Selecting A Backpack
A good backpack can make or break your outdoor adventures.
Before purchasing one for use on your next expedition, here’s
some information a backpacker should consider:
• Primary use
• Type of frame
• Pack design
• Construction and materials
• Fitting a backpack
• Consumer reviews
Primary use of your pack: Day trip, overnight hike, long trek
Take a few minutes to think about the main ways you will be
using the pack. Also, consider frequency of use. A pack you plan
to use infrequently need not be as durable as one you’ll use
every day. If you’re going overland on an extended hiking and
camping adventure, your choice of pack is more critical than if
you’re just toting books around campus. In this article, we’ll
focus on high-use packs and discuss some of the features you
should look for in lightweight, quality backpacks.
Size does matter: Choose it carefully
Lay out all the outdoor gear and supplies you’re planning to
carry in the pack on a flat surface like a large table or a bed.
You’ll be surprised at how much there is! Especially if you need
to carry your food, shelter and other equipment along with you
in the pack. Choose a large pack in this case. A large pack is
generally rated at 4000 cubic inches or more. Planning just a
short jaunt to the backcountry? A daypack of 1000-2000 cubic
inches might be just right to carry your gear, lunch, water
bottle and an energy bar or two. For campground-type camping, a
medium-sized pack will work well for your clothes and personal
care items. These packs have a capacity of 2000-4000 cubic
inches and will work well if you transport your tent and food
separately – in a car or canoe, for example. Regardless of size,
the pack should have a waist belt and contoured, padded shoulder
straps. The waist belt allows the weight of the pack to be
Frame design: Two major types
If your adventure will take you away from home for more than a
day, you should choose a pack with a frame. Frames are either
internal or external. While both types lend support to the pack,
there are important differences.
Internal frame packs have the following features:
• Pack support system is internally integrated into the pack
• Frame is designed to transfer a substantial portion of the
weight to the hips, which are stronger for load bearing than the
• Internal frame stays are usually made of aluminum or carbon
• Internal frame stays should be contoured to match your spine’s
• Internal frame stays run from the top of the pack down to the
hip belt and help to stabilize the pack as well as distribute
weight to the hips.
• If you choose a pack with a frame sheet, remember that frame
sheets have little effect on weight distribution. However, frame
sheets do improve back shaping compared to stays which allow the
back panel to round out.
• Internal frames are designed to have a low profile that fits
the curves of the body. For that reason, they give the pack
External frame packs have the following features:
• External frames are often are quite slim from the side and
therefore get the load closer to the back. .
• External-framed backpacks are generally less complex in design
than internal packs
• The support system is outside the pack – the pack attaches to
• The frame is generally made of tubular aluminum and is stiffer
than an internal frame.
• External frames distribute weight and stabilize loads similar
to internal frames.
• Frame members are not curved to body contours. This allows an
airspace between the pack and the body that’s more comfortable
in hot or humid weather.
• Less expensive than internal frame packs.