For many people, the term “backpack” conjures up images of schoolchildren waddling to class with fifty pounds of knowledge on their backs, but backpacks used for camping; wilderness hiking or expeditions are an entirely different matter. Read the complete article on backpacking packs buying guide.
Any kind of trip through the wilderness that is going to last more than a few hours is going to require more than a water bottle and a baggy full of trail mix. Choosing the right backpack, therefore, is absolutely essential. Fortunately, there are many options from which the backpacker may choose, depending on their destination.
According to the National Survey on Recreation and Environment, backpacking in the US has more than 22 million regular participants and is listed as one of the top ten most popular outdoor activities for baby-boomers by the AARP. The “Top Trails” list compiled by Trails.com list Breakneck Ridge Trail in New York and Glacier Gorge in Colorado as the top two most popular trails in North America. The “Pinnacle” in Pennsylvania is number three. It is part of the Appalachian Trail (A.T).
How Much Can A Backpack Carry?
Depending on how long you are going to be on the trail you will need to determine how much gear and provisions you’ll need to pack. If you are just out for a day’s invigorating trek that’s one thing, but if you’re looking at a weekend or even longer then you’ll need to seriously consider the carrying capacity of your pack.
Backpack volume is typically measured in liters as they are easier to remember. And the capacity is usually incorporated in the descriptive name of the pack. For example, the Teton Sports Explorer 4000 has a 4000 cubic inch capacity or about 65 liters or the Kelty Coyote 80 has a 4750 cubic inch capacity or about 80 liters.
The length of time being spent on the trail is the primary factor in determining the carrying capacity that will be needed but needs can also vary depending on the individual and number in the party. The below table composed from REI provides some basic guidelines in determining the size of pack you may need.
|Type of Trip||Pack Capacity (liters)||Pack Capacity (cubic in.)|
|Day or Overnight (1-2 nights)||20 – 50||1200 – 3000|
|Weekend (2-3 nights)||50 – 60||3000 – 3600|
|Multiday (2-5 nights)||60 – 80||3600 – 4800|
|Extended (5+ nights)||80+||4800+|
External or Internal Frame?
As carrying capacity increases so does the weight (obvious huh?). Consequently, the pack needs some support for added stability and balance. A framework provides the needed support. This support makes it a whole lot easier for the backpacker to manage the load. The frame can be an external frame to which the pack is attached or it can be a frame that is integrated into the pack itself called an internal frame. Drawing from information published by the Boy Scouts of America, here is a comparison of external and internal frame construction.
Pros and Cons of External Frame
The external frame backpack has waned in popularity since the introduction of internal frames but they are still widely used. For those who grew up in the 1980s, the picture of the camping backpack that they would be most familiar with from that period would likely have had external frames. Typically the pack sits on a framework of aluminum tubing. The rigid but light tubing helps distribute the weight within the pack.
- – Weight rides on the hips so able to walk more erect.
- – Cooler because the pack does not sit flat on your back and allows for air circulation.
- – Usually easier to organize and pack.
- – Heavy loads do not shift and sag as they might with an internal.
- – The rigid frame is bulky and inflexible which can make it difficult when off trail on irregular terrain or climbing is involved.
- – If you are traveling by air with this puppy you’re going to have to check it, the rigid frame is not going to let you stow it onboard.
The Pros and Cons of Internal Frame
Introduced in the early ‘70s, the internal frame backpack has soared in popularity and is the most common backpacking pack today. The frame being on the inside provides support without the inflexibility of the externals. The frame is actually aluminum or composite stays that are inserted into channels within the pack and usually form the shape of a V or X although other configurations are used. The stays can be removed and shaped to fit your body.
Benefits of the internal are:
- – Flexibility, it is stiff but not rigid so it moves more easily with your body.
- – Balance, they fit close to the body and are less likely to throw a backpacker off-balance.
- – Load Stability, compression straps allow you to cinch down the load and prevent it from shifting while performing unexpected maneuvers.
- – Adjustable, because of the shoulder straps and waist belt the load is highly adjustable for keeping it in balance and comfort for the backpacker.
- The drawbacks:
- – Poor accessibility, a single large compartment for stowing gear means it may be difficult to find the item you need without unpacking the load.
- – Poor ventilation, because the pack fits so snugly against your body there is little room for air circulation and it can become uncomfortably hot.
Let’s see more on backpacking packs buying guide.
Is Waterproof Necessary?
You are not likely to spend much time outdoors or in the backcountry without encountering rain, snow, streams or some form of water. Does that mean that your backpack needs to be waterproof?
Backpacking packs are made of water resistant material and the zippers are constructed to be water resistant as well. You may even add a rain fly that covers the pack and protects it from a passing shower or soggy day of hiking in places like the Pacific North West, or Southeast Asia, where the possibility of rain becomes a likelihood.
In most cases, the backpack’s basic water resistance is probably sufficient for the majority of backpacking experiences. But even then you will need to give special attention to items such as cell phones, cameras, maps, etc. that are particularly sensitive to moisture and carry them in watertight bags or containers. However, there are times when something more is needed.
Take these words from ROC Gear as precautionary when it comes to waterproof backpacks, “…every manufacturer seems to have their own definition of what constitutes ‘waterproof’….”
In some settings, it may be advisable to have a backpack that can be submerged in water. Although not yet a universally accepted rating system, here is one developed by ROC Gear that can provide some guidance as to what to look for:
Waterproof Rating on backpacking packs buying guide
|Class 1||Water resistant for light rain or light splash applications.|
|Class 2||Waterproof in top-down watering situations.|
|Class 3||Waterproof so tight it floats or can handle quick submersions up to 3 feet in depth.|
|Class 4||Waterproof and submersible to at least 3 feet, but not more than 12 feet for an extended period of time but not exceeding 24 hrs.|
|Class 5||Waterproof and submersible to depths greater than 12 f|
So if you’re planning a rafting trip down the Colorado River you may want to consider a pack with a rating higher than Class 2. In any case, if the manufacturer is describing their pack as “waterproof” you had better find out what they mean by that label before you purchase it. You may find the above table helpful in determining just how waterproof the pack is.
Conclusion for backpacking packs buying guide
If your gearing up for your next day hike or calculating your book time on the A.T. for this summer, here are factors to take into account if you are going to be purchasing a backpacking pack.
- Length of stay
- Number of people in the party
- Body-type of the backpacker
- Likely Weather conditions on the trail and at the destination
- The type of terrain to be traveled
And remember in all your planning don’t forget to have fun.
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