I have always loved hiking. Being out in nature and away from all the troubles of the “real world” can really help reset your brain and mood. I would just grab my cheap backpack and go.
I started hiking regularly (almost daily) back in 2014. We have over 20 miles of trails about 5 minutes from my house and my husband was getting ready to deploy….again. Hiking not only improved my health physically but also my mind and emotional wellbeing.
I started out hiking with a simple Camelbak, then upgraded to one with more storage (almost like a small backpack). Pretty soon I was carrying about 10-15 pounds of stuff that really I didn’t need on the types of hikes I was doing (and the area I was hiking). Add in another 10 pounds of camera gear and the load was heavy. All I could think was how do those that hike overnight deal with the weight? The first mile was always ok, but after that, you really started feeling it, especially in your shoulders.
Honestly, if you are going on a simple day hike, where the terrain is easy and help is immediately available, all you really need is water and maybe a couple of snacks, so in reality, a Camelbak will do the job.
With me, however, I never know how far I will hike. There have been days where I would get on the trail, tell myself I will only for 4-5 miles and end up doing 15. Of course, I like exploring new areas too.
What opened my eyes to buying a good hiking backpack?
Last year we went to Guadalupe Mountain National Park in July. I have no idea what I was thinking! All I thought was mountains, it can’t be that hot. WRONG! I took my Camelback type backpack loaded with things like a first aid kit, snacks, compass, GPS, and anything else I could think of that may be needed if we got lost on the trails, or hurt since help could take a while to get to us.
I also had camera gear. My total weight was about 20-25 pounds for day hikes (we camped in the camping area and used that as our base camp). I FELT EVERY STEP and got wore out really quick (as in after the 1st mile kind of quick). I am sure the blaring sun and heat didn’t help.
After we got back, I researched actual backpacks and just could not see spending $250-$350 on a single backpack! In February, we went to Cabelas and for Valentine’s day, my husband bought me a Cabela’s Women’s Endicott 45-Liter Backpack. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great pack. However, after several miles of going up and down rocks, etc… I could feel the weight and I wasn’t comfortable.
March unofficially marked the start of the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Season and I started watching YouTubers that were hiking. I looked at how huge their packs were and just how much stuff they were carrying. Some of them have never even backpacked before!
One of the main backpacks used was Osprey (remember that $250-$350 price point from above). As I watched them more and more I realized that the only way that they could make that long thru-hike was with lightweight, comfortable gear.
We were getting ready to spend 2 weeks in Black Hills National Forest this past July. The plan was to spend every day on the trails. The terrain of the trails ranges from easy to are you freaking kidding me? We also knew we would be in an area we knew nothing about, so we would be backpacking with “what if we get lost or hurt” gear. In other words, survival gear (gear needed to survive until help arrives should we get lost or hurt).
My 14-year-old son who also hikes with me, constantly complained about how heavy his Walmart type backpack was (even though he really only carried a 2L bladder in it).
My husband who also hikes with me (and has been in the Military for the last 22 years) felt like hiking was work. For those unaware, the Military likes to do these things that are called ruck marches with 40-80 pound rucks. A ruck is like the Military version of a backpack. A ruck march is like a hike but sometimes on the pavement.
I decided that if I am going to get them to hike with me for any amount of distance, and if I didn’t want to have to stop every 2 miles because my backpack was killing me, that we needed to bite the bullet and see what’s up with these more expensive packs!
What I Learned
We headed to REI so we could be properly fitted for packs (yes this is important) and get advice! Check the “gear we bought” section below for what we purchased.
The lady fitted my son first for a small pack since he typically would not be carrying a lot of gear. I knew I wanted to try an Osprey (and holy crap on how many models there are)! I originally was going to go for a 50L (they size it by how much space it has to hold stuff). The first Osprey I tried on was really nice and I loved the way it felt. What I mean by that is that I couldn’t feel it on. She added about 15 pounds to it and I tried it on again. Wow! Was I carrying 15 pounds? No way!
A 65L caught my eye. I really didn’t want that big of a pack. It’s just human nature that the more room you have the more you want to try and cram in there. Anyway, I tried it on. I mean really they were both Osprey’s, how different could it be? Very different in fact! It felt like it fit my body better. I still couldn’t believe I was carrying 15 pounds. I was sold! Take my husband’s credit card because this is the one.
My husband, who made up his mind before we even got there that he was NOT getting one, (you know because he is this tough Army dude who can ruck with 80 pounds of weight, he don’t need no freaking backpack), started browsing. Before I knew it, he was being fitted and trying on packs. He must have been pleasantly surprised at the comfort because he ended up getting one himself!
My son fell in love with the Deuter brand after trying on several different brands. He too couldn’t believe he was carrying 15 pounds on his back!
Besides the comfort, the warranty on these packs is superb!
Moral of the Story
You really do get what you pay for. Do you want comfort? You will pay more. Do you want quality? You will pay more. You want lightweight? You will pay more, well when it comes to hiking and camping gear.
Look, by the time you buy the cheaper backpacks and have to replace them due to wear and tear or due to them being uncomfortable, you will have spent more than what one quality backpack cost. So save up if you need to and just get the good stuff from the beginning! Take it from someone, who spent WAY MORE on cheap gear that she no longer uses, than most people spend on a complete pack with gear for 6-month thru-hikes!
Gear We Bought
Me – I went with the Women’s Osprey Ariel 65 AG (click the link to check out my full review).
Husband – He chose the Men’s Osprey Aether 70 AG. I will have a complete gear review of this pack up (told from him) soon and will link it up here.
Son – My 14-year-old son went with the Deuter ACT LITE 50+10. Again I will get a gear review up soon told from his point of view and link it from here.
Daughter – My 16-year-old daughter doesn’t hike that much and typically it is for shorter hikes. Due to this, I couldn’t see spending that much on a pack for her. Instead, she will get my Cabelas pack which I think will work perfectly for her and what she will be carrying (which will be mostly water and food). In the future, if she decides to hike more or longer (overnights) I will upgrade her. It is still a comfortable pack for a small load and MUCH better than the Walmart pack she is used to carrying.