Access and compartments
Many packs have dual access points, with a large zip at the bottom of the pack in addition to the standard top opening. This allows easy organisation as the whole rucksack doesn’t have to be unpacked to reach gear at the bottom. Inside the pack, a divider separates the load. This can be floating, zip-in or done up by a drawstring: some dividers can be fiddly, so test it out. For bushwalking, the bottom compartment is most commonly used to store a sleeping bag, so it can be reached easily without unpacking. In travel mode, the base compartment is used for dirty clothes, shoes – whatever you want to keep separated from your clean(er) kit. Two openings also allows easier access for water: the zip is a potential entry point. For this reason dual access is more common on travel and hybrid packs, although it is found on some bushwalking models.
A big front pocket is handy for stashing jackets, food, or whatever else needs to be easy to access. A top pocket is also another handy stash spot. Check the quality of the zips – they are a common weak spot. A flap over the zip will help to keep the pocket’s contents dry.
Bottle pockets that can be reached while walking are great for keeping hydrated, as is a bladder pouch.
If your pack is not full, the load can move around, affecting your balance. Compression straps are designed to be cinched tight to keep your rucksack stable. They can also be used to attach things to your pack: for example, a mat or a tent on the bottom straps, or poles or skis on the side. Very strong stitching is needed for these straps, as is a good design so they are efficient in use.
Additional features, such as dual access and compartments, are common on travel and hybrid rucksacks. These features may increase the price, weight and complexity of your pack, as well as decreasing its water resistance. As always, think carefully about how you will use your rucksack before you make your purchase.
Many hybrid and travel rucksacks have detachable daypacks: they serve as the front pocket while on the pack, or can be unzipped and used independently. A zip-up cover helps to protect your valuable harness from the evils of baggage carousels (and their handlers…), while zip sliders that can be locked deter petty thieves. Zips are common weak points, so check that they are easy to use and are good quality – YKK are the best.
Some rucksacks feature gear stowage options for all the bits and bobs associated with your favourite outdoor or travel activity, from crampon patches to harness covers. These features can make a big difference when needed, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that you probably don’t need a set of ice-axe holders if you are travelling through South East Asia.