Choosing the right backpack for your needs

Whether you’re going to the office or flying to your next travel destination, you’ll need some stuff with you. And a backpack. But how do you get to choose the right one?

There’s no right or wrong answer to that question and with the wide variety of options available, it’s enough to get you overwhelmed. But it all comes down to where you’re going and what type of activity you’ll be doing.

The activity

The first and most important thing when choosing a backpack is to determine what do you need it for. Where are you going to use it, in what kind of activity and in what conditions?

  • city / commuter backpacks – for daily use in the city, carrying a laptop and a few items, some snacks, a rain coat and your water bottle;
  • hiking backpacks – designed to be used in nature, especially in the mountains, even in bad weather conditions;
  • travel backpacks – a combination between daily use, comfort, carry-on allowance and a bit of hiking adventures. It’s the most versatile option but still not suited for everything;
  • special purpose packs – for activities that require special features, like photography, climbing, running or biking;

And the list could go on.

The storage capacity

The next important thing is to determine for how long you’ll be using it at a time. Is it going to be for your usual daily life in the city, maybe a weekend in Lisbon, or for your month in Thailand?

The answer also depends on the type of person you are. Do you need every possible thing out there with you or are you more of a minimalist?

  • day packs (around 20 litres) – suitable for a day around the city or for a day hike;
  • 3 day packs (30 to 50 litres) – enough for a weekend away with no special gear but a few clothes and a laptop;
  • backpacking / expedition (from 40 to 80 litres and more) – for long hikes or travels that require a lot more than just a change of clothes;

The frame

Another thing to look for is the frame. Or the lack of it.

  • softpacks / no frame – light, but may be uncomfortable if you put heavy stuff inside. Look for good comfortable padding. Not too stiff, but not too light either. You do need a little bit of protection for your back;
  • internal frame – most hiking backpacks. The frames differ but their role is the same: to put the weight off your shoulders and onto your hips and also protect your back;
  • external frame – the perfect choice for heavy and unusual loads. Chances are that if you need this type of frame, you’re already an expert and you won’t be here reading this article;

Tip: test the backpack with some load inside to see how it feels on your back. Some stores even recommend that, and more specialized ones have a measuring system to determine the right size.

The materials and build quality

Another advice is to look at the materials and build quality. If you want the backpack to last for at least a few years, choose one that is durable enough for your needs. Check the seams to be sturdy and the material to see how it feels.

Tip: you can feel the cheap materials by looking at and touching them. Look for good padded hip belt and shoulder straps.

The right color and style

This part might not be important for some, but for others can be crucial. Are you walking around in your office attire? You sure don’t want to be seen around with a colorful school pack. Ok, I exaggerated the example a bit, but you get the point.

While into the wild the idea is to be seen, especially in bad conditions or in an emergency situation, in the city you might want to blend in.

Tip: dark gray or black go well in most of the situations.

The extra features

Once you know what kind of backpack you need, it’s time to look for those extra details. They do make a difference, sometimes huge.

First, you might need organization. Most hiking packs don’t offer much in this sense, but some day packs and most travel packs have plenty of options to organize everything you can think of.

Tip: some organizers are too small to fit the stuff you need, so look carefully.

Also look for external pockets and attachment points. You will need them at some point.

Tip: make sure the external pockets are elastic and won’t take up space from inside when the backpack is full.

Another important detail is access. Is the backpack top loading or front (panel) loading? For small backpacks, top loading is alright. But a big backpack requires a lot more organization, so that is when a zippered front panel loading system comes in handy.

If you’re flying, you might want to have a carry-on sized backpack. It will save you money for not checking in your pack.

Other features you might want to look for are ventilation, raincovers, wheels, or a daily detachable pack for the big backpacks.

Oh, and let’s not forget the most important aspect: the value for money. Nobody wants to spend too much on too little, right?

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