When I was planning my big trip, choosing the right backpack was actually a pretty big deal. This was the thing I was going to be living out of for the next 7 months, so I needed it to be right. In this post I’m going to share my 5 top tips for picking the right travel backpack, share what I learnt going through the process, and also go through why I chose the backpack I did.
1 – Function – What do you need the backpack to do?
The first step should be deciding what you actually want from your backpack, a few factors to consider are below:
– Comfort – Do you need a bag that fits and is comfortable, or a bag with extra back support?
– Size – How much stuff do you want to take? Will you realistically be able to carry a large bag or will you need wheels? How many litres do you need (travel backpack size if measured in litres for some reason, I’m not sure why…)?
– Security – How secure is the bag? Is there a section that can be locked? Is there a hidden compartment for valuables?
– Style – How do you want your bag to look? Colour, style, materials? Do you want to customize your bag in any way?
– Accessibility – Do you want front opening or top opening? Do you want any detachable sections or extra compartments?
– Durability – How long does your bag need to last? Will it be thrown about on various forms of transport? Or will it mainly be sitting in hostel bedrooms? Is the bag designed to withstand being chucked about or placed under other heavy bags?
So what you should do is break down your trip and actually think about what you’ll be using the backpack for. Will you be using it for trekking for a few weeks, in which case durability and comfort will be most important. Or perhaps you won’t actually wear that much, as you’ll keep it in accommodation most of the time. Quite often I’ve found, when people go to stores looking for a travel backpacks comfort seems to be top on the list for the sales assistants, then you go out travelling and realise you don’t actually carry your whole big backpack around that much.
You should think about the most important functions for you in a backpack and start looking there. So if you are someone who is very organised and likes different sections, then look for bags with different compartments. Or if you’re worried about travelling to destinations where security isn’t as good, look for extra security features in your bag. Break down your trip and decide what are the top 3 most important functions you will need, and try to base your research around that.
2 – Size – How big a backpack do you really need?
The big question (see what I did there…). How on earth are you going to carry a years’ worth of stuff in a backpack, surely you’ll need the biggest possible size you can carry right? Wrong. I’ve actually found that the bigger bags can be a bit of a pain. I know this comes under function, but it’s important to mention as it’s a very common mistake. As with anything, you’ll tend to find the more space you have the more space you’ll fill, even if you don’t need to. It’s the same phenomenon as if you have a garage or spare room, how it always seems to end up filled with junk.
The main thing you should consider with size of bag, isn’t which will allow you to take the most stuff. It’s what is the biggest size you will be able to manage? You’ll never have enough room to take everything you want and you will end up having to compromise regardless of which size bag you take. I’ve actually travelled with someone that couldn’t manage to carry her own bags by herself as they were too big and heavy, and this caused massive issues for her (don’t worry we did help her out with them). I chose to take a 70L sized backpack pictured at the bottom of this post. This was split between 15L in a small zippable and removable backpack and the main compartment which is 55L. I chose this size as it wasn’t too big but was a size that I felt comfortable carrying that was also big enough to keep 7 months worth of stuff. Bear in mind I’m a 6ft mid-twenties male, so this size might not be suitable for everyone.
3 – Price – How much should you be spending?
First bit of advice is don’t go cheap. I actually bought a different bag before the one I ended up using, because it was on offer around £35, looked fine and similar to the others, and I thought to myself ‘what a bargain!’. However it ended up that after I tried it out (see point 5 below), it was rubbish and even people on Ebay didn’t want it.
For my actual backpack (pictured below) I ended up spending around £110 (approx. $150 US). I would advise that as a very rough guide between $100-200 will get you a decent enough quality backpack that should last and you shouldn’t need to spend more than this unless you have more specific requirements of your backpack. If you’ve ever been suitcase shopping, you’ll realise how outrageously expensive luggage is, so at that price I’d say travel backpacks are a bit of a bargain. A top tip here is that if you’re planning a trip in advance (which you likely will be if it’s big), then wait until the sales to purchase your backpack as it will save you some cash.
4 – Read reviews – What do other people say about your choices of backpack?
This is so important! As most things in today’s internet driven world, I base a lot of my decisions on reviews and with backpacks it’s equally important to do so, and you can actually get the chance to learn how the backpack has fared on the road. Reviews were a huge part of the decision to choose the bag I chose in the end, and will likely get you down from a few options to the one you’ll eventually pick.
The fact that people had reviewed my backpack, saying they had taken it on various trips similar to mine for equal and longer time periods, and the backpack had lasted and been great for them, was such an important confidence booster for me in making my decision and spending the money I spent. You will gain so much information about your backpack by taking the time to go through lots of reviews, and you will learn all the positives and negatives you’re likely to experience without even needing to give it a try.
5 – Test it out – Take your bag for a test drive so you know if it’s right for you.
After just saying, ‘read reviews, you won’t need to give it a try’, I’m going to now say that you might not need to try it, but it’s a very good idea to try out your backpack before embarking on a long trip. The main reason I say this is my personal experience with the first backpack I bought. I bought it on the cheap, thought it would be fine, and then realised how very wrong I was after trying it out.
I took it on a week long holiday to Luxembourg, where I essentially just used it to keep my clothes and it sat in an apartment for the whole trip. However, even in this short period of time things about it irritated the hell out of me! It had tassels everywhere, which meant it couldn’t go on the normal belt at the airport and had to be taken elsewhere and wrapped up, it also only opened from the top which meant I had to take everything out each time I wanted to access any of my possessions, and it was nowhere near big enough. You may be surprised I felt so negatively after just 1 week, well I was surprised too… So the lesson I learnt is that yes read all the reviews you want, but until you actually try the backpack yourself, you’ll not know what you will and won’t like about it. You’ll also see in the ‘reasons why I chose my backpack’ case study below, that the top two reasons I chose my backpack are actually things I learnt I didn’t want after testing my first backpack out.
Case Study – Reasons why I chose my backpack
So this is my backpack that I took around the world with me. It’s an Osprey Farpoint 70 that has now been sitting on top of a cupboard for a while but hopefully you can see it’s still in very good condition, with my Canada patch still attached! It served me excellently through 18 countries over 7 months, having been on multiple planes, coaches, tuktuks, boats and used as a seat and all sorts, so I would definitely recommend it. Below are the reasons why I chose this backpack in order of importance so you can see my thought process:
– It was front, not top opening
– It didn’t have lots of annoying loose tassels and the backpack arms zipped away
– It was the right size and big enough for all my stuff
– It had excellent reviews
– It was a reasonable price
– It had a detachable backpack section
So I hope this post has been useful for any travellers looking to get themselves a new backpack. It really can make such a huge difference to your trip so it’s worth making sure you get the right one. Any thoughts or anything to add pop them down in the comments below.