Choosing Travel Backpacks
By Steve Gillman
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
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.