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Choose the right backpack for your hike

Johnny Molloy • Jan 9, 2014 at 10:45 AM

Backpacks have come a long way the past 40 years. I’m talking about backpacks used for overnight excursions as opposed to day packs, used for school, work and day hiking. In the bad old days, a simple aluminum frame held a nylon pack. Unpadded straps went over your shoulders and around your waist. Known as external packs (due to the external aluminum frame), these became more deluxe, with padded shoulder straps, waist belt and a dizzying array of pockets for stowing your gear.External packs served me well. My longest non-resupplied backpack ever, 15 nights in the Smokies, was done with an external pack. As time rolled on, the internal backpack came into vogue. As its name implies, the frame is built into the pack. For the past couple of decades, internal frame packs have supplanted external frame packs in popularity. Sure, there are still plenty of external frame backpacks out there, but internal frames rule the roost. Internal packs fit closer to your body and are more compact, whereas external frame packs are generally bigger and bulkier, but have more pockets, which helps organization and loading. Internal pack users have to take more of a “duffel bag” approach to their loading. For the backpacker, which pack you choose is a matter of personal taste. For example, when going off trail or on shorter trips I prefer an internal pack. Internal packs are narrower and can squeeze through brush and between boulders without catching. Short trips require less food and gear. Internal packs are lighter but don’t hold as much gear, therefore are good for short trips. Conversely, while on a longer trip or hiking on open, well blazed trails I often use an external pack. That being said, the younger you are, the less likely you are to use an external pack. They simply aren’t “cool,” and the younger set keeps taking ultralight backpacking to new levels.Your starting point for choosing a backpack is fit. Head to your nearest outdoor store and try some on, or borrow a friend’s pack. Switch packs with someone while on a trip. The more types of packs you try, the more likely you are to find one suiting your needs. Specialty outdoor retailers often rent packs.Ask yourself the following questions? How much money do you want to spend? How often do you plan to backpack? Name brand packs offer quality and durability. Consider how much gear you like to carry. Do you like to bring everything but the kitchen sink? Or do you carry only the barest of necessities? An overnight backpack should have at least 3,500 cubic inches of space. Imagine where you would store your gear when looking at a pack. Backpack anglers will generally have more stuff, both in weight and bulk than your average backpacker since you will be carrying a rod, fishing shoes, lures/flies, and perhaps a skillet. Consider where you may store your rod on your pack. Backpack fishermen should avoid flimsy super light backpacks carried by Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, as they simply will not carry the amount of gear a backpack angler will have. No matter whether you backpack to fish remote streams or simply want to overnight in nature, consider the above when purchasing a backpack.

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