Strapping up on Your Gap Year

The most important thing to realise is that the weight of your pack should not be borne on your back. Your hips and shoulders should be doing the work. If it is a bit of a heavy bugger - and trust me, it will be in the end - never ever pick it up with a bent back.

So, how do you do it?

  • With a straight back, lift the pack onto a high surface such as a table, chair or whatever is convenient. The best option is a bed or a long seat. Balance it there, make all the straps really loose, sit in front of it and then slide your arms through the shoulder straps and stand up, with your knees bent taking the weight onto your thighs. Don't stand up straight, keep leaning forward until you've done up the waist band sufficiently tight.
  • Stand upright, transferring a bit of the weight on to your shoulders. Now the crucial bit to the whole thing : lift the waist band whilst tightening so that it is sitting on the top of your hip bone and pull it really, really, tight.
  • The next bit will come naturally, as you simply grab the two cords at the sides and pull them down evenly together to tighten the straps around your shoulders. This will now feel more comfortable.
  • The final bit, which many never use, is to grab the straps which may be located behind the top of your shoulders and pull them, to bring the top of the pack nearer your head.
  • Then simply exit the plane, count to ten and pull the chute!

Only you will know what feels comfortable

It is simply a matter of trial and error. Be honest with yourself. Give it a go and find the comfortable (i.e. safe) way for you.

The modern day backpacker doesn't actually wear his or her backpack much anyway. As it is all so easy to travel around it is now just a matter of taking it to the bus and putting it in the luggage hold, or transferring it from there to the plane, and from there to another bus which takes you straight to the hostel. Nevertheless, there will be a lot of humping going on when you are away, so you have to make sure you are in a position to manage it. You may also point to the fact that I have already advised you to leave with it half or three quarters full. Fair point. The problem is... you will fill it.

A lot of backpacks come with wheels these days so you don't even have to carry it! Again, it's what feels comfortable for you.

Wearing a backpack correctly is a key part of comfortable backpacking

Like a pair of shoes, wear your backpack in

It is vital to fiddle with it and make it as comfortable as possible and then wear it around the house or go for a fairly long walk with it on a good week before you leave.

You will soon realise why it is necessary to pack soft things in behind your back, as having a shoe or sharp corner sticking into your back can be as comfortable as trapping your finger in a car door.

You have time now. Tweak and fiddle, fill it and empty it, wear it to bed and sit in it. Is it the best one for you? If not - go and change it for one that you are happy with. Make sure that you don't damage it, keep all the wrapping, take it back to the shop and find one you like. This is the most important item that you're going to take away with you (apart from your lucky pants), so make sure you have a good one that you're happy with.

Mine has now been thousands of miles and although it is a bit of a wreck now, it has done the job well. It will last you for years, so don't worry about the cost so much. Get it right.

Reiterating the most important things

I'm going to highlight the main important point again to make sure that the message sinks in with you. The backpack is the most important item you will have to buy and take with you. Don't be fobbed off by your dad's 1962 green issue Scoutmaster Alpha 2 - it'll probably be canvas, heavy, small and with more rivets on it than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It'll be classed under the title of 'rucksack' and should stay with the ramblers and bespectacled scout masters of this world... and off the backpacker trail.

If you've never had or used one before, don't be shy... admit It.

Get help from the professionals and/or the guys in the shops. Let them take you through what your choices are and the differences between them. If you have time between when you buy it and departure, don't be frightened to take it back and exchange it if it turns out to be wrong.