We chose rollie bags.
OK, maybe not this time around…
Your pack is one of the most important pieces of gear you can buy, but we found that the process of finding one can be a bit of a pain. Between Eric’s long torso and my OCD, we had to check out dozens of packs before we found the right pair for us. I actually bought four different packs in preparation for our trip, so I would highly recommend buying from places like REI that will take things back for any reason.
I tried out the first two (both Gregory packs – I LOVE that brand) on “test” trips to Morocco and Honduras, but then I decided that they weren’t close enough to what I needed. Those went on Craigslist. Zappos took back an Osprey that didn’t cut it, and I finally settled with yet another Gregory after agonizing over it for months. The exercise was only fun for about five minutes. So, how can you cut down on the costs and time involved with finding the perfect thing to put your stuff in? Here are the questions we think you can start with to make the process easier:
1. What Size Do You Need?
We plan to pack as little as possible, although our lust for electronics makes this challenging. We’ve had to ask ourselves over and over: Does this item need to travel the world with us? We find that too many clothes and gadgets literally and figuratively weigh us down. Since we’ll be traveling on budget airlines that nickel and dime passengers who have to check bags, our packs have to fit into even the smallest of overhead bins (we’re aiming for dimensions no larger than 22 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep). By choosing bags that fly for free, we already narrowed down the possibilities.
2. Does it Fit?
The next important consideration is fit. I found many enticing options that gaped here and chafed there. But when you’re running to catch a train with your pack bouncing up and hitting you in the back of the head, giving you blisters, killing your shoulders, or any number of maladies that result from improper fit, the nice color or fancy pockets won’t make you feel any less like checking in to a nice hotel instead of exploring a new city.
Due to Eric’s aforementioned torso size, there were only a few smaller packs that would fit him. After searching for weeks, we had to outsource to Visa. Did you know that if you have a Visa Signature card, they’ll do this type of research for FREE? He called them up and told them the size and specs of the bag he needed, and they found two that would work. He went with the Arc’Teryx Axios 35.
[ptcFlickr id=”8344736670″ size=”small 320″ position=”right” caption=”Eric’s pack”]
3. Is it Functional?
Thankfully, most of the major pack manufacturers use high quality materials and zippers that will last a few years or longer. The most challenging part of pack shopping often lies with pockets and accessibility. I find packs that are solely top-loading problematic. What if you need something that’s not on the top? Then you have to pull everything else out of the bag, showing everyone all of your treasures and making a gigantic mess in the process. Poor Eric didn’t have a lot of options, but this was the biggest sticking point for me. The bag I finally settled on, the Gregory Jade 38, loads from the top, front, and bottom.
[ptcFlickr id=”8344736640″ size=”small 320″ position=”left” caption=”Sam’s pack”]
The side pockets on both of our packs are pretty sad when the main compartments are fully loaded. But I’m convinced that there’s no such thing as a perfect backpack. It’s really about finding the one that fits criteria 1 and 2, and has the fewest things that make you mad when you’re trying to get at your gear. I also like having compression straps that do their job when you encounter one of those cages at the check-in counter where you have to prove that your bag will fit in the overhead bin.
4. What Else Does it Offer?
Features like travel-wardrobe-compatible-colors, built-in rain covers, breathable mesh backs, and safety whistles are a bonus, but we decided not to give much precedence to them because while they’re nice, they generally don’t make or break the bag. We’ve found that ours will hold everything we need (and probably more).
A great pack can make a huge difference when the travel gods don’t send any cabs your way, or when you end up living out of it for days. In the end, we found that it’s worth the investment to find a bag that fits well and meets your needs.
More details on travel gear to come!