Picking a Pack Type and Size

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Welcome Hikers,

Today I want to discuss what you should look for when deciding on what type of bag you need to carry your gear.

First, use what you already have available. The idea is to get people outdoors while being safe. In the guide, I listed a few options for bags that can be used. If you have any of those and it carries what you need keep using it.  Remember function over fashion.

When you’re ready for a new bag then come back and review the guide and email series.  Or better yet send me a message and we can chat about it and help you figure out your best options.

Now let’s gather around the campfire as I talk about why I have a bag addiction. When I’m packing for a trip I like to be prepared for almost anything. If I have access to a vehicle I will pack two or three times the items I know I’ll use “just in case”.  As I’ve mentioned in the past sometimes that means I can’t find items when I want to use them.  

What this tends to lead to is me looking at different bags and making purchases to find the one that works best.  It also means when I have an option of getting something for free I will always choose the bag or backpack option just in case.   Even if the bags don’t meet my requirements, or I don’t like them personally, I’m holding on to them in case I find someone that can use them or if we’re going somewhere and a friend needs a bag I can loan it to or give them the bag. 

Finding a bag to carry what we need

First, decide if you want to have a separate bag for your mobile studio or not. Even if you don’t carry a separate bag for it I’d recommend packing it in a kit when possible, even if that means a large ziplock bag.

I’ve used a small lumbar pack(fanny pack) for my mobile studio along with a smaller backpack to carry gear and water. I’ve also used that same small backpack with the mobile studio packed in. While it worked it was more of a pain to unpack things to start painting.

Ask yourself how much gear is required and how far will you need to carry it.

We’ve discussed in the guide, and the blog post how to tailor gear for your trip. Base it on the type and duration of activities, the terrain, the weather conditions, etc.   So pull out all the gear you think you’ll be carrying and separate it into groups such as essentials, mobile studio, etc.

Now if you already have bags to choose from, even if it’s an old-school pack or laptop bag, pull them out and see how the gear packs up.  (I’ll go more into how to pack more in the next email.) Think about how far you’ll need to carry the gear. You can even pack everything up and go for a walk around the block with it and see how it feels. 

If you can’t fit all your gear into the bag you have a couple of options. You can try to tailor more items or, if you are at the minimum gear level, look at an additional or a larger capacity bag. 

Can you easily get access to things when needed?

In the military, we carried certain items, such as personal emergency first aid gear, in certain locations to make them accessible to anyone treating your injuries.

When I packed my mobile studio into my small pack for that hike, I mentioned I had to empty everything out to get to the studio. While it was fine for that short trip on longer trips I know the more that I have to dig for something the less likely I am to use it.

I mentioned packing things into kits and that’s one of the reasons why I like to have stuff packed like that. So even if my pack is full I only have to reach in and grab one thing out to have access to what I need.  Having access to items when you need them can make a difference in what bag works best for you.

What if you don’t have a bag to carry things in?

I think most people will find something around the house that they can use to carry their supplies.  I’ll repeat this again but we want to look at function over form.  It doesn’t matter how good something looks, if we don’t get outside and use it it’s not helping us. 

Maybe you’ve got some old pencil cases lying around that you can put your mobile Studio into or maybe you could use that to pack in some first aid supplies that you might need.  Ziploc bags always come in handy and can be stacked with others. Don’t forget to ask friends and family if they’ve got an old backpack or an old bag or something that they’re not using that you could borrow or use.   

Don’t forget about reusing things that you get your groceries in whether it’s plastic or paper bags those items can be reused and they may work for carrying your stuff on short distances.  

What bag should I purchase?

If you’ve gone through all the above processes, and you’re looking now to actually purchase a separate bag specifically for day trips, I would recommend first going to a local outfitter and taking all your things with you to load up different bags and see how they feel and how things fit.  

That doesn’t mean you have to purchase it but that would give you a better idea of what capacity bag you’re looking for and those sorts of things.  I would also see if you can rent bags for a short trip or day or couple of days and get an idea of how they feel and fit. 

My first recommendation for a day pack would be to look at something between 11 to 20 Liter capacity.  Typically this is considered a half-day size, but I think starting out it will provide enough room for essentials, a mobile studio, and basic weather gear. I think most school or urban-type backpacks will fall into this category but they might not be as comfortable carrying items. 

If you’re looking for something that can handle more of a full-day tight trip, 8 hours or more, then I would start looking at moving up to about a 21 to 35-liter pack size. This will allow you to carry additional items such as extra food, water, and additional protection from the elements as you’re going to be out there exposed for longer durations and changing conditions.

Don’t forget to consider the required equipment for whatever activities you’re going to be doing and in the winter you obviously will want a larger pack to carry the additional gear required to protect yourself in that environment. 

If you’re still looking for more specifics on choosing a Daypack I can recommend Enwild and REI’s websites for more specific information. 

As you can see anything can work as a bag to carry your supplies in as long as it meets some of the needs that you have. There are many options to consider especially when deciding to make a new purchase for a backpack for your day trips.  I’ve covered what I think are some of the most important things to consider but I feel it’s more important if you can go to an outfitter with your supplies and actually pack up everything and try it on and see how it actually fits.  When possible don’t make a blind purchase or do so with an option to return it.

I’d love to hear what type of bags and packs you use to carry your supplies and equipment in I’m always looking for something new or something different I haven’t thought of or tried. 

See you on the trail,