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How To Buy A Backpack

How to buy a backpackWhen buying a backpack, the first question you need to ask yourself is, "What am I going to use it for?" I know this seems basic but really think about the main uses for this new purchase. How much stuff are you going to carry? What specifically do you need to fit into the pack? There are so many backpacks out on the market that it is hard to know where to begin. Below, I have organized packs into three categories. Day, Multi-day and Specialty.

Your typical daypack will have a carrying capacity of 10 (trail running pack) to 50 liters (climbing pack.) An average size to start with is around 30 liters. Most packs will have the carrying capacity either written on the actual backpack or on the sale tag. Make sure to look for these numbers as it is hard to tell the actual carrying capacity of a backpack with out loading it.   A 30-liter pack is good size for carrying the essentials for a day hike. Once you have decided on the size, go to the store and TRY out the packs. Bodies aren’t the same.

Things to think about when buying a daypack. These factors come down to personal preference:

  • Is it a top loader or front loader?
  • Does it have a waist belt or not?
  • Where and how many pockets does it have?
  • Is the back padded or not?
  • Does it have compression straps?
Multi-day Packs
If you are looking to buy a multiday backpack you are going to need a lot more space and therefore be looking at packs with the carrying capacity of 45 liters or more. Your day essentials, clothes, sleeping bag, pad, stove, shelter, cooking gear, etc. should only take up about 2/3rds of your pack. The rest of the space should be saved for food. When in doubt, buy a higher capacity pack. It is better to have the option to pack more rather than not having enough room. When buying a multi-day pack, it is necessary to go into a store and actually try on these packs. All stores that sell these packs will have weighted bags to place in your pack to simulate a load. Walk around, adjust the straps, etc. Make sure the pack frame is the right size for your torso. If the sales person doesn’t seem to know what they are doing and cannot adjust the pack, move on.  

Important things to think about when buying a multi-day pack:
  • Does it have an internal or external frame?
  • How padded is the hip belt?
  • How heavy-duty are the clips and zippers?
  • How bomber is the stitching?
  • How many compartments does the pack have?
  • How padded is the back panel?
  • How many and where are the compression straps?
  • Does the top or “brain” of the pack detach?
Specialty Packs
If you have a specific use in mind for your future pack, many companies have you in mind. There are dozens of specialty packs made to customize your needs. The following are some examples of specialty packs and their unique features.

Photography Packs: have multiple padded compartments for your camera and video gear.

Skiing/ Snowboarding Packs: specific straps for skis, ice axes, shovels and snowboards. Padded front for protecting equipment and back access to pack while gear is strapped in front.

Climbing Packs: designed with features to ease the burden of carrying climbing equipment.

Waterproof Packs: feature waterproof material and zippers for water sports.

Travel: lightweight and compatible for ease of transport

Whether you choose a daypack, multi-day pack or a specialty pack there are some fun and cool features that many packs come with. Here are few to look for:

  • Internal water bladder pockets
  • Waterproof exterior
  • Whistle attachments
  • Ipod/ music compartments with a hole or earphones.
  • Insulated compartments
  • Reflectors for night use


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