Adventurous mum Nell is inspired to dive into the world of overnight hiking and camping after completing the Milford Track in New Zealand. Unsure of where to begin and which hiking pack to choose, she seeks the expert advice from our very own Paddy’s team in our Fortitude Valley store, who give her the full run down on selecting the correct pack and how to properly fit it.

As a seasoned day hiker I am comfortable preparing for a few hours out on the trails, but when it comes to multi-day trekking I am a complete beginner. My first and only overnight hike was four awe inspiring days on the Milford Track in New Zealand. 65Km of magical rainforests, deep valleys, snow capped peaks, cascading waterfalls… and me with a very uncomfortable and poorly fitted pack.

My head now full of multi-day trail dreams, my first call to action was ‘find the right pack’. Paddy Pallin staff have extensive knowledge about a range of hiking packs, coupled with real life experience. Connecting with the team at my local store upgraded my knowledge from clueless beginner…to informed beginner. Let me share with you what I learnt:

Choosing Your Pack

The first question to answer is, “What size pack do I need?” This is determined by what you will be carrying and there are a few things to consider;

  • How long you will be hiking, one day or several?
  • Are you likely to be staying in equipped cabins, or carrying everything you need on your back?
  • What weather conditions you are preparing for? Climates that have varying or cold temperatures will require more/bulkier gear.
  • Is there any specialised equipment you will be carrying? (eg. large first aid kits, ropes)

Personally I am looking to do multi-day hikes, up to four nights in warm or temperate climates and I want the ability to carry everything I need. This put me in a common entry level pack of 65L. Smaller packs are suitable for shorter hikes, or for those with very light weight gear. Larger packs are suitable for longer trips in more varying temperatures, or for those carrying specialised equipment.

Paddy Pallin stock a large range of unisex and women specific packs, each with varying features. When considering a women’s specific pack there are a few main differences; shorter torso/back lengths, a harness constructed for narrower shoulders and comfort in the chest area as well as the hip belt is canted slightly (top edge is tilted inward and the bottom edge flares out). These specialisations will be of benefit to some body types, but don’t feel restricted by gender labels, the most important thing is which pack fits your body best.

I narrowed my choice to two 65L women’s specific packs (due to my narrow shoulders, petite upper body and child bearing hips).

Fitting Your Pack

Many people assume their height would determine which size pack to choose, but it’s actually measured by torso length, which can vary substantially between two people who are the exact same height. Torso length is measured from your iliac crest (which is inline with the top of your hip bones), all the way up to your C7 vertebra (the knobby bone at the base of your neck). The team at Paddy Pallin have a nifty measuring device that was designed to determine which pack size suits you best.

Paddy Pallin Team members using the osprey back measuring tool and loading a pack with weight

Measuring Nell’s Back and loading up the pack with weights

It turns out I fall smack bang in the middle of two sizes, I assumed this meant I could choose either or, but I was wrong. Different models tend to fit in slightly different ways. We found that in the Osprey Aura my best fit is small, while in Osprey Ariel my best fit was extra small.

Good hiking packs have various methods to individualise fit; torso/back length, load-lifter/top tension straps, hip belt, sternum strap, and harness can all be adjusted. During the fitting process I realised how important it was to get these adjustments right. They even put weight in the hiking pack so that I could understand how it will feel when loaded with all of my gear. The difference in comfort level before and after fitting was substantial, it completely shifted where the load was focused and dispersed. The Paddy Pallin team walked me through the steps to achieve best pack fit;

  1. After slipping into the harness, adjust your hip belt first. It should be secured firmly just below your belly button, resting on the upper most point of your hip bone.
  2. Next adjust your shoulder straps. The padded section should wrap around the crest of your shoulders and attach to the frame 2cm below that point. Ensure that the buckle is far enough below your armpit that it will not rub. Pull the straps tight so that your pack sits snugly against your back, this will ensure you are carrying your load in an efficient way.
  3. Next adjust the load-lifter/top tension straps. They should attach to your shoulder straps just above your collarbone. Play around to see what feels best, you are likely to tweak these as you walk depending on the variations in terrain.
  4. Lastly secure the sternum strap. Position it approximately 5cm below your collarbone and fit with room to breath easily, while stabilising pack weight.
Fitting Nell with her hiking pack and adjusting it for comfort

Going through the fitting process to make sure the pack is adjusted and sitting comfortably

It was incredibly helpful having staff to make adjustments that only experienced eyes would notice, to guide me through the decision making process and impart the knowledge I needed to ensure my next trail experienced would not be hampered by an ill fitting pack. After walking around the shop testing my loaded packs and feeling like an empowered hiking woman, I decided on …. the Osprey Aura, now I am off to find adventure!

Are you looking for a new Hiking or Travelling pack? Come into your local Paddy Pallin store and chat to the team about the right fit for you. Find your local store now.

#ExperienceIsEverything | #PaddyPallin

About The Author

Nell

Nell lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. She is the founder of Mum’s Gone Climbing, mother to two sensitive wildlings, wife to her best mate, part-time videographer, and fulltime dirtbag adventure dork. Nell is passionate about supporting other mothers to balance parenthood, inspire their children by living their own joy, and find adventure that fills their stoke. Follow Nell’s shenanigans on Instagram at @mumsgoneclimbing.

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