UK Long Distance Hiking Pack Survey
A few weeks back I asked the UK Long Distance Hiking community to fill out a survey all about the type of hiking pack they use.
I’m not talking about packs for day hikes here.
Instead, I was interested in discovering what packs, including brands, sizes and packing tips the community used for trips spanning multiple days where all kit was carried on the back.
So if your gig is luggage transfer (which we cover in other articles), then this post may not be for you. But If you would like to find out which packs to choose, based on the collective experience of this group, keep on reading.
Before I get into things too much I wanted to let you know something. I’m certainly not going to be recommending the top 10 packs to buy, or selling you anything here. The information which comes below is quite simply the collective knowledge kindly offered from UK Long Distance Hiking.
What Brand Of packs are used?
I was really surprised to see a vast difference of packs used for this survey. We had 33 responses, with 24 different options selected. However without a doubt, and rather unsprisingly Osprey came in first at 39.4%.
Honestly Osprey is a great pack brand, and has a very strong hold on the UK market. They also produce some great packs to suit most budgets, including some lightweight offerings too.
What I didn’t do, and quite intentionally was ask for the make, and model of the pack used. I felt this would be information overload, and honestly I would rather new long distance hikers visit an outfitter to find out which type of pack they need by trying some on.
What size pack do you use?
I have to admit, upon writing this question I had a personal interest here as I was on the market for a pack. The brand I was going to choose wasn’t the issue, just the size.
Interestingly, 46-50L came in as the most popular pack size.
I think if you had asked this same question 5 – 10 years back the answer would have been somewhere between 50-60L but with lighter kit we can all pack easier. Goodbye to the days of long distance hiking with a huge load on our backs! And good riddence.
18.2% of participants did however travel with a 61-65L capacity.
Kudos to those who travel with 31-35L bags. You must have packing down to an art, and some seriously lightweight kit.
It’s pretty clear to me that most long distance hikers will be perfectly comfortable with a 50L backpack. Unless you are using budget gear which doesn’t pack down small (I’m talking tunnel tent with 3 sets of poles, and a heavy cooking system), you should be able to get all you need in 50L worth of pack.
Would you consider yourself to be a lightweight long distance hiker?
Lightweight long distance hiking or thru hiking can be a race to the bottom.
To the person carrying a 25L pack with only 4kg worth of weight, a fellow hiker carrying a 35L pack with 7kg worth of weight is not a lightweight hiker, but has packed too much.
What i’m getting to here is that there are no rules, or definitions about what exactly makes one a lightweight hiker.
However for the purpose of trying to define this I’m going to assume its anyone carrying a bag size up to 45L, and 9kg.
If you are less than that- at 4kg, I guess that makes you an ultralight backpacker?
I’m sure there is some generally agreed boundaries online somewhere.
Either way, 72.7% of the respondents identified as lightweight backpackers, while 27.3% did not.
My take away here is this: You don’t need the lightest kit, and the smallest back to be a lightweight backpacker. If you bag does not feel like a burdensome pack, which will suck out every inch of your soul then you are probably in the right place.
If however you put your pack on and wonder why its so heavy, contemplating the miserable days ahead with 15-20kg strapped to your sweats back, I advise you possibly assess what your taking.
I’ve done those days – they are not fun.
Are there any brands (who sell bags) who you would recommend avoiding?
I’ll start here, before going into the responses.
Yes there are lots of brands, or shops who sell bags who I would recommend avoiding.
Anything by the following retailers – Sports Direct, Trespass, Mountain Warehouse and any other budget retailer or supermarket. Also be cautious of Decathlon.
Broken packs on the trail are no fun. Believe me.
And you will regret not spending an extra bit of money when you will only need to pay it out when your bag breaks mid West Highland Way.
Here are some replies:
“Trespass or mountain warehouse”
“Oex, mountain warehouse”
“Not really. Karrimore is not as good anymore but for many people a really cheap “first” pack to try and figuring out what you want before buying a pricey one”
“No, but I go for simple designs without masses of compartments etc”
“None really. Use your judgement. You get what you pay for”
“Any of the cheap poorly made ones people end up throwing away, it’s just a waste”
In short, buy cheap, buy twice.
What advice do you have for first time long distance hikers?
These replies were amazing. I certainly learned a thing or two from this list of wisdom. The big take away is this. Pack less, much less than you need.
- Try a few local walks and camps first with your kit and get rid of everything you don’t need.
- Ditch the non essentials and embrace the himer trash smell
- Weigh everything. Distribute the weight. Try the fully loaded pack on a short hike.
- Leave half of it at home
- Have often used kit accessible first.
- Check, prioritise, check again
- You only need half of what you think you might need.
- Sleeping bag at the bottom clothes and anything not used during the day in the middle. Heavy items at the top. Ten poles down the side. Pegs on the outside pocket. Tent at the top. Snacks and water in outside pocket. Map case round neck with compass and whistle.
- Take the bare essentials, plan well in advance so you know what you can buy on the way if needed. A filter water bottle is worth it, (again check the path and map, plenty on SWCP barely any on NDW etc). After every hiking trip unpack your bag, what did you not need and can you leave it out?
- Do a fully loaded practice hike to understand how the weight feels. It makes losing the ‘just in case’ items a lot easier.
- Pack your rucksack, weigh it, unpack it, then pack it again with a target of 50% of the original weight.
- Abandon personal standards! One set of hiking gear, one dry change, plus extra socks & undies. Quick dry is the answer. It’s really worth investing in quick dry kit. Only carry enough food to get to your next supply stop/town/shop. Your tent, sleeping bag & mat are your rest & recuperation. Buy the best & lightest you can afford.
- Take flip flops or light sandals for evenings (& night visits to the loo, & showers
- Gauge the likely conditions & whether you’ll REALLY need gaiters etc.
- Take a shorter shakedown trip to see what you need and what you can leave
- Don’t struggle with the weight, lose some stuff you don’t need.
- Make sure you are warm at night
- Keep as light as possible
- Do a 2 day local trip and then remove kit you know you won’t use.
- Keep your waterproofs light, and handy. Small packing mac in a sac and the like are seriously underused. Make a list and ask someone experienced to look it over. If you don’t know anyone, post it in an online forum. Lighterpack.com is a useful way to do this. All my earliest hikes were failed due to over packing: keep minimalism in mind from the get go. Take only what you really need. That being said, there’s no need to be obsessive about it or spend thousands of pounds.
- Use colour coded dry bags for different types of stuff. Don’t carry loads of spare clothes, if you’re wild camping nobody cares and if you’re not then you can wash things in your accommodation. I know it’s obvious, but stuff you won’t need while you are actually walking goes in the bottom.
- You never need as much as you think.
- Set it all out so you can see it all, then remove half of it. In particular clothing. You only need one spare of anything. Every thing can be washed on the hike or just wear smelly. No one cares about your hygiene except you.
- Post unwanted kit home.
- Fit bag correctly weight in centre minimise and then minimise again
- When you return from a hike divide your kit into emergency items, items used frequently, and items used not at all. Next time take items from the first two piles, and only a few from the third. Reoeat after each hike
- Lay your kit out on the floor and try to reduce by 50%. Don’t forget to ensure you have a inner bag to protect contents from getting wet.
- Reduce weight.
- Lay your kit out and ask 2 questions of each item. 1 – Is there something else I carry which will do the same job, if so then ditch it. 2 – Try and halve the weight of every single item… get rid of straps, buckles, liners, cases that aren’t being used.
- Pack & unpack a few times before leaving, get to know what you need and can leave out, get familiar with where in you bag your kit is so you can get to it quickly and easily. Adjust the fit of your back to maximise comfort, always check zips, straps & clips are done up. Don’t stress about it, if it’s too heavy you will adapt and get used to it quicker than you think. Enjoy it, if it’s not enjoyable you’re doing it wrong
- Looks for bags with wide padded shoulder straps
- Research, and buy better second hand gear to get value for money
- Try a 1/2 day/night walk with full pack first to check comfortable with weight & content
What mistakes did you make when first packing for long distance hikes?
Ok, ok sorry. This question, and the previous one were pretty similar.
Well at least the responses I received were. Basically, most of you packed too much.
Your bags were too heavy, filled with everything from way too much water, to CDs, books, and with the weight being at the top of your bag.
Almost every reply was the same.
The take away, if you are just starting out is this…
DON’T PACK TOO MUCH!
Naturally, 90.9% of hikers who responded aimed to carry less on their next long distance hike.
I really enjoyed putting this together, with the help of the wonderful UK Long Distance Hiking community. You may be wondering why I have not recommended a pack. Here is why.
There is not a single pack which suits all. They have different shoulder widths, hip widths, support systems, entry points, and attachments. One persons lightweight pack which allows for ultralight hiking heaven, is hell to somebody who values the support of a slightly heavier pack.
I strongly suggest visiting an reputable outdoor shop who will help you find the right pack for your needs.
Thank you to everyone who took part, including assistance from the following websites: