Guide to backpacks

Martin Chester’s guide to backpacks

When it comes to choosing a pack, it’s important to be absolutely clear what you want it for and why. Once you’ve realistically identified how and where you’re going to use it, you can then get on with the business of speccing the right size, style and features for the job.  

Things to consider

Size matters… as does fit 

There is a law that suggests whatever size you bring, you are going to fill it, so choose carefully! Fit also matters; the best pack in the world will be overtaking you on the descent if it doesn’t fit your body shape. Here are things to focus on: 

* Back length: get it right to keep the weight on your hips and the pack strapped to your shoulders. 

* Shoulder width: essential to ensure the straps don’t slip off your shoulders at every turn and the load is comfortable to bear. The Black Diamond ‘Swing Arm’ system is a miracle of simplicity and really works! 

* Hip belt taper: if you have more than a simple strap, and especially for women’s packs, the shape matters. I have a confession that with my short back, Deuter girls’ packs fit me better than the blokes. I’m (literally) comfortable with that! 

Quality not quantity 

We’re talking features here. When it comes to panel dividers, avy tool holders, straps, pockets and gizmos: more is only better if you really need them and the function justifies the extra weight. Likewise, not all of us can afford a fleet of packs for every mountain sport so keep an eye on our upcoming ‘crossover packs’ review if you’re in the market for a quiver-of-one to do it all. 

Try before you buy 

In person. From a retailer. Try for fit (shape) as well as size. Be clear which features you value (and don’t be fooled by gimmicks you don’t want or need). Wear the right clothing and even better if you can add some load when you try them.  

Now you know, it’s time to check out Fall Line’s top pick of 2023 backpacks: