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It's a Cinch

Cinch on one of the new daypacks for a fun, hands-free adventure.

By Gibbs Milliken

Daypacks have come a long way in recent years. Hikers and schoolchildren alike can now enjoy the comfort of improvements like contoured shoulder straps and mesh pads set against the back to increase airflow. The Fusion ($119.90, Jansport, (800) 426-9227), for example, incorporates soft gel cells in the straps and molded synthetic padding at the hips for load support. It provides ample room for food, raingear, camera, binoculars, field guides — plus a CD player compartment and internal cell phone pouch for people who want all the comforts of home.

One of the best contemporary designs on the market is the Stormfront Pack ($160, Patagonia, (800) 638-6464). This daypack has a detachable waterproof bladder-pod that can be used for dry storage, extra flotation or as a soft pillow when covered with a T-shirt.

For a hands-free short trek or paddling trip around the lake, waist packs offer minimal but sufficient storage. The versatile Coleman Lumbar Pack ($39.99, Coleman, (800) 835-3278) can be converted quickly to a lightweight shoulder bag by folding the hip pads into a special pocket and attaching the shoulder sling. This excellent Coleman pack, part of the X-Ponent System, is designed to be mounted as an extra pocket on the larger Coleman packs.

Looking for multiple pockets? Fishers, hunters and photographers will find the camo Western Belt Pack ($19, B.A.G.S., (888) 224-4327), with its nine pockets and water-repellent polyester fabric, especially useful. This durable belt allows you to keep small items separate and readily accessible.

For hikers and birders, the Gemini Belt Pack ($45, Ultimate Direction, (800) 736-8551) is an ideal size and well-constructed to carry the essentials like field guides, notebooks, camera and film. Included with this model are finger-grip twin leakproof SportFlask bottles that are easily accessed from elastic-strapped insulated holders.

Need a roomy camo pack? The Fieldline Outfitter ($34.95, Academy Sports & Outdoors, 800- t/k) in soft fleece camo cloth is perfect for bulky hunting gear. It has a padded mesh back with technical shoulder, sternum, hip and compression straps, dual side-entry zippers and a molded handle to carry as a duffle. To make medium-size day packs more versatile, add internal liners in the form of clear, waterproof Sealline Dry Bags ($10-$20, 5- to 30-liter sizes, Cascade Designs, (206) 583-0583). These multifunctional bags keep delicate items dry and safe with a cushion of air.

For a retro look, some people like the original Rucksack ($211, C.C. Filson, (800) 624-0201), made of heavy cotton twill with solid brass and harness-leather fittings. Although it doesn't have the comfort advantages of the new designs, this quality product only gets better looking with age and rough use.

How can you tell if a daypack fits correctly? In general, you should wear it on the upper back, hanging just below the shoulders, with the bottom resting on the hips. The shoulder straps should be snug, but not so tight that they cut into your armpits or the front of your shoulders. Some daypacks have a sternum strap to help keep the pack from shifting off center. Always test a pack using a normal load to see if it's a proper fit for your size and physique. After all, a comfortable pack lets you take your mind off of your gear and on the great outdoors.

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