For most Drakensberg hikes a back pack with an internal frame with a capacity of 65 to 90 liters will be sufficient for most applications. . However remember that the bigger the pack the bigger the temptation to pack un-necessary gear. Ideally a back pack fully loaded, should not exceed 30% of your body weight. Make sure that the bag has adjustable torso section or if it’s a fixed length, that it fits you properly. Look for a firm hip belt with adequate padding and shoulder straps that are curved and that ends just below your elbows. Some people prefer a bag with external pockets on the sides or on the hip belt for snacks and water bottles while others prefer a bladder pouch for a hydration system. Most of the modern bags has expandable side pockets making them slim but still gives you extra packing space. Bag packs without side pockets makes them ideal for trips in thick bush or climbing routes as they are streamed lined with no protruding pockets that can get caught up on bushes or rocks.
Most bags comes with external lashing straps for fixing your sleeping pad to the outside. Try to keep the items you lash to the outside to the minimum as the more items you hang on the outside the more it changes the center of gravity making your pack more uncomfortable. The number one thing I tell all clients and new hikers is not to strap you sleeping bag to the outside, store it inside protected from the elements. Invest in a rain cover if your bag did not come with one – it will not make you bag totally water proof but will help keep it dry. Pack all clothing and sleeping gear in plastic bags as no backpack is waterproof.
Woman should look for woman specific bags as they have usually shorter torsos and have hip belts and shoulder straps more suited for the female body.
I personally own more than one capacity bag so that I can have options for different types of trips.
For overnight trips a 40 to 65l capacity is usually adequate – they usually have no frame or may have a single stay or hybrid frame and are usually not adjustable in the smaller sizes. The hip belt is usually very minimal and usually have quite a few lashing straps. Remember to keep the amount of gear strapped outside to the minimum.
For weekend trips look for a 65 to 75l – they usually have a double stay frame with a very well-padded hip belt and shoulder straps. Some will have compression straps making them useful for smaller loads and to help stabilize heavy loads. External pockets will allow you to put items like snacks and water in easy reach.
Trips lasting for 5 day or more will require a 75 to 110l bag – this bags usually is made to carry heavy loads and have beefed up hip and shoulder straps, floating lids that can extend to accommodate extra high loads. There will usually be compression straps including lashings for tools like ice axes, walking poles or even fishing rods.
Before making a final decision on the type of bag try it on instore. Make sure it’s going to be able to suit your type of excursion, and big enough for all you gear. Ask the store if you can load some heavy items into it and see how it fits with a load in it – sometimes it feels comfortable without a load but as soon as it’s loaded, you might find it just can’t adjust enough to suit your body size or shape.
A back pack should last you a lifetime and looking after it will help prolong its life. Clean it regularly with a scrubbing brush to remove dried mud and dirt, or wash it in a mild detergent. Never store a bag wet as it will go moldy and break down the materials and stitching. Store bags out of direct sunlight as the UV will break down the materials over time. When having a break don’t sit on your bag as this will place extra strain on the stitching causing seams to pop or even bend the internal stays making the bag uncomfortable.
Some bags are better than others, but there are no perfect bag some gets close but others fail dismally. Shop around try on different bags or look for a good secondhand, but remember buy the best you can afford and suitable not only for now but for future trips as well.