A good backpack is an indie traveller’s best friend. But not all packs are made equal, and choosing the right one isn't always easy. So how do you choose? Here’s a few pointers to bear in mind when choosing a backpack for your next adventure.
Gearing up: Choosing
Backpacks are a great way to move your travel gear around, keeping everything close to hand and leaving hands free to do something more useful things than pull on a suitcase. If a good backpack can give a lifetime of pleasure, a bad one can give you sore shoulders, blisters and back-pain. So how do you choose a good one? Here’s a few suggestions on things to consider when choosing.
A right old collection of backpacks and rucksacks for a family adventure
What’s it for?
There are dozens of different models of backpack available, from budget general purpose to technical models designed for very specific uses. The first step in choosing the best model for you is to define what you want to use it for. Are you after a general purpose travel pack that you mostly use to throw on trains, planes and buses to get stuff from A to B? Are you heading out for a month on the trail carrying your pack on your back for 12 hours a day? Or are you looking for a mountaineer’s pack that is happy carrying an ice axe, crampons and rope? Is a fair weather pack good enough or do you really need something that can cope with rain, sand and keep out jungle crawlies. Your pack needs to be fit for purpose, so be clear about that up front and choosing will be a whole lot easier.
Fit and comfort
If you’re going be spending time with your pack on your back, you want something that fits you well, is easy to adjust and feels comfortable to wear. Day sacks, without hip supports, are only suited to short journeys with light loads. While a rucksack sits on your shoulders, the main weight should be supported on your hips through a well fitted, appropriately padded and adjustable hip strap.
Not all rucksacks are fully adjustable so if comfort matters to you, look for a model with fully adjustable back system, shoulder, chest and hip straps. Not all models fit all body shapes and some manufacturers offer gender specific packs to help you get a pack that really fits you. A properly fitted and adjusted rucksack will feel comfy on your back and will reduce strain and tiredness on long trips. When choosing, load the pack up, try it on and see if you can adjust it for a comfortable fit.
A multipurpose travel
rucksack for family backpacking
Size, weight and volume
The weight and volume of gear you plan to carry will dictate the size and volume of pack you need. You need to be sure all your gear fits in but don’t want something too large you’ll be tempted to pop in those extra bits you really don’t need! If you’re a self supported expeditionary type you’ll be wanting to go large (maybe 80 litres +), while lightweight adventure racers will want something small and super-light (up to 30 litres). The weight of the pack itself may also be a consideration for some. Strong lightweight poles and materials tend to be more expensive which can push up the price of the pack, but on long expeditions you may be grateful you paid a few more pounds to lug a few less pounds around.
If you’re expeditioning it’s easy to underestimate the space things like stoves, food, tents, roll mats and sleeping bags will take so do check everything fits before you buy. And do think about whether a compartmentalised sack will help you get and keep your pack better organised on the trail.
Compartments, compression, straps & hydration
There are many different approaches to compartments, compression and strapping. Compartments help you organise your kit. Compression helps reduce pack volume by squeezing squishy items down into a smaller volume space or compressing unused pack space. Straps free up space inside by letting you to attach stuff like sleeping bags, roll mats, axes, crampons, ropes, krabs, mugs on the outside of your pack. Some packs also have hydration systems built in, allowing you to carry and drink water on the go using bladders and hoses, often bought separately.
Some backpacks are designed as a single giant pocket you can stuff everything into, while others have myriad internal and external zipped pockets, lids and side compartments to help you organise. Some backpacks come with removable compartments while some travel packs have detachable day sacks giving greater flexibility for packing and for reconfiguring for different uses. Your chosen pack needs to fit your preferred way of organising (or not organising) your kit. Not everyone wants compartments though and you can always organise stuff within a sack using bags.
If these things matter to you, look for models with compartments, compression, straps and hydration features built in.
A rucksack for multiday hiking and expeditions
Durability and weatherproofing
Lastly you want a pack that’s fit for the weather and conditions you are likely to encounter, so consider construction, durability and weatherproofing needs. Some packs are made from waterproof materials so you don’t need to worry at all, others have pull-out rain covers (which may or may not work), while some models seem to assume you will stay at home if it rains. Remember though even in the simplest, leakiest backpack you can still protect your gear using lining bags or by buying a separate rain cover. Likewise with durability, if you know your sack is going to be hauled up mountains, sat on, thrown on buses, trains, and planes, then look for durable rip stop materials and strong stitching in the pack and one the straps and webbing.
Five of the Best
So with all that in mind, here’s some suggestions of great backpacks for travelling.
Go cool and comfortable
The Lowe Alpine TFX Cerro Torre is a typically well designed trekking/expedition backpack well suited for carrying large loads (65-95 litre models) in extreme conditions, with lash points for securing items outside the pack too. It has a padded and adjustable ‘adaptive’ hip belt for personalised comfort and support and a cunning ventilation system that increases airflow and comfort. It’s also hydration system compatible enabling you to grab a drink on the go and so walk for extended periods.
For female travellers, the Berghaus Women’s Bioflex rucksack is worth a look. It has a women-specific harness for comfort and the standard 60 litre capacity can expand by a further 15 litres giving load flexibility. It uses super lightweight aluminium poles to keep weight down while allowing the pack to flex, twist and pivot with movements of the wearer. And it’s got a range of zipped internal, external and expansion pockets giving plenty of packing and organisation options.
For a medium sized (50 litre+) pack, The North Face Alteo is noteworthy and has been designed for extra durability, so if you plan to throw it in and out of extreme conditions, like sub-zero weather, it may be the pack for you. It has a smart body zip which makes interior access easy, lots of pockets to help organisation and a well ventilated back panel system for all day use. The pack’s fabric is rip-stop nylon, making it a pack you can trust in the mountains and with the toughest of baggage handlers.
If you are travelling on a budget, then looking for an all-round product that does not break the bank can be a headache. Vango’s Sherpa is a unisex pack that doesn’t compromise on capacity, at 65 litres. It has an ergonomically designed padded hip belt and air mesh contact points for comfort. Like many more expensive rucksacks the Sherpa is compatible with a hydration system, comes with easy access pockets and a rain cover.
Go entry level
Another quality product worth trying on at the entry level end of the market is the Karrimor Bobcat (65 litre) rucksack. It has a large main compartment, lid, base and side pockets with side compression straps and chest and base load straps to help ensure even weight distribution. It has attachment points for an ice axe or walking poles and a is hydration system compatible making it a flexible pack for multi purpose use from day trips to multi day walks to winter hikes.
You can find all these rucksacks and more at Blacks.co.uk.
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you thanks to support from Blacks. The views and ideas and opinions expressed are however, as always, our own.