What I've learned from destroying allot of rucksacks:
I won't even try to tell people "what the bestest pack is" but instead I'll share what I look for in a pack and what things have broken for me in the past. Not saying you can't get good mileage our of a front loaded zipper maze. I will say that I still use old surplus sacks, I mod them as best I can and take them out. You might even say I collect rucks, however I wouldn't take them out for a 3 week no contact hike in a national park. I'm too comfortable for that. This is an old pack. At the end of this you will notice some key things that are missing. Some things are great about it though. So great that you'd be hard pressed to find modern packs that have the same features and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. This is top notch 1984 tech.
IMHO the computation on equipment is as follows:The more you know the less you need.
The less you use the more you work.
You decide for yourself what kind of features you need, nobody can tell you you don't need something or you need another thing. Just be mindful that carrying something to avoid discomfort sometimes adds weight to the pack. And leaving something out because you can bushcraft it, will leave you with the chore of actually doing it, when you arrive tired and cursing at what will become your camp site. There are no easy short cuts to deciding what is best for you, but luckily the fun is in the trying.
So, what do I use my packs for? I like long hikes. 11 days or more. Sometimes three weeks. During this time I live out of my ruck. Wash my clothes in it, sit on it, warm my feet in it, rappel it, wade fords with it etc. I've had to repair many things in the field and the most annoying ones ended up with me avoiding packs that had those featureas all together. So here goes.One big sack. My favorite kind. You only have one place to look for gear, one place to put it. Easy to empty out on the ground and large enough to aid you in field chores.What I avoid because it always breaks:- Cheap plastic buckles.
With cheap I mean thin, rattling and made from frail non bending plastic that will shatter in deep cold.- Zippers.
Many people have never had a zipper break on them. Ever. I've had to sew shut a broken zipper on a front loaded pack in the middle of a storm. Which brings me to..- Front loaded packs.
If you use stuff sacks, getting to whatever you have in the bottom of the pack is not difficult enough to warrant having a vulnerability like that. The people who like them are usually inept at packing. [Yes, I'm prejudiced.]- Non-removable lids.
Why wouldn't you make a pack with a removable lid? Because you know it will fail before anyone would have to replace it. That's why. Also, a removable lid allows for over packing by raising the lid and putting top preassure on the over load. A fixed lid gives a skewed preassure, moving the balance point out from your shoulder blades. - Bolted frames.
If the frame has some kind of rivets, bolts or nuts in it. I'd be inspecting it extra carefully. Welded or one piece frames are hard to find though.- Flimsy dividers.
If you absolutely want a pack with dividers or such. Avoid flimsy or "soft" nylon/fabric inside. With soft I mean non coarse. It is usually far less rip stop/durable. I can't count the packs that has failed because some tent peg or pointy thing made a little hole in the nylon.- Mesh side pockets.
Yes, I liked them too. I'd rather have a pocked made out of 1kD nylon though. Less shit that can snag it. Got caught on a train cart door in Praag w. one and after that I just cut the flopping rag that was left off. - Sliding, plastic shit in the carry system.
I had a Haglöfs carry system that broke down on me while crossing Greenland. I cannot tell you how much physical discomfort I had from that. I learned to not care about wether a carry system is difficult to adjust though. A pack is a personal piece of equipment, it doesn't matter if it takes 15 minutes to adjust the depth of the hip/shoulder points, when it's done it's done. The less moving parts and the less PLASTIC you have in this the better IMO.- Non reinforced pack bottoms.
Every time you take your pack off, the bottom part of it makes contact with whatever you put it down on. If you plan on using your pack allot, start looking at it from the bottom up.
I'm sure I will beef this up when I remember more catastrophic fails.Metal straps. If I could get them made from diamonds I would. Or better yet, old chewing gum taken from bus stops. The hardest most tenacious substance known to man.Things I just plain don't want/need in a pack/included are things you should have:
Some things don't fit me, or I just don't seem the point. I will try and defend my opinions as best I can. YMMV.- No sternum strap?
I mean seriously, if I spend money on a ruck to carry weight in, I wan't to at least have the option of keeping my shoulders from falling off. If it doesn't have this, it's either pre 90's or a "fashion bag" intended for savant suits riding their €2k bicycles to work w. goretex socks and black spandex pants. OK, yes, they annoy me. - Sewed in shoulder/hip straps
This just makes me rage. Am I buying a ruck for carrying books to school or to haul everything with me into the national park in dep winter? They'll still make you pay out of your ass for that pack though. Try sewing one back on w. your sewing kit. I dare you!- Zippers all over.
By now it's obvious I'm a zipper hater. You can sew a button back on or even make a new one out of cordage or wood. You'd have to have a new self healing zipper (which I still dont trust) or carry a special zipper repairing thingy. Good to go if you're not too far out from civilization and have a tube of super glue to make it close temporarily if it fidgets. Not for me though.- Too many pockets
Pockets are nice, but it's not a fashion bag I'm buying to go hiking. If I want some stuff in a separate enclosure I'll stuff a folder/pocket/bag in the sack containing them. Pockets on a bag leads to two things in general. Snagging and things getting lost. If you don't use your pack with great regularity then you won't know by heart the contents of all your pockets. You'd need a little list to check it. This doesn't cut it in the woods. It just don't. You are better off having everything in one big sack, separated into easily identifiable stuff sacks. You can even label them, or use clear plastic bags. - No side pockets?
I mean seriously. Why wouldn't you want them? My favorite items for the side pockets are denaturated spirits for the alky burner in one, and a big 2l water bottle in the other. For starters. This allows to keep the water easily accessible on a break for cooking, and the ethanol outside of the pack in case of leakage. If you don't need them, just take them off or strap them to the body of the pack all flat like. Better to have and not need. Seriously.- Repelling options
If you go out in the mountains you might need this. One often over looked side effect of having this is that it makes it comparably easier to hang the pack on a tree. Klemheist knot + carabiner to pack. Then fasten the hip strap around the tree and you have a fixed item location tree, out of the grass and at a handy working height. Clearly visible. Klemheist, imagine you put it around the tree instead of the rope.
I'll add more here too. Things should be manageable even if you have gloves on. Chances are you will. Nature doesn't care if you can get to your shelter with warm fingers. That part is up to you.When you try a ruck out
, do it with different clothes on. Outer shell, warm sweater, t-shirt at a minimum. Also, think about what kind of pants/belt you use and how the hip belt can accommodate those.- Pay special attention to
the way the shoulder straps ride around your arm pits. You do not want bunched up fabric there. So if you can't adapt the straps to allow you to smooth out your clothes and keep them from riding up while carrying the bag. Well, try another pack w. a bit of a different load carrying system and see if it makes a difference.There is a special boon
for backpackers that time and evolution of packs has bestowed upon us. The "load stabilization strap"
. Simply a strap that runs from your shoulder straps back to your pack, about at ear level. Allowing you to pull the pack closer to your shoulders/neck or ease it back.
When you walk up-hill, you want the pack close, to keep from walking hunched over. When walking down-hill, you loosen the straps and allow the pack to, once again, let you walk more upright by moving the center of gravity in the pack. I can only say that I almost wept the day I got a pack with this feature. Wept.
If you want a serious winter pack, you want alpine sled rings. These are located on your carrier belt and should be made out of metal. Sadly not all of them are. This is just my bad experience with plastic POS equipment failing on me. Granted, I've had a metal shoulder-strap cinch plate break in half, so that ain't exactly fool proof either. Nothing really is with Murphy around
I'll add to this when I have time and have settled down from all the rage induced by memories of pack failure.