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Packs are the handiest and most popular method of carrying gear while hiking. There are two basic pack categories: packs designed for the small loads normally carried during day hikes, and packs designed for backpacking or overnight hikes.
Packs for Day Hikes
Day hiking packs come in a wide variety of styles and sizes any one of which may be suitable for a particular hike. Since gear loads are lighter, and hikers are never far from the end of their hike which pack they choose for a day hike is more a matter of personal taste and less critical.
To choose a pack for your day hiking adventures first decide what kind of hikes you are most likely to take. Then make a gear list of the items you will want to take with you on most of these hikes. And then select a pack that will carry all of your gear and make it easy to find and carry.
Daypacks - The most common type of pack used not only for hiking, but also biking and by students for carrying books. These packs are carried on the shoulders. If they have a waistband, it is generally just for stabilizing the load and not for transferring any of it to the hips. Capacity is generally under 2000 cubic inches. They are a available in a huge variety of shapes and styles. (Visit Altrec for daypacks)
Hydration Packs - This type of pack is really just a daypack specifically designed to carry mostly water. The packs main compartment are setup to carry a water bladder from which a hose runs around to the front of the pack so that the wearer can drink at any time without having to remove the pack. This type of pack might be an excellent choice for day hiking in very warm areas like the desert. (Altrec hydration packs)
Fanny Packs - These are some of the smallest packs designed for carrying only a few items. They are worn around the waist and are essentially a belt with a pouch attached. For most hiking these packs will not hold enough gear, but they can be useful as a supplemental pack to a day pack or even an overnight pack for carrying items that you want quick access to. (See fanny packs at Altrec)
Lumbar Packs - Lumbar packs like fanny packs are supported by a belt that fastens around the waist. They are generally much larger than a fanny pack and have sufficient capacity for most day hiking, but they are typically not as large as daypack. Some people prefer the way a lumbar pack places the load on their back, but they are not suitable for very heavy loads since they tend to work their way down and ride too low when heavily loaded. (View Altrec lumbar packs)
Packs for Overnight Hikes
Backpacking packs are typically of much larger capacity than packs designed for day hikes. While day hiking packs generally do not get much larger than 2000 c.i., backpacking packs generally do not get much smaller than 3000 c.i., and many of them are well over 4000 c.i. in size. They are designed to carry not only larger, but also heavier loads. So most of them also include a waist belt that is intended to transfer part of the weight to the hikerís hips. There are three main types of backpacking packs: external frame, internal frame, and rucksacks.
External Frame Packs - These packs have a frame, made usually made from lightweight metal tubing, that is the core component of the pack. Attached to the frame on one side is a pack bag of some type into which the gear load is placed, and on the other side of the frame the suspension system of shoulder straps, back bands, and waist belt is attached. The primary virtue of the external frame pack is its ability to carry large loads and to transfer most of the weight to the hikerís hips by way of the waist belt. Other advantages of this type of pack are generally excellent ventilation and protection from being poked in the back by the gear load. Prior to the late 1970ís this was the most commonly used type of backpack, and it is still preferred by some hikers.
Internal Frame Packs - With an internal frame pack the main component is the pack bag. The frame, often simply one or two vertical stays and possibly a frame sheet, is hidden from view in a pocket within the pack bag. Because these packs rest directly on the wearerís back they often include a layer of foam padding to keep the contents of the pack from poking oneís back. Currently this is the most popular type of backpack because it can transfer a large portion of the load to the hikerís waist and provides somewhat better balance than an external frame pack. Unfortunately this type of pack can be quite warm and is often just as heavy or even heavier than external frame packs. (CampSaver internal frame backpacks)
Rucksacks - These are essentially an internal frame pack minus the frame. They are a pack bag with the suspension system of shoulder straps and waist belt sewn right on the bag. Because they have no frame they are generally not suitable for heavier loads, but the lack of frame also means they are usually lighter in weight making them ideal for lighter loads. Some of them have a layer of foam to prevent the load from poking the wearerís back, while others depend on the expertise of the hiker to pack them in such a way that the load is comfortable to carry.
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