Gearing Up for the Outdoors: How to Choose the Right Backpack

There’s a magic to the outdoors that’s infectious. Try it out once, and you’re usually hooked for life. Chances are, even if you’ve had a mildly miserable first experience, friends persuade you to get out one more time. This time round you have a fantastic trip, and you’re a lifer.

The more time you spend outdoors, the more important it is that you’re kitted out just right – your shoes, outdoor clothing, equipment – and that critical piece of gear in which you carry all this stuff on your person – your backpack. Making the effort to find the backpack that’s just right for you is worth it – especially since it’s going to be your constant companion through the thick and thin of your outdoor adventures.

Actually, if you are likely to spend a fair amount of your time hiking, trekking or camping, you will need not one, but three packs. Typically, these would be: one, a daypack for day hikes and outings; two, a medium pack for overnight or slightly longer camping holidays; three, an expedition pack for longer trips.

What to Look for in a Daypack

When shopping for a daypack, look for a pack that’s lightweight, easy to carry and a comfortable size, just big enough to hold the things you are likely to need on a day hike – camera, binoculars, bird book, high-energy snacks, medicines, change of clothing, spare socks, shoelaces and other small things. Check for internal and external pockets that are easily accessible.

Waterproof material is best, but water resistant is also acceptable as this is only a daypack, and not likely to require heavy-duty protection from rain.

Make it a point to also study the construction of the pack – the old fashioned top opening pack is much easier to handle when you need to access things on the move, though the zippered three sided flap looks extremely natty.

How to Choose a Medium Pack for Short Outdoor Trips

Ideal for short trips would be a mid-sized pack with a padded back. Look for a pack without frames; those are for heavier loads and extended trips. Make sure that the pack is right for your torso length and shoulder curvature – and that it sits on your back comfortably. Also look for abdominal straps that will seat the backpack properly, distribute weight and prevent slipping; straps should be broad and well-padded, It is important to get your pack fit just right, otherwise you run the risk of being extremely uncomfortable throughout your trek. Check that the material is lightweight, waterproof and tear-resistant.

Other things to look for would be well-organised pockets and external clamping rings that will let you lash things like shoes, sleeping bag, a wet towel or other odds and ends.

Make sure you also get a pack cover for your backpack. In addition to providing protection against rain on a trek, it makes storage easy when the pack is not in use.

How to Select an Expedition Pack for Long Trips

The single most important point to remember when you’re selecting an expedition backpack is the fit. There is absolutely no room for compromise here. If the fit is not hundred percent right, don’t buy it. Your expedition pack is going to be practically an extension of your body for days together over tough terrain, and the repercussions of an ill-fitting backpack are just not worth it.

Look for a pack with a frame. While an internal frame pack would be a good choice if you intend hiking through thick vegetation and close cover, many seasoned outdoor persons find external frame packs more comfortable, more durable and better suited for heavier loads and long hauls.

A double compartment pack with a top opening would be a good option, giving you the advantage of using the bottom compartment for your sleeping bag, shoes and other such things. Check that the material is waterproof, and make sure that there are enough pockets to suit your needs. Zippered packs are popular, but if you want to take no chances on a zip giving up on you in the middle of nowhere, pick a top open model.

Make sure you get a pack cover.

Measurements for Backpack Fitting
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Getting the measurements right is the first step to getting a backpack that fits you just right. The two important measurements to keep in mind are your torso length – from the seventh vertebra (the bony protrusion where your neck ends and your back begins) down your spine to a point in line with the iliac crest (the top of your hip bone). This is your torso length.

The second measurement is your hip-belt length – your round-the-torso measurement taken from the centre of your hip bone, half an inch below the top of your hips.

With your torso measurement and your hip-belt length, you should be able to determine which backpack size is just right for you, keeping in mind also the fitting of the shoulder and abdominal straps.

Geared to Go

Buying a backpack is personal, like selecting clothes or shoes, and rightly so, given it’s importance in the outdoor scheme of things. So go ahead, get choosy, and get geared to go!