Some Are Bigger Than Others
June 2014. I had quit my job and managed to save enough cash to go backpacking around Europe for the remainder of the summer. I ordered my inter-rail ticket and sat down with an atlas feverishly marking off the places I would visit. I rifled through my wardrobe carefully selected what clothes to bring, dusted off my toiletry bag and told my friends not to expect to see me again until the days got cooler and the nights got dark. Yep I was ready to be a backpacker. Almost. You see, it seems that amidst all of the excitement I’d forgotten one little thing; I didn’t actually have a backpack…
I soon realised that choosing a backpack was not straight forward. They came in different brands, different price brackets and crucially different sizes. Firstly they were all measured in “litres” which you know, I guess is fine if you plan on carrying water but not so helpful if you’re wanting to pack socks, sleeping bags and travel scrabble. I didn’t care about litres or cubic centimetre, I just wanted to know how big was enough but without being too big! Simple right?
Since that fateful purchases I have owned several backpacks in a myriad of shapes, sizes and types and even now own no fewer than 5; a backpacker can never have enough backpacks. Today I’m going to tell you what the different sizes come in useful for.
My 35 litre backpack comes pretty much everywhere with me. I use it to carry my gym gear and lunch to work, I pack my stuff into it when weekending in Paris or Lisbon and on big trips, I take it along to use it as my day bag. A 35l is versatile, light and small enough to take as carry-on.
I won’t lie, it does look a bit OTT in the morning commute with its khaki colour scheme and fasten up straps but it’s just so damn efficient. Besides that, even when fulfilling my day to day routine I still love to look and feel like I’m on the road. As a friend once said “Aiden, you always look like you’re ready to go travelling”. My response was simple, “Well you never know when a backpacking trip might just spring up on you!”
A 45 litre is a bit too big for everyday use and for carry on, but is absolutely perfect for camping. Its small enough to carry comfortably (unless you fill it with lead) so you’ll have no issues hiking with it for long periods through difficult terrain.
If you are a particularly light traveller (the slobby kind who only owns one pair of socks) then you could even use this size of bag for longer backpacking trips, even several months at my a time. Because a 45 litre pack is so perfect for camping and hiking trips I have one in an army, camo style so that I can pretend I’m in the SAS or something! The model currently use is the Wisport Raccoon 45l from Military 1st on-line store. As well as looking cool, it has ergonomic shoulder straps which length and height you can adjust even whilst on the move thanks to the FAS Plus Military carrying system. It also has four external pockets which are perfect for packing in smaller items and providing easy access to travel essentials, and brackets for mounting a hydration hose of your water bottle or hydration bladder.
It also has a throw-over waterproof cover for those not so rare occasions when it rains!
My 55 litre pack has got quite a bit of use this year. Basically its perfect for the intense 2 – 3 week trips I’ve been taking of late. When teamed up with my 35l, I can take my clothes, spare shoes & travel stuff along with my laptop, camera and other blogger gear. I even managed to pack 2 entirely different wardrobes in when a December trip took me all the way from Svalbard (Arctic conditions) to Petra (desert conditions).
It’s also just about light enough to carry over intermediate distances. I’ve traipsed with mine through the centre of Beirut, Tel Aviv and Oslo choosing to walk from the bus station to my hostel saving on taxi fares!
Now we’re talking. During 2 very happy periods in my life I have actually managed to live out of a 65 litre backpack and wanted for nothing; this here is your long term backpack. A 65 litre sack will fit several changes of clothes, spare shoes (which you are guaranteed to need on a long trip) as well even fitting sleeping bag or some heavy specialist gear you might need for a bit of mountaineering or something. If you manage it correctly, you will also be able to free up a nice bit of room to cram in some souvenirs for the folks back home. I managed to fit 2 whole bottles of finest Venezuelan rum in mine.
When filled to capacity it can be a bit on the heavy side so unless you are big & strong, you don’t want to carry this one over long distances. When hitting the road with a 65 litre pack you should also make sure you have a smaller bag (35 or 45) to take on shorter trips, treks or excursions. All guesthouses and hostels will let you leave you big bag with them for a few days whilst you disappear.
With a 70 litre backpack you can fit your entire family in! Ok, so that’s a wee exaggeration but you get the point, this thing is BIG!
My personal mantra is “if you can’t fit it into your 65l backpack then you don’t need it” but the 70+litre is for the things you may not need, but you still damn well want! For example, you can pack that tuxedo you may only wear once in a whole 6 month trip or you ladies out there can indulge yourself with a pair of hair-heels.
Its also perfect for camping trips when you need to take your own tent and stove and if you get a high quality one that spreads the weight you will be able to carry it ok.
Another great use of a 70 litre pack is that you can take full advantage of souvenir buying. For example, when I next visit India I plan to fill one of these full of shirts, beads and fabrics to either hand out as gifts or sell at festivals back home. Oh, and an Auzzie friend of mine once customised a 70 litre pack so that it worked as a rucksack and guitar case in one.
Room for more?
Well, I think I’ve covered most things off here. Yes there are 15 litre ad 20 litre packs out there but you can probably work out for yourself what these are best for now. We do also have some other useful resources on the site all about choosing backpacks which you should definitely check out.
Anyway guys, I’ll see you next time for more travel gear tips!