How to choose a backpack is really important. Your backpack will go with you almost everywhere, so getting a good one is essential. Make sure you get a good comfortable one. There are backpacks designed specially for women as well. Make sure you get a backpack that fits your height and body shape.
Some features to look out for include:
– Tough water resistant material – It does not have to be 100% waterproof, but make sure that it is fairly waterproof. You don’t want to know that any time you are caught in the rain – you’ll open your bag later to find wet clothes. Tougher material will also stop it from tearing easily.
– Padded straps around the waist to put more weight on your hips and take the strain off your shoulders and back. It should be adjustable so you can tighten it and loosen it easily.
– Padded shoulder straps – these will help take the strain off your lower back.
– A Contoured Back – this will fit your back better and be more comfortable.
– Adjustable fit – not only do the hip straps need to be adjustable, but the shoulder straps and the strap that connect the head part of the backpack to the shoulder straps should be adjustable as well.
– Smaller straps that connect the two shoulder straps across your chest – these are really good for taking away shoulder strain, but make sure that the style is securely fastened to the shoulder straps. If it clips on then the can work their way off and you may not realise until later that you have lost them. I can bring you this brilliant tip because I’ve lost mine!
– Compression Straps – these are useful to help compress down your pack into a more streamlined and easier to manage shape.
– Lockable Zippers – there need to be at least two zippers on each compartment, so that you can lock them together.
– Internal Frame – most backpacks now have an internal frame, but old style ones still have an external frame. I first saw these while hiking in New Zealand, they had chunky metal frames on the outside. Don’t get one of these. Internal frames are usually made of tough plastic or carbon fibre and so are much lighter. They won’t get caught on anything and make the backpack slimmer and easier to handle.
– More than one compartment – this is really useful when packing. If you have a separate smaller compartment then you can put things that you want to get a quickly – passport, money, food – in there and they are less likely to get lost in with everything else or squashed.
– Multiple entrance points – make sure that your pack not only has the traditional opening at the top where you can stuff anything in, but also has a long zip that will allow you to open it up fully. Invaluable for packing and much easier if you suddenly realise you need something and that it is further down the pack.
– Ventilation – backpacks hold themselves close to your back and so can often make you quite hot. Some have tension-mesh suspension system that makes a permanent air space between your back and the pack, others have a channel design.
Have a look at Find the best – a backpack comparison website.
What about how to choose a backpack size?
GET A SMALL BACKPACK. This is essential, I can’t stress it enough.
Choose a backpack that is small.
I read lots of warnings before my first backpacking trip and though that I had listened to them. I hadn’t.
The first time I tried my hand at ‘backpacking’, I took a 60L backpack and assumed that whatever I put in it would be pretty much fine. When I tried to put it on I couldn’t lift it. When I finally put it on, it was so heavy the muscles in my shoulders started to spasm.
Needless to say I left some stuff in Turin with the Couchsurfing people I stayed with, sent some stuff home in Genoa, sent some home in Rome and lastly sent some stuff home in Luxor.
I was a standard stereotypical overloaded turtle, with a big pack on my back and a small day pack on my front. It was ridiculous, and I will NEVER carry that much again.
The thing is, if you get a big backpack: YOU WILL FIND A WAY TO FILL IT UP!
Save yourself the temptation and buy a small backpack.
I’ll write it again in case you’re as thick as I was. Choose a small backpack.
The one I have now is 40L – a far cry from 60L. It is 10 kg when filled. I only got one that big because I wanted to take my computer with me and I was going to Harbin in winter and needed extra warm clothes. If you aren’t going to take your computer, or are going to a place like South East Asia – go smaller.
A small backpack is essential because:
1. It will be too damn heavy!
– What feels ok to carry in the first hour won’t feel ok to carry after 5 hours. What is ok to carry on nice day at home won’t be ok to carry hot humid days. What is ok to carry when you are excited for your tip won’t be ok after a really long bus trip, or while hiking.
2. If your backpack is too large, storing it in lockers may be a problem.
3. Likewise it needs to be able to fit through luggage security scanners.
4. Large backpacks are annoying on almost any form of transport.
– Taxi? It is much easier to take it in the car with you and will head off any issues of the taxi taking off with your luggage still in the boot.
– Plane? It saves time and hassle if you take your backpack as carry on luggage. The plans company also won’t have the opportunity to loose it. The only time I’ve had a problem doing this was with Air New Zealand. They seem annoyingly strict with weight allowances; also going to Eua island in Tonga. The plane only had 6 passenger seats.
– Bus? Train? Much better and much safer to have the backpack with you under your seat or in the overhead compartment than out of sight in the separate luggage compartment.
– Tuk tuk? Motorcycle taxi? Subway? Tram? A large backpack is really big pain in the ass.
– With over-crowded transport this is especially true. If you are on a crowded mini-bus, or have a standing space ticket on a train there may not be a storage compartment – your backpack must come with you. How much more awkward do you think it would be with a huge backpack?
5. A light backpack will allow you to move quickly. This is great for catching trains, buses, escaping touts and avoiding traffic. Your travels will be so much better if you can jump in and out of transportation with ease.
6. A heavy backpack will make you an easier target for thieves.
7. A heavy cumbersome backpack will make you stick out like a sore thumb even more in an unfamiliar environment. You will feel more vulnerable if you are lugging around a large backpack.
8. It will also make you tired and wear your patience down a lot faster.
In fact you should test out your backpack and planned weight before you go.
Find a large hill somewhere near where you live. Fill your backpack up with what you plan to take on your trip and the lug it up the hill. Be honest with yourself, and if it’s too hard; dump some stuff.
So leave Behind:
Unless 100%/95% of your trip is base around camping or hitchhiking in remote places DO NOT bring the tent. Thankfully on my first backpacking trip I didn’t, but it was certainly considered.
The Sleeping Bag
Again unless you are camping or hitchhiking in remote places for your entire trip this just isn’t needed. I did take a sleeping bag on my first 2 and a half month backpacking style trip. I used it once.
The camping equipment
Ditto for the last two points, unless you are camping/hitchhiking….. Leave it at home.
The multiple pairs of stylish shoes
Luckily I’ve never been guilty of this one, probably because I’ve always been too lazy to go shopping in the first place.
I have however seen other travellers with about 5 pairs of shoes. They are a significant extra weight, they are bulky and they are useless. Bring one pair of good walking/hiking shoes and maybe one pair of light sandals of the thong/flip flop/jandal variety for the beach/hostel room/chilling at the end of the day.
If you want something more formal then ONE pair of foldable flats (black is a good multi purpose durable colour) for random invites to events/ occasional fancy restaurants, or job interviews are a good idea. Practical formal stuff for guys? Sorry no idea.
Half of what you think you need
I saw this particular warning before I went on my first backpacking trip. It did make me cut down on stuff, but not nearly enough. Seriously you can take buy stuff when you get there, it’s often cheaper. You can wash your clothes in the bathroom sink and hang them over the bars of your bunk to dry. You don’t need most of the stuff you think you do.
For more information about fitting a backpack specifically for you visit Wild Backpacker sizing guide.
While travelling, if you add something new. You must get rid of something else. A nice skirt for the beach? Chuck a top maybe. Don’t let your backpack creep it’s way up the weight ladder.