Over the past years my backpack has taken a beating. It has been ripped, thrown about and stained (don’t buy a bikini in Thailand). However, I’ve also grown quite attached to it. I’ve used it to lug around all my belongings for weeks on end. It feels like betraying an old friend, but simply put, it’s time for a new one. But how to choose a backpack? Here are several tips to help you choose a backpack.
Backpacks range from very small (34 l.) to big enough to fit me (90 l.). The size you need depends on how much stuff you bring with you and how tall you are. I’d probably look hilarious carrying around a full 90 litre backpack, but wouldn’t be very comfortable.
My first backpack was a 55 litre Nomad Sahara and suited most of my trips well. Especially for hot destinations you don’t need a lot of clothes. However, when I was staying in South Africa in the winter or bringing lots of research materials when doing research in India, space was scarce.
This is why I decided to size up for my new backpack and purchase a 65 litre one. In the end it comes down to how much space and stuff you need. If you go on a longer trip, go camping, or need a lot of technical gear, sizing up is advisable.
2. Frontloader, pockets & zippers
Most of the backpacks nowadays are frontloaders, which means you can lay them down and zip open the front to easily reach all your stuff. This is great because you can reach stuff at the bottom of your backpack without taking everything out. Some backpacks also come with extra compartments that you can zip up, separating the bottom from the top part of the backpack. You can use the bottom part to store heavier stuff, your sleeping bag, shoes or toiletries. I usually store laundry, my sleeping bag liner, toiletries and shoes there for easy access.
One of my requirements is that the rain cover is included in it’s own pocket in the backpack. That will ensure it is always conveniently located, so you don’t have to dig it out from the bottom of your pack in the middle of a torrent.
Also look at extra pockets and zippers on the backpack. Some backpacks have an excess of loops, zippers and tiny pockets that you won’t use. Look at a backpack and imagine what you will use pockets for. A tiny pocket to store stuff in that you will undoubtedly forget about, is useless.
I don’t mean to be sexist, but there is a difference backpacks designed for males and females. A backpack designed for females will generally have a smaller and narrower frame than a male one. They are adapted to be carried more comfortably. A fair share of backpacks come in both a male and female edition edition.
Aside from that, overall fit is important, in a specialty store the staff should be able to advise you on that. Generally speaking, if it prods or pokes you, it’s wrong. If it’s uncomfortable in any way without any load in it, find something else.
4. Technical details
For specific types of travel or activities, there are several extra options that might be useful. This includes extra’s such as loops for your trekking poles, helmet or the option to build in a hydration system. Consider your plans for the coming years and decide wether these options are useful to you. Some backpacks come with a detachable daypack, which can be used for day trips. A built-in rain cover is another good feature.
This might seem odd, but colour matters. My backpack was a very light colour and included a light rain cover and travel bag. It didn’t bother me, but these will get dirty. If stains and dirt makes you itchy, get a darker coloured backpack.
I ended up buying the latest version of the backpack I already owned in a slightly larger size. The new version has extra pockets on the hip straps, which one of my friends has and I was really jealous of. In addition there is extra elastic netting on the front. I think that’s great because I often put my jacket or a fleece between the pack and the straps, which wasn’t very secure on the old version. It not only has a rain cover built in, but the rain cover can be zipped, locked, and then used as a flight pack too.
How do you choose a new backpack? Do you have specific requirements? Or any questions about the one I chose? Feel free to leave a comment!
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