Today’s post is a guest post from Brian Coughlin who will talk about packing for a day hike.
One of the things that’s often overlooked when packing for a day hike is how to get all your gear in the bag. It’s not simply a matter of stuffing everything in you backpack. Yeah, you need to get it in there, but if you don’t balance the weight correctly your back will let you know the next day.
I just got back from a trip to Northern Minnesota and enjoyed a bit of hiking with a few of my younger cousins. The North Woods is a beautiful place, and we had fantastic weather, so a leisurely hike was a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors (and get the kids away from their Gameboys!).
I’m lucky to work at OpticsPlanet, as we sell a ton of awesome hunting and camping gear and I was able to try out a new backpack and flashlight on my trip. The Blackhawk Sling Backpack caught my eye before I left, so I grabbed one, and it proved to be the perfect bag for shorter hikes. On longer camping trips and hikes you’d want a bit more room, but for just a few miles it had enough storage space while staying lightweight and comfortable.
I brought the usual suspects of hiking supplies: a couple bottles of water, snacks (fruit snacks, Rice Krispies treats, a couple energy bars and trail mix), a flashlight, some neat bug repellant bracelets (they actually work pretty well, though I prefer OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray), a folding knife, a small first aid kit and my phone for emergencies. My phone has a compass and GPS in case we got lost, but our number one hiking rule is no electronics (to keep Gameboys at home), so it had to stay at the bottom of the bag except in case of emergency.
I like to be as light on my feet as possible, but with three kids in tow I had to be the mule. The trick to traveling light when you have extra equipment is packing smart. I opened up my Sling Backpack as wide as it goes (which is really wide) and started at the bottom. Normally, I’d put a blanket in first, but I forgot to bring one with me so I put my flashlight and cell phone at the bottom of the bag. We would be hiking during the middle of the day, but having a flashlight along in case we get lost or stuck out after dark is always smart.
Next up I packed the water bottles. Because of the size and shape of the backpack it was necessary to have the water pretty low. In bigger bags I’d put a bit more below the water, but as they were the heaviest thing in the bag I wanted them centered on my back, as close to my spine as possible. This alone made the bag much easier to carry. Everything else was pretty light, and balanced nicely with the water.
As the primary weight was centered on my spine and snugly in place, I put the food and medicine on top of it, side by side. The weight of these two groups was pretty similar so they didn’t unbalance each other. I kept a couple Rice Krispies Treats in the outer pouch for even easier access.
At the top of the pack I put the lightest gear. Part of this is to keep the weight even, but my sunglasses and my little cousin’s extra pair of sunglasses are delicate and I didn’t want to crush them on the bottom of the bag.
A few things to consider: if you look at the Blackhawk Sling Backpack you’ll notice the MOLLE webbing (rows of straps) on the outside of the bag. These are great for attaching more gear, but similar rules apply to putting gear on the outside of a bag as inside. Keep the weight centered. Keep gear from shifting around (this is especially important for free-swinging gear on the outside of the bag). Put lighter equipment on top.
There’s a temptation to attach a water bottle or something else big and heavy at the bottom, as this does free up more room for more gear, but I tried this once and the bottle kept hitting me in the back of the legs. The weight shifted so much that only a very measured, steady walk prevented the bottles from swinging back and forth, throwing me off balance. If you attach a water bottle to the straps, place it higher and centered to allow it to rest on the bag.
I didn’t need to use the webbing on this hike, but it’s great to have a bag that I can use in a variety of ways.
And the best part? Our hike was a great success! I was a bit worried I’d have to use one of the EpiPens in the first aid kit (one of my cousins is allergic to bee stings), but we only ran across a handful of mosquitoes and our bug spray was more than sufficient. With the waist strap on my backpack I was able to run and jump around as much as I wanted, which helps a lot as I like to keep hikes interesting for my cousins by challenging them to race up hills and over obstacles like fallen trees or through streams.
Without a properly packed bag I’m sure I wouldn’t have had as much fun as I did. The next day my back didn’t hurt a bit, and I continued my Minnesota camping trip without issue.