A good rucksack can offer comfort whilst bearing a large load over long distances. Comfort is king, if a pack rubs or is uncomfortable it is not suitable.
TYPES OF BACKPACK
To accommodate a variety of body types, activities, and environmental conditions, manufacturers make backpacks in a range of designs and sizes. This allows you the user to choose the correct size and the most comfortable pack available.
Daypacks (0 - 40 Litres): These small packs have little or no internal frame to support loads, the cargo weight is supported by the shoulder straps and as this weight is small this shouldn't be a problem. No back panel or internal frame keeps weight down which is ideal for fast and light hikes. Daypacks are great for short, single trip outings like day hikes and commuting. Helpful features are a waist belt to keep your load centred, chest straps and padding along the back for added comfort.
Today's daypacks often include laptop and tablet sleeves, hydration reservoir compartments and accessory sections for stashing pens and wires.
Backpacking Packs (40 - 80 Litres): This size is designed for multi day hiking trips where you need to carry supplies with you, often including tent and sleeping bag. They have a frame that gives structural rigidity and transfers the load from your back and shoulders to your hips. Large rucksacks of this capacity fit closely to the back to provide stability, however, some rucksacks will have a ventilated back system which allows air to flow between your back and the pack meaning you'll stay cool no matter the weather.
Backpacking rucksacks include removable upper lids which allows for expansion of the pack and bellow mesh pockets also can add extra capacity. Look out for packs with a lower compartment that is separate to the rest of the pack as this is ideal for storing a sleeping back or dirty clothes.
Expedition Rucksacks (70 - 100 Litres): The very large capacity of these backpacks makes them ideal for extended hiking/trekking trips and full expeditions. They are also very useful on winter trips that require extra gear.
Travel Bags: These vary from basic soft-sided suitcases with shoulder straps to backpacks with removable daypacks and often they'll have a fabric flap that zips over the shoulder straps and waist belt to stop snagging on any luggage conveyor belts at the airport. When the straps are folded away, they resemble a soft suitcase. This is advantageous for those seeking an air of respectability when checking into hotels or crossing borders.
We've recently added rolling suitcases to this collection which includes a range of carry on cases as well as much larger capacity cases for longer trips.
Internal Frame: This type of backpack is used mainly for large loads, they transfer a lot of the weight from your shoulders to your hips. Transferring the weight produces a better centre of gravity, which can be felt whilst walking long distances. Make sure you get a backpack that has an aluminium or Carbon fibre frame which are light in weight and won't add to the weight you're carrying. Cheaper packs have a steel frame but are just as sturdy.
Look for shoulder straps with an adequate amount of padding which is often in the form on a honeycomb filling that feels like gel, keeps weight down and improves breathability. The padding around the hip area should also be generous so you don't develop tender spots after a day's hiking.
A lumbar support or lower back support is a must with heavy loads, as is a waist strap. Look for backpacks that have loops to hang extra gear if needed, these come in handy if you come across some items whilst trekking. A backpack with external pockets comes in handy allowing you to access often used items without going through the rest of the pack, such as water bottles and snacks.
Although this type of pack offers a better sense of balance, it does have its drawbacks too. It hugs your body a little more closely than external packs and doesn't allow for much ventilation.
External Frame: These types of backpacks appear a little larger because the frame is on the outside and usually made of aluminium. A higher centre of gravity is typical with this type of pack so may impact stability but they do a good job of transferring most of the weight to your hips. Unlike the Internal Frame packs these have a few different frame shapes:
Straight - has a good amount of room between the pack and the hiker's back allowing for ventilation.
S-Shape - which is made to conform to a hiker's back for better stability.
Hip wrap - transfers some of the weight to the hiker's legs.
HARNESS SYSTEM DESIGN & FIT
For heavier loads (around 10 to 15 kg), a properly fitting harness system with a padded load-bearing hip belt and adjustable shoulder straps is vital for comfort and carrying efficiency. The hips are much better at supporting weight than the shoulders and back, and as such a good harness system will allow most of the weight of the pack (about 70% of the load) to be transferred onto the pelvis, with the shoulder straps acting more as a means of keeping the pack on your back. An internal frame assists in the transfer of weight and helps maintain the shape and stability of the pack. Harnesses systems come in 4 main types:
One-size fixed: Low cost, lightweight and simple, with little to go wrong or less to potentially break, but entirely down to luck as to whether it fits adequately or not.
One-size adjustable: Allows the shoulder straps to be raised and lowered to accommodate the differing lengths of people's backs. However, those with short backs can find the pack is then too tall when adjusted (sticks way up above their head), and those with long backs can find the pack hangs too low on their back (which means that you have to walk with more of a stoop when carrying the pack).
Multi-size fixed: The pack comes in a choice of fixed back lengths, offering the advantages of a fixed back system (simplicity and low weight), but with a much better chance of finding a good fit, both in terms of back length and pack size.
Multi-size adjustable: Offers the greatest chance of getting a good fit, by allowing the selection of a correctly sized and proportioned pack, then the ability to fine tune the back length by moving the shoulder straps up or down.
Packs receive a lot of abuse. To ensure your choice is up to the test, look for these features:
- Durable fabrics like Cordura® with a high denier value. The base of your rucksack will have a higher denier than the rest of the pack as it's often in contact with the floor and therefore a high-wear area.
- Tightly stitched seams. To test for this, pull on the seam where the straps are sewn into the pack; it should be difficult for you to see any stitches.
- Inside seams should be bound (covered by fabric) so they are less prone to wear.
- Bar-tacked stitching at stress points and load bearing surfaces.
- Weather-resistant urethane coatings that provide some protection from the elements (although any backpack will leak to some extent through its stitching).
- Beefy, strong looking zippers that may be lockable.
With the exception of a very few specialised designs, no backpacks or rucksacks are waterproof. Even though the fabrics used in their construction may well be waterproof, all the seams, stitching and openings will ensure that water will usually find a way in. As such, any items that need to stay dry (e.g. sleeping bag, spare clothing, etc.), should be packed inside some kind of waterproof rucksack liner or drybag. Rucksack rain covers are also available, some packs come with them as a standard feature so check the lid or base compartment for these and they work like a giant shower cap, keeping your pack and its contents dry. However, they do make getting at pockets and equipment on the pack more awkward.
As a technical hiking store we now stock a range of waterproof daypacks which have fully taped seams so they can be fully immersed in water. These often have roll top entry to keep water out and are great for wading through rivers and any sports or hikes in torrential downpours.
All good quality rucksack manufacturers also make harness systems especially designed to fit the female form. These harnesses feature:
- Reshaped hip belts that are proportionally larger and more cupped.
- Redesigned shoulder straps that are positioned closer together at the neck and shaped away from the chest.
- Pack shape that is in keeping with the proportions of the harness.
- Sometimes pack sizes are slightly smaller in capacity than the unisex or male versions.
Harness or Shoulder Straps: The shoulder harness should be designed to handle around 30 percent of the weight. The straps keep the pack centred and balanced to ensure the majority of the weight is transferred onto the hips. Look for shoulder straps with firm but forgiving padding. They should not pinch your shoulders, chafe under your armpits, or restrict your range of movement. More expensive packs have straps with shape or contour that enhances the fit and profile of the bag. A sternum strap is also a nice feature that helps keep the shoulder straps in the correct position and prevent chaffing under the armpits.
Hip Belt: The hip belt stabilises the pack and keeps it in place. On small packs, the hip belt's primary function is to keep the pack close to the wearer and reduce shifting or bouncing; it is not intended to bear weight. On large packs, the hip belt is the main load-bearing component. It should have thick firm padding and ideally, a moulded shape. The shape helps seat the pack firmly on the hips, reducing lateral movement and making the bag more comfortable. The clip on the belt should be sturdy and easy to engage, release, and adjust.
Back pad and Stays: The back pad is the part of the bag the touches your back. It is often a closed-cell foam pad covered with fabric. Larger packs may also include additional weight-supporting aluminium stays. Many smaller packs have a thin, but rigid panel built into the bag behind the cushioned back pad. The purpose of the sheet is to ensure the bag maintains its shape when partially full. Larger packs have a rigid back panel and one or two aluminium stays. The stays ensure good weight transfer from the shoulders and the hip belt. Very high-end packs may have pre-curved aluminium stays that offer maximum support and fit.
Adjustable Suspension Systems
: If you plan on carrying substantial weight it is crucial that the suspension system fits your back properly. The majority of high-performance packs are available in multiple sizes. You can also make micro-adjustments to the suspension system for a custom fit. Some manufacturers offer suspension systems designed specifically for a woman's unique proportions.
FITTING YOUR RUCKSACK
Ensuring proper fit is the most important step when you select a pack. It's hard to take in breathtaking views if your pack leaves you hunched over or racked in pain. Pack size and suspension systems are the key considerations in fitting a backpack. As with boots, proper fit is the key with a backpack. The weight of a pack is secondary, since a well-designed, heavier backpack may give you a more comfortable ride than a much lighter pack carrying the same load. Although weight may be secondary, it's nonetheless very important. For example, don't automatically settle for a large (50+Litres) pack when you mostly carry 30-40 litres.
Know your torso length.
Lack of this knowledge often causes an uncomfortable realisation, after the fact, that the pack doesn't fit correctly. The reason you must measure your torso, rather than guess what size pack you should have, based on your ability or size, can be illustrated as follows: a large, tall person can have a short torso (and long legs) thus requiring a smaller pack. A shorter, smaller person can have a longer torso (and shorter legs) and require a larger pack. All pack makers design their packs with your torso in mind. Thus, measure your torso, preferably before purchasing.
To determine your torso size, ask a friend or family member to help you, if possible. You will need a tape measure or tailor's tape to measure along your back from the seventh vertebrae - the largest bump on the back of your neck, with your head forward--to a point on your lower back which is horizontal with the top of your hipbones. If you find that your torso is on the border between two sizes, our experience says to go with the larger size. The hip belt should wrap around your hips, not your waist (or stomach) and the lumbar pad should be centred properly into your lumbar area. You want a significant amount of the pack's weight on your hips. A good way to do that is to make sure your hipbone is centred under your belt (and the lumbar pad centred and pressing firmly into you lower back). Get a shoulder harness that doesn't get in the way when you swing your arms or have buckles that pinch your skin.
Wearing a loaded pack should feel as though your body has become somewhat heavier, not as though you're shouldering a sumo wrestler. If the suspension system is doing what its supposed to, most of the packs weight will be comfortably transferred to your hips.
First, loosen the straps on the packs harness, then try it out:
- Load the pack up with 10 to 15kg (22 to 33lb.).
- Put the pack on, place the hipbelt directly over your hip bones, fasten the buckle, and tighten the hip belt. The padding should wrap right around your hip bones.
- Pull in the shoulder straps. They should be far enough apart that they don't squeeze your neck. The strap ends should be no more than 10cm (4in.) from your armpits.
- Adjust the top stabiliser straps to a comfortable position. They should be at about a 45-degree angle.
- Fasten the sternum strap and adjust the lower stabilizing straps until comfortable.
Finally, walk around and play with the adjustments to fine-tune the fit. A pack that fits correctly should feel like an extension of your own body. Remember that if the pack doesn't feel right now, it certainly won't feel right after hours on the trail.
: a general rule for the shoulder harness is that the number of technical features increases as the load increases. Simple shoulder straps will do for lighter loads, but for heavier loads go for curved, broader and more padded shoulder straps that prevent the straps from cutting into your shoulders. Look for a Chest/Sternum Strap that help prevent your shoulders from being pulled back and further help to distribute the load. Look for upper stabiliser straps. Chest Strap / Sternum Strap
: these straps are often connected across your chest using a clip-lock. By connecting and tightening them you prevent your backpack from pulling your shoulders back. Hip Belt
: a hip belt is the way to move the strain of a backpack from your shoulders down to your hips and closer to your centre of gravity. All people will find that a hip belt helps to make a backpack's load more bearable. However, it differs per person when a hip belt become a necessity. As the weight load increases the effectiveness of the hip belt becomes more important. Look for a hip belt that goes full circle under the lumbar pad and not just side straps from the base of the backpack. Make sure the belt has soft and broad padding to avoid pressure points that could quickly become very painful. Heavier loads will cause the hip belt to slide down so look for high-friction fabrics. Inner and Outer Pockets Configuration
: inner and outer pockets allow for a better separation of your provisions, gear and other backpack contents. Outer pockets are mostly used for items that have to be available while hiking. Outer pockets should not be over weighted to prevent a shift in centre of mass. Hydration System
: many backpacks have either built in water bladders (hydration packs) or have a special pocket for a water bladder and a hole to facilitate the drinking tube. Splash Cover
: backpacks are generally not 100% waterproof so some backpacks have a built in or separate splash cover which is basically a waterproof cover that you can use to cover your entire backpack. It effectively places your backpack in a waterproof bubble. This feature is very handy during rain storms, to cross rivers and to keep your backpack protected from dew during nights. Spindrift Collar
: most larger backpacks have a top compartment which can be flipped backwards to give access to the backpack's inside pockets. Access to the backpack is protected by the spindrift collar which is a large cover that can be shut with a drawstring. Bungee Cords & Equipment Straps
: most backpacks have either bungee cords or equipment straps or a combination of the both that provide you with the means to fix equipment to the outside of the backpack. Hiking Poles, Ice Axes and Crampons and good examples of gear that can often be attached to the outside of your backpack
The AirScape™ backpanel with foam ridges for comfort and fit set a new industry standard for comfort and performance. AirScape™ keeps the weight close and comfortable whilst providing airflow and is featured on both lightweight daypacks and large backpacking packs.
- Foam channels on backpanel provide space for air to flow
- Mesh materials wick sweat from the body to aid cooling
- More stable than other backsystems – better for fast paced activity
The AirSpeed™ ventilated trampoline suspended mesh backpanel creates an air space between the pack and your back, allowing for incredible ventilation and comfort during warmer weather or fast paced activities.
- Suspended mesh backpanel provides a cavity for air to flow through
- Highly ventilated shoulder harness increases air flow
- More ventilated than other backsystems – better for hot-weather activity
AG AntiGravity™ is our multi-award winning backsystem which combines three-dimensional suspension with a tensioned lumbar support. AG AntiGravity™ provides exceptional weight distribution, allowing the wearer to have an optimal range of movement.
- Incredible stability through a ventilated sprung lumbar area
- Fully ventilated hipbelt
- Best for stable, ventilated carry of heavier loads