A backpack has the right size if everything you want to take with you fits inside. No more and no less.

Often it is difficult to estimate what you will need on the way. In many cases that leads to packing too much. What you really need of equipment is closely related to what you’re up to.

So question #1 is:

“What are you up to?”

Depending on the project, there are categories of backpacks that differ in shape and volume. For example, there are special backpacks for trekking, for day trips, cycling trips, alpine tours or normal everyday use. Another key factor in choosing the right backpack is your height – more precisely, your back length. Backpacks are designed differently and therefore, they do not fit on every back.

”How do you know that a backpack fits well?”

By testing – not in an empty state, but loaded. Most outdoor stores have sandbags or other weights to “load” the backpack. Take a walk through the shop, test how the backpack feels and whether it rubs or pushes unpleasantly. It is also worth trying different backpack models to draw a comparison.
In principle, you should make sure that the hip belt rests on the hip bone (not above and not below!). The majority of the weight should be on your hips and not on your shoulders. Small volume backpacks, such as daypacks, are not designed to distribute the weight on the hip because it is assumed that they are not heavily loaded. For this reason, the hip straps for small backpacks are usually very narrow and little padded. They are more designed to attach the backpack to the body, therefore they do not necessarily have to rest on the hip bone.
In any case, the shoulder straps should not protrude upwards but should rest on the shoulders.
Larger backpacks usually have a variable support frame in which the length of the back part can be adjusted.

How much weight do you want to carry?

Kungsleden trail
one of the last crosses on the trek before Kebnekaise fjällstation ©Jarno Hein

A difficult question! Especially since it’s not just about wanting, but also about your ability.
In principle, you should look for a backpack whose carrying frame is designed for as much weight as possible (but it does not have to be a heavy-duty backpack).
Here, cheap backpacks are already very different from the more expensive models.

But is the carrying frame worth so much more money?
Yes! Backpacks with a carrying frame distribute the weight better over the body and thus give a much more pleasant wearing comfort.
Even if you pack a backpack with a load capacity of only 10kg, you’ll notice a difference. The weight is distributed more evenly, as the straps and waist straps are wider.

How much weight should I carry at most?

Here are some rules of thumb:

  • In the army they say (body weight / 3)
  • A general athletic person (body weight / 4)
  • Less trained people should carry (body weight / 5)
with the backpack into the wild
with the backpack into the wild ©Jarno Hein

Pack the backpack properly

In principle, heavy equipment should be deposited as close to the back as possible. If the load is too far away from the center of gravity, you will be pulled in the wrong direction while walking or climbing … and that will be damn exhausting! The further the baggage is away from the body, the higher the leverage on the upper body.

For that reason, you should not tie anything heavy outside to the backpack – or even worse: dangling it! Fastening equipment to the outside of the backpack is also not a good idea, as it makes it easier to get stuck, gives the wind a larger area to attack, and makes things get wet and dirty quickly.

In addition to this basic rule, there are still small differences in packing, depending on the mode of transport. For example, when you are walking, you pack the heavy luggage a little higher, just below the shoulder blades. The backpack then supports the slightly forward bent posture, without the weight pulling you backward or downwards.

When climbing the posture is upright. Consequently, you should deposit heavy items closer to the middle of the body. Thus, the body is more in balance.

Organizing the backpack: What is the best location inside the backpack?

Organizing the backpack is a difficult and very individual matter.
In addition to the physical-logical weight distribution, which affects the comfort, there are other important aspects. These include accessibility and packing order.
Here it is up to you to find your own personal optimum.
In this case, backpacks with a front opener have a general advantage. They allow access to another opening.

What do I need when?

You should ask yourself this question if you want to load your backpack as effectively as possible. It also helps to imagine the daily routine as detailed as possible. It may also be helpful to note what you need when, how often and in what order.

For example on a trekking tour this may look like this:

  1. Departure in the rain:

    Packing the backpack inside the tent. (tent is the last item to be packed)
    The Tent will be wet and must be packed watertight.
    Cover the backpack with a rain cover.

  2. The weather is getting better:

    Rain clothes are wet and need to dry.

  3. Small break:

    Small snacks should be easily accessible. (for example in an outside pocket)
    The same applies to a sweater to quickly pull over as long as you take a break.

  4. Lunch: (Longer break without cooking)

    Here you can search for something deeper in your backpack. In the lid compartment is a suitable place. Longer breaks are also a good time to replenish the water reserves. That means: Water filter and drinking bottle or hydration bladder should be stowed accessible, so you do not have to repack the entire backpack.

By playing through a variety of sceneries you do not only optimize the distribution of the items in the backpack, you also automatically memorize their exact position. Especially in stress situations, such as in an emergency, this is important.

“Where is the first aid kit?”

Is about the last thing you want to hear as a wounded!

Also very useful are packing bags, because you can pack everything that belongs together (for example, a bag for T-shirts, one for dirty laundry …). In addition, different bag colors make searching much easier.
Another advantage of bags or pack sacks: they also protect things from moisture.

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