Suspension that is entirely adjustable
Backs and upper bodies come in a variety of forms and sizes – curved or flat, broad or small shoulders, long or short, defined hips or A-line – and good trekking backpacks can accommodate them all.
A completely adjustable suspension system is the first feature I look for in a hiking backpack. You should be able to adjust the shoulder straps to the length of your back and secure them with a highly durable buckle. To modify where they sit on your shoulders, you should be able to shift your shoulder inwards or outwards. For best posture, you want a hip belt that sits on your hips and glides with your movement. You want a sternum strap that can be adjusted and provides maximum shoulder support.
Even when fully laden, the proper trekking backpack fits your upper body like a glove and the weight evaporates off your shoulders. It may sound crazy, but after completing a 12-day trip across the Outer Hebrides, I can assure you that if your backpack sits properly, you will forget you’re carrying a big rucksack!
Outer compartments with easy access
The following feature is efficient packing. When I pack for a hiking trip, I divide my belongings into three categories: 1) items I’ll need at night, such as my tent, sleeping system, toiletries, and extra clothing; 2) items I’ll need during the day, such as my stove, food and snacks, extra warm layers, spare camera batteries, and so on; and 3) items I’ll need quick access to throughout the day, such as my rain gear, maps and guidebooks, camp shoes, first aid kit, sun lotion, and toilet paper.
The best hiking backpack features a lot of outside pockets where you may keep these goods for easy access. When it starts to rain, the last thing you want to do is open up your entire bag and rummage through it for your waterproofs among all your other belongings. Every item in my bag has a designated spot, so I prefer to have many quick-access exterior compartments to organise my belongings.
Access to a separate bottom section
The easiest method to load your rucksack to avoid putting unneeded strain on your back is to put lighter and less frequently used goods towards the bottom and heavier items, such as your food, tent, and water, closer to your back.
However, I find that with top-loading backpacks, it can be difficult to efficiently utilise all of the space at the bottom. That’s why I prefer backpacks that have a separate bottom compartment with its own entrance. That way, when room on top gets limited, I can put a few lightweight items there, and I can start packing my heavy stuff before stowing things like my sleeping bag.
Straps and loops on the outside
I try not to attach too many objects to the exterior of my backpack since it makes it more difficult to regulate my centre of gravity, which throws off my balance. When it’s sunny, I’d like to be able to hang my socks, t-shirts, or towel out to dry or remove my waterproofs without having to open a zipper. I usually tie my reusable trash to a pack’s side strap before stuffing it into one of the pack’s flexible side pockets.
I prefer a backpack with a lot of external straps and loops because, even if I don’t use them often, I want to know that I can use them in an emergency.
A hydration system has an inside compartment.
While I always bring a water bottle on hikes, my primary source of water is a 3-litre hydration kit that I keep in my backpack’s main compartment.
Practical trekking backpacks should include a dedicated space for this within the main compartment – it gives me peace of mind that the water bag will not be damaged and that condensation will stay away from my other belongings. The tube should also be able to come out and reach over your shoulder through a small slot on the side of the bag.