Backpack Buying Guide
Backpacking, trekking, multi-day hiking, the name may change but your gear will be a constant throughout. A key item on your kit list should be your rucksack or backpack, choose the right one and you'll experience comfort and reliability day after day; choose the wrong one and it can make your life difficult.
When choosing a pack there are a few main things to consider:
- How long are you going for – are you making the most of a bank holiday weekend or heading out on a two month trek? The amount of time you'll be spending away will greatly affect how much you need to carry and the space required to fit everything in.
- Where and when are you going – along with trip duration, when and where you are heading will change what you need to carry. A week's winter mountaineering in Scotland is going to require a lot more layers and equipment than a week's summer trekking in Spain.
- Personal preferences – are you a minimalist who loves to travel super light or do you favour comfort? Depending on your hiking preferences not only will your kit list change but also the type of backpack you'll need.
Once you've settled on your main requirements then it's time to get picky. Rucksacks come with a multitude of features, back systems and materials, knowing what you like (and don't) will help narrow the range considerably. Understanding the basic structure of a pack is also useful, answering the inevitable ‘where will I put my sleeping bag?' and ‘what do I do with my walking pole?' questions that come when you start packing.
- Load lifters - These adjustment straps may look small but used properly they'll make quite a difference to the comfort of your pack. They connect the shoulder straps to the top of the pack frame and can be used to change the angle and distance of the pack in relation to your body. This helps prevent a heavy pack from pulling away from you and keeps the load/weight of your pack centred on your hips.
- Back panel – Usually contoured and padded for your comfort, back panels come in a range of designs. Most are adjustable and some are sized so you can achieve that perfect fit. Foam channels provide cushioning and can improve breathability although for warm weather walking look out for the suspended mesh systems which offer high levels of ventilation.
- Hip belt – Choose a backpack with a hip belt that fits correctly and you're well on your way to a great hiking experience. Usually the bigger the pack the beefier the padding, offering maximum support and comfort when carrying heavy loads. The padding should come round over the hip bones to ensure the pack's weight is distributed evenly; the best thing is to try a couple of packs on and see what feels most comfortable for you.
- Shoulder straps – As with hip belts, the thickness and type of padding used on the shoulder straps will often change with the size of the pack. Thick padded straps provide comfort and support; thinner padded straps offer better flexibility and mesh straps with cut-out padding are great for ventilation.
- Sternum/chest strap – The sternum strap is attached to the shoulder straps and when done up sits across the chest. Ideally both the position and the length of the strap will be adjustable. Use to improve the stability of the pack and help the keep shoulder straps stable (and stop them slipping).
- Lid – The lid will often incorporate a pocket (or more) for easy access storage at the top of your pack. In some cases the lid can also be removed, for weight saving or even to use as a small hip pack.
- Zipped front panel access – A feature becoming more popular on backpacking packs, the front panel can be unzipped for easy access to the main compartment.
- Front stash pocket – Great in changeable weather, use this to stash your jacket, guide book, camera and more.
- Sleeping bag compartment – Two compartments make organisation of big packs a lot easier. Commonly used to store a sleeping bag, the base compartment is often separated from the main pack by an internal divider; this can easily be undone to create one full section instead.
- Roll mat/accessory straps – Often used to secure a foam roll mat to the outside of the pack, these can also be used as general lash points.
- Hip belt pockets – These quick-access pockets are great for snacks, energy gels, phone, wallet, gloves and other small essentials.
- Stretch side pockets – Side pockets are most commonly used to store water bottles and are often made from a stretch material for an accessible yet secure fit.
- Compression straps – Use the compression straps to reduce the volume of your pack. They're particularly useful if your pack isn't full as they'll help keep the load stable.
- Walking pole/ice axe loops – Use these loops for your walking poles or ice axes.
How to Fit a Rucksack
A correctly fitted pack is arguably the most important aspect of the decision making process. Get the right fit and you'll have a pack that is comfortable, supportive and stable, get it wrong and shoulder, hip and back pain may ensue.
The most reliable way of finding a pack that's suited to you is by visiting our friendly staff in store. With regular brand and in-store training our staff have exceptional product knowledge and will provide a personalised pack fitting service that's second to none. Using brand specific measuring tools they'll take an accurate measurement of your torso length to find your perfect pack size and can supply weight bags to ensure a realistic carrying experience of the packs you're testing.
Whether in store or at home, one of the key things to consider when fitting your pack is torso length. A common mistake people make is choosing a pack that's too long or too short based on their height. Just because you're a certain height doesn't mean that your torso length reflects that. Most packs are either adjustable or sized (or both), so the first step to knowing what size to choose is by measuring your back length.
See our backpack fitting guide for a more detailed guide on how to adjust straps to get the perfect fit.
How to measure your back length
Things you'll need: a friend and a flexible tape measure
Gender specific fits
We stock men's and women's specific packs alongside unisex models. The women's packs aren't just a case of pretty colours. Women typically have narrower necks, different shoulder to hip ratios and shorter back lengths than men. Our range of women's specific packs caters to these needs with fine-tuned harnesses and hip belts providing anatomically correct fits.
Once you've found your perfect pack...
...Here are a few last things to consider:
- Waterproofness - Fully waterproof packs, especially large capacity backpacks are a rarity, that's because they require lots of stitching and have a hole in the top (so you can fill it!). Instead they're constructed from tough and durable fabrics which offer some water resistance but can also be coated with a Durable Water Repellent treatment to increase wet weather protection. It's also worth considering using a pack liner or dry bags; not only do they protect from moisture they also make organising gear a lot easier.
- Security – If you're backpacking abroad and likely to be travelling through a lot of cities, airports and stations it could be worth looking at security. Companies like Pacsafe produce a range of security products designed with travelling in mind, including slash proof mesh nets that cover the bag completely to protect your contents inside.
- Homeward bound – when it's time to return home, items like Osprey's Airporter make flying easier. No more worry about straps getting caught or items falling out, just put your backpack inside the duffle-like Airporter for safe and secure transport home.
Take A Look At Our Other Buying Guides
Feet are the foundations of your entire body, and any misalignment can disturb the complex superstructure above. This can cause foot, knee, hip or neck pain that hampers your outdoor lifestyle.