Finding a Backpack, Harder than Finding a Husband
Seriously, I put way more effort than I am willing to admit into looking for a backpack. Hours of research, YouTube reviews, calling, ordering, shipping and returning. Thoughts were constantly swirling in my head: Backpack or suitcase? Do I sell my soul (and back) for a better looking one? How much can I really carry? Travel or hiking backpack? Will any of these backpacks even fit a short 5″3 woman? Hydration pack compatible? I didn’t even know there were hydration packs! You get sucked into this vortex of absolute madness.
This is supposed to be THE most important decision of our trip. The backpack that will carry it all, the one that will support you through thick and thin, through feelings of absolute loathing and gratefulness, through all the struggles and triumphs of travel. I mean, I honestly didn’t even put this much work into finding a husband! He appeared in a club one day, we were introduced, and *pouf* months later we were chatting on Facebook and having our first (not so great – haha) date. But this backpack thing??? *Throwing my hands up in despair* Is there a dating app equivalent that will match you with your potential pack-mate? Let’s get this made.
Luckily, there was an end to all this madness. We BOTH ended up choosing the Osprey Farpoint 40L. Is it THE one? Who knows. But I am happy with it right now, and unlike a husband (right?), I can ditch/trade up if I need to during the trip. I hope it doesn’t happen, because then all this craziness was for nothing, but in the end, it IS a backpack so there’s no ’till death do us part clause.
Here is what helped us choose our bags:
First: What is Your Travel Style
Honestly, it doesn’t matter how long you are going for or what kind of trip it is. The way you travel will influence what you are carrying and how you want to carry it. So our advice is to look at your travel style first. In our research, we came across many websites and travel bloggers with a wealth of advice. But whether you accept their words of wisdom is another thing. There are so many options for bags out there and just Googling them all and trying to do it on your own is a pain. Why do it all yourself when so many have already done the work for you? You just have to figure out who you trust and who has a similar travel style to you.
For us, it was the Snarky Nomad and his post on ultralight-travel that made us have that “lightbulb” moment. Hmmm…we could do that. It was his post that made us decide on a carry-on sized backpack or duffle – which eliminated SO many options for us, and narrowed our search to the slightly more manageable. Instead of “best travel bag” we began Googling “best carry-on travel bags” and sifted through the links to find great lists like 5 of the best travel bags and best travel backpacks. Wondering if we should push it a bit further, we came across a couple that had one carry-on backpack between the TWO of them. The look of horror on both our faces made it obvious. That was too extreme for us. So whatever brings you that look of horror, you know you’ve gone one step too far.
Second: Type & Size
Where is all your stuff going to go and how big is it going to be? Alright, you’ve found some websites or people you trust or fit your vision. What’s it going to be? Of course you have to fit your needs into this bag now, so you need to consider things like duration of travel, destination, climate, and the types of activities you will be enjoying. How you pack also influences how big your bag is going to be. Minimalist to an everything just-in-case packer, or maybe you want to leave room for souvenirs.
Here are some websites that might help you with that perpetual battle between suitcases and backpacks
- SnarkyNomad – Suitcase vs. Backpacks – The Ultimate Showdown
- The SavyBackpacker – Backpack or Wheeled Suitcase
- A couple that was done with backpacking – Getting Stamped
For us, our plans include everything from the beautiful beaches in Portugal, to the heat of India, to the mountainous ranges of Nepal. For our year of travel, we definitely want to do everything from lounging on the beach, exploring city streets and market places, to doing long hikes in remote areas. Even though our trip varies greatly in climate and activity, we know that we could live with a minimalist type of bag. I also know that I personally dislike dragging a bag infront or behind me and would rather lug it on my own back (I even hate grocery shopping with shopping carts, making Costco quite the nightmare for me). This made our decision easier: A backpack or duffel bag that fits MOST airline’s carry-on limits 45L or less.
So now you know the size and type of bag/luggage you are looking for. You have to find one with the features that you want. Travel backpacks have come a long way from the stereotypical “backpacker” or school backpacks we are used to imagining.
Here were the features we were looking for:
- Carry-On Size (fits most airlines, no more than 44 L)
- Front-loading (like a suitcase)
- Accessible Laptop compartment
- Good strap and padded hip belt support
- Lockable zippers
- Built-in Compression straps/system
- A look that doesn’t scream “Backpacker!”
- Straps that can be tucked away or hidden
- Different options for carrying
- Included rain cover
Backcountry Edge’s youtube channel posts great feature reviews on backpacks and other gear. Not the most entertaining videos but very thorough ones that I quite enjoy. Here are some great ones featuring the Osprey Farpoint 40, Osprey Porter 46 Travel Duffle, and Keltey Redwing 50 Backpack
If you’re still reading, then you are really interested in how we came to decide on THE backpacks. It was a journey and we’re about to drop some knowledge of what we learned during this process.
I know you’re probably laughing and thinking all that work and you settled on the most popular travel backpack out there? Duh, could you have not figured that out in the first place? I cringe. But then I think the Farpoint has been out there for a while and there have been some new and exciting attempts to make travel backpacks. We had to research them all. Plus even though we chose the Farpoint, it still had some drawbacks we were unsure of. Here we go!
** Note: The links I put up are not for promotional or monetary purposes. When I link to something it is because I want you to see what I’ve found through my research. People have written good information out there and if I’ve found it, I would rather share it and save you the trouble of having to find it!
Sigh. Oh, the Minaal.
This one was never really a contender, at least not for this kind of round-the-world trip, but I will admit I did eye this bag more than was necessary. Not only is it super sleek, it is just the kind of bag that would make you look just like a regular person walking in the street, rather than a mountain climber with his life on his back. It was created by two New Zealanders who were frustrated with the ‘backpacker’ looks out there, put in a ton of hard work, and ended up having a one of the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter (<– The video is great!). It is a GOOD LOOKING backpack.
At 35L, the Minaal 1.0 carry-on has a ton of great features and met most of the requirements of what we needed. The biggest problem is that it has no hip belt. This is fine if you’re only staying in the city and don’t plan on actually carrying the thing for very long. However, if your trip includes local buses, delayed trains, tuk tuks, jungle treks, long hikes, and just some plain unknowns, this bag may not be able to support you through it all. They ARE however launching the Minaal 2.0 version with improved features (a removable hipbelt!); it really is a bag you need to watch evolve. Alas, the $299 USD price tag is a little steep and the orders for 2.0 has only just started (a little too late for our trip and I would need to see if it could really withstand long-term travel). So, for now I can continue my love affair for the Minaal with my eyes only.
Best features: The LOOK.
Worst features: The price and the inability to wear it for long periods of time.
Verdict: The Minaal is that eye candy who looks great but you know isn’t that good for you. He’s just a fling, good for weekends or a couple of months. He’ll definitely make you do a double-take, but in the real world, it won’t work out and you’ll just end up getting hurt.
I SO wanted this to be my travel backpack.
Despite it being somewhat pricey at $199 USD (damn that American $ + duties & shipping), the Tortuga Travel Backpack has amazing features and everything I want in a backpack. It maximizes the carry-on limit at 44L and really has the dream amount of space (For breakdowns and reviews that are written better than I ever could: The Savvy Backpacker). The Tortuga website itself also does a great job of convincing you why their product is better with side-by-side comparisons comparing itself with all the major bags out there. Like the Minaal, it was started by two guys Fred and Jeremy who were not satisfied with what was out there. I really respect when people don’t just rely on the the big corporations out there, and do something for themselves. So I did all my research, came up with the same conclusions that Tortuga so intelligently laid out (I’m a sucker for logic and reason), ordered it, and had it shipped to Canada. I was so excited when it came! Opening it was a dream. EXCEPT! When I put it on, it was too big for me. I was crushed. I looked like a had a waay to big turtle shell on my back.
Also, the shoulder straps were completely in an odd place which I was surprised that in ALL the reviews I read, no one mentioned them!! The shoulder straps are sewn into the very top of the bag, so I could not get the straps to sit on my shoulder or the bag to hug my back. With the hip belt on, the bag did not sit on my shoulders at all which may be good for my shoulders but felt really awkward and odd to have it floating and barely touching my back. The chest strap didn’t adjust high enough for it to be useful for me, a common problem for us girls.
I really did try to make it work and even tried to pawn it off to Mike – it fits you right??! But alas, at 5″3 it was just too long for me and didn’t fit Mike’s slim 5″7 frame either. I had Mike’s best friend try it and at 6 ft, the Tortuga fit great on him. The funny shoulder straps did not seem to be an issue with him either, as it seemed to actually sit on his shoulders. I’m still a huge fan of them and think that this could be THE backpack for others, just not us. =/
They do have a smaller version called the Tortuga Air for us smaller folk, but with no padded hip belt, I can’t even consider it for this kind of RTW trip (maybe if you were going only for a few weeks to a couple months and actually don’t need to carry it for long periods of time). Also, they dropped the size to 27L which seemed like a big loss to me from the 44L original. I mean, I know I’m small, but that’s a lot less of stuff I can bring, which means deeper cuts!
I will keep rooting for Tortuga because even though it didn’t work out for us, I think that companies like these are going to listen to you about feature requests, complaints, and suggestions and will only get better with time. Big companies seem to just be churning out bags with little rhyme or reason of practicality. On that note, I know we chose Osprey, but I’m waiting until these new companies finish with the masses and start making bags for us slightly smaller-folk.
Best features: The laptop compartment is closest to your back and can be accessed with an external zipper. The internal pockets and compression system are just so practical and good-looking.
Worst features: A little box-y looking (which they say maximizes space) and just too big for short people.
Verdict: He checks off all the boxes, “Funny, caring, good-looking, good career, …etc” but something just isn’t right. He SHOULD be the one, he’s got the best specs and looks the best on paper, but when you take him for a spin, you just don’t get that “feeling.”
Osprey Farpoint S/M 38 L
In my research, I came across a wise blogger that wrote, “If you’re under 5″3, then stop searching because the Osprey Farpoint is for you.” I scoffed and ordered the Tortuga anyways even though:
1) I am probably closer to 5″2 but refuse to admit it
2) Was pretty confident I could make the Tortuga work
When it didn’t though, I went into another tailspin of depression looking for bags again. I flirted with the Minaal a couple times more, regretting it each time, then went back into the vortex of madness. The Osprey Farpoint 40 was always a top contender, it had great reviews, always on a top 5 list and had most of the features we were looking for. Especially after watching the Backcountry Edge feature review, I really wanted to see it. The real problem I had was that I could never get my hands on it. After the Tortuga disappointment I really wanted to physically test the bag, before committing to it. Going on the Osprey website was a nightmare. They show you the bag, but not how to get it. The bag is not available to buy online from their website or Amazon Canada and will show you a list of stores near you that sell Osprey merchandise but not necessarily the bag you want. Both the other contenders, all I had to do was go to their website, order the bag, and they would ship it to me. Apparently Osprey has not joined the 21st century.
If you go into a “store near you”, the sales person will tell you that the Farpoint is their best selling bag and that they do not have any in stock. Then they will look at the wall o’ bags and help you find a bag to fit your needs. Sounds great and they can usually find you a bunch of options for you to try. The problem with this is that they are finding you the best bag only from the stock they have, not the best bag for what you need. Osprey has A LOT of bags. The stores also carry a lot of OTHER brands too. It is easy to get persuaded to accept one of their many others and overwhelming to tell the difference between them. But, my mind was set on a specific bag, the myriad of other bags just couldn’t live up.
Remember that Dating bag app I was talking about earlier? Well Osprey does have a packfinder that will help you find the “right” bag after putting in your needs. But yet again for my top 3 bags (out of 97 matches – which is insane), it would point me to my locally authorized dealers and the fact that it wasn’t available online. It’s like if an app gave you 10 potential dates, you go through their profiles and get excited, then when you clicked on them, all of them were “unavailable.” What is the point. What I don’t understand is if it’s the BEST SELLING BAG, why doesn’t Osprey put more effort into making their best seller better instead of making a million other variations of bags that people just settle for? The Farpoint is far from being perfect and just a few small changes could make it so much better.
We spent at least 3 – 4 months looking for this damn elusive backpack. Finally, we managed to order it online through our local outdoor store Europe Bound. It wasn’t ideal because I wanted to actually see the bag first, but at least we had finally found a way to even get to the bag. The good thing was, we wouldn’t have to pay delivery and was priced at $190 + tax. The search for my bag was hopefully over, IF we ended up liking it. Then a few weeks later, we found the bag ON SALE online (about $134) at Live Out There, a Canadian website I had never heard of before. Our plan was to return the first one and keep the second cheaper one. When the bags arrived though, it really turned out to be a good fit for the both of us. The good really outweighed the few shortcomings, so we kept them both and will each be carrying variations of the Osprey Farpoint 40.
Best features: Compact size for smaller people! – comes in two sizes S/M (38L) and M/L (40L). Backed my Osprey’s guarantee.
Worst feature: NOT EASY TO GET! Laptop compartment is in the front of the bag, making the heaviest thing you are carrying placed away from your body, and not flushed against your back. This is the opposite of common sense packing rules.
Verdict: This is THE one! As soon as we put it on, we got the “feeling.”