For the past 8 years, my backpack has literally been my home. It’s been my most trust-worthy travel companion and it took me a long time to find the ‘right one’. It’s like finding the right boyfriend: it needs to support you, fit with your body and carry more than just your groceries…
I started my journey in 2011 with the backpack my mum used for her travels in the ’90s. I can’t remember what brand it was but it was a brilliant and sturdy backpack. It had lasted for more than 20 years and seen more of the world than most people.
But 4 years ago it gave its final breath. Some of the zippers were broken and the fabric started ripping in a way my thread and needle couldn’t fix anymore.
I was sad. This backpack had so much emotional value but it was time to replace it. Up until then, I didn’t realize how much of a big deal picking the right backpack was.
I had to choose carefully as I needed a travel backpack that was durable, long-lasting and able to withstand the weather. It had to contain and protect everything I owned.
I wish I could say I chose the right backpack back then but I didn’t. I mean, it was a comfortable one to carry during my long treks in the mountains and it survived 3 long years of hitchhiking from Ireland to Central Asia.
Although the backpack had many good qualities, I often felt like a turtle because of its shape. It also wasn’t very practical as it didn’t have many compartments. And I had to find out the hard way that this backpack wasn’t so weather-resistant after all…
Me and my ‘turtle’ backpack in Georgia, 2017.
But now, finally, I have found my right one! And I also finally figured out what is important and what to look for when choosing a backpack for (long-term) traveling.
So hopefully this post will also help you choose the right one (a backpack that is, a significant other is more complicated…).
1. Why you should travel with a backpack instead of a suitcase or trolley bag
To be honest with you, I really don’t like suitcases or trolley bags. I’ve only used it once, on a city trip to Barcelona.
I thought the trolley bag would be practical to travel with it in a city like Barcelona. But already one hour into my city trip I struggled with it.
One of the little wheels broke right when I was crossing a big street, the bag fell open and its contents were spread all over the place. It was the first and last time I ever used a trolley bag.
So why do I suggest a backpack for long-term journeys? I find it much more convenient to carry a backpack on my shoulders. If you pack it right, it shouldn’t be too heavy.
A backpack is more versatile, easier to carry across cobblestone streets, uneven terrain or up a flight of stairs.
It’s also so much easier to pack it into tight spaces (like the trunk of a car when hitchhiking or shoving it between seats while taking a train) and it can handle being thrown around and piled on top of a bus or car roof.
Some people like to buy a backpack with wheels but the material is hard and if you end up in situations where you have to carry it, it won’t be so comfortable.
2. What to look for in a good travel backpack
Durable, light and water-resistant fabric
One of the most important factors that will determine whether or not you have chosen a good backpack is the fabric.
It needs to be durable and strong so it can withstand abrasion and doesn’t rip after one month of (rough) backpacking. Ideally, the fabric should be thin enough so it’s not overly heavy but thick enough to ensure durability. Nylon is one of the best materials for backpacks.
While nylon isn’t fully waterproof, it will keep the contents of the backpack dry during a drizzle. You should be able to pour a glass of water over your backpack without the inside getting wet.
I also find it very practical if the backpack comes with a built-in rain cover. I’ve often been surprised by a heavy thunderstorm and it’s very convenient if you have a good rain cover for your bag.
Strong and sturdy zippers
One of the most frustrating things that can happen while you’re traveling is ending up with broken zippers on your backpack.
While you can still fix a rip in the fabric with needle and thread, there’s not much you can do when one of your zippers break. This happened to my previous backpack.
One of the zippers of the upper compartment must have broken when my backpack was put in the cargo of an airplane. Good thing that the baggage handler put everything nicely in another pocket!
YKK zippers are some of the best zippers around. They’re super strong and have different sizes depending on the area of the pack they’re used.
Some people also look for zippers that you can overlap and lock together with a padlock. While I don’t really use this, some people find it reassuring knowing that they can lock up their bag if they have to leave it unattended in a hostel room.
I love to keep my things organized and store them into smaller sections in my backpack. Having multiple compartments makes it easier to find my belongings back.
The main part of my backpack has two compartments: I usually put my sleeping bag and a warm sweater in the lower part and my clothes in the upper one.
Things I need quickly, like my rain jacket, hat and camping cutleries, go into the top compartment. My sandals go into one of the separate side compartments, and my towel and toiletries in the other.
If your backpack doesn’t have multiple compartments, you can always buy some additional packing cubes.
When I first started traveling, I barely saw any front-loading backpacks. Most bags were top-loading, meaning that they were only open at the top.
I didn’t use to care about this. I was used to having to unpack everything in my backpack if I needed something I had stored at the bottom of it.
Nowadays I have a front-loading backpack, meaning that I can open the front of the bag like a suitcase and easily have access to everything in my bag.
It definitely saves a lot of time and frustration now that I don’t have to unpack all my gear to reach for that T-shirt I had packed at the bottom of my backpack…
Padded hip belt and shoulder straps
Don’t overlook the importance of the hip belt and shoulder straps.
If you have a good backpack, most of the weight will be sitting on your hip. Check if the hip belt is padded, which will make it much more comfortable to carry the weight.
The hip belt should also be adjustable so you can tighten it for extra support.
The same counts for the shoulder straps. You really don’t want the straps cutting in your shoulders while you’re walking with your backpack.
Ideally, the shoulder straps should be wide and padded so they put a lot less pressure on your shoulders.
I also want my backpack to have a chest strap as it helps with the distribution of the weight, taking extra pressure from my shoulders.
Don’t buy a backpack with a flat back panel. Look for one with a curved frame instead as it helps to distribute the weight more evenly and keeps your spine in a more natural arch.
It’s hard to avoid a sweaty back when you’re hiking on a sunny day but a well-designed back panel creates a small space between your back and the bag so air can move through, which will cool you down a bit.
3. What size of backpack do you need?
There’s honestly not much difference between packing for a 10-day trip or packing for a one-year backpacking trip around the world.
Try to pack as light as possible and go minimalistic. You really don’t need 5 pairs of pants,15 T-shirts and 3 pairs of shoes! Keep in mind that you have to carry everything you pack.
More than once I left clothes and other stuff behind that I barely used. I was just tired of carrying things that I actually didn’t need. Every gram counts!
What will make a difference in the size of the backpack you should choose is if you’re planning on doing some camping during your journey. Camping gear like a small one-person tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mattress will take up some extra space and weight.
I’d say that if you’re going on a long-term backpacking trip and you’re mainly staying at hostels, a 50 – 65L pack will be a perfect size.
If you’re planning on taking camping gear with you, go for a 65-75L backpack.
I’ve been traveling full-time for 8 years now and I often go camping. All in all my backpack has an average weight of around 15 kg.
I used to travel with a 65L backpack but because of my camping gear, this bag was often stuffed to the brim.
Now I have an 80L backpack with a 10L expander. I love the extra space in my bag in case I need to travel with extra food.
4. How much money should a good travel backpack cost?
I know that it’s tempting to pick a backpack that costs less than €100. But remember, what you pay is what you get.
The cheaper the backpack is, the less quality you’ll have. I understand that if you don’t have a big budget, you don’t want to spend too much money. I’ve made this mistake before.
Know that a cheap backpack isn’t made out of the most durable fabric. It will fall apart rather sooner than later.
You’ll end up buying a new one and you’ll spend more money than if you’d have gotten a quality backpack straight from the beginning.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go for the most expensive models. You can already find a very decent 65L backpack between €100 and €200.
5. How do you know if you chose the right travel backpack for long-term travel?
It’s sometimes hard to know in advance if you made the right choice. You never know if it fits until you try it, right? Especially if you buy your backpack online.
My suggestion is that you first go into a shop and see what options you have. Feel the different fabrics, have a look at the styles and try on different sizes. Feel what is most comfortable for you.
If you find a model you like, ask the shop about its return policy. It’s important that you also try the backpack on with all your gear in it to see if you chose the right size and if it still feels comfortable.
If you didn’t find something to your liking in the shop yet, you’ll have at least already an idea of the different sizes and fabrics.
When you continue your search online, check if the online retail store offers a free return policy.
Get your top three backpack choices sent to your house, load them with your things and try them on. Don’t forget to verify the seams and zips if they look and feel sturdy enough!
You can even take each one of them on a little walk but be careful that they don’t get damaged or dirty so you can still return them.
It’s important that the backpack you choose is strong, that it sits comfortably on your shoulders and back and that you like the looks of it because you’re going to spend a lot of time together!
6. Why I like my backpack from Campz
I’m currently traveling with the Campz Mountain Pro 80+10L from the online outdoor shop Campz and it’s an ideal backpack for traveling and trekking.
While this backpack is also available in 55L, I picked the 80L one as I need the extra space for my camping equipment.
Although the backpack might look big and bulky, it’s actually very compact. During my travels in Morocco, I was able to easily load it in the trunk of a car while we were hitchhiking or shove it between seats whenever we took a train or a bus.
I have a weak lower back and thanks to the adjustable straps, the curved back panel and the way I can distribute my gear in this backpack, I barely feel the weight of it.
The shoulder straps, the hip belt and even the curved back panel are padded, which makes hiking with this backpack super comfortable.
The backpack has multiple compartments – on the top, on the side, on the bottom and even on the inside of the bag – so my belongings are nicely organized. It’s actually the first time ever that my backpack has so many compartments and as someone who likes overview, I totally love it!
My backpack has both a top loader and a front loader, which makes it super easy to access my gear. I mainly use the top loader for my sleeping mattress and whenever I don’t camp, I can just leave the mattress on the top and open the backpack from the front. It’s so handy!!
Another great feature of this backpack is the rain cover. It’s bright red and covers the whole backpack so I stay visible, even on a gloomy day. I also love that I can transform the rain cover into a proper bag with a small handle.
I use this feature whenever I have the check in my backpack at the airport. No more fiddling around with all the straps and such, I just zip up the whole backpack in its rain cover and everything is covered.
It also works as an extra security system as it’s a lot more difficult this way for dodgy luggage handlers to secretly steal stuff from my backpack.
Finding the best backpack for long-term traveling might sound like a time-consuming process but if you follow my tips, you’ll find the right one in no time!
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