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8 Tips for Choosing a Backpack

I knew I'd have my backpack on my back every day for the two months I'd be walking the Via de La Plata Camino de Santiago. I made a few mistakes when choosing and packing that backpack, and now you can learn from those mistakes.

A few things that I'll pay more attention to when I get my next pack:

1. A built in rain cover. I only needed it a few times, but the one I had wasn’t built in and didn't fit my pack perfectly, allowing for it to get wet.

2. Self-healing zippers. I blew out one of my zippers in the first week of walking and thus lost use of one of my outer pockets. If it had been a self-healing zipper, I probably would have been able to fix it.

3. Easy access exterior water bottle pockets. My pack had exterior pockets designed for water bottles, but I had to remove my backpack to access them. Not useful on a long-day's walk.

4. Longer zippers. I looked at a day pack that unzipped more than 270 degrees around the exterior, giving easy access for packing and unpacking. With my pack, which only opened from the top, to get to everything inside, I basically had to unpack every day. If you've packed properly, you will use almost everything you've got every day.

5. Open air back support. The Osprey pack also had an open, vented back support that allowed air to pass between my back and the pack. It certainly did help keep me cool.

6. Waist support. My Osprey pack did have great, secure, balanced waist supports and I'd advise something similar for your pack.

7. Size does matter. I chose a 50 liter Osprey pack. It felt great on my back and I felt that way about it the whole journey. But, it was heavy and that contributed to all sorts of physical problems. And, it also slowed me down. When I walk again, which I hope to someday, I'll look to a 38 liter day pack. Or, if I can trim down my stuff, maybe a pack that's even smaller. Of course, if you go too small, the pack won't have waist support, and that's essential.

8. Don't over pack. I, like many who walk their first Camino, over packed. One reason for this, my backpack was too big. Because there was so much room in my 50 liter pack, I filled it up before I left home. It didn't feel that heavy while walking around my neighborhood, but after a day in the Spanish countryside, I knew I'd over done it. During my Camino, I continued to leave clothes and other items behind. Most of the alburges had leave/take boxes where folks had deposited their overage.


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