On a hike, everything you want or need will be carried with you. If you can get by with a granola bar and bottle of water, then you’ve got a light load. That camera, tripod, cellphone, bottle of wine, kitchen sink will all add extra weight that you’ll be carrying with you for the duration of the hike. So, everything you leave at home is literally weight off your back. Those things you do need to bring should be carried as comfortably and easily as possible. Choosing an adequate, well-fitted pack will make your hikes much more enjoyable.
There are two styles of pack you might consider for your day hikes. Depending on the size of your group, length of your trip, weather, and extra gear you need for activities, you should choose the smallest size required.
Also called waist packs, lumbar packs, or hip packs, fanny packs are light and have many different features such as built in water bottle holders, compartments for different gear, and loops to hang stuff. You can wear a fanny pack around your waist, draped over a shoulder, or by the handle in case you get tired of carrying it any particular way. They are meant to be carried in the small of your back, but can be spun around to the front to get at stuff while hiking. Overloading a fanny pack may become uncomfortable because it will sag and bounce around. As your hiking range increases or the weather gets more severe, you may find the gear you need overburdening even the larger fanny packs. When your fanny pack starts bulging at the seams and overflowing the top, it’s time to move up to a day pack.
A day hiking pack has shoulder straps but usually no waist belt; it is intended to carry lighter loads on the shoulders for which you do not need the waist support. Day packs are available in a wide range of sizes and capacity, some with hydration systems, some with added chest strap, and some with waist strap. A day pack is only carried on the shoulders, but since its larger, that’s probably the only way you would want to carry it. Your day pack should be big enough to hold all the gear you need, but not much bigger – or you will be tempted to fill it up, meaning more weight and strain on you. A well made pack that is properly cared for will last you for many many hikes. Before sinking a lot of money into a day pack, look at several makes and models to determine what features you want.
Whatever pack you choose is partly a matter of preference, and partly a matter of practicality. Fanny packs are usually comfortable to wear and won’t make your back all sweaty. Day packs carry more, but tend to create more muscle fatigue in the shoulder area, unless they have a waist belt. Packs come in a wide range of sizes, with a variety of features, and with a large variation in prices. Start out with something simple, then trade up as the need or desire arises, and you get a better feel for the features that you desire.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment a day hiker can carry is some sort of hydration system. Put simply, this is just a way of being able to carry enough water with you so that you don’t become dehydrated.
Hydration systems can be as simple and inexpensive as a plastic bottle you carry in your hand or clip to your belt, or something more sophisticated such as a CamelBak or Platypus system which includes a pack or harness, a built in reservoir, and a flexible, insulated drinking tube with an anti-leak valve. Choose the system that suits your budget and is comfortable for the distance you’ll be going.
If you opt for the backpack style hydration system with a water bladder and hose, you may want to check out these tips for cleaning and maintaining your hardware. There’s nothing more disgusting than finding your hose full of mildew!
Water Treatment Systems
Water is the heaviest item you will take with you on a hike. For most day hikes, you’ll be comfortable carrying whatever water you’ll need. For longer hikes or hikes when you’ll be hauling other equipment with you, in lieu of carrying large amounts of water you may wish to carry a water treatment system that will allow you to purify water for drinking along the way. Obviously, there are many areas where this is not an option, as there will not be water sources near your trail. However, if you are certain that water sources are available, one of these water treatment systems will do the trick.
Here are some reviews of the best filtering & purification products available (one person’s opinion).