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Choosing a back pack

By: Forest Knights | Jun 8 2006 | 1060 words | 348 hits

Choosing a backpack

There are basically two different types of backpack so when choosing a backpack the first thing to consider is what will it be used for:
Ø Rambling?
Ø Backpacking?
Ø Climbing or caving?

Rambling
Otherwise known as hill-walking, is basically a short walk in the country so a small pack, known as a 'day-pack' or 'day-sac' is used to hold your packed lunch, thermos, waterproofs, a few field guides, etc.
These generally range from around 12 litres in size up to about 35 litres with one main compartment and can either have a few small pockets or none at all on the outside.
They don't really have a frame as such as they are not really intended to carry much weight, but modern ones do have a well padded back that is slightly stiff to give some lumbar protection.
Climbing packs
These are similar to the packs used for rambling but have no external pockets or loops and tend to be rather slender. This is because, whether you are climbing or caving, you do not want anything sticking out that could catch on a protruding rock, or restrict your mobility, as this could be potentially fatal.
Backpacking
This is nothing more than extended rambling, with at least one night out and so a larger pack is used, the size being determined by the length of time away from home and also the ambient weather. In cold weather more, and thicker, clothing is required.
The pack size can vary from around 30 litres for overnight trips in clement weather, up to over 100 litres for extended trips.
These packs generally have a number of external pockets, which may be detachable and may the facility to be turned into a day-sac.
Common features
No matter what the type of bag, there are a number of features that are common to most if not all.
Shoulder straps
These are fitted to all types of bag and are adjustable to allow you to wear different thicknesses of clothing and also to adjust the pack comfortably and securely to your back. On larger packs some even have adjustable straps that connect from the shoulder strap to the top of the pack for further adjustment.
Modern shoulder straps are normally padded to some extent to make prolonged use, or carrying heavy loads more comfortable.
Chest harness
These are a small, detachable, two piece belt, attached to the shoulder straps that connect across the chest.
The purpose of the harness is to secure the pack more tightly to the wearer and stop the pack from moving around.
There are however two schools of thought regarding the use of chest harnesses.
Ø For
Ø The harness does stop packs moving around reducing chaffing and possible over balancing with a heavy pack.
Ø Against
Ø The harness constricts the ribcage and so affects the breathing.
Ø In a fall it may be possible for the harness to prevent the wearer from undoing the harness and shuck the pack - this may result in the wearer becoming trapped or if the pack is heavy and the wearer has fallen into water, it may pull them under the water and drown them.
Main compartment
Again this is an area where there are two schools of thought - one compartment taking up all the internal space or two compartments.
Ø One compartment.
o The advantage of this is that you can fit a single dri-pack into the bag and there is nothing to snag or catch anything put inside the main compartment.
o The disadvantage is that you have to remove everything from the pack to find what you want if it is at the bottom of the bag
Ø Two compartments.
o The advantage of having one large main compartment and one smaller compartment is that you can separate out things you need to get to quickly and put them in the smaller, lower compartment.
o The disadvantages include the fact that the partition, or draw cord, can catch on things making it difficult to remove items, you need two dri-packs if you want to keep your gear dry increasing outlay, and there is another seam that can fail or let water in.
Waist belts
Whilst not all sacs have a waist or hip belt, they are becoming increasingly common on day packs and are found on all good main packs.
On smaller sacs they may just be an unpadded tape with a buckle of some type, or may be fully padded.
The main purpose of the belt is to help support the weight of the pack on the hips to make extended use and carrying heavy loads more comfortable. Obviously a padded belt will do this much better than a thin tape.
Some belts even have a zipped pocket sewn into the belt to act as a purse, or may have loops of some kind attached to allow you to hang things from them.
Pockets
As mentioned above, these may be permanently attached or detachable. They are used to stow small items of kit that you may need to get at fairly quickly such as first aid kits, brew kit, gloves, etc, and vary greatly in size. Some are large enough to take a set of waterproofs, whilst others will only take small wallet.
Detachable pockets have a number of advantages in that they can be removed turning the sac into a climbers-style sac, and most modern ones can be zipped together and a harness added to form a day-sac.
Closures, fasteners and buckles
There are several ways that a pocket can be closed - with a waterproof sock of some type, a rain flap or simply an lid, each with its own advantage or disadvantage.
Buckles can be of three main types - quick release, strap and buckle or a combination of each. Again each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Most buckles are now made of nylon rather than metal as they do not warp or bend and also are warmer than metal reducing the chance of the buckle adhering to cold wet hands.
Zips and Velcro are also used as closures and need a certain amount of maintenance to keep them in good working order. And both have one disadvantage - they can freeze shut!
Loops and attachment points
Many packs have loops and attachment points that can either be for specific purposes such as ice-axe/walking stick loops or for attaching pockets, or other items such as rope, bed rolls etc.
Materials
Most packs these days are made from materials such as Cordura and Goretex, which are both hardwearing, abrasion resistant and in the case of Goretex, waterproof.

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www.forestknights.co.uk wilderness wildlife and warrior arts
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