Sling Bag or Backpack: What Is Better for Hiking?

One of the most important factors for a successful hiking adventure is having everything you need within reach. Another equally important thing is being as comfortable as possible so you can focus your attention on enjoying your hike. Now, what if you could combine these two factors in one reliable hiking bag? Well, you could just sling a bag or wear a backpack and set off for the outdoors, right?

Sling bag or backpack: What is better for hiking?

It is better to use a backpack when going hiking, than a sling bag. A backpack has enough room to hold most hiking essentials and is easier and more comfortable to carry around since it is worn on both shoulders. A sling bag has reduced capacity and can easily get uncomfortable since it is carried on only one shoulder.

Do you know the difference between a sling bag and a backpack? I have given a thorough description of each in this article. Additionally, I have outlined the important factors that go into choosing the right hiking bag to help you understand why a backpack is better for hiking, compared to a sling bag. As you will also find out, getting the right backpack is not enough if you don’t use it properly. Find out more about this later in the article.

What Is the Difference Between a Backpack and a Sling Bag?

When you have to choose either a sling bag or a backpack for hiking, it is important to have a better understanding of what each option presents. Before we go into that, do you know what’s the difference is between the two? I have given a detailed description of each, including the pros and cons


Fjallraven Abisko backpack

A backpack is a bag carried on the back with straps that go over your shoulders. In its simplest form, a backpack resembles a school bag. However, to accommodate more stuff and distribute the weight of the luggage, most backpacks also come with extra features such as padded belts that wrap around the front of your waist or even better, the front of your hip bones. This feature helps to concentrate most of the weight on your lower body. 

Still, others come with chest belts that connect the shoulder straps on your chest. The chest straps, also referred to as sternum straps, help to keep the shoulder straps in place and also reduce the strain on your shoulders. More details on the extra features later. 

Backpacks are available in various sizes and with the right size, it is usually sufficient for a day, a weekend, or even a multi-day hike depending on the necessities that you need to bring along.


  • Enough capacity to carry all your hiking essentials
  • Can carry various sizes of items  
  • Comfortable to carry around
  • Distributes weight from your shoulders to the hips for proper posture
  • Great for carrying Fragile items
  • They come with more compartments for better organization


  • You have to remove it from your back to access most stuff, compared to the sling bag.
  • Your back will become sweaty when hiking.

Sling Bag

Sling bag
Photo by GEEK KAZU

A sling bag is a bag with one strap that is worn over one shoulder and across the body. A sling bag is designed to carry less weight. If it becomes too heavy, it will strain your shoulder and cause back pain. Again, they usually carry smaller items than a backpack due to their mostly triangular or slimmer shape.

Because of their design, sling bags come in many varieties and sizes compared to backpacks. This makes them look sleek and more stylish than backpacks. Some have detachable straps that enable you to switch from one shoulder to the other.

Ideally, a sling bag falls somewhere between a backpack and a shoulder bag. How so? It provides an easier and faster reach of your bag’s contents than a backpack and provides better distribution of weight than a shoulder bag.


  • You can wear it on the back or in front 
  • Provides better security and easier access to contents
  • With a detachable strap, you can switch from one shoulder to another
  • It is lightweight
  • Well suited for carrying minimal essentials 


  • Poor distribution of weight causes a strain on your shoulder and back
  • Not meant to carry heavy Loads
  • Shape and design limits the carrying of certain items

What to Look for in a Hiking Bag

When you are out on a hiking adventure, your success is based on many factors. Key among them is staying comfortable while keeping everything you need handy. This is where you need the right hiking bag. Before choosing either a sling bag or backpack for hiking, let’s have a look at what makes a great hiking bag.

Size and Capacity

Both size and capacity are all about how much your bag can hold. The capacity is given in liters. Generally, size and capacity work together and they may depend on factors such as how long you will be out hiking and the climate or season of your hiking destination. 

Hiking for a day may require a 15-30 liters bag while 2 or more days may require up to 50 liters capacity. With more days of hiking, you need more supplies, more changes of clothing, and probably more gear, hence a bigger bag. 

When it comes to climate or season, mountainous areas are known to experience sudden weather changes. A good example is hiking the Annapurna in Nepal where you need to be prepared for all weather conditions. This, of course, calls for more luggage and a bigger bag. On the other hand, you can pack light for hiking in the plains during summer, hence require a smaller bag.


Durability is the ability to last long. Given that you will spend most of your hiking time outdoors, you need a bag that will withstand harsh weather without taking a hit. Materials like canvas, leather, or heavy cotton are known to be hardwearing.

On the other hand, nylon and PVC are waterproof, which makes them great at resisting water damage. The durability of a bag also comes to play in areas such as zippers, pulls, and clips.


Hiking is a taxing activity and the last thing you need is a bag putting unnecessary strain on you. While the weight of a bag is a great determinant of your comfort, the design of a bag is also a key factor. Drawing you back to a sling bag vs backpack for hiking, a sling bag does not evenly distribute the weight of your bag the way a backpack does.

Of the two types, therefore, you will experience more comfort with a backpack than with a sling bag if you were to carry the same weight. Also, certain additions can make one bag more comfortable to carry than another. More of that below:

Important Features

Any individual bag may come with unique features that can help with its comfort, functionality, and even place it above other bags of the same kind.

I have gathered features that are very helpful in hiking and outlined them below:

Some bags come with a mesh attached to the bag’s internal frame. The mesh is breathable and suspends a few inches from your back to reduce sweaty backs.

What are some of the things that you need to keep close during your hike? Pockets make this possible without necessarily unloading your bag from your back. The feature is especially helpful with backpacks since you can easily move a sling bag to access its contents. 

These pockets may include side pockets, hip belt pockets, and front pockets. They can be used to hold stuff like water bottles, snacks, bear sprays, a map, and other small objects.

Attachment points
If you want to keep your hands free when hiking, then you better look for a bag where you can attach a few more items such as a helmet, tools, and crampons.

Even if your hiking bag is waterproof, water can seep through zippers and get inside your bag. Besides this, your bag soaking in water is extra weight that you don’t want to be hauling. With a rain cover already attached, all you need is to pull it over your bag in case of rainfall.

Compression Straps
Just in case you need to reduce the volume of your bag, and especially if it is not full, you can pull the compression straps. This helps to keep your bag stable.

Sleeping Bag Compartment
Does your hike include camping? With a sleeping bag compartment usually located near the bottom of your bag, you don’t need to carry extra luggage for it.

Padded Hipbelt and Shoulder Straps
As I mentioned earlier the hip belt eases the weight of your bag from the shoulders and the back and distributes it to the lower body. When it’s padded, it keeps the load from pushing on your hips uncomfortably. Notably, the feature is mostly available in backpacks; you will not see this in sling bags.

Shoulder straps also ease the pressure on your shoulders and your back while keeping the shoulder straps in place. Both the hip belt and the shoulder straps should be adjustable to suit people of different sizes perfectly.

Load Lifters
these are straps that connect the shoulder straps to the pack. They prevent the pack from swaying away from your back. 

This is placed on top of the pack to cover everything in. Sometimes, the lid has a pocket, adding more room to place things.

Lockable Zippers
They come in twos so that you can lock them together to keep your things secure.

A Sling Bag vs Backpack: What Is Better for Hiking?

As stated earlier, your hiking needs are better met with a backpack. But as you can see from the pros and cons of a sling bag vs backpack, each bag comes with its advantages. So, what makes a backpack better for hiking than a sling bag? 

  • Whether you are hiking for a day or more, you will need to pack necessities such as food, weather-appropriate clothing, hiking boots, first aid kit, sleeping bag, and water among others. You can put all these in a backpack, not in a sling bag.
  • Hiking requires you to walk for hours depending on the length of your hike. Since you carry a backpack on two shoulders, it doesn’t come with limitations on your comfort as long as you carry the right weight.
  • A backpack comes with added features for more comfort. You will not find features such as hip belts, shoulder straps, lid, and load lifter straps on a sling bag.
  • The shape and design of a sling bag don’t allow you to carry larger items. With a backpack, you can use different compartments to carry a variety of items of different sizes, such as a laptop.
  • Despite carrying all your hiking stuff in one load, you will still have your hands free to do other things.

On the other hand, we can’t rule out the use of a sling bag for hiking. Here are instances when a sling bag is just perfect:

  • When going for a short day hike.
  • When you want a lighter bag to carry in addition to a bigger bag, say a duffle bag.
  • When you want to keep some items within reach in a small sling bag, in addition to your backpack.

How to Use Your Backpack Properly for Hiking

Getting the right backpack for hiking is not enough if you don’t use it the right way. Regardless of the fact that a backpack is the best bag for hiking, using it the wrong way can lead to a very uncomfortable adventure or even cause a number of health problems. These may include:

  • Shoulder, back, and neck pain
  • Bad posture
  • Tingling and numbness in certain parts of your body especially the arms
  • Instability that can lead to falls
  • Sore or chaffed skin

So, how do you use your backpack in a way that keeps it functional while ensuring that you remain stable and comfortable throughout your hike? 

Please note that I had to learn some of these the hard way. Don’t make the same mistakes I did!

I have put together some handy tips that have worked for me over the years during my adventures:

Carry the Right Weight of a Backpack

Carrying too much weight is one of the biggest hiking mistakes you can make. To hike comfortably, it is recommended that you carry at most 10% of your body weight during a day hike. 

For an overnight or several days’  backpacking, you should try to carry 20% or less of your body weight- If you weigh 140 pounds, that makes 14 pounds for a day hike or 28 pounds for a multi-day hike. 

Additionally, it is advisable to carry the same amount of weight when training, especially if you are preparing to hike for several days. If you are not used to carrying lots of weight, start with a few pounds then adjust gradually. 

The practice should also involve putting on your backpack and adjusting it to fit you the best way possible.

Don’t Sling your Backpack

Do you ever get tempted to carry your backpack on one shoulder? Well, you might get away with a lighter backpack but with a heavier weight, you will be straining your back, neck, and shoulders. Additionally, you will affect your posture and walk off-balance, thus increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Don’t Wear Loose Straps

When the straps of your backpack are loose, your bag will rest on your lower back putting a strain on your shoulders. Additionally, loose straps make your bag sway, hence affecting your balance. 

The straps may also rub on your shoulders to make them sore. With this in mind, make sure you readjust the straps when you layer on or layer off clothing

Use the Hip Belts and the Chest Straps Always

I already explained earlier how important these two are and I’ll only emphasize that they keep you stable and comfortable. Also, ensure that they are adjustable for you to loosen or tighten if the backpack becomes uncomfortable.

Buy the Right Fit of Backpack

Backpacks are not one-size-fits-all. For utmost comfort, you should go for a bag that fits on your back without extending to the sides – this is referred to as the backpack width.

Additionally, it shouldn’t be too long either to avoid straining your lower back. To solve this, look for backpacks with different torso lengths and get the right one for you. Alternatively, you can get adjustable backpacks and if you are a woman, get one designed with a shorter torso specifically for women and children.

Final Words

A sling bag is sleeker, lightweight, and easier to access contents. On the other hand, a backpack comes with more space for your hiking stuff and even better comfort. When it comes down to the better option for hiking, your needs are better served by a backpack.

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