In Search of the Perfect Hiking Pack

From Kilimanjaro to the Rockies, this Vail Valley-Based Adventure Writer Swears the Deuter 28 SL is the Ultimate Day Hiking Backpack

I’ve traveled around the world and checked off many bucket list items, but watching the sun rise from the top of Mt Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet is a moment that will forever stand out in my memory.

Booked on a whim with a couple girlfriends, I had a plane ticket two days after I had an invite for Africa. To prepare for the trek, I was in search of a new day hiking backpack. There is a lot to consider when investing in a backpack, including figuring out the right size, fit and features for your needs. After hours of research and trying on numerous backpacks, I chose the Deuter Trail 28 SL because of the women’s specific fit and well thought out features.

The SL Collection is Deuter’s Slim Line pack designed with a female’s frame in mind. Cut with a shorter torso and slim cut adjustable shoulder straps, the Trail 28 SL closely cradles my slender 5’6” physique, which allows for even weight distribution and comfort while carrying heavy loads. With internal stretch pockets and external compression straps, I choose a slightly larger daypack at 28 liters, knowing the pack would adjust for any size adventure. I was about to embark on a trip of a lifetime.

Starting our trek at the Machame Gate at 5,380 feet, there was a steady stream of people and porters making their way up the trail. The first few miles were humid as we walked through a lush, wet rainforest, the air thick with mist that hung low in the jungle. We were hot, our packs were heavy, but our spirits were high as we settled into the steps in front of us. Luckily, my Deuter Trail 28L had a moisture-wicking mesh cushion that ran along the shoulder straps and down the back, allowing me to bring the weight of the pack snug against my body while maintaining breathability in the sweltering environment.

Each morning of the trek, I was woken with hot coffee that I sipped while still snuggled in my sleeping bag. Then I would pack up my bag, load my daypack and eat a hot breakfast before we set out for the day to the next camp.

Inside my pack I carried rain gear, insulating layers, a beanie, gloves and a camera. A large side zipper pocket was perfect for stashing snacks and chocolate, while another pocket on the top flap stored sunscreen, chapstick and a small first aid kit. My passport and cash were safely tucked in a secret pocket under the flap. For water, I carried a 3L hydration system and tucked a large water bottle with electrolytes in an outside stretch pocket. Finally, hiking poles were secured on the side, as they were used mostly for the downhill portion.


Our surroundings changed drastically as we climbed through five ecosystems. On the second day, the rainforest thinned out and the trees became shorter until low brush dominated the high desert landscape. Farther up we climbed and the bushes disappeared, replaced by giant boulder fields above the cloud line. Massive snow-covered peaks loomed above us as we traversed across the mountain.

Pole pole” (po-lay po-lay) the guides told us, which translates to “slowly slowly” so that we conserve our energy as we walk. I pulled the waist straps of the backpack tighter around my hips to transfer the weight load off my shoulders and back. Deuter’s SL collection features waist straps that are anatomically designed to hug a woman’s slightly wider hips, and the heavy pack becomes more comfortable to carry as we scramble up the rocks.

To adjust for the high altitude, we climb and descend a few thousand feet in elevation every day, so both the environment and the temperatures vary wildly. After climbing 3,000 feet in the morning of our third day, we reached the Lava Tower at over 15,000 feet. We take a break at the large, black volcanic rock formations that jut into the sky to enjoy the view above the clouds. On our descent to camp that afternoon, weather rolled in and I quickly accessed my rain gear buried at the bottom via a two-way zipper that runs the full length of the pack and pulled out the integrated rain fly.

It was a beautiful journey, until the summit day. Starting at midnight, we climbed over 4,000 feet through the night in sub-zero temperatures. Dragging our tired and sleep deprived bodies up endless switchbacks, all I could see was the narrow beam of light from my headlamp in front of me. As the three of us passed through the ice fields close to the summit, an orange glow streaked across the dark sky near the horizon. Slowly, the sky lit up as the sun rose through the clouds and we crested the top of Kilimanjaro. A sense of relief and accomplishment washed over me. It was magical and awe-inspiring looking down at the world from the top of Africa.


But the journey wasn’t over – it was a long 10,000-foot descent from the summit to our next camp that same day. We were exhausted and collapsed in our tents by the time we arrived in the afternoon. On the final day of our trek we had another 5,000 feet to descend, which was slowed by the thick, ankle deep mud in the wet rainforest climate. When we finally reached the end of the trail, a local Kilimanjaro lager had never tasted so refreshing or well earned.

Since climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I’ve worn through hiking shoes, ripped jackets and replaced fleeces, but I’ve always reached for the same Deuter backpack. My pack has traveled with me to numerous states, countries and continents and logged thousands of miles on the trail. While I am a loyal fan of the Trail 28 SL, Deuter is always looking to perfect their products. The newer generation of backpacks are made with more sustainable materials, have updated design features and have a thicker, more porous mesh cushion along the back and shoulders, allowing for increased comfort and ventilation.

For a day hiking backpack, the Deuter Trail 28 SL has been the perfect companion for all my adventures. The only question is, where will the trail lead us next?