How to Choose a Backpack

Yes, I know how to choose a backpack seems rather obvious.winking smiley light blue But . . .


Once you've taken your torso and hip measurements and decided which type of pack you want, you might be tempted to just get online, order the pack in your size and get on with planning your trip.

Don't. At least not yet.

Even a backpack perfectly sized to fit you might not sit well when it's on your back.

So, take your measurements down to a dependable outdoor gear outfitter with a decent selection of backpacks and check some out first.

how to choose a backpack

Have a good look around to see what's available, then pick out a few packs in your torso length and hip belt size to try on.

If you're not quite sure what might work, my travel pack and travel backpack pages can help you decide. They go into greater detail on how to choose a backpack from the different types available.

Add Weight

First, you need to make sure that the pack you've chosen fits you properly. And to do this you'll need to test it out with some weight in it.

The best gear stores — the ones who know how to choose a backpack and fit it properly — will have sandbags for you to use. But if they don't you can easily make do with tents, climbing ropes, camping equipment or anything else that's heavy enough.

Distribute about 7-9 kg (15-20 lb) evenly inside the backpack.

Your actual pack will likely weigh a lot more when you're travelling, but this is enough weight for the bag to settle correctly on your back and for you to get a good sense of what it'll feel like once it's packed.

Get the Backpack On

This step in how to choose a backpack probably sounds pretty self-explanatory as well. And to some extent it is.

But getting a fully-loaded pack onto your back can be a lot more awkward than you might expect, and you can really do a lot of damage to yourself if you're not careful.

The best way to put on a heavy pack is to set it upright on the ground and loosen all the main straps on the shoulder harness and hip belt first.

Then, you've got a few options. I'll save the easiest for last.

First, you can . . .

  1. Grip the haul loop at the top of the pack with one hand and the top of one shoulder strap with the other. The hand on the shoulder strap should be crossing over the other shoulder strap.
  2. Hoist the pack up onto a bent knee and then swing it towards the arm holding the shoulder strap.
  3. When the hand holding the haul loop is above your head, let the shoulder strap go and slip your arm through it.
  4. Slide the backpack over so that it rests fully on your back, and put your other arm through the second strap.

Or you can . . .

  1. Grasp the tops of the shoulder straps with both hands and heave the pack up onto a bent knee.
  2. Let one shoulder strap go and turn sideways just enough to be able to slip your free arm through the shoulder strap youÂ’re still holding.
  3. You can then let go of the second shoulder strap, slide the backpack over so that it rests fully on your back, and put your other arm through the second strap.

Or even easier . . .

  1. Grab the pack and haul it onto a chair, bench, stool, rock or any type of ledge you can find.
  2. Stand, squat or kneel down in front of the pack so that the length of your torso is at the same height.
  3. Turn forwards and slip one arm at a time into the shoulder straps.

But easiest of all . . .

    Just get a friend to help!

Tighten and Adjust Backpack Straps

You'll need to customise the fit of your backpack now by tightening, adjusting and fine-tuning all the straps.

orange arrow light yellowHere are 6 easy steps to a perfectly fitted backpack.

Pop over there to make adjustments then come back here to finish this page on how to choose a backpack.

I'll wait right here . . .

Okay. Got the backpack adjusted?

Great! Let's move on.

The Final Verdict

The Test

Next comes one of the most important steps in how to choose a backpack.

Go for a walk.

Walk around the shop. Go up the stairs and down the stairs. Sit down, crouch down and kneel down. Stand up, jump up and jog a little. Lift your arms in the air and swing them around. Bend forward, bend back. Do a few cartwheels even!winking smiley

Right. Decision time.

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    Does the pack hug the contours of your back?

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    Can you move freely with it on?

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    Does it stay balanced?

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    Is it comfortable?

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If everything's good it's time to hand over the cash.

The Trial Run

Almost there!

The last step in how to choose a backpack is to take it for a trial run.

Fill your new backpack with as much stuff as you think you might pack on your around the world trip and bring it with you on a weekend away. Unpack and repack the bag a few times. Take it on a bus. Go on a hike.

If you're short on time, at least walk around your neighbourhood with it for an hour or two.

This is your chance to make sure your new backpack is perfectly fitted and that you know how everything works. Go back to the gear shop to get any problems sorted out and questions answered before you head off on your travels.

Backpack okay?

Congratulations . . . you've got a winner!


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Any thoughts? Leave a comment!