If you plan to travel with a suitcase, then by all means, pack away. But backpacking through a country is an experience of its own. Staying in hostels, meeting new people and exploring places on your own without a tour group is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had the pleasure to have. However if you’re planning to backpack, you’re literally carrying your life with you around for weeks or months at a time. Learning how to pack and what to pack are essential skills if you want to stay sane during your trip. Here is the gist of it.
Choosing a Pack and How to put Stuff in it
So how much should your pack be able to hold? You may be tempted to get the largest one possible but believe me if you get a large bag, you will find some way to fill it and you will be kicking yourself when you feel like a pack mule during your trip. For most trips, a 55-65L pack will be good enough. This is large enough to carry all the important belongings while being light enough to carry. It will also force you to pack conservatively. If you’re planning to camp and are bringing along tents/posts/spikes etc, a larger one might be needed although that is beyond my knowledge. Although weight limits are usually in the 20kg range, I suggest aiming for a more conservative 13-15kg. This gives you room to buy a few things and again, forces you to pack light. Also consider a daypack. This is a smaller backpack of 20-30L that you will carry on the plane with you and during the day so you can keep your documents, camera, water etc. My pack is made by MEC. The Ibex 65 is the one I chose, mainly because it was the best price for what you were getting. Other brands had more bells and whistles but man oh man, they cost a small fortune. Something around the $150 range is good enough for most casual adventurers. The new daypack I got is the Osprey Comet. At 28L, its enough for whatever I would want to bring with me during the day.
Some of the most common backpacks out there are top loading packs. This means your pack is essentially a long vertical tube that opens up from the top. Most will offer side zippers to get side access to the main compartment for convenience. There IS a proper way to distribute the weight of your stuff so you don’e fall backwards when you have it on! Generally speaking, the heaviest items should be packed closest to your body. This means the side that is touching your back. Lighter items can go in the top and outermost compartments. By keeping the heavy items closest to your body, your center of gravity is less displaced and therefore, you don’t tip over!
A Quick Blurb about Straps
Aside from that main rule, you can pretty much do whatever you want with your pack. All the straps should be done up as tight as comfortably possible, especially the hip strap which should be padded. A tight hip strap means you are supporting the bulk of the weight on your hips with your leg muscles, rather than on your smaller and weaker shoulder muscles. The unloading straps are ones you want especially tight as possible. Compression straps are found all over your pack and should be tightened as tight as possible once your bag is packed. These compress the bag to remove any excess bulk. Here is a quick guide to the different straps on most packs.
A final thing to remember when buying your first pack is to go to a store with knowledgeable staff. When in doubt, ask a friend who knows better to go with you. Many packs will have short/regular/long versions of the same pack. Which suits you will depend on your torso size and general body shape. Have a trusted sales staff show you the different straps and load the pack with weights to see what its like. My pack was so heavy this past trip that I couldn’t even swing it around to get my 2nd arm in! Always remember to pack light and you will keep your sanity!