Tips for Buying Backpacks
Backpack purchases usually come about for one of two reasons—school use or hiking. There are some rare cases where you'll buy the same pack for both but for the most part, there’s a distinct difference between backpacks that are suitable for the classroom versus those that you’ll need out on the trail. Let’s dive right in and explore them both.
Hiking backpacks are mostly categorized based on their maximum capacity, which is measured in both cubic inches and liters. If you’re going on a brief hiking trip that takes less than a day, the compact design of a waist and lumber backpack is the best option for carrying a minimum amount of gear.
If you’ve got a load that’s over 10 pounds, your best bet is a daypack. Keep in mind that your overall load will change based on the season. In the summer, for example, you only need between 1500-2000 cubic inches of space. You can increase the backpack size during spring, fall and winter when you require bulkier clothing and equipment.
Midsized backpacks are ideal for multi-day hikes. With 2500-5000 cubic inches of available space, you’ll have plenty of room for sleeping bags, tents, and the like with space left over to store other small instruments like cameras and books. For the adventurer, an expedition-style backpack with 5000+ cubic inches of space can hold up to a week’s worth of equipment. These backpacks have a distinctive wide waist belt feature that transfers the weight away from your shoulder to your hips.
Internal vs. External Frame
Frames are the biggest component that differentiates a hiking pack from a casual backpack. They’re important for both your support and balance.
External frames are the original and most recognizable—you attach your backpack to an aluminum tubular frame. One of the benefits is that these rigid frames help you stay cool in the summer because it keeps the backpack from getting in contact with your back. They do a good job balancing heavy loads, but their wide outlines are not fit for cross-country trails because they can get tangled up in brushes and branches. However, you can tie big equipment like tents and pads onto the frame, making them pretty versatile and they’re very cost-effective.
Internal frame are the next generation of support. Constructed of metals like aluminum, they’re located within the actual pack and contour to the shape of your spine. They’re extremely lightweight and divert an average of 80% of the weight of your load to the hips, allowing you to move freely while keeping your balance.
Frames aren’t the only feature you need to look into.
A shoulder harnesses with additional padding is a nice feature to help balance the backpack comfortably on your shoulders. Look for curved harnesses if you’re carrying heavier loads. Larger backpacks also work best with chest straps that balance your body while hip belts help to distribute the heavy load as well.
One of the most important things in shopping for backpacks is the internal storage space. How much stuff are you going to bring on your trip? Overloading a backpack is bad for your body and can be dangerous as it throws off your center of balance. Look for packs that maximize storage options. When you’re in nature, you should expect the worst so waterproof backpacks and spread covers are good to have.
Cordura nylon is becoming the most popular and sought after backpack material for its durability against wear and tear and a high abrasive resistance. Look for additional reinforced materials along the bottom of a backpack as well and extra stitching around areas that are prone for wear, like the seams of zipper, pockets, and external holders.
Given all that goes in to buying a hiking backpack, finding one for school seems like a snap. But there are a few things to consider in this area as well.
We all know that kids want to the most colorful backpacks with coolest designs, but it’s critical to not rely on aesthetics alone. Pick out a daypack that’s large enough to fit all their needs while protecting their health—back strains in younger years can lead to knee, hip and ankle pains down the line. As a general rule, a child should only carry 15 to 20% of his or her body weight in any given bag. Look for wide, padded shoulder straps and hip belts that work together to eliminate circulation problems and improve posture. You’ll also want the backpack to be durable enough to withstand all the activities that come with being a kid. Nylon is the most lightweight and durable material, while vinyl and plastic backpacks may only hold up for preschoolers and elementary-school children.
A backpack with wheels might seem like the perfect solution to heavy loads but on rainy or snowy days,
wheeled backpacks are hard to maneuver and they can be a mess. Another disadvantage is that wheeled backpacks are heavier in construction and there will still be situations (on stairs or getting on/off a bus) where a kid has to carry the backpack. Some schools don’t even allow wheeled packs so check with yours in advance.