Trekking Packs

I think of trekking as travel which involves a significant amount of walking while carrying all the gear you will need. Nights are spent in huts, hostels, guest houses, inns, or hotels. These trips might be a few days, or a longer trip such as walking the Camino de Santiago which we are planning to do in spring 2023. Unlikely wilderness backpacking, there isn’t a need to carry cooking gear or a shelter, nor do you need to carry multiple days of food or water. Often you don’t even need to carry your next meal because there will be several cafes between your day’s start and stop points. As a result, the volume of the pack can be smaller than a traditional backcountry backpack.

Trekking packs are a similar to travel packs, but put more of an emphasis on carry comfort and providing a good weight to volume ratio. Travel packs typically prioritize organizational features and “clean lines” – making it attractive and easy to slide in an out of spaces without getting tangled. Being carry on size is highly desirable for both.

My Choice

When I can keep the weight of my gear to below 10lbs I use a packable version of the Gossamer Gear Vagabond. My pack weights 10 oz, holds 23L, and of course, is packable. When I need to carry more I use my wilderness backpack, a 2nd generation, 40L Gossamer Gear Gorilla. The Gorilla is larger than I need, but I already own it, and it gets the job done.

Minimizing Weight

Before talking about packs, a few words about what you put into the pack. I strongly encourage people to adopt a minimalist, ultralight, pilgrim approach to trekking. I have some notes about traveling light which captures some of the lessons I have learned over the years. Rather than bringing lots of luxuries, bring only the essentials. Let being unencumbered be your luxury. Researchers found that people can carry between 7-12% of their body weight without a significant impact to their energy level on long walks. When people carried more than this, they became noticeably more fatigued. My personal experience is that I am closer to 7%, and that carrying more than 11lb on just my shoulders becomes uncomfortable after more than an hour.

Ultralight Packs

Ultralight trekking packs are smaller volume packs that are often used for fastpacking and ultralight backpacking. These packs typically weight less than 1 lb and have no built in structure other than maybe a thin sheet of foam or plastic. Proper packing is critical to carry comfort. Most of these packs support the weight via shoulder straps, though some packs use something more like a vest to spread the weight over the entire torso and also keeps the pack stable if you move rapidly. Some packs often minimalist waist belts which primarily stabilize the pack, though might be able to transfer load off the shoulders and onto the hips. For example, I get very little weight transfer using the waist strap on the Vagabond because when the pack is properly aligned with my shoulders, the hip strap goes around the middle of my waist. The same pack lands on my wife’s hips which allows more weight transfer.

Packs with less than 30L I would recommend:

My experience with ultralight packs for larger volumes dates back to before 2010. I can’t provide an informed recommendation. The following are several manufactures which have a good reputation

Lightweight Packs

In my mind what distinguished a light weight pack from an ultralight pack is that it has a hip belt which can comfortably support >80% of the packs weight, requiring the shoulder straps / vest only for stabilization. There are two key features for this to work. First, the pack needs to have some sort of structure. While the ultralight packing might accomplish this by tight packing, it’s rare for this to work for more than 15lbs. This means that the pack will have some sort of framesheet, stays, or loop which keeps the body of the pack rigid. These packs also need a comfortable hip belt. This typically requires a combination of padding and some sort of rigidity which can not be provided by webbing. Some packs I would recommend looking at:

  • Arcteryx AERIOS Family: Modern materials, clean design, carry comfort was ok for me but not great
  • Durston Kakwa 40: 23″ long, so not carry-on for some airlines, nice design at reasonable price
  • Gossamer Gear Gorilla: most comfortable for me carrying less than 25lb but not as attractive as others
  • Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400: all but the “tall” size are 21″ or less. Very durable and weather resistant. The hip belt produced hotspots for me. I found most of the other packs listed here more comfortable.
  • Osprey Sportlite 25L: no personal experience, but a quick try at REI suggested it was worth a further look.
  • Osprey Talon/Tempest Family: A Camino trail favorite of people from North America
  • Osprey Levity / Lumina Family: too long for carry on but very comfortable
  • ULA Camino: Heavier that others but great carry comfort and easy access. I don’t own this pack but have tried it. If I didn’t own the Gossamer Gear Gorilla and needed to carry a heavier load, this is the pack I would select.

Other Recommendations

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