To make you one with your backpack it’s a good idea to think about when and where you need it.
To find a backpack that works for everything is more or less impossible, but it’s actually not that difficult to find the optimal backpack for your next adventure, for both everyday use and outdoor use.
What you should try to look for in a backpack is the following:
1. a size fitted for your purpose
2. most of the details and functions you prefer
3. the correct length down the back and properly fitted for you
How big should my backpack be?
Depending on what you want to use your backpack for, you’ll need a different volume. What are you going to pack, what kind of person are you (light or heavy packer), how long will you be gone and what time of year it is also of importance. During winter the gear will always be bigger and heavier, so you’d have to add a few extra liters. If you’re also a parent on top of it all, you would need to add more space. The recommendations below can work as a rule of thumb.
Everyday use and daytrips: 20-35 liters
Overnight, weekend & cabin trips: 35-50 liters
Backpacking: 45-65 liters
Week long trips with tent: 60-90 liters
The absolute best would be if you got all your gear into the backpack and avoid attaching anything on the outside. In that way it’ll be easier to spread the weight, pack right and get the backpack to fit well. Choose a volume with all the occasions you’ll use it the most taken into consideration. A backpack will always work its best when it’s well filled. If you compress the backpack, think about compressing the bottom first, before you put any gear in. That way you will avoid packing all of your gear at the bottom, which creates the wrong weight distribution and makes the backpack feel heavy.
What kind of backpack should I go for?
Nowadays there’s an unlimited amount of backpack models to choose from, which could make things easier for you, but it could also create some problems. Sometimes there’s just too many. That is when it’s good to think about which functions and details you want your backpack to have.
Opening and lids
Loading from the front, top and/or bottom? Top lid or a rolling one? The alternatives for how to reach your gear are endless. Backpacks with loading in the front is a favourite with many. It’s easy to reach your gear and you can easily take out something from the bottom of your backpack. On most of the larger hiking backpacks, you’ll also find a bottom compartment with a separate opening which often is used for sleeping bags and toiletries you use before bed. This compartment is normally separated from the rest of the backpack with a partition. Since you most likely will take out your sleeping bag and toiletries every night, whis compartment will be very useful.
Waterproof or not? The obvious advantage of a waterproof backpack is of course that you never have to worry about your gear getting wet. The waterproof models are also often much more durable than regular materials. But they can be heavier and they may not have any exterior pockets. You could also keep your gear dry by using a rain cover and/or waterproof pack bags.
Waist belt and carrying systems
On bigger backpacks we would say that a waist belt is completely necessary, especially if you want to carry your gear safely, comfortably and correct. On smaller models it might be enough with a waist strap, since it won’t be that heavy anyway. Several models also have detachable or stowable waist belts, which could be an advantage if you travel a lot with your backpack or you want to use it everyday and therefore almost never use the belt. If you backpack a lot you should invest in a large backpack with a stowable waist belt. Easy to take with you on the bus, train, taxi or flight. This also means you don’t have to buy a flight bag.
Light packer?If you are a light packer it’s a good idea to go for a backpack that don’t weigh as much on its own. Grams turn to kilos very fast. Most lightweight backpacks would have a recommended max load you should keep to. Check this before you buy a backpack. Often the carrying system isn’t as good and stable as a heavier and more robust model. Furthermore, all the details and functions are a little more delicate on a lightweight backpack, so you should treat it thereafter.
There’s a lot of backpacks around adapted for women. They are often shorter in back length and have a carrying system shaped for the female body. Narrower between the shoulders, cut shoulder straps to enable them from tightening over the chest and an angled waist belt . Are you a short and slim guy who has a hard time finding a unisex backpack that fits? A women’s backpack might be an alternative for you.
Back length and fit
All bodies are different and that’s why a backpack will never have the optimal fit for everyone. But on many models you actually can adjust the back length or choose between some different lengths. The measurements may vary from producer to producer, and that’s why it is important to know your own back length to be able to find a backpack that fits.
Measure the length of your back
Get a tape-measure and ask someone for help. Localize the little pointy vertebra at the top of your neck, vertebra C7, and start measuring from that. Put your hands on your waist, in the same hight as your iliac crest, with your thumbs pointing in towards your spine. Then you measure from C7, along your spine, all the way down to the invisible line between your two thumbs.
Semi heavy should go on top, e.g. camera and toiletries
Heavy should go as close to your back as possible, e.g. tent, stoves and food
Light gear, e.g. clothes, should go in the front
Bulky and light stuff, e.g. sleeping bags, go in the bottom