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Last updated February 07, 2016. 

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Packing - How to Choose a Backpack

Okay, since this site has the word backpack in the title, I guess it seems rather self-evident that a backpack is rather useful when you're  backpacking.  But the question does arise (or at least it did for me) "What kind of backpack should I use?"  Well, as with everything else there is no one set answer to this question.  When considering the purchase of a backpack you should keep several things in mind:

  • Your backpack should be comfortable enough to allow you to carry at least 20-30 pounds.  When trying out different styles ask the sales person for weights to put inside pack so that you'll have an idea of what 30 pounds feels like on your back.
  • Your backpack should be proportional to body size (your pack shouldn't be so large that you and couple of your closest friends could fit inside).  People under 5'6" inches should try to make sure their backpack in no taller than 22 inches--taller backpacks will hit the back of your head. Try to limit yourself to a pack that is between 2,800-5,000 cubic inches/45-80 Liters, unless you and Godzilla are the same size.
  • Shop around.  Try out as many different styles as you can before you make your decision.  In other words, don't buy a pack simply because it comes in your favorite color and don't avoid  trying on a pack simple because it isn't aesthetically pleasing. The fashion statement you'll be making with your "stylish" but uncomfortable pack will be one that only masochists will appreciate.
  • The most expensive backpack is not necessarily the best. Unless you plan to do quite a bit of backpacking over the next twenty years or so, that $400 pack will be a waste of money; many moderately priced packs ($100-$250) will suit your purpose just as well, if not better, than those high priced packs.
  • If possible, get a pack that you won't have to check in at the airport (size requirements vary, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure L x W x H doesn't add up to more than 45 inches).  Not having to waste your time checking and claiming your pack is one of the best things about traveling light. If you plan on bringing a Swiss Army knife or something similar, ignore this because only checked luggage may contain pointed/sharp implements.
Features to look for in your backpack:
Panel Loading Has zippers that open around 2/3 of the pack like a traditional school backpack. These are more practical than top-loading backpacks that often require taking out almost everything in your pack just to find one thing.
Lockable Zippers Make sure each compartment of your backpack has two zippers that can be locked together with combo or key locks. This will help protect your belongings when you are away from your main pack during the day and your day pack while you are out exploring.
Internal Frame No bulky metal rods sticking out anywhere=not getting your backpack caught on something every place you go. Make sure your pack has an internal frame for added support and comfort.
Padded Hip Belt Since you carry most of your pack's weight on your hips, make sure the hip belt is comfortable to wear.
Padded Shoulder Straps Makes carrying your load more comfortable.
Sternum Strap Helps bring weight of load forward by connecting the two shoulder straps over your sternum. Saves you from excessive shoulder pain.
Contoured/Padded Back Lumbar shaped backs make carrying your pack much more comfortable.
Day Packs Generally, people wear the smaller day pack on their front when carrying the larger main backpack on their back. Make sure your day pack is comfortable to wear on your front. Yes, this does look a bit strange, but it helps distribute the weight of your backpacks, preventing you from toppling backwards from the combined weight of the two packs.


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