Choosing a hiking pack should be just as personal as choosing the right pair of boots. Your pack can mean the difference between a comfortable hike and an unfortunate story. When you're hiking light, the choice of backpack becomes even more critical, as each superfluous ounce can keep you from reaching your goal or carrying your essentials. Consider the materials, fit and purpose of each type of pack before making a decision.
Choosing a Pack
Your pack needs to be sized correctly for your torso and shoulders for the optimal level of comfort. An incorrectly sized pack will always be less optimal, regardless of materials and workmanship. To determine your torso length, start at your C7 vertebra, the most prominent vertebra at the base of your neck, and measure down along your spine to the shelf of your hips. This measurement usually falls between 15 and 20 inches for most adults. Pack sizes for different manufacturers vary, so be sure to check the specific length of the pack before purchasing it. Always try a pack on to ensure the shoulder straps and hip belt fit your figure.
The most durable light hiking packs use lightweight gear with tough materials to withstand the harsh climbs of serious peak attempts. Climbing packs use heavier-gauge materials like Cordura nylon to withstand sharp rocks and punishing falls. A climbing pack usually holds between 30 and 50 liters, which is suitable for day hiking and quick, light multiday hikes. Climbing packs also usually include tie-down points for ice axes and trekking poles, which can be useful for keeping items stowed until needed. Climbing packs tend to be heavier than most light hiking packs.
Traditional day packs combine comfort and utility in a package that usually weighs less than a climbing pack. These packs are versatile and ideally suited for light hiking. Most day packs fall between 10 and 30 liters, and can be stretched to accomodate multiday hikes if your overnight gear is pared down to the bare essentials. These packs are often comfortable, with generous padding and an ergonomic design. Most day packs have an internal frame to help distribute the load to your hips. Choose a day pack based on what you expect to carry, and opt for a hip belt if your light climbing contains difficult trails or scrambling.
For light hiking, you cannot get more minimalist than an ultralight pack. These packs tend to be more expensive, using advanced materials like thin ripstop nylon and Cuben Fiber. Most ultralight packs sacrifice features like gear loops, extra pockets and durability for the lowest possible weight, often falling below 3 pounds. Ultralight packs vary in size from 20 to 50 liters and are mostly produced by smaller manufacturers, although some larger brands have begun adopting the same model. For light hiking and fast, serious hikes, these packs offer the most minimalist approach to carrying your essential gear. However, these packs need to be treated with care, as they are the least durable.