Ultimate guide to finding the perfect travel backpack

The ultimate guide to finding the perfect travel backpack, headline photo

Your backpack might just be the most important thing you own when travelling. It’s going to be your new “home”, and it’s going to hold everything you own when you travel. It can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Finding a fitting travel backpack can be difficult. There are so many options and features that it can be hard to figure out which one you should buy.  In this post I’m going to tell you exactly what to look for in a backpack, so that you can find your perfect travel backpack.

Purpose of the trip

The first thing anyone needs to think about when they’re looking for a travel backpack is what kind of trip they’re gonna take. There are many forms of travelling, that all come with different requirements for a backpack. For example, if you are going to hike you’ll want a backpack that’s as light and comfortable as possible. But if you are going to travel for a few months, and are only going to stay in a few different hotels, you could think about sacrificing some space and weight for the opportunity of bringing some more clothes.

Size

The most important thing you need to think about when deciding what size your travel backpack needs to be, is how much you are actually going to have to carry it around. It’s not just about the capacity of the backpack, but also about the shape and the way it fits your back.

If you are planning on travelling from one place to another, pick a backpack as small as possible. This will prevent you from bringing too much and help you keep the weight down. A small backpack is also extremely easy to pack and unpack. Because if you are travelling from place to place, your are going to have to pack and unpack a lot. When you have a small backpack, there won’t be much to pack/unpack and your life will become 10 times easier. Really, don’t pick a 60L backpack. Your future-self will thank you.

If you are planning on staying in one place for longer periods of time, it might be possible to pick a slightly larger backpack. But make sure that you don’t take too much stuff just because there still is room left. Weight is in my opinion even more important than size, even if you’re not carrying your backpack around that much.

Another thing to consider is your torso-height. If you have a large torso, your body will be able to handle a larger backpack a little better. This is why I usually recommend women to pick a smaller backpack than men. If your backpack is too high, it isn’t going to be comfortable at all and you might almost topple you over whenever you move or bend down a little.

When you are going to camp, your are inevitably going to need more space. A tent, sleeping mat and cookware are going to take up a lot of space. This is one of the only cases in which having a larger backpack might actually benefit you. Just make sure you pack everything as lightweight as possible!

Straps

There are two main types of straps that every travel backpack needs; padded hip straps and padded shoulder straps. The quality of the padding is very important here, as this is the point where the weight of the backpack will press down onto your body. There are no set rules for how these straps need to look or how big they need to be. This is personal and depends completely on your body. This is why I always tell people to never buy a travel backpack online without trying it on in a store first. You NEED to know how the backpack feels on your body. Any self-respecting store will offer you the opportunity to try the backpack on with some weight in it. In most stores you can fill it up with up to 15 kg or 30 pounds. When you try it on, pay very close attention on how the weight is distributed onto your shoulders and hips through the padded straps.

Frame

When it comes to frames, there are three options; no frame, an internal frame and an external frame. Backpacks without frames will be very small and usually are daypacks or small backpacks that aren’t meant to carry a lot of weight. Don’t buy one of these as your main backpack for a long trip, unless you are travelling ultra lightweight.

Backpacks with external frames are not a good choice. Don’t buy one of these. They are bulky, less durable and extremely ugly. Most of the time they are also heavier.

Buying a travel backpack with an lightweight, internal frame is the way to go. The frames are better protected which will make the backpack more durable. The backpack is less bulky and basically any good brand only sells backpacks with internal frames. They also look way better, always a nice pro.

Also, make sure that on top of the frame, the backpack has padding. The back of the backpack is third point where the weight will come down on the body. The padding material should be of good quality here too.

Material

First of all, make sure your travel backpack is made of water resistant material. It doesn’t need to be fully waterproof, as most backpacks come with a rain tarp that you can cover your backpack with when it rains very heavily. But you don’t want to have to cover your backpack every time it rains a little bit. So a backpack made of water resistant material is essential. You should be able to pour about a cup of water onto the backpack without the contents getting wet. The material should be thick and durable, but also lightweight.

Some additional information concerning materials is the denier of the fabric. Most backpacks use 210 denier as standard thickness, and around 600 denier for the more vulnerable parts of the fabric. Higher denier is stronger, but also heavier. A backpack made completely of 600 denier may sound very fancy and durable, but is not at all handy if you’re travelling.

I always recommend picking a travel backpack made of nylon. There are different sorts of nylon with different benefits. First of all there is ripstop nylon. This is regular nylon, strengthened with thick threads that run all across the fabric. These threads protect the backpack from tearing all the way once it’s punctured or damaged. Regular nylon has the tendency to unravel, and if you’re not in a position to repair your backpack right away, a regular nylon backpack could come apart easily. Ripstop nylon is water resistant and lightweight.

Pack cloth nylon is very often used in travel backpacks. It’s very puncture and abrasion resistant. This makes for an extremely durable fabric. It’s a little bit heavier than for example Condura nylon, but better in quality. Condura nylon is more lightweight but less puncture resistant and also it’s a little less water resistant. It can come apart easier than ripstop nylon once the fabric is punctured.

Compartments

Compartments are life-saving. When you carry everything you have in one backpack, you want it to be organised. This will save a lot of time because everything has it’s own place and you don’t need to search through your whole backpack every time you need something. Compartments will be the key to an organised backpack. Just don’t go overboard with the compartments though. This will actually have a counterintuitive effect and you probably won’t be able to know where to look. I would recommend around 3 to 5 compartments. If you are also carrying a laptop, then I recommend picking a backpack with a padded laptop compartment.

Access

You are going to open your backpack more than you think. Every thing that you bring with you is in that one backpack, which means that every time you need something, you are going to have to open it. Some backpacks only have a big opening at the top. I personally find this extremely annoying and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Pick a backpack that opens at the front. These backpacks have a zipper at the front in a U-vorm so that you can open your backpack like a suitcase. This allows you to grab anything you want from the bottom of the pack without trouble.

Additionals

Make sure your backpack has zippers with holes in it, so that you can put a lock through them. This is the most basic and effective way of protecting the content of your backpack.

Think about picking up a flight bag. If you’re travelling by plane a lot, this is something that you really want to bring. It protects your backpack from damage and from drugs. A flight bag will make it impossible for anyone to put drugs in your bag without you noticing. Being sent to prison in Brazil for exporting drugs that someone else put in my bag is still one of my worst nightmares. So I always try to bring my flight bag with me when travelling by plane. Better safe than sorry right?

Most backpacks come with a rain cover. If yours doesn’t, you should only think about getting one if you are planning on travelling to a rainy area. Most water resistant backpacks offer enough protection to keep your contents from getting wet, and a raincover can be a pain in the ass to carry around all the time. However, if you are for example hiking in rain season, definitely bring a rain cover. Walking through the rain and not being able to change into dry clothes because everything in your backpack is soaking wet, is the equivalent of hell.

Recap

There is not one perfect travel backpack. Finding a fitting backpack is a personal journey for everyone. My recommendations are; don’t buy a backpack that’s too big. When you have more space, you are more likely to bring more stuff. And more stuff means more weight and less comfort. Try on a backpack with weight in it before buying anything. Test out the distribution of the weight on your hips, back and shoulders.  Make sure your backpack has a lightweight internal frame. For materials, buy a water resistant backpack that is preferably made from nylon. The backpack should have at least a couple compartments and for most people I’d recommend a backpack with a U-vorm zipper at the front. Those zippers should have a hole in it, so you can lock them together.

If you have any further questions or remarks, please comment them below!

Happy hunting!