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It doesn’t matter if you’re scaling mountains, heading off to university or doing your daily commute – having the right backpack will make everything easier. But there’s probably more to choosing a backpack than you might imagine. Factors such as how much you’re carrying, whether the things are fragile, and how long you’ll typically be wearing it for are all part of the equation. Choose well now, and you could have a backpack that lasts you for many years – even a lifetime. So to get you thinking, here are our five things to look for in your next backpack.
Of course, backpacks come in a range of sizes, and there’s often a temptation to get one that’s simply too big, especially if it’s for venturing into the great outdoors. Just think about how much you’ll generally need to be carrying, and you’ll probably find it’s not all that much unless you’re a hardcore trekker.
A problem with getting a rucksack that’s too big is that the items inside become distributed towards the bottom, meaning the centre of gravity is below your rib cage, and that creates a tendency to pull your shoulder backwards – not comfortable and not healthy, especially over long distances. Get a backpack that accommodates all your gear in the area around your shoulder blades if small, or between your neck and hips if large, and you’ll be better packed.
The drawback of a backpack that’s too small is a bit more straightforward – you won’t fit your things in! But clearly if you’re regularly carrying a laptop or some other piece of equipment, measure it before you buy. Some backpacks have a specific laptop size in their description.
A backpack shouldn’t be one big vessel that you throw everything into. You’ll find all the small things fall to the bottom and you’ll be rooting around trying to find them. The more pockets, pouches and compartments there are, the better. It’s always handy to have a zippable inside pocket near the top to carry valuables like your wallet and phone with maximum security, but any inside pockets or compartments help keep things safe. Pockets and compartments also help you distribute weight more evenly, essential on longer walks.
Outside pockets are just as useful, especially when you’re hiking. You can store maps, GPS devices, water bottles, snacks and that vital selfie stick, all with easy access – just reach around and grab them.
Unlike outdoor clothing, backpacks don’t need hi-tech breathable fabrics – they just need to be as impervious to water as possible. So whether you’re hiking with all your essentials or carrying your expensive electronic devices to the office, make sure the rain stays outside your backpack by choosing one with a waterproof fabric.
But remember, waterproofing has to be considered in the design of the backpack, not just the fabric. Water-tight zip fasteners can help keep pockets dry, especially if they have overlaps along their length. Flaps over pockets and the top opening also help drain away water, as you can see on the Shawnee backpack. There’s no point having waterproof fabric if there’s a big opening on the top.
If you’re wearing your backpack for lengthy periods, especially if it’s heavily packed, you need to pay particular attention to the ergonomics – how it fits with your natural shape and posture. If you’re off on a major hiking expedition, we recommend you try on several different backpacks while wearing your outdoor clothing to find the one that suits your body shape best.
Lumbar support is all about distributing the weight as evenly as possible around your back and shoulders. That’s achieved by getting a well-fitting backpack with wide, padded straps and ideally a waist strap to keep it held snugly against your body, preventing rocking and twisting.
Back care doesn’t only apply when you’re tackling the Inca Trail, though. Even regular city wear with a laptop and a few books will start to cause aches and strains if it’s not set up for your body. Again, make sure the straps are wide and padded so that weight is spread evenly, and use pockets to distribute items away from the bottom. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing the backpack on just one shoulder, as this can skew your spine.
The final thing to look for is adjustability. Backpacks are all made to set sizes, but humans aren’t. It’s vital that you can set up the lengths of the shoulder straps and any other auxiliary straps so that your backpack fits like a glove, whatever you’re wearing underneath it. You should be able to release the straps easily so you can get the backpack on and off, and once it’s on, you should be able to tighten it up from the front so that it’s snugly against your back, with no risk of working loose.
As a rule, as long as you’re comfortable and your equipment is protected, you’ve probably chosen the right backpack. As soon as you start feeling strains or the backpack is rubbing, it’s time to readjust it or invest in a new one that will stand the test of time.