I bought my plane ticket to London in the spring of 2013 with the plan of backpacking around the Uk and Europe that summer. One major problem…. I had no backpack to backpack with….
So I hit the internet. I googled, read reviews, watched videos and scoured travel blogs. If I was going to drop a couple hundred bucks on a bag, I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have any regrets down the road. I did oodles of research and ended up with a great backpack that got me to seven countries in five weeks with no regrets. So here are my suggestions you may want to consider if you are in the market for a new backpack!
The first thing to know when you’re going to check out packs is that they are measured by litres. The bag I selected was 60L. To an experienced backpacker this probably seems excessive. I read so many travel blogs about people who did RTW (round the world trips) with nothing bigger than a daypack, or a backpack you would take to school. I understand travelling light but I also wanted to backpack around Europe without looking like I was backpacking around Europe. I consider myself a pretty reasonable packer, but I do like to take into account the ‘what if’ scenarios. So I generally pack a little more than I need…. just in case! The 60L pack I selected worked out to be the pretty great size for me, but if I was to do it over again I would size down to a 50-55L bag. With all of the compression straps you can squeeze the bag down in size but it is also capable of expanding to fit any little extras you pick up along your travels. Most of the time I didn’t have my bag at maximum capacity so it was a decent size…. but if I have extra space I will fill it! At the end of my trip, after I had accumulated souvenirs and mementos from all of my stops my pack was still not at capacity but it was a lot fuller than when I started thus making it a lot bigger! A bigger bag = a heavier bag.
In addition to the size in litres some bags are also sized S, M & L. My 60L bag came in S ,M or L and these sizes referred to the size of the internal frame. Your height and torso length will determine what size best suits your body. I stand proud at about 5’6″ tall so I opted for the S internal frame.
Top loading? Front loading? Am I talking about washing machines? I am actually talking about how your bag is accessed. Are you only able to access your belongings through the top of you bag like a traditional backpack? This is a nightmare when you are trying to fish out sometime from the bottom of your bag. Some bags open from the top, as well as through the middle like a duffel bag. If you are really lucky your bag will have both of those options plus the ability to access your stuff from the bottom of the bag. My Osprey pack has all three of those entry points which makes packing and accessing my stuff a breeze. My advice, if you can steer clear of packs that only offer you access through the top please do. You will save yourself so much time and sanity I promise you. The entry you point you really want is that middle one!
Again I read sooooo many blogs about backpacks and what to do and what not to do. Something I read over and over was don’t get a brightly coloured backpack or you will stand out as a tourist. In my humble opinion I really don’t think you can blend in with a giant backpack on…. So if you want a coloured backpack by all means do it. My pack is red and the colour doesn’t bother me at all. It’s actually kind of helpful when you’re waiting for your bag to come on the luggage conveyor belt, a red pack is much easier to pick out amongst the throngs of black ones.
I wanted a pack from a brand with a good reputation. A brand that has been tried and tested. If this means spending a little bit extra on a brand name pack, it’s worth the splurge. Different brands also have different warranties. I have an Osprey bag, and with the Osprey bag comes the ‘all mighty guarantee’. If anything on my bag breaks or tears I can send it in to Osprey and they will repair it for me free of charge. If they are unable to repair the bag they will replace it. This guarantee is good FOR LIFE. I really don’t think it gets much better than that. I wanted a bag that I could have for years and Osprey made it possible to have a bag that will last a lifetime.
Try It Before You Buy It
I did the majority of my research online but nothing beats seeing something in person. Go to your nearest sporting goods or camping store and try on as many bags as you can. I had narrowed it down to a few bags but I had to put those bags to the test before I dropped $300. No amount of bells and whistles can beat comfort, bottom line. You might think you can live with an uncomfortable bag because it looks cool and comes with tons of different features but DO NOT fall for that. Nothing will beat a comfortable bag, trust me on this. The best way to get a good feel for your bag is have the store associate fill it up with weights (which any camping or sporting goods store should have) and walk around the store for a minimum of 30 minutes. Browse the store, move around, see how the bag sits and feels on your back. By the end of the 30 mintutes you shouldn’t feel any strain on your back. Most of the weight should be carried in your hips, not your back. So if you are feeling strain in your back try on another pack. You want to make sure you can trek through a city trying to find your hostel with this thing on your back, that you are able to run and catch your train if need be! Take your time and try on as many backpacks as you can and you will find the bag that best suits your needs!
So you’ve pulled the trigger and bought a pack, what else do you need?
Sea to Summit bag converter – The day I bought my beautiful Osprey 60L I also purchased a this ingenious thing. It is half duffel bag, half rain cover. You can fit it completely over your bag and zip it up, attach the included strap and use it as a duffel bag or leave the strap off and this bag acts as a protector for your backpack if you need to check it onto an airplane. It keeps all of your straps tucked safely inside and ensures your bag will be safe going through all of the belts and conveyors at the airport. It’s amazing. I also used this almost everyday of my trip as a rain cover. It hardly rained on my trip but using this to cover my bag while I was travelling on the train or tube or walking around the city aimlessly trying to find my hostel made me feel a lot safer. It was drilled into my head before I left to keep my eyes out for pickpockets, so having my bag covered and secured I knew no one could sneak their hands into any of the pockets of my pack while I was preoccupied. Win.
Eagle Creek packing cubes – These could be my favourite purchase of all time. I bought the pack of three which included one large, one medium and one small, and then I purchased an additional large cube. I fit all of my clothes for my trip into these. These cubes made it incredibly easy to find any article of clothing I was looking for. The smallest cube for my underpants and socks, the medium cube for my lulu lemon collection and the two large cubes for my tops/sweaters and my pants/skirts/dresses. I cannot talk about these cubes enough. They are awesome and I cannot travel without them anymore.
Lock & cable – Again the possibility of theft was drilled into my head. I was packing all of my favourite clothes in this bag and I did not want someone to walk off with it so I spent about 10 bucks and bought myself a lock and a cable. I read that you should use the cable and lock your bag to the luggage racks on the trains to prevent someone from walking off with it. I didn’t do this. But for the majority of the trip I travelled with two friends so we would intertwine the cable between all three of our packs and lock them together on our train rides and in the hostel luggage storage area. If anyone could make off with three bags locked together without us knowing I would probably be more impressed than upset. I did use my lock and cable to secure my bag and belongings in the storage bins/lockers provided in the hostels while I was out exploring. This provided me peace of mind knowing my belongings were safe.
These are the things that I learned and found especially helpful during my search for the perfect bag. I was able to score an awesome bag that will hopefully see me through many, many more adventures. I hope that you found this list useful and if you have any backpack questions please ask me in the comments below!