Choosing a travel backpack is a topic of several online debates. Here are some of my learnings. The final decision depends on your preferences.

Size

First, start with the size, usual sizes are around 25L, 45L, 65L. The 25L is OK for a day or two and you can stretch it for a few days. It is almost what a good office backpack looks like. 45L can last for a few week long urban trips. Of course, it cannot contain things like sleeping bag etc. Both of these are good choices for urban travel or travel not involving sleeping outdoors. For travel involving carrying sleeping bags or tents, a 65L backpack is unavoidable. But here is the flip-side. Not only, it is bulky but also, you cannot carry it in most airlines. You have to do a check-in which even if free, can be time-consuming. Here are some images from Google illustrating the sizes.

Weight distribution

The second most important aspect is the weight distribution. Some bags don’t provide hip or chest support straps. I would highly recommend choosing one which provides both.

A photo illustrating chest and hip straps

A photo illustrating chest and hip straps

Loading

The third important aspect of choosing a backpack is whether it is top-loading or front-loading. A top-loading backpack can only be loaded from the top while front-loading one opens up like a suitcase. Moving from top-loading to front-loading made my life much easier.

Front loading backpack

Front loading backpack

Some others concerns

  1. Don’t choose a bag with rollers. They are useful only at airports and hotel lobbies. Everywhere else, you are just carrying extra weight on your shoulders.
  2. If you travel with a laptop then ensure that the bag has a well-protected laptop sleeve.

What I decided on

I narrowed down my choices to following five 35L-45L backpacks since that is within the carry-on limits and can easily last for weeks.

  1. Tortuga Travel backpack  – 200$ for 44L
  2. Osprey Farpoint – 140$ for 40L. This seems to be the most popular backpack among the traveling community
  3. Minaal Carry-on bag  – 300$ for 35L
  4. Soot Electropack  – 280$ for 24+10L, a daypack can be pulled out of the bag
  5. Chrome Excursion  – 160$
  6. Venturesafe anti-theft backpack – 200$ for 45L. This bag definitely seems to have some good anti-theft and security features.

Eventually, I decided to go with Tortuga.

A secret which professional bloggers won’t tell you

I read several blogs while choosing a backpack and no one recommended a really simple trick for getting an inexpensive high-quality backpack. And that’s probably because this trick does not make money for the bloggers or the sellers. The trick is CraigsList. As of this writing, there are about 900 backpacks available to buy in my area. Most of them for about 50$.

Further reading

  1. Nomadic Matt
  2. Eastern Mountain Sport’s Guide
  3. Women’s backpack guide