The Universal which pack to buy answer
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Jun 1, 2012 3:17 PM Last Post By: Doctornono
May 27, 2012 12:37 PM
The Universal which pack to buy answerTo begin to answer the question of which pack is best for you, you first have to understand some history of packs and answer one basic question for yourself.
‘Backpacks’ first came on the scene around 1920 with a pack designed by a guy named Lloyd Nelson. You can read some history here: http://www.alpinequest.com/trappernelson.htm From that original simple design of a wood frame and a canvas pack all modern backpacks have been derived. Over the following decades refinements and changes have been made but the basic design, a pack to carry on your back remains the same.
Backpacks however were and are designed for use in wilderness. They were not and are not designed for the needs of the modern day traveller who refers to him or herself as a ‘backpacker.’ It is important to understand this point of what a pack is designed for when it comes time to buy your own pack. Backpacker as a term was coined in N. America sometime around the 1950’s and referred to someone who went on a camping trip carrying all they needed in a backpack. Simple enough.
So the first question you need to answer for yourself is just what kind of travel you plan to do with your pack. If it is wilderness travel then a backpack is what you should be buying. But if it is travel in mostly urban areas where you are only going to carry the pack from train station to hostel etc. then a backpack is NOT what you should be buying!
In the 70’s and 80’s when ‘backpacking’ as you probably think of it got started, no better pack than a backpack was available for the traveller to use. So of necessity, travellers had to buy backpacks if they wanted to carry everything on their back rather than in a suitcase. Since then, like many ‘norms’ this has become the traditional purchase someone heading off on a ‘gap year’ or summer in Europe etc. has made.
What it does NOT mean is that it is the best choice available today. Today there are packs designed specifically for the needs of the ‘backpacker’ as that term is usually defined here on the Thorn Tree. Those packs are called ‘travel packs’. Here is a typical example but many others are also available. http://www.rei.com/product/831478/deuter-transit-50-travel-backpack
The point is that YOUR decision as to what kind of pack to buy should not be decided by what everyone else is buying just because everyone else buys it. Your decision should be based on what is the best kind of pack available today for your needs. For most ‘backpackers’ that will mean a travel pack not a wilderness backpack.
The next question in determining which pack to buy is about size. How big a pack will you need? This is again an area where what those before you have done is not necessarily the best thing for you to do.
Most travellers make the same two common mistakes. They try to see/do too much in too little time and they pack TOO MUCH. Here again we can turn to the wilderness backpackers to learn from experience. In wilderness backpacking there is a common definition of the ultimate backpacker. ‘S/he who carries the least weight with the most comfort.’ What that tells you is that smaller and lighter is always better.
You can achieve this in several ways. First, there are products, clothing and packs that weigh less. But more importantly perhaps is your thinking when it comes to what to pack. If your aim is to have the lightest, smallest pack possible, how you decide what to pack will differ than if your aim is to take everything you think you might want to have with you. This is a whole topic in itself and I can’t cover it all here.
So smaller is better, that’s what you need to know. So how small? While some people will tell you they can travel for a year with no more than will fit in an average day pack, that’s extreme. Others will tell you that you need a 65-75L pack for a long trip. That is ALSO extreme. For the majority of travel that the average ‘backpacker’ does on a Gap Year, a pack in the 45-50L range will be big enough.
Another factor is understanding how much weight you can comfortably carry for a period of time. Take your body weight and divide by 4. That is the maximum you should aim for if you will need to carry a pack for more than an hour at any one time. Beyond that, comfort goes out the door fast.
So there you have it. Are you a wilderness backpacker or a traveller with a backpack? Do you need a backpack or a travel pack? Do you want to carry a pack whose size and load means you have the ultimate comfort possible? Answer those questions and then start looking for a pack.
May 27, 2012 11:09 PM
May 28, 2012 7:59 AM
2I know it's subjective, but I've found on this trip (currently 6 months in, traveling Latin America) that everything I really need can fit into a 30L daypack. It's sometimes hard for people to get out of the mindset of "I'll bring that, just in case ....".
After a while, as you get increasingly fed up dragging a big bag around, you become less afraid to throw things away that you don't really need.
May 28, 2012 8:34 AM
3Good point Doctornono, most backpacks are top loading while travel packs are invariably front loading. Like a suitcase and easier to get at things when your pack is laying on your hostel bed.
Do you know why backpacks are usually top loading? They were designed to avoid zippers! A draw string closure with a flap to go over top. Imagine you are 4 days into a week backpacking trip in the wilderness and a zipper on a front loading pack breaks. Not a good thing. Zippers were seen as a weakness and in fact are.
I sometimes travel with no more than a messenger back dominic77. Something like this: http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/bags/aaa5/ Mine has a zippered expansion feature and I can easily travel for a week or two with it alone. But not everyone is suited to be an ultralight traveller. So my suggestion of a 45-50L pack is aimed at the average traveller. Some people simply cannot travel without their hair straighteners. LOL
May 30, 2012 10:25 PM
4Forgive my ignorance but the picture of the travel backpack looks like a smaller version of what every backpacker is carrying around?
I used a 55L backpack that was pretty similar to that one - I found it a little small and I think a 65L would have been perfect.
Last week I used a roller luggage suitcase for the first time and I found it really annoying. Provided that you are carrying 15 kilos or less, I think it is much more convenient to use a backpack over a suitcase with wheels. Even when walking on a flat surface, I prefer a backpack as you don't have the friction from the wheels slowing you down.
May 31, 2012 12:58 AM
5This is a very subjective question and of course depends on what each different traveller needs, rather than what the manufacturer or sales assistance calls the backpack or recommends.
Personally, I travel with a 55L Backpack made by MacPac, which is designed for travel. Macpac's numbers are a bit misleading because the number in the name is not the capacity of the large backpack itself, but rather the larger backpack AND the day pack together.
Rather than taking the advice of myself or anyone else on the internet, I would go to all of the stores in your local area and TRY ON the bags you are considering. Look at them in person, examine the features, try them on with a bit of weight in them (most stores will allow you to put a bit of stuff inside to test).
Look for the features that you think you might use most, and the size you think is appropriate. If you will be walking a lot on your trip, make sure the bag is particularly suited to this application. Adjustable straps, back support, etc, is generally good. One thing I would NOT recommend is the "hybrid" bags that have backpack straps AND rolling wheels. These bags are nearly ALWAYS a compromise and I have never tried one that works well for both applications.
Also, as travelinstyle46 has pointed out in another thread, backpacks with a wire/mesh holder on the outside is good for drying clothes. Many bags have either a mesh holder, or clip on the side to hold a drink bottle, AND a larger mesh holder on the back to put some wet clothes in to dry in the sun during the day. One designed like this with the two pockets is great for when you don't want to keep your wet towel/swimmers inside your bag, but don't currently have a hostel in which to hang them up (ie moving between towns, trekking, etc).
One of the best features I have found with my backpack is the compression straps inside. These are straps in the base/back support of the bag (when looking at it lying open on the floor) which you can put clothes/etc inside and then tighten the straps, to compress them and minimise the space taken up by the clothes.
Personally I find that I don't use the detachable day bag that came with my backpack, as I have a seperate camera bag that I use to carry my equipment, as I usually carry a few cameras, with maybe 4-5 lenses, etc. That bag is a Crumpler C List Celebrity (Medium) which has the unique feature of ONLY being able to open it by taking it off. A lot of people think of this as a downside, as you can not access your camera quickly. But I usually travel with my camera around my neck/across my shoulder, and this has the added benefit of making it nearly impossible for thieves to take my equipment. In fact, you can not access the zips at all without taking off the bag and folding the shoulder straps back over the bag, so the only method for thieves would be to slice open the bag - but then there are two very, very thick layers before you even get to the internal padding which divides the equipment inside. The downside here is that it does not strap onto the larger bag for travelling between locations, but that would make it easier for thieves anyway.
May 31, 2012 8:56 AM
6"Forgive my ignorance but the picture of the travel backpack looks like a smaller version of what every backpacker is carrying around?"
Yes kmingnath, travel packs look much the same as backpacks. But there are important (to you as a traveller) differences. Travel packs are designed for what we could call a 'hostel backpacker'. So you will find they have a zip away harness which keeps them from getting hung up on airport carousels for example. They have a handle on the side so you can carry them into a nice hotel like a suitcase. They have a detachable shoulder strap you can use for short walks where you don't want to get out the harness and put the pack on your back (not a big feature really though). They usually have a detachable daypack. They are front loading (open like a suitcase) rather than top loading which makes it easier to find something in your pack. The internal compression straps that handsheldhigh mentions as being advantageous are never found in a backpack.
So while they may look the same overall, there are differences designed specifically to suit the needs of a 'hostel traveller' rather than a wilderness backpacker.
"I used a 55L backpack that was pretty similar to that one - I found it a little small and I think a 65L would have been perfect."
Regarding size, they come in all sizes just like backpacks. I chose to link to a 50L rather than a larger one simply because I believe most people carry too big a pack whether it is a backpack or a travel pack. That is all about learning what to pack and what to leave at home. You don't need a bigger pack, you need to change your thinking about how much weight and bulk you are willing to carry. If you insist on not carrying more than say 35lbs. in no more than a 50L pack you will be forced to find (and they do exist) all the smaller and lighter products to stay within your limit.
Think of it this way. You can choose a pack size to fit what you intend to carry or you can choose what you carry to fit a given pack size. It's the other side of the coin.
Remember the wilderness backpacker's common definition of the ultimate backpacker. ‘S/he who carries the least weight with the most comfort.’ What that tells you is that smaller and lighter is always better.
What to pack is a whole subject in itself. Maybe I'll start a new thread on that. Briefly, there are all kinds of products available (most from the wilderness backpacking market) that can let you save space and weight. A good example would be backpacking soap. http://www.ehow.com/video_4955636_backpacking-health-camp-soap.html One small bottle of concentrated soap goes a long, long way. Wash you, your hair, your clothes, your dishes all with the same soap. When she says the bottle she is holding is overkill for a week, what she means is that the bottle is too big and too heavy and could be smaller but she hasn't bothered to change to a smaller container. The one bottle she is holding would last months on the road! Contrast that with a traveller carrying, body soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, and possibly (but not likely) dish washing soap.
Take clothing as another example. There are in fact clothing items made that are far better for backpacking than the usual choices. Most people take t-shirts with them. But what kind of t-shirt? Made from what material? Generally the answer will be cotton t-shirts. Cotton is a NO NO. So out go all your cotton shirts, cotton (jeans) pants, cotton underwear, cotton socks (sweat socks) and cotton t-shirts. For most people that's almost their whole wardrobe gone.
Instead you use clothing designed to wick moisture (sweat) away from your body which also does not smell badly nearly as quickly as cotton (meaning you can wear the same t-shirt for several days before having to wash it), designed to dry far faster than cotton and that will not chaf or cause itching. This type of clothing is also far lighter than cotton. So you need less pairs of everything, you can wash some less often and what you do wash in a sink at night will almost always be dry by morning. You will find they take up less space and weigh less. The goal you are striving for.
If you think of backpacking as akin to going into outer space, you would not take your normal things from home with you. You would research and take items specifically designed for the environment you are going into. Backpacking is no different, you are leaving your home environment.
Many items designed for backpacking actually transit real well into your 'normal' everyday life when you get home. I have not worn a cotton t-shirt for example in around 15 years. Once you try a wicking t-shirt you will never go back to that clammy, smelly cotton one again.
Here are a few links to check out:
Some other weight and space saving items I use.
May 31, 2012 5:58 PM
May 31, 2012 6:47 PM
8If you think of backpacking as akin to going into outer space, you would not take your normal things from home with you. You would research and take items specifically designed for the environment you are going into. Backpacking is no different, you are leaving your home environment
Yes this is a very good point!
And I agree about cotton clothing - a lot of the cotton clothes I've brought have been ruined by repeatedly being squashed into a backpack. Synthetics are much more practical. The only cotton tshirts I brought on my last trip were cheap or old ones that I didn't mind getting ruined.
May 31, 2012 6:50 PM
May 31, 2012 8:07 PM
10I've traveled with a 40L technical daypack REI Venturi for the past 8 months. This was the same backpack I used at home for technical day hikes and weekend backpacking trips. Rather than buy a new pack I decided to service it for this trip. As a top-loader I definitely find it cumbersome at times to get to anything, but I have nothing loose inside the pack. The main pack is filled with smaller stuff sacks and bags housing various things. To get to anything I have to basically take every sack out, then open the individual sack that houses what I am looking for.
This trip has done me well in South America, where it was packed from about 18-19kg, and Southeast Asia, where I have the weight down to 12.5 kg and am not using all the space (I was fortunate to have a few days at home between the two parts of my journey that enabled me to re-pack). The main reason I decided to go with my existing technical backpack is that I do not just travel during my trip. I am also a traditional wilderness backpacker on my trip and at times need a backpack with a frame for some of the longer trips. One of my stuff sacks is actually a light frameless day pack that works for lightweight short treks or treks with porters.
So because of my desire to not spend every waking moment in a hostel, city, beach, or other location drinking, I feel that my backpack is the right choice for me as a traveller pack would not have cut it on some of my treks. That said, I thankfully did a lot of the research that OP suggests and found it invaluable. I also took none of my normal clothes with me and purchased camping t-shirts, hiking pants, hiking underwear (by far the best underwear ever!), camp towel, etc...Along the way I found a sarong is even better than a camp towel and I did pick up a pair of jeans because it just looked so odd going out in convertible hiking pants. One last thing was picking up a pair of linen pants and linen shirt for the humid environment of SEA, which I love despite never owning linen before.
Anyway, I think this is a great post regarding backpacks. I find it hilarious when I see backpackers with Bintang/Chang t-shirts and big 70-100L backpacks AND a daypack strapped on the front.
May 31, 2012 8:15 PM
11One more thing. I did end up hating my camping t-shirts after wearing the same ones for 7 months. That is part of the reason I picked up the linen and an active poly polo (think nice looking golf polo). This variety has made it much easier for me to wear the same thing. I also reduced the amount of clothes I brought with me in half as I realized towards the end of my South America travels I was wearing the same thing for multiple days (and not just on treks). I remember at the start of my trip I would wear things once, maybe twice and wash religiously. This stuff is great because it really doesn't need it. Just air it out a bit, if possible, and it's ready to go.
My underwear are ExOfficio boxer briefs. These are HIGHLY recommended.
BUT, I, unlike OP, will always go back to cotton when I am not traveling. The feel and fit of a nice pima cotton t-shirt and my nice cotton boxer briefs was amazing during the few days I was home. Granted, if I lived in a humid environment I would continue wearing synthetic, but I don't plan to so nice cotton is the way I will go whenever I am home.
Jun 1, 2012 10:10 AM
12Doctornono, the thread is primarily aimed at someone who is going to buy a pack and does not already own one. I would not suggest in your case buying a new pack. Particularly if you carry 15kg. Most carry far more weight than that. You could however consider reducing that to 10kg. It is suprising how much you can reduce weight if you change just a few items to currently available lighter weight equivalents. Synthetic clothing for example has come a long way in 20 years. For example, weigh your rain jacket and compare it to this one which weighs 5 ounces and IS waterproof. http://o2rainwear.com/2011/03/original-hooded-jacket/
Kmingnath, clothing for 4 seasons is definitely a problem weight wise compared to 3 season clothing. There are two basic options. One, to plan travel so that all your cold weather time is in one block and you buy what you need when you get to that time period and get rid of it when you leave the cold weather. Charity shops often have a surprising good selection of cold weather clothing at cheap prices. So this option is not that impractical.
The second way to deal with it is layering. It is entirely possible to add only a base layer of thermal 'long johns' and a fleece jacket to normal 3 season clothing and be good for weather down to around -10c. So you would wear base thermals, a synthetic t-shirt, a shirt, a fleece jacket and your rain/wind proof jacket on top. On bottom you have underwear, thermal 'long johns, synthetic pants and rain pants on top. That's 5 layers on top and 4 on bottom. All you have added is the thermals and fleece jacket. That's a total additional weight of perhaps 2 lbs./1kg.
Ocvagabond, yes, a travel pack is not designed for wilderness backpacking and so when doing both that and 'hostel backpacking' on one trip a compromise has to be made one way or the other. I usually decide what pack to use based on how the majority of my time will be spent. You can wilderness backpack with a travel pack for a few days without serious discomfort and of course can hostel backpack with a wilderness backpack if you have to. But you do have to compromise one way or the other. No right or wrong answer.
"I also reduced the amount of clothes I brought with me in half as I realized towards the end of my South America travels I was wearing the same thing for multiple days (and not just on treks). I remember at the start of my trip I would wear things once, maybe twice and wash religiously. This stuff is great because it really doesn't need it. Just air it out a bit, if possible, and it's ready to go."
This is a topic that can generate heated debate. You get people who say, 'no way am I wearing something multiple days without washing it.' It's as if admitting you did that would mean you are a dirty person who doesn't care about personal hygiene. I actually find it quite funny. But trying to tell someone, hey you change it and/or wash it when it starts to smell or get dirty, not to a schedule, gets some people quite insensed. They also can't seem to accept it "really doesn't need it."
As for cotton at home, it's a personal preference and as you say the weather is a major factor. I hate clammy, sticky cotton t-shirts now and especially the way they lose their shape with age. Have you noticed your synthetic t-shirts don't lose their shape? I own about 20 probably and only the oldest (maybe 15 years old) are now starting to show wear at the neck but their shape hasn't changed at all.
Jun 1, 2012 3:17 PM
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