Backpack Buying Guide – All You Need to Know
Life is hectic. Despite all the convenience available to make our lives easier and more relaxed, we seem to be under perpetual stress. We live from one deadline to another and struggle our way through life, to emerge successful. But there are times, when you simply want to break free. And escape into wilderness, to scale snow – capped peaks, to hike through rough terrains and dense forests, bike across the countryside, or simply take a train trip to an exciting destination. Far from the maddening crowd, removed from civilization… just you, and of course, your backpack!
What is a Backpack?
A backpack is a convenient bag with multiple compartments that is designed to hold- it- all and keep your hands free. It distributes the weight equally between the shoulders.
This multi-purpose and dependable bag is also called a rucksack, packsack, and a pack. Though it is used for various purposes, a backpack is typically associated with travel and outdoor activity. It is designed to hold all your basic supplies compactly, and in an organized manner.
Carrying the right type of bag on your journeys and adventurous outings can make the trip, a comfortable and memorable one. Apart from the basic essentials, the backpack should also hold the supplies and the gear required for the trip, so you know where exactly the things are. In short, a backpack should ideally be like your home, only on your back!
Basic structure of a Backpack
- These are the important parts of a backpack. The red straps are the key adjustment points. Make sure you tighten or loosen them, to get the perfect fit.
- Adjustments vary depending on the weight of the pack and also on whether you are hiking uphill or downhill.
- The Sternum straps connect the shoulder straps and clip over the chest, in front. This improves stability. Look for packs that offer Sternum straps with adjustable heights.
- Hipbelt Stabilizer can be tightened around the hip for better balance and ease.
- Compression straps extend along the sides of the pack. When the pack is very full, they extend. They size down when the pack is almost empty. These straps make the pack versatile for both a day trip or for an extended vacation.
Types of Backpacks
There is a huge collection of backpacks to choose from, based on several factors like the type of travel, duration of travel, travel destination, activities involved, gender of the person carrying it, style of the pack, and its cost.
Here’s a list of the chief factors that are considered while grouping backpacks into different categories,
According to type of travel
Depending on whether you are off on a day trip, a weekend sojourn, a hiking trip lasting several months, a guided mountaineering expedition, or an extended vacation, the backpack required for the occasion will also vary. Your travel destination and the type of vacation you plan have an important say in the choice of backpack too. There are ultra lightweight packs for long hiking trips and compact daypacks for short outings.
According to frame
Frameless pack – As the name suggests, this has neither an external nor an internal frame. As a result, it is light weight and is very commonly used. It has a pair of sturdy shoulder straps. There are many compartments provided to separate your things and pack them efficiently. It is ideal for day trips.
Internal frame pack – This pack is ideally suited for activities that require considerable amounts of moving the upper limbs. These packs have compression straps that compress the pack to a compact size when it is not fully loaded. It allows the wearer to have the bag closely held to his back, thereby reducing unnecessary shifting of the heavy load. In bags that are intended for hiking, there is an integral compartment provided for accommodating a sleeping bag.
External frame pack – This bag is specifically designed for carrying heavy loads and for heavy duty usage. Since this bag has a metal frame, it can be quite heavy by itself. To counter balance this, the bag is usually made of lightweight material like aluminum. It is then layered with plastic or synthetic polymers to render it strong and durable. In order to protect the user’s back from the metal frame, the shoulder straps are lined with netted material.
If you intend to carry heavy loads, or if you are prone to chronic backache, a Duffel bag would be a good choice for you. This bag has a roller option, and also can carry heavy loads or large objects.
This is the most versatile of all backpacks. With a capacity of about 30 liters, it is very convenient to carry around on a day trip. It can hold essential things like your wallet, travel documents, identification papers, a small snack and a water bottle.
It is ideal for activities like a one-day hike, or a short trek in the woods. It is ideal on a day-trip to a city.
These packs have a capacity of 12-20 liters and are called ‘bullet packs’. They are simple and utilitarian. They are different from day packs because they are made to be extra durable and have special features to help climbers such as straps for rope attachments.
The usual mesh pockets and external compartments for carrying water bottles and laptops are absent on the exterior because these features are likely to get torn during climbing activity.
Aimed at regular ski enthusiasts and Snowboarders, this bag is specifically designed to hold skis and snowboards. They can be of compact sizes, just to hold the gear and a water bottle, or large enough for an overnight expedition.
Special ski packs, called Avalung packs have been developed using the latest technology. They have space for the ski gear, as well as an air pipe, that can help increase chances of survival in case there is an avalanche.
Almost all the latest models of backpacks are provided with hydration packs, or at least a hose is provided so that water may be filled with ease, in case you decide to carry a bladder along. There are special bags designed for hydration only, but they tend to be rather small.
In some packs, a separate section in the front is dedicated to hydration pack so that even if there is a spill during filling of water, the main compartment of the beg is dry. Hydration packs are essential for bikers, runners, and cyclists.
According to material
Depending on the purpose for which it is used, a backpack can be bought in many types of material. Real outdoor hikers packs are made of heavy corduroy and nylons because they are strong, durable and waterproof. Daypacks for hiking are made of lighter nylon because they have to be more strong, than durable.
School and fashion backpacks are made from firmly woven textured polyesters. This is strong, water proof and is easy to handle. Such polyesters can be embroidered with crests or could have graphic designs printed on them. So, polyester is ideal for team graphics and sportswear logos.
Casual packs can be made from cotton, hemp, nylon, or leather.
According to loading type
If you are likely to unpack, add more things, remove some, and pack again, it is important for you to decide on the loading type you wish to choose.
Top loading packs
Though they are, admittedly, more challenging to pack and unpack, top-loading packs come in many comfortable sizes. They are thinner backpacks. so they fit the width of your body snugly. They are easier to carry as they have metal frames that offer support to your back. For this reason, they are preferred by hikers.
Front loading packs
For long journeys with multiple stops and extended day trips with several stops in between, a top- loading pack may be an unwise choice. You will find yourself digging deep into the pack, or worse still, unloading all the contents, to retrieve something tucked away at the bottom of the pack.
Front loading packs are particularly suited for long journeys. They are usually designed with multiple compartments in which we can pack our things in groups. This helps us organize things and makes it easier for us to locate them. Many front loading packs have detachable day packs.
According to gender
Since time immemorial, man has used his back for transporting heavy objects because it enables him distribute the load equally, across his shoulders. This trend continues! Backpacks for men are also called military bags, and are of medium to large fit.
Backpacks are a common sight in college and university campuses, gym, and even places of work. These bags have fast replaced the traditional book bags and messenger bags. Canvas packs are the most popular , but leather and nylon options are also available.
Backpacks for women are designed for perfect fit, comfort and style. They are sleek and medium-sized. Depending on the purpose, they are provided with multiple pockets and compartments. There are many designs, prints, brands and colors to choose from.
Backpacks are very popular among school-going children because of its versatility and the convenience it provides. It gives them the great option of organizing their books, lunch, water bottle, math tool box, mobile phone, and essential gear for sports activity in school – all in one compact bag instead of tugging along multiple bags. Backpacks are sturdy, durable, practical, and comfortable, making them the unanimous choice of children and parents, alike. College goers prefer it as well. School backpacks come in many colors and materials, both for boys, and girls.
How to pack a backpack
Never cram the contents into the backpack without planning. The ideal goal is to balance the weight in the right and the left and keep the maximum weight close to your back, near your center of gravity.
Here are a few tips for packing:
- Generally, the lighter items will go at the bottom. Heavier objects will be in the middle, close to your body. As a rule, keep the heaviest items should always be near your back.
- Sleeping bags are light, though they take up space. Plan to have the sleeping bag on the bottom of the pack. Most packs are designed with a compartment at the bottom.
- Pack clothing items around the heavy items to prevent the load from shifting.
- Keep the items that you will access during the day, near the top of the pack, or in the side pockets.
- Tent poles and tools can be carried on the outside of the pack. They can be secured using straps or loops.
- Keep the stove fuel away from your food.
- Water is probably the heaviest item you will carry. Keep it near your back.
How to hoist a backpack
A fully loaded backpack can be quite heavy. It would be a strain on your back to try to hoist the pack without preparing yourself to take on the load. Here are a few steps to follow while hoisting your pack.
- Stand and place the pack upright on the ground. Use a hand to hold the haul loop( the loop at the top of the pack).
- Bend your knees and take a wide stance. Place the pack on your thigh.
- Keep the pack steady with one hand on the haul loop, and slip your arm and shoulder through one of the shoulder straps. Push your shoulder as far as you can.
- Lean forward, and gently swing the pack onto your back. Slip the other arm through the shoulder strap.
- Buckle the hip belt.
How to adjust the backpack to fit
Backpacks are designed with a number of straps that facilitate carrying even heavy loads with comfort. The trick is in learning to adjust the straps properly so that almost 80% of the load rests on your hips.
Follow these steps for a perfect backpack fit
The pack should be placed such that the hip belt is resting on the hip bones. Close the buckle and tighten the belt. The padded sections of the hip belt should wrap around your hips comfortably. Reposition the buckle until a perfect fit is achieved.
Pull down the ends of the shoulder straps to tighten them. The shoulder straps should hold the pack closely against your back, thus keeping the load forward. These straps should not be carrying the weight, but only distributing the load.
They are located just below the tops of your shoulders, near the collarbones. Load lifters should angle back towards the pack body at an angle of 45 degrees. Pull these straps gently to take the weight off your shoulders.
Sternum strap can be adjusted as required to a comfortable height across your chest. Buckle the strap and tighten until the shoulder straps are pulled inward, so that your arms can move freely. Pull the stabilizer straps on either side of the hip belt for a better fit. Stabilize the load in such a way that ensures that most of the load rests on your hips.
Famous Backpack Brands
There are numerous backpack brands known for their reliability and comfort. Here is a list of some of the better known manufacturers.
- Jan Sport
- The North Face
- Osprey Packs
- Wenger Swiss Gear
Tips for caring for your Backpacks
Backpacks probably get dirtier than even clothes, during travel. Unfortunately, very few of us consider washing it after a trip. A pack absorbs sweat, dirt, and body oils. After some time, this could damage the fabric. Proper care of the pack can increase its lifetime.
- Clean the pack well before storing it away for a long duration.
- First, give your pack a nice shake so as to get off all the hidden dirt and dust.
- Scrub the pack with a soft bristled brush. Then wash it with water from a hose. Dry in sunlight.
- If the stains are stubborn, soak the pack in warm water with a mild detergent for few hours and then scrub the stain. Dry in sunlight.
- Mold can appear if the pack is stored away when still wet. To remove it, soak the pack in a tub of warm water in which diluted solution of antiseptic or a mold remover has been added. Rinse the pack until it is clean. You may scrub with a soft brush. White vinegar is added to prevent mold from returning. Dry thoroughly.
Though nylon and synthetic bags are supposedly water proof, water may still manage to seep through via the zippers. There are ways to waterproof your backpack
Water repellent Product: This will help improve the water proofing quality of the bag when it is coated on the bag.
Pack covers: These are like shower caps for the pack. Their elastic hem enables a snug fit around the bag. They are very useful on a rainy day.
Pack liner: It is simply a large bag of waterproof material that will act as an extra barrier to keep the contents of the bag dry.
Dry bags: They are similar to pack liners and keep your bag dry.
Storage of backpacks
- When not in use, store backpacks in a dry, cool place, away from pests.
- Don’t keep your packs stored on a concrete floor for a long time. Moisture and chemical content from concrete could damage the fabric.
- Your backpack is best stored in a cardboard box with holes for ventilation.
- If you live in a humid place, it is advisable to store your pack with a pouch of
A top-loading backpack has a simple drawstring closure or a zipper to close it. It cannot be locked further. So, this pack is not very secure.
It is advisable to carry your wallet, passport, travel documents and other important things in a separate pouch.