How to Choose a Backpack

Technically, there are two styles of backpacks to choose from for use on several-day backpack trips: external frame and internal frame. There are also the smaller size “daypacksˇ± that have no frame and only moderate structural support, and are typically used for day trips, bicycling, or student’s bookbags. These frameless style packs are generally not used for extended trips into the wilderness at least, not by adults. Young children can use these packs to carry their personal gear until they are big and strong enough to carry the heavier load of a frame pack.

“Before going shopping, develop some idea about the pack you want.”

Also, keep in mind that some modifications are possible, in case you find a pack that is “close, but not perfect,” and needs just a few minor changes.

backpack How to Choose a Backpack

I once found a good price on a backpack that was close to what I wanted, except for its top-load style. It was a long pack, and when it was full, it was difficult to reach the gear at the bottom when I was reaching in from the top.

Solution: I took it to a local outdoor equipment seamstress and had her install zippers along the side seams. It cost around $25 for the modification, but it made using the pack much more convenient.

Before you decide to run out and buy a new backpack, remember, they are expensiveˇŞanywhere from $125 to over $300, depending on manufacturer, design, capacity, features, etc. So before you buy something new, look through the “For Sale” notices in the newspaper or posted in your favorite store, visit a few backpacker’s swapmeets, and talk to your friends who are selling their old gear or may be willing to let you borrow their pack. Also ask a few stores when they plan to hold a sale or sell their rental equipment.

If you buy a used pack, be sure to inspect all the zippers, seams, and frames for excessive wear and tear. Most pack manufacturers supply retailers with spare parts for minor repairs, so problems with hardware can be handled quickly and inexpensively. Large tears in the packcloth, bent or broken frames and other major problems should be avoided.

If you choose to go with a new pack, shop around for the best deal, or wait for an “End of Season Sale.” If the pack is being phased out, or the manufacturer has designed a new model or changed the color, you may be able to get a better price.

Backpacks now come in sizes and shapes with women and children specifically in mind. Are you looking for a backpack for a fast-growing teen-ager? Choose one that can be expanded to grow along with her or him, via an adjustable/expandable frame, and external attachment features for additional pockets and compartments that add capacity. If you’re looking for a child’s or adult’s first trip, and not sure if they will want to do more in the future, consider renting or borrowing a backpack. Use this opportunity to try a variety of designs, styles and sizes for the first few trips to see what they prefer.

When deciding which design is best for you, once again make a mental outline of the logistics of your planned trips. Before going shopping, develop some idea about the pack you want. It is easy to get distracted by the latest designs, bright colors, and newest technology on display in the outdoor stores. Look through backpacking magazines and talk to your friends about the packs they use. Determine what capacity pack you will most often need and what features you want to include. (If you have access to the Internet, check out the discussion group called “Rec.backcountry” for information on backpacks and other gear.)

Do you need lots of pockets to store small equipment, or are you happy storing things in nylon stuff sacks and loading them inside one large main compartment? Do you want access from the top, front, or via side zippers? Would you prefer a separate internal compartment for the sleeping bag, or a backpack that carries the bag outside, strapped to the frame?

Remember: there is no “right” backpack. Just as with stoves, tents, and long underwear, the final choice will vary from person to person depending on their quirks, likes and dislikes, budget, planned trips, etc.


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