I’ve had a few travel bags throughout my time, however there have been some stand out winners along the way. A good travel bag should last for several years, embracing hideous weather, heavy weights and a whole lot of usage. Picking the right one from the bunch can be a bit difficult, with some many ‘required additional’s’ which are offered, therefore I have written the following guide to help you make a decision.
You will spot a number of cheap ones, but remember if you buy a good one, you won’t need to buy a new one next time you go travelling, or the time after! A high quality bag can make the difference between a good and bad travel experience, as well as severe damage to your lower back, so remember that comfort is priceless
When looking up sizes, you will find they are normally measured in litres, with bags going all the way up to 100 litres. The majority of people choose a backpack which is between 50-80 litres, or 3,000-5,000 cubic inches. I think the size of the backpack should differentiate based on how long you are going for, what excursions you will be completing and how much you intend to pack as ‘necessary’. If you are hiking Kilimanjaro then you will need a different style and size of bag to someone who is hostel crashing in Thailand.
Just to get an extra idea, my favourite bag was 50 litres, highlighting that you really don’t need a giant one, as it held everything for 3 months of travelling across South America.
Tip Remember that you will end up ditching half the stuff you packed, partly due to the excessive weight, so try to keep it all to a minimal.
Key Things To Look For
I don’t buy into all the additional features some of the bags have, however there are some you should look out for, which I have listed below:
Every compartment on your bag should have two zips. This is a feature most travel bags will have nowadays, a significant feature if you plan on padlocking the bag shut. This isn’t really for when you are in the hostel; if someone wanted to rob something from your bag then it isn’t that hard. The true benefit to the lockable zipper is to stop pick-pockets and thieves while you are travelling to your next destination. Many people find their cameras have been pinched directly from their bags without them even noticing, so locking the zips heavily reduces the chances of you losing any items.
Back in the day (before I was born), the norm was to have the frame on the outside of the bag. This was a big clunky piece of metal which was heavier, it got caught on things and was more uncomfortable, as well as seemingly pointless unless you are camping. I would strongly recommend getting a bag with an internal frame.
This one goes without saying, but a backpack won’t last long if it can’t handle the rain. Many new travellers head off to Asia, not realising they are arriving in monsoon season and with their basic rucksacks struggling to handle the constant rainfall. If however you don’t manage to get a waterproof one then try to cover it in a poncho. Keep the poncho in an easy-to-access section of the bag. Many bags are made out of ‘semi waterproof’ material, along with a tarp to cover the bag, which will work fine, but try to ensure the bag is relatively thick.
One of the greatest benefits of a proper travel bag is the wide choices of compartments to keep different items in. This can allow you to easily find what you are looking for, by breaking items up into clothes, bathroom goods, important papers etc.
Padded Shoulder Pads
With that much weight on your shoulders, there will come a time when it will begin to dig into you. The addition of a padded shoulder pad isn’t simply an option for me, it is 100% essential to any bag I buy. Try to get a thick one, as they may corrode or split over time, so you want strong padding in place.
Padded Hip Belt
Just the same as the shoulder pads, the hip belt may dig into you over time, especially if you pull it close. Try to go for a thick padding supporting the belt.
Your lower back takes a beating while travelling, so the addition of lumbar support on the backpack can help prevent lower back strains. Trust me, get this, you’ll thank me later! Avoid flat packs without any form of support, while they will also help to improve your posture and spreading out the weight evenly.
Someone finally invented it, the wheelie travel backpack! For some, this is as big an invention as the lightbulb! I’m quite a big fan of carrying the bag around, as I see it as an opportunity to exercise, but for anyone who feels a horrid feeling in their stomach when they consider loading that heavy bag back on their back might want to consider purchasing a bag with wheels.
One extra note is that for those times when you have the bag on your back, the added wheels and handle make the bags quite a bit heavier, normally around an extra 3kg.
My Top Recommendations
The Adventure Backpack
This is a 65 litre backpack which is ideal for both travellers and hikers alike. It is actually the bag they recommend at my schools all over the UK when students are going on trips such as the Duke of Edinburgh. My friend has one and it is highly durable, not a complaint from him. It’s also not a bad price considering the quality. Considering the size of the backpack, it is actually surprisingly light, thanks to the choice in fabrics.
Karabars Large 120 Litres Travel Backpack
This is a giant backpack, managing to hold way over the normal amount, perfect for someone taking on an intense trek which requires something a bit bigger than the norm. It also comes with a three year warranty, while it ticks the padded belt box.
Mountaintop Adventure 70 M5805
This is at the top end of the price bracket, however it is definitely worth it. It is made form waterproof polyester and nylon, it holds 70 litres and can be extended to 80, while it has a large number of extra compartments and is highly durable. There are about 10 different colours available, not that this makes a difference, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck with the purple one.
The Highland Adventure
This bag is available in multiple sizes, however my mate went for the 45 litre version and found it to be perfect for holding everything he required (he went travelling for 2.5 months). It also looked strangely fashionable, not something that really matters with a bag but is a nice little bonus. The back support was great and the cushioning meant it didn’t dig into him as well.