Choosing the right Backpack

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Choosing the right Backpack By JJ Harrison ( (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


The very beginning of „the backpackers way“ comes down to one thing: choosing a right backpack. The goal is to find a piece that fits your needs by size and type.


When we mention the type, there are two basic types: top loading and panel (side) loading. The choice is yours, depending on your packing habits. Panel loading ones are a bit more practical because they offer a traditional type of packing (like a suitcase) where all your stuff is just „right there“ while top loading ones are a bit more compact and sturdier.

This text will focus on picking the right size.

The first thing you should consider is your torso length. Picking the wrong size could lead to back pains due to leaning and improper posture trying to catch a balance. So how do you measure your torso?
You will need a tailors measuring tape and a helping hand. Lean your head forward and let your friend find seventh vertebrae. It is the „bump“ on your lower neck on the imaginary line where the neck connects to your shoulder line. Then, put your hands on your HIPS (those bumps on your front above the pockets on your pants). Make sure your thumbs are on your back. Now, let your friend measure the distance between your seventh vertebrae and the invisible line connecting your thumbs over your lower back. That is your torso length.

Now, the table of sizes:


Pack Size Torso Length
Extra Small Up to 15½" - 40 cm
Small 16" to 17½" - 40-43 cm
Medium 18" to 19½" - 45-49 cm
Large 20"+ - over 50 cm

backpacker riverAuthor: Emelianenko









There is also a possibility to choose your backpack based on the trip length, but we think that it is better to adjust your packing habits to the backpack than the other way around. You back will be grateful.


Now that you know how to measure yourself and pick the right size, let’s check out the various characteristics that will define the exact model you are going to buy.

Frame type – there are internal and external frames. Internal are smaller, fit closer to your back and are more appropriate to active backpacking, where you need wide arm clearance and a tight center of balance. External frames are bulkier but better support heavier loads and „calmer“ backpacking. The most important thing is that your backpack HAS a frame. It will distribute the weight over your back and shoulders in the most effective way.

Zippers – Even though they are a bit less waterproof, we could say, the more the better. It will give you the opportunity to distribute your stuff in smaller compartments so you don’t have to pull out half of the load just to get one small item. Tip: it is good that every opening has two zippers – you can put them together with a little padlock, thus securing your stuff a bit more.

Belts and straps – a good hip-belt is crucial to keep your back healthy. Pick the one that is wide, sturdy and well padded. The same rule applies to shoulder straps. Adjustable length for all of them is implied.

Shoulder strap buckles – being able to connect your shoulder straps over your chest enhances stability while carrying a heavy backpack. Look for them.

Padded back – this really should not be extra explained. Good and well ventilated back padding is extremely important.

Daypack – some bigger backpacks come with a smaller one attached to it. It can be a small backpack style or a fanny pack style. Or even both. That is an excellent add-on to carry just your daily necessities while sightseeing, not being forced to drag around a huge hump on your back.

Rain cover – some backpacks come with embedded rain covers. Great if your pick does, but that add-on can be purchased separately and carried in one of the backpacks little pockets.

Wire openings – to pull your headphones if your MP3 player is in a backpack. Not crucial off course, but nice if it is there.

The amount of small pockets – clear as a day, the more the better. The important thing is that they are easily accessible, even with a backpack still on your back.

Side pockets for water bottles – extra useful on long walks or hikes

Straps on backpack surface – gripping all those straps gives the backpack more compact feel, makes it more stable and doesn't allow the loose stuff in it to move around. They can also be used for hooking some smaller things on them on the outside of the backpack. Tip: carry a few small locking biners with you.

The price – keep in mind, more money doesn't always mean more quality. Try to get the most for your cash. That it.

After your purchase, and picking the stuff you will carry, it's time for packing. With that also, there is the right way, and the wrong way. For that, check out our packing guide.


Last modified on Sunday, 18 August 2013 20:54
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