The backpack is simply a backcountry device used to transport all your gear from point A to point B. However, choosing the specific backpack to accomplish this task is not so simple. Infact, it can be down right complicated. You must consider such variables as internal or external framed, load distribution, size, capacity, fit, comfort, durability, and price. Trying to find a pack that accomodates all of these variables to meet your specific needs can be time consuming and frustrating. But, making sure you purchase the right pack will pay off after you’ve left the roadside and are miles down the trail. The following information might help you when searching for that perfect backpack-if one actually exists.
Internal or External Frame
For several years now it seems that the buying trend with packs has shifted favorably to internal frame backpacks. However, when purchasing a new backpack remember to consider the external frame pack as well. These packs have been around many years and have proven themselves as worthy performers in the backcountry.
The main consideration when purchasing a pack is the terrain that you will encounter. The weight in an external frame pack is loaded high in the pack causing the pack and you to become top heavy. This offset results in poor balance. Thus, easy terrain with well-maintained trails is where a hiker would best employ an external frame packpack. However, when the terrain is steep and rough or your adventure takes you off-trail then an internal frame pack is the best choice. The internal pack is loaded with your heavy gear against your back. This helps maintain your center of gravity making it easier for you to scramlbe over boulders, negotiate rugged terrain or whatever is in your way without losing your balance. If you plan hike over both “mild and wild” terrain then opt for the internal frame backpack because it performs well in both environments.
Also, consider the load distribution of each type of backpack frame. With an external frame pack the weight is transferred from the pack to the metal frame. The metal frame is designed so that most of the pack’s weight is shifted to the hip-belt and off the shoulders and back. If you are prone to back and shoulder fatigue then this might be the frame type for you. The internal frame pack is designed so that the pack’s weight is more evenly distributed among the hip-belt, shoulders and back. Most packs are adjustable so that their weight can be shifted from hips to shoulders or the opposite. Internal frame packs tend to be more “fine tunable” than external frame packs. Also, make sure the pack you select has a sternum strap. This strap connects the shoulder straps together near the center of your chest and adds to the adjustablity of a pack.
Size and Capacity
Your length of stay in the backcountry and the season of the year will mostly determine the size and capacity of your backpack. Typically, for a weekend or half-week trip a 4000-5000 ci internal frame or a 3,000 ci external frame will suffice. When going on an extended trip (a week or longer) a 6000+ internal or a 4000+ external will be needed to carry the extra food and gear required for longer excursions. If your backpacking in the winter add atleast 500-1000 ci to both types of packs to accomodate bulkier clothing and a warmer sleeping bag. (Note: The reason why the external pack’s capacity is lower than the internal’s is because your sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, etc. are usually loaded on the inside of an internal pack. The same items can be attached to the frame of an external pack so the actual pack itself need not be as big.)
Comfort, Fit and Durability
Comfort and fit are probably the two most important factors to consider when purchasing a backpack. The best advice to take is try before you buy. A good sales clerk can assist in properly fitting a pack to your body dimensions. Also, most good outfitting stores will load their packs with sand bags or other objects of weight to simulate a realistic load that you would haul in the backcountry. This will make the decision process alot easier. Try the loaded pack on, walk around. Try to find a hill or uneven terrain nearby the store to test the pack’s load hauling characteristics. Can you maintain good balance? Can the pack be easily adjusted to improve the fit or shift the weight of the load without taking it off? Leave the pack on as long as possible to get as good of an indication as possible that the pack and your body are somewhat compatable. If you have any doubts-don’t buy! Wait until you are completely sure and confident in your final choice. After purchasing the pack, load it with gear and take a practice run, maybe a day hike or just around the backyard, to really get a feel for the pack.
Concerning durability there are several things to notice on a pack to gauge it’s quality and craftsmanship. Observe the stitching. Good packs will be double-stitched to improve durability as well as strength. Also, the fabric type will determine durability. Cordura is a very tough fabric employed by most good pack manufacturers but is heavy. Most all harness systems and waistbelt are made from Cordura. Packcloth (ripstop nylon) is not as durable as Cordura but can hold its own and is not as heavy. Alot of pack makers use a combination of fabric types to reach a compromise between durability and lightness.
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