Choosing A Backpack

How To Choose The Right Backpack For You

One of the more difficult decision before traveling may be which backpack best fits your needs.  Questions to ask yourself may be :

  • What is the purpose of my trip? 
  • How long will I be away for?
  • What season(s) will I be traveling during? 
  • Will I need a day pack? 
  • Does the backpack need to be checked?
  • Where will I be staying?  Will it be hostels, hotels, or camping?

The most expensive backpack is rarely necessary, given that a $200 bag could perfectly get the job done.  Let's run through some information to help you make your decision.

How Long is your stay:  What throws many people off is the amount of time they will be traveling for versus the size of the bag needed.  If you are traveling for 3 weeks or 3 months, the amount you will pack should be exactly the same.  Almost everyone I encountered packed a little over a weeks’ worth of clothes.  Worth noting that almost everything is worn twice, which is why you can smell a backpacker from a mile away.  I usually need approximately 65 liters between both my main bag and day pack, this way also gives me a little extra room in case I pick things up along the way.  Carrying a larger bag than this would only mean I packed too many unnecessary items.    

Day Pack:  A day pack is the perfect way to get around a city if you have a secure location to drop your main bag off at.  I personally use my day pack every day, using it to not only carry essential items but also to carry snacks and water in order to save money.  These expenses add up, and if you have a small day pack you can cut many of them out.  The day pack will also come into use when traveling by air because you won’t have to check it with your main bag.

How Will you be traveling:  What is your main form of transportation? Bus? Air? Car?  If traveling by bus, make sure you know the buses weight limit and size requirements for the bag.  Flying by air can be tricky.  If most of your traveling is flights, I highly suggest packing light and finding a bag such as Eagle Creak Rincon that can be stored in the overhead bins.  This will save you a ton of money in checking costs and also save you time.  Many flights in Europe are very cheap and if you cut out the extra costs on baggage fee’s it can lead to an absolute steal.  Also I don't trust airlines, the fewer times I check it the better. 

Weather:  Although rare, some bags come with a water proof coating to protect your things while on the road.  Other bags may come with a rain shell, while most bags you'll need to purchase the rain shell separately.  While this isn't a big issue, it's noteworthy that although a rain shell adds minimal weight it does take up room.  I didn't need the rain shell in Europe, but did use it throughout Central America since it rained almost every day.  Check the seasons before traveling, this may be a feature you dont want to live without.  I now only purchase daypacks that have rain shells, that way I don't need to bring an umbrella.

Fitment:  It's VERY important that you try a bag on before purchasing it.  Whenever I'm in the market for a new bag I run over to REI to ensure that they fit properly.  Throw some weights it there too, it's not like you'll be carrying around an empty bag.

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Support System:  My Osprey Farpoint was a great hostel hopper, but getting caught on a long distance hike or walk was not a fun experience.  My back would be shot because of the weight distribution in the bag as well as the lack of support and where the weight sits.  Knowing this and that I would be hiking great distances in Asia before arriving at my hostel, I invested in the Osprey Aether which contained their anti-gravity support system allowing me the pack more weight while being more comfortable.  Moral of the story, purchase a bag that fits your needs, you don't want to get stuck on a long hike with a hostel hopper, and there's no need to hostel hop with a mountaineering bag (though I wouldn't be opposed to it). 

Expedition:  I'm going to put this in a category of its own since it only pertains to a certain kind of trip.  If you need your week-long pack to hold water or mountaineering gear you should really purchase a mountaineering bag.  Having a water bladder available within the pack is golden, where it would never be used when bouncing around cities since nobody brings their main bag with them.  This bag also tends to be larger due to adding a sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, meals, stove, etc. 

Ventilation:  What a difference this can make!  I'm using to sweating twenty gallons of water per mile with my bag on, but once I purchased a ventilated bag that was greatly reduced.  If you travel longer distance with the main pack on your bag, this may be a convenient feature you won't want to give up. 

Pack Access:  The last thing I'll write about here is how you will be accessing your bag.  Some bags are top loaders meaning you pack everything through the top of the bag.  Others have a panel access so that you can get into more of the bag at once.  I personally love the panel access since I love to grab things with ease, where my top loader I have to unpack half the damn bag for a pair of underwear.  Reason I went with a top loader for my most recent trip is because they to tend to have better support and padding, and in my old age I need all the support I can get.