Looking at buying a new pack for your backpacking adventures? This short guide will certainly help make those hard decisions a little easier. This blog will look at three key points that are essential to buying right the first time and loving your new backpacking pack.
These three key points to look at are:
- Capacity - Normally governed by the length of trip you are taking and how much weight / bulk you look to carry.
- Features - How the packs fit around what you look for in your backpacking pack.
- Fit - A very uncomfortable waste of time and money if you just guess your fit!
A thing to note is that these are backpacking packs and although great for thru hiking, these ultralight thru-hikers may look for a different style. As always though, it's personal choice so don't get caught up on what everyone else is using - just make sure it's right for you and your budget.
I tend to use the following as a quick method for backpacking packs:
Overnighter / Weekend Trips - 30-50 Litres Capacity
Your overall pack can be kept pretty light using a pack in this range. If you pack efficiently with less bulky items then you can keep your pack weight down to a minimum. Going up to a 50 litre pack is great if you want to take some extra luxuries as its only a weekend trip that won't kill you taking a little more weight. If you look to go ultralight with you pack and gear then you will need to plan and pack smart. This does mean that cutting out those unnecessary items that add no value to safety, fun or comfort. My favourites in this range are the Mountainsmith Zerk 40, Exped Lightning 45 and the Gregory Zulu 40.
Multiday Trips - 40-80 Litres Capacity
These are all great packs and a great choice of capacity for a long weekend, West Highland Way or a nice Coast to Coast trip. They enable you to take more items and pack for eventualities over lightweight and speed. It also means that you can pack those luxuries like your Teddy Bear Blanket for those extended winter nights sat around camp!
Extended Trips / Longer Trails / Larger Packing Thru Hikes - 60+ Litre Capacity
When your trip calls for you to tackle some serious miles or a great winter camp then this capacity range is where you need to look. These packs can accommodate your extra winter clothing, generally a larger and warmer sleeping bag and often a larger 4 season tent. If this is the case then look no further than this range!
Internal frames - These are the vast majority of packs these days. They tend to hug your body and the structure of the pack is hidden in the back panel. These packs are great for stability and load supporting technology that will transfer weight on to your hips.
External frames - Fairly rarely seen now, the external frame packs are where you can see the frame on the outside. These packs do tend to offer good ventilation options.
Frameless - This is where the ultralighters have their look in. Fast and light is the name of the game and having a frameless pack removes an unnecessary weight but you still have great pack functionality. Climbers tend to use these packs too. Don't forget to pack light though as a frameless pack will make you life hell if you try to pack heavy.
Ventilation - Some packs come with mesh back panels to allow airflow to come through. They look a bit like a trampoline and work great during any summer hiking to cool your back. These will be found on frame supported packs. Some other packs including some frameless will have channels that allow air to flow. Although this method is not as good as the mesh, it is much lighter.
Roll top, Zip or Lid - How are you going to get in to your pack is a big old question many people have their opinions on. This one really is down to personal preference and never without careful consideration.
Pockets! - We all love pockets on our packs and it's so important to know what you will use in them, how you will utilise them and how much added space it will give you. Check you bottle pockets, stretch front pocket, lid pockets, shoulder strap pockets and hip belt pockets! Pockets pockets pockets.
Other features to note will be - hydration bladder able, raincover, attachment points, padding, shoulder straps, hip belt and sleeping bag compartment openings.
Now you've picked what style you want, if your pack comes in different sizes then it's time to measure up and follow these great videos!
If you are struggling for ideas or can't find that perfect combination, please reach out to me in the usual places - @valleyandpeakuk on Instagram, @ValleyandPeak on Twitter, ValleyandPeak on Facebook or on firstname.lastname@example.org for email.
Jim - Valley and Peak