The ultimate guide to buying your first travel backpack
Let’s agree that buying a travel backpack is fun, but it isn’t exactly easy.
There are so many different factors like sizes, colour, design, quality and price…
It would take hours of online research only to find out you still don’t know which travel backpack suits you best.
But don’t worry.
By the time you’ve read this article you’ll know exactly what kind of backpack you need, what your options are and what to look out for when buying a travel backpack.
So are you ready?
Most important question: how big should your travel backpack be?
Start your quest for the perfect travel backpack with the most important question: how big should my backpack be?
Asking yourself this question does two things:
- It eliminates a lot of irrelevant options
- It helps you choose the appropriate size that will prevent you from walking around with a massive backpack and looking like brought you portable bathtub to Australia.
So how big should it be?
If this is your first time backpacking, it’s very tempting to go for the largest backpack you can find.
“More space = more options” would be your thought.
But the truth is that the bigger your backpack, the more unnecessary stuff you’ll bring. Stuff you don’t need. Stuff that’s heavy. Stuff that you can only break, wear, tear or lose.
So don’t buy a big backpack if you don’t need it.
What you should do depends on your needs, your length and your travel plans.
Small: 40L-50L Backpack for people with little needs
If you ask us, a 40L backpack is the smallest you can go for.
It will have enough room for lightweight clothing and all the other basics that you need to pack smart using the ranger roll technique.
But don’t even think about taking your hiking boots, a warm jumper and that extra pair of trousers.
Medium (most common size): 55-65L for people with normal needs
The most common size backpack you’ll see on your trip is between 55L and 65L.
It gives you more than enough space to pack everything listed on the ultimate packing list for backpacking Australia, but at the same time, it’s not too big.
In other words: with this size backpack, it’s unlikely that you’ll overpack.
Large: 65-85L for people with extra needs
Let’s get this out of the way: it isn’t wrong to travel with a big backpack. It just might be a bit uncomfortable.
However, if you have good reasons to buy a bigger backpack… go for it.
Reasons might be that you want to go trekking and camping a lot. You might want to bring a tent and sleeping bag. You might need lots of medicine. You might travel to colder countries after your time in Australia.
But if you’re not planning any of this, we would suggest sticking to 55-65L.
Different types of travel backpacks you could choose
So once you know the size, you should start thinking about the type of backpack you want.
Basically, you have three options:
- The classic travel backpack
- The travel pack
- The convertible
The classic travel backpack
A classic backpack is what you probably think of when you hear the word ‘backpack’. They’re designed to be comfortable during longer treks, so this means they’ll also be comfortable when you walk from the bus to your hostel.
The classic travel backpacks have:
- A lot of different areas that you can open and close separately. Ideal for compartmentalizing your stuff.
- A robust backrest for the best possible comfort during a trek or a long walk.
- Adjustable backrest, so you can adjust it to your height.
- Extra loops on the outside so you can attach additional items like shoes, yoga mats or whatever you can’t fit in your backpack.
The travel packs
They’re designed like a suitcase so you can flip them open and access all your stuff.
They’re less comfortable to carry around than classic backpacks, but if you’re only traveling from hostel to hostel that might be just fine.
The travel packs generally have:
- A frontend that you can completely open so it’s easy to access your stuff.
- A daypack that you can easily attach to the big backpack
- A backrest that is made for short trips only, not suitable if you’re planning to hike long distances.
- A Limited number of separate areas so it is basically like a suitcase.
- Not a lot of extra loops on the outside, so you’ll have limited options in case your backpack is full.
The idea that you can roll your backpack on smooth surfaces is a nice one, but in reality, it sucks. The reason for this is that the backrest isn’t very comfortable, meaning that every time you’ll have to carry the backpack, it won’t be fun.
So in case you want something with wheels, we recommend you buy a suitcase. Otherwise, choose between a travel pack and a classic travel backpack.
Buying your travel backpack: 5 more things to look out for
Now you know what size you need and what type of travel backpack are suitable for your trip, it’s time to find the best quality for a reasonable price.
1. Go for compact
Ok, we just want to say it again. If you buy a too large travel backpack now, you’ll regret it later.
2. Access to your stuff
Nowadays, most travel backpacks can be accessed through a zip on the front. However, some backpacks still follow the outdated practice of only having access from the top. Buy one that has a zip on the front, unless you want to turn your backpack upside down everytime you need something.
3. Choose a strong backrest
A strong, firm backrest generally means that it’s more comfortable to carry. In most cases, a strong backrest also means the backpack is more expensive.
4. More areas = convenient
It’s nice to have different areas because you don’t need all your stuff on a daily basis. In that case, it’s nice to have an easily accessible area for your toiletries, while your first-aid kit can be stuffed away.
5. Raincover included?
Most backpacks are water resistant but not completely waterproof. Most travel backpacks come with a rain cover but always check. You can always buy it separately, but why pay if you can get it included for free?
Buying your backpack: choosing quality
If you buy the right backpack, you might only do it once in your life.
Of course, you could buy a cheap one and save a 100 dollars now, but in a few years time, that thing might have holes in it, making it ready for the dump.
But how do you determine the quality of a backpack?
Here’s what you should look out for:
- Do the zips run smoothly? If the zips don’t run effortlessly in the shop, imagine what they will be like by the time dust, water and rust get to them.
- Are the seams double stitched? It should be and if it’s not: don’t buy it.
- Does the fabric have a honeycomb structure? A honeycomb structure is the strongest structure a backpack can have. It prevents tears from tearing further.
The easiest way to determine quality
You could read all you want about backpacks, quality and honeycomb structures…
At the end of the day, you just want a quality backpack, that’s comfortable and looks alright.
In that case, we suggest you stick to the following brands:
- Lowe Alpine
- High Sierra
- Quechua (for good quality and affordable prices)
Buying your travel backpack: men or women’s model… does it really matter?
Most travel backpacks have separate models for men and women.
The difference is mostly in the shoulder straps. With the women’s model the shoulder straps are curved so they go around the boobs instead of over them.
But don’t think that women can’t have men’s models and vice versa.
All that matters is that the backpack fits and is comfortable for you. If that means you carry around a backpack that was meant for the opposite sex, who cares.
Buying your travel backpack: try before you buy
We live in a time where you can buy anything online and get it delivered the next day. Don’t do this with your backpack unless you have no other choice.
Backpacks are a product you need to try before you buy.
So go to that outdoor shop. See how it fits your body. Feel what it’s like when it’s filled with something heavy.
You’ll get the help of a professional and you’ll end up with a far better choice than if you would choose one online.
Wrapping it all up: how to choose your backpack
When buying a backpack you face countless options with brands you might never have heard of.
Make your life easy with the following steps:
- Think about what size you need
- Think about what type of backpack you want
- Remember the things that matter (quality, fabric, easy access, strong backrest & rain cover)
- Go to an outdoor shop and try before you buy.
- Travel happily ever after.
It is really that simple.
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