After long consideration you have chosen your travel destination. Everything is sorted, you booked your flight and you carefully planned your route. The next thing to consider is whether you want to travel with a suitcase or backpack. For long trips and especially any trip in South America I strongly recommend to travel with a backpack. But have you thought about what backpack suits you and the trip you are planning to do?
Choosing a backpack that suits you is something you need to think about carefully. My first trip I travelled with the backpack of my cousin. For her the backpack was a perfect match. For me on the other hand it was unsuitable, because I felt like the bag was too big, it only had one zipper and the format did not suit my body well. There are a lot of brands and sizes and each backpack comes with advantages and disadvantages. The point is that it depends on the traveller and trip whether backpack features are an advantage or disadvantage. To make sure you pick a backpack that suits you I have listed some things to consider before you purchase a backpack.
Standard sizes for backpacks vary from small (40 to 60 litres), normal (60 to 80 litres) and big (80 to 100 litres). I own a normal sized backpack (60 litres) because I usually travel to warm destinations with little bagage, but I do always bring my own wetsuit. Because I like to hike I usually bring a 15 litre backpack to carry with me and I leave my normal backpack in an accommodation.
To decide which size suits you, you need to think about what you plan to do during your trip and how much (special) bagage you plan to carry. For instance, if you visit a destination with a warmer climate you might prefer a smaller backpack as you will take clothes with you that take up less space in your backpack. Also think about day or multiple day trips within your trip: do you want to carry your backpack with you all times? Or maybe you do not feel comfortable leaving your backpack behind somewhere. If this is the case it might be more desirable to carry a smaller backpack. If you really cannot decide between two sizes, always go for the bigger backpack. You never know what your next trip looks like and you might need the additional space. There is no rule that forces to you to fill up your entire backpack with bagage.
A backpack has two types of compartments: compartments on the inside and on the outside. Pockets on the inside are compartments that help you separate and organise your belongings inside a backpack. For an organised traveller this can be convenient. Admittedly, I prefer having one or two compartments. To organise my belongings I have different sizes of cubes. The advantage of cubes is that they do not come in a fixed size whereas compartments do.
For the outside pockets I prefer to have pockets that are big enough to fit a two liter water bottle and hiking sticks. There are also backpacks for the dedicated hikers amongst us that feature a special compartment to stow your hiking sticks even more conveniently. Also consider whether you want to bring a sleeping bag/mat. If so, you might want to consider backpacks that allow you to connect a sleeping bag/mat on the outside of your backpack.
Another thing to pay attention to when purchasing a backpack is the amount and location of zippers. My first backpack had one large compartment with a zipper. The zipper and so the access point of the backpack was on top. This is a very safe option because you can stow all your valuables all the way at the bottom of the backpack. However, even though this is a very safe option, it one compartment with one access point can be very frustrating. In my case I rarely stayed in one spot for more than two days, which meant I had to pack and unpack my backpack every other day.
In case you plan to stay in destinations for multiple consecutive days one access point on top of the backpack might be suitable for you because it is safer. If you plan to move a lot from one place to the other it might be better for you to choose a backpack that hase multiple acces points or ‘opens like a suitcase’. If you are concerned about the safety of easier acces to your backpack, you can always secure your backpack with a padlock or a flightbag. When it comes to the amount of zippers, I always believe less is more. Zippers do allow easy access to your backpack and are usually the feature of backpacks that tends to break fast.
The comfort of a backpack depends on two things: the weight and fit of the backpack. Of course the weight of the backpack depends on what you pack. Generally this will not be more than 23 kilograms, as aviation companies generally do not allow passengers to bring more weight. But don’t underestimate the differences in weight of the backpack itself. Make sure you choose a light backpack, your back will thank you later!
In my opinion the only way to decide which fit backpack suits you is to pass by a travel shop to try on different backpacks. Most backpacks feature adjustable waist and shoulder bands. Some backpacks even feature an adjustable backside, but I still recommend to let a specialist advise you about what fit suits your back best. It does look silly, but to make sure you have the right fit I advise you to try on your backpack packed with a weight from at least 10 kilograms and walk around your neighbourhood. You will regret purchasing a backpack with the wrong fit.
It would be easy to say that an ‘expensive’ backpack always is the best backpack, but there are no good and bad backpacks as this depends and the travellers’ needs and trip. One of my travel buddies has been travelling with a 70 euro backpack from Decatlon for years and she is very satisfied with her backpack. When you consider price when purchasing a backpack, do consider a backpack is an investment for a product that you will use for years. Realise that you will spend between 100 and 250 euros on a backpack or maybe even more, depending on what your traveller needs are and your trip. Prices generally depend on the popularity of a brand (The Northface, Deuter, etc.), size (the bigger the more expensive) and additional features such as a flightbag or raincover.