The Right Backpack

Decathlon front side rearview

Your kit requirements will vary depending on where you are going but for the purpose of this article, I will cover the type of backpack you need to take on a trip involving some multi-day hiking. Think about your comfort and the weight of your gear, it makes a big difference, especially on a long journey.

Your basic kit should include a comfortable Backpack with plenty of side-pockets, two lightweight quick-drying shirts, 2 pairs of lightweight trousers (pants) with zip-off legs, hiking shoes, a micro-fiber quick-drying towel, a sun hat/cap, a rain poncho, a mosquito net, repellant, and suncream. You will need more but you can usually buy them locally.

How do you Choose your Backpack?

There is a lot of personal choice in deciding which backpack is best for you. Important considerations include the quality of the seams and stitching, the weight, it’s volume, storage pockets, adjustable strapping, quality of the zippers, even the kind of material used in its construction.

Don’t be too keen to save money at all costs, a lot can go wrong with a rucksack and if you are going into the wilds the last thing you need is your pack falling apart. Believe me, I’ve been there.

What size pack do you need?

This is one of the hardest nuts to crack if it’s your first long haul trip. How do you know what size bag you need before you’ve bought the contents?

The glib answer is smaller than you think. It’s tempting to choose a bigger size and err on the side of caution. Better to have more space right? Well not always.

Rucksack various views
My own 70-liter pack

Logically you can have a bigger bag with less inside if you wish, but that is not what happens. No matter what you tell yourself, you WILL fill the bag with loads of crap that you can do without.

Better by far to have a smaller bag but with enough hooks, buckles, and straps to add some extras items if needs be. And remember, you will want a daypack too so your expensive electronics can stay with you on public transport.

A smaller backpack will focus your mind to carry only the things you need and not what you think you need.

I have a 70-liter backpack which is enough for my needs in the tropics or warmer conditions. Indeed if it wasn’t for the electronics I take with me these days I would buy a 60-liter pack.

The Design

Access to contents

Most packs are top-loading, with a drawstring and there is nothing wrong with that until you want the stuff at the bottom. It quickly becomes irritating emptying your bag every time you want to get at something.

My last two bags have both been zip-around, suitcase-like designs that open out and is far more convenient. The best of the best packs have a combination of the two.

Adjustable Straps

The higher your load rests upon your back, the easier it is to carry.

You need to be able to shift the weight towards your shoulders and secure it in place with the main body straps resting over your hips. You pull the shoulder straps tight and fasten them together with a small buckle across your chest.

Make sure the shoulder straps are wide enough and well padded. Thin straps will bite into your shoulders.

Having extra straps for attaching peripherals like a tent and provisions is wise, but that said you can always take along some twine and rig something up.

Backpack pockets

Pockets

You can’t have too many pockets in my opinion. The more the merrier. One of the bug-bears of living from a backpack is organizing your stuff. Things quickly descend into chaos. I want to know where I put everything so they are to hand when I need them.

Interior pockets are more important if only for security reasons. There are plenty of thieves out there willing to help themselves to anything accessible and you can’t lock every zip. I’m more relaxed with storing items inside my bag than outside.

Some bags have clever hidden, sneaky pockets where you can stash documents or even some spare cash should you feel the need. Nice to have.

If possible I like to have open side pockets to hold my water bottle in place. I curse if I can’t carry a bottle easily.

Build Quality

Zips

A quality bag will never have cheap zips. If you’re looking at a bag with super light alloy zippers put it down and look elsewhere. You need YKK zips.

I want the main zips to have a robust tooth and double-sliders that lock together. We all realize that anyone can steal your gear if they are determined, but that’s not how security really works. Most thefts are opportunistic, so deter them.

lockable zips

Lockable sliders have a built-in loop, specially made for a mini padlock and can’t be prised off easily. It’s not good enough to padlock the fob ends alone, they can be easily removed.

Material

When you’re hiking in the forest you cant avoid getting caught up in thorns or taking a tumble now and again. Your pack will get wet and snagged.

Look for a cross-weave in the material. If it has a grid pattern, it will be far more robust than normal fabric and will prevent your pack from ripping. Cross-weave nylon is easy to repair and any damage will be limited.

You can’t really expect your backpack to be fully waterproof no matter what the makers claim. Synthetics will be water-resistant but canvas is next to useless. Either look for a rain cover built into the bag or buy one separately.

Stitching

Your bag is most likely to fail on the load-bearing stress points. Strong stitching is essential

In my experience, the tops of the shoulder straps get pulled apart. So do the zips and main seams.

Zipper Seams

Look for double stitching and reinforcements where the straps are attached. You’ll notice a square patch with an ‘X’ shape stitch pattern.

Try pulling at the seams. They should not stretch apart in any way. Check inside, are the seams raw and frayed? A quality bag will have covered or folded seams.

You’ve already checked the zips but how are they stitched? The thread should be strong and aligned neatly. Are the zip ends sewn securely?

Which Backpack is Best?

My Decathlon Quechua 70-liter backpack ticks off most of the key requirements without costing so much money it’s worth more than the contents!

Is it perfect? No, but it’s a good all-rounder that does everything well. I do have a few niggles but then again everything is a compromise.

The Pros

  • It’s super tough. Ripstop material.
  • Many storage pockets
  • The best lockable zips.
  • Finished seams
  • Quality buckles and fasteners
  • The lower compartment opens from both inside and out.
  • A rain cover/bag is stored in the bottom pocket

The Cons

  • The detachable shoulder bag is too small
  • Adjustment straps are awkward
  • The strong material is heavier than some packs

If you in the market for a good but affordable backpack that will stand up to wear and tear of daily travel and multi-day hiking then this Decathlon Rucksack could be for you.