How To Choose a Backpack For Your Trekking Adventures
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
Backpacks top the list when it comes to essential items for trekking but are you in a pickle of picking the right backpack for trekking in Indian Himalayas? Trekking in India has seen an exponential rise lately and trekkers are getting wiser with each adventure. Going ultra light has become a requisite that cannot be done away with. Lightweight trekking backpack has become an absolute necessity to cover distances fast and without fatigue.
If you still haven’t been able to decide on the bag that goes with your outfit or the one that can be lifted with your pinky then, here is a detailed discussion on how to go about choosing the right bag for yourself.
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Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
If you are a mountaineer, the requirements would be different. You might be carrying heavy equipment on the mountain which requires a rucksack with lots of space and a good load carrying capacity. If you are going on a hike, the requirement differs and you should opt for a rucksack with lesser volume and load carrying capacity.
Weight of backpack
This is one of the most crucial factors. Carrying too much of weight to the mountain is useless. If you are planning to carry just 6 kgs of weight in your backpack then, it doesn’t makes sense to buy a rucksack weighing 1.5 to 2 kilos. Most of the ultralight backpacks weigh between 600 to 1,100 gms and can still carry load weighing between 10-18 kgs.
These rucksacks do away with all extra items such as thick padding, supporting frame, top lids etc., which are not essential thereby reducing a lot of extra weight. The main difference lies in the fabric they use. DCA (Dynama composite fabric) or silnylon is the main reason.
One size doesn’t necessary fit all
Choosing the right backpack for yourself is key. With so many customized options available in the market, it is pertinent to pick the right fit for yourself. Backpacks designed to match your need and body shape will deliver the maximum comfort.
Also, backpacks designed for men and women are quite different to each other. The women’s backpacks have a smaller and narrower frame due to the difference in size of torsos of both genders. The other features like straps and belts are designed and contoured to fit comfortably on a woman’s back.
The best approach is to measure the height of your torso (i.e., from your hip to the starting of the neck). This will help you in choosing the pack with the right height or adjust it to suit your need with the help of a harness.
It is best to keep the weight under a maximum of 15 kilograms.The weight may vary up to the limit depending on the number of trekking days. A good backpack should be able to hold the stipulated weight depending on number of days of your trekking.
- 20-30 ltr bag is ideal for a day hike.
- 30-45 ltr is good in case camping for a day. (1-2 day trek)
- 45-55 ltr bag would suffice for 2 to 3 days.
- 55-80 ltr is good for treks/hikes extending to a week or more.
It is better to select a backpack according to number of days of your adventure, it can help you in carrying a lesser weighing bag and also save some of your money.
R & D plays a pivotal role in making a backpack user-friendly. Well designed backpacks will generally have these features.
Big backpacks have a top loading system wherein you can store the sparingly used items at the bottom. Others have a provision of zippers on the front or the side which allow a direct access to the load that could not be reached directly otherwise. Backpacks with dual access and waterproofing should be preferred if you have a higher budget.
Long hours of walking under the sun causes perspiration. Backpacks continually stick to the back and cause accumulation of sweat and rash. Backpacks with a ventilation system helps in letting the sweat evaporate and also act as a cushion for your back. Ventilation chimneys are designed or built in the backpack to serve the same purpose.
Top lid, front pockets, hip belt and side pockets are some of the basic ones that one should look for while buying a backpack.
Hydration reservoir is quite essential to store a supply of water. If you are planning to buy a multi-pocketed bag but want to save on the cost then raincover compartments can do the trick.
Sleeping bag compartment at the bottom helps in efficiently packing a backpack.
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Straps play a very important part in distributing the weight of the load. They also help in stabilizing the centre of gravity of the bag.
Shoulder straps are essential to hang the bag but should be well padded to avoid sores.
Chest straps are designed to snugly mount the pack on your bag so that there is very little movement while walking on uneven sections of terrain.
Compression straps are useful in compressing the volume of the load. They are usually present on the sides and can be tightened to keep the width of the pack within the confines of your waist size. Packs should be narrow and tall so that it’s easier to walk with them without tumbling on either side.
Hip belts allow you to lift major portion of the weight(around 80%) on your hip than your shoulders. A well designed pack would distribute major weight on the hips and that is the most comfortable way of trekking. Ideally the hip belt should be centred on the hip bone and the padded areas should be at a distance of 3-6 inches from each other.
Loops are good for attaching hiking poles, ice tools. etc., Reinforced patches help in restricting sharp objects like crampons and ice axes from gouging into the bag.
Nylon and polyester are the commonly used fabrics for backpacks. Denier determines the strength of the pack. The higher it is, the stronger the pack. The bottom of the pack or areas prone to high abrasion should be made of high denier fabric.
Waterproof lining on the inside with taping at openings are essential to ward off water. Raincovers add an extra layer of protection during heavy rainfall.
Padding/cushioning makes the bag a little shockproof, so that fragile equipment do not take a blow. Also, it makes the pack more comfortable to put on.
Internal frames are built inside the pack to provide comfort with an extra cushioning on the outside. It helps in distributing weight of uniformly designed load.
External frame is better for carrying irregular weight like kayaks or big jerry canes. It provides stability and breathability.
Frameless packs are ideal for short treks or hikes. It is a trade off between ultralight backpacking and comfort. If you wish to travel light then small frameless packs are the best
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How to load the backpack
The heavier items should be placed towards the bottom of the backpack and should be closer to the body. The lighter items can be put on top and it is okay if they are away from the body. The reason being, heavy items tend to pull and might even make you lose your balance.
It is always a good idea to start with the sleeping bag and place it in the compartment at the bottom of the bag or just at the base if there is no compartment. Then heavier items like tent, fuel etc., can be placed followed by remainder of lighter items.
Water bottles should go on the side. In case of a hydration pack, it should be placed in the reservoir in the pack. Other utilities like torch, snacks or items of regular usage can go in the top lid. It is better to clamp hiking poles to the loops on the front of the pack to save space. A foldable or rolled up foam mattress can be strapped to the bottom front of the bag. Since, it does not have any weight, it will not pull you backwards.
Here are some hacks to lose some of the weight of your backpack. One doesn’t usually pays heed to the removable accessories of a backpack and tend to carry more weight due to the obliviousness.
- Internal foam padding
- The top lid
- Hip belts
The above mentioned parts of the backpack can be removed to make it lighter for short duration treks. An added expense of buying a smaller and lighter bag can be saved.
If this helped you in making an informed decision while buying a backpack here is another guide to help you buy a winter trek/high altitude jacket for your adventure.
In case, you would like us to get on board in finalizing other items on your shopping list, then drop a message in the comment section below.
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Author: Kshitij Gupta
Kshitij at 4play designs content and partners with athletes. He is an outdoor aficionado who likes to pick up different adventure sports and has already been pursuing alternate sports for a long time now. He has just begun to climb and pursues skateboarding alongside.