You don’t have to have a pack to be a world traveler, but if you want to go backpacking, you have to have a pack on your back. If you’re going with a tour group or have just a couple of destinations on your itinerary, a wheeled suitcase may be the most convenient option. But as a backpacker, there will be days where you will check out of your hotel/hostel in the morning and need to carry your pack until your evening flight/train. Sometimes you can leave your bag at a hotel or train station, but that may be out of your way to get back to. A comfortable backpack is definitely worth investing in, will last for years, and can be used for camping as well.
*A quick note on new packs- Technology is constantly improving in backpacks. I’ll be using a five year old pack for this trip, but the newer model of the Osprey Aura 50 Backpack has a few newer features and different colors. My ten year old pack is really too outdated, bulky and heavy for use.
It’s always tempting to get a larger pack to hold more stuff, but you’re likely to regret that decision on the days that you end up lugging your pack around. My first pack had a 50-liter capacity but could expand to 65 liters. I backpacked around Europe for three weeks with about 60-65 liters and it was too much. I literally left clothing along the way until I was down to about 55 liters. My current pack is a 50-liter, which worked perfectly for three weeks in Thailand and Cambodia. I’ll be using the same pack for our four month Round the World journey, requiring some very strategic clothing choices to save space. (check the Products tab for more info)
The more pockets the better!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough. If your pack is one big sack you’ll have to dig through everything constantly to get what you need. Pockets allow you to sort your gear for quicker access. Think a pocket for underwear/socks/bathing suit, another for toiletries, one for quick access to a coat, a small hidden one for important documents and some money, one to keep a quick-dry towel or travel sheet, and a large pocket for the bulk of your stuff. Hip pockets that you can access without taking off your pack are great for a camera, a bandana, or a small wallet. Most packs now include a pocket for a water pouch, but I find that more important for hikers than travelers.
Nice wide, padded straps on the shoulders are crucial, but that’s not all. A comfortable hip belt is equally important. The hip belt should be strong and snug enough that you can take off the shoulder straps and the pack will still stay up. With a hip belt like that, the weight is taken off of your back and transferred to just your legs. Also look for a little chest strap that works in conjunction with the hip belt to help keep the pack stabilized on your body. Because different people have different proportions, it’s important to look for a pack that’s adjustable in many places and to adjust it properly before you begin your travels.
– Waterproofing is great because you never know when water might end up near your pack. It’s not just rain that can affect your stuff, leaks from water bottles, puddles on the ground, and travel by boat can all do unexpected damage.
– Places to clip on gear are generally designed for hikers, but come in handy when you have something you want to leave out of your pack for a while. Use a carabiner to clip on flip flops or a bottle of water for quick access on an overnight train, or hang a damp swimsuit or pack towel on the outside to dry.
– Airflow across your back is a fantastic feature. It might seem like a cushion against your back is a nice idea, but it’s not. A foamy cushion against your back will trap heat and sweat, a mesh backing with an air pocket will allow you to stay cool, dry, and comfortable.
– Darker colors are good for hiding dirt and the marks that will inevitably appear when your pack emerges from the belly of an airplane.
– There IS a difference between men’s and women’s packs. Men and women have different proportions in different places and a good pack will take this into account.
The current version of my pack – Osprey Aura 50 Backpack
My husband will be using the equivalent men’s model – Osprey Packs Atmos 50 Backpack