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First Time Backpackers Guide to Choosing a Pack

In this section of the site we want to help in making choosing a backpack as simple and informative as possible so you can be ready to plan for your trip. Below is a quick guide, chart and tips for you to use to help choose which pack fits you best!



When determining what size of backpack is right for you, it all depends on 3 factors: torso length, comfort and length of travel. For torso length and comfort, you want to choose a pack that ranges the top of your hip bone (Iliac Crest) to the C7 Vertebre (put your chin to your chest and feel the bone sticking out of your back). That way you will rest most of the pack's weight on your hips rather then your shoulders. Many packs have adjustable features to cater to your comfort! For size, I have found the sweet spot to be a 45 liters pack for backpacking trips for both men and women. It provides the necessary amount of space to pack your belongings while saving room for some extra items. Below is a more in-depth picture by REI which shows the different features when choosing a bag, as well as examples pictures of what a 35 liter and 45 liter bag can hold.

Remember: The bigger the bag, the more you want to pack. Having a large, heavy bag can be a burden when traveling around on buses, trains and planes so always make it a point to pack less. Furthermore, you dont your bag to negatively effect your experience so choosing a smaller bag and packing less will make a world of a difference. 


Always Remember:

Size: 55cm X 40cm X 25CM

Weight: (10Kg)

One of the most important (and typically forgotten) questions is can I fit my bag in an overhead compartment on a plane? With cheap intercontinental airfare being a popular way to travel, these budget airlines will throw in one tiny: if your bags too big, pay the price to have it checked. Seeing as most backpackers are traveling on a budget, having to pay the price of an additional $50 or more fee can be quite a hit to the bank account. The measurements for the carry on bag, as well as weight, is listed above. 

The measurement rounds out to be between a 45L and 50L bag, with a 50L really pushing the limits. I would always plan ahead and try to make my bag as "squishy" as possible to fit into that overhead bin. If possible, try and hold on to heavy items when checking in, whether it be a laptop or another object. You want to make sure to keep your bag weight down as well.

Lastly, nothing can cause more harm to a trip then loosing your bag. While airlines are great for transportation, they may not be great with handling your belongings. Having your bag hands on at all times is a goal to strive for.


Whether your trip is two weeks or 8 months, I would highly recommend only bringing 2 weeks worth of clothing at most on your backpacking trip. The reason for this is similar to the point above: you dont want to lug around too much. Hostels will have areas for you to wash or drop off your clothes for cleaning so bag doesnt get too stinky while on the road. Along the way you may lose a shirt here and pick up a new shirt there so don't stress if a shirt doesn't show up after a wash!

Another thing to consider is brining a 10L-15L day back to take around with you during the day. While this may sound dorky, i would travel around with my large 45L pack on my back and wear my 15L pack on the front. This allowed for me to also distribute the weigh between bags when traveling on airlines between a stowaway and a personal bag.


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Here is where we get into the meat of your backpacking decision: What style bag best suits you for you travels?

Lets get started by listing out the types and their pros/cons.

Top Loading Backpacks

What are they? - Top Loading backpacks are best characterized by their draw string top and a cover that you pull over and clip down. Mostly designed for the purpose of being able to attach nearly anything to it, top loading backpacks have been traditionally used by mountaineers but have made their way into the travel backpacking community.

  • Pros

    • Thanks to the drawstring top, this allows a traveler to be able to stuff as much as possible into their bag without having to worry about a zipper breaking or busting.

    • Top loaders have a tendency to be a better fit for most people. Since these bags have been designed for long treks, they provide the best support system for your back and shoulders. I used one for my travels and didn't have a single complaint about it

    • More water resistant thanks to the additional cover over the drawstring entrance 

  • Cons

    • Difficult to organize​ since you are packing everything vertically

    • Once source of entry so if you are packing something at the bottom you may have to take everything out first

Front Loading Backpacks

  • Pros
    • Packing is more simple with a front loading backpack. This is because you can just unzip the backpack and open it up as if it were like any other suitcase. Makes it quick and easy to get in and out of!​
    • ​Security ​


The simple answer: YES

While hostels have plenty of lockers for you to store your bag, I highly recommend making the small $7 investment in a travel cable lock. This way you will be able to be rest assured that your back will not be broken into while your out on an amazing day adventure climbing a mountain or exploring a city. Furthermore, this also includes traveling on a day to day on any public transportation or by foot as well. 

Click here for a link to the TSA approved lock I used during my world travels!


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