Selecting The Right Backpack
good backpack can make or break your outdoor adventures. Before
purchasing one for use on your next expedition, here's some information
a backpacker should consider:
Fitting your Backpack
Finding your pack size
Primary use of your pack: Day trip, overnight hike, long trek
a few minutes to think about the main ways you will be using the pack.
Also, consider frequency of use. A pack you plan to use infrequently
need not be as durable as one you'll use every day. If you're going
overland on an extended hiking and camping adventure, your choice of
pack is more critical than if you're just toting books around campus.
In this article, we'll focus on high-use packs and discuss some of the
features you should look for in lightweight, quality backpacks.
Size does matter: Choose it carefully
out all the outdoor gear and supplies you're planning to carry in the
pack on a flat surface like a large table or a bed. You'll be surprised
at how much there is! Especially if you need to carry your food,
shelter and other equipment in the pack. Choose a large pack in this
case. A large pack is generally rated at 4000 cubic inches (65 litres)
or more. Planning just a short jaunt to the back-country? A
1000 (16 litres) -2000 cubic inches (33 litres) might be just right to
carry your gear, lunch, water bottle and an energy bar or two. For
campground-type camping, a medium-sized pack will work well for your
clothes and personal care items. These packs have a capacity of
2000-4000 cubic inches (33-65 litres) and will work well if you transport your tent
and food separately in a car or canoe, for example. Regardless of
size, the pack should have a waist belt and contoured, padded shoulder
straps. The waist belt allows the weight of the pack to be evenly
Frame design: Two major types
your adventure will take you away from home for more than a day, you
should choose a pack with a frame. Frames are either
external. While both types lend support to the pack, there are
Internal frame packs have the following features:
- Pack support system is internally integrated into the pack design.
is designed to transfer a substantial portion of the weight to the
hips, which are stronger for load bearing than the shoulders.
- Internal frame stays are usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber.
- Internal frame stays should be contoured to match your spine's curvature.
frame stays run from the top of the pack down to the hip belt and help
to stabilize the pack as well as distribute weight to the hips.
you choose a pack with a frame sheet, remember that frame sheets have
little effect on weight distribution. Frame sheets are heavy and
prevent a concave profile across the back. A concave profile is
necessary to give the best weight distribution. However, frame sheets
do improve back shaping compared to twin vertical stays which allow the
back panel to round out.
frames are designed to have a low profile that fits the curves of the
body. For that reason, they often claim to give the pack better
balance. However, balance depends on how close the center of gravity of
the load is to the body. Internal frames are often quite deep when
viewed from the side so that the load hangs a long way from the back.
It's not an optimal configuration for good pack balance.
External Frame Backpacks or ALICE packs have the following features:
frames are often are quite slim from the side and therefore get the
load closer to the back. External packs offer better balance unless the
load is carried much higher.
- External-framed backpacks are generally older and less complex in design than internal packs
- The support system is outside the pack. The pack attaches to the frame.
- The frame is generally made of tubular aluminum and is stiffer than an internal frame.
- External frames distribute weight and stabilize loads similar to internal frames.
members are not curved to body contours. This allows an airspace
between the pack and the body that's more comfortable in hot or humid
- Less expensive than internal frame packs. Pack Design: Features to look for
- Customizable harness sizing and shaping to allow a precision fit.
- Ease of removing and shaping frames to match back shape.
movement systems to allow free body movement, greater agility,
stability and balance.
Many backpackers prefer packs that are made of one or more of the following materials:
- Nylon pack cloth
- Ballistic nylon
- Cordura nylon
- Ripstop nylon
is the material of choice because of its durability, strength and
resistant to abrasion. Choose a pack that is treated to be
water-repellent or resistant. If your pack isn't water repellent,
consider purchasing a water-repellent cover for it. Poly/cotton swells
when wet. Nylon packs tend to leak along their seams. Look for packs
that have waterproof liners with taped seams. Seams can also be
heat-welded to make them waterproof. Look for reinforced stitching at
stress points, such as where straps are attached. Zippers should be
reinforced. Pockets and loops should be bar tacked. Webbing should also
be reinforced. In places where the pack is subject to abrasion, such as
the bottom, the pack should have an extra layer or two of
abrasion-resistant material. The back of the pack should
curve like the stays of the internal frame and should use materials
that are breathable and that wick perspiration away from the body.
Pack weight: Light or heavy weight
- Choose light weight if you are optimizing all your equipment for low weight.
heavy weight if you don't mind carrying heavy loads and heavy gear.
Also choose heavy weight if you hike in rough terrain and bush.
Pack cost: You get what you pay for
conventional wisdom is to buy the best pack you can afford. A flimsy or
uncomfortable pack can make your backpacking or hiking trip a disaster.
Like shoes or other hiking equipment, backpacks and backpacking
equipment are critical pieces of hiking gear. Consider it an
investment: this is no place to cheap out. The money spent on a top-end pack
for long treks outdoors will repay you with years of comfort and
utility. Don't underestimate its value.
Fitting Your Backpack
a proper fit is really the most important factor in selecting a pack.
It's hard to enjoy beautiful vistas if your pack is causing you pain.
The size of the pack and the suspension system are the main
considerations in fitting a pack. Finding your pack size the length of
your back, not your actual height is the most important factor in
determining the right pack size. For example a short pack can fit
taller people if they have short backs and vice versa. How to find your
back length: Your back length is represented by the distance between
the most prominent bump or vertebrae in your neck (located in line with
the top of your shoulders) and the top of your hipbone. Once you have
this measurement you can use it can be used to find your pack size
where ever you shop. Suspension System If the suspension system is well
designed most of the packs weight should transfer comfortably to your
hips and the load shouldn't cause strain on your back. Try the pack out
When first trying the pack on loosen the straps on the harness and
become familiar with how they affect the fit of the pack. Now load the
pack with 10 to 15 kg (22 to 33 pounds) and put it on. Fasten and tighten the
hip belt buckle and make sure the padding wraps right around your hip
bones. The shoulder straps should feel snug and not squeeze your neck.
The strap ends shouldn't be anymore than 10 cm (4 inches) from your armpits.
Adjust the top stabilizer straps for the most comfortable position
which should have them at about a 45-degree angle. Fasten the sternum
strap and adjust the lower stabilizing straps until they feel
comfortable. Now fine-tune the fit by walking around and playing with
the adjustments. If a pack that fits correctly it should feel like and
extension of your body. If it doesn't feel right now it certainly won't
after hours on the trail. Conclusion: Purchasing a backpack Primary
use, size, frame type, design, features, construction, materials,
weight, cost, fit and comfort are important components in your decision
to purchase a backpack. Whether you're hiking, biking
or mountaineering, your pack should enhance your outdoor experience and
enjoyment. A carefully-considered decision when buying a backpack can
go a long way toward making your outdoor adventures the best that they
Rita Liotta is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers regarding camping stoves, pocket knives, compass and topographical maps. Her many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.
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