Being a Happy Camper is All About Getting the Right Pack

People who have been backpacking generally fall into two camps. There are those who vow to never do it again under any circumstances, and those who gaze wistfully into the distance and wax lyrical about their love of it, right down to the magic sound of zip…zip-zip…ziiiiiip, which was as much a part of their last trip as placing one walking boot in front of the other.

If you’re considering using a backpack or its little brother the rucksack, and want to come back as a happy camper, here’s what you need to know.

Think About it

Backpacking requires careful planning. What are you actually planning to do? A day excursion? A few days away with overnight camping? Or maybe a long hike in extreme weather conditions? One of the most common mistakes made by backpack buyers is getting the pack first. Seasoned travellers will tell you to figure out exactly what camping equipment you need first, and then choose the bag.

Weighing it all up

Planning carefully makes sure that you aren’t carrying excess weight and that means knowing the difference between a change of clothes, and a choice of them. For a trip that’s no longer than a few days, air your clothes on branches or the guy ropes of your tent, take off layers when you begin to sweat and in really dire circumstances, wash your clothes in a river or stream. Just make sure to opt for a soap or sachet of washing powder that is environmentally friendly.

Don’t carry more food than you need. Unless you’re really going off into the wild, you’ll be able to replenish supplies as you go. If you must carry food, take packets instead of cans – they’re lighter, take up less space, and are easier to dispose of.

Once you’ve figured out what you need, stick it in a bin bag (if it doesn’t fit in one – you need to downsize) and put it on your bathroom scales. Any decent pack will have guidelines on its label about the weight it can take.

Straps and Harnesses

Almost all backpacks and rucksacks now come with a variety of adjustable harness and strap systems – pay attention to them; they are possibly the most important element of any pack. Designed to redistribute weight across the chest, waist and hips, they not only remove pressure from your shoulders, but help to secure and stabilise it too.

Sizing it up

The size of a backpack should be considered in regard to your torso size, not your height. If you injure or strain your back, your pack isn’t going to be much good to you, no matter how high-tech it is. Manufacturers of quality packs, such as Lowe Alpine, The North Face and Osprey recognise the importance of this and make backpacks specifically tailored for the female build.
Once you’ve found a pack that meets your size, weight, and capacity requirements, look for one a little bit bigger. There are always souvenirs to collect on your trip and you’ll regret not allowing for a few extras.


After a long hike, the one thing you might want more than anything else on Earth is some dry socks; if they’re trapped under everything else you’re carrying, this can lead to end-of-the-day hilltop tantrums. Most packs have varied access points through pockets or flaps but there are essentially two types – a top loader which is filled from a flap at the top, and a panel loader which opens more like a suitcase. However, bear in mind that although plentiful access points sound like a good idea, too many can affect the waterproofing of your pack and if you’re spending time in wet conditions you’ll need to take this into consideration.


As part of your planning, it’s best to be cautious and expect rain. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find a backpack which isn’t made of waterproof fabric, with all the zips, pockets and compartments, it’s reasonable to expect that water will get in somewhere. If you’re away for more than a couple of days its worth investing in a liner. This goes inside your backpack and puts a barrier between your belongings and the outside world.


There are plenty of cheap options out there and for a short trip they might seem like an economically smart choice. But, unless you want your shoulders to look like they’ve carried cheap carrier bags loaded with the weekly shop home from the supermarket, the low-cost option is a poor one. If you need something simple that won’t break the bank (or your back) expect to pay around £20-£35 for a rucksack, and to £80 to £120 for a backpack.

This information was supplied by the UK’s biggest retailer of camping and ski equipment, Snow+Rock. If you need more advice or information, check out their website at, or call into any of their nationwide stores.

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