Points To Ponder

Capacity
For some strange reason the carrying capability of a rucksack is measured in litres. This is quite hard to visualise so check them out in the flesh to establish sizes in your minds eye. It is generally felt that bags of about 20 litre capacity are suitable for school use, trips to town, and summer low level walks while those with a 30 to 40 litre capacity are for year long serious use on the hill. Normally these are also excellent for weekend hostelling or lightweight camping trips.

Materials And Construction
Although canvas is still used by some manufacturers, cotton has now been superseded by man made fibres. Whereas some companies use "off the shelf" materials to construct cheaper bags, most technical manufacturers assist develop their own fabrics to give good abrasion resistance and tear strength. This has created a confusing jungle of material brand names but should ensure quality even at the budget end of their ranges. Rucksack fabrics normally have a polyurethane finish but this does not mean that they are waterproof for most leak at the seams. It pays to pack your gear wrapped against water in your Asda carrier bag!

Besides the use of quality fabrics, fastenings are equally important. These should be reliable and easy to use even when wearing gloves. Plastic, quick release buckles are now the norm and heavy duty YKK zips are renowned for their resilience. Stitching should be checked to ensure that it will not come adrift especially at points of high strain such as the shoulder straps. Larger capacity sacks may well have vulnerable areas, such as the base, reinforced with additional material.

Many bags are now contoured to sit and hold a load correctly. Larger sacks often have a hip strap to assist stability over broken ground. For the same reason, side straps are sometimes provided to compress the sack to obtain a clean cut, low profile when carrying small loads.

Shoulder Straps
Rucksack shoulder straps should be padded and not compress under load. Padding may come in the form of high density foam with reinforced stitching or dual density foam; one foam providing the padding while the other creates lateral support to prevent the straps distorting and digging in. Foam should also be of the

"closed cell" variety to stop them soaking up water like a sponge. Tapered straps are also available for comfort where a wide strap may rub. Straps should be easy to adjust with one hand while the sac is on the back. Some bags have an elasticated chest strap which attaches between the shoulder straps to hold them in the correct position when worn.

Back Comfort
Back ventilation and protection from the pain inflicted by rogue flasks was once achieved by a light metal frame. Backs are now protected by soft padded fabrics which, unfortunately, can encourage the back to sweat. Manufacturers use a number of methods to overcome this problem. These include sown V-shaped channels to funnel air around the back and the use of foam and airmesh (a string vest type material) to encourage air flow. Some sacs have removable padding which can be used as a sit mat at coffee stops.

Pockets
Most day bags have a pocket located on the lid. This is very useful to keep under control those quickly required roving items, like gloves, hat, camera and trail snacks. Consider side pockets to provide easy access to larger items, such as first aid kit and water bottle, which also have a habit of migrating to the bottom of your pack! Clean cut sacks without side pockets are desirable to prevent snagging when scrambling, climbing or mountaineering. Many of these have side brackets upon which to sling detachable pockets or ski's. Ice axe and crampon fixing points are required by those going out on the hill in winter.

Bum Bags
For those low level walks on a balmy summers day it is worth while considering a bum bag. These comfortable specialist bags are worn around the waist. Normally about 3 to 6 litre capacity, there is enough room in them for a windproof top, a drop to drink, camera and trail snack. Some of these beltpacks have a separate carrying facility for a water bottle. These are also ideal for fitness walking and running.

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