Having worked in an outdoor gear store, I realize that shopping for a backpack can be intimidating. Packs these days can be a bit techie, and many people aren’t familiar with all the gear jargon. Plus, most folks don’t know what questions to ask when dealing with salespeople. As you shop, use the talking points below to ensure that the store staff members help you choose the right pack.
1. Shop at an outdoor specialty store
While big-box stores carry backpacks, you need to visit an outdoor specialty store to find a high-quality pack that’s going to fit comfortably and last a long time. Outdoor specialty stores not only carry the most comfortable, durable products, but they also have staff members who are trained to help you choose the right product that really fits. Of course, a quality pack will cost more, but I recommend that you spend a bit more on your pack, shoes and sleeping bag, because these greatly affect how good—or bad—you feel during a trip. Also, cheaper gear often falls apart more quickly, so, in the long run, you end up paying just as much with replacements.
2. Describe how you’ll use the pack
Tell the salesperson the types of trips you’ll take with the pack and the environment you’ll be in. This will help determine the size pack you should buy. For example, do you need a 6,000-cubic-inch pack for a weeklong backcountry trip, or a 3,000-cubic-inch pack for a weekend excursion? Maybe you want something super lightweight for thru-hiking. Keep in mind that you can get a bigger pack if you ever want to do longer trips. Also, if you’re traveling in summer, you might want a pack that offers more ventilation for your back.
3. Discuss other features that are important to you
Help the salesperson narrow the choices by discussing things that you would prefer. For example, do you want an external-frame pack (more ventilation), or an internal-frame pack (more custom fit, lighter weight, better load distribution). Also, some folks want a pack with a hydration system, while others prefer to carry water bottles. You can get a pack accessible only through the top, or one with multiple access points. Or, maybe you want multiple external pockets to organize your gear. You might ask the salesperson to show you two or three models to help you decide.
4. Have the employee measure your torso
Once you have chosen a model, have the salesperson measure your torso (from the hips to the base of the neck) to determine the size pack you’ll need. Keep in mind that some manufacturers offer waist belts and shoulder straps in several sizes to fine-tune the fit.
5. Try on the pack with some weight in it
The salesperson should fill the pack with about 20 pounds of weight, and then let you try it on. Ask the salesperson to show you the proper sequence for adjusting the waist belt, hip straps, shoulder straps, sternum strap and load-lifter straps. The salesperson should then ensure that the pack is sitting properly at the shoulders and hips. This is also a good time to get advice on how to properly pack your gear to balance the load effectively.
6. Wear the pack in the store for a while
Tell the salesperson you would like to wear the pack and walk around the store for several minutes. Pay attention to how it feels, and ask salesperson to help you adjust the various straps to balance the load between your shoulders and hips.
7. Don’t forget accessories
Ask the salesperson to show you any accessories you might need, such as a rain cover for your pack, a camera bag, or extra straps to latch things to the packs.
Written by guest bloggers Wendy Geister and Marcus Woolf of The Adventure Post (www.theadventurepost.com), which inspires people of all ages and abilities to explore their world and enjoy the outdoors. Geister and Woolf have gathered a community of outdoor writers and travel experts to share travel tips, provide insider info on destinations, and offer opinions on the latest gear and clothing.