There are millions of articles written about this subject, you can fill whole libraries on this. There are also tons of variables that have impact on what’s in your pack. What’s very important is the kind of hike you are going, the weather you’re facing and the terrain.
Our hikes are mostly full day hikes in hills and forests with a distance between 12 to 25 kilometers. We always hike with our kids. There used to be a time when I was the only one who carried all of our stuff on my back, it looked that I was going for a 3 week hiking trip when I was just heading out for one day with the family. Luckily for me that changed and now every one carries his own gear.
Now there’s a million dollar question! This is so personal that there is actually a whole industry based on this. Just Google “Hiking Backpack” and you’ll be reading reviews for years… It all comes down to personal preference! I’ve been hiking for several years now and only the last few months I’ve found the pack(s) that actually fit my needs. So I advice you to start with a cheap pack on short hikes to see what needs occur while doing different hikes in different weather types.
My requirements are as following:
- big enough
- good shoulder straps
- waterproof up to a certain level
- different pockets and dividers
- must fit a hydration pack
- good waist support
I carry a lot of gear around. That is not a good start for hiking I know but i’ve managed to downsize it to an acceptable amount and weight. Since I’m a photographer I used to head out with big DSLR’s, extra lenses a big drone case… etc. Recently I just put a small compact camera and a mini drone in the bag. I’ll talk about that later. I just love to document our (family) hikes and places we visit. I don’t want to make choices between food/water and my camera gear. So little bigger is better for me.
Good shoulder straps & good waist support
That’s why the decent shoulder straps are very important. Carrying more weight is not that hard if you’re used to that but having straps cutting in your neck and shoulders makes it very uncomfortable. So broad and wel padded shoulder straps are a must for me. In addition for a bit of relief on the shoulders, the same goes for the waist straps.
The simplest bags can be waterproof and if you are a bit of serious hiker or day tripper you have waterproof in your requirement list. But there are levels of waterproof and according to that the price tags goes up as wel. Or in some cases the functionality goes down. For example, the waterproof bags of Ortlieb are extremely waterproof and prove to be a life saver in the pouring rain. The only thing you compromise is the functionality and ease of acces in the pack. For everything you have to unmount your back and open it completely and dig deep: for water, a snack, get a sweater, …
So my option was to look for a decent waterproof bag and add a rain cover to the packing list. Those tings are very cheap and prove to do their work very effective.
If you have to walk in the rain for several hours, a rain poncho that covers yourself and your backpack is no excessive luxury. Keeping yourself and your gear dry is quintessential to hiking.
Hydration pack ready
This is something that adds great value to your overal hiking experience in my opinion. I used to carry around a lot of water bottles but they are always a hassle. They don’t carry a lot of water, are heavy, when empty they still take the same space and getting them out of your packs is always a stop or asking someone else to take it out and place it back. And last but not least, they put your pack out of balance with the weight concentrated on one side of your pack!
A hydration pack is the best solution. It’s sits comfortable centred in your pack, when it’s empty it takes almost no space, it’s always accessible and requires no stop or extra actions. (you drink more often in smaller amounts, which is better for the muscles.) I have a 3l pack that I fill based on the time and distance we are doing.
So after several years of searching and testing I finally went for the 5.11 Tactical Rush 72. It ticks every requirement and more. I especially love the different pouches and organisational compartments, the quick stow away space in between, … and it’s just indestructible. Go check it out.
(I also have the 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 version of this for when we are out for non hikes or short distances, it’s more like an EDC bag then.)
What’s in the bag
As said, it’s very personal what you take with you on your hike. Me for example, I take a lot of camera gear and navigational items with me. But next to your personal reference there are some basics that are required.
- Water: to keep you hydrated throughout the day. As mentioned above in the bag description I use a hydration pack for that. I prefer the 3L version that I can fill up to my needs. Full for a long hiking day, 2L for a shorter hike, … never less. Better to much water than not enough water!
- Medical-kit: small essential kit to apply first aid in case of emergency. I opted for a waterproof kit. I use the one from Care plus: First Aid Waterproof Kit
- Rain Jacket: Something to keep you dry during rain or snow. I mostly have the Fjälraven raincoat with me or a K-Way because of its compact form and light weight.
- Poncho: When the rain pours down all day a poncho might be the perfect solution to continue your itinerary more comfortable. It hangs over you and your back pack so those tick two boxes!.
- A knife: you have to take a knife with you, to cut the salami in pieces, make a wooden walking cane for the girls, cut bandages, … I prefer the Opinel N°12: strong safe, sharp as a razor blade and does the job.
- Foodpack: Grab what you need for the day! In our case it’s meat (porc, beef, …), water, eggs, some cheese and some salt. Remember: sugary items will give you a short high but a deeper low after it’s absorbed. Go for structural food, not energy foods.
- Compass & Map: Nothing beats good old navigation skills with map and compass. This is my favourite way to navigate a hike.
- GPS: As a back up when things go south with the map reading I still have the track on my GPS. In case of emergency my trusted Garmin GPSMAP66 will guide me the way without loosing time. (and two back up batteries)
- Phone: In case of emergency, if you have cell coverage otherwise:
- Garmin InReach: When you are far from civilisation things can go really bad when you need help, having no cell reach is not an issue you want to overcome then. Having a satellite messenger with you is great way to ensure security, especially with kids.
- Toilet paper: you know, for the number twos and number 1’s for the ladies
- Garbage bags: I always bring a couple, to pick up our trash, take the used toilet paper, … The other garbage bags are used to sit one when it’s wet, to use as rain cover, … Once I even crafted a rain coat out of a garbage bag because my girlfriend forgot to pack her raincoat.
- Gaiters: Not a critical item, but when you are walking in the snow, long gras, … the pants above your socks and shoes might get wet. On their turn those wet pants will wet your shoes and socks and walking with wet socks or shoes is pretty uncomfortable after a while.
- A buff, gloves and cap, especially in fall, winter and early spring
- A compact merino shirt: for when I miss interpreted the weather.
- Tick – protection: get a lotion or tick repellant spray and spray yourself before you start hiking. Especially on entry points for ticks: ankles, hands, neck, … and bring a tick remover. I always carry one on my keychain.
- Trekking Poles: When hiking difficult trails, crossing rivers or muddy passages, trekking poles might be a perfect tool to make sure you don’t loose your balance. Trekking poles are not for old guys, they are just comfort and aide on rougher terrain.
- Some paper, pen & pencils, 2 spare AA-batteries.
- The RICOH GRIII and DJI Mavic Mini (Fly more pack)
- That’s about it it I guess…