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Choosing a backpack for long-term travel is the most important and perhaps the most daunting task you’ll have to tackle when preparing for a trip.

I massively stressed out when purchasing my first real “backpacking” backpack because, well, they’re expensive and I wanted it to be the perfect size for me.

The size of your bag will be largely dependent on your size and how long your travels are going to be. I knew if mine was too big I wouldn’t be able to travel comfortably. However, if it was too small, I wouldn’t be able to pack it full of the necessities for a long solo trip.

A ton of thought and research went into my first big travel backpack purchase. Before I even stepped into a store I looked from web page to web page to read reviews and descriptions for each type of backpack.

Once I had some idea of the different types I headed to my local outdoors store and enlisted the help of an employee. We chatted a bit about my travel plans and the brands I like, and after measuring my height and the curvature of my back, he went and grabbed a few travel backpacks to try.

Simply put, choosing what size backpack for travelling I needed was an in-depth experience and even the best of us will need help with the decision.

Why a backpack?

The first step in this journey is figuring out if a backpack purchase is best for your adventures. If you’re planning on longer term travel where you’ll be switching locations frequently or semi-frequently, buying a backpack is a no-brainer.

They are durable, easy to carry anywhere, and they are often the size of a carry on, so no need to check baggage when/if you fly. In addition, make sure you have no problem packing very minimally if traveling with a backpack. “Necessities” is a very important word when getting ready for a long trip. You’ll want your travel backpack to be almost but not quite full when departing for the adventure.

Backpacking is all about simplicity and you’ll definitely have to pack minimally, even if your pack is on the larger side. If you’ll be staying in one place for a while, going on a nice weekend trip, or are a notorious over-packer, a suitcase may be the right choice.

What size should I buy?

The easiest answer to this is that your travel backpack should be proportional to your body. Don’t fret my shorter friends, even the shortest of us can find a good pack to fit all our necessities in!

If you’re on the smaller side, 50-60 liters should be the ideal weight. Average to tall sized people should go for 60-70 liters.

Many brands have suggested measurements for each of their bags but the only way to really decide is by heading to an outdoors store. Any employee should be able to give you suggestions and help you try a few out. Usually they’ll also fill the pack to give you an idea of what it will feel like while traveling.

Another thing to keep in mind when choosing what size backpack for travelling is whether or not you want to only carry on your bag for flights. I absolutely love my packs size because I don’t have to waste time checking it in. If you choose a bag on the larger size, chances are you’ll have to check it.

Depending on weight and airline, you may also have to pay more to bring it on. A small aspect to consider, but it could save you some stress and time while traveling.

General qualities you should look for

Despite the specifics of your size and trip, there are a few things any quality travel backpack should have:

  • Multiple external pockets – extra pockets outside your bag are essential. You’ll want a few to have easy access to important things, to stuff small items that have no real place, and to put wet or potentially smelly shoes or clothes.
  • A padded hip belt. No huge explanation necessary for this one. Take all the extra support you can get.
  • A detachable day pack. Always get the free things when you can! This is also very practical when traveling.
  • The travel backpack itself is light. Don’t get weighed down by a backpack with a ton of bells and whistles.
  • Different compartments. My bag has a top, middle, and bottom area. It’s very convenient for separating your belongings as needed.
  • Padded shoulder straps. Because if not, ouch.

Cost

Travel backpacks can get a bit expensive, ranging from US $100-$300, but they are a long term investment.

I don’t think a first time buyer should purchase a $300 pack, but you will usually get what you pay for when it comes to backpacks, meaning more expensive bags are better quality. A nice medium sized pack will generally run between $100-$200.

Following the common rule for most material items, brand names – Osprey, North Face, Deuter, Gregory – will cost more than off brand backpacks.

An awesome perk to splurging on any backpack is that they likely will work equally as well for traveling as they do for trekking. If that’s something you care about, make sure to mention it when trying packs on at the store!

Where should I buy it?

Any outdoors store should have a great selection, but I recommend REI or EMS. I personally like REI because of their one year warranty and one year return policy. The employees are also extremely knowledgeable both in fact and personal experience. Both of these stores will offer name brands as well as their store brand.

Now that you’ve done the research, go buy that pack! Adventure awaits.