How To Choose The Perfect Backpack

With so many different options out there, finding the perfect backpack is tough. Before choosing my new backpack I spent over 72 hours (not even kidding) watching videos online about different packs,  and going to stores and trying them on.

After comparing the features between hundreds of different backpacks and bags, I thought it would be a great idea to share my method of finding the perfect backpack.

Some people may think that choosing a backpack is as simple as looking at what size pack you need, and simply selecting one that you like the look of. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work like this. If you want to find the perfect backpack then you’re going to need to do a little research, maybe not 72 hours, but at least a couple of hours.

So how do you choose the perfect backpack?

Well, there are certain things to look for in a pack and some questions you need to ask yourself before you start looking.

What Are You Going to Use it For?

This was a big problem for me when I first started looking for a new backpack. I wanted to use the backpack for travelling, hiking and everyday use. Unfortunately while I was searching through countless backpacks, I would constantly change my mind about what I would be using the pack for the most.

Ultimately I had to ask myself some tough questions:

Will you be hiking and camping very often or just once or twice a year?

How often do you really travel on planes? Do you really need a bag that is carry on size?

Are you going to use the backpack for everyday use around town?

Is this the one backpack that you’re going to use to move all your belongings abroad?

It’s so important to decide what the main purpose of your backpack will be. If not, you’ll end up with something that doesn’t fully meet any of your needs, and have to buy another one.

Types of Bags

Once you’ve decided exactly what you’re going to use your bag for, you can start looking at the different types of bags and backpacks.

Different Types of Bags:

  • Suitcases
    These are typically the bags that you see around the airports. Suitcases generally have wheels for easy movement and simple compartments to maximise storage space. Unfortunately these bags are generally heavy and hard to travel with when you’re out of the airport, especially travelling on any surface that isn’t flat.
  • Travel Bags
    Comparatively new to the market, travel bags are becoming extremely popular. They are a normal backpack where the shoulder straps can be hidden away when travelling through airports. This makes it easier to carry it more like a suitcase or duffel bag over your shoulder. However be careful because the shoulder straps on these bags generally don’t offer great support and can start to be really agitating after a couple of hours.
  • Backpacks
    My preferred type of bag is definitely a Backpack! Easy to transport around airports and jungle alike, a good backpack can offer you an all-in-one bag that can be used for multiple types of adventures.
  • Hybrid Backpacks
    Hybrids are suitcases with wheels that can be worn as a backpack. Rather, they’re backpacks that have wheels and a handle. Unfortunately they’re a lot heavier than a normal backpack and are uncomfortable to wear as a backpack for long periods of time.
  • Duffel Bags
    Perfect for storing a lot of belongings, duffel bags are an excellent option for anyone travelling looking for a bit of extra room in their bag.  With soft edges, duffel bags can be stuffed into smaller compartments such as in the overhead compartments in airplanes.

Features of a Good Backpack

So by now you’re probably thinking that a backpack is the best type of bag to take travelling because of its wide range of uses.

The next step is to find a backpack that is going to last and feel comfortable. Unfortunately not all backpacks are created equal and buying a low quality backpack can be incredibly painful and annoying.

Your perfect backpack should have the following features:

  • Padded Shoulder Straps
    If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, then it’s vital to have padded shoulder straps for maximum comfort and support.
  • Padded Hip Belt
    If you’re going to be walking around and carrying a heavy load, you want to disperse some of the weight to your hips with a hip belt. A padded hip belt is going to be more comfortable for both your hips and shoulders.
  • Lumbar Support
    A good backpack will have adequate lumbar support with a padded back panel. You want to get a backpack that has comfortable back support that also offers airflow so your back doesn’t get too sweaty.
  • Water Resistant
    At some stage it’s going to rain and your bag is going to get wet. You want to have a bag that is somewhat water resistant to keep it dry before you put on your rain cover.
  • Multiple Pockets
    To keep your backpack organised it’s best to have multiple pockets to sort out your luggage for quick access and ease of use.
  • Internal Frame
    An internal frame is a lot less heavy and bulky than an external frame. If you are going to be travelling with your bag, you should definitely choose a backpack with an internal frame.
  • Lockable Zippers
    While your backpack doesn’t have to come with lockable zippers, it’s a good idea to get a backpack with 2 zippers for each compartment. This way they can be locked together for piece of mind while travelling through airports and dodgy areas. Be sure to lock your bag with TSA approved locks so they don’t have to break your locks when looking through your bag at the airport.
  • Front Panel Loading
    This is an optional feature but one that I have found to be a lifesaver. Rather than a traditional top loading backpack, front panel loading backpacks mean that you can open your bag like a suitcase and access all your gear at once.
  • Compression Straps
    If you want to be able to cinch down your backpack and make it smaller when it’s not full, then compression straps on your backpack are important. If you have a larger bag that is only full some of the time, then you can compress your bag down to a smaller size using compression straps.

Size

Unfortunately it’s not a one size fits all situation. Everyone has different needs for their backpack and will subsequently need different sized backpacks.

Backpacks are normally measured in litre amounts. For example a small day hiking backpack might only be 20 litres. However, a multi day hiking backpack might be 80 litres large or bigger. There is no right or wrong answer when choosing the litre capacity of your bag, but rather what capacity is better in your situation.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of travel on airplanes then I suggest getting a backpack that meets most carry-on size limits, generally around 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Be sure to check with the airline that you use most frequently to see what their carry on size restrictions are. Generally, I would suggest a 35 litre backpack is pretty safe when it comes to carry on size, but be sure to check the dimensions of the bag.

Not everyone wants to travel out of a backpack that is small enough to fit on as carry on luggage. Don’t worry that is perfectly normal. If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking and overnight trips then a 65 litre backpack will be a better option. This size backpack will offer better lumbar support, and more room to pack extra clothes, food and equipment.

The general rule of thumb is, the smaller the better. The larger the size of your bag, the more useless things you are going to take with you that you’ll never use.

Once again go to a backpack store, try on a few different backpacks of different sizes and see what is most comfortable.

Price

Good backpacks can range anywhere between $75 and $600. You have to do your research when it comes to finding your perfect backpack with all the features that you want, that fits into your price range.

I wouldn’t spend more than $250 on a backpack because no backpack is worth more. Above $250 and you are just paying for the brand of backpack that is no better built than a similar backpack of a different brand, with a much lower price.

Recommended Companies

Here are a few companies that offer good quality backpacks:

It doesn’t matter which company you choose, as long as you find a backpack that is a good fit and has the features that you want it to have.

What I Use

After weeks of research and trying on hundreds of different bags I chose the Kelty Redwing 44.

It’s a panel loading 44 litre backpack that can be cinched down using the compression straps and taken on as carry on luggage on most airlines.

The reason I chose this backpack was because I could use it for everyday use, cinch it down to take as a carry on, and take it hiking overnight by adding gear to the outside using the external attachment loops.

I will be doing a separate review on this bag in the coming weeks!

Some of its features include:

  • Dual side pockets
  • Front pocket with organization
  • Front Stash pocket with closure hook
  • Top stash pocket
  • Side compression straps
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Dual use Laptop / Hydration Sleeve
  • Hide-Away Daisy Chain and Handle
  • HDPE frame sheet
  • Hex Mesh back panel, shoulder straps and waist belt
  • Padded and ventilating back panel
  • Single LightBeam aluminum stay
  • Removable waist belt

I hope you now know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing the perfect backpack. It’s a process that may take you a while but is worth the time. My advice is to go to a backpack store and start trying on different backpacks until you find one that feels right.

Whatever you do, make sure you choose a backpack that you like, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time wearing it and taking it on many adventures.

 

Have you already found your perfect backpack? What is it and where have you taken it?

 

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links meaning that I will make a tiny commission if you buy a product through one of the links.

Lewi

Lewi is the founder of MoveYourLifeAbroad.com. For the past 6 years, he has been travelling and working his way around the world. He is extremely passionate about travel and loves sharing his knowledge with others because he believes everyone should have the opportunity to live abroad. In his spare time, he enjoys having a few cheeky beers with friends and riding his bicycle around town.

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