Choosing the Right Backpack

Buying a backpack should not be a fashion choice. Choosing the right backpack is based on a trade off of many different factors none of which has anything to do with fashion. Do not pay too much attention to the color or general coolness of the backpacks you are choosing from. The ‘coolness’ factor will drop significantly if you have an uncomfortable pack on your back. For more information about backpacks view our articles on types, fit and construction.

You should consider the following topics before buying a new backpack:

The Perfect Pack: There is no such thing as the perfect backpack for all activities. If you are serious about hiking and do many types of different hikes you will probably end up buying more than one backpack. If you are into other outdoor activities, you will probably have a specialized pack targeted to each of those specific activities and trip durations.

Volume: You will first have to determine what volume you need to be able to bring the things you will need for your hike. Overloading a small backpack by connecting equipment at the outside of the pack is a bad solution because it disturbs the center of mass. You should determine your needed volume for internal storage inside the backpack.

Load Distribution: The general rule is that the heavier the load you will have to carry the more technical features your backpack should have. For heavier loads you will definitely need a hip belt and the combined workings and adjustability of a shoulder harness, sternum strapand the stabilizer straps.

Specialized Gear: If you plan to carry specialized equipment like snowshoes, ice axes, crampons, climbing ropes or other equipment, you should look for activity specific backpacks with special pockets, straps and cords designed for those activities. There are even special backpacks that are designed to carry a snowboard, skis or other big gear.

Hydration System: If you are going to be using a hydration system you buy a backpack that is designed to carry the bladder. You should keep in mind that drinking tubes and bladders can freeze up in extreme cold conditions.

Waterproof: It is best to prepare for the worst possible weather and moist conditions. If you are planning on going canyoning you will want a waterproof backpack. Look for a backpack that comes with a splash cover or that has a separate fitting splash cover.

Fit: Making sure that the pack you buy actually fits you is extremely important. Most backpacks have adjustable hip belts, shoulder harnesses and stabilizer straps but even then the basic shape of the hip belt and shoulder harness may not be compatible with your body. Women might want to look for backpacks that were developed for the female body.

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