Just like I addressed the mountain boot subject, the whole backpack topic can be quite complicated.
There are to many options out there (almost like with any product) with a too-wide price range and with no apparent difference that will help you choose within a specific category.
So, after using too many of them and owning “way” too many, here’s my take on how to choose the best one, based on the criteria that makes me use one for almost everything while leaving the others just sitting in the corner.
While I will not get to discuss how to choose an avalanche backpack or something more technical. This is just what I look for as general conditions when trying to find a good product.
Criteria 1: Activity
Seems obvious, but we all want a backpack that performs great for everything we want to do. This is simply impossible.
If you want an all-around backpack, just don’t expect it to do a great job on a very specific activity. Now, if you can compromise on performance a bit, then, possibilities expand.
However, base this criteria on the activity you want the backpack to perform the best. As a photographer, I struggle trying to find something that will fit my photo gear along my climbing or “adventure” gear.
In the end, I never carry a photo backpack and I just try to accommodate everything within a good climbing backpack
Criteria 2: Volume
This one is easy to tackle. How many days, hours, etc. you want to be out there? But, when the obvious is gone, let’s get to the practical.
If we want a backpack that allows you to do a lot, a bigger one will always top a small one as -normally- you can take some parts of the big backpack to make it smaller. You can compress it or simply not use it full, while the small one will find its limit very fast.
For a multi-purpose kind of piece I would always go for something in the range of 60 Liters. Good enough to perform a day trip and also something within the span of a weekend.
Criteria 3: Materials
This one is tricky. While most backpacks out there are meant to be outdoors, most also, just have a crappy plastic cover when it comes to dealing with the rain issue.
I can’t really understand how this solution hasn’t been replaced but something more interesting and useful and the only reason I have come across is the material cost.
However, in my experience, pay a bit more and get something made out of a waterproof material. The damn cover will always be annoying.
Criteria 4: Pricing
This one I leave open. Everyone knows better what they can or can’t afford. Find something with the above characteristics within your possibilities and you’ll be off to a good start.
Criteria 5: Weight
As a climber, we tend to think that every gram counts. As a trekker, maybe you can be a bit more permissive but, if you’re someone taking on long adventures, you’ll probably want something lightweight.
Don’t be fooled by some brands overblowing the price just because of a few grams less.
Instead, once you bought your backpack, adjust it the best possible way and start trimming the excess of material (straps, labels, some cords, plastic ends) and you’ll reduce those very grams you don’t need, without paying extra.
Criteria 6: Fitting
I chose to leave this one to the end because it’s probably one that will come on top of all the above but, it should come after you have narrowed the search to a category or at least to a set of products that you really like.
You will have your backpack on for a long time. The base of your back needs to feel comfortable. Your shoulders should balance the weight but not carry it.
Try reaching the pockets while it is on and see if they fulfill the needs of your activities and think about the things you will carry and when are you going to be needing them.
Then, try again to reach out for the compartiments and see if the are comfortable enough. There is nothing worse than a backpack you need to be taking off every time you need to get something.
Criteria 7: Style
If this is something that matters to you (and, as gentlemen, it should) your backpack is quite a visible object and it will tell about your choices.
Some people just don’t like to be so outdoorsy and other want to scream it. This point I also leave up to you.
I hope this was useful and If you have anything to add, make sure you leave a comment :)