Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Best Backpacks for Travelers

Editor's note - This post came out many years ago, so many of these specific models are discontinued. See this new post for more updated advice: The Best Backpacks for Travelers

It's one of the long-term traveler's most important decisions: which backpack should I buy? After all, it is the item you will learn to know most intimately, the vessel holding all of your worldly possessions for an extended period of time. If it's not comfortable and not rugged enough to last, you'll be cursing that backpack every day for a long time as you travel around the globe.

First, dismiss all the backpacks that are meant for hikers and mountain climbers. You do not want a pack that stuffs from the top and is short on pockets. You want one that is meant for constant packing and unpacking, one that will hold all the odd gadgets and small items you need for life on the road. And it needs to be able to lock securely and be thick enough that it won't rip on any stray sharp surface.

Some have wheels (good for a short trip, but not a long one), some are small enough to be carry-ons (great if you can pack that lightly), and some are high-capacity ones suitable for year-long trips that involve cold places. (Pack too much though and it'll be a bitch to carry.)

If you want to make this a popularity contest, then the tried-and-true winners out on the road are travel backpacks from Eagle Creek, like the Grand Voyage 90, and ones from Osprey, like the Waypoint 80. But if the size is right for you, it's also hard to go wrong with North Face or Jansport either.

The specs usually include either cubic inches or cubic liters and you can find conversion charts on the web to figure out equivalencies. The ones linked above are 80 or 90 liters, which is too much for some backs and there's the temptation to fill them up with more than you need. Go smaller if you are only going to be in hot places. I've found the 52-liter Eagle Creek Meridian one to be sufficient if I pack carefully.

Just don't go for some cheapo knock-off to save yourself 50 bucks unless it's a very short backpacking trip you're going on. You'll end up shopping for a new pack by the time you get to Bangkok or Buenos Aires.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim, I've been following your blog for several months as I prepared for a RTW trip, and it has been an interesting read on the road as well! As to the backpacks, I think Gregory packs are some of the best out there for overall support, sturdiness and general comfort. I know they don't have as many extras - the "over the pack cover", the zippers that can be locked up - but if you're doing any trekking or carrying your pack for prolonged periods of time, they're fantastic.

Thanks, as always, for the interesting posts.
-Jennifer

Tim said...

Thanks Jennifer! Glad you're finding this useful and appreciate the first-person account on your Gregory pack. The most important thing is finding a well-made one that's right for YOU.

Jernej said...

80-90L packs for travelling?? That's not a trip, that qualifies for migration status. Who's insane enough to carry all that gear anywhere for more than 10min?
I'm not saying you should go to the other extreme (see Gadling blogger Tynan with his 28L) but do you honestly enjoy a trip where you're constantly battling the big hump on your back?

50 is more than enough for most people and all practical purposes except expeditions into the wild and living in a snow cave is just unacceptable.

Johnny said...

"Who's insane enough to carry all that gear anywhere for more than 10min?"

Well, I just got back from a month-long trip to Europe and at least half of the backpackers I saw at hostels were carrying packs of that size. They'd rather be loaded down than pack fewer items it looked like to me.

Anonymous said...

I truly enjoyed your blog. Keep writing Tim.

Anonymous said...

Tim, what are your thoughts on the Lowe Alpine Trekker II 70 for 8-months of world travel?

Anonymous said...

Tim, it sounds like most of the packs and those commenting are in month long (or longer) trips. Would you have a different recommendation for a shorter trip? We're looking at 2 weeks. Thanks!

Tim said...

Dear person without a name,

Two weeks, two months, two years---it shouldn't matter. Two weeks' worth of clothing should take you as far as you need to go ideally. I've done two weeks with a carry-on, but most people can't pack that lightly it seems. I use the Tom Bihn Aeronaut or the Eagle Creek Meridian on most of my trips.

JB said...

Hi Tim,

I just spent a year traveling with an Osprey Porter 46 (yes very light packing) and was fine except a bit too small in the end and not great support system. So, I am in the market for a new pack and found your article.

My question: I have been very impressed with the Deuter packs I have seen other European travelers using and they all universally sing their praises. So, I was looking into their Quantum (55 and 70) bags which sound awesome and come with a nice detachable daypack. Unfortunately, I am having a lot of trouble finding reviews. Do you know anything about these bags or know anyone who might?

Tim said...

JB - Deuter is just now really breaking into the U.S. market, so there's not much press on them here. I checked out some of their packs recently at the Outdoor Retailers show and liked what I saw. Good quality and design. I checked out new stuff from Eagle Creek too and in my opinion they're still the best bet for many travelers.

Thanks for the feedback on the Osprey 46. That is a bit small for many long-term travelers. Although we would all like to pack light, I think 60 is probably the ideal size if it's not crammed too full.

Jason said...

Tim, I am traveling with my nephew to germany and etc for 2 weeks in Sep/Oct. Do you think the Eagle Creek 55L would be sufficient. I'm a big guy so i'm not sure if that would affect the size of bag I might need?
Thanks,

Tim said...

Jason, you could carry a larger bag, but that doesn't mean you should. At that time of year you should be able to get by with just a light jacket and layers, two pairs of shoes. You won't be sweating much then. Pack well and it should be fine.

Bruce said...

Hi Tim,
I am off for four months at the end of the week (left it a bit late) and i have not yet got my rucksack, i have ordered a Lowe Alpine Travel
Trekker pro, but i was just wondering whther there were any other bags you suggest???
I have seen some by Caribee aswell?
Thanks for your help
Chris

Tim said...

Bruce - if it's the 70 + 17 one you've got to be really careful not to overstuff it as that's a lot of liters to carry on your back. I've tested a few Lowe Alpine things though and they're very well made. That should be fine. If it has adjustable stays next to your back though, bend them until they fit right as that makes a big difference. You might need a second person to help.

kerins said...

Okay, I really, really need help ! My 18 year old son is setting off on a Eurail adventure in 2 months and he was planning to take his school backpack !!!!!!!!!! He has had a back problemonce before after a lot of diving, so I would like to get him a backpack that will be good on his shoulders and carry enough stuff for a month...any advice at all would be good.

kerins said...

Okay, I really, really need help ! My 18 year old son is setting off on a Eurail adventure in 2 months and he was planning to take his school backpack !!!!!!!!!! He has had a back problemonce before after a lot of diving, so I would like to get him a backpack that will be good on his shoulders and carry enough stuff for a month...any advice at all would be good.

Tim said...

Hey Kerins, do NOT let him take off with a school backpack! He needs a real pack that has straps that buckle around the waist and a strap that buckles along the chest. Preferably an adjustable stay in the center too, the idea being to redistribute the weight so it's not all on his shoulders, straining his back. He'll be carrying it a lot, including up stairs on on cobblestones, so it needs to be decent quality. If price is an issue, this Kelty one is under $100 and I can personally recommend it: http://practicaltravelgear.com/kelty-redwing-3100-backpack-is-a-great-value/

kerins said...

Hi Tim, I had already put the kibosh on the school one...price is not really an issue, so I am open to suggestions...especially about capacity. I was thinking about 50L for a month, and I am encouraging to get everything he can mailed back to our house in Ireland, so he's not lugging it.If money wasn't an object, what would you recommend ?
Ta so much for your advice

Tim said...

Ideally, one from Eagle Creek, Osprey, or Lowe Alpine that is meant for travelers and fits properly. If you can try them in a store, great, otherwise order online from a gear store. The model names are always changing, but 50L should be fine for summer in Europe.

kerins said...

Excellent stuff...ta so much for your help...and my son's back thanks you too...

Ryan said...
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Ryan said...
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Ryan said...

Just wanted to say thanks for the info. I ended up opting for the Waypoint 85 in the end. The primary plus there is that it has the detachable pack, so since I am planning on my trip being 3 months-1 year, it should do away with the awkward "double backpack syndrome" I'm used to. Don't worry about my poor back - planning to pack light on the clothing end and bring back a lot of souvenirs :)

Also helps to note that the mother craft part of the backpack will probably be staying in the apartment I plan to lease for a home base ;)

cormac said...

hi all.
my girlfriend and i are immigrating to canada and we're looking for advice on what king of bags to buy.
we don't intend on backpacking so what we're really after is something that can bring as much cloths etc. with us so we don't have to splash out when we arrive.
any advice? i was looking at a s.o.c. load out bag but they are on the expensive side and hard to find in ireland.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

I will soon be embarking on a 20 day summer trip in Europe. I'll mostly be hostel hopping and am traveling by Eurail. I've looked at a lot of packs but haven't settled on one yet. I'm a 5'2'' woman so I don't want anything huge. My main contenders right now are a North Face Terra 45 Liter Women's pack or an Osprey 55 Liter Farpoint. The thing I like about the Farpoint is it has a detachable daypack, but I wonder if 55 L is too much? I like the fact that the North Face is 45 L and a women's pack. Do you have any suggestions to help me find the best pack?

Thanks
-Kacie

Anonymous said...

Hello! This article was really helpful to me because I am an 18 year old girl who will be taking a gap year starting July
12th! I shall be travelling the world for a year and volunteering on projects in 6 different countries. The range of climate will vary from Peru's rainforest to Mongolia's brutal winter. Seeing as you said pack light for hot weather but not for cold, what do you suggest? Do you have any other advice for me concerning the type of backpack I should have? I know there are packs made for women, but they tend to be smaller...I recently bought the Kelty RedCloud 5600, but I do not know if I made the right decision. For one, it is a top-loader, which is a no-no. Anywho, any advice you can give me would be much appreciated! Thanks! *Cailie*

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim
I am off to Sri Lanka at the end of next month for 3 weeks, and then off to travel Europe for a year. I am 6ft tall female, strong build. What would be the best pack for me? My partner is 6ft2in, also strong build, best pack for him?
Thanks for your help,
Stephanie

Rob said...

Hi.. there has been a travel pack around ever since the 1970's and still going strong today with a few improvements. The MEI Voyageur. maximum carry-on size. I bought one a few months ago after reading about it on Doug Dyment's "One Bag" web site. You might want to investigate it and do a review.
http://www.meipacks.com/

mike d said...

Dear all,

Something has got to be said on this thread: if your hostel hopping around Europe or anywhere non-rugged, you don't need a backpack it will only be a drag in so many ways. Use a backpack only if you intend to do multi day hikes, and even then, gear can ususally be rented. . I've traveled all over the world and back with countless bag configurations a good quality 22" rolling carry on suitcase and daypack works best for 90% of all travel . Of course if you want to look like a backpacker then go for it, but prepare to schlep :) I'll be roll'in right next to you.

Now if you know your going to trek 4 days + with camping gear I agree a 60 is a great size. I like North Face Terra bags and base camp or RAB duffels. But add some souvenirs along the way and you'll be slinging an extra duffel in no time. And lugging up a sweat. So be sure of ur plan before you buy a giant mountaineering bag.

The other exception would be ultralight summer travel (Thailand for ex) where you are in board shorts and flip flops. Bring a 40l bag and be stoked.

Anonymous said...

We are traveling out of the country for a week and want to leave the luggage at home and pack lighter than usual. We were looking at the Deuter bags - they seem nice quality and lots of compartments, but kind of pricey. I don't care about price so long as the quality is worth it in the end. But, I'm a newbie so really don't know what to look for.

We also camp, so keeping that in mind it's something we can get good use out of for future trips.

My real question is this - what size should we consider if we plan to use them as carry ons on an international flight? 45l???

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Question: I am heading to Europe and will be there for about 2 months. My problem is that sandwiched in the middle of my trip is a 3 week stint taking classes and will require me to bring my laptop along for the ride. I need a pack that is big enough to accommodate my large laptop and still fit on the plane as I have no intentions to check luggage. I am a big guy and have no real issues carrying a large pack, just need one that will fit the laptop and my gear. Any suggestions?

gigi21 said...

Hi Tim!
I am going to Europe for just over one month for July. I was thinking of buying a Caribee : http://www.caribee.com/product.php?prd=243

Do you think it is a good one... it's relatively cheap compared to the others so I'm not sure. obviosuly reading all your info, the 65L would be sufficient.

Also, do you know if there is any other ones that have a zip in the middle compartment? Would be good instead of pulling all your belongings out everytime you need something.

gigi21 said...

- Georgina

Eric said...

~Tim I am kinda a new to the traveling game and I needed an experts opinion on which pack is best for a couple of weeks to a month travel. I looked at several packs but the 2 it came down to was either the PAC safe anti-theft 32L or Rincon65L. Money isn't an issue as long as I can find a pack that will last the distance and do the job. I am also open to any suggestions you might have...~

~Thank You For Your Time~

Soumik Ghosh said...

First make sure that your backpack is comfortable enough to wear for a long period of time. The best backpacks distribute the weight in the bag evenly so that you can wear it comfortably for a few hours while travelling.I have used one from stahome2shop.com.Believe it or not it is an amazing experience using it.Give it a try.
Thanks
stayhome2shop.com

Josh Barron said...

Do you have any suggestions on what would be a good range of cool backpacks brands to choose from other than the ones you mentioned?

ricky walker said...

Hi Tim, I'm of to Australia for a years working and traveling adventure. I have just brought a Lowe alpine world tour 70+20. Is this a suitable pack?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried traveling with an Ivar Shelf System Backpack? It's different from a hiking backpack, however, depending on where you're traveling to and what you're carrying (etc), an Ivar might make sense.

I used an Ivar backpack recently on my trip to France. I used it a few times walking around the City to carry my stuff. What's great about Ivar is its super innovative design - internally, it has angled shelves that organize and also provide "weight distribution" for comfort.

It's different from a hiking type pack, but, perhaps is better as an urban traveler type backpack! I love mine!

http://www.ivarpack.com is their website.

~Steven in San Francisco

Cool Backpacks said...

See this new post for more updated advice: The Best Backpacks for ... ccoolbackpacks.blogspot.com

Stephanie Butler said...

I love backpacks and they are very useful to humans.