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Choosing Travel Backpacks


I have experience with a couple different types of travel backpacks. About ten years ago I went to Ecuador with carry-on only--a GoLite backpack which weighed 12 or 13 ounces, and had just 10 or 11 pounds total weight when packed. I was there almost a month, and I went from rain forest to the glaciers. The guide provided mountaineering boots and an ice axe for the climb to the top of 20,600-foot Mount Chimborazo, but believe it or not, I had everything else I needed for that adventure, for lounging pool side in Baños, and for dancing in Quito, thanks to carefully planned packing.

More recently I have been traveling with a heavier day pack which has a padded pocket that protects my laptop computer. Obviously when you are looking at travel backpacks, you have to carefully consider the nature of the trips you plan to take. If you just need a pack as a convenient form of luggage you'll have more options, but you might need something more specialized if you have to work while traveling or plan to go backpacking.

Now, if you are young and strong and plan to be on the road (or in the air) for months, you can go the typical route; a large backpack with 40 pounds of clothing, guidebooks and everything else. But even for longer trips, you might want to consider trying a new tactic, and a new type of pack. You really might like going without the hassles of checked baggage, and instead just have a carry-on backpack.

Why? Let me relate a few experiences. Normally my wife and I travel with only carry-on, but we have had to check bags from time to time. On various trips we have had a new suitcase crushed by the airport sorting machinery, we have had items stolen from our luggage, and we have had to wait for almost two hours for a suitcase to show up on the luggage carousel. I won't pick on any specific airlines, because they seem to be all equally unconcerned about their passengers.

Now, add to these problems the fact that it easy to get in and out of taxis or on and off busses with a single carry-on-sized pack, and you can start to see the advantages. Did I mention that they are charging big fees for checked bags on many airlines? Or that they routinely lose items altogether (how fun is that when you land in a foreign land?).

If you decide to travel with just carry-on luggage, you are generally allowed to bring an item which is up to 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. Keep that in mind when shopping for travel backpacks. Generally the 22-inch length is not a problem, but the width can be, especially if you overstuff the backpack. And by the way, even if you will not be hiking or camping, travel backpacks or day packs are the way to go. Your hands are left free as you jump on that train, and a long walk to the hotel will not involve dragging or carrying by hand all your things.

If you do plan to go hiking you will have to plan well. This is even more true if you hope to backpack. There is only so much you can fit into a 22 x 14 x 9 inch space. In fact, to fit as much as possible, get a pack which has an extension collar at the top, so you can actually pack it out to that full 22 inches. Then mercilessly cut out all things which are unnecessary and find lighter, smaller alternatives for the rest.

On my first trip to Ecuador I had very lightweight gloves, and a one-ounce hat, which together with one light sweater, a seven-ounce rain jacket with hood, rain pants, and a homemade insulating vest protected me at 5 degrees Fahrenheit (15 below 0 Celsius) on Chimborazo. I also had a silk shirt or two (very light and small), thin socks, a 17-ounce sleeping bag, a cut-to-size foam sleeping pad (4 ounces), and other gear. I went out to bars, hiked and traveled without any major problems living out of that 10-pound backpack.

So, yes, with careful planning you can use carry-on-sized travel backpacks even for overseas trips that will involve a variety of activities. You may want to do what I have done, and buy a couple different packs for different types of trips.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Choosing Travel Backpacks