So you’re going camping, headed to the mountains for some hiking, or planning some other kind of backpacking excursion. Sounds like fun, but first you need a backpack!
If you’ve ever shopped for backpacks, then you know that choosing the right backpack isn’t always easy, especially if you’re new to the activity of hiking & backpacking. With all the styles, sizes and options, it’s easy for even an experienced backpacker to get confused. Fortunately, Northwest Backpack has created this handy guide to help you choose the right backpack you and your needs.
When deciding which backpack to purchase, keep these key principles in mind:
- choose the right type of backpack for your excursion needs
- get a pack that is proportional to your torso length, not just your body size
- look for features appropriate to your needs
- decide in advance what equipment you’re taking
- comfort, comfort, comfort!
Types of Backpacks
When shopping for a backpacking backpack, you will find there are generally three different types: internal frame backpacks, external frame backpacks, and day packs. Each has their own advantages, disadvantages, and uses. The following information will help you decide which of these types is right for you and your adventure.
Internal frame backpacks are more popular than external frame backpacks because they are built to handle just about anything - from weekend backpacking and light hiking expeditions to extended trips and rugged hiking adventures. Internal frame backpacks also usually have better padding and greater carrying capacity. They also normally have more features to allow better weight distribution.
With an internal frame backpack, you will usually enjoy better balance and freedom of movement thanks to the support system being built right into the back of the pack, which helps the pack hug your back. The downside is that you will have less ventilation around your back and shoulders. You may also have to dig more to get to your equipment, since all gear is stored on the inside of your pack.
External frame backpacks are designed for weekend backpacking and extended trips. They differ from internal frame backpacks in that the external frame allows you to carry additional gear on the outside of your pack (such as a sleeping bag or tent). Overall, external frame backpacks allow you to carry a whole lot of gear and the external frame design allows easier access to your equipment.
Another main advantage of an external frame backpack is how the frame allows the pack to sit slightly off your back, providing much better air circulation than internal frame models. However, the larger frame makes this type of pack a poor choice if you’ll be hiking through forests or other terrain where you’ll be “bushwhacking”. You will also sacrifice balance because the pack will shift more, also making it a poor choice if you’re exploring mountains or other places with rocky, uneven ground.
Day packs live up to their name by being the perfect pack for single-day trips. With a single main compartment and a couple of small pockets, day packs can carry just enough equipment for a short adventure, but also allow you easily organize your gear for quick access.
Find the Right Fitting Backpack
Backpacks come in many sizes and it’s important to choose the right size for your body. In order to do this, you will need to take measurements of your torso length and your hip size.
To measure your torso, find a soft tape measure (like the kind for sewing), some masking tape (optional), and a friend to help you.
Have your friend put a piece of masking tape on the bony knob at the base of your neck (your seventh vertebra). Your friend can use their hands to follow the slope of your shoulders toward and then across your neck and feel for the bump in the middle of your neck. It may help if you tilt your head forward to make the vertebra more pronounced.
Next, place your hands on your sides with your thumbs pointed inwards (as though you were going to place your hands on your hips) and slide them downward until they rest directly on top of your hips (called the “ilaic crest”). It will feel like a pointy bone on each side and, depending on your pants, will probably be located just above your front pockets.
Ask your friend to make sure your thumbs are pointing mostly towards each other, forming a straight line towards your spine. Then ask your friend to use your thumbs as points of reference and place another piece of tape over your spine in line with your thumbs.
Finally, have your friend place the one end of the soft tape measure on the first piece of tape (at your 7th vertebra) and follow the contour of your spine down to the other piece of tape. Write down the measurement - this is your torso length.
*Note: you can do this without the tape too.
To measure your hip size, wrap the soft tape measure around your hips, making sure the tape measure wraps around the extruding hip bones. This is important because when you properly position your backpack’s hip belt, it will lay over your iliac crest.
Backpack Suspension Size
The measurements you just took will come in handy when choosing your backpack because you can use the measurements to determine which size of suspension you should look for.
If your torso length is less than 18 inches then you should look for a small suspension.
If your torso length is 18 to 20 inches then you should look for a medium suspension.
If your torso length is larger than 21 inches then you should look for a large suspension.
Use your hip size measurement to further gauge the right pack by comparing it against the size of the backpack’s hip belt. The hip belt should be sized appropriately so that the pads don’t touch in front. You will need room to cinch the belt tight. Some backpacks may have interchangeable hip belts for varying hip sizes.
With this information in hand, check out Northwest Backpack’s great selection of internal frame backpacks, external frame backpacks, and day packs at:
Please feel free to contact us for further assitance in choosing the right backpack for you!