Camping Gear Outlet

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Picking a Camping Backpack

by Daniel Lawton

I purchased my first camping backpack two years ago, before I began a six-month sojourn through West Africa and Southeast Asia. Everything in the store looked suspiciously tiny for the load I would be carrying, and the price ranges were humongous, anywhere from $100 to $300.

The description tags were just as overwhelming and offered a wide variety of features, many of which I had never heard of. I was reminded of a passage from the book Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, during which the author relays a conversation he had with a sales associate when shopping for a camping backpack.

Together we discussed and gravely considered the relative merits of side compression straps, spindrift collars, crampon patches, load transfer differentials, air flow channels, webbing loops and something called the occipital cutout ratio.

Yes, the technical jargon can be overwhelming, but don’t let it get to you. The key to purchasing a good backpack is simplifying what you want and communicating it. Here are a few tips.

How Big Are You

This sounds pretty simple, but it’s not as easy as you think. Yes, if you’re 6 foot 8, you’re probably going to need an extra large backpack, but remember height isn’t always the defining factor in backpack size. I’m only five foot ten, but wear a large backpack because my torso is freakishly long. It makes sense to get measured and you can usually do it yourself, as many online manufactures now have sizing charts available online.

How big of a pack do you need

Are you going for a day trip or looking for a heavy-duty pack to store clothes and supplies for an entire week? Camping backpacks often look much slimmer than they truly are; the amount of luggage they can hold is usually measured in cubic inch capacity.

A pack with 1,7000 to 2,500 cubic inches of storage is suitable for a day pack. If you’re looking for a weekend pack, 3,000 to 4,000 cubic inches is ideal, while for trips of a week or more, you’ll want something in the range of 5,000.

External Frame Vs. Internal Frame

One choice that you’ll definitely need to make when selecting a camping backpack is whether or not to use an external or internal frame.

External frames, which have been along much longer than their counterpart, are more lightweight than internal frame backpacks. Because of the way they’re positioned–slightly off the back–they’re also considerably cooler. Lastly, they focus most of the weight on the hips, keeping it off the shoulders.

Internal frames were invented by mountain climbers looking for a slimmer way to travel. Internal frame backpacks have become increasingly popular because of their mobility. These packs are much better for long-distance hiking, skiing or climbing. Because they hug your body, they provide a greater sense of balance than external frame backpacks.

Waterproof or Not

The last thing to consider when buying a camping backpack is whether or not you want it to be waterproof. If you do decide on a non-waterproof backpack, consider purchasing a waterproof cover for inclement weather.