9 Vital Factors In Choosing A Pack For Your Gear


Kelty Redwings At WorkThere are a number of different options available when it comes selecting the right bag to hold your gear.  Just as there is the right tool for the right job, there is the right bag for your kit and your specific carrying needs.  These factors are important to consider in the selection of all packs whether it be for a half-day excursion, a 4-day trek in the woods, or a walk from your workplace to your home when the world goes awry.  Make sure to consider these nine essential factors to find the right pack for you.

There are many different gear kits out there, each having the best type of bag for the proper carry.  As you can imagine it would be very difficult to discuss the factors if we looked at every possible kit out there.  In order to provide some clarity, in our examples, we are going to focus one particular method of use; the selection of a bag for carrying all the gear in your Bug Out Bag Kit.  Yes, we are turning your Bug Out Kit, into your Bug Out Bag.

First and foremost, you should always select your bag based on the contents in your kit.  Don’t select a bag, then hope everything fits.  Yes, that means build your kit first.  Then select the bag.  If you haven’t already started your kit, we recommend you start as soon as possible.  You can download our free Bug Out Bag Contents Checklist here to help get you started.

Once you have a kit, then look at the following factors when selecting a bag:

Factor 1: Weight of the Load

The heavier the load you plan to carry, the better the support structures need to be on the pack.  A good Bug Out Bag will weigh from 20-30lbs (and this is on the light side for many preppers).  For lightweight loads (3-5lbs), the support required to minimize body fatigue is minimal, but the heavier the pack becomes, the more support is required to distribute the weight evenly on the body.  To do this, you want to shift the majority of the carry load from a shoulder to a waist carry.

In addition to support, more durable bag construction materials need to be considered as your load gets heavier.  The weight of the gear and the friction and flexion caused by movement will fatigue lower quality materials to the point of failure.  Holes or large rips in your bag is not something you want to deal with on your trek.  However, the good news is, pack construction and durability issues are usually solved by sticking with quality manufactures such as Kelty, Osprey, REI, North Face and more.  As they increase the bag capacity (we will discuss bag construction in future articles) which goes hand in hand with weight (the more gear you have the more weight and more capacity you will need), so will the durability of the materials.

Factor 2: Distance to Transport

Do you plan to carry your pack two miles, or thirty miles?  Think about the locations you
frequent the most on a daily basis.  If an emergency were to occur and you had to carry your Bug Out Bag to get to your home or base camp, how far would it be? The further you carry your pack the more support you will need in Road To Nowhereyour pack system.  With distance, a quality support system is king.  Select packs that have a padded waist band, chest strap, and preferably, for longer distances, a framed support system.  The further you plan to carry a pack, the more padding and rigidity you will want in the pack.

Factor 3: Method of Transport

How do you plan to transport your pack?  Do you plan to walk, run, cycle, or transport in a vehicle?  There are an infinite number of containers that can be used as the “pack” to contain and transport your gear.  Some of these include backpacks, suitcases, and rigid frame hard cases such as a Pelican 1514 Case.  All can transport your gear, but some weigh more than others, and are bulkier to carry.  We recommend a backpack to hold your kit because it is the most adaptable to the method of carry while also providing the best ergonomics for carrying your load on foot.  Lets face it, in most cases, carrying our Bug Out Bag on foot is not our preferred method of transport.  It’s usually it is the last resort.  Why would I walk with my kit on my back when I can take a car or ride a bike?  Makes sense right?  I can use a Pelican case and it is easy to throw in the back of a car, but it becomes more difficult to carry long distances ergonomically when strapped to your back.  A backpack on the other hand, may not be as durable as a Pelican but it is more adaptable.  You can throw it in the trunk of a car, ride with it on your bike, or strap on your back and comfortably carry it 10-15 miles.  Most other container solutions do not provide this much adaptability.

Make sure when you look at your method of transport, you consider all your methods of transport, your primary, secondary, and tertiary when you are weighing your bag options.  A pack that works for your primary method of carry may not be optimal when assessing your backup methods.

Factor 4: Terrain

Pack Challenge: Tall Brush and Snags

What type of terrain will you have to traverse in your journey?  Hard case containers or backpacks with wheels may seem like a good idea, but they usually have limited ergonomic support and do not have large enough wheels to be effective anywhere off paved surfaces.

If you will be walking through overgrown wilderness with the risk of snags, you should seek more durable materials.  An ultralight option and the accompanied weight savings may not provide you with a durable enough pack to stand up to the surroundings.

When traversing mountainous regions or areas with extreme altitudinal changes, look for great support as it will help you distribute the load and maintain balance when confronting steep elevation changes.  Additional weight will also increase the speed at which you will fatigue.  Alleviate as much unnecessary weight as possible.

Factor 5: Climate and Weather

The climate and weather in which you are presented with can play a great role in the type of pack you choose.  Take into account the type of weather which you will be exposed to in your area of operation (include wherever you could be found traveling with your Bug Out Bag).  Consider the average weather as well as the extremes.

If you live in a dry, arid climate, you may not worry about water resistance, however if you are in a humid, tropical, or wet climate, water resistance is something to consider.  There are a number of ways to protect the contents of your bag.

If you plan to store your bag in a vehicle, try your best to avoid direct sunlight exposure.  Many pack fibers, especially synthetics, can be weakened by UV exposure over long periods of time.  This isn’t something that happens over night, but after 4-5 years in the sun, the UV and high temperatures can take a toll on a pack and make the fibers brittle.  Covering it with a towel, placing it in a compartment or under another item can protect your investment.  It will also conceal your kit from thieves and in warm climates, will lower the internal temperature of your bag slightly making your contents last longer.

Factor 6: Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the study of people at work.  The goal of ergonomics is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture, and repetitive tasks.  In an emergency situation, a minor injury can become debilitating.  Even if it is temporary, injuries usually have limited treatment options and cause costly delays.  If you have fatigued your back muscles to the point of failure due to improper bag selection or carrying too much weight, it will impair your actions for upcoming days.Pelican 1514 Case

The main ergonomic factors that play a role in Bug Out Bag selection and carry are Weight
Limits, Support, and Load Balancing.  They play a role in all the types of packs you choose.  If you choose a Pelican 1514 Hard Case for example, how heavy is it when you are lifting it in and out of your vehicle?  If you are carrying a backpack, how heavy should it be?

An average adult with no medical problems should avoid carrying a backpack that weighs over 15-18% of their total body weight for longer periods of time.  Short term heavy loads are permissible, but not recommended.  They will cause muscle fatigue faster, negatively impact your balance, and slow down your pace.  For children, all loads over 10% of their body weight should be avoided.  For younger children, this means they will have a really light load.  Parents, be ready to carry some of their gear.

Backpack loads are best distributed (for all ages) using two padded shoulder straps and a padded waist belt.  Try to avoid packs with a single strap. Place heavy items at the bottom of the pack and balance the contents as much as possible.  Selecting backpacks that have side straps to allow for suitable balancing of items in your kit.  It also assists with keeping item from shifting and rattling with movement.

Factor 7: The Grey Man

“Grey Man” is the concept of blending into your environment.  Basically, take a look around you the next time you are in a public place.  What are people wearing, how are they acting, what is the “norm” for the area.  This is the baseline.  The “grey man concept” is about blending into that baseline as much as possible to avoid additional attention or the risk of becoming a target.

When selecting a pack, observe the areas you will be traveling through, be it on foot, in a car, etc.  Identify what the baseline is for that area.  What type of pack will fit and what will stand out like a sore thumb?  A tactical pack with MOLLE/PALS webbing and a survival knife attached will look quite out of place walking through most city parks or the downtown tunnel system.  A standard backpack or small hiking pack where you can hide the waist belt, may blend in just fine.  Find the balance that you are comfortable with, which meets your needs in combination with the other factors we have discussed.

Factor 8: Fitness of Carrier

Fitness is an important part of maintaining health day to day, and is just as important during emergencies.  Your physical fitness and health is paramount in considering the type of pack you choose and the methods used to transport gear.  The healthier you are, the Fitness Measurebetter your body can fight fatigue, the faster your body heals, and the better your ability to transport gear.  Staying active and eating right at all ages improves our mobility and ability to survive.

But let’s face it, even when we stay active, not all of us are the “spring chickens” we used to be.  Age, medical conditions, or physical ailments can all limit our ability to transport loads.  As we age, we start to lose bone mass as well as padding in our joints and feet.  If these are an issue for you, no problem, think strategically and do your best to adapt and overcome. Consider the following changes, as adaptation is one of the keys to success in a survival situation.

  • Consider packs that have more padding and a better strap system.
  • Lighten the weight of your kit
  • Choose a lower capacity pack
  • Change your primary or secondary mode of transportation

Maybe your primary means of transportation is your vehicle, and due to back problems you are unable to carry loads on your back for an extended period of time.  Consider adding a folding wagon to your vehicle so when your primary means of transportation is limited, you have a secondary which enables you to carry your kit while alleviating the load from your back.  Or maybe you can help your back by adding trekking poles to the contents of your kit for use with longer distances.  It may not be your favorite option, but it is better than having no kit at all.

Factor 9: Cost

Let’s face it, for most of us, the cost of our gear is always a factor, whether we want it to be or not.  A $400 pack maybe in the budget for some, but for most of us, it’s not.  At Talon, we can’t say what dollar amount to spend is appropriate to meet your needs.  What we can say that every person should perform a cost benefit analysis when selecting their bag.

You should consider:

  • what you need for your situation (based on the factors in this article)
  • how often you plan to use your bag
  • your funds available for purchase

Then weigh the options out there and determine the best one for you.

I can tell you that usually the lowest cost is not your best option. In most cases I would avoid it if possible.  Save for a few weeks or months to get a pack that will serve you better.  If you are looking at backpacks or hard cases, you usually get what you pay for.  Higher cost means better materials, better ergonomics, and sometimes more features.  Usually a little more money will serve you well and will last you a long time.

When I first started putting together a Bug Out Bag for our family, I used a 3-Day Bag with MOLLE/PALS purchased for $34.95 from a well-known retailer.  The bag was decent quality, but heavy, and with limited support and padding.  This allowed me to carry my Bug Out Kit from my office to my home, however, when I started carrying the Bug Out Bag (fully loaded with my Bug Out Kit) a couple miles to test the pack, I found out real fast that it was a strain on the shoulders and the back.  The lack of support was a problem.  Over longer distances (let’s just say that the practice mileage was 1/10th of the distance that I would have to carry it in a worst case scenario), I learned real fast, I needed a hiking pack with more support.  I moved up to a Kelty Redwing 44 sized for my torso.  That works perfect and gives me the support I need for the load at hand.  Mrs. Raven uses a Women’s Kelty Redwing 40 that is sized for her and does the job well (so she tells me).  Both of these packs were a little more expensive, but by no means the “top of the line”.  After a cost benefit analysis, they have since provided us the right amount of function and support for the right price.

Kelty Redwing 44 and 40 At The Lake


As you can see, none of the factors involved in selecting a pack are mutually exclusive.  They are all interdependent and each needs to be considered.  Overlooking a single factor can result in a waste of money, bag to kit incompatibility, bag failure, or in the worst cases, discomfort or injury during use.

This is the first part in our Pack Selection Series, check out the rest of the series using the links below.

Pack Selection Series – Part Two: 3 Types of Backpacks to Meet Your Gear Loadout Needs

Pack Selection Series – Part Three: 15 Important Features to Consider When Selecting Your Backpack

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