walkers with large packs

A repeated theme throughout these gear articles is that it helps to know exactly what you want to do with your equipment. Packs are no exception. What is your pack going to be used for? Are you going summer alpine climbing or are you going cragging in the UK? Though packs can be multipurpose it helps to know.



What should I consider when buying a pack?

Weight - You want your pack to be light. The less you have to carry the better.

Price - You get what you pay for. When you pay more you get lighter, better designed, better fitting packs that will last longer.

Size - You have to decide what you are going to use your pack for. Beware buying big; always bear in mind that however large your pack, you will fill it! For rock climbing you can get away with a 30 litre pack, alpine climbing needs 45 or 50 litres and for mountaineering you are looking at 60 or above.

Volume - Alas there is no standardised method for measuring a pack's capacity. Manufacturers all have different ways of doing it and there are national quirks thrown in for good measure as well. It's always best to get your hands on it and look inside to judge how much it is going to hold.

- A very thick material will take a great deal of punishment but will weigh more. A thinner material will take less punishment but will be much lighter. You must decide what is more important.

Pack features - Look for the gimmicks and then decide whether you really need them.  If you don't venture out in the winter, ice axe fittings are unlikely to be useful. Remember however that if you like a pack and it fits well, many such additions can be removed with a knife.

Fit - There is climbing fit and walking fit. If your pack simply has to transport all your gear to the crag and back then you want something that is essentially good for walking with a reasonably heavy load. When you need a pack that you are actually going to climb in, fit becomes slightly more complicated.

Fit Considerations. For carrying medium to heavy loads you want the hip belt to take most of the weight. The shoulder straps are really only there to stop the pack falling off your back!  It is important to get back length correct; most packs above 40 litres will have different backlength options. The right backlength for you will make sure the weight rests on your hips. Removable hip belts mean that you can approach the crag in comfort and then climb unencumbered, but for serious light weight addicts it's best to have a pack with a minimal/fixed hip belt.  If you are climbing with the pack you need to think about how your harness will fit.  Some people climb with the harness above the waist belt of their rucksack, using gear loops on the hip belt instead of on their harness. Other people like the sac to be above the harness so that it does not interfere with all the gear on it.

Inner lid strap - Lots of packs have them. Good for holding a rope under the lid of you sac. If you don’t want it, it's easy to remove.

Big zip tabs/waterproof zips
- fiddly little zips are light on the one hand but liable to break on the other. Bigger more industrial zips will stand up to more abuse but let in water. Packs are not waterproof (unless you've bought a very special one) therefore waterproof zips are pointless and make getting in and out more effort than it needs to be.

Waterproof - Hardly any packs are fully waterproof, mostly due to the large hole through which you load them. If you are going to the Alps snow will get inside your sac the moment you open it. Rain covers can help but they're a nightmare in heavy wind - consider using drysacs too if you really want to keep things dry and cosy.

Big buckles
- big buckles weigh more but are easier to handle with gloves and cold hands.

Bright colours
- You want people to see you far off in the distance when they are using you to take a bearing in a Scottish white out. You also want bright colours on the inside of your pack. It's hard to find your black gloves, amongst you spare black jacket, next to your black camera case inside your black dark pack. Bright colours on the inside make things easier to find.

Head manoeuvrability - decent packs will be able to accommodate you looking up when you are wearing a helmet. Not being able to do so can become extremely frustrating very quickly.

Extendable/removable lid - this is a great way to reduce the bulk of your pack when you take it off or extend the capacity of the pack when you raise it up.

Heavy duty base - The part of the pack that gets the most abuse is the base. This is because you will constantly be putting it on the ground. It's good to have a reinforced base.

Manufacture location - In the climbing world there is often a perception that clothing and equipment not made in the West will be below standard. Packs are no exception to this perceived rule however in Outside's experience it is often untrue. Reputable brands will still adhere to strict quality control no matter where equipment is being made.

Image © 2008 ARC'TERYX - Photographer: Brian Goldstone FALL 2007


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