Several things must be taken into account when choosing your backpack, and some other things all the way your backpack will follow you.
Choosing your backpack
The very first thing is to know the use you want to have of your backpack and to know your way of travelling. There is no such thing as 'one way of travelling': some people carry 25kg, some cannot stand the feeling of having more than a 30 liter backpack. Do you want to cook some crazy fresh snails with your stove or eat in restaurant? Do you want to couchsurf and hostels or do you want to camp on the soft green of the petrol station? What are your maximum carrying capacities? Do I need to carry my Windows 98 computer with me? Is a sleeping bag necessary for me (because I get cold feet at night)? Am I as careful with my stuff as the Incredible Hulk or is a backpack made out of flowers resistant enough for me?
So once you know what you want, you know a bit better what would suit you or not. If you have time, borrow backpacks from family and friends and try different models, brands, sizes. Try to put some different kind of stuff to see if you think it is useful or not. Offers for backpacks are just too many so that you can consider all backpacks so start by eliminating all that don't fit to your needs. They will be already a lot less, and from there you can start looking for your dream backpack.
Another thing, you might want to have two backpacks: a big 50-70 liters, and a small one 10-25 liters. You can put all non-valuable stuff in the big one and be a bit more careless with it, and put all valuables in the small one that you never leave alone and that you can easily carry while visiting a city for example.
- Size: There is a strange human mechanism that makes you want fill your backpack until the top. So first you can think of taking a 70 liter backpack if "just in case" you need to add some souvenirs or whatever. But finally you end up with you backpack always full and too heavy, so choose carefully, and try to find one adapted. Actually a bit smaller can even be better cause usually travellers abandone items on the way when they realize they use it only once a month.
- Price: Well, depends on your budget of course. Prices can range from 50€ to more than 300€, so if you think a 200€-backpack is too much for your needs, then don't buy one that expensive! On the other hand for long-term travelling, it is maybe better to pay 200€ at once and to have a nice and very confortable backpack that goes all the way, more than three 70€-ones that will hurt you back.
- Weight: Up to you! Usually, the more lightweight, the less resistant in time. So find your ratio.
- Design and general estetic: You will get used to your backpack, even if you find it a bit ugly in the first place. But between two similar, go for the one that attracts you the most as it will be your best friend for a little while. Color can be important as well: nowadays brands tend to make more brighter bags to be seen in the mountains. But if you want to hide it in the bushes or to avoid being seen, then chose a more relaxed color.
- Does it fits me? If you are in the shop, try it for a few minutes, loaded of course. Walk a bit with it and see if it feels right.
- Do I really need to buy a new one? There are some really good backpacks roting in the basement of a lot of people. Your parents or uncle and aunt travelled maybe and still have them? Ask around you, and if you are lucky you will find one. It will maybe not last for ever, but maybe it will? And when it will break then you can buy one at this moment! On second-hand websites, you can have really really good deals if you are ok to move a bit in your region. And it is better for ecology to buy second-hand than producing a new one ;) Another good tip is to go and see (small) shops that make after-sales services for backpack companies. If a backpack has a problem, it costs sometimes more to the company to fix it then to send a new one. And some of the small shops keep the broken one, repair it and sell it for really cheap. Try to find a mountain shop or something like this in your town.
A bit more details
- Pockets: You don't really need them, but they be a really nice plus to organize and have quick access to stuff.
- Fabric used: This determines how resistant the outside layer will be and how much it will resist to friction.
- The sewing techniques used: Have a detailed look at the sewings. If they are not good, then the backpack will certainly break after a while. Compare different ones and use your logic to determine which one seems the more resistant.
- Quality of the zippers: Same here, zippers are often one of the first things that break on a backpack, so have a look if they seem resistant to you.
- Rain cover: On most of the good quality bags there is a rain cover included. This is not necessary, but brings a great plus when you travel to keep all you stuff dry. Or you can use it yourself to sit on it or to put things on wet grass for example.
Some brands are sometimes specific to one country, and you can get them only via internet if this is really your dream backpack. Of course this is only a list to give you some ideas and to help you comparing qualities and prices, but a backpack not from this list does not mean it is a bad one. Look up the forums on internet with people that tried it, and they will give you some cool advices.
- Gregory: American brand, a bit pricy, but very good quality. They think the design so that it really fits and that walking with one feels really confortable.
- Deuter: The German reference, usually one out of two Germans have one! The design is arguable, they are a bit more heavy than other brands, but they are very resistant and smartly thought (pocket-wise for example).
- Osprey: Another reference (American). Usually the company aims more light-weight backpacks, so the fabric is not as resistant as a Deuter for example.
- Lowe Alpine: American, a bit lower quality (still very good), but less expensive as well.
- Ferrino: Italian brand, usually good price/quality ratio, but not highest quality.
- Macpac: From New Zealand, not very resistant and quite pricy. It seems as if they put more money into advertisment and marketing than actually conceiving good backpacks. They have a very high price policy, and every now and then they make huge clearances to make believe that you are doing a good deal, but in fact you are just buying it the normal price.
- Katmandu: Very much the same idea as Macpac, from Australia and NZ.
- Millet: Used to be a very good French brand, but decreased a lot since a few decades. Still ok backpacks, but nothing fancy.
- Bach: (Irish or German?) Very resistant backpacks, but basically it is just one hole to put all your stuff with maybe one pocket on the side. A bit expensive.
- Fjällräven: The same idea as Bach just Swedish-style, a bit different designs and innovations used. Same price range, maybe a bit more expensive
- Quechua: The French brand of the Decathlon shops. This brand sells a lot of all sport equipment. A very good quality/ratio price, but as soon as you want to go a bit further in any sport (travelling included), the equipment quickly shows weaknesses.
- Military equipment: They have some really resistant equipment, more heavy than the general public brands. The price depends so much on where you buy it! Army over-supplies stores or second hand internet sellers have some good deals.
Everyday use reflexes
- Don't overload your backpack because they are made to resist to a certain weight. If you put 20kg on a backpack that was made for 10, your shoulder belt will quickly rip off.
- Don't scratch it on the floor, careful with zippers and bla bla. Of course, be nice with your friend. The more violent you are and the more shocks it will have, the faster it breaks. If you are gentle like a flower with him, then he might last two times longer! The zippers and the clips are usually breaking first so be especially careful with them. Another thing very true in the public transport, don't let the clips laying on the floor. They are very weak so if someone steps on it, they will break and that can be a small annoyance for the rest of the trip.
- Try to use both shoulder belt to avoid that one breaks before the other, better split the wear off. When you take you backpack from the ground for example, try to use sometimes the left, sometimes the right one. Or when you run after a car that stopped for you when hitchhiking, try to take a second to put both shoulder belts on.
- How to load my backpack? Put heavy things against your back as it will be easier to carry, and lower if possible. Then by putting the soft and light stuff on the outside, you have less weight pulling you down. As well, hard stuff are more protected and less likely to scrub up the outside fabric of your backpack.
Where/how to repare my beloved friend?
Read the manual of you backpack to see what garantees it has, but usually there are many retailers that can do it all around the world. Other you will have to fix it yourself. If anyone has experience in it or good websites, please add them!