The search for finding the lighter alternatives to outdoor gear is endless, from featherlight rain jackets to toothbrushes chopped in half to save a few vital grams, whatever it is, it’s most likely being tried and tested as we speak.
Today I'm talking about packs, hiking multi-day ones as well as day packs; what to look for when buying one and the attributes of it that could be handy!
It’s a really odd feeling…. a heavy back pack. Somehow there is actually a sense of reassurance when we have a heavy pack upon our backs, the ‘right’ weight gives you a feeling of confidence too. Get it too heavy with unnecessaries and your experience in the outdoors quickly becomes a chore. There is an element of reassurance when we know the pack on our back is tough and can withstand some mistreatment but with multiple brands now coming out with packs with 'lighter-than-ever' technology, there is the temptation to go for something minimalist in the weight category and like anything, there are pro's and cons!
Hiking/Trekking/ Tramping, is, when you think about it, a pretty broad category of activities. It could involve a hike up to a singular small peak or a set of hills, right through to taking on a multi-day trip along a mountain range. The primary difference between these opposite ends of the spectrum, is the capacity in which you must have available to carry the loads you need.
The loads you need will dictate what activity you are undertaking, for example, for day hikes, you only need to bring essential items. A bottle of water, some snacks or a light meal, a topo map and a waterproof shell jacket are really the essentials you will need. Looking at the capacity for these day hikes- packs in the range of 20-40 litres would do just fine.
Looking at multi-day trips, there are a few staple items to put it your pack which are a necessity; tent, sleeping bag + mat (if it’s due to be a cold night), larger portions of food and water resources and a few more bits of clothing. The capacity we would look at for multi – day trips would be from 48-85 litres depending on how much you can condense your gear. With lighter, more compact alternatives being made all the time, you should be able to get a set of gear together that would condense into this range quite easily.
With so many brands and designs on the market, it can be difficult to choose a hiking pack to suit your needs and objectives. You’ll find differences in the way the straps are laid out, the weight, even the material they are made out of; this can be confusing so let’s look at a few features to narrow it down.
Water bottle pockets/Hydration compatible – Easy pockets on the side of the pack to hold a water bottle are ideal, saving you the ordeal of dismounting your pack and opening it up to get water out. More modern made packs are becoming hydration compatible with a separate compartment to hold a hydration bladder. These I personally find are even better, as you can strap the hose to your shoulder so you can re-hydrate on the move.
Zippered compartments to open without having to open the top – These are perfect for stowing away items you want readily available so you’re not having to dig out your whole pack to retrieve an item – can be pretty annoying after a while!
Compartments for easy packing and gear access – The more compartments you have, the more organised you can be. Packing your gear according to the compartment and order can be great, especially when you know exactly where everything is.
Material – To go light or heavy? This is entirely subjective. You will find some lighter packs are made of very thin material, thus not being weather proof and requiring you to purchase a pack liner to ensure they are. Although being light, if you’re planning to bash through scrub and tough terrain, you may find it can rip easily, causing the structural integrity of the pack to be compromised; a real tragedy. On the other hand, you could go for a pack slightly heavier and made out of a ‘canvas-like’ material, meaning it will be better weather-proofed as well as a lot tougher. The only compromise being it will add perhaps 1-2kg onto your back.
What do I wear?
With the tough winter conditions of New Zealand, I opted to go for a pack renowned for being grunty and withstanding the most difficult of terrains – the Macpac cascade 75 litre. It’s