Buying a Backpack
With so many choices of backpack too choose from, you need to ask more of the critical questions. You have to walk, carry, transport and travel so much that a bad backpack will only heighten your irritation levels, especially if it decides to break down on you in the middle of nowhere. We treat backpacks as an investment, so wherever we have advised you to save on clothes, you can spend that bit extra on your backpack. That extra 30 euro on a better backpack will save you a lot of problems. Good quality backpacks can be bought for 100 to 200 euros.
Which backpack to buy?
A frequently asked question, which doesn’t always have the right answer. It is completely dependent on the style of backpacking trip and the quantity you want to take with you. There are backpackers who don’t bring much at all and buy clothes on arrival. Find the most suitable plan for yourself. On average a backpack of 50 to 60 litres is the most convenient. A daypack is also useful to have. This is a smaller backpack (20 to 30 litres) that you take with you to the city, or when you are doing an excursion or activity.
The best backpacks, are obviously the ones that last the longest and maintain a good condition no matter how regularly they get abused. Such backpacks have all the following characteristics that make them durable, long-lasting, and will protect your valuables from the rain.
Avoid getting a backpack that doesn’t tick all the boxes on the following list:
- Water-resistant material
While your pack does not need to be 100% waterproof (that is unless you are going on some long multi-day hike), make sure your bag is made out of a semi-waterproof material so everything doesn’t get wet in a drizzle (most travel backpacks come with tarps you can put over them in case of a severe downpour). Moreover, make sure the material won’t stay wet long and thereby get musty. I look for material that is thick but lightweight. Treated nylon fibre is really good. You should be able to pour a cup of water over it without the insides getting wet. I haven’t been travelling a lot during torrential downpours or monsoons, but I have been caught in small rainstorms before, and because my backpack is made out of a good material, I’ve never opened my bag to find wet clothes.
- Lockable zippers
Make sure each compartment has two zippers so you can lock them together. While I am not too worried about people breaking into my bag and stealing my dirty clothes in a hostel, I do like locking up my bag when I am traveling. I always fear that someone is going to put something in my bag or that an opportunistic baggage handler in an airport is going to take my stuff. When purchasing locks, make sure the package says they are TSA-friendly locks — these locks have a special release valve that allows the TSA to open the lock without breaking it, so they can check your bag. You can purchase TSA locks at any large retail store, such as Target or Walmart. If your pack doesn’t have two zippers, you can always get Pacsafe (www.pacsafe.com), which wraps a lockable metal mesh around your entire bag and can be tied to a large object. It means that not only is no one breaking into your stuff, no one is walking away with it either. Pacsafe is a good form of protection for your bag, especially if you are going to be somewhere where your bag will be unattended for a long time. With pacsafe it is important to remember that this metal mesh also adds a lot of weight to your bag and it can be burdensome to carry around. Most people I know who use Pacsafe are photographers who carry a lot of expensive equipment around.
- Multiple compartments
A good bag must have multiple compartments. This way, you can break up your belongings into smaller sections so it’s easier to access and find the stuff you need. For example, my clothes are in the main compartment of my bag, my umbrella and flip-flops in the top, and my shoes in the separated side compartment (that way they don’t get everything dirty). It saves having to dig around your bag.
- Internal frame
The majority of backpacks today are internal frame packs, meaning the support rods and frame are built into the backpack and hidden from view. However, there some are still external frame backpacks, where the rods are separate from the actual pack and stick out (think of those backpacks you see in old hiking movies or movies about people backpacking Europe in the 1970s a big, clunky metal frame). Don’t get one of those. Make sure you buy a backpack with an internal frame. It not only looks better but the rods won’t get caught on anything and your bag will also be slimmer, making moving around easier. Additionally, internal- frame packs tend to be lighter as the frame is composed of a carbon fibre or tough plastic, which makes them easier on your back as well as more durable.
- Padded hip belt
Most of the weight you will be carrying around will be pushing down on your hips, so you’ll want a padded belt to make supporting the weight more comfortable. The belt will help provide support and distribute the load more evenly on your back, causing less strain. The hip belt should also be adjustable, so you can tighten it for extra support.
- Padded shoulder straps
These make carrying your load more comfortable, as the weight of your pack will also be pushing downward on your shoulders. The pads will put less pressure on your shoulders and also help to take pressure off your lower back. Make sure the padding is very thick and made up of a single piece of material as it will be less likely to be split and spill out.
- Contoured/padded pack
A lumbar-shaped pack makes carrying much more comfortable, as it helps distributes weight more evenly. The same principle applies with contoured chairs. It allows for a more natural arch to ensure no back pain. Moreover, this type of pack creates a small space between your back and the bag, allowing air to move through and help keep you slightly cool (lugging your bag around can build up a sweat!).
- Front loading
A front loading backpack is one that allows you to zip
open the face from the side and access all your stuff. As opposed to a top loading bag, that only allows you to access your stuff from a hole in the top, a front-loading bag gives you access to all your stuff. Of course, you do not want to walk around with all your stuff all day long. We generally find brands quite unimportant. We make an exception when buying a backpack. We have learnt from our own bad experiences that prove a cheaper backpack is almost always of poorer quality, turning an investment into yet another expense.
There are lots of stores and online sites where you can buy your backpack. See below our favorites:
- Nomads explorer / voyager
For backpackers looking for convenience. This backpack can be fully zipped open and therefore very practical to share. Very useful for every tour from one week to a whole year!
- Osprey backpacks
For adventurous travellers. Great quality backpacks suitable for trekking and traveling around. Osprey is one of the leading backpack and backpack brands of the moment.
- Highlander discovery
For backpackers with a small budget. The backpack is a traditional top loader with handy compartments and has a nice carrying system.
- Northface backpacks
For the real traveller who want to explore the world. Top quality suitable for high-performance and outdoor expeditions. The first choice of the world’s explorers.
Where do you buy backpack online?
There are a lot of camping stores out there. Here are our favourite places to buy a backpack:
- REI (America)
This is my favourite outdoor store. They have amazing service, knowledgeable staff, cool events, and the best refund policy ever. This is a place that you cares.
- EMS – Another great outdoor store with a wide selection of bags, great places, and friendly staff.
- MEC (Canada)
The REI of Canada is the best place to buy a backpack if you’re Canadian.
- GO Outdoors (UK)
The REI of the UK is the best place to buy a backpack if you’re a UK resident.
- CoolBlue (NL)
Our favourite choice for buying your backpack is Cool blue. They have a large selection, very useful tips for buying the right backpack and great service. In addition, they deliver for free and you can always return free of charge.
- Backpackspullen (NL)
Another good choice is Backpack stuff. They are, as the name suggests, specialized in backpacks. They have a growing supply of backpacks and they are also well priced. Besides backpacks you can also purchase many other supplies for your trip here