Never underestimate the advantages a good backpack can bring you. Whether you’re going to school, going camping, or on a backpacking trip across the continent, a backpack will help you in more ways than one. Not only will it hold all your stuff, it will also be your companion on these trips and forays. Therefore, you need a companion that won’t bring you down and will see you through even the roughest and harshest times.
BACKPACK CAPACITY ACCORDING TO YOUR NEEDS
Depending on the particular activity you will embark on, there are various backpacks with distinct capacities (measured in liters) available in the market.
- Hydration packs (10 to 20 lt) – These are small packs that are ideal for short running and biking activities, made to accommodate just enough food, snacks, money and other small items.
- Day packs (20 to 30 lt) – These are for outings that will last for an average of a full day and can hold items such as food, water, and a few items of clothing for when you need to layer up in case the weather shifts.
- Weekend packs (40 to 60 lt) – For those long backpacking and camping trips, there are weekend packs with storage large enough to hold a sleeping bag, tent, clothes, food and other camping gear essentials.
- Multi-day or Extended-Trip packs (60 to 80 lt) – If you thought the weekend packs are the largest, you’d be surprised at how spacious the extended-trip packs are. Ideal for multi-week excursions, it’s like bringing part of your home with you on your extended backpacking trips.
A BACKPACK THAT FITS YOUR TORSO
Comfort is an important factor when choosing a backpack, thus the fit should be given utmost importance. The fit of backpacks is based on the length of one’s torso, or the distance between your C7 vertebra (the most noticeable protrusion on your upper spine) and the rear “shelf” of your hips. Depending on the model and brand, if you get the correct measurement of your torso, you are bound to find the size that would most fit you comfortably. A good fit also means having a snug grip on the hips, that’s why many backpacks also come with hip belts. Therefore, you also need to get your waist and hip measurement.
Some also come with chest or sternum straps that connect to the shoulder straps. These are meant to improve stability and prevent you from losing your balance in uneven terrain. Generally, a Small pack size would fit those with torso length of 16” to 17 ½“, while the Regular size would be ideal for those measured at 18” to 19 ½“. The Large size reaches up to 20” and above.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A BACKPACK
The things you should look for in a backpack should extend beyond the appearance. Sure, you’d want to be carrying a pleasant-looking backpack, but the features are what should matter most.
- Fit: There is fit, of course, to ensure you would be comfortable and you won’t be killing yourself when carrying your backpack.
- Capacity: The capacity is also considered, along with the storage and compartments provided for inside and outside the pack.
- Material: You should also consider the material or fabric of the backpack and assess whether they would be durable enough for the activity they will be used for. Normally there is a tradeoff between the material and weight of the backpack. Often, the lighter materials have to compromise on durability, so you have to decide which one matters more to you. Of course there are exemptions.
- Padding: The padding of backpacks is also getting much attention these days since they are contributory to easing the weight of the load as well as providing protection to the back, hips, and shoulders of the wearer.
- Ventilation: Ventilation and breathability are also a major consideration, particularly for those backpacks worn in extended trips. In order to keep the air flowing between one’s back and the pack itself, some packs are built with “chimneys” on the back panels of the backpack, or “tension-mesh suspensions” to encourage breathability and prevent having a sweaty back.
- Weather- and water-proof: Another question that comes to mind would be: how weather-proof and water-proof is it? A waterproof backpack would be a really good deal, but if the material does not provide such protection from rain, some would look for packs that come with rain covers or packcovers.
Fit Is All That Matters
At the end of the day, fit is all that matters.
So let’s breakdown the simple, five-step process—in the right order—you need to follow make your backpack to fit like a glove.
The sequence below are our 5 steps to get the perfect backpack fit:
- Loosen Up
- Hip Belt
- Shoulder Straps
- Sternum Strap
- Load Strap
Start by loosening all the straps on your backpack straps. All of ’em. If this is your first time fitting your backpack, add 10-15 pounds of weight to the bag. A water gallon works great. Now, put it on.
The whole point of finding the perfect fit for your backpack is to maximize the amount of weight that rests on your hips. If you adjust the backpack just right you can carry as much as 80-90% of the weight on your hips. And that feels awesome.
- With your backpack on, lean forward a little
- Clip the belt strap together and fasten it tight
- Leave an inch of material on either side of both buckles. If you have to tighten the hip belt further than this, the bag is probably too big for you
- Jiggle and wiggle—I prefer the Macarena—to settle the weight on your hips just above the iliac crest
Science Term Alert: Iliac Crest: the superior border of the wing of ilium and the superolateral margin of the greater pelvis. Don’t you feel smarter now?
The top of the hip belt should be about one inch above the iliac crest. The iliac crest is basically the top of your hip bone—that curvy bit that sticks out on a skeleton model. You can find it easily with your thumb.
Now that you’ve got your hip belt adjusted to carry the load, it’s time to tighten the all important shoulder straps and snug that weight against your back.
- Pull down on both straps simultaneously and tighten until your backpack fits snugly along your back
- A good shoulder strap fit is all about contour—you want the straps to make contact with your whole shoulder—the front and back—not just the top.
Your shoulder straps should be snug but not uncomfortable…obviously.
A lot of people neglect the sternum strap, but it’s crucial for long-term comfort and wearability. A great backpack fit starts with the hip belt, but you’ll notice a poorly fit shoulder strap waaaay faster. The sternum strap does one thing—keep the shoulder straps where they’re supposed to be—a.k.a. on your shoulders.
If the sternum strap is too loose the shoulder straps will slide down. Ever see people “hitching up” their bags over and over again? Loose sternum strap.
If the sternum strap is too tight, the shoulder straps will ride up and can pinch the delicate blood vessels in your neck. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen. You’ll get a headache and could even pass out. Don’t pass out.
Extra Credit: Load Strap
Some bags—traditionally hiking backpacks—have an additional strap called the load strap or load lifter. This little connecting strap at the top of the shoulder strap functions as a lever to take weight off your shoulders. When adjusted properly it pulls the load on your shoulders up and back, meaning even more weight rests on your hips.
This is the one strap you can set and forget. You want it to stay at a clean 45° angle. If it’s not the exact fit you want, tweak it a little at a time. You’ll feel the difference right away.
Once it’s settled, move around. Do some lunges. Jump. Twist. Feel the weight move with you. If there’s a lot of jiggle, tighten accordingly, starting again from #1—the hip belt.
The perfect backpack fit is about little adjustments. Just like life. Hey-oooooo!
The best backpack in the world will feel like a sack full of dead possums duct taped to your shoulder blades if you don’t adjust the straps to suit your body. Use these steps—in order—and you’ll be able to carry the weight of the world as you travel every inch of it.
- Pack your bag the right way
- Loosen Up
- It’s all in the hips
- Contour those shoulder straps
- The sternum strap is at the heart of a great fit
- Figure out what the load strap actually does
YOU AND YOUR BACKPACK – MADE FOR EACH OTHER
Look at it this way: as much as you are carrying your pack on your back, you can also say that your pack will be carrying you, considering the “service” it will be providing you during those trips and activities. Think about your needs, read many reviews and choose wisely.