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Rucksack Buying Guide | Tiso Blog

Scotland's leading outdoor clothing and adventure specialists since 1962.

No matter how long you are heading out there for, you will need to carry some kit with you. From a picnic on the beach to jetting off around the world, the chances are there is a rucksack designed specifically for your needs.

Modern rucksacks are not only lighter and tougher than their predecessors, they are also engineered to help you to carry your kit as comfortably as possible. We’re here to help you select the perfect pack for your adventures.

Quick Rucksack Tips

1) Have a good think about the size of rucksack you need

What size is best suited to your needs? Too small a rucksack might create a problem for you on colder days when you have more gear to carry. If you choose a bigger pack however, there is always the temptation to carry too much, or you might just be left with dead space! Ultimately, most keen adventurers who venture out regularly throughout the year will probably end up with more than one rucksack to suit different activities and conditions.

Use the handy table below to get an idea of what size of rucksack might be a good match for your needs...

2) Consider whether you might need a pack with specific features or attachments

One easy way to differentiate between all the various rucksacks on offer is through the features they are equipped with. Today, many rucksacks boast a vast array of add-ons that can prove extremely useful depending on the activity you are taking part in. Use the list of common rucksack features and attachments below to give you a better idea of what you are looking for...

Rucksack Features and Attachments:

  • Adjustable Back System: An ABS system will allow you to adjust the back of the pack to provide a more personalised fit
  • Ventilated/Air Flow Back System: This creates a space between your back and the rucksack to help air circulate and hopefully save you from sweating too much
  • Hip Belt: Most medium and large packs are equipped with a hip belt to help distribute the weight and provide you with a more comfortable carry
  • Chest Strap: Provides extra stability to the top of your pack which should help stop it from moving around too much
  • Compression Straps: Designed to compress the contents of your pack in order to improve weight transfer and balance
  • Front Opening: Some packs that have been specially designed for travel may feature a front opening. This gives you easy access to the just like you would have with a suitcase
  • Hydration Compatible: This indicates that a pack is equipped with a compartment to house a hydration bladder and an opening to put the straw through to turn the pack into a hydration pack
  • Pockets/Compartments: Different styles of pack are equipped with different pockets and compartments. For example, some daypacks feature a padded laptop sleeve for commuters, whereas larger models commonly have lid pockets, side pockets and more
  • Gear Loops: These are loops of elastic situated on the outside of your pack that act as attachments for gear like ice axes, a climbing rope or even just walking poles
  • Daisy Chain: A length of webbing with multiple loops that is often located on the outer of your pack. Can serve as a series of attachment points for your equipment, most commonly mountaineering and caping gear

3) Make sure your rucksack fits properly

The best backpack for you is ultimately one that fits properly. If you are looking for a pack of over 50L, we recommend that you take some time to make sure it is well fitted. You should be carrying the weight of your pack though the strongest muscles in your body, which are your legs NOT your shoulders.

REMEMBER, it is your torso length, not your height that is the key measurement! If the back system of your rucksack is too short then the waistband will sit too high and the weight of the pack will load onto your spine. In a correctly fitted pack, the weight will be transferred onto your pelvis, making it much more comfortable, especially over long-distances. To find out how to correctly fit your pack in more detail, read on and check out the rucksack fitting guide down below.

4) Check if you should purchase a waterproof rucksack liner or cover

Most rucksacks are made from proofed fabrics but very few even claim to be 100% watertight. If you plan on heading out in all kinds of weather conditions, a rucksack liner or cover made of plastic or waterproof material can help keep your essentials dry. Whilst some packs will come with an integrated rain cover, many do not and if this is the case you may want to pick one up to add an additional layer of protection against the elements. The last thing you want to is to arrive at your campsite to find all your kit is soaked through after getting caught in an unexpected downpour.

Shop Waterproof Rucksack Covers

What type of rucksack should I buy?


Generally sized from 15-35 litres, these bags will normally be fairly lightweight and designed (as the name suggests) principally for single day use. Many daysacks have no real internal support; the weight is suspended from the shoulders and supported with either a basic waist and chest strap or nothing at all. This is rarely a problem as the sacs are intended for light load carrying. The only major considerations when buying a daypack is to ensure that it provides the features you require (side pockets, padded back etc) and that it sits comfortably on your back.Shop Online


These medium-sized packs usually have some internal support and often a more substantial hipbelt/chest strap that helps you to carry weight more comfortably. These sacs are generally tall and narrow (to aid dynamic body movement and stability) and constructed with one main compartment and one lid or front pocket. They often include side compression straps to adjust the shape and volume of the rucksack throughout your trip. Some models include detachable hip belts.Shop Online


This type of rucksack is principally designed for multi-day trips and for carrying heavier, more substantial loads. They have an internal frame that gives structural rigidity and distributes the load between your back, shoulders and hips. Many models are available with adjustable back systems to ensure a precise and comfortable fit. Most rucksacks of this size have a number of pockets (including a very useful zipped access to the bottom section of the pack) to help store and organise your gear.

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The main advantage of these rucksacks is the main zip panel access which opens like a suitcase and allows easier packing and access to your gear. These specialist travel packs also feature concealable back systems to make the pack much more airport-friendly. The zipped entrance not only allows easy access but also allows you to lock the zippers with a padlock; a great benefit when travelling. Some travel packs also feature a small daysack which attaches to the front of the main bag and can be detached for day trips or used as hand luggage when flying. This feature means that you only have one item of luggage to keep track of when on the move. Shop Online

How do I get my rucksack fitted?

Once you have identified the type and size of rucksack you need, the next stage is to get the correct fit. This is the single most important thing about any rucksack and will make all the difference between a fantastic trip and a painful one!

It is very important to test out the rucksack yourself before you take it out into the hills. What works for one person is by no means guaranteed to work for another. However, most of the larger packs can be easily adjusted to fit your shape and back length.

You will get a better picture of how the pack will carry if you actually load it up with some weight; this ensures you will notice if there are any problem areas. A heavy pack will obviously weigh you down but definitely shouldn’t make you feel as though you are being bent double.

1) The Hipbelt

When wearing a rucksack, the vast majority of the weight should be on your hips rather than your shoulders. Therefore, the first area you should look at when fitting your pack is the hipbelt. The hipbelt should sit directly on your hips with the padding centered over your hipbones so there are no sore spots. The fastening should also be easy to use and adjust as needed. Many larger rucksacks also have a lumbar pad, which should sit snugly in the small of your back to keep your posture correct.

2) The Back Length / Shoulder Straps

Once the hip belt feels comfortable, it's time to move on to the back length. The back length of your pack is very important, so it's worth taking the time to make sure that this is correct and that the hipbelt isn’t being pulled up off your hips. The length of the back should be adjusted so that the shoulder straps curve snugly around your shoulders without pinching. You should also watch out for shoulder straps being worn too tight as this can cause chafing under the arms and restriction of movement, although most contoured shoulder straps help to reduce this.

3) Final Test

Once you have achieved what feels like a good fit, make sure you try walking around with the weighted pack to give it a quick test. Play with all the adjustments until the pack feels stable and comfortable on your back. Just remember that if it isn’t right now, it will get worse out on the trail!

What about women's fit rucksacks?

Many models of pack are now available in a women’s specific fit. These specialized packs are often equipped with a shorter torso, narrower and closer shoulder straps and a more shaped hip belt than their unisex counterparts, and although these differences may seem very subtle, they can be very noticeable in terms of comfort levels for female users. Whilst many women may find a women's specific pack provides the best fit for them, it's important not to get hung up on gender specificity! You have to pick the right pack for your body and in many cases that might be a unisex or even a men's rucksack.

How should I pack my rucksack?

How you pack your rucksack will affect the comfort you experience. As a general rule, pack the heaviest items closest to the spine and for active use closer to the base of the rucksack too.

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