Trekking the Great Wall of China or backpacking round Australia, a self-sufficient expedition for a remote first ascent or getting away from it all in the wilds of Scotland. If you’re going to be carrying your life on your back for a while, it pays to do it with a pack that’ll look after you as well as your kit – find a reliable travel companion in our extensive selection of backpacks.
Carrying everything you need for a long trip is both liberating and restricting, but with a careful choice of rucksack you can shift the balance towards the former. Alright, you’re still going to have a significant load on your back so you’re unlikely to be skipping along unless you’re superhuman, but you don’t have to dread the moment when you put your pack back on.
The absolute most important thing to get right is fit, so buying online will be tricky though not impossible. Start by measuring your back length: the distance between your C7 vertebra (the knobbly bit at the base of your neck) and the top of your pelvis – the iliac crest. That’ll tell you which packs are likely to fit. If you’re short of stature that’s likely to mean you’re limited as to the capacity, but better that than carrying more in an uncomfortable pack and lower body weight means lower maximum load anyway. If you’re buying online, ideally order several packs by different manufacturers to find which has the best fit, then return the rest.
To try on a pack, load it up with a decent amount of kit so it’s filled out and heavy enough for you to feel the load – a few ropes are ideal if you’re a climber, but a combination of soft cushions or blankets and (well-sealed) large bottles of water will do fine. Undo all the buckles, loosen off all the straps and pull it on to your shoulders. Fit the hipbelt so that your hip bones are in the middle of the pads, then move it slightly up or down so that it’s comfortable. Pull it nice and snug – you should be able to feel all the weight of the pack on your hips. Then adjust the shoulder straps; pull both the straps down and backwards at the same time, so that the pack is pulled in to the same tension on each side but there is little weight pulling down on the tops of your shoulders.
At this point, having a large mirror around is handy; looking sideways, you should see the top of the back panel a couple of inches below your shoulders and the shoulder straps coming up out of the pack and then following smoothly over your shoulders. If the straps are coming out at close to right angles rather than up or the shoulder pad on the back panel is too high then you need a shorter back panel. At the other end of the scale, if you can’t pull in the shoulder straps enough without transferring the weight to your shoulders, or the top of the shoulder pad is halfway down your back, you’ll be looking for something longer. Once the length is about right, pull in all the load stabilisers to an appropriate tension and have a walk round and up and downstairs to check the comfort.
Most large rucksacks and expedition packs have adjustable back length, so you can fine-tune the size to you, but the shape and position of the shoulder straps is also important, particularly for women. Women’s-specific packs offer a slight variation in load positioning and shape to work with the female frame and tend to be a little smaller as women are on average, but otherwise they’re equivalent to the men’s packs (if you ignore the colours). We also have a few extra-long options available – if you’re after something that you can’t see on our site, please give us a call or an email and we’ll try to help.
There are all sorts of features available on packs to make your life easier on the journey, but these are secondary in importance to the fit. So narrow down the choice to those that feel good to carry and select the model from there. Almost all come with the option of two separate compartments or dual access to the main compartment, plus compression straps and attachments for carrying extra gear on the outside. Other useful extras include pockets, front access, walking pole or ice axe attachments, raincover and more; the possibilities are many to find something that will work for you.
Once you’re set up with a backpack to suit you from our extensive range, you’re free to travel as comfortably as possible. All are high quality, well-designed packs that will last the course, so you’ll be doing yourself a favour to take the time for fitting. For DofE, gap year, once-in-a-lifetime challenges and beyond you’ll find your next travel companion here.