Planning your first big trip? Advice and humor to get you through the process.
Shopping for Backpack
The world's shortest guide to buying this most essential piece of equipment.
I) Key Things to Look for:
- price Expect to pay about $200. You may find an offseason deal or lower price on a storebrand, but this is no place to skimp.
- size Look for something 40 to 60 liters -- about 2400 to 3700 cubic inches-- the smaller the better. Smaller size means you'll bring less and be more comfortable lugging the bag around. If you're a 120-pound woman, a fully loaded 60-liter bag maybe more than you want to deal with. In hiking lingo, you are looking for a weekend pack, two to four day pack, or rucksack, not an expedition pack, which is fine for climbing Mount Everest, but not for stuffing into the overhead bin of Boeing 747. Remember, you'll only be carrying a few days worth of clothes because you'll be washing them regularly.
- limited access You don't want a lot of compartments that are easily accessible from the outside. In many countries, anyone with a backpack is a good target for petty theft. If you someone can reach into your bag while you're wearing it, they will.
- comfort A fully loaded pack can jab you in several places, most notably your lower back and inner shoulders. Lower back pain is a no-no. After trying on several packs, I got the back right, but still had some rubbing on my inner shoulders. I was able to live with it.
- style Avoid flashing colors and logos that imply, "I'm a rich tourist, please mug me." Also, the bag will likely include more straps than a strait-jacket. Fear not, these compression straps are relatively easy to figure out and serve to squish down all your belongings in the bag so they don't flop around while you're racing through and airport or bus terminal.
II) The Shopping Process:
1) Go to decent general purpose outdoor gear store like REI or EMS that carries multiple brands.
2) Find a salesperson who will put a couple of different packs on you. Sizes are not standard across brands, so you may need a medium in a Northface but a large in an Osprey.
3) The salesperson should load the pack up with about 30 pounds of weight and let you tromp around the store. For humorous take on this process see our Short Story.
4) Ask about the return policy and, as always, pay with a credit card.
5) Take the bag home and load it with your gear and walk around the neighborhood for an hour or so to see how if feels. On my trip, I knew I would be biking 10 miles with the pack, so I loaded it up and road around with it.
6) If you don't some already have some kind of large, puncture-resistent bag to cover the pack, buy a pack cover. They're a total rip off at $25 or so, but they will help keep your bag clean and dry.
III)What I Bought: Pros and Cons
I bought a 60-liter, 3700 cubic inch Osprey Aether pack for $199 in a drab green.
Pros: - indestructible - relatively comfortable - I could cram a lot of stuff in and on it.
Cons: - too big (Because I went windsurfing on my recent trip, I had to bring bulky gear, such as a harness belt, rubber booties, rashguard shirt.) - some pinching in the shoulders
The image above shows a starndard backpack for use on a long trip. The author's pack, which was similar to this one, had only two compartments: a large one inside the bag and a smaller one on the top of the bag.
Put any items you may need to grab quickly in the smaller top compartment, which is accessible from outside. Items to place in here include: a light sweater, toilet kit.
The side pockets are ideal for water and drinks -- items that are easy to replace if they get stolen. (This image provided by everystockphoto.)
The image below shows the author with his small daypack and backpack. While traveling, the daypack on the front is ideal for items that you may need immediately, such as reading material, a toothbrush, snacks. On short sight-seeing forays, pack water, maps, snacks, and the like in the daypack. (This image provided by Spare Change News.)
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