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You can't use a bag designed for a light, 4 hour hike for an 8 hour trek. Checking the route and the length of the hikeis, therefore, an essential preliminary stage before you embark about filling the backpack.
Old saying: stuff expands to fill the space available… quickly increasing the load you're going to carry.
For a 4 hour hike, a bag with 10-15L capacity is more than sufficient (or 20L in winter so you can carry extra layers). For a day-long hike, a bag with 20-25L capacity will work well. Any bigger than this and you'll be tempted to take unnecessary items.
Don't skimp when it comes to your child's backpack;check that the back length is suitable and opt for a bag with a chest strap. If he is to enjoy the day, it's essential he feels comfortable.
For a child's backpack, you're advised not to exceed 10%-15% of his weight. Any more than this and the weight could damage his spine or cause pain.
If you load up your child like a mule, don't expect him to enjoy the experience or want to come back!
"Think "group": consider how many hikers there are (adults and children), so you can distribute the load better ; be aware that an adult can carry approximately 25% of his weight.
In terms of weight, normally water supplies and your packed lunch make up the bulk of your load; and don't overlook these two points. Make sure you give priority to "dried foods" with a high calorie content (dried fruit and cereal bars, for example) rather than "wet" foods. Remove as much unnecessary packaging as possible so you'll have a lighter load and less rubbish to bring back.
Distributing the load properly is not just a question of weight; you also need to balance your bag, so that it's comfortable to carry. You're advised to put the heaviest items against your back (usually: the water bladder, packed lunch etc.), that is to say, nearest your centre of gravity. You also need to check that all contents are securely positioned to prevent items moving when you walk.
Remember to store appetite suppressant type snacks somewhere accessible and distribute them evenly (belt pocket or bag flap are perfect for this). If you don't have a water bladder, try to ensure that the water bottle is easily accessible. Finally, leave the windproof jacket or waterproof at the very top, ready to get out at the 1st cold snap!
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