Buying your backpacking survival gear is more complicated than it sounds. If you walk into your local outdoor and hiking store, you will see dozens of styles and sizes to choose. There’s a different backpack for every type of outdoor activity, so you need to consider several factors before purchasing one.
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How Much Load Do You Want To Carry?
Your first decision when choosing a backpack will always be the size. You should always aim to choose a pack that fits exactly what you need.
If you choose one that’s too big, there will be lots of empty space that allows your items to bounce around. The extra capacity also means you’ll have more weight on the backpack itself.
If you choose one that’s too small, you won’t be able to fit everything you need. You’ll be forced to leave things behind, carry another bag, or stuff your bag so full that it could tear.
When you’re at the store, ask the staff to stuff your backpack with around 30lbs to see how it feels. You want to make sure the weight is balanced and is comfortable to carry.
What Activity Will You Be Doing?
Depending on the activity you’re doing, you’ll want your backpack to have different features. We’ll break it down into the following 5 most common activities that require a backpack.
Daypack: If you don’t expect to be out for more than 6-8 hours, a daypack is your best bet. You’ll want something around 10-25L that has mesh or venting channels to keep you cool. At this size, you don’t need the pack to bear weight, so a waist strap to prevent bouncing is all that’s needed.
Climbing: Climbing packs need to have tough fabric to support the weight of gear attached to it on a route. Aim for 30L-50L capacity with minimal external features that might catch on rocks. You’ll also want the pack to be close to your spine to keep the weight centered and balanced.
Biking: Your biking packs are usually similar to a daypack. The difference is that a biking pack will have special compartments to stash your tools and helmet. 10-25L is all you’ll need, and make sure that it stays close to your body when you are in riding position. You don’t want the hipbelt to dig into your gut while you are sitting down. A hydration sleeve or port is an added bonus!
Snow sports: For skiing or snowboarding, your pack should have extra room to account for the extra layers you wear. You’ll want a compartment to stash wet skins, as well as external straps for your gear. 35-55L capacity is best.
Hiking and Expeditions: Most likely used for multi-day adventures, you need to carry heavy loads comfortably. Make sure this pack is well-padded with adjustable hipbelt, shoulder straps, and back panel. Some packs even come with detachable side pockets for easy access to items like your sleeping bag. 55-100L capacity depending on how long you plan to be out in the wild.
Features are also matters
Regardless of the 5 activities you intend to do, try to make sure your pack has the following features:
Waterproof or Water Resistant: You never know when it’ll get wet outside and you don’t want to worry about having all your stuff soaked.
Lockable zippers: You don’t want to worry about your bag opening up accidentally and losing its contents. Make sure there are two zippers for each pocket so you can keep your things protected.
Multiple compartments: If you don’t have multiple compartments, it will be a pain to unpack everything whenever you need something.
Internal frame: Internal frame backpacks are lighter and is less likely to get caught on things compared to an external frame backpack.
Padded hip belt, shoulder straps, and back: This one should be obvious, you need padding to make carrying more comfortable and to support your back.
Front loading: You should pick a front-loading backpack because it makes it easier to get your stuff. A top loading backpack is only accessible from the top, which makes getting things from the bottom very difficult.
What Is Your Budget?
A backpack can cost several hundred dollars if you load it with state of the art technology and every feature. Keep the above requirements in mind, but also make sure you’re not spending your entire outdoor budget on the backpack alone. It’ll be useless to have a great backpack with nothing to put in it. Sometimes a backpack in the mid-range will be just as good as the premium priced packs. It won’t look as flashy but at least you’ll be saving some money for other things.
How To Fit A Backpack?
All backpacks will come in different sizes to suit different body shapes. Something completely comfortable for you may cause long term problems for someone else. For this reason you shouldn’t use another person’s backpack unless it’s just a temporary solution. Any good store will have staff able to measure you, but here’s the general idea of what you should do.
First you’ll need to measure your back length. Locate the vertebrae in your neck that’s at around the same level as the top of your shoulders. Find the top of your hipbone and trace the same location in the middle of your back. The distance between these two points is your back length.
Next, you should put around 22 Lbs. of weight in the pack and put it on with all the straps loose. Adjust the hipbelt so that it completely covers your hipbones and is tight while breathable. Make sure your shoulder straps are flat against your shoulders and aren’t bunching up.
Once everything is fastened correctly, walk around and lean in different directions to make sure it’s all comfortable or needs further adjustment. If any points are putting pressure on you or rubbing against your skin you need to make more adjustments.
Long Term Care For Backpacking Survival Gear
If you want to make your pack last, you have to take good care of it. Make sure your pack is completely dry before storing it. Always keep it out of direct sunlight when not in use. Clean your pack thoroughly after every use, using an old soft toothbrush to not damage the material.
You may have to replace zippers and buckles occasionally, but with proper care the main body should last years.