Looking for the best backpack? Walk into any REI and you’re bound to be overwhelmed by the number of travel backpack options. Should I choose medium or large? Unisex or women’s? Blue or black?
With so many choices, it’s no wonder travelers struggle to find the best backpack — the most important piece of travel gear. But it’s not impossible. Here’s how to find the best backpack for you.
1. The Gender Question
“Backpacks have a gender?” you might ask. That answer is, sort of. Most major backpack brands have a least a few offerings designed for women’s frames. Your options in the world of backpacks are men’s, women’s, or unisex.
The first step in choosing the best backpack is to decide whether the backpack “gender” is a factor you want to consider. For many shorter or more petite women, the design of women’s backpacks is more comfortable. Try a few on and see what makes sense for you. Besides going to a store you can also consider buying several backpacks on Zappos or Amazon and returning the ones that don’t fit since they have free shipping.
photo credit: gcbb
2. Size: Go Small or Go Home
For an extended trip, you’re going to be hauling your travel backpack around for months. Do you really want that extra space, just in case? Be realistic about how much stuff you plan to bring, but know you’ll rarely regret packing light and a small backpack will help you achieve that.
Hint: If you can’t get your gear-filled backpack on by yourself, you need a smaller backpack. For tips on lightening your load, read our Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.
3. Weight: Don’t Let Your Pack Hold You Back
Along those same lines, consider the weight of your backpack. Backpacks have come a long way in the past few decades and most are fairly lightweight. That said, even one or two pounds will make a huge difference when you’re carrying your backpack for months on end. If you’re torn between two choices and one is a bit lighter, go with the lighter one as this will help you find the best backpack.
4. Design Is More Than Pretty Colors
Look at how the backpack is laid out. Is there only one opening at the top? Is that going to work for you, or would a front zipper be easier? Are there pockets that will make your water bottle and other frequently-used gear easily accessible? My favorite backpack has a number of very convenient pockets that make it perfect for extended travel.
5. Destination and Climate Matter
Sometimes the best backpack for the job depends on the destination. If you’re going to explore the plains of Kenya, you’ll probably choose a different backpack that if you were traveling around Northern Russia. Think about where you’re going, what the climate will be like at that time of year, and how that will affect how you use your backpack.
6. To Daypack or Not to Daypack
Daypacks — smaller, detachable backpacks or bags — can be great for people who pack light. You just zip off the top or front part of your backpack, and you’re off. But you definitely won’t blend into a metropolitan area carrying one of these. Determine whether you’d use a daypack and factor that into your search.
7. Eco-Friendly Materials
If you’re an environmentally friendly traveler, check out recycled travel backpacks. Mountainsmith has a good collection of quality backpacks made of recycled materials. With so many options available, there’s no excuse for buying a non-recycled backpack.
8. How You Will Use It
Is your backpack’s sole purpose to get your gear from one hostel to the next? Or will you take it hiking and on overnight camping trips? Think about all of the ways you plan to use your backpack and make sure the model you choose is suitable for each use.
9. The Comfort Factor with the Best Backpack
Perhaps the most important factor of all — is your backpack comfortable? This means the shoulder, chest, and waist straps fit perfectly. It rests just right against your lower back. You don’t feel like you’re going to fall over when it’s full of gear and you put it on. A full backpack will never feel weightless, but it shouldn’t feel like torture, either.
Last, but not least, check out some reviews of the best backpacks. We love reading the reviews on Zappos (free shipping!) and Amazon. And remember, if you by online from Zappos you can always return for free.
What’s Our Favorite Backpack?
How did you choose your backpack?
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