Choosing the right travel backpack

Choosing the right travel backpack

So, you've finally settled on the right tour and are prepping yourself for the trip of a lifetime. No matter if it’s the shimmering beaches and pearly seas of the Thai Gulf, the vine-dressed Khmer temples of Cambodia, the rolling whitecaps and surf spots of Indo, the jungles of Costa Rica, the party beaches of Rio, or the mystical heights of old Inca in the Peruvian Andes, the chances are, you're going to need a backpack.

In fact, you're going to need a darn good one. You're going to need one that can weather the rattle of tuk-tuks, the humidity of the rainforests and the salt spray of the Pacific Ocean. You're going to need one with rough-and-ready straps for when you decide it's time to stalk some three-toed sloths in Monteverde; or one with waterproof coverings to keep out that tropical monsoon.

We at LBW know a thing or two about those trusty travel sacks – we have done our fair share of hopping around the globe, after all. Armed with the knowledge of countless jaunts through the tropics and odysseys around Europe, we're at hand to help. Check out our list of the top tips for choosing the right travel backpack…


And so we start with size: certainly the most asked-about aspect of rucksack buying. Unfortunately, there's no real answer. The reality is that the dimensions of that trusty travel pack will depend on a whole load of different factors: your build, where you're going, for how long, and what sort of traveler you are.

Let's take an example: You're a petite flashpacker on a short multi-week hop around Southeast Asia. Be honest – you don't really need 80 litres of high heels and Hawaiian shirts and camping stoves clinking around on your spine! But if you were heading to the soaring Tibetan plateau, Bear Grylls-style, for 12 months of glacier walking and cave living, then you might just need something a little different. It's also true that if you get a bigger backpack then you'll simply pack to fill it. Which means it's better to go small, pack light, and just deal with it when you're on the go.

(And just because we know it's annoying when people refuse to give a ballpark figure, it's safe to say that anything in the region of 55 to 65 litres is normal for your average trip!)

Think about pockets and compartments

Every traveler likes multiple pockets: One on the top for the important docs; one on the bottom for the dirty flip flops (that's 'thongs' to you Aussies); one in the middle for the clothes, and perhaps a duo on each side for storing electronic plugs, loose socks and the like. So, when you go travel backpack buying, be sure to check where, how many, and how accessible all those various compartments are!

Material matters

Yes, it certainly does. If you're heading to Thailand during the rainy months, or the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan when the Indian monsoon is due, you'd have to be missing a few cogs not to opt for a tried and tested water-resistant material. Luckily, most backpacks come with this feature anyway, but always be sure to double check the specs. An alternative is to choose a carrier that's got an in-built rain cover (just remember you're going to have to unroll it whenever the rainclouds start doing their thing!).

With detachable or without detachable?

For those who don't know what these terms mean; a detachable rucksack has an additional, smaller section on it that can be used as a bag in its own right, usually as a nifty little daytime carrier, or something to take onto those buses and planes as hand luggage. The rise of detachable rucksacks has been a divider to say the least. There are some travelers who love the idea, and can often be seen smugly unclipping their day pack from their main luggage when it's time to head out and take that free walking tour. There are others who hate the whole rigmarole of perpetually linking and unlinking separate parts of their baggage. We'll leave it to you to decide which sort you are!

Internal or external frames

If you want to look like a backpacker of the bygone era of traveling, then the chances are you'll be enamoured with the external frame sort of rucksack. These classic builds are the ones you see on trekkers and hikers, and are instantly noticeable because of the metal rods that encircle the main compartments. The more popular option today is to go with the internal type of backpack. These have their metal framework concealed within the fabric; meaning the finished product looks simply just like, well, a bag. These ones also tend to be lighter and more flexible than their retro compadres.

Consider wheels

Becoming a backpacker doesn’t mean you have to completely kiss goodbye to the classic wheeled luggage. Nope, today there are backpack options that have those nifty duo of rollers built in to the bottom. Just like the traditional travel case you once used on family holidays and the like, these can be used to rumble your stuff through the airport and across pavements, along hotel lobbies and across train station platforms with ease. And when it's time to hit the trekking trails or crooked cobbles, no worries. Just pick the darn thing up and sling it on your shoulder like before. Easy.

And the moolah?

When it comes to deciding how much to spend on a backpack, the last say really has to be yours alone. That's because it's possible to spend anywhere between $50 (probably on a second-hand rucksack that's already got a few rips and scuffs on it) and $1,500 and upwards on that trusty case. That said, there are a few things worth remembering…

First off, it's usually worth opting for a big-name brand. Not only does that ensure you get tried-and-tested quality, but these sorts of products also often come with warranties and protection, meaning you can get them replaced in a jiffy if they do happen to break on the road. Secondly, you should be sure to shop around. Most backpacks – unless you go with a private, independent make – are available from a whole host of different stores. Checking different outlets and sellers is a great way to nail a bargain and grab that reduced sale rucksack – especially when new versions of the range are released!

Have you got any more pointers for would-be travellers looking for the perfect backpack? We'd love to hear them in the comments below. Or, is it time you hit the road and tried out your new luggage carrier? Then, be sure to head over to the LBW site for inspiration, destination ideas and more.

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