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A guide to selecting and buying backpacks

Elvis Elvis

Backpacks come in many different sizes and shapes to accommodate the many different uses we have for them. There are internal frame backpacks that tend to hug the body and are best suited for off-trail hiking, rock climbing, and back country skiing. The body hugging feature gives you better balance and allows more freedom because of their slimmer profile. There is usually only one main compartment in an internal backpack and very few side pockets. This makes it difficult if you need something that is not held in a side pocket because you may have to empty out most of your pack to reach the item. These backpacks also tend to be quite hot due to their body hugging profile.

External frame backpacks are used primarily for larger or heavier loads on less severe terrain such as trails and back roads. These backpacks usually have two or more main compartments and a number of smaller side pockets. Many of the items you may need more often can be carried in the side pockets and can be reached without having to unload the main compartments. External packs are cooler to carry and will allow you to carry a heavier load. Hiking off-trail and over rock faces can be difficult with an external backpack because of the lesser balance the pack allows.

A guide to selecting and buying backpacks

Another type of backpack is the frameless daypack, or rucksack. Depending on the size and shape, these packs are used for everything from book bags to gear bags. The smaller daypacks are used by cross-country skiers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and day hikers. Other small packs that fall under this general category are fanny packs and lumbar packs. These are small packs used for short outings by runners, hikers, etc. The lumbar packs tend to be a bit bigger than the fanny packs.

Since most day packs do not have frames or hip belts, the weight of the pack is carried most by the shoulders. With this in mind, the load carried in day packs should not exceed 15 to 20 pounds, depending on the condition of the person doing the packing.

A very popular type of backpack, called a hydration pack, includes a water reservoir in the pack with an attached sipping hose and bite valve clipped to a shoulder strap. This allows the user to have a drink without stopping and without removing the pack. The capacity of a typical hydration pack ranges from 60 to 130 fluid ounces.

Hydration packs used by runners are usually the slim profile type as shown, but the feature can also be found in many full sized backpacks.

Insulated winter hydration packs have the hydration tube, the pack, and the bite valve insulated to avoid freeze up. These packs are also good in warmer weather to keep your beverage cooler for longer periods.

Some things to watch for when buying a backpack:

A poorly fitted backpack can cause the wearer a lot of short term back pain and, more seriously, longer term injury. Having the right pack for the job but the wrong fit for your body is a common mistake among many less experienced hikers. You should . . .

. buy a pack with straps long enough to fit your height and torso.

. buy a pack with wide and well padded shoulder straps.

. never wear a backpack high on your back. This could result in neck and back pain.

. buy a pack with a well padded hipbelt. Be sure to size the pack so that the hipbelt rests right above your hip bones thus providing the hip belt with a stable foundation.

. always carry your backpack using both shoulder straps. Recent studies have shown that school kids that use only one strap to carry their school backpacks are having neck and back problems.

. be sure you can stand up straight and feel comfortable carrying your backpack.

Sizing your pack to your individual needs is important. Generally speaking, a 3,000 cubic inch backpack is good for day trips and one night hikes. The 6,000 cubic inch packs are used on long hikes of up to a week or more.

Some backpacks are female-specific in that they are designed with a shorter torso length and wider and longer hip belts to fit a narrower back.

When packing your backpack try to distribute the weight throughout the pack. Put the heavy items in the middle of the pack. Heavy items on top of the pack may alter your normal stance and result in back pain. If possible, put the items you will require most often towards the top of the pack if they are not too heavy.

Remove any crumbled food and empty food containers from your pack to avoid visits from hungry critters during the night.

Keep your backpack well maintained by stitching up ribs when required, replacing worn clevis pins and split rings, repairing or replacing worn zippers, and strengthing major stress points around hipbelts and shoulder straps. If your pack gets wet, dry it at room temperature for 24 hours then store it in a cool, dry, place to avoid forming mildew.