Choosing a rucksack, backpack or any other carrying contraption


That’s awesome news about the Eastern Desert recce, you know how much I love ruins and temples, and just generally playing at Indiana Jones. I’m all for making a return trip! For one thing, I think it’s important to show people a different image of the near east than the one we hear about in the news so much these days.

I’m carrying on with my mountain guiding training as you know and i’m in the market for a new backpack. My Karrimor Airpsace 25+5 has served me well but it’s seen better days and I feel it’s now time to move on. Also as a side note, according to Mountain Warehouse the difference between a rucksack and a backpack is technically in the size of the bag, a backpack having smaller capacity, usually 35L or less, while a rucksack is larger. While writing to you i’m probably going to end up using both terms pretty interchangeably (because I find those details interesting but i’m pretty sure no-one’s ever been in a life or death situation where they needed to know the difference).

Check out Outfitters for more detail.

Of course, names aside, we’re entering into a whole world of confusion - trekking packs, mountaineering packs, climbing packs, daypacks, attack style packs, expedition packs…the list goes on. Really I think the whole idea of reviewing a rucksack is a terrible idea. It’s a common mistake to read all the reviews online and, feeling thoroughly informed, go and buy the pack that appears consistently in the top three. While this may work for less personal bits of kit, maybe a compass or a GPS device for example, a rucksack you may have to wear day-in, day-out, for weeks at a time, with heavy loads and in uncomfortable conditions. Ultimately there is no substitute to getting you hands on a rucksack and trying it out yourself.

The most important thing to bear in mind when trying out a new rucksack is comfort. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can get a decent idea of the fit when the pack is empty - another common mistake. The best way to test out a backpack is to load it up. Don’t be afraid of being a nuisance in the shop, ask for items to pack inside, sleeping bag, cooking set, jacket, sleeping mat, dry rations, books, etc. Anything to simulate as closely as possible how you’re really going to use it.

A rückentrage common in southern Germany. Basically a chair strapped to your back.

With the bag loaded up, try it on and get the straps done up correctly. First adjust the waist belt, as tight as is comfortable (don’t burst anything) so that the weight is on your hips - the bag shouldn’t sag below your bum. Then the shoulder straps so that they fit snugly round your back and shoulders - the weight distribution should feel about 80 percent on your hips and 20 percent on your upper body. Finally adjust the strap across your chest (if your pack has one, which it should) and those at the top of the pack where the shoulder straps connect to the main body of the bag. Very important here will be to keep the bag on for a while. Maybe have a browse around, or ask the shop attendant about another piece of kit while you wear the rucksack for a few minutes. Think about the material of the waist belt and how comfortable it feels, as well as height of the shoulder straps - if there is a gap between the straps and your shoulders or if you feel more weight on your shoulders than your hips - on some packs it’s possible to adjust the height of the shoulder straps but not all - like a rückentrage for example. Throughout this process make sure you ask the shop assistant for their help too, after all that’s what they’re there for!

At the end of the day it comes down to what pack suits your body best, this is why reviews can’t work for everyone. You may have to spend a bit of time discerning which is best. It’s always worth asking the returns policy of a shop, Decathlon are famous for theirs. Also some really cool reading on the history of packs from Carryoloy for if you're interested.

Anyway keep me posted how it’s going in Egypt and catch up next week.