|Some of the popular brands among Filipino backpackers|
For every journey there is a right backpack. But you don’t need to embark on all kinds of trekking/running activities at once. Thus, you don’t need to have all of them backpacks at the same time. If you are about to buy your first backpack, you may want to consider the following tips.
BIG is OUT small is IN
If you’re a startup hiker, you’ll either want to do it solo or join groups. Doin’ it solo requires that you be self-contained. Joining groups means you’ll have to abide by the group’s load distribution policy. Either way, you’ll need a pack which should be at least 30L in volume, unless you have someone with an enormous pack who’ll be willing to carry your share of load with him.
|back in 2005, these two buddies of mine always carried overhead packs|
There was a time in the course of the history of Philippine ‘mountaineering’ when BIG backpacks ruled the game. But trust me! In this age of nonstop innovation in outdoors equipment technology, you are left with very few reasons for using overhead packs. Most hikers, especially the newbies, carrying overhead packs fall under one or more of these categories:
1. Pormaneer. Pogi points to. Hardcore ako! Astig ako malaki pack ko e! Di mo ba nakikita tattoo ko?!
2. Initiation ko to! Some groups let new recruits experience something hard but rewarding and beneficial. As an initiation rite, the new recruit has to carry a heavy pack that contains what the whole group will feast on at the campsite (e.g. ingredients for sinigang) or big tents for four to five persons. Some guys actually do this to their girlfriend. This usually happens during fun climbs. But most of the time, especially on a major climb, the new recruits are pampered.
3. Eto pinahiram sa akin e! A guest who has no intention to make mountaineering a career will seldom buy a mountaineering backpack on his first climb. His first impulse would be to borrow from a mountaineer friend a mountaineering backpack. Yes he wouldn’t accept anything but a mountaineering backpack. He may get a 30-35L The North Face pack (Divisoria Edition). But sometimes he’ll be lent a dusty, old, big and heavy local backpack which the owner wouldn’t mind getting soiled or ripped.
4. May dala akong kawa! For lack of space-friendly cookware, tent and stove, a camper sometimes brings along the attaché-case type stove, a gasulito, kaldero (the authentic Pinoy kaldero) and a frying pan. These bulky things need more than just the regular Nike backpack.
5. Harry Porter. Some expedition leaders want the whole team to enjoy a journey. But fun has a steep price. You’ll need to carry more than just the bare essentials. 2 tents? Check! 2 hammocks? Check! 6-L water? Check! 10m x 10m tarp? Check! Lock n’ Lock with adobo for 15? Check!
6. Himalaya here I come! Some climbers have plans on climbing overseas. If you’re considering a multi-day trek in an alpine mountain in China or in South America, you’ll probably need a backpack that is at least 60L in volume.
If you don’t fall under any of the six categories, you may content yourself with a 35L-45L backpack. Bring stuff that are space-friendly and pack wisely. You’ll have a comfortable and enjoyable journey whether you’re doing it solo or with groups! But one big pack that can camouflage itself as a small pack is The North Face Terra series. The Terra 60 (which is no longer out in the market) has a bigger volume but looks smaller than the Black Diamond Infinity 50 and Mountain Hardwear Direttissima. For more features of the Terra 60, check out this post.
Gawin Mong LIGHT
|The lightest pack I've ever used|
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, lightness plays a vital role in trekking. Apart from the stuff you bring, your pack should also be as lightweight as possible. Check whether your pack has removable internal frames. Remove those metal parts and use your earthpad (or therm-a-rest) to give shape to your pack. Also check the fabric used. Thick fabrics absorb more moisture and take longer time to dry. Labels usually indicate how heavy the pack is (with and without the frames). A difference of one kilo in weight could translate into an hour longer trek.
You should also consider the access points into your backpack. Most big backpacks have only the top access. This means you can put stuff in and out of your pack only through the top or through the ‘mouth’. The problem with this model is that you really have to be careful in the order of the stuff you put into your backpack. The things you need to access frequently or the soonest should not be buried under a lot of other stuff. But even though you organize your stuff very well, sometimes you need to access many things often and it is troublesome to dig into your pack for these. But this trouble is eliminated when your pack has other access points besides the top mouth. Other packs like the TNF Terra 60 have both top and bottom access. I access my tent and hammock through the bottom access and my other stuff through the top access. Other packs feature a side access! Like the bottom access, it spares you the trouble of having to deliberate carefully on the order of the things you stuff into your pack.
A good backpack should have a reliable set of zippers. The world’s largest zipper manufacturer is the Japanese YKK (Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha). They provide durable zippers for companies like The North Face, Columbia, Black Diamond and almost all the companies that use zippers including those in the clothing industry. But sometimes the zipper specifications of each company affect the functionality of the zipper.
The zipper of the Mobex (which is also YKK-manufactured) is not very manageable because the zipper is squeezed between the zipper chain and the rough and tough interior ‘lapel’. Make sure that the pull tab is durable. Pull tabs come in different designs and shapes. Sometimes, a loop or a knot could serve as a pull tab. The lousiest set of pull tabs I've seen so far is that of Columbia Mobex. They knotted a string around the slider and fortified it with a brittle plastic support that connected the ends of the knot so as to form a loop or a handle. After one month of use, the plastic support snapped and the ends broke away. Actually it’s not just the pull tab that failed in the Mobex--its whole zipper system! It is such an ordeal to run the slider through the chain that your index fingers might actually get blistered. I wonder whether their QA department really examined this or just focused on the Tech-light and Omni-tech features of their products. Functionality should never be compromised for aesthetics. By the way, make sure it’s a double-zipper system so that in case one blows out, the zipper doesn't lose functionality.
|The fragile zippers of the Mobex|
WATERPROOF is TROUBLE-PROOF
|This was waterproof only for a couple of climbs|
You wouldn't want to wear wet clothes on a cold mountain. That’s why it is important that your pack be impenetrable to liquids. But waterproofing is not aimed at only keeping your stuff dry. It also makes sure that your pack doesn't get soaked in water to avoid increasing the weight of your load. When buying a pack, check whether the fabric is waterproof or water resistant. Not a lot of backpacks have this feature but don’t worry if you get a NO to your inquiry. Many backpacks come with a customized backpack cover. This will serve as extra waterproofing for your packs. Not only do these covers waterproof your pack, they also protect your pack from stains, dust, dirt and sharp objects. If your backpack doesn't come with a cover, you can always buy one at any outdoors shops. Sea to Summit manufactures one of the best backpack covers in the market. Their silicone-coated covers are lightweight and really small when stowed. But it is a little bit pricey (more than P2000). You can buy Sea to Summit products at R.O.X. and at any The North Face shops. The North Face has a similar technology (but still not very cheap at P1800). Deuter has a cheaper offer P600-P1000 but their size range is very big. One Deuter cover has a size range of 40L-80L. This type of pack will only look good on 60L-80L packs. Local backpack covers may be your best option. I have seen backpack covers of Conquer that may be comparable in performance to Sea-to-Summit’s top of the line cover. Conquer, Sideout Outdoor, Apexxus and other local brands sell their backpack covers at P250-P500. When buying a cover, always make sure that the size indicated on the cover corresponds to the size/volume of your backpack.
Above, I have discussed at length the waterproofing function of the backpack cover. But the backpack cover also serves other purposes. One, it keeps your pack clean. Another, it helps people find you when you’re missing, lastly, it protects your pack from fire and sharp objects.
When you’re taking the bus, you’ll most often put your backpack in baggage compartments. The surfaces of these baggage compartments are often dusty and greasy. The stains they leave on your backpack are sometimes impossible to remove. When trekking, you often have to lay down your pack on the ground. Sometimes, you won’t notice that you’re laying down your pack on cow shit or on an anthill! It is wise to let the backpack cover catch all the dirt.
|yellow, orange and red can be seen even from afar|
You may have been wondering why many backpack covers and mountaineering apparel come in bright colors like red, orange and yellow. When exploring the unknown or the wild, the worst-case scenario is you getting lost and not getting found. You always have to entertain the possibility that you may stray away from the team or lose your way alone or fall off a cliff and be unable to climb up again. Most of the time a flare will save the day but we don’t use these emergency flares often in Philippine backpacking! And besides, our rescue teams don’t usually have choppers handy! Your only friendly companion then is anything that is visible from afar. And your backpack cover can do this job. To this end, choose a color that is within the yellow-red stratum in the visible light spectrum (or the ROY colors in the rainbow). These colors (red, orange and yellow) have the longest wavelengths in the spectrum and are perceivable by the naked eye even at long distances. For tropical mountaineering, Red is the best color in that it has the longest wavelength of all the colors and unlike yellow, it doesn't camouflage with the green foliage in the woods. In case you fall on your back and get knocked unconscious (with your backpack cover under your body) just hope that your clothes have these colors. Although, there have been studies that claim that these colors irritate the sensitive eyes of some animals in the wild, one should know that we wear these colors not to intentionally disturb wildlife but more to keep ourselves safe.
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Lastly, although more and more climbers have changed, there are still many who smoke in the mountains. If it is impossible for you avoid smokers or campfires (which are prohibited), keep your backpack from embers and fire by covering it with fireproof or heat-resistant material. Some backpack covers have these features.
LOCK n’ Strap
Straps also should be taken into consideration. They should be as snag-free as possible and easy to tighten and slacken. Take time to fiddle on those straps, buckles and locks and see if the combination of adjustments gives you the right fit.
FIT n’ Right
|Notice the ball joint at the lower portion of the back panel. That''s where you attach the hip belt|
Moving it up and down to adapt to the length of your torso will give your the right fit.
Some climbers prefer a backpack that can be dismembered. I for one, used to prefer a detachable top pocket. The idea was to extend the top pocket upward so as to maximize the volume of the pack. But with my Infinity 50, I always pull the top pocket as low as possible because the pack is already a little too tall. And not only the top pocket is detachable. Some straps and hip belts can now be separated from the main sack. One advantage I saw in this detachability feature of backpacks is that the backpack becomes multi-functional and easy to put away.
|The detachable hip belt and lid pocket of the BD Infinity 50|
A POCKETful of Thought
|back when I didn't know how to pack wisely, I had to utilize all pockets available|
Most backpacks have pockets. Although some mission-specific packs don’t. Pockets help you organize your stuff better. You can use the pockets to stow your backpack cover, sandals, water bottle, trail food, etc. Some packs have zippered pockets on the side. Some just have stretch (mesh) pockets. The side pockets of most modern backpacks balloon inwards. Side pockets that bulge outwards are usually from another era of mountaineering or are manufactured by companies that don’t know what mountaineers are looking for. Lid or top pockets are almost always present in mountaineering backpacks. Loops and straps also help you carry your stuff. Check for sleeping bag straps or loops for your trekking pole or ice axe.
|I have always been attracted by Columbia's designs|
This aspect is a bit different from those mentioned above. Aesthetics should be secondary. Always prioritize functionality in your deliberation. Most of the time, in order to market a product, it has to have visual impact. But unlike just any school bag or clothing apparel, outdoors equipment ought to be built to last! You should not be fooled by the look of the backpack. Consider the other pointers over aesthetics.
But secondary as it may be, the look of a backpack often serves as a tie-breaker when choosing among backpacks. Backpack manufacturers are almost the same when it comes to functionality features. But in terms of design, some backpacks do stand out. Among foreign brands, I like the designs of Deuter and Columbia. But personally, I think The North face has the most ergonomic design. Among local backpacks, Conquer is hands down the most appealing!
Built to LAST
You’ll want a backpack that you can use for more than just one year! Some backpacks rip easily. Some zippers get misaligned; some stretchable loops slacken after getting wet; and some locks break quickly! Durability is of utmost importance when choosing a pack. But as it is, no one will really know how long a thing can last until it breaks. Two things can help you estimate the strength of a backpack (or any merchandise for that matter)—word of mouth and the price.
|Built by hand, Tested by nature|
When satisfied, people talk. When disappointed, people talk more! Listen for the bad feedback before you listen to the good ones. Up to this day, I have not found a very authoritative website on gear review. Don’t trust people who get paid to endorse stuff. They’ll tell you what you’ll like to hear. They’ll conceal those that will hurt your ears. Don’t hastily check the homepage of the manufacturers either. You might be talked into buying their premium offerings. Gather bad feedback first and check whether this collection of cons concerns you or your needs. Some climbers may bitch about a backpack whose mesh hip belt is not padded but this shouldn't concern you if you’re looking for a lightweight pack. After you've gathered the bad feedback, you may start checking the website of the manufacturer. Where should the bad feedback come from? You should only listen to those who have been in the industry for quite a while and who may have used different backpacks and brands. If you don’t know one, you may start asking as many hikers as you can about the backpacks they use. And to this end, Facebook is heaven-sent. There are a lot of online communities of backpackers in the country where valuable information on backpacking is shared. Remember to compare the feedback with your specifications. A group of alpinists may unanimously endorse a particular backpack for its ability to withstand moisture and tear. But this pack may be best only for an alpinist. For a tropical climber like you, you’ll probably need something lighter than the Direttissima which is designed for alpinists.
The Price Tag
The other criterion that may help you determine whether a pack is durable is the price tag. There is a close correlation between quality and price. The higher the price the higher the quality! They didn't set a high price on The North Face products for no reason. But quality is two-faced. Form and aesthetics both comprise quality. It may be that the manufacturer spent much on the design and not as much on the functionality. This is actually the case of the Columbia Mobex. The design was revolutionary but functionality failed—zippers broke, edges were vulnerable to abrasion and mesh pouches got ripped. But most of the time the correlation works. However, if you are on a tight budget, it doesn't mean you can’t get something reliable. Go for the brands which don’t waste a lot of money on advertising. Instead of paying the advertisers, they channel their resources to the procurement of quality materials. Among local brands, Habagat has earned a reputation for durability.