I don’t know about you but when I close my eyes and picture a hiker, I visualize someone carrying a pack in the woods or mountains. The backpack is pretty much iconic when you are talking about hikers, mountaineers, bushcrafters, adventurers, soldiers and others who head out into the great outdoors. There is usually a picture of some cat standing on some majestic summit, pointing to the horizon or something dramatic like that or someone in the woods and that invokes our sense of adventure and we want to be like him and head out to the hills ASAP. And once we get there, it is awesome!
As a beginning hiker, you may be a bit confused on what to take. And it CAN be confusing. There are a wide variety of different manufacturers. There are different categories… regular hiking packs, alpinist/mountaineering packs, ultralight packs, etc.
I have divided this guide into 2 major categories: Day packs and weekend/overnight packs which you can bring if you are planning to be out hiking for the weekend. Obviously, you would need a slightly bigger pack since you would need to carry shelter, sleeping bag, more food etc.
Most of the packs in this guide are $50 or less. Some of them are slightly more costly. You can decide what your budget is and go from there. As a newer hiker, you do not need to spend a lot of money at this point. As your skills and knowledge increase, you will be able to better decide what gear you would like to obtain and make informed decisions better – based on experience – in the future. At that point, it will make sense to get something a bit more custom/expensive. However, all the packs in the below list should last you a very long time.
Something you can start with right off the bat is a good old book bag. Something fairly cheap like a Jansport. You may already have something like this lying around the house.
The Jansport SuperBreak has been around for 35+ years and is one of the top selling packs. You have probably seen this around specially if you have seen students walking around. You may already have this or maybe you have a school going family member who owns one. There is a reason, why the Superbreak is #1 on this list. 🙂
- Super Durable! Made of 600D polyester. Will pretty much last forever
- Big enough to carry a lot of gear for your day hike (around 1551 cu. in or 25+ Liters!)
- Simple design which is a good thing
- Good price!
- Good padding on shoulder straps
- Many different colors to choose from!
- Lack of hip belt limits really heavy loads and can get a bit uncomfortable for longer hikes.
- Does not “look like a REAL hiking pack”
- No extra loops or attachments outside the pack to put carabiners, water bottles etc.
Osprey make great packs! This company has been around forever and they specialize in making backpacks of all kinds and sizes which are used by hikers around the world. The Daylite Plus is a solid choice.
- Hydration reservoir pocket
- Lots of mesh pockets to organize stuff and get easy access to jackets, etc
- Mesh back panel which helps in breathability. Great for those hot days!
- About 20L so more then enough for most day hikes
- Good size to bring on as a carry-on pack for airline travel
- Light weight!
- The size can be a bit small specially for winter hikes when you need to carry more gear.
- The side mesh pockets can be a bit small so you have to secure water bottles that they do not fall out
Deuter is another company that is well known for its backpacks. It is a German company that has been around since 1898 and has some great designs and awesome gear that they manufacture. I have seen packs from Deuter all over the world. The SpeedLite 20 is a great day hiker’s pack.
- Very lightweight …just over 1 lb
- Padded back panel and breathable air mesh
- Great for adventure racing and climbing too
- Mesh side pockets
- Hydration pocket
- Made of ripstop nylon
- Lots of pockets to organize stuff
- Good for ski touring as well
- Sternum straps a bit low for some people
- Shoulder straps can be a bit more padded
- Front stretch pocket a tad small.
Sea To Summit is known for their well-made and affordable equipment that is also lightweight. The Ultra Sil backpack is made of Silnylon as the name suggests and that is a very lightweight and water resistant material. This pack compresses to a very small size and can be easily carried in your jacket pocket or purse.
- Lightweight and portable
- The pack itself is easy to carry around (because of its small form factor). For example, in your main luggage if you are going traveling
- Great price!
- No waist belt
- Not meant for carrying heavier loads
- Lightweight and compressible (similar to the Ultra Sil pack mentioned above)
- Front zippered pocket
- Hydration bladder ready with tube passage and internal clip
- External cords to attach stuff to as well as ice axe loops
- Can easily lug a climbing rope
- Not meant to carry heavier loads (but that can be a good thing)
Another great pack from Osprey! The Talon 22 has good reviews from many different people who are familiar with the pack and have used it extensively.
- Versatile. Can be used for hiking, bike commuting and just carrying around town
- Hip belt pockets. Great for storing snacks, protein bar etc for quick and easy access.
- Side water bottle pockets
- External bladder sleeve
- Ability to handle 20lbs+
- A bit more expensive (but you get what you pay for)
- Shoulder straps may be a bit uncomfortable for some people during long days on the trail.
Camelbak has been around forever and is well known for their bladder systems. They also make great backpacks and the Fourteener is a good example of this. This pack has a wonderful back panel which makes hiking on warmer days much more easier due to the ventilation that it allows. Also the pack is very versatile and you can easily attach skis, ice axes, hiking poles etc. Definitely this pack is worth looking at when making a purchase decision.
- Awesome quality pack
- Made in the US
- Great back panel that allows for good ventilation
- Lots of lash points to attach gear
- Bladder compartment
- A bit expensive but then again it is made in the US
- Can have a bit wider profile
Another pack from Deuter. This one is different then the Speedlite mentioned above. It is bigger and thus you can carry more gear for longer hikes. It has an integrated and detachable rain cover and good hip belts and shoulder straps. There is also a bottom compartment where you can store rain jackets and other gear (for example to separate it from the main compartment if the jacket is wet etc)
- Bottom compartment to keep quick access items as well as wet gear
- Integrated rain cover
- Side mesh pockets
- Needs to be properly packed to make sure it is comfortable
MLD was started by a former Search and Rescue Climber and the products from this company are extremely high quality. Designed and manufactured in the US, they are super lightweight and durable. We will be talking more about their products in future posts. The Core 22 is a great pack for multiple activities, climbing, hiking, skiing and summits. It also works great as a travel and carry-on pack. You can get it constructed with some custom features like a larger hip belt (if you plan on carrying heavier loads)
- Rolltop Lid so it is very water resistant and can be used for boating activities
- Lack of external pockets
This is a well known cult classic from the outdoor retailer geniuses at REI. The pack is very lightweight and extremely versatile. I have used mine for hiking, traveling, biking and as a gym bag as well.
- Very packable and usable as a summit bag
- Whistle on the sternum strap 🙂
- Water bladder sleeve
- Great price
- Internal mesh pocket to store small items like keys, wallet, knife, lighters etc
- Have to be careful in wet weather as it can leak from the top
- Not super comfortable with heavier loads
- Thinner hip belt.
As you can tell, there are a ton of options out there. I have not covered most of them but these are the ones based on my own experience as well as market research, I can recommend starting out with. It would be worthwhile for you to check out these packs further. The main thing is to “Get out there!” – Gear is secondary (however, necessary). So get out there. Let me know if you have any questions. I will get back to you if I can help.