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Backpack buying guide

Adventures

Avoid buying a pain in the back with these tips to help you achieve backpack nirvana.

Osprey Transporter 40

Osprey Transporter 40 backpack

At a hair under $180 the Osprey Transporter 40 is the most expensive pack in our line up but is easily the favourite. The unique design allows it to quickly transform between traditional backpack and duffel bag quickly depending on your needs. There’s no fancy bells and whistles beyond that, but you are left with a cavernous compartment so bulky items are a non-issue. The pack is weatherproof too and with thick canvas flaps covering the zippers and the bags opening facing your back, you should have no issue out in the rain. The major downside is there are no hip-supports, and no back padding, so if you’re packing bulky, try to pack light.

More info: www.ospreypacks.com

Caribee Daypack Ops

Caribee Daypack OPS backpack

Despite the name, the Caribee Daypack Ops punches in at the 50L mark so it's more than capable of serving for multi-day trips, although you will look like you’ve played too much Call of Duty just making your way to the trailhead. Despite Caribee having a reputation for affordability rather than quality, this Daypack Ops has been treated so badly it could star in it's own episode of the TV show I shouldn't Be Alive. This pack has been to Cape York twice, the Victorian High Country and even a stint out to the Flinders Ranges and still looks brand new. The multiple compartments make it perfect for isolating and organising gear while thick padding and wide hip-supports make it easy to rig up to any body size in complete comfort. At around the $100 mark brand new they’re a robust option without breaking the bank.

More info: www.caribee.com

Henty Enduro Backpack

Henty Enduro Backpack

The Henty Enduro is possibly the ugliest backpack I’ve ever seen, and as it feels like I’m wearing a training bra, it brings up a whole host of self-esteem issues. But it is practical. The design is perfect for single day hikes or mountain biking and should be considered a tactical bumbag rather than a full pack. The slimline design offers plenty of storage options for tools and food and can be kitted out with a 3L bladder. The weight is kept low and carries well with the thick hip-supports and the included mole webbing can be kitted out exactly to your needs. If you’re after a light-weight option with plenty of breathability it’s well worth a look – maybe just put a jacket over it.

More info: www.henty.cc

Hydrapak 3L H20

Hydrapack 3L H2O backpack

You can’t actually buy these particular bags anymore, which almost makes me feel a twinge of guilt for how I’ve beat on it over the years, but it’s still worth running it through the wringer to see what features held up, what didn’t, and what made it a god-send when the going got tough. The Hydrapak was a considerable amount cheaper than the comparable bigger name brands, and is holding strong eight years later. It’s been used for everything from riding trailbikes up and down the east coast to  a uni pack for my wife and it even survived a 70km/h motorbike crash. It’s a day pack at around 20L so it struggles with anything more than a couple of t-shirts, but external webbing means you can strap a jumper or pillow to the outside. The including 3L bladder internally has been an absolute must-have for hard days on the tracks in full bike gear, the only downside is I lost the bladder three houses ago.

Army Rucksack

Army Rucksack backpack

Look past the grizzled beards and talk of Spam cans at your local disposal store and you can often pick yourself up a retired Army rucksack for reasonably cheap. But that might be a blessing and a curse. Like most military gear, it’ll outlive everything bar a cockroach if we were to break out into nuclear war, although carrying the thing will be your own personal Vietnam. It comes outfitted with multiple large compartments to the tune of around 80L and in typical army style the top compartment cinches closed with a large flap keeping rain out of your grits. It’s padded in all the wrong spots, cuts into places you didn’t know you had, and is a dirt cheap way to get into a reliable pack. Maybe buy one for that friend you secretly hate.

More info: www.aussiedisposals.com.au

WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YA GOING?

Man hiking with Army Rucksack backpack

Thankfully packs of all shapes and sizes are generally divided up into a few simple categories. Day packs, normally suitable for an overnighter or two in a pinch; multi-day packs, perfect for a long weekend away living out of a sack; or extended trip packs, otherwise known as a backpacker’s home. Weekend packs generally hover around the 30-50L mark, and while that might sound like a whole heap of milk, when you start measuring your jacket in 3L increments it becomes painfully obvious just how small a 30L pack really is. They’re perfect in warmer climates where you don’t need to pack bulky items and socks as thick as a post just to stop from dying over night, but you will struggle with any more than a night or two even in summer. Also, most of your gear will need to go outside the pack which can knock around weight distribution. They’ve often got very little in the way of features so don’t expect a double articulating option with laser guided back straps. Multi-day packs usually kick in at the 50L+ range and generally come sporting more features than their smaller counterparts. The largest of this is multiple compartments perfect for isolating funky socks from not-yet-funked socks. They typically start getting into better fitment options in terms of adjustability as well as padding so are comfortable for most hiking situations, and can double as a general duties pack as well. Extended trip packs are where things get tricky again. Sure, they stow a whole heap of gear, but the more weight you add the more weight you need to manage. Bulbous compartments with ill-thought out attachment methods can tweak your back resulting in serious pain and less time on the trails. The upside is the good packs are damn good, and can easily manage the bulk without putting you on your backside in every strong gust of wind. If you’re off to backpack Germany for six months dig deep for an extended pack, if you’re doing a week-long hike take a multi-day pack and learn to pack light. I mean, do you really need that second pair of undies?

GETTING FITTED

Man putting a bike in a car with Henty Enduro backpack on

There’s a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right backpack for your frame. The first and most important is the overall size. Packs are generally broken down into small, medium, and large. This refers to their overall length, not their volume. The measurement correlates to your torso length, not your height. To measure yours, grab a friend with a tape measure and get to work. Locate your C7 vertebrae (the pointy one on the back of your neck when you look down), then place your hands on the upper crest of your hip bones (the iliac crest) with your thumbs pointing towards your spine. Imagine a line between your two thumbs, then measure directly up to your C7 vertebrae. A measurement under 46cm will put you in a small, medium extends up to the 52cm mark, with large taking over from there. Many packs will have adjustable sizing within a set range, but this does add complexity and weight. You’ll need to consider fit at the hips too, not just your torso. A properly loaded and adjusted pack should put around 70-80 per cent of its weight on your hips, so a well-fitting hip belt is a must. This is measured around your waist at the iliac crest again so will differ slightly from belt size. Under 79cm puts you in a small, up to 86cm is a medium, with large going above from there. Some packs do offer interchangeable hip-belts but you’ll want the padding to extend around the front of your hips with an 8-15cm gap between the pads.

GO GO GADGET

Packing up drone in a backpack

So you know how big your pack needs to be, and what size it needs to be to actually fit you properly. It’s time to work out just what the thing looks like. While fit and finish are important, it’s the features that normally sway you from one bag or another. The first thing to look at are the points of contact, namely the shoulder straps, the hip belt, and the back rest. If you’re carrying any sort of weight you’ll want the shoulder pads and hip belt to be nicely padded. A padded back also helps mask any sharp objects wedged inside, although if you’re hiking in hot weather, keep an eye out for suspended mesh panels or channels that promote air-flow. Consider if you need the pack to be water or weatherproof too. Bags with exposed zippers typically allow water to seep through, while packs with an over flap can channel water down and away from your gear. Likewise, if you’re going to be loading it to the hilt keep an eye out for packs with compression straps. They’ll allow you to make the bag as compact as possible and pull the load closer to your back giving you increased stability in rough terrain. They’re also great for lashing bulky items to your pack like tent poles or sleeping bags.

LOADING UP

Woman with a backpack on hiking

Fitting the pack properly is arguably the most important step before hitting the trail. A bad pack fitted well will cause less issues than a good pack fitted poorly. As you pack your bag for the first time lay out all the gear you’ll need to carry. You’ll need to consider the weight of items, as well as how often/urgently you’ll need to access them. The goal is to position heavy items like water bladders in the middle of the pack and as close to your back as possible. This means lightweight items like sleeping bags or jackets will often be down the bottom. From here continue filling the gaps being sure to put heavy items closer to your back than light items. Must-have gear like first aid kits and maps should always go on top regardless of weight.

MORE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

- Going for a hike soon? Check out our guide with Top 25 hiking tips

- We test out Deuter Traveller 70+10 backpack

- Mid-sized backpack offers both a reasonable weight and compact size - read review on Deuter ACT Trail Lite 40+1

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