How To Choose A Backpack: Pay Attention to Fit, Comfort and Practicality

For the best time outdoors, learn how to choose a Tactical backpack with the proper size and right features. First, understand your own needs. What are your requirements for the day, the weekend or the expedition?

There are so many backpack choices and extra features, not to mention the popular brands and hot colors, that sway your decision.

Pay Attention to Fit, Comfort and Practicality

The following advice helps you to check the facts and function of backpacks so you can choose the right gear for your demands on the trail, on campus or on a sightseeing tour.

Most deliberations regard choosing between an internal frame or external frame pack in the medium to large categories.

Internal Frame Packs: By placing the weight on the hips, not the shoulders, these packs tend to fit closer to your back for easier movement and balanced loads. These backpacks favor rough trails that require climbing, scrambling or skiing and can be expensive.

External Frame Packs: Able to carry heavy loads and reinforced with more rigid materials, these packs stay off your back for better cooling. Before technology took over, these backpacks were an introductory choice for beginners at a cheaper price.

  • Backpack Choices
  • Capacity and Size
  • Features For Fit and Comfort
  • Backpacks For Hiking
  • Backpacks For Kids

Backpack Choices

A good approach for how to choose a backpack is to spread all your contents on the floor, or just visualize the mess, and see how much stuff needs to go inside. Beginners usually pack too much and the most savvy backpackers realize that a light load makes the hike a scamper, not a slog. Learn how to determine the right load and avoid the overload.

It is hard to resist the temptation to fill up a large backpack with extras, so know the maximum limit to carry for a comfortable trip and stick to it. On the flip side, wearing a backpack that is too small to handle the load puts the unstable strain on you.

Daypacks – For day outings or overnighters outdoors or everyday use at school or work, daypacks range from canvas bags without any support to technical packs with a stiff frame or metal stays. Most of the weight rests on your shoulders, though larger ones do include a hipbelt.

Internal Frame Packs – Most backpacking packs fall into this category that caters to weekend and week long wilderness trips or long term travel overseas. These backpacks usually have a narrow design, back hugging fit and more adjustments for better balance and movement than external packs.

External Frame Packs – With strong frames to carry heavy loads for expeditions or backcountry treks that require lots of gear, external packs are less flexible for scrambling over rough terrain but excel on long trails.

Alpine or Mountaineering Packs – These specialist packs carry a big load for reaching the summit without all the extra capacity and weight of regular backpacks. The features cater to the tools and equipment required to pursue upward action.

Travel Packs – Blurring the line between outdoor backpacks and a suitcase with shoulder straps, travel packs are best used for urban vacations where the contents stay in the hotel. Too bulky and awkward for wearing all day, buy one with a daypack attachment and leave the luggage portion behind

Capacity and Size

Use these general guidelines to get a sense of how to choose a backpack based on capacity and size comparisons. It is difficult to compare internal and external frame packs together due to sleeping bag compartment variations, the expansion quality of fabrics and the strapping potential to hang gear outside.

Remember that large packs weigh more, up to eight pounds, so size a backpack that performs the task well without supersizing it.

1800-2500 cubic inches (30-40 liters) – A good range for day hiking and overnighters with minimal supplies. Most urban daypacks fall into this size to carry textbooks, computers and office documents.

3000-5000 cubic inches (50-80 liters) – Enough carrying capacity for overnight hikes and camping trips and multi-day backpacking excursions that last a week.

Over 5000 cubic inches (80+ liters) – Expedition size for wilderness journeys to remote locations or spending a few weeks in the backcountry, especially during winter season.

Features For Fit and Comfort

Features serve several purposes, one is to make backpacks more useful and comfortable and another is to add lots of ‘bells and whistles’ to attract consumers. Paying a higher price for added features that you never really need may help you choose a simpler backpack that performs just as well without the added cost.

Shoulder Straps – Straps should be well padded and snug without digging in, chaffing, or slipping off your body and hefty enough to carry your everyday urban or trail loads.

Hipbelt – Essential for holding the bulk of the pack, a good hipbelt transfers weight from your back to hips that reduces strain and increases comfort, especially if lightweight and breathable.

Pockets – Look for top lip pockets, side mesh pockets, front panel stretch pockets, long outer pockets, organizer pockets and even hidden internal zip pockets. Make sure each pocket has a proper function or use, otherwise it just adds extra weight to carry. And think about pockets for quick access items, wet and dirty clothes and for keeping gear in one place.

Compartments – Access is the main criteria to consider. Top loaders usually keep your gear in one big compartment, but some provide separate access from the bottom with an internal zippered divider.

Back Pads – Padded back panels provide better support and allow for airflow between you body and pack for a cooler, less sweaty hike. Do not expect back pads to perform alike on all hikers, everyone is different.

Compression Straps – All those dangling straps perform a valuable function, so pay attention to side, bottom and crossover webbing that keeps packs tight and compact for a balanced load.

Durability – Most backpacks are made with durable fabrics that are water resistant under normal conditions. Pull the seams apart to check for good stitching and tug the straps to test for sturdiness.

Zippers – Check the zips for toughness and size. Nothing is worse than a broken zipper when trying to get to your supplies. Look for double zippers that meet in the middle so you have a backup.

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