1. Choosing a backpack
Depending on how long your trip is, the type of backpack you choose may really affect your quality of life on the road. Your needs will differ depending on the type of traveling you’re doing, but here are some fundamental characteristics of a good travel bag.
- NOT top-loading
If you are HIKING, then a top-loading backpack is ideal. You won’t be stopping much to unload your pack, so it shouldn’t present any issues. However, a travel backpacker has very different needs. You want a front loading bag that unzips like a suitcase to make life easier. Most backpacks out there do NOT have this feature. You’re going to have to look around for a backpack designed specifically with traveling in mind, like the Farpoint series.
Ideally you would like the part of the backpack that’s touching your back (the back panel) to be mesh so that it is ventilated. If you’re walking around in the heat, this can be a real luxury. Also, the bag should curve in a way so that it doesn’t rest flatly on your low back (lumbar area). This also allows for air flow and ventilation.
- The fit
Like a hiker, you want padded hip belts so that a great portion of the weight can rest on your hips. This makes heavy weight much more bearable.
You also want to choose the size of the bag (small, medium or large) depending on the size of your torso. For more info on sizing, read this article. I would always recommend trying the pack on before you buy it. Sure, everything is cheaper online these days, but it’s important to know how the bag will feel when you’re walking around with weight in it. You can try some packs at REI and fill them with the sandbags they have there. The trained employees can help you with sizing as well.
Make life easier with some handy-dandy handles! God knows you will be throwing your suitcase into cars and all around. You’ll want handles on the sides and top for full functionality.
- Lockable zippers
This is an important safety feature that I never used, but you should.
You want to be able to secure your belongings inside, especially if you’re staying at hostels. Make sure a TSA-approved wire lock can fit between the hole in the zippers so they can be locked together. Sure, the whole bag can be stolen, but that is why you buy retractable, combination locks. This allows you to join your pack to a tree or pole if you need to part ways for a bit.
- Stowaway straps
My backpack, the Farpoint 55L, acted as both a suitcase and a backpack. When I wasn’t carrying it on my shoulders, I could tuck the shoulder straps away and zip them into the body of the bag. This ensures that they won’t be ripped off or damaged during transit.
If you’re going to drop $200 on a travel backpack, you want it to be yours for life. If something happens along the way, good companies like Osprey will repair it or send you a new one!
- Water resistant or rain cover
Your bag will probably be rain resistant, but you should make sure it is before buying. Another alternative, or additive, is to bring a rain cover. I brought mine to SE Asia (during dry season), and found it useless. However, if you’re going to be walking around a bit in monsoon season it could be helpful.
- Size (in liters)
I tend to overpack, so I wanted a hefty suitcase bag that was 40L. However, I also wanted a day pack. You will need one too. What are you going to put your camera, phone, wallet, etc. in while walking around town?
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I was conflicted because I knew it would be too much to travel with two backpacks. This is part of the reason I chose the Farpoint 55L. It has two bags that zip together to make one massive, but manageable pack (when walking short distances). I ended up packing my clothes, shoes, and toiletries in the main bag. Then I used my day bag to hold my electronics and purse (which actually ended up being my day bag). The Fairpoint’s attachable day bag has a rigid back panel, so it wasn’t comfortable after a full day of use. However, it worked excellently as an electronics bag because it has a laptop sleeve and some smaller zipper compartments.
If you think you want a bag bigger than 55L, then I would say you’re crazy. At that point, just get a suitcase. Ideally, you should travel with 40L because this will fit on any airplane without checking it. But if you’re a shoe-lover like me, this might not be realistic.
- Compartments / Packing Cubes
Ah to have compartments or not… this seems to be something that backpackers think a lot about when choosing their pack. I’m not sure why though? The backpack I chose did not have all these compartments inside it, so I used packing cubes. I would actually prefer it this way, but others seem to make built-in compartments a deal breaker. It’s not! Having your own packing cubes allows you to design how much space you will designate for one type of item. See more on this in section 2. However, I think compartments are useful for your electronics bag. Your electronics tend to be small and more valuable, so I’m less likely to just throw them all in a packing cube together.
2. What fits in a Farpoint 55L pack?
Quite a lot!! See the images below for everything I packed.
The Farpoint breaks down into a 40L main bag and a 15L day bag.
In the 40L main bag, I was able to fit (minus things worn while on the plane):
- 1 toiletries bag
- 1 makeup bag
- 3 pairs of shoes (1 worn–sneakers)
- 1 quick-dry towel
- 5 t-shirts (1 worn), 5 tank tops, 1 dress, 2 sweaters (1 worn), 1 jacket (worn)
- 3 jean shorts, 1 jean pants, 2 leggings (1 worn), 1 workout shorts
In the 15L day bag, I was able to fit:
- Chargers and cables
- External hard dive
- Passport and photocopied documents
- Headphones (including over-ear)
3. Packing List
I made a packing PDF for all types of travelers. You can view it by clicking through the pages in this preview. The list is designed for short trips abroad, to month-long backpackers or those who plan to live abroad for a year. Consult the packing guide and only take what you find most useful.
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