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Gear: Day Hiking Packs and the Little Stuff

Now that we’ve covered the right things to wear while day hiking, we turn our attention to the other essentials: finding the perfect backpack, and then collecting all the things you should consider putting in your backpack. 

For the pack we focus first on fit and functionality, to help you score a backpack that will keep things comfortable on the trail and one that makes it easy to find all the stuff you’re hauling. The other “f” in the equation (read: fashion) comes into play depending on the color you love (and believe us, there are a lot to chose from). Then we hone in on all the small-scale items. By no means is this a definitive list. After all, beyond carrying your extra layers of clothing, your pack inventory is simultaneously defined by what you need and what you really want to bring to make being on the trail even more of an adventure.

The Pack

Start browsing the backpacking marketplace and you’ll find there’s a pack designed specifically for every type of outdoor activity.  Don’t feel overwhelmed.  The basic criteria for a good daypack can be broken down into a few essential elements.

First you want enough space to carry your food, water, and a few layers of clothing. Packs with a volume of 24 to 26 liters should suffice, though if you like to carry more—or plan on hiking in places where temperatures can really fluctuate—naturally go bigger.

You also want a good harness.  Look for a pack with comfortable shoulder straps, typically anchored to a ventilated back panel, as well as a waist strap, which helps distribute the load to your hips. And a sternum strap, which centers everything to create a more stable pack, is a pretty standard feature.  Most pack models come in several sizes, so be sure you find one that fits you.

The rest—color, storage configuration, the bells-and-whistles—is up to you.  You can find a pack with two basic pockets (a big one for all your stuff, and a small one for your quick-grab items) or one with enough pockets to push an OCD hiker into organizational nirvana.  We prefer ones with at least a few internal pockets, which help keep your food in one place, clothes in another, and smart-whatever tech devices in yet another.  And if you like the idea of not dealing with a water bottle, also consider a pack with a hydration sleeve, where you can slide in what basically amounts to a large rectangular plastic water bag for hands-free drinking.

The Little Stuff

As with all things, enjoyable hiking is all about the devilish details.  Sun protection—a hat, bandana, sunglasses, and sun block—are easy to acquire and can make all the difference.  Whistles or other ways of making noise will help you attract attention if you take a few wrong turns. A way to carry water is essential, and can be done in everything from collapsible bottles to vacuum-sealed containers that retain the liquid’s temperature to hydration reservoirs that allow for hands-free hydration. Food is equally essential, and can take the form of gourmet beef jerky, energy bars, or a simple PB&J wrapped in foil.  And, of course, directions. There are apps for that, of course. But don’t count on cell reception when you’re on the trail. Either make sure the digital map works in offline mode, or print out a map and trail directions before you head out.

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