Outdoor Backpack | Cheap Hiking Backpacks Will Ruin Your Hike

An outdoor backpack can make or break (literally) your hiking experience.  Experienced backpackers will attest to the fact that the quote we’ve all heard; “You get what you pay for” is very true.  That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on a hiking bag. But before you shop at a big box store for a lesser quality backpack, here are the features and important qualities in a durable hike pack that matter the most.  These factors could mean the difference between a great hiking experience and a nightmare on the trail.

Choosing a backpack for your hiking needs can be a daunting task.  There are so many different types and styles that it can be overwhelming to get it right.  You should relax in the knowledge that as you gain more hiking experience, your needs may change along the way.  But some factors will remain consistently important when you decide on a hiking pack.  Knowing these key factors will help your selection process go more smoothly.

Outdoor backpack choices can be narrowed down to quality as the key component for insuring your safety and comfort. In any product choice, quality construction usually means costing more in dollars, but doesn’t it make more sense to spend a little more money up front, than to waste money on a cheaply made hiking bag that will not perform to your needs on the hike? It will cost you more in the long run, not just in money, but in time, physical discomfort and worry when your lower-priced backpack falls apart in the middle of a great adventure.

The best places to shop would be physical or online stores that focus on outdoor products, like Naturetrailbackpacks.com.  There you will find the best hiking backpacks because these stores are focused on providing goods to serious hikers and campers.  Have you ever gone shopping for an appliance, a special dress or a Now that you know where to shop, exactly what qualities are the most important things to look for?

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and a quality trekking backpack can be adjusted to fit comfortably, even when it’s fully loaded. With proper weight balance, you should practically forget you are even wearing it.  Trying a hiking bag on isn’t possible when shopping online, but a good backpack will be fully adjustable to your upper body, sternum and hips. If it has a hip belt, you can adjust it to sit on your hips and move with your gait as you hike.  The strap for your sternum should be moveable and offer superior support to your shoulders. You should be able to move your shoulders inward, outward, up and down to adjust that fitting.

Your outdoor backpack choice should have a fully adjustable suspension system to accommodate the length of your back, since that size is different from person to person. If the straps rub against you, they need to be adjusted to avoid discomfort as you hike. The buckles should be highly resilient and constructed well. Cheaper backpacks lack this feature which could be a key factor in your comfort on the trail. Rubbing means chafing which eventually will equal pain as you move.  

Most hikers choose the current style of an internal frame backpack.  The frame material should be lightweight and made of a good grade of metal. A backpack's frame provides stability for your pack and helps aid you in carrying the pack. A large bulky frame will be much heavier and less comfortable. Also, the frame of the backpack helps keep you balanced as you trek.  It will ensure that your packed weight rests on your hips instead of your back, which will undoubtedly cause your back to hurt.

Check whether the backpack you are considering offers compression, sternum and waist straps. These will all help stabilize the pack weight to give you a better fit and provide more comfort. Padded shoulder straps are more desirable. Even if they are not completely padded, they should lay one to two inches below the high point of your shoulders.

Compression straps are of value to adapt the fit to your body size. These straps will eliminate your hiking bag from flopping around as you hike when it's not completely filled.  Sternum straps provide some extra stability for carrying a large load. If you are hiking for more than a half day, you should use a padded hip belt for better cargo weight distribution, which will also help save your back from pain.

Many support straps can be added as a separate item to a backpack that does not already have them. The important thing is that you get a pack with a sternum strap already on it. If you really love a hiking bag without one, you can buy one to avoid strain on your shoulders. This strap will create a more comfortable experience on a longer trek because it will add stability. Keep in mind that straps vary in design and performance.  Straps get lots of wear and tear, so they need to stand up to the task. Your straps should be easily adjustable to your body size and removal should not be difficult when taking your pack off.

The outdoor backpack material most widely used is either nylon or polyester.  Heavier fabrics like canvas also make a durable hiking bag.  Heavy denier nylon fabric is very strong. 600D (denier) is a polyester fabric. 1,000D (denier) is a nylon fabric. Know the fabric your potentail new hiking pack is made of. Things like multiple loose threads, raw fabric edges or uneven stitching are signs of a cheaply made backpack.  Although, any item can have a loose thread here or there, you will want to make sure it's not excessive.

Heavy duty metal zippers should be strong with adequate stitching to keep them in place without ripping.  If you grossly over pack your bag, you are stressing the fabric and zippers. If you have a cheaply made pack, your hiking bag won't be the only thing stressed when the contents sill from a broken zipper. Choosing a durable bag will allow for some stress, but overdoing it is never advised. You may want to consider plastic zippers because modern plastics are highly durable, often more so than metal. Cheap plastic is fairly easy to spot, so it's wise to avoid that product.

An outdoor backpack with a mesh backing is very comfortable, especially when you hike in the hotter months.  Even in cooler weather, with the load on your back, you’ll tend to sweat more and your skin will appreciate the ventilation from a mesh backing. Mesh padded shoulder straps are also a cooling feature. You're most likely to find these amenities on better quality backpacks.

It’s all about the pockets for some trekkers.  You’ll discover that being organized with both exterior and interior pockets on a hiking pack will make life easier on the trail.  There is nothing worse than just throwing stuff into a main compartment and having to rummage through it all when you're looking for something specific during your hike.  Items you’ll need quick access to should have a place on the outside of your pack, such as sunscreen, bear spray, water, a compass, and your wallet etc.

Your water bottle is something that should have its own flexible pocket to easily remove your bottle and put it back without breaking your stride or having to take your backpack on and off just to hydrate.  Some backpacks come with their own inner sleeve compartment that carries a water bladder with a drinking tube system. If you buy one that has this, trust me, you will still want that water bottle pocket for a single bottle to carry Gatorade or something other than water for hydration. It works even better if that pocket has a drawstring to secure your bottle as you move.  Look for a backpack that has a small opening at the side of the pack to allow for the drink tubing to come out and reach over your shoulder.  Most backpacks don’t come with the water bladder, which is usually sold separately.

If you choose a hiking pack with a hip belt, they often have pockets that are great for small items that you want to get to fast such as your cell phone, a snack or some first aid items.  Larger pockets are handy for items such as your trowel, a rain cover, or a jacket. In addition to pockets, a few external straps and loops always come in handy. Even if you don’t use them every time, you’ll find yourself relying on them to carry odd shaped items and things you’ve rinsed out that need drying, and most likely your rubbish bag.

Some backpacks have an integrated rain cover. This cover is usually attached within a separate pocket at the bottom of the pack. It’s very convenient to just pull it out as needed during a sudden rain storm, plus you don't have to remember to pack a separate cover. If you have to buy a separate rain cover, make sure that it properly covers your whole backpack. Some even have cut-outs to fit over the hip belt, so that it stays in place when you carry it.

An outdoor backpack hike may not be over even once you set up your tent to camp for the night.  You may want to explore your surroundings while you have daylight without lugging your entire backpack with you. That’s when you’ll be glad you have a small day pack with you. That way, you can unpack it and load some water, a snack, sunscreen, some TP, and a few essentials with you for a quick jaunt.

If you are spending hours or days in the wilderness, make sure the craftsmanship of the pack you choose is up to the challenge of the outdoor elements.  A school backpack is not meant to be outdoors for any length of time or under harsh weather conditions and therefore, it is no where near the same quality as an outdoor hiking pack.

If you take the process of finding your hiking backpack seriously, you'll most likely be happy with your choice. The staff at Nature Trail Backpacks is happy to answer any of your questions by phone or within a comment below. We would love to assist you in finding the best hiking backpack to fit your needs. Stick to the basics outlined in this article and you won’t go wrong. Happy hiking!


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