Good gear: Backpacks

The secret of a great pack? A padded waiststrap, a top zip-pocket and 50 litres of space to stuff with stinking socks. So, get a load of this lot...
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The Independent Online

From early Everest explorers to modern-day hikers, the backpack has been the principal means of lugging kit from A to B in the Great Outdoors. They may not have changed much in function, but they have in terms of materials, technology and weight. If you spend over £70 on a medium-sized backpack today you'll be getting something made from lightweight rip-stop nylon with an ergonomically designed frame to minimise back strain and maximise ventilation. It will be light, durable and festooned with more straps than you know what to do with.

From early Everest explorers to modern-day hikers, the backpack has been the principal means of lugging kit from A to B in the Great Outdoors. They may not have changed much in function, but they have in terms of materials, technology and weight. If you spend over £70 on a medium-sized backpack today you'll be getting something made from lightweight rip-stop nylon with an ergonomically designed frame to minimise back strain and maximise ventilation. It will be light, durable and festooned with more straps than you know what to do with.

Steve Berry, owner and managing director of trekking holiday specialists Himalayan Kingdoms, has been using backpacks since he was 10 years old. He says it is important to distinguish between backpacks and rucksacks. "A backpack is something I would carry for everyday use. Its capacity would be between 30 and 50 litres. A rucksack, on the other hand, is a serious bit of kit for expeditions. It will be about 80 litres and will carry most of your gear, such as your sleeping bag."

And, throughout those years of backpacking, he has never suffered back problems – what is the secret? "A padded waist- strap is crucial; it takes the bulk off your back." And what else is important? "A top zip-pocket is useful so that items like sun cream or binoculars can be reached quickly, and a water-bottle pocket on the side is handy. It is a terrible shame that they can't waterproof backpacks – I pack my stuff into waterproof bags."

The North Face and Lowe Alpine packs featured here fall into the backpack category, while the Berghaus and Karrimor rucksacks are appropriate for longer trips. The North Face Springbok in comparison is clean in appearance and light – a well-designed hiking pack(North Face's Prophet range is for more serious mountain sports). The 55-litre Lowe Alpine Skyline may cost £15 less but it feels more solid than the North Face. The "AirCooled" back system – using curved pads to maintain space between your back and the pack – is simple and effective. The waist straps feel unnecessarily chunky, but overall the Skyline is good value for money.

Berghaus packs have long been the mainstay of travellers, including the military. For 2002, the Cyclops, which had been unchanged for years, has undergone a major redesign – the new range, Cyclops III, will be in the shops in December. The Cyclops III Quartz has the same EVA foam padding for the back as its predecessor, but it has been perforated to allow air through even while the foam is compressed. Clever new features include: a ventilated pod pocket on the outside for wet stuff, a pocket for a hydration pack and slimmed-down, pre-curved belt straps. The Karrimor is a pared-down, less glitzy sort of pack: the shoulder straps are thinner, the waist strap stiffer.

It is essential that packs, big or small, are tried on before they are purchased – they are not something to be bought by mail order. Most backpacks and rucksacks come in a range of back sizes, and the key is to find one that keeps your back as straight as possible.

For more information on Himalayan Kingdoms, visit www.himalayankingdoms.com

Berghaus Cyclops III
For long-distance walkers. Top of a revitalised range.
Capacity: 60 litres
Price: £150
Stockists: 0191 516 5600 www.berghaus.com

North Face Springbok 55
A well-designed, light hiking pack. Not for long treks.
Capacity: 55 litres
Price: £100
Stockists: 01539 738 882 www.thenorthface.com

Karrimor Cougar
Trail magazine's rucksack of the year. With rain cover.
Capacity: 60 litres
Price: £120 Stockists: 01254 893 000 www.karrimor.com

Lowe Alpine Skyline 55
With 'AirCooled' back system. Sits high on the shoulders.
Capacity: 55 litres
Price: £85
Stockists: 01539 740 840 www.lowealpine.com

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