, we adjust the straps, thus removing some of the weight at the level of our belt. If we finally see that, for it to fit on the belt, it had to be tightened too much, now we will loosen it slightly until you feel more or less the proportion of weight indicated on the waist and the straps.

This is the reason why the design of the belt must correctly adapt to our anatomy. A belt that does not adjust properly or adjusts poorly will tire us more. We will lose security and balance, and our backs will suffer unnecessarily.

The smaller backpacks, for short trips in the mountains and those for trail running, do not have a belt because they are designed to carry barely 2-3 kilos. But it is important not to overload them; they are unprepared for it.

2. Braces

They must be anatomical and adapt correctly to our bodies.

With the new designs and high-density materials, we get more comfort for less bulk than old backpacks. In this way, the suspenders give us much more freedom of movement.

Normally, the greater the capacity of a bag (and therefore the weight that can be carried), the more voluminous and padded it will be. Nowadays, the volume of quality backpack models has been reduced without losing cushioning or comfort, much like climbing harnesses.

3. The back part and the frame

Basic items in a backpack if the load is heavy.

They provide the necessary rigidity to the system so that the load does not move inside and the backpack remains firm. In addition to protecting our backs, a good structure of the dorsal prevents us from feeling the objects inside against us. Several models include a rigid frame.

Except during the winter, one of the main problems encountered with the back part of the backpacks concerned the heat and the sweat it causes. The airy designs that quality brands have come up with lately minimize this problem, as all good quality backpacks incorporate ventilation channels and are made with materials that absorb sweat.

The pinnacle concerns the models that leave a space at the level of the dorsal, like the Airzone of Lowe Alpine, which separates the back of the bag. This avoids permanent contact in favor of complete ventilation.

The size of the backpack

As we have just seen, backpacks are made up of different elements, such as the carrying belt and the straps, which must be adjusted to our morphology. There are also different sizes.

When we talk about size, we are not referring to the volume and capacity of the bag but to the size of the back, shoulder straps, and belt.

As a rule, the size refers to the length of the back but also affects proportionally the width and, more importantly, the length of the lumbar belt.

When choosing the backpack, you should not only connect the belt attachment strap: it is very stretchy and will connect without problems. We must ensure that the lumbar belt wraps us correctly, thus fulfilling its function. You can hang a small belt, but the padded part that cushions the sides will do it insufficiently.

Backpacks do not all have different sizes: For bags under 30 liters or certain technical bags, it is likely that the models do not come in different sizes. On the contrary, bags with a greater load capacity offer an adjustable back and can be adapted to different sizes.

What are the characteristics of a trekking bag?

They are the most used and the most versatile, especially if they are used outside of winter.

Some are more geared towards hiking, but above a certain volume, most are similar to those for mountaineering and rock climbing in terms of equipment – ​​ice ax holders, racks, water bags, etc. -.

The difference lies in the shape: they are less technical, not so narrow, tubular, and have a more restricted base than the climbing ones. They are wider and more uniform. In this way, we can take advantage of the interior space.

Since these bags will not be used with a harness, the belt should not be located as high and should be the correct size to ensure loading comfort.

Virtually all of them will include internal and external pockets, mesh on the sides, an internal pocket for hydration systems, and an exit to let the tube pass.

In terms of weight, as we said, the most important thing, if we are looking for light models, is the quality of the materials used in the manufacture. There is no miracle: if you want a very light, complete, and resistant bag, you must pay the price due to the latest materials.

If we had to choose only one backpack accessory, it would be the rain cover. Admittedly, the backpacks resist water well, except in cases where it is indicated that it is not waterproof, especially at the seams. Nothing is more annoying than ending up with the sleeping bag, the food, and the wet clothes. Some models include a cover folded into a small pocket provided for this purpose.

Types of backpacks according to their capacity

The capacity depends on the activity and the material we need to load. For the mountain, we can take into account the following types of bags:

1. Bags of less than 20 liters

This is a more restricted capacity, and unless otherwise specified (trail running, etc.), they can be used for hiking in summer on relatively short journeys.

Due to their low capacity, some models may not include a belt.

Bags not reaching 20 liters are not recommended for the mountain because of their low capacity.

We also find “Daypacks”: bags combining use in town with short mountain excursions.

2. Bags of 20 to 40 liters

They are suitable for daytime outings. These are the ultimate all-purpose backpacks for the mountains. Indeed, the absence of a sleeping bag, cooking equipment, etc., makes storing warm clothes, food, and drinks easy to store safety and technical elements, if necessary – ice axes and poles.

The belt is light because the weight one is supposed to carry is not yet high.

3. Bags of 40 to 65 liters

These are the most used backpacks in the mountains. The belt is important here. If you make the most of them, these bags can be used to carry out night activities, to travel long routes of several days, always if you go through the shelters, thus avoiding carrying a sleeping bag.

A little more than ten years ago, we still tended to opt only for a 65-liter bag for long journeys, sleeping bag included. But nowadays, the progress made in using materials has made it possible to reduce the weight and the volume of many objects, such as tents and sleeping bags. Putting everything in a bag of 45 to 65 liters is now possible.

I was thinking about the space that three cotton jerseys can occupy compared to 3 technical jerseys or modern trekking trousers compared to old mountain trousers. Some tents can weigh half as much and take up half the space.

These backpacks usually have side adjustment and compression straps. This way, adapting the bag’s capacity to the objects transported without creating imbalances is possible. It is possible to fill the bag halfway and use it for day trips.

4. Bags over 65 liters

These are large-volume backpacks. They can reach 100 liters and are recommended for long journeys, approximations to base camps. Their frame and lumbar belt are oversized to transport the equipment comfortably and with minimum weight.

Until a few years ago, they were used for multi-day self-guided excursions. These days, as we have indicated, some 45-65 liter bags will do the job… others will not.

We will not tire of repeating it to you: it is possible to use the 45-65 liter bags for long journeys only if they accommodate everything we need. Otherwise, it is better to switch to 100-liter bags… and never add extra objects under the pretext that there is still space.

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