Choosing a Backpack

If you are here reading this you are going to leave any and all things tourist behind you and start being a traveler from here on out.  First things first, throw that God forsaken wheelie luggage to the curb, because there is nothing that screams tourist more than a giant brick on wheels bulging at the zippers.  Now you need a piece of luggage to replace it, one which is going to travel as hard as you do.  I refer to of course the backpack; they are comfortable, versatile, and rugged pieces of equipment that will give you years of use through the most strenuous conditions.


Since a backpack is an investment just as much as it is an extension of you, you must make sure you find the right one.  There are many manufacturers, sizes, and types of backpacks on the market so choosing the right one is a combination of intended use and personal preference.  A good starting point is narrowing down the choices to the type of travel you are going to be doing with your new pack.  I break them down to five different types of backpacks:  day, weekend, intercity, expedition, and technical.



A day pack as the name gives away, is meant for just a day, possibly two if you push it.  This type of pack is the smallest and works well for a day of exploration whether it is a rainforest or a major city.  For travelers it is often a light pack they take in addition to their main backpack.  This makes it easy to carry cameras, notebooks, maps, water bottles, and whatever else you might have while discovering the destination.



A weekend backpack regardless of the name can be used at any time.  Weekend is just a convenient way to represent the time frame this type of pack is ideal for, a few days with overnight stay.  Typically it is a bit larger than a day pack and works well for trips around 2 to 3 days in length.  It has enough space for clothes, towels, and personal supplies but is not big enough for sleeping bags and items necessary for longer trips.  A good reference for size of a weekend pack is the maximum size of a carry on bag.  If it fits in the overhead compartment of an aircraft, you packed like a traveler.



An Intercity backpack is a small to medium full size traveling backpack.  The intent for this type of backpack is similar to the weekend pack but for much longer periods of time.  It must be large enough to hold clothes, personal supplies, sleeping gear, and other necessities for travel between cities.  The length of trip suitable for this type of backpack ranges from a week to over a year.  The volume of an intercity backpack is typically best between forty and sixty liters.  This makes it manageable to walk around in public and board public transportation, without pissing people off which is a very important for a traveler.  Not to mention the attention full size backpacks gain from other people, locals and travelers alike.  It makes for a good conversation starter while traveling around.



An expedition backpack is the kind used by people on the Discovery channel and Boy Scouts.  They are used to carry all the equipment one could ever need into the remote wilderness and when they are done carry it all back out again.  Trips which require this type of pack need planning in advance because there is no convenience store to run to if you forgot something.  A pack for this type of trip ranges from seventy five liters and up.


Internal or External Frame?

One other choice may arise when selecting an intercity or expedition backpack.  It is whether you want an internal frame or external frame.  The market has shifted more towards internal frame backpacks because they are typically sleeker and more comfortable.  This is due to the design of the frame; contour molded plastic which follows the curvature of the back.  External frames have a metal frame which the pack is attached to, these are still available if you want this type of backpack.  As always the choice is left to the person who will be using it so whatever you choose make sure it is right for you.



Chances are if you need a technical backpack and you are reading an article about choosing one, you should consider a few warm up trips to gain some experience.  That being said if you are gung ho about it you should know a bit about them.  A technical backpack is one which is designed for a specific trip in mind such as:  ice climbing, rock climbing, alpine skiing and snowboarding, etc.  Typically referred to as the activities with high fatality rates, you know extreme sports, the fun ones!


Backpack Considerations

After you have decided the right type of pack for your trip the hardest part is over.  The rest is a matter of personal preference: features, feel, color, price, etc.  You are the one who has to wear it after all so take your time to find the one you like.


Another aspect of backpack design which may or may not influence your decision is the features that it has.  There are several options which can make a backpack even better.  They are the things which make your life easier and the backpack more useful.  The most important one is the pack cover which keeps your bag and its contents dry in inclement weather.  In the past you had to buy a cover separately and store it in your bag but now there are a great number of backpacks which have a built in cover and pocket.  This is great because it has its own space so you always know where it is and it is typically tethered to the bag itself so you never lose it.


If you are doing long adventures which are strenuous a handy feature a backpack might have is a built in water bladder system.  Normally a pack will be ready for this type of water system and all you will have to do is buy the bladder and the hose separately and put it in.  No backpack other than a day pack has it already built in.  Having a water bladder system is nice because it gives you a large supply of water right at your finger tips.  This eliminates the need to either reach around and fiddle with zippers or take your pack off just to get a drink.


One other thing to look at is the amount of pockets available and the shape of them.  Make sure that you can pack what you want and have it fit well.  A handy thing for a backpack to have is pockets on the waist straps.  This is a good place to store flashlights, compass, knives, and cameras so you can access them easily without removing the backpack.  If you are new to backpacking you will soon learn that carrying the pack isn’t that bad if its comfortable, it is taking it on and off which grows tiresome.  Any feature which can make your life easier when traveling is something you might consider as you make your final choice.


Choosing a backpack to ultimately purchase is something you must do at an outdoor outfitter.  You need to browse the selections and find what works the best for you and your trip.  After you have narrowed your choices down to the final few the most important thing you can do is give them a test drive.  Try them all on and adjust each to your liking then fill them up with stuff to reach the anticipated weight you will be carrying.  Remember to get permission from an employee before hand because they will not take kindly to a random person shoving merchandise into a backpack without the go ahead.


After you have decided on the backpack you want take note of the manufacturer and model.  If you are set with this and price doesn’t matter then by all means purchase it.  However if you want to find the best deal, there is nothing that says you have to purchase it from the store you tried it at.  Let capitalism work for you and go search online to find the best deal for the pack you like.  Chances are a major outdoor retailer will have competitive prices whereas the local outfitter might be marked up and online you might be lucky enough to stumble across a sale.


Enjoy your new backpack, treat it well and it will give you many years of use.  Hopefully this will be the starting point of many adventures to come, and as always safe travels.