I am super excited to go on my first real backpacking tour this fall – well, actually, I have been touring Andalusia with a borrowed backpack once but that was for a week only and does not really count – and the backpack I was using definitely was too large for me. This year’s journey will take me to four countries in 30 days: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. It is a tough schedule with great distances to travel. Finding the backpack that suits me right was essential. But how does one find the right backpack?
After trying on a lot of models, I found the one that fits me perfectly: It is a Fjallraven Abisko 55. I love it for numerous reasons – and maybe most for its great padding. To me, carrying that backpack feels like a Koala is hugging me from behind (true story. This is not a sponsored article of any sort, by the way. Just saying.)
Since the model I chose might not be the right one for everybody else I collected some of the information I found most valuable to pass it on to you.
Finding the right sized backpack for your needs
Think of your backpack as your home for the time you are gone traveling. It will hold everything you need, save it from rain and dirt, and be on your back for quite a while. Therefore, it is essential to know exactly what you need and what you don’t need. One thing is for sure: You almost never wear all the things you bring on a holiday. And you would not want to carry useless weight with you all the time, would you? Getting a backpack that is too large won’t make you happy because you would still pack it to the rim.
As small as possible, as big as absolutely necessary would be perfect. I opted for a 55 liter backpack that will have to hold all my clothing, shoes, cosmetics and care, a tropical sleeping bag, a fast-drying towel and some other stuff. I do not have a sleeping bag or tent or any kind of sports equipment to carry around with me. If I ever plan to go camping with that backpack, I will have to fasten my tent and a sleeping mat to the outside of the backpack – which probably isn’t ideal. But I’m not planning to do so in the near future.
You should always try your backpack on with weight inside: 12 kilos for example is already a lot to carry on your back and waist. The larger the backpack, the heavier it will become. Keep it on for a while and walk around – do climb stairs if possible – to figure out if it works.
By the way: You won’t find women’s backpacks larger than 75 liters. Men’s backpacks, however, reach up to 130 liters. Well, I for sure, wouldn’t want to carry around a weight like that.
The price of a good backpack
If you know that you will be walking with your backpack a lot and that you will use it for some years, it is definitely worth investing a bit of money. You will get a Quechua or no-name backpack from around 50 Euros. I cannot judge on their quality as I did not do more than try them on with weight inside. However, none of them felt really comfortable – they save on padding and straps mainly. Make sure that the backpack of your choice comes with variable straps – not only on shoulders and waist that is. It should also be possible to adjust the length of the rear part for every back is different and you may only notice that the length is not perfect when carrying your backpack around. You will get quality backpacks from around 150 Euros but the sky is the limit.
The best material for a backpack
Do you need a backpack that is one hundred percent waterproof? I was wondering about that but after some research and talks to a couple of experts at the shops I visited I do not think so. Most waterproof Backpacks are considerably more expensive than their semi waterproof counterparts. There are countries in which it can rain a lot, and of course there can also be hard showers in South-East Asia in monsoon time. But you most certainly won’t jump into a pool with your backpack on. Therefore, make sure that your backpack can at least resist a drizzle. For everything else, you can use the rain cover that comes with almost every backpack.
When choosing your backpack, also consider getting one made of a lightweight material. Even one kilo can make a great difference. Some of the new textiles are really lightweight and there are backpacks that weigh less than a kilo (but you’ll pay for that, too).
Top-loaders vs. front-loaders
Most modern backpacks offer some way of loading your backpack from the front instead of from the top only. When I was using a backpack for the first time, it really pissed me off that I always had to ramble inside and unpack the whole thing whenever I was searching for anything from the bottom. It’s simply great to just lay the backpack on the ground, move the zipper and get a nice overview of your belongings – just like when using a suitcase.
A propos suitcase: There is a trend among backpackers to travel with a trolley lately. This may work fine if you are traveling on paved routes only. When I am thinking about narrow and partly unpaved South-East Asian streets, I still feel like a backpack is the better option.
Do you need that extra daypack?
Some backpacks offer the possibility to tie a daypack to it via zipper – which gives you the benefit of not having to carry your daypack over your breast whenever you need to carry both backpacks. It’s just a few models that offer this treat, however, have a look at the Deuter Quantum for example.
When I was looking for my backpack, I soon decided I didn’t really want that gimmick: Given that you have everything important in your daypack, let’s say passport, iPad, phone, money and so on, it is more convenient to have it in sight because you can never be sure if there is anyone behind you trying to steal anything from your belongings. So even if it looks ridiculous, I prefer to carry my daypack on my chest.
Keeping order in your backpack with compartments
Personally, I am a fan of compartments. They help you to keep order and let you find important things fast. I would therefore always opt for a backpack with as many compartments as possible – small ones as well as big ones. A bottom compartment for shoes or a sleeping bag, a compartment at the top for your rain jacket, small outer pockets for things you may want to reach fast or need every day – socks, underwear and the like.
If your backpack does not have that, you can also use travel bags in different sizes and colors that will help you save time when searching for something. I would also always take water resistant compression bags with me – just in case you have to carry anything that has not completely dried. There is nothing worse than the smell of humid laundry that disseminates on to everything else. It is important to keep that in mind in a tropical surrounding.