What backpack is the best is actually a really difficult question to answer. The truth is, there is not really a best backpack. There are good packs and bad packs, but what you need will depend on several things. First, figure out what kind of hiking you will be doing. If you are just day hiking, then a simple day pack will be fine. These are generally a lot smaller than an overnight pack, and you simply do not need the extra room for gear you are not going to use. You can use just about any pack for a day hike. I’ve used my old packs from college when I carried books from place to place, bought cheap Walmart packs, and everything in between. One of the general rules I like to tell people is to make sure your day pack has at least a chest strap and if possible a hip belt. The purpose of these is to keep the pack even and steady on your back and distribute the weight properly. If you have a pack with just shoulder straps, the weight is all focused on your shoulders and back. This can get painful in even a 5 mile hike, especially as the pack moves as you move. The added straps keep the pack stable and put the weight where it should be; across your chest, sitting on the hips, etc. For most hikes that I go on, I carry a day pack. I don’t need my tent, sleeping pad, cookware sets and stove, extra clothes, or a lot of food. All that stuff takes up space and adds quite a bit of weight. We’ll talk more about what to take on a hike in a later episode, but for now, if all you are doing is day hiking, one of these packs should be fine. If you are doing extended trips of two days or more, get a full-size pack. They will have the room to store your gear and the straps, belts, and pack are made to withstand repeated poundings and exposure to the outdoors.
Whatever pack fits your needs, there is no right pack. Just because I use it or a famous hiker like Earl Shaffer uses it, this does not mean it is the right pack for you. I would highly recommend that you visit your local outdoor store and try on packs before you buy them. They all will fit you a little differently. A pack that fits my body great (I’m 5’6”) will likely not fit someone that is 6’2”. Many outdoor stores are great and knowledgable about packs. REI is one example. The salespeople in the department are almost all hikers and know what to show you. They will let you fill up the pack like you would during a hike and walk around with it. I saved myself $200 this way. I was going to purchase a Kelty pack that had gotten great reviews. However, it felt uncomfortable on me and I ended up going with a much better fitting and cheaper Gregory pack instead. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY!
If you want the pack to last for many trips, I would stick to good backpack brands. Use REI again as a resource for this. If it is a Walmart pack, it may hold your stuff, but will likely fall apart quickly. How much money did you really save by going this route? Most of the time the zippers, seams, padding, and material of the pack is a much better quality on brand name packs than those you will find in a big box store. Whether you get your pack from REI or another retailer, a good rule of thumb is: If you can buy groceries where you get your pack, get your pack someplace else unless you plan on using it once.