When I was planning for my trip around the world I obsessed endlessly over my travel backpack. I considered size and shape and even color. Did I want a real backpack or a conversion pack with wheels? What cool features did my backpack need and what could I live without? How much was this bag going to cost me?
After hauling my backpack for three years (to over 20 countries and 47 US states), I’ve learned a thing or two about what’s necessary in a backpack. So read on to learn the five most important things to consider when choosing travel backpacks.
- Is the backpack comfortable?
Maybe this seems like an obvious detail, but comfort and fit are the most important things to consider when choosing a backpack. Remember, you’ll be walking for miles with your bag on your back- sometimes in tropical heat, sometimes in circles as you roam around an unknown city trying to make your way to your hostel. Your backpack is about to become an intimate member of your family and like anything you spend a lot of time with, you want to make sure that it makes you happy. Go to your local luggage or backpacking store and try on a number of backpacks. Make sure the pack you choose sits on your hips the right way, that the shoulder straps are comfortable and that the entire pack is adjustable. Put some weight in the bag and walk around the store. Don’t ignore any signs of discomfort. If the backpack rubs your shoulders the wrong way after a five-minute walk, image the pain you’ll be in after a five-mile walk wearing a loaded backpack.
- Do you want a backpack or a conversion pack with wheels?
This decision comes down to the kind of traveling you’ll be doing. I chose a regular backpack (without wheels) because I wanted to have my hands free as I moved from one location to another. I was backpacking: taking buses, trains, rickshaws and motorcycles from location to location. If your traveling tends to be more “high-scale” (think: taxis right to your hotel door) then a roller pack would probably be a great fit for you. I was happy to have a bag without wheels- I can’t image what a pain it would have been to drag my travel pack over cobblestone streets the world over. Whatever you do, consider the type of traveling you’ll be doing and then choose your bag accordingly.
- Does it unzip like a suitcase?
I personally think this is the most important question you can ask yourself before choosing a pack. Consider that you will be digging through your backpack numerous times a day, after all everything you own is inside of it. Now imagine having to unpack your entire backpack to get to an item that you need at the bottom of your pack. Not fun, right? That’s why you must make sure that you purchase a backpack that unzips like a suitcase (the front panel unzips) instead of loads and unloads from the top like a traditional backpacking backpack. Just trust me on this one.
- How durable is it?
You backpack will get thrown into the underside of buses, tossed onto airport conveyer belts, dropped onto hotel floors, stepped on, tripped over and slept on. Essentially, your backpack will take a beating. And, if your pack fails on you in the middle of a trip, you are out of luck. Before purchasing a pack you should make sure that the backpack is durable. Are the seams sturdy? Is the material thick? Do the zippers run smoothly up and down their tracks? Give your bag a once-over before you take it home.
- What size do you realistically need?
Travelers can sometimes feel pressured to travel with the smallest pack possible and that makes sense in theory. It’s crazy to lug a gigantic backpack around with you when a small bag will do. That said, you know yourself better than anyone else and you know what size pack you need. I carried a 65-liter pack around the world with me. Many people told me I was out of my mind, but I knew that I’d need the space to carry the things I wanted with me: books, running shoes, and a little extra room to pick up souvenirs along the way. I never once regretted the size of my backpack and you shouldn’t either.