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How to Pick the Perfect Pack for Patagonia

When you’re busy planning your hike in Patagonia, there’s a lot to think about. From choosing the right boots and clothes to gathering together all of your kit, perhaps including food and camping supplies, not to mention trying to get in shape for the big trek. So the humble, functional backpack is often overlooked and can come as something as an afterthought. But the backpack is easily one of the most important items you’ll be taking along with you, not least because everything else you bring will be going inside it. If you need some pointers on what to look for in the ideal backpack, check out our jargon-busting guide below:

 

Types of Backpack

Day pack
If you’re planning to leave most of your luggage locked away during the day, or you’ve arranged to make use of a porter service whilst in Patagonia, you will probably only need to wear a daypack while hiking. This kind if pack will be designed to carry 20 to 30 liters, so there’s plenty of room for some extra layers of clothing, lots of drinking water, some snacks for the hike and any compasses, maps and cameras you might want to take along. It might not sound like much, but even the lightest of packs can start to seriously weigh you down and cause discomfort when you’ve been wearing it almost non-stop for almost a week on the Torres del Paine W Trek. So even if you’re only opting for a daypack, it’s still best to choose one with a hip-belt and proper support and padding to take the strain on longer hikes.

rucksack in PatagoniaBackpacking pack
If you’ve decided to carry everything on your hike yourself, a day pack is going to leave you seriously short. A proper backpacking pack is significantly larger than a day pack, designed to accommodate anything up to 85 liters, making room for tents and cooking equipment, food for several days, spare clothes and anything else that you might possibly need during a longer independant trek such as the full Torres del Paine Circuit. As well as being larger, these packs tend to include more bells and whistles than a day pack in terms of extra straps to help distribute the additional weight to the correct places. They will almost certainly have a hip-belt, a chest strap and ‘load lifters’, which are straps that connect the top of your pack to your shoulder straps and can be tightened to lift the load and make you more stable.

Things to Consider

Once you’ve decided what size of backpack you’ll need, there are all kinds of additional features that you might want to think about when choosing your pack:

  • Pockets - a pack with lots of pockets is great for keeping small essential items like sunblock, tissues or high-energy snacks to hand, so they don’t wriggle down to the bottom of your pack as you trek. Some packs come with specially designed external pockets for water bottles so you’ve no excuse to avoid sipping your water regularly on your way.
     
  • Bungee cord - Lots of backpacks come with built-in loops and tabs of highly stretchy bungee cord on the outside of the pack that rucksack with pocketsare ideal for holding sleeping mats or for stashing your waterproof jacket when the sun comes out. If your chosen backpack comes without, you can always buy some extra bungee cord from a camping shop and tie it round your pack.
     
  • Zippers - Zippers can come in for a pounding on multi-day treks where they’re opened and closed many times a day and may have to squeeze closed over bulging kit. Look for zippers that are thick and sturdy and try to opt for double zippers so if one fails you’ve still got one left and you won't end up with your personal effects strewn all over the Perito Moreno Glacier.
     
  • Waterproofing - A pack made from waterproof fabric will give you some amount of protection in the likely event of a Patagonian rain storm, but no pack can be 100% waterproof as they will always let water in through zips and stitched seams. The best option is to invest in a waterproof pack cover that stretches over the whole pack like a shell. Even better, some packs come with a built-in cover that rolls out of a zip pocket at the top of the pack. These are a fantastic choice in Patagonia to stop your cover  being whipped away down the French Valley in the wind.
     
  • Padlocks - Small padlocks attached to the zips of your pack can give you extra peace of mind when staying in communal lodges during your Patagonia hike, and when in towns and cities on your way to Patagonia. Whilst hiking, make sure that you only lock sections that you’re sure you won't need to access, as cold fingers aren’t much good for fiddling around with small keys.

Fitting the Pack

Money well spent on a high-tech backpack can easily become money down the drain if it isn’t properly fitted. It doesn’t matter how well the pack is designed to support your back and spread the load, if it’s not the right fit for you, you won't feel the benefit. What you need to aim for is a pack that enables you to balance and gives you a low centre of gravity, so that you’re not carrying the weight high on your shoulders, but squarely over your hips. Here are some tips on how to get the perfect fit!

human spineTorso length - You probably have some idea of how much you weigh and you probably know more or less how tall you are, but we bet you’ve never given much thought to the length of your torso! Backpacks come in different sizes depending on the length of your torso and just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you should assume that you have a long torso, you might just have very long legs! To measure your torso you’ll need a friend and a tape measure. Feel down your neck until you find a prominent knobbly bone at the top of your spine, then find the top of your hip bones by placing both of your hands on your back around the waist and feeling downwards until you hit another knobbly bone on each side. Find the point on your spine in between these two bones, and then measure between that point at the protrusion you found at the top of your spine, which will give you your torso length! If your torso is 50cm or longer you’ll need a large sized backpack, 45-50cm and you’ll want a medium, and those with torsos shorter than 45cm should choose a small.

Hip belt - When you first try the backpack on you should avoid tightening the shoulder straps until you’ve properly fitted the hip belt first. Tighten the belt and check to see that the padded sections wrap comfortably all the way around your hips. Also, note that it’s called a hip belt because the belt - and therefore the weight of the backpack - should rest on your hips, not on your waist. This will ensure that your centre of gravity is nice and low and help you to balance.

Shoulder straps - Once the hip belt is sitting pretty, and only once it is, you can tighten the shoulder straps. These should fit your body closely and wrap all the way over your shoulders, hugging the pack close to your back with no space in between, and no gap under the straps themselves. If everything is going well so far you should find that you’re carrying a maximum of 30% of the pack weight on your shoulders, with the rest supported by your hips.

Load lifters - As mentioned above, the load lifters are straps that attach the top of your pack to the shoulder straps and can be shortened to lift the pack. These are usually only found on larger backpacking packs. The anchor points of the load lifters, or the place where they attached to the shoulder straps, should be parallel to your collarbone if you’re wearing the right pack for you.

Chest straps - All large backpacking packs and even some good day packs have an extra adjustable strap that crosses the chest, joining both shoulder straps together. This prevents the shoulder straps from slipping outwards whilst you hike and hugs the pack close to your body. In general terms, the chest strap should be at the same level as the bottom of the armpit but chest straps also have slightly different designs for men and women. Women’s chest straps tend to be shaped to allow them to sit more comfortably on the bust, however if you are a woman who feels more comfortable with a man's chest strap, or a man who feels more comfortable with a woman's chest strap, don’t let that stop you! The right chest strap is the one that works for you.

In the Shop

In a sales situation, people can sometimes feel under pressure to make a decision that they might later come to regret or they may simply be unaware of how to make the most out of the shopping experience. Here are some tips on how to take your time and use the shop to your advantage to pick the perfect pack for your Patagonia trek:

  • Any self-respecting outdoor clothing and equipment supplier should be able to supply you with weights and padding to fill your pack three rucksacksbefore you fit it, to ensure that it’s as comfortable when full as it is when empty. Try with 10 to 20 pounds of weight and check the fit again. If you’re going somewhere you think is unlikely to supply weights, take your own and insist on using them.
     
  • When you’ve filled the pack and checked the fit, bend down to touch your toes to check that the pack doesn’t slip forwards above your head and topple you over.
     
  • Then try vigorously jumping up and down (visit during quiet spells near to closing time or early in the morning if you’re easily embarrassed!). Your pack should move with you and remain stuck to your back rather than bumping or slipping against you.
     
  • Try walking up and down steps and around the shop to simulate the different terrains and gradients that you might come across on your hike in Patagonia, checking for balance, support and comfort as you go.
     
  • Remember that you can try on as many packs as you like until you find the one that ticks all of the boxes. If you don't find it in the first shop you visit, try somewhere else. Different retailers offer different brands of backpack, and each brand will fit you in a slightly different way.

 

 

Good luck choosing your new backpack! Any questions? We’d love to help with any doubts you still have, so ask away using the comments section below or check out our other handy articles on preparing and packing for your hike in Patagonia.