Grab your bag and hit the trail. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of being able to drop everything and go for a hike. Whether it’s necessary for survival, training, or just good fun, hiking is a fantastic pastime. It certainly keeps the military in great shape. Surely their packs are perfect for long distances, or are they? I had to find out for myself, so I took a closer look at what makes a backpack right for hiking.
It turns out there are a lot more factors involved in choosing a backpack than I expected. Everyone has their personal style and color preferences, but backpacks are diverse and specialized equipment. What works best in one scenario just isn’t right for everyone, every place, or every circumstance.
Are military backpacks good for hiking? No, they are not. The armed forces use bags designed to go over armor or uniforms and never rip. They aren’t made for comfort on long trails. Get a good framepack if you want to do serious backpacking.
Before you run out and grab the first pack someone suggests at a sporting goods store, it helps to know what you’re looking at. Learning the language enables you to keep things straight so you can get what you need and what you want. As it turns out, there are over a dozen types of ‘backpacks’ on the market today. I’ll break them all down for you on the list below.
Types of Backpacks
A compression sack is designed to pack everything down into the smallest space possible. If you hate wasted space and need a secondary pack, this is the bag to pick.
Its lightweight and durability characterize the Daypack style. These are for a weekend adventure, not a long haul.
Drawstring packs typically have a single compartment, and the straps are also used to draw the mouth of the bag shut. Hence the name drawstring. These are similar to knapsacks but made to carry less stuff more efficiently.
Made for wet climates, a drybag is essentially a frameless frame pack. They’re more durable than a day pack, but hold less and weigh less than a standard framed backpack.
Duffle backpacks look like a combination of a standard duffle bag like you might take to the gym and a backpack. The unique looks and easy access to your things make this style more suited to urban use than emergency prepping.
This is the type of backpack you typically see on “backpackers.” The aluminum frame helps hold up more and keep you balanced while you’re on the move. Most framepacks come with elastic loops or ties on the bottom to hold a sleeping bag. You can also find styles that have an old school external frame rather than the modern internal design. I prefer this TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack I found on Amazon.
A hydration pack sometimes called a hydro-pack or camelback (brand name) is made to hold gear and water. There’s a hose to drink from on the go, and these are ideal for distance runners and cyclists.
Rucksack meets drawstring pack. These lightweight, semi-waterproof nylon bags often have a zipper pouch in addition to the main compartment.
You have probably owned a laptop backpack if you carry your computer with you. The main element here is a padded compartment for a laptop or notebook. Usually, these bags are waterproof and about the same size and design as a child’s school backpack.
OutDry packs are a hybrid backpack. They take elements from many outdoor bags for an all-inclusive, mostly weatherproof pack with no frame.
As you might expect, a rain cover backpack is made to keep the rain out. The cover is almost always entirely removable, though they may attach at the top, bottom or side. Sometimes theses ingenious packs incorporate a special pouch for the cover. Otherwise, they’re very similar to a daypack.
The most significant difference between a rucksack and a more traditional backpack is the closure. Where most packs have a drawstring or zipper closure, a rucksack has straps and buckles.
Slingbags usually hold a little bit less gear. The design is easily identifiable because there’s a single long strap that goes over one shoulder or across the body. They look like a semi-triangular crossbody bag that sits low on your back.
While suitcase backpacks can look like many styles, what makes them unique is the handle and wheels. A suitcase backpack is made for heavy loads that need to be wheeled around behind you or carried on your back depending on where you are.
MilTac backpacks are the type you see soldiers wearing in the field. They often have a plethora of compartments and include straps for the chest or waist along with connection points for molle bags. These are made to handle rugged and rough circumstances without wear and tear.
Most tote backpacks usually are a durable but lightweight nylon material. The defining feature on these hybrids are the top handles, which are made to look and carry like a tote bag.
A few million school kids wear these every day. Two straps, the main compartment and a front pouch make up a conventional backpack.
Why Do Backpackers Need A Different Pack
With som many styles to choose from why would backpackers need a different pack at all? Surely one of the other styles works just as well. The truth is that you can manage with any backpack, but emergency preparedness is all about being as ready as you can for when SHTF. A military pack makes an okay option, but so do lots of the others.
What makes a frame pack different is the ability to carry a whole lot more in relative comfort. You can get a fantastic internal frame backpack on Amazon, like this Mountaintop 50L-60L Hiking Backpack with Rain Cover.
The rigid frame holds the bag in place and allows you to keep things organized. It avoids rumpling and squishing, which can be necessary depending on what you’re carrying. However, more important still is that fact that it holds the pack in place. This stability allows you to take the weight comfortably for long distances.
Padded straps give your shoulders a break and keep you from getting bruised. Improperly distributed weight and too-thin straps can hurt badly. The chest and waist straps help your body distribute the load more evenly, thus also sparing your shoulder muscles some of the strain.
How To Pack
Cramming everything in wherever it fits is incredibly inefficient. Being prepared is about more than gear. Knowing how to maintain and handle your equipment and training to use it is a vital part of the process. If a backpack is part of your bug out gear, and it should be, you need to go backpacking.
What Goes Where
First off, there is no secret to perfect packing. The gear and equipment each person has are bound to vary. That said, there are a few tips I can give you for packing your frame pack correctly so that backpacking will be a fun experience instead of unnecessarily painful.
- Don’t overdo it
If you pack more weight than you can handle, fatigue and pain will slow you down. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, emergency preparedness is about more than just having the right gear.
- Learn where your brain is
If that statement makes no sense, then you probably don’t know backpack terminology. A “Brain” is the easy to reach pocket on top of the flap that goes over your top closure. This is where you put your map, GPS, a snack, knife, or anything else you might need quickly.
- Be smart about your kangaroo pouch
Don’t stick wet gear in with your dry goods. Instead, use that front pouch on the bag to keep it separate. You may also want to stuff a couple of plastic bags in there to help insulate the wet gear and avoid soaking through to your inner compartment.
Weight Goes On Your Back
Whatever parts of your gear are the heaviest should be up against your back when your pack is on. For ultralight packers that may mean jeans and a jacket. If you have metal gear or other dense, bulky goods, make sure this is where they end up when the bag is full. This will help keep you centered; literally, it aids in keeping your center of gravity near your body.
Compression Sacks Are Your Friends
While you don’t want to overpack, a good compression sack or two will help you remove excess air and keep your whole pack together. Instead of leaving your clothing loose, pack it down in one of these handy sacks for added convenience. You can pull out what you need when you stop for the night.
No Faith Rule
Just because you bought a rip-proof, wear-proof and waterproof bag doesn’t mean it’s invincible. Always carry a needle and thread to repair any tears. Plus, it’s a good idea to bring waterproof bags and covers to keep things dry inside.
The Definition of Necessity
Before you pack anything, lay out all your supplies. Make a checklist, so you know what you need like spare socks, enough water, food, and a firestarter. Once you have everything together, take a long look at what you plan to take with you. If there’s anything you don’t need then set it aside.
Pack the bag with no extras, test it for weight and see if you have room for any bonus items. If you do have space, look over your luxury items carefully. Pull out what you think you can fit comfortably. Once that’s done, get rid of half or more and only include a couple of unnecessary treats.
You won’t get to be a backpacking expert overnight. However, once you’ve been on a few trips, you will know what you really need and what should stay at home instead. Over time, you’ll get better at anticipating your needs. This is a skill, and it can take some time to get it right, but it’s worth the effort. Just like building muscle, learning to pack correctly is something anyone can do if you’re willing to put in the effort.
Make The Most of What You Have
If you jumped the gun, it’s okay. Part of proper prepping is knowing how to use what you have to your advantage. When you plan to pack and carry different types of backpacks, then you need practice with all of them. Muscle alone won’t save you. Learning the pitfalls and strengths of your equipment is something you can only do with time and practice.
If your funds are limited, then you may need to wait to upgrade and expand your equipment. There’s nothing wrong with doing things this way. In fact, it can be an advantage to learn how to work with less or imperfect gear. Work within the budget you have and learn to shop smart and save more.
Backpacking is a sport as well as being a skill. Time and training will get you where you need to go on your journeys. Start small. Take a day pack, or even your military backpack and go for an afternoon the first few times. Work your way up to overnights.
Especially if you’re not used to being outdoors, it can take a while before you feel ready to tackle the longer journeys. Find a friend to travel with so that you have backup in case something unfortunate happens. Anyone can break an ankle if they misplace a foot on the trail.
There are hazards to learning any sport, but backpacking gives you a tremendous sense of freedom. Getting out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, is a pleasure as well as a vital learning experience for any prepper.