Magazine article Geographical

Essential Gear: In the First of a New Series, Paul Deegan Says to Ignore Colours and Features When Buying a New Rucksack and Instead Concentrate on Finding the Perfect Fit

Magazine article Geographical

Essential Gear: In the First of a New Series, Paul Deegan Says to Ignore Colours and Features When Buying a New Rucksack and Instead Concentrate on Finding the Perfect Fit

Article excerpt

For more than a decade, I made ends meet between expeditions by working in outdoor stores. During that time, thousands of customers came into the shops to buy their first pieces of outdoor equipment. And it didn't matter whether they were budding backpackers, climbers or trekkers, their first port of call would always be the rucksack department. Like a stuck record, I would implore them to buy the other equipment they needed and then return to the rucksacks so that we would all have a better idea of exactly what type they needed. Not one customer did; the backpack was always the first purchase.

I eventually came to realise that a rucksack is much more than a glorified shopping bag: it's a status symbol, a badge of honour. Carry a rucksack onto a train on a Friday morning and you signal to your fellow commuters that, come 5pm, you'll be off on an adventure as they head home to another re-run of Friends.

So, somewhat reluctantly, I've started this series on outdoor equipment with the subject of rucksacks. I'm no longer going to swim against the tide. So long as "Which rucksack should I buy?" remains the first question asked by the majority of outdoor enthusiasts, the least I can do is try to help them make an informed choice before they part with their hard earned cash.

How much to spend?

How large a slice of your financial pie should you spend on a rucksack? My feeling is that it's definitely worth shelling out for something comfortable. If the back system that suits you happens to be expensive, then bite the bullet and fork out. (It might be worth calling around to see if anyone is selling the same rucksack in last season's colour at a discount.) On the other hand, if you find that a less expensive back system suits your frame, then the cash saved will probably be better spent on another item on your shopping list than on the next rucksack up on the price scale.

Getting the perfect fit

Start by picking three or four rucksacks made by different companies that match your approximate price range and required capacity. (For advice on which capacity is right for you, see What capacity do I need? on p. 96)

For the moment, try to avoid being seduced by the rucksacks' colours and features. Focus instead on finding a backpack that feels good when placed upon your shoulders and hips. Doing this will require putting some weight into the rucksack. Slide a couple of tents into an expedition rucksack, or a rope or two into a daysack. For the purpose of testing, aim to stow about five kilograms in a daysack, rising to perhaps 12 for an expedition backpack.

Once you've filled a rucksack, pick it up by the grab handle (located between the shoulder straps) and put it on. Before adjusting the shoulder straps, fasten the hip belt, drawing it snugly over your hips. Adjusting the hip belt first helps to shift the load from your shoulders to the stronger pelvis. Some manufacturers insist that a rigid hip-fin set-up is the only way to transfer the load effectively, while others prefer a pivoting hip belt that moves with the body as you walk. I've used both types and found them to be equally comfortable.

When the padded hip belt is in place, you can turn your attention to adjusting the shoulder straps, before tightening or loosening the top and base stabilising straps. These do a great job of cinching the pack against your back, thus minimising any shifting of the load. Bear in mind that lower capacity rucksacks may be equipped with a non weight-bearing, unpadded webbing belt that serves merely as a stabiliser to prevent the rucksack from swinging from side to side.

Some rucksacks come with the option of either different, fixed back lengths or an adjustable back system. A knowledgeable sales assistant will be able to describe the differences. Suffice to say that it doesn't really matter which you plump for, providing that you find it comfortable.

Walk around the store wearing each rucksack for a few minutes. …

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