Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A rucksack is for life, not just for hiking.

I’m not much of a “girly girl” but one thing I do have a fondness for is handbags, well, not a fondness as such, I’m actually on a lifelong quest to find the perfect bag – the handbag holy grail if you will - and I’ll be very happy to stop spending my hard earned money on them once I eventually find it – honest.  The problem with most specimens is that they favour fashion over practicality often resulting in a ridiculous creation I could barely fit my car keys in.

Perhaps that’s why I prefer my rucksacks – solid, practical and far fewer pointless gold buckles.
At one with the countryside.

Living in the Lake District we’re not short of shops to peruse when we’re in need of a new rucksack but once you walk into one, how on earth do you decide which one is best for you?  You could read online reviews but to be honest I’m not a big fan – what suits one person perfectly will be another’s worst nightmare.

1.  What will you use it for?

The best place to start is to have a really good think about what exactly you’ll be using it for – long hikes, short hikes, summer hikes, winter hikes, solo camping trips, camping trips with friends and/ or family – and therefore, what will you want to put in it? 

For me I also take into account the fact that I use my rucksack a lot when I’m not on the fells (to plug the woeful gap in the handbag market) – I regularly travel to London for my job and as I’m not wealthy enough to afford a rucksack to go with each of my outfits, I need one that will work on the fells and in the city.  This means that not only am I after a pack that I can cram my waterproofs into, I also want one which will take my laptop, wash bag and work shoes.

Knowing what you want to use it for will give you a good idea on the size of rucksack you need – we have a big Berghaus Bioflex 50+10 which is perfect for our super long hikes, especially in the winter when you need to carry a lot more kit.  For shorter hikes we have a 25 litre pack which is ideal for sarnies, snacks and flasks and a waterproof just in case.

Big rucksacks allow room for stowaways...
Away from the fells, the smaller rucksack is good for overnight stays, but for 2 nights or more I’ll need the big one. 

2.  How are you going to get at what's inside?

Once you know what you want to put in it you then need to think about how you’ll access it all once it’s in there.  Whether you’re on the high fells or in the middle of Euston station in the rush hour, you don’t want to have to completely unpack the entire thing just to get to something stuffed way down at the bottom – so check out side zips and hidden pockets.

Luckily the features that work well to provide access and protection for things when I’m on the fells also work well from a security point of view when I’m in the city.  For example, the map pocket inside the back of most rucksacks doubles nicely as a laptop holder and the hidden zipped pocket inside the “lid” (foldy over top thingumy) protects my phone and keys on the fells and also hides away my valuables when I’m in London.

3.  Don't be tempted by cheaper models

A good rucksack is worth investing in – I foolishly bought a cheaper brand (which it would be indiscreet to mention here) but it was a false economy.  It began to fray after a couple of months and just isn’t comfortable to wear on a long hike.

4.  Try before you buy

Talking of wearing them – before you hand over your cash be sure to try them on in the shop.  Pop them on your back and stretch, twist and bend as you might on a decent hike – even stuff a few things in to see how they feel with some weight in them.  I must confess I’m a big fan of the freeflow range – the ones with a frame that keeps the pack away from your back - there’s nothing worse than a horrible hot, wet and sticky back, it’s uncomfortable on the fells and it doesn’t look good when I arrive in the office either.

Big rucksacks - perfect for long hikes.

5.  Colour?

I don’t really care about the colour – except that I have a strong personal dislike for anything coloured pink to appeal to the female market and will avoid buying it on principle – but a brightly coloured pack will help you get spotted on the hills should you ever be unfortunate enough to require the services of mountain rescue.

6.  What if it rains?

The final thing to think about is a waterproof cover – it may seem tiny but, if you’re likely to be hiking in poor weather then it’s definitely worth considering.  Rucksacks are not particularly waterproof – no idea why, they just aren’t – and an integrated waterproof cover is a godsend.  For a start you don’t have to continually worry about packing it as it will already be there, stashed away in a tiny pocket on the base of the pack, and secondly it will be attached to the pack – something you will only truly appreciate if you’ve ever tried to fit an unattached one in pouring rain and howling gale.

So, now you’ve seen my long list of requirements for a rucksack, is it any surprise that the entire handbag manufacturing industry has so far failed to meet my exacting standards?  I can only hope that Berghaus will one day decide to launch a range of handbags – just as long as they consult with me first I’m sure everything will be fine.

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