The type of backpack you will need depends greatly on the amount of weight you are going to carry. Period. So below are some simple key tips on how to go about and beginning your selection of the best backpacks for your trips or adventures:
Key tip #1: Trip Length
If you’re going to be hiking for two days and carrying 30 pounds, you will need a different backpack than if you’ll be carrying 60 pounds for seven days. Most inexpensive, lightweight backpacks are suitable for carrying less than 30 pounds, but if you will be carrying more than that, you need a more durable pack.
One of our readers says:
“I know a lot of people don’t like top loaders, but I traveled around for 7 months (SE Asia though) with a black diamond demon (32L) and it was perfect for me.
It is one of those hiking packs that are rather skinny instead of wide. The advantage was that while walking around I didn’t bump into things. I mainly did city traveling but I can imagine this could be ideal for jungle trekking as well. It’s small enough to use as a carry on (which is very important to me) and it’s tough as nails.
For carry on, I’d definitely stick to something under 40L.I also entertained the Deuter Futura, which I liked a lot. 34L should be plenty unless you are lugging around camping gear. However, at the end of the day, you need to fit the backpack yourself. Stuff like pockets are only details. If your pack doesn’t feel right on your body, you’re gonna be miserable.”
Which brings us to our next tip…
Key Tip #2: Torso Fitting
You also need to check the fit and feel of the shoulder straps and waste belt to be sure they fit comfortably. If you’re going to be trekking for a long time, you need to have comfortable fit and proper lumbar support. Before shopping for a backpack, it’s important to get your back measured so you will know what size frame to get.
You can do it in the shop, or you can get someone to help you do it at home. Use a soft tape measure, such as the ones that tailors use and have your helper measure your spine from C7 at the top of your spine. C7 is the vertebra that is sticking out when you bend your head forward. Measure from C7 down the spine and end at the spot in the middle of your pelvic girdle. To find this spot, put your hands on your hipbones with your thumbs pointing to the back.
The spot between your thumbs is the spot to end your measurements. Alternately, you can feel along your lower back until you find the bone. If you don’t have a soft tape measure, you can use something, like a small piece of rope against your spine, then lay it out and measure that. Before measuring, be sure to stand straight and tall, with your feet spread apart, lined up with your shoulders.
Use your torso length measurement to find your best pack size. Generally, manufacturers size their pack frames something like this:”
- Extra Small: Fits torsos up to 15 ½”
- Small: Fits torsos 16″ to 17½”
- Medium/Regular: Fits torsos 18″ to 19½”
- Large/Tall: Fits torsos 20″ and up
Key Tip #3: Capacity
When buying your backpack, keep in mind that a lighter pack is fine for short trips or if you don’t carry much on your trips. A heavier backpack is better if you tend to pack a lot of stuff, whether you just like to be sure you are prepared for any situation, or you are going to be gone for a long period of time. A heavier backpack will also be equipped with more durable materials that will last longer and will have more features.
When deciding which to buy consider if you will actually use and need those cool features or are they just a waste of money. When you are trying out a backpack, it is helpful to put some weight into it and see how it feels on you. Put about 25 to 35 pounds of weight into a backpack, then put it down and loosen all the straps.
Now put it on and adjust the hip belt. It should fit around the top of your hips, or wherever it feels most comfortable, with about an inch to spare in case you need to loosen or tighten it. Then, pulls on the lower shoulder straps to adjust them so they curve around your shoulder front to back. Be sure the straps that go across your chest are wide enough to support weight.
These straps are less adjustable than the others, but are an important part of the pack, so be sure not to overlook this step. Next, adjust the straps that come across the top of your shoulder straps. These are often called load lifters. You should be able to adjust their angle to about 45 degrees but never more than 60 degrees for maximum comfort. You will also have to adjust them a little as you are on the trail. REI also has a detailed article on choosing a backpack here.
And if you are a visual learner, here is how to choose a backpack via video from the guys over at Outdoorgearlab.com
List of the best backpacks that Ian refers to in the video above: