If it’s been a few years since you last bought more than just a daypack, it’s important to ask questions. Some people will tell you the only thing that is important is comfort. They’re partly right. What about size, weight, durability? There’s a whole lot more than just comfort involved when it comes to choosing the right pack.
Are you going to use it for weekend trips or are you planning to through hike the Appalachian Trail? The amount of weight you plan to carry points you in the direction of the size of bag and suspension system best suited to your needs. Backpacks come in a variety of sizes – know what you need to carry your gear.
Is height an issue? It is for me! I’m short and finding a pack to fit was a challenge. While the shoulder strap height could be adjusted, I really had a time finding a pack that wouldn’t ride the back of my head when the straps were at the shortest setting.
Internal or external frame? External frames used to be commonplace. They were relatively inexpensive, capable of carrying heavy loads, worked well on well-cleared trails and offered good airflow between the pack and the back. Internal frames have taken over in popularity, offering less bulk, lower center of gravity and greater stability in rougher terrain.
Do you need multi pockets in order to stay organized? Additional zips and pockets are great, but they add overall weight to the pack.
Material also adds weight – can you make do with ripstop nylon (light) all the way through or do you really need a waterproof tarpaulin fabric bottom? How, when and where you backpack will help make the decision a little easier.
Can you settle for pared down straps or do you want a beefed up suspension? Do you really need a zip-off fanny or day pack, built-in hydration pockets and bladders, crampon pocket, shovel pocket…? Be aware of what you really need versus accessories that you think are cool.
Are you concerned with appearance? Some people are; can’t say as I’m normally one of them, but I’ve got to admit that one pack with fine red and white check was not in the running based on looks alone – it made me nauseous just looking at the thing!
Buying a pack, as with any good gear, is an investment that will stay with you for years, take your time, ask questions and make it right.