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How to Choose a Rucksack

By Forest Ang
Choosing a rucksack or backpack is the most important step in planning a backpacking trip. A backpack that is not right or just doesn't fit or just plan uncomfortable will be a great nuisance on your trip. I have learnt that cheap backpack does not last. It may looks durable, tough and the price is cheap but when on the road, everything gave up. Trust me that quality backpack is worth every cent you pay.

Here are the tips for choosing a rucksack:

My Trusted Rucksack Since 1997

Backpack Use

Is it for mountain climbing, ice climbing, rock climbing or backpack touring? Different backpack or rucksack has different functionality. Each item on a backpack has its use. A slim backpack without the side pockets for water bottles is used for rock climbing.

Backpack Size

Backpack size depends on individual posture. An Asian female would probably need only 60 liters while her European counterpart with larger posture will need 75 liters. I personally used 65 liters for ease of traveling. Quality backpacks have adjustable back lengths (rucksack height) while others are un-adjustable. Check the correct size by tightening the waist belt, adjusting the shoulder straps and clipping the sternum buckle. Walk, bend and jump to check for comfort.

Tour Duration

Usually, if you stay longer on your tour, you tend to carry more things. But this is not necessary if you are moving around cities and towns as you can easily buy your replenishments. So this means how much you are willing to pack. The heavier your backpack, the more cushion will be needed. A backpack with good padding is advisable.


You might need a bigger pack if you are carrying winter clothes and sleeping bag. If you are traveling in tropical countries at low altitude then winter clothes are not necessary. Windy condition, lakes and seasons are some other factors which you need to learn before planning the trip.


Sometime, you need to go for short tour, say a day trip to a beach. In this case a small daypack would be necessary. Some backpacks come with a removable daypack. It could be an attachment to the larger backpack.

Ease of Use

Do you need to dig into your bag to search for a rain cover when it rain? Modern backpacks come with many outer pockets for easy access. Some come with zippers, draw cord closure while other with buckles. Too many outer pockets could also throw of your pack. Other include side mesh pockets for bottles, and attachments and hooks for gears such as helmet and trekking poles.


Quality material will last a lifetime. Many backpacks are water resistant. Some even have a lifetime warranty. Check for waterproofed steam and coated waterproof inner layer. Lightweight backpacks are usually less durable than the expensive backpacks. Choose backpacks with reinforced stitching, fabrics and durable materials.

Waist Belt

Waist belt is very important for distributing the weight off your backpack. Without a comfortable waist belt, you would probably end up with bruise hips. You should choose one that sit correctly on your hips.

Sternum Buckle

A chest or sternum buckle is needed to secure your backpack and to evenly distribute the weight to your body. Without one, you could tumble when going up the stairs. It ensures your backpack stay close to your body.

Top or side Loading

Most backpacks come with top pocket for loading your stuffs. In this case, you need to dig to the bottom just to search for a small item. Side loading or panel loading usually has large zippered pocket on one side of the backpack. You can open up the pocket and search your load easily.


Does your backpack come with a warranty? A quality backpack with a warranty usually costs more and it is worth the price. If you want durable and robust backpack which does not fail you during a journey then a quality product should be your choice.


A good backpack comes with reasonable ventilation for our back in humid condition. Check out the areas that come into contact with your body. The fewer the contact the less sweaty you will be.


It is usually good to ask for advice from the sales personnel. They have probably heard a lot of experiences from customers using certain brands. They know which are best. Your outdoor friends are another source of valuable information on the good brands.

Lastly, before you buy, you should test out the backpack at the shop. Place heavy stuffs to try out for stability and comfort.

Forest Ang
21 Nov 2007


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All photographs by Forest Ang unless mentioned.
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