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How to Choose a Backpack

When you choose a backpack it’s essential that you get the right one for your specific activity.  Choosing a backpack that is the wrong size, weight, shape, or specification could result in discomfort for the user. If it’s being used for sporting activities, it could spoil your chances of achieving your goal if you get it wrong. Here are some tips to help you along the way.


When it comes to choosing a backpack, it’s important to work out what size you will need. Don’t forget, you may need to use the pack for future trips, so some flexibility may be useful.

  • It is worth allowing for some spare volume, but not too much. As equipment gets lighter and smaller, you don’t necessarily need a 60 or 80 litre backpack. Take a good look at how you utilise the available space in your pack. With some clever packing and reducing dead space by stuffing your kit into all available spaces, it will allow you to use a smaller pack and save weight.
  • Make sure that your backpack is big enough to contain all of the items you need. If you have to attach things like sleeping bags or other equipment to the outside of your pack, then it’s too small. Anything on the outside could get lost/stolen or damaged/wet.
  • Consider upgrading some of your bigger/heavier equipment for lightweight versions. Doing this with main items like tents and sleeping bags can have a major impact on what you end up carrying and result in a more comfortable and enjoyable trip.
  • Finally, take a look at your kit and decide what you really need to take.  Maybe get someone else to review your kit to see if you have missed anything or can remove something. This will save you some weight and volume, but make sure you have enough kit to stay safe.


There is always a fine balance between weight and volume. If you can save a significant amount of weight on your back it allows you to travel further and faster. Backpacks designed for outdoor use will typically be able to carry their volume in outdoor equipment. If you are carrying heavy non-standard kit, like communications or survey equipment, you may need some more specialist load carrying systems.


There are a range of features that can be found on backpacks. If you are backpacking, you will be looking for a different set of features than if you are climbing or mountaineering. Useful features on a backpacking pack will be low weight and pockets. Meanwhile, on alpine packs, you will be looking to have the ability to attach equipment like ropes, axes and Crampons etc. Adventure racing and active packs need to be low weight and simple, but still need easy-access pockets for trail food and drinks. Having a pack with removable features, or the ability to add extra features, offers you more flexibility and a wider range of potential uses.


Fitting a pack should be taken just as seriously as fitting a pair of boots. Fill the pack with some weight and try it on before your trip to make sure it will be comfortable. Even small adjustments in the waist belt, shoulder straps or top load adjusters can make a pack fit well and improve comfort. A good outdoor retailer will be able to help you with the pack fitting process if you’re not sure.

Weather protection

Most packs are made with waterproof fabrics, the seams are constructed in such a way as to minimise water getting in but are not 100% waterproof. The safest and simplest way to protect your equipment from weather and dust is to use a liner, preferably one that has a roll top and will fully protect your kit.

Typical Pack Sizes by volume and activity

Adventure racing/mountain marathons:
20-35 litres in volume.
Usually around 10-30 litres in volume.
Winter daypack:
Usually 30-40 litres in volume.
30 litres (superlight option) to anything up to 55-60 litres in volume.
Expeditions/extended trips:
50 litres upwards depending on your activity and conditions.

If you have any questions about packs, then please do contact us and we’ll do our best to provide further assistance.