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Choosing a Rucksack for Teenagers - as recommended by Scouts and D of E

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Jan 2015; updated May 2023.

Kids still need to get out when they're teens, but they're not always quite into adult sizes yet. We look at the D of E and Scouts recommend backpack and review the Vango Contour 50+10S.

When your son or daughter embarks on their first Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition, the number of items you need to buy may be a bit daunting, especially if you don't already have a lot of outdoor gear.

One of the larger items is their rucksack.

Now you may not need to buy a rucksack. When doing the D of E through an organisation like a school, they may have several rucksacks already that your son or daughter can borrow.

A poorly fitting rucksack could make their experience quite miserable

Although that saves money, you don't know how well the borrowed rucksack will fit, and a poorly fitting rucksack could make their experience quite miserable.

Which rucksack to get for the D of E?

There are several good rucksacks available. If you are sticking with the D of E Recommended kit, options are the Vango Contour, Vango Sherpa, or the Vango Nangarucksacks.

A poor-fitting rucksack could even lead to injury

The size of the rucksack that the D of E recommends is in the 55-65 litre range.

You must get a rucksack that fits your son or daughter's frame, is not something too large, gets filled with too much stuff, is too heavy, and is a poor fit.

A poor-fitting rucksack will be uncomfortable and could even lead to injury.

We asked Vango which of their rucksacks they would recommend, given that our daughter is just doing her Bronze award and is still growing.

The Vango Contour can be adjusted as they grow

Out of Vango's range, the Vango Contour 50+10S was our best choice.

This rucksack provides 60 litres of storage space and can be adjusted to fit a smaller frame, plus it can be adjusted as they grow.

Although it is designed for both boys and girls, the Contour is a comfortable option for the female frame, unlike other rucksacks.

The Vango Contour is recommended by the Scouts Association and the Duke of Edinburgh award, making it an ideal backpack for teenagers.

Vango Contour 50+10S

  • It has 60 litres of storage space, which is right in the recommended size range for a D of E Expedition.
  • It can adjust as your son or daughter grows and could see them through their Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards.
  • It is designed for both boys and girls. Girls could find the Contour more comfortable than other rucksacks.
  • It is recommended by both the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Scouts Association.

So let's look at how to fit the Vango Contour and what it's like in practice...

Rucksack Compartments and Space

The Vango Contour arrived from Vango, and we were very impressed with the quality. This was a good bit of kit.

Vango Contour Compartments

Vango Contour Compartments

Despite the Vango Contour 50+10S being their 'smaller' size, the main chamber on this rucksack is quite large, and we were able to fit quite a few items in here (including a 3-person D of E recommended tent, Trangia, plates, and a whole lot of other items).

ideal for keeping wet things away from dry clothing

As well as the large central chamber, which is 50 litres, there's a smaller 10-litre chamber at the bottom. These two chambers can be made into one or separated - ideal for keeping wet things away from dry clothes.

The bottom compartment can be easily accessed without removing everything from the rucksack. Again, ideal if you want to get at wet things and keep water off your dry items.

Inside are some zipped pockets so that smaller items don't 'disappear' in the bag, and a large pocket outside the main chamber. An ideal place for putting waterproof trousers, gaiters, and jackets so that they are accessible but won't get items wet in the main chamber.

Rain Cover

Vango Contour Rain Cover

Vango Contour Rain Cover

The Vango Contour has a rain cover for that added weather protection. This is stored in its pocket at the bottom of the rucksack that can be accessed without opening the main bag up when it rains.

The rain cover is bright orange, making your son or daughter more visible if the weather turns bad.

Adjusting and Fitting the Rucksack

The Vango Contour 50+10S is recommended for backs measuring 46 to 56 cm. This measurement is taken between the hip and C7 vertebrae.

C7 what? Basically, the bump in the spine at the bottom of the neck.

Adjusting the Rucksack to Fit

Adjusting the Rucksack to Fit

The Vango Contour has a supporting frame that adjusts to the height of your son or daughter.

The back simply adjusts by undoing a large velcro tab that you slot through different size positions. In theory, measure their back and then adjust the tab to that position.

I say in theory, as our daughter was just in between two sizes, so we had to try two positions to see which fitted best.

Tips for Fitting a Rucksack

You must adjust the large padded belt. Your son or daughter may not want to wear the belt, but it's an important part of the rucksack design so that most of the weight is taken off their shoulders and transferred to the hips and legs.

The hip belt may be more comfortable in a slightly different position for boys and girls.

For girls, the middle of the hip belt may feel better when lined up with the top of their hip bone. For boys, the top of the belt lined up with the top of their hip bone.

The rucksack should not be too high on their back and shouldn't go above their eye level.

The shoulder straps should be adjusted so they curve around the shoulder. They should not be adjusted too tight as the weight will be taken off the hips and onto the shoulders.

There are also tensioning straps at the top of the shoulder straps. Use these to bring the rucksack closer towards the back, stopping it from wobbling around as they walk or climb.

The chest strap doesn't need to be fastened constantly but can add extra security and stability when scrambling up and down slopes.

Compare Similar D of E Rucksacks

Here's the current crop of rucksacks recommended by the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at the time of writing.

Vango Contour 50+10S

Vango Contour 50+10S backpack

Vango Contour 50+10S backpack

  • Capacity 60L
  • Fits Back Length 46 - 56cm
  • Weight 2.24kg

Vango Contour 60+10

Vango Contour 60+10

Vango Contour 60+10

  • Capacity 70L
  • Fits Back Length 50 - 60cm
  • Weigh 2.3kg

Vango Sherpa 60+10S

Vango Sherpa 60+10S

Vango Sherpa 60+10S

  • Capacity 70L
  • Fits Back Length 46 - 56cm
  • Weight 2.4kg

Vango Pinnacle 70+10

Vango Pinnacle 70+10

Vango Pinnacle 70+10

  • Capacity 80L
  • Weight 2.8kg