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Buying guide: Which backpack should I buy?

Whether you’re heading for a long hiking trip, trekking up mountains or backpacking – the perfect rucksack or backpack is a must-have. Keeping all of your essentials close by, a great bag can handle a range of trips, transportation and gear. But where to start? We’re here to help with our expert backpack buying guide.

 
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How do I choose a backpack? 

There are two main things to consider when it comes to finding the right bag, including: 

Where you are going? 

Think about the location and weather for your trip. A week among the mountains is going to require more space, layers and kit than a weekend trekking over the summer. 

The length of your trip  

The amount of time you’re spending away will have an impact on the size of bag you need. 30-50 litres should be satisfactory for a weekend trip, while something longer will need more space up to 70 litres or more.


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How should my backpack fit?


Ensuring your bag fits perfectly is essential for ensuring comfort, support and stability. Getting this wrong can result in pain and injury with prolonged use.


Size matters – ensure you choose a pack that is the right size for your torso length. Most packs are either adjustable or sized, so measuring your back length first can ensure you’re picking the right bag for you.


A well-fitting rucksack should sit snug over the shoulders with a hip belt that sits on the hips, not around the waist, to transfer weight effectively. Straps should be tight but not over-tightened as this can cause friction and pain when walking. A chest strap should be fastened until you feel it take the pressure from the front of your shoulders.

The anatomy of a backpack


Understanding the common features of a backpack can help you to understand what you require from your new bag. Rucksacks and backpacks features can range from basic to packed with features and our anatomy guide will help you decide what you need.


Material – The material of your bag is about personal preference and use. Heavy duty backpacks are generally made with a strong nylon material that withstands abrasion and varying temperatures. Also popular is the polyester outer, durable and wear-resistant; it doesn't wrinkle as easily and is more lightweight than nylon. For a more stylish finish, choose leather or suede – with the same durable properties but also requiring a little more care and attention.


Access – Most backpacks are designed with top access so you can reach into the main compartment from the top of the bag. For travelling and longer trips, front access can be more practical so you can open the main compartment fully from the front making packing easier. Finally larger rucksacks often feature side or base access to the main compartment that is easy to use and can prevent theft if you’re out and about.


Shoulder straps – The larger your bag, the better your shoulder strap needs to be. Padding on straps is paired with a wider surface area to prevent the straps from digging into your shoulders. In smaller bags that will hold less, thinner straps offer more flexibility and mesh straps are great for ventilation.


Back panel – Padded and contoured to provide comfort hour after hour, backpack back panels come in a range of styles. Look out for adjustable panels so you can customise your fit for the perfect shape. Added foam provides cushioning and mesh adds breathability to prevent overheating.


Frames – Rucksacks are created with both internal and external frames that help to transfer the weight of your bag evenly. But what is the difference?


Internal frames are often made from steel, but more technical packs are designed with aluminium or carbon fibre which is more lightweight.


External frames are usually used in larger capacity bags and come in a range of shapes. Usually made from lightweight aluminium they’re available in straight frame shapes that aid ventilation between the bag and the wearer, S-shapes designed to contour to the wearer and hip frames that transfer weight to the legs for added comfort.


Pockets – Designed on both the inner and outer of backpacks to help organise your gear, pockets are an essential feature of any good bag. Inner pockets are essential for smaller items, while top, front and side zipped pockets are great for keeping items at hand while you walk. Side mesh pockets are most commonly used for drinks bottles and bellows and side pockets are collapsible, meaning they can be packed away when you’re not using them.


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Other great features to look for…

Hip belts to take excess weight off your shoulders.

Sternum straps that connect across the chest and prevent pulling on shoulders.

Hydration pockets made for a hydration bladder with an exit hole for a drinking tube and fastening for a mouth piece.

Compression straps compress bulky packs making 
them easier to carry.

Dividers that can be removed to separate the main compartment.

Attachment points including loops, eyelets, straps or bungee cords. Great for carrying helmets, walking poles and ice axes.

Reflective patches for added safety.


Rain covers to keep your pack dry even from the heaviest downpours.

Detachable daysacks perfect for longer trips when you want to leave the majority of your pack behind for a day trip.

 

Top tip: More features do not necessarily mean a better backpack. Pick your bag’s features based on your personal needs and planned activities.

How do I pack my rucksack?


Whether you’re heading on a long trip or festival weekend, packing your bag well is an essential step in making the most of your new bag. Packing well is all about weight distribution and ensuring you’ll have easy access to items in the order you’ll need them. Our top bag-packing tips include:


- Put the heaviest item in your pack first. This will keep the weight closest to your body and distribute it evenly. 


- Bulky items should go in the middle of the bag. 


- Balance the weight of the side pockets with liquids like water bottles or liquid fuel. 


- Put food at the top of the rucksack, with what you want to eat first at the top. 


- Waterproof clothing should go on top so you can get to them quickly when it rains. 


- The lid at the top should be filled with anything you might need in the day – sun cream, a first aid kit and snacks. Once you’ve packed your bag, put it down on the floor. If it falls one way or another, it isn’t evenly distributed and should be adjusted until it sits upright and evenly.

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