Choosing a backpack will be the most important and probably the most expensive decision you will have to make before your trip. Whether you are going for a few weeks, months or years it will be with you all the way. It can be your friend or foe depending on your purchase. Too big, and you’ll have too much extra weight. Too small, and you’ll never fit anything in.
I should know. I loved my first pack. It was a part of me, my trusty old companion. It has been with me on all my adventures so far and has withstood countless airports, buses and rain storms. However it has frustrated me from the very first moment that I had to find something from within its realms. I had chosen the wrong type of pack!
Backpacks come in various sizes, internal capacities and materials. The most common capacity for backpacking is between 60-90 litres. Most have an expandable capacity should you need more space. The majority of modern packs have built-in frames. They also come in toploader (top entry only) and multi entry forms. Modern packs also have various back fitting systems which differ from brand to brand.
Learn from my experience
I did my research before I made my purchase. I searched relentlessly through backpacker forums and tried countless packs on in outdoor shops. Most recommendations were for toploader packs. Their reasoning behind this was because there was only one entry point improving security. This also meant with no zips there were less of a chance of parts failing. Brilliant I thought, a toploader was the way to go. How wrong I was. I decided on a Macpac Ascent. Its durability was one of its top attributes. I think that thing could survive a nuclear bomb. But the practicality of having only one entry point is far from ideal. As you can imagine you will be on the move every few days or so and will not have the time or space to unpack all of your gear. This also makes it a tedious game of lucky dip when you want to find that favorite t-shirt or lucky underwear in a pitch black dorm room. A near on impossible task.
Time for a change
After 6 years of backpacking I have finally bitten the bullet and upgraded my pack. I have recently brought a Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre. http://www.lowealpine.com/tfx-cerro-torre-75-95-xl This pack has 3 entry points. The standard top entry, a bottom zip entry and a front entry system. It also comes with a built-in rain cover, an excellent addition. I have n’t had the chance to road test it yet, but the thought excites me! (Review to follow)
What pack is best for you?
When pondering on your first pack it is worth considering a few key factors. The length of time you plan on spending travelling, where you will be going and what type activities you will partake in. For example if you are going for a year you will naturally need more gear than if you were going for a couple of weeks. What will the climate be like? Is there a chance you will encounter a lot of wet weather? If so then maybe a built-in rain cover and water resistant material is worth considering. If you plan on doing lots of activities such as hiking, mountaineering you will need a lot more gear and equipment and maybe extra features like bottle holders, walking pole fasteners and easily accessible external pockets are worth thinking about.
So, taking all this into account my advice will be as follows…
At a glance
- Do your research online (read reviews, search backpacker forums)
- Determine what kind of pack suits your trip (what size, how long are you going for etc)
- Choose a decent brand (Cheap ones may break half way through your trip)
- Try as many different packs on as possible in stores (Comfort and fit is the key)
- Make sure it has multiple entry options (avoids tedious games of lucky dip)
- Make sure it looks cool (Style is important you know!)
- Extra features (bottle holders, rain covers, adjustable back systems are all very handy)
- Price match it (I saved £50 on my latest pack by shopping around and price matching)