Backpacking – What Goes on Your Back?

Picking the perfect backpack is NEVER easy. If you are planning some extended backpacking travel, what you pick to go on your back will make or break every single day of your trip.

Now, I’m had a wide range of bags over the year. I’ve had the 60L, the top fill, the side zip and the backpack with a day pack that zips onto it. For my upcoming Southeast Asia trip with my husband, we’ve bit the bullet. We’ve chosen the Osprey Quantum 34 L backpacks. Nay – daypack!

Picking the right backpack

Osprey Quantum 34 L – photo credit to

Everyone that we’ve shown our backpacks to thinks we’re absolutely nuts. BUT, I’ve had the experience of the 60L bag. YES, you can take nearly everything and the kitchen sink. YES, you can buy compression packs to get even more clothes into it. YES, it has a million and one compartments.

Do you know what that equates to? Weight. Heavy weight on your back. If you’re not an experienced trekker, getting used to 40lbs on your back is not easy. I’ve been in far too many situations where I had to carry my bag for 30 minutes to an hour, and that weight is a killer. Even just lifting it onto your back without hurting yourself – trust me, it’s easy to pull a muscle when you wield a 40lb bag around – is a mission in and of itself.

What are the non-negotiables? Answer the following questions and I think you’ll figure out what kind of criteria is best for your trip:

  • Does it need to be waterproof? I almost always answer YES!
  • Does it need to be carry on size? My husband and I said yes for our trip. Our first flight to Bangkok has three connections. Imagine if our bag got lost in transit. We’d be hooped. We’ve also read one too many horror stories of illegal substances being put into backpackers bags and the person being thrown into jail. Urban myth? Possibly more than the actual cases, but we’re happy to be safe.
  • Are you traveling solo? If you’re traveling alone, one person often has to take a little bit more than two. My husband and I have the luxury of splitting up who takes the guidebook and who takes the first aid kid. That said, I know many a solo traveler who can still manage a carry on.
  • Do you REALLY need all those pockets? Some say yes. I say if you can get a few travel cubes, you’ve done the separation for yourself.
  • Are the straps comfortable? Imagine you get into a situation where you’re walking with your pack for 3-4 hours. Just imagine. Would those straps dig into your shoulders? Would they
  • Are you bringing a laptop? We are, so it was important for our bags to have a compartment for the laptop.

My advice is to seriously think about your travel needs and your criteria BEFORE going into the store. If you’re like me, I go to Mountain Equipment Coop and I’m a kid in a candy store. Don’t succumb to the well-meaning, commission loving store assistants. Don’t do it!!

Fellow travellers. What are your thoughts on backpack criteria?

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2 Responses to Backpacking – What Goes on Your Back?

  1. dianacranstoun April 18, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    Travelling to NY for five days. Would like to only have carry on. Do you have any suggestions on what/what not to pack?

    • vscot848 April 19, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

      Think about what kinds of activities you’re going to be doing and find some interchangeable outfits. Wash while you’re there. I like to take Campsuds with me whenever I travel

      You can use them as hand wash, washing liquid for your clothes, even your dishes… but I think you’ll be fine in NYC. Have a small day bag for your camera, and a small carry on suitcase. You’ll be well within your limits without the stress of having to fit it all in one backpack. Totally depends on where you’re going and how long for. I almost always think that the longer you go for, the less you take.

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