How to choose a backpack.
Choosing the right backpack is as important as choosing the right boots. Get it wrong and your journey can be very uncomfortable. So how do you choose? Not as simple as just walking into your local hiking store and picking the prettiest or coolest looking one, and I have to say some packs do look mighty cool.
There are a lot of different styles, sizes, colours and shapes, you have packs for men, packs for women and even for children, so how do you know what to get? Well just like making the decision for your boots, socks etc, you start with asking yourself a few simple questions and we go from there. What I will emphasise that you must pick the type of pack to suit your back not what someone else’s favourite is! Like our feet, our body shapes vary in sizes. Some of us have short bodies, some long, some of us can carry heavier loads, some of us can’t and so on, so shop for your body not someone else’s!
The Questions you should ask yourself
- What kind of hike are you planning? A long, a short, need to carry all your gear, or carry basic day stuff?
- Torso size? Have you a long body or short?
- Do I want top opening, or side access, or both?
- What size pack do I need? 35 litre? 60 litre? 75 litre?
- Do I want a internal frame? or external? or no frame?
- Do you want a men or women’s pack?
- Do I want lots of outside pockets?
- Do I want hip pockets?
- Do I want a suspended mesh back for airflow? or do I want one that hugs my back?
Confused yet? Don’t be its not as hard to choose as you may think.
Lets break it down more to help you decide.
- Men’s pack Usually a wider fit as well as a longer torso.
- Women’s pack A narrower fit and a shorter torso.
Don’t feel you have to get the same sex one as you are. Some men are just smaller framed than the average man as well as some women have larger frames as the average woman. Remember we all come in different sizes.
- Frame-less These are usually on smaller light weight packs. Mostly for those who are only hiking short periods of time with very little weight in their pack as well as for the die-hard lightweight hikers that like to hike with very little. Not recommended if you are carry any kind of weight as it will cause the pack to sit poorly on your back and end up giving your back grief.
- Internal Frame These are common and provide you with more stability especially when hiking rough uneven terrain. The internal frame provides the support for the shoulder straps as well as the hip belt. This helps to hold the load better within the pack. Good for long periods of time with your pack on and can handle carrying weight in them though not all have great ventilation as they hug your back, but as they develop newer styles this is definitely improving. They also provide adjustable harness which is a great feature to really help personalise the pack to your body. This means you can shorten or lengthen to fit your torso.
- External Frame These are old school and usually heavier and far more rigid. They can handle heavier loads but don’t provide flexibility to your body which can make it difficult on rough uneven terrain and can make the hiker at the end of a long walk quite stiff and sore. On a plus they do provide quite a bit of ventilation for your back which can make the hiker feel cooler.
- Pack size 10-30 litre- This is ideal day pack if you are just out hiking for the day and want to carry your lunch, water, jacket. Not ideal for heavier weight. 35-55 litre- This is ideal for smaller multi-day hikes where you don’t require to carry lots but you can easily fit in change of clothes, sleeping bag, food, water. 60+ litre- This is an ideal pack size for those longer trips when you need to carry more gear like carrying a tent, camping equipment. Not ideal for the smaller person as these can be quite large packs.
- Torso length This is important to get right. If the length is too short you will feel it in your shoulders. You do not want the shoulder straps pulling down on you, this will be quite uncomfortable and painful. If the shoulder straps are floating above your shoulders then its too long. Just like the Three Bears it needs to be just right! If the shoulder straps are just resting and you can slide your hand under it with ease then it is good. Most packs have adjustable torso lengths so it will be a matter of moving the length up and down to get right. Remember that when weight goes in your pack it will change the way it sits, so put weight in it when doing your adjusting.
- Straps You have straps coming off your packs all over and they are there for a reason. These are to be adjusted to help fit your pack properly and be prepare to adjust some while out hiking as the weight placement and terrain changes. You will find you have a chest or sternum strap, this will ensure your shoulder straps sit comfortably in the right spot. They are adjustable to go up and down as well as tighten and loosen. Then you have the shoulder straps, this can be tightened or loosen depends on your comfort. I find sometimes going up and down steep terrain I tend to adjust this a fair bit. Play with it while hiking don’t be scared to do so. If your shoulder straps are digging into the side of your neck then loosen off the chest strap. Then there is the compression straps at the back and the sides. These can be pulled tight to help keep everything in place. Most important is your Load lifter straps! You tend to find these on the bigger packs more. They are the straps above your shoulder straps. You know if they are too tight as you will find that you are having to hold your head forward so not to hit it on the top of your pack. If they are too loose you will feel your pack dragging backwards so pull them in a bit and it will lift the load.
- Pockets and compartments These are great especially for the multi-day hikes. Helps with organising of your gear, gives you options of putting your stuff in easy to get to places like the first-aide kit, snacks, sunglasses. If the pack has large side pockets this is great for placement of spare water bottles. Pockets on the hip belts are ideal for your snacks on the go or anything else you may want without having to stop and take the pack off. Having a separated compartment at the bottom of your pack is also a great idea as you can separate your clothes/sleeping bag to perhaps your spare shoes or tent. Most pack also have a large pocket inside for your hydration pack if you choose to carry one. This is great as it holds it upright and separate from everything else. Most packs will have a hole coming out of the top for the suction straw.
- Rain cover A must have! Believe it or not not all packs come with one so do check. If your pack doesn’t have one don’t fear you can buy them separately.
- Hip Belt This is an important feature to get right for your body as most the pack weight will sit on your hips. You want adequate padding and have it adjustable and most importantly to fit you. If you are a small frame person you might find some of the large packs the hip belts are too big.
How to put your pack on
- With a full weighted pack and loosen straps put the pack on your back.
- Slightly bend forward and do up the hip straps, make sure they in line with the hip bones, stand up straight and pull in the hip straps firm.
- Now tighten up the shoulder straps firmly but not too tight.
- Clip up the chest strap and make sure it is sitting comfortably, again don’t pull too tight.
- Adjust the load lifter straps to where is comfy.
Now you all know how to choose a pack and fit it correctly you should be able to enjoy your hiking adventure. Do however try different styles to find what suits your back and when trying the pack on in the shop insist on weight being put in it to help with a more realistic fitting.
Happy hiking 👣👣👣
♥ be sure to keep an eye out for future posts on How to choose sleeping gear!
I think the information here about external frame backpacks was very unfair . . .an External Frame Backpack let’s you carry your load in a more straight position, your not bent over all day, like you can be with internal frame pack . . .an external frame backpack is more stable and you have many more adjustment points then an internal frame pack, an external frame backpack is designed to carry weight better, the reason a external frame backpack is a little heavyer is because they are usually a larger backpack . . .WITH a external frame backpack I am not forced to buy and carry the very expensive ultralight gear that cost 3 x’s more then light weight gear does, but only last 3 x’s as long as light weight gear does. . . .
Hello Friar. I’m sorry you feel my post was unfair. I do realise that not everyone will agree with what I post as we are all very different people with different likes and needs. I appreciate the feedback and glad you have found the pack to suit you. 😀 Happy walking 👣👣👣