Backpack Buying Tips

There are so many choices available for backpacks today that before looking at the details it can be helpful to get a general view.

Consider first how much you intend to carry. To a significant degree, that will be determined by how long you intend to hike and in what conditions. An overnight trip in an area with a snack bar or restaurant calls for one strategy. A weeklong trek far from civilization is another kettle of fish entirely.

For every day you’re out you’ll need about a gallon of water (3-4 liters). That number varies, of course, depending on your size, activity and general weather conditions. Just take it as a starting point.

You’ll want to carry about 1-2 pounds of food for every day you hike. Of course, if you’re in good shape and only plan to be out from the morning until evening, it’s certainly possible to get by with none at all. But, keep in mind that hiking consumes a large number of calories and you will need more food intake than usual.

Don’t think of hiking as primarily a way to lose weight. It’s healthy exercise, for sure. But you can put your health at risk by ignoring the need for salts, sugars and other nutritional components of food. Fluid intake is the most important element. Imbalances of electrolytes can put you on the ground like an exhausted marathon runner.

Consider your overall level of fitness. If you’re really fit, you can carry more weight farther. But don’t go overboard. Even experienced hikers minimize their load.

That load is sometimes called FSO (From the Skin Out) weight. That’s loaded backpack weight (20-50lbs or more), socks and shoes (around 3lbs), etc. One sub-category is called pack weight, which includes just the contribution from an empty backpack. Pack weight varies by material, quantity of aluminum tubing incorporated, etc.

Consider how you intend to carry the weight. Most backpacks have a large number of internal and external pockets and flaps, as well as loops and buckles to carry add-ons.

The flaps can be the kind that flip over the entire pack, to keep out dirt or water. Smaller flaps are often used to cover buckles or other components that can produce discomfort or snag. Loops and buckles are used to allow you to carry hiking poles, bungee cords, tenting equipment, water bottles and so forth.

Plan to keep the overwhelming majority of the weight inside the pack. Doing otherwise leads to imbalance, which shifts the center of mass making it harder to carry. It also leaves more stuff on the outside to catch on trees and bushes. Think tight, light and confined.

Definitely do try on a number of packs before buying. Women in particular will want to be careful, since even packs of the right size may not fit right. Comfort is important. You’ll be carrying it and the load for several hours on end, sometimes for several days.

Make sure you have enough adjustment length on shoulder straps, belt loops and other elements to make the pack feel like an extension of your body. Take along some items to put in the pack to give you a realistic idea of how a loaded pack will actually feel and operate.

Happy hunting!

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