While dog is man's best friend, there is no doubt that the hiker's best friend is the backpack. With all due respect for our pet friends, for those who enjoy trekking, shorter or longer tours, there is no more faithful traveling companion.
The backpack is essential for anyone who wants to do mountain hiking, in summer and winter, or make various excursions of one or more days. Inside it, there is the needed space for every eventuality, from clothing and technical material to a simple water bottle: the useful and essential equipment to never be unprepared.
Given the importance of the backpack, the real challenge for a hiker comes before even giving an answer to “what to put in it?”: bring the 'right' backpack is the first, crucial step.
So here are some tips to not find yourself... in bad company.
1) Having a proper backpack does not merely mean to identify the best brands on the market, but it means to choose it according to your needs.
Then the first key thing is to consider the use and the season in which you use it. For example, a backpack for simple summer walks should have different characteristics compared to a backpack for long walking or mountain hiking. A winter backpack must necessarily contain more material and have higher water resistance than the summer one.
2) The capacity is a second key element. It is measured in liters and here we already have different problems for buyers: inside a hiking backpack there are clothes, food, technological material, maps, camping equipment and everything you need just in case: the weight of objects is not measured in liter and this does not help. What matters is the specific weight of what you are bringing and the volume.
In general, for day trips, we recommend backpacks not exceeding 35 liters capacity: between 15 and 20 liters for short easy walks; 20 to 30 liters for day trips with picnic lunch; max 35 liters if you need to carry the required stuff for any children in tow.
For multi-day excursions and hikes - which then provide overnight in refuges or in other accomodations - the ideal volume of the backpack should go from 35 to 60 liters. In these cases you need to have with you the necessary to stay out two or more days, with clothing and spare parts needed for the night.
Finally, if you choose the self bivouac or camping outdoor, the backpack is unlikely to have a capacity less than 60 liters, even if you try to minimize the volumes: a tent, a sleeping bag, a stove and the food/water supplies take up a lot of space.
3) The shape of the backpack is extremely important. In the market there are many types (both male and female models), and even in this case the right choice depends on what one wants to do.
Trekking backpacks are essentially slightly squared or they have a more rectangular and elongated shape. For simple walks on touristic paths or hiking trails you just need a compact backpack, but if you provide most inaccessible paths, through vegetation or even on via ferrata, then it is strongly recommended a tapering shape backpack that develops vertically. The reason is obvious: in this way the likelihood of imbalances and the possibility to get caught in branches or shrubs is reduced.
4) It is important to carefully consider the length, width and location of the shoulder straps. They must be padded, adjustable and fit above the clavicles.
5) The support straps have targeted and functional actions. For example, the strap on the chest prevents the shoulder straps from slipping outside or the buckles that help the load are critical in large backpacks (over 40 liters) because, setting them, you can ‘free’ the pressure of the load from your shoulders.
6) For 30 liter backpacks up it is essential the presence of the padded waist belt. If properly adjusted, it makes possible to unload the weight of the backpack on the legs rather than on the shoulders, greatly reducing upper-body fatigue.
7) Make sure that the backpack has several external pockets, easily accessible. They are useful not only to insert useful and frequently used objects during the excursion (the water bottle or thermos), but also smaller and perhaps delicate ones (technological gadgets). Not only that: the side pockets improve the balance of the load.
8) Especially in big backpacks, it is always advisable to ensure that the central compartment is divided into two or more compartments, independently accessible from outside, to divide the material according to the weight or the use.
9) One of the typical backpack’s problems is the difficulty in making the back 'breathing'. Modern backpacks are not padded and adopt various solutions to get air on the body: from stress-resistant plastic material to slightly raised support areas, up to the backpacks that provide a perforated net that rests on the back, spacing the load from the body leaving your back free to sweat. Some even provide the possibility to adjust the height of the backrest, thus adapting to different heights people.
10) Finally, technical details can make the difference, especially for the most tireless walkers. Here there is something for everybody: the useful external ties for securing loads while climbing or skiing; the so-called 'camel bag', the water pocket with a straw that comes close to the face (loved by trail runners) or an incorporated waterproof cloth, that you pull out and it covers the entire bag avoid wetting the fabric.
Now that you have some useful information on what is the better backpack for you, you just have to fill it, and ... go!