Backpacks - Make a Plan
and Backpacking Tips, Info, and Articles > Backpacks - Make
When I bought my new backback years ago, I never imagined
that one day I’d be taking it for a 2,000 mile jaunt along the
Appalachian Trail. In retrospect, I really should have put more thought
into that pack. It’s fairly thick cordura nylon, so it’s
not lightweight. It doesn’t dry fast. I’m not even sure that
it fits right, considering the scars on my shoulders and hips from the
straps and belt. But, at the time I bought it, it sure seemed awesome.
I mean hey, it was high-tech! It was a North Face! Much better than the
little Jansport I had picked up at Target! Yes, with this backpack I
was now a pro-hiker.
I should have known better from the moment I stepped on the train, headed for
Georgia. I think that pack was closing in on 50 lbs. I could barely maneuver
it up and down the Amtrak steps – how was I going to carry it on my back
for 6 months? Pro-hiker I was not, but over that summer, I at least learned
a thing or two to get me on the right track.
Don’t buy bigger
than you need
You don’t need a monster pack if you’re hiking spring through
fall and care at all about keeping pack weight down. The larger the backpack,
the more space you’ll be tempted to fill with non-essential items.
Also, common sense tells us: Larger Pack = More Material = More Weight
Consider the weight of the backpack itself
Is your pack made of suede and steel buckles or ripstop nylon and titanium?
An extreme example for sure, but when shopping for a new pack, consider what
type of trip it will be used for, and for what length of time. Are you willing
to sacrifice a pound or two for durability and/or comfort? Weigh all your
options carefully. Remember, while you can drop weight by shedding the contents
of your pack, the bag itself is mostly to have and to hold ‘til death
do you part. Or until you want to shell out another couple of hundred bucks.
Fit the pack properly
Swallow your pride and admit the fact that you may not be an expert hiker – yet.
Shop somewhere that knows packs. They will have knowledgeable people that
will help you choose the correct size and type, and then they’ll show
you how to fit it properly. You might even get to throw a few sandbags in
and show off over in the next department. Speaking of which, why not take
a hike over to the shoe department and try on those new Asolos you’ve
been coveting? 35 lbs on your back will make for a good dress rehearsal.
Plastic bags are your friends
Raincovers for your backpack can often be more trouble than they’re
worth. An improper fit can cause water to pool at the bottom of your pack
or drip down your back, or the cover can fly off in windy conditions unbeknownst
to you. However, they do a good job at keeping at least one layer of damp
off of your pack. If you want to be sure your stuff isn’t getting wet
though, use plastic bags. Put your sleeping bag, your dry clothes, and your
food in a plastic garbage bag. Especially anything that sits at the bottom
of your backpack. Also, when I hike, pretty much everything small and loose
goes into a Ziploc.
Don’t overfill/pack properly
I’m not going to go into details here, but there is a proper way to
pack your pack, according to weight, etc. It helps your backpack to balance
and sit properly on your hips, back, and shoulders, alleviating pressure
where necessary. The other part of that equation – it can be hard to
pack properly when your bag is stuffed to its absolute limits.
Ditch the “brain”
Somewhere on the A.T. I started hearing the top section of the backpack that
flops over the main compartment and buckles down referred to as the “brain.” I
think most A.T. thru-hikers ditch their brains at Neel’s Gap (their
first opportunity to mail anything home.) You might lose a pound from your
carrying weight and still stay just as dry with the plastic bags and raincover.
Me, I was silly enough to keep my brain for the whole hike. I just found
it useful, I guess.
Let it dry
Anyone who’s hiked for any length of time (and that can even be a short
length, depending on conditions) knows it doesn’t take long for things
to get a little, even a lot, rank. On long trips, clean out your pack whenever
you get a chance. Let it air- and sun-dry. Thoroughly. Of course, on a REALLY
long trip, you will reach a point of no return, no matter what you do to
try to avoid it. Don’t worry – you won’t mind. Just stand
downwind when you cross paths with the public.
Contact the manufacturer about worn/damaged parts
Hipbelt break? Strap snap? Before you rush out to buy a new pack, contact
the manufacturer of your backpack. Most places will be happy to help. By
the way, this goes for most any hiking gear, especially for long-distance
hikers. If you’re on the A.T., stop by Damascus, VA in the spring for
Trail Days. Many gear manufacturers have representatives there, ready to
help. On a personal note, I’d like to thank Mountain Hardwear and Gregory
for doing just that!
Well, I still have that North Face pack, and I still
love it regardless. If I were to buy a new one, I’d probably go
for something a bit lighter, smaller, and more aerodynamic. I’d
ask more questions, do more research. But hey, it’s not going to
make or break you either way. You’ve got the trail to do that.