Picking the right pack to travel with will save you many future headaches. If it’s too big, you’ll be carrying around extra weight for no reason. Too small is obviously not good either. You also need the right material it doesn’t rip easily and your stuff stays dry when it rains or is stuck in the bottom of a boat that takes on too much water. Yes this happens. There are a huge amount of options, but they can be easily narrowed down if you know the right filters.
Contoured and Padded Back piece: A lumbar-shaped pack distributes weight more evenly and makes carrying your bag more comfortable, as it helps distributes weight more evenly. It also allows air to move behind you which will keep you slightly more cool on those hot and humid days.
Material: Most bags are not 100% waterproof and that’s ok, but make sure it’s at least semi-waterproof so that you can make it through a slight drizzle. If it rains hard and you’re bag isn’t fully waterproof, make sure you have a waterproof bag case that will enclose your bag while allowing you to still carry it. Many bags come with these, but they can be bought separately for those that done. I tested the bags with some bottle water at the store. Squirt the bag with water and see how it seeps through.
Lockable Zippers: Although you should never leave anything valuable inside your main sack when you travel, it’s good to have lockable zippers. Hopefully this will deter would be thieves from searching through your bag, or adding something to your bag when going through customs. Make sure each compartment has two zippers with small hole in each so you can lock them together. Another option is Pacsafe. I haven’t use these but other travelers swear by them. Pacsafe is a lockable metal mesh for covering your whole bag. I can then be tied to a large object which not only stop people from getting into your bag, but walking off with it as well. The big negative is weight. You’ll have to carry it around all the time which can be annoying.
Multiple Compartments: It’s much easier to find what you need when you have multiple compartments. I keep my first aid kid in one section, clothes in another, adapters and wires in another, my flops on the side of my bag, etc. It’s far more convenient to get what you need when you don’t have to move everything else to get to it.
No top loading! Many bags on the market are structured in a way that only allows their main compartment to be accessed from the top of the bag. This becomes very annoying when searching for clothes. Instead, find a bag where the main compartment has a zipper that allows fully open access to the main compartment.
Padded Hip Belt: When walking with your bag, you’ll want an adjustable padded hip belt that you can secure around your waist. This distributes some of the weight to your hips instead of your shoulders and back.
Padded Shoulder Straps: Since much of the weight will be on your shoulders, it’s important to have padded straps. Make sure the padding is thick and well made. You don’t want it falling apart on the road!
How big? if you have searched for a bag, you’ve noticed they come in many different sizes. They range from 40 liters to 120 liters, and even those come in small, medium, and large sometimes. Most backpackers carry a bag somewhere between 50-65 liters, but you could go smaller or larger depending on how much YOU want to carry. The most important thing to remember is weight. There will be times when you have to walk around for an hour with your bag. In those time, you will be very happy your bag is smaller. The most important question for size is proportionality. A 90lb girl should probably never be carrying a fully loaded 65 liter bag. For a 180lb guy though that probably isn’t an issue. The bag should fit your body so that the shoulder straps, back-piece and hip belt are all snug. If your backpack is too big or too small, the weight won’t be balanced properly and will cause pain eventually. It would be good to go to your local outdoors store and test different size packs with 15 kilos in it. 15 kilos is the borderline for most airlines before they charge you more, so you shouldn’t be above this.
Pricing: Once you find a size and style you like, go home and search online for the best price. Most backpacks cost between $100 USD and $300 USD depending on size and brand. The middle ground store named bags generally cost around $200 USD. The store brands are cheaper than big name brands like North Face, Osprey, and Gregory, but can be just as durable and comfortable. For me, I didn’t see much difference between the store brand bags and the more expensive brand names. I have traveled with an REI bag for more than a year and it’s doing very well, even after being crushed, scraped, drenched in rain, left in the sun, and dragged around. Plus, REI offers a lifetime warranty. If it ever gives you trouble you can return it. If you have an REI near you, they have great customer service and good prices, especially during their annual sale. The only negative is that they can be out of stock in their stores, so you’ll probably end up getting fitted in the store and then ordering the bag online.
I hope this helps you in your search for a bag. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email!