Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Which backpack is best for your hike?

There are three major types of  backpacks, including the internal frame
(above). Photo courtesy of bjwebbiz/Photoree.

Most common
among backpacks
are frameless
or pack frame

When selecting a backpack for a hike, you’ll find there are many different types, each offering its own positives and negatives. Choosing the right kind will help ensure you are best prepared to handle the trail.

Generally, there are two types of hiking backpacks – frameless and pack frame, the latter of which can be divided into two kinds, external and internal.

A frame is a structure, usually made of aluminum or another lightweight metal alloy, that gives a backpack its shape. It helps redistribute the weight of a backpack more evenly across the body by transferring much of it from the shoulders to the hips and legs. All of this lowers the chance of injury while allowing a hiker to carry more weight farther.

Some hikers prefer to forgo a frame, however, as it adds weight and size to the backpack. Since their hikes are short and very little is carried in the backpack, dispensing with the added weight and bulky shape of a pack frame is a positive tradeoff.

The simplest of backpacks, a frameless model typically is held to the body only with shoulder straps and have few if any exterior pockets. It usually cannot carry loads of more than 30 pounds without affecting a hiker’s posture or restricting the upper body’s range of motion. Because of this, it is the preferred pack of ultralight backpackers and mountaineers. They also are inexpensive, making them a favorite of day hikers. Frameless backpacks used by day hikers usually are called daypacks, as they are not large enough to hold sleeping bags or tents.

External frame
An external frame consists of a skeletal structure to which a frameless backpack is attached. Backpacks also can be purchased already attached to an external frame. Either way, they typically include a hip belt to help redistribute the weight from the shoulders to the legs and hips.

This type of backpack prevents the frame from touching the hiker’s back and creates a space between the sack connected to the frame and the hiker’s back, allowing for air flow. Both result in increased comfort. It also is more customizable so that loads can be arranged to meet the hiker’s preference or even more unique items – such as pets – can be carried. The downside is that the backpack connecting to an external frame usually is smaller than those with an internal frame, though items (such as sleeping bags and mats) can be attached to the external frame itself.

Internal frame
In this type, the skeletal frame is placed inside the sack itself. It also usually comes with a hip belt.

Its primary advantage is that loads are less likely to shift within the backpack than they would in an external frame model. This is useful when crossing rocky terrain. Many hikers also prefer the snug fit to the back that it offers. An internal frame further allows the backpack to come with more exterior pockets so that gear can be compartmentalized, making items easier to find when hiking. The sack portion of an internal frame also is larger than on an external frame, allowing the hiker to carry more.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.