traveling backpack- what do I REALLY need?
It seems you have the cart before the horse. The size and features of the pack are determined by the usage. Sooooo, what are you REALLY taking? I would suggest that you get out the stuff that you are taking on your trip and then you can figure out the size of the pack to carry it all. One suggestion is to not go too big because you will want to be able to stash the pack in a standard train station locker so you can explore a city without lugging it all around. I'm sure there are others on this site who can give you specific suggestions once you have determined need based on size.
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I'm a 5'2" woman looking for the right backpack- and not knowing how to sort through all the junk and propoganda put out by companies!
Well, join the crowd! I'm not sure anybody can really sort out all the hype from the companies.
As Paul said, first step is to pile up the stuff you think you want to take, sort through it to get down to the stuff you really believe is essential, then toss out half of that. This will put you within a passable distance of what is really genuinely needed. If you did this trip a lot, you could make a list and then check off what you actually used, getting down to a reasonable idea of what to take. But, of course, you don't have that luxury. The published lists aren't all that useful, either, since they always have stuff that there is no way you would ever need it and leave off the really vital items.
Anyway, once you have made a few passes at it in the living room, think about what volume this is going to require (taking into account that you will compress the pile when stuffing it into the bag). This will give you a good idea of the size bag you need to get all that junk in. It will also tell you if you need to have a carry-on bag plus a checked bag.
One thing to consider is to take along a small pack or duffel to carry your souveniers back with you. It means an extra bag on the return trip, but you won't have as big a bag in the early stages, and you won't be tempted when packing to squeeze in "just one more item."
Another thing to consider is that Europe is, after all, pretty civilized, with supermarkets (le supermarche'), pharmacies, and so on. You do not have to take a full 3 months supply of toothpaste, soap, and other comsumables. Amazing how much you can cut down there. Take easy to wash clothing and plan on a laundry evening once a week (some people take enough socks and underwear for the whole trip, which takes up an amazing amount of space).
Ok, you know all that anyway, so to the pack. We have tried all sorts of packs during our travels - regular packs, luggage-packs, regular luggage, with and without wheels, separate wheeled dollies, etc etc. None are completely satisfactory, but all have their merits. The nice thing about luggage/packs is that in the airport they look like any soft-sided luggage, but they have straps (that hide away), so they can more easily be carried. Some come with wheels. When going on climbing expeditions, I put all my climbing and camping gear into a wheeled duffle that has pack straps (and is checked). The duffle wheels around easily, but can be carried on my back when wanting to get through crowds rapidly, and it keeps the straps on my expedition regular pack from getting destroyed by the sky gorillas (officially called baggage handlers) or the conveyor belt. It also looks like regular rollaround luggage, keeping the security hassle factor down somewhat. It is by Eagle Creek.
When I can travel with a small amount of gear, I use a luggage/backpack that qualifies as carry-on (some airlines have changed their permitted size, so it is sometimes necessary to assist it through the aluminum template at the security checkpoint). We have an REI version and an Eagle Creek version.
I also have a checked-luggage size luggage/backpack that I have actually used as a backpack for a 3-day backcountry trip in the middle of a trip. It works, but isn't all that satisfactory as a backpack. This seems to be true of all combination luggage/backpacks.
Another suggestion - if you decide on a normal backpacking type of pack that has to be checked at the airport, get a duffle (Outdoor Research makes strong ones) of large enough size to put the pack into it when checked. This will protect the straps, zippers, and other parts of the pack from the sky gorillas and luggage belts. Otherwise, any strap that is available will be grabbed as a handle, with a high probability of getting torn loose.
As for brands, I would suggest you look at Eagle Creek. They have a good variety of styles and less compromise from the backpack end of things if you want to use it as a backpack on occasion. Also, they have an excellent warranty policy - they repaired the packstrap cover zipper on one of my bags after Alaska Air destroyed the slider so I couldn't get at the pack straps (luckily on my final leg home, so all I had to do was wrestle it out to the curb and the car).
-- Bill S
I'm 5'5 and had the sam problem as you, i'm off backpacking round Australia in January, after hours and hours of looking on the net and several in depth chats with the blokes in a camping shop i've decided on a Braghaus Arkamas, the female version! When i tried it on in the shop it was really comfy, and the waist stap went small enough which i found to be a problem with the mens packs. Its got lots of pockets and is front loading which is handy. Apparently berghaus packs are really good and some guy on here said he'd had his for years. It carry's 60litres, but has expandable pockets which take it up to 70lt, which i shall be putting souviniers in. hope this helps. x x
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