Sunday, April 6

Selecting a Rucksack- Helpful tips?

I promised earlier to come up with some simple tips to help with deciding which rucksack model to go for. Recent discussions on M& G Go For A Walk and an article in May's TGO reminded me of the intense activity that can go into a potential purchase, especially as its one of the largest and most essential items in any backpacker's wardrobe. A badly designed or ill fitting pack will undoubtedly ruin that special trip. And these days with the added consideration of lightweight and ultra-lightweight models there must be literally hundreds of options available. More choice. More things to worry about.

But this isn't another How-To-Fit-It article, more some suggestions to help limit any product research to those key things that you require, rather than get all hung up on the detailed specifications.

I've been using a No-Name pack for several years now. Not light, but with its proven durability & carrying capacity it suits me fine. Well nearly I guess - I still seem to read the pack comparison reviews with rather more interest than is good for my bank balance. But over the years I've felt the need to refine my set-up to meet the changes required with new gear ideas, and the way I carry my load or have access to it.

The Hydration Bladder Pocket
This is so easy. Forget them.

Whilst its great to have that 'special pocket' to store away the bladder, it usually means that the place this volume takes up in the pack is a fixed and in a fixed position. I've packs with & without this facility and to be honest the pack with it is a pain to use.

On the pocketless pack I simply stuff the bladder (a Platypus in my case) down the inside back of the pack, close to my back. The tube runs out of the top of the pack and exits from under the top flap where it meets the pack by my neck. Nice and simple really. When really pushed for space I've put it into the pack as the last item, laying it across the top of the contents. This method means that the gravity feed system only works whilst air is out of the system, which means it will need moving again later, but then being much smaller the storage options are much easier.

On the with-pocket pack I have to not only ensure the bladder is packed into its pocket well before any other contents on the same level, but the fiddling with the designated H20 pack exit is frankly a pain. Popping the mouthpiece on and off, and usually getting a nice wet stain down some part of my clothing as the valve is removed. Super.

I've been using this method for three or four years with no problems. So perhaps this is one function to cross off the list when looking at that new model?

Hip Belt Pockets
The second tip is just as simple. My first pack had a hip belt. It was unpadded and at the time I couldn't afford the extra £3 for the extra -so that indicates how long ago that was! (Think car seat belt for the design and general usefulness) My more recent packs have padded hip belts, some with and some without hip belt pockets. And they will come as standard even on budget items these days.

But I find the hip belt pouches to be rather restrictive in their size, positioning and hence usefulness.

On a trip a couple of years ago I suddenly realised the pointlessness of taking a camera along with me. It seemed to remain stuffed in the pack as the effort to stop, remove the pack, dig out the camera, take the snap, and then reverse the process was enough to deter me using it at all. And even if I did usually the picture I had framed was long gone by the time I was ready for it. The result was half a dozen actual shots from the forty or fifty I had framed to take, but then not bothered with.

As a result I kept an eye out for a hip pouch, big enough to hold the easy-to-hand bits and pieces, but cheap enough to experiment with. It took a couple of tries until I found a small bum-bag (fanny pack for you US readers) that had a Velcro belt loop big enough to fit over my hip belt. Cost - less than £10, and easy to take on and off as required.

The end result has been highly successful. My camera, cash, MP3 player and compass are always safe and fall easily to hand. The position on the hip belt is totally customisable. And when I do hit civilisation the hipbelt bumbag is easily removed and used around town to store my valuables, camera etc etc.

I also use it when staying in a YHA or travelling on the bus/train to ensure my key possessions are secure and close-by as I require.

Its not waterproof, but a couple of plastic resealable bags quickly resolves that problem. And the result has been I now take pictures on the move and can safely store items away without any concern that I may have things fall out of my pockets as I walk along.

Before I came up with this approach I used a bum-bag strapped around the waist as normal. But I found it got in the way when steeply ascending or trying to hop over stiles. Reversing it, or sliding it onto my hip just never felt right and it did interfere with the rucksack fit at times. As part of its function was the ability to see it in-situ to ensure that the contents were secure this option never felt like it was working correctly for me.

Another rucksack function to possibly cross off the list?

Consider that the main function of the pack is its ability to help you carry a load with a degree of comfort. The individual design ideas can at times become constraints without a little lateral thinking.

So don't be put off by the fact your ideal pack is missing something minor. Why not try to think around it? And maybe give yourself an easier set of choices as a result?

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I've just bought - and used on a trip to Norway - one of these:

very simple and very cheap.

Highly recommended
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