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The Essential Guide To Choosing The Best Backpack For Backpacking

So you’ve booked the flights, worked out your itinerary and got your dorm room booked, but have you considered which bag you’re going to use for backpacking? It’s not as simple as a quick impulse buy, you will be carrying this backpack for a long time, through busy city streets, upstairs in narrow hostels, onboard sleeper trains and to and from every destination you visit. The type of bag you choose will depend on your experience, take it from me, someone whose bag strap broke just as they collected it from the carousel at Bangkok airport, you need to put some thought into it. Not all backpacks were created equal. Here is our essential guide to choosing the best backpack.

What do we need to look for in a backpack?

Backpacks don’t come cheap, so it’s worth investing in one that is going to stay in good condition for a long time. Below we’ve outlined features to look for when choosing the best backpack.

It needs to be water-resistant

Can you imagine, you’re caught in the rain, your pack gets wet and so all your belongings inside? It’s the thing of nightmares, especially when on the road and you have nowhere to dry off your belongings. Make sure you pick a backpack which is made from a water-resistant material, is semi-water resistant or has a waterproof cover you can use to keep your belongings dry. Also make sure it is lightweight and easy to dry, the last thing you want is to be carrying around a damp, bag that makes your clothes smell musty.

Look for multiple compartments

Choose a bag which has multiple compartments. This is handy for when you want to seperate belongings from one another and for when you want to be able to reach important items quickly. Side compartments are also handy for storing shoes and any clothes that you need to wash. Your front top compartment is ideal for important documents such as your passport or ticket. Making sure everything is seperated and in the right place will help you feel in control and also be less time consuming. Choosing the best backpack means finding one that can tow all you need in an easy to use organization system.

Zippers that lock

Check that the backpack has two zippers that you can lock together. This is an essential safety option for when travelling, especially if you will be leaving your bag unattended at a hostel or in the luggage compartment of a bus or train. (Read our safety tips for solo travelers here if you’re concerned about your bag’s security!) When getting a lock for your bag, choose one that is TSA friendly if you are travelling to the USA. This lock will alllow officials to open your backpack if they need to check it, without breaking your lock.

Always double check on the airline and country you are travelling to, as some will require you to unlock your back for flying. However, for day to day travelling whilst backpacking and leaving your bag unattended in a luggage storage room, a lock is a must.

Don’t go for a backpack with an external metal frame

Forget the image you have in your head of backpackers with a bag on a metal frame. Just don’t go there. Not only will this be incredibly uncomfortable, it will take up much needed space and will be much heavier than a bag with an internal frame. Trust me, using a backpack with an internal frame will much easier on your back and your bank balance as you won’t have to fork out for excess luggage payments.

Make sure it’s padded

The last thing you want is for unpadded belts and shoulder straps digging into you whilst you carry your backpack. Opt for padding that ensures your hips are protected and the weight is evenly distrbuted. This should prevent any rubbing or pressure on your hips. Also make sure the hip belt can be easily adjusted to suit your body shape and that you can tighten it for added support if you need to.

Choose a backpack with padded shoulder straps to make carrying your bag put less pressure on your shoulders and lower back. The weight needs to be evenly distributed to ensure that your back and shoulders feel supported so make sure that your padded straps can be adjusted to fit your size and that the pads are comfortable and not stiff and chaffing.

Choose a padded back

Don’t forget to make sure that your backpack has a padded back. Your back will thank you for this. By having a bag with a padded back it will help distribute the weight evenly and will help take the pressure off your back. If possible look for a contoured back with a curve, this will allow airflow and will stop your back from getting sweaty. Consider how comfortable the back feels against you and if you could stick the next few weeks or months having it dig into you.

What size should I go for?

The size of your backpack should always match the size of your body, if your backpack is too big, it will be hard to carry. If it is too small you won’t be able to bring all of your kit and the weight won’t be balanced correctly. Choosing the right backpack means finding one that will fit your belongings with a bit of extra room just in case. Don’t feel compelled to buy a 70L backpack to fit a variety of outfits in, it will not only be too heavy and uncomfortable but you will regret this choice!

If you need to get a backpack that can be used as carryon luggage this is something to take into consideration as the bigger the bag, the more chance you’ll have to put it in the hold. Also, remember that if you want to take it as a carry on you cannot bring liquids more than 100ml on board.​​​​​​​ Choosing the best backpack for your journey will take time, prepare to try a variety of bags but remember that this backpack will serve you for a long time and is not something you should buy on an impulse. If you want to avoid an uncomfortable, painful backpacking experience, follow our guide and double check all of these points before making a purchase. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re carrying your bag through a busy street in warm temperatures.​​​​​​​

Written by Sarah McCann, Blog Editor at MyBaggage.com a luggage delivery service operating all around the world.

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  • Lily SIng April 18, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the great info. I’m new to backpacking and after much research have decided to go lightweight…not ultra light or standard weight. Your info has really helped me narrow things down. After much research, I’m down to three packs and really appreciate your insight as all three are on your list. I will make a point to visit your site regularly for more tips and info.
    All the best!

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