One of the last things that comes to mind when you think of your round the world trip is that rather unspoken concept that you are going to be living from a bag for as long as you persist to meander the globe. This bag is now your bedroom, kitchen and living space all in one. It is however, not your toilet. With living from such a small space comes the various challenges and trials you will face as a backpacker. It’s too late when trekking for 10 days through the Himalayas or a week through Burmese jungles to realise your bag is digging into your side or that you have to spend an hour dissecting it every single time you need to use your water bottle. I’ve gone through a few a few backpacks, patched them up endless times and here is what I’ve learnt. I am not endorsing any brands here, that’s something you’ll have to figure out yourself. You’ll be bringing your bag to some of the most amazing places on the planet so picking the right one can make a huge difference.
What to look out for!
Support – The main thing to note here is the support. You have to carry everything you own on the road on your back, it makes sense to ensure that it sits on your back comfortably. Most modern bags will come with the frame inside. This can be easily pulled out when you need to clean down or debug your back pack. When picking one, get the shop to load it up with a few kilos of gear so you can get a feel for it. 10-20kg will give you a good feel for it.
Straps – When lugging your life around, most of the weight is being transferred onto your shoulders. Most straps will do just fine if you are only bringing your bag from A to B but realistically when you are carrying your bag around the city of Rome or New Delhi trying to find your bus stop, the straps may start digging into your shoulders. Go for one with plenty of padding, wide straps and clips mid way up that help disperse the pressure around your torso as opposed to all the load being taken by your shoulders.
Raincover – Some bags now come pretty much rain proof as is but a rain cover is always best just to make sure. You may even decide to get a backpack with a raincover built into it. When it starts raining, cover your bag and prevent you documents and clothes from getting wet. As a side note, it is always best advised to keep your travel documents and money in a waterproof pocket within your bag as an extra safety precaution. Your visa stamp is no use as a smudge.
Compartments – This is the key to an efficient bag. You can pack everything as neat and tidy as you feel but when in a rush, retrieving that nail clippers or rapid packing will mean things will most definitely get mixed up. The more pockets you have the more you can divide up your goods into toiletries, first aid, fresh socks, documents or tech gadgets. It allows you to get more specific items out without having to tear your bag apart each and every time.
Size – How big you bag is going to be depends on a few factors really. First, you need to carry a weight that suits your size and build. Too heavy and you can damage your back and too light means you may not be able to bring all that you need. The idea here is not to buy a backpack according to your height but rather to your torso as this is where the load and work is being done. If you are taking a short trip, then keep your bag small, if you are going for several months you should opt for something a little more substantial. Don’t forget if you are going for a big trip, don’t pack things you will only use once or twice. Try picking them up on the road instead. There’s a good chance they’ll be cheaper too. 60-70 litres is just fine for a 2 -3 month trip or more.
Features – The features and accessories you get with your bag will really depend on you and what you intent to do on your trip. Having trekking pole straps is very useful if you actually intend on going trekking. The idea here is that you will spend less getting a more basic bag and that may very well be all that you need. Don’t buy into the flashy perks of a bag if you know deep down they are no use to you. High quality straps and zips will make your bag last a whole lot longer.
Design – Although not a very important park of a bag it is worth picking a backpack that is notable in design and bright in colour. This makes it easier when grabbing your bag from the undercarriage of a bus late at night or in a rapid dash from the carousel in the airport.
Day Pack – Having a small backpack for your camera, bottled water and other day to day goods when you are out sight seeing is extremely important. Simply carrying your bag everywhere is not an option or taking half the good outs to transform it into a day pack is very time and energy consuming. Instead get one you can zip away from your backpack or get an easily collapsible one you can tuck into a small compartment. The lighter the better as you won’t be carrying much in it bag anyway.
Other Features – Keep your eyes open for things like lockable zippers which can be handy when sleeping near your bag, a contoured backpack that fits snugly to your spines contour and finally a padded belt around your hips that keep the back firm against your body and less likely to throw your balance off centre. Very easy to do when climbing up and down steps or to let people pass you by when in tight spaces.
- Don’t place your bag on the floor in a hostel as it is privy to bugs, fleas and insects.
- Don’t leave food in your bag where rats may be about
- Do clear out your bag now and again to get rid of things you don’t need
- Do mend any holes you see as they form
- Don’t leave liquids in with your clothes or valuable in case they burst
- Lock it up where possible and keep the zips facing towards your bed to make them more difficult to access while you sleep