Backpackers share tips for hiking success

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Grabbing a pack and heading for the mountains is needed refuge for some. But in order to have a good experience, hikers need to pack their backpacks properly. Before the first water bottle or the last granola bar gets loaded in, the right pack must be found.

A group of backpackers enjoys Yosemite National Park. A backpack that fits right makes long hikes much more enjoyable. (Jared Hall)

Pack selection

Picking the right pack can be a challenge. Size, weight and price can all be factors. It all starts with a comfort check: if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.

After the initial comfort check, it’s important to check the fit. The frame of the backpack should fit the torso. According to Hansen Mountaineering employee Esteban Mendoza, if the weight of the pack sits on the hips rather than the shoulders, it’s most likely the right size. Mendoza suggests making sure the pack fits comfortably without any straps loosened or tightened to their max.

Another aspect to consider when choosing a pack is the length of the hike. For example, a pack for an overnight trip doesn’t require as much space as a weeklong voyage does. Mendoza suggests the pack be full with equipment and supplies. If it isn’t full, he recommends considering a smaller pack.

Weight distribution

Vic Johnson spreads out his gear while preparing for a backpacking trip. Carefully packing helps make backpacking a more enjoyable experience. (Natalie Stoker)

The basic principle of weight distribution is to keep heavy items high and close to the back of the pack. Lighter, space-filling items like sleeping bags and clothes go in the bottom of the backpack; many packs even have special compartments for sleeping bags built in. This ensures the weight of the pack can sit on the hips rather than the shoulders.

Mendoza says many mistakingly believe shoulder straps are made to help hold the weight of the pack. But really they’re designed to make sure the pack doesn’t shift. When a person is leaning slightly forward, the shoulders should hold very little of the pack’s weight.

Leave it behind

Outdoors Unlimited employee Alie Larsen says that on shorter trips she can get her pack under 10 pounds. While it may not always be necessary to go to those extremes, Larsen follows a simple principle: if you don’t need it, don’t bring it.

Hikers line a trail in Yosemite National Park. Knowing the environment helps determine what’s necessary to bring on a trip. (Jared Hall)

A quick way to add unnecessary weight is by adding too much food. Many hikers pack more than they need. Outdoor enthusiast Garrett Christensen suggests planning out meals for each day with an additional two meals for emergencies. To drop weight, Mendoza buys freeze-dried meals rather than heavier, perishable items.

Larsen said going without a tent in good weather may be worth considering and added that a small tarp weighs much less.

Items that may be needed on demand should be easily accessible. Think ahead about items such as a GPS, sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, flashlight and rain gear.

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