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US Outdoor Store

GUIDE TO CHOOSING YOUR PERFECT BACKPACK

Guide To Choosing Your Perfect Backpack

So you want to go on an adventure, but you have no idea where to start when it comes to your backpack, but never fear! We here at US Outdoor have got you covered with this Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Backpack. The first and most important question you want to ask yourself is how much space do you need for all of your gear, and the answer depends on what exactly you plan on doing.

Pack Capacity

20 - 50 Liter Packs

Smaller packs that range in size from 20 – 50 liters are made for shorter, over night hiking or backpacking trips and are perfect for carrying the bare essentials with nothing extra. If you’re careful about what you pack you might be able to fit enough stuff in this pack for 2 or 3 nights, but anything longer than that will require a bigger pack.

50 - 70 Liter Packs

Whether you need some extra space for your backcountry and/or snow gear, or plan on being gone for a multiday trek, a 50 – 70 liter pack might be exactly what you’re looking for. These packs are the perfect size for carrying your emergency gear or camping equipment, and are made specifically with 2 to 5 night stays in mind. If you’re taking young children on a day or weekend hike, this might also be a good option for carrying everything that you need for you and your kiddo.

70 Liter or Larger Packs

Whether you’re a staying a week or more outside, or you’re a parent who’s taking their young ones backpacking, a large 70 liter or bigger pack is the way to go. These monster packs can easily accommodate your sleeping bag, tent, extra clothing, food and emergency supplies so that you stay prepared and comfortable on all of your outdoor adventures.

Women's and Youth Specific Packs

Another thing to look at when deciding on a pack is the difference between regular, women’s-specific and youth-specific packs. Women’s specific packs feature smaller frame sizes with shorter and narrower torso dimensions that are better fitted to a woman’s shape. Another difference between the women’s specific and the men’s specific packs are the hipbelts and shoulder straps, which are both contoured to better fit a woman’s shape.

Youth specific packs are similar to the women’s (you can even put older kiddos of both sexes into a women’s specific pack or a smaller men’s pack). These youth specific packs have smaller frame sizes, smaller capacities and usually offer an adjustable suspension to help the backpack keep up with any random growth spurts.

Pack Access

Top loading bags are the most common style for accessing your pack. It’s an incredibly easy design that’s perfect for a wide range of activities, just be sure to put your most important gear in last so that it ends up on top and within easy reach.

Packs with a front access option give you an easy window into the main compartment and can be helpful for quick and easy access to your gear. A lot of packs also offer a side-access point and some also feature a bottom access so you can easily reach clothing or gear that’s floated to the bottom of your pack.

Pack Frame Types

The frame in your backpack is there specifically to add extra comfort to your trip and make carrying your gear as easy as possible. There are three types of packs, ones with internal frames, ones with external frames, and ones that don’t use a frame at all.

Internal Frame Design

Most packs that you see will feature an internal frame design. This internal design is incredibly versatile with enough support to accommodate almost any type of hiking trip. Unless you’re carrying incredibly heavy gear or want the lightest weight pack possible, an internal frame is the way to go.

External Frame Design

There aren’t many packs that still feature an external frame design, over the years technology has gotten so good that most external framed packs have been phased out with less bulky, just as supportive internal frames. If you’re carrying abnormally heavy or weird shaped gear, an external frame might be the way to go, but the majority of people don’t need it.

Frameless Design

Frameless packs are considerably trickier than framed ones. They aren’t very good for carrying more than 20 or 30 lbs of gear, and you have to be extra careful while loading your pack to make sure that all the weight of your gear is evenly distributed. The main upside to a frameless pack is the incredibly lightweight design, so if you’re looking into doing a longer hike or want to get into some ultralight backpacking, a frameless pack could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Features & Accessories

After you figure out what size pack to look at, the next step is figuring out what features and accessories you might need to make your next adventure as easy as possible.

Pockets

Checking out how many pockets and/or gear loops a pack has is always one of the first things that I look at. It’s the simple things that can really make or break your trip.

Some packs feature a sleeping bag compartment on the bottom of your bag with an extra easy exterior zipper for faster access. While this isn’t an essential part of your pack, after a long day of trekking being able to set up camp as quick and easy as possible is an obvious plus. If you go with a pack that doesn’t have a specific sleeping bag compartment you’ll just want to be more meticulous when loading up your gear. Lighter items and items that you won’t need until you set up camp, should go in first so that they sit at the bottom of your pack, with heavier items near the top. Another option to look at is a pack with sleeping bag/sleeping pad straps for carrying your sleeping bag externally.

Next I’ll talk about other pockets that you might want to keep an eye out. Most packs feature side elastic pockets that are perfect for your water bottle or other loose items, but they can also feature hipbelt pockets that work just as well or better than the side pockets for smaller things like chapstick, phone or snacks. Shovel pockets are also a good addition to look for. Shovel pockets usually consist of a flap on the front with a buckle closure for holding your snow shovel, but it’s also a great place to stash maps, a sweater or your rain jacket.

Gear Loops & Attachments

Most packs have a variety of attachment points for all of your various pieces of gear, the most common is called a daisy chain. Daisy chains are made out of a length of webbing that’s perfect for attaching your helmet, carabiners, water bottle or other miscellaneous items. Another common place to find gear loops is on your hipbelt.

If you want to add some versatility to your favorite pack you can also buy a raincover for extra weather protection. Raincovers are compact and easy to carry with you so that you always have backup in case the weather gets sketchy.

Fit

If you’ve never been fitted for a pack before, the best place to start is by going to your local outdoor store. Getting a pack with the perfect fit can be difficult, and talking to someone who can walk you through everything is ideal. But just in case that isn’t an option for you, I’ll walk you through how to find the right fit on your own.

Getting the right fit is mainly about two important things, how snug is the pack around your hips, and is it the right size for your torso length. To find out your torso length you’ll need someone to measure your back from your C7 vertebra (if you bend your neck down, this vertebra is the big bone that sticks out of your neck, above your spine) to the top of your hip bones (also called the iliac crest). Finding out your hipbelt size is quite a bit easier; just remember that your hip size isn’t the same thing as your waist size. To measure your size, simply wrap the measuring tape around your hips right at the iliac crest. For the most part, all you need to know is your torso size, but it’s good to know your hip measurements just in case.

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