backpack size

12:03 a.m. on February 26, 2007 (EST)

I'm going to backpack europe this summer and I need to know what size pack I need. I'll be staying in hostels and hotels, so I won't have any gear. I'll only need to pack toiletries and summer clothing. What is the smallest size I can get away with?

10:40 a.m. on February 26, 2007 (EST)
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Depends on how big you are and how many pairs of jeans you pack...


-Brian in SLC

8:40 p.m. on February 26, 2007 (EST)

I'm 6'1", and I'm not quite sure how much I'll be packing. I just need a broad idea of how big a pack to buy.

9:08 p.m. on February 26, 2007 (EST)
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You are starting at the wrong end of the decision making process. You buy a pack to hold what you take, not the other way around. Until you know what you are taking, your question has no answer. There are plenty of lightweight packs in the 2000-3000 c.i. range. I can fit what you listed in a fanny pack, but that doesn't mean that's the right pack to take.

If you insist on buying a pack first, Granite Gear, Gregory, GoLite and REI all sell packs suitable for such a trip. Something like the GG Nimbus Latitude or Latitude Vapor would be as good as any others. They are panel loaders which work well for traveling.

10:14 a.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)
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My criteria might be different than's a few thoughts...

If it were me, I'd probably lean towards a pack I could carry on a plane. That limits the size right there. Ditto for train/bus travel. A fully loaded 50L pack probably would be too big. Hence, the 40L recommendation.

My niece lived out of a small pack for a bunch of months travelling around Europe. Can be done.

The crux will be the choices you make for what you think you need to be on the road. Especially clothing. Two pairs of blue jeans takes up a large amount of space, for example.

Go lighter than you think on the front end. You can always add stuff when you're over there.

-Brian in SLC

11:55 a.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)

Is it common for an outdoor equipment store to allow me to take my stuff into the store and see if it will fit in a certain size bag?

12:04 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)
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I agree with Tom and Brian - figure out what you need to take, then match the pack size to that. And make a big effort to fit everything in your carry-on bag (the airlines have shrunk the carry-on official size in the past few years, plus different airlines have different limits, so check the airline website for their size limits). Consider the combination pack/suitcase type of bag. We have several of these, some of which work quite well, some of which do nothing well. They are more suitcase than pack in most cases, although I did use one (checked luggage size) for a 3 day backpacking trip.

In addition to the carry-on (basically an under-seat size), you can take a "personal" bag. Take a look at the size of "purses" some women carry and "computer bags" others carry. This can help with the space, but these bags are an extra that gets awkward to carry even when running from one terminal to another at the change of planes.

One thing I do when flying to expeditions is to carry everything I can fit into the "carry-on" (a pack of abt 40 liters like Brian suggests) that I can't easily replace if/when a checked bag gets lost and wear several layers of clothing and my climbing boots (yes, a real nuisance to take off at the security gate and a huge annoyance to my fellow passengers). The checked bag gets the gear that is forbidden (the ice ax and crampons, skis, etc) from the carry-on plus stuff that is too bulky.

But for the kind of trip you describe, aim for fitting everything in a carry-on sized pack. You can always buy anything needed in Europe (they get their clothes from SE Asia, too!), and there are lots of laundromats. You can probably get by with taking what you wear plus one change of clothes, then buying anything else locally. If you decide to go someplace that requires a suit, you can rent them anywhere in Europe, just like in the US. No need to schlep a fancy suit (or gown) all over the place just for one night out.

I suggest looking at the Lonely Planet books and joining Hostelling International (formerly called American Youth Hostels, part of International Youth Hostels) and looking at their suggested list of clothing, etc to take. Besides the youth hostels are fairly inexpensive, and you get an international calling card. There is no age limit on "youth" hostels, by the way. Barb and I use them still, even though I am an official, card-carrying "elderly".

5:46 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)
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For sizing up your load, use a trash bag, then estimate how much volume is left over. Smaller kitchen bags work great for this.

Or, fill your tub to the brim, load your stuff in a trash bag, compress it down to its smallest volume, put it in the tub, dispace the water...

As far as a pack and another man purse sized bag, I know my back hates those kinds of loads. I'd probably opt for a few of them slippery silcoat type stuff sacks and use one of those for personal items I might need outside the pack, but, also stuff it back into the pack when its time to hike with all your stuff. Hanging a bike bag, over the shoulder type commuter bag puts such an annoying side load on my spine...

I commonly travel with a 32 liter pack (a lightweight Speedlite pack made by BD). Fits inside my standard travel carry on bag, but, also carries great by itself. The bigger ones made by Go Lite seem great too, and weigh and pack down to practically nothing.

More of a fan of a top loading pack than one of them travel bags that does both, with all the side zippers and access. These tend to weigh more, and have more stuff to break. Of course, you can disguise yourself better as a non backpacking traveller with one of them bags, though. But you are going to Europe. Tons of folks travel with packs there.

Less is more. Get some synthetic travel clothes. Ex Officio etc stuff. Sierra Outpost sells that stuff all the time, and, its light, takes up little space, holds up well under use, drys quickly...perfect for long travel trips. Underwear, shirts, pants.

I'd personally buy a smaller pack (and I'd size it to be able to take it on a plane) first, then MAKE my load fit it and adjust the load accordingly.

Kids I see walking around with these huge packs, bigger than they are, look miserable...

-Brian in SLC

6:47 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)
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Taking your gear in? I imagine it depends on the store, but if it's a specialty outdoor store, they probably see that happen fairly regularly. Without a big sleeping bag and cold weather clothes, a small pack isn't out of the question. Plus as Bill says, you can buy anything you need in Europe, then mail it home at the end of your trip.

8:55 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)
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When I think backpack size, I think small, medium, and large. I guess it's because I've suffered from ill-fitted packs. Whatever volume you choose, I think it's critical that it fits your back. If you haven't had it measured then stop by the nearest outfitter. You might be surprised.

I am 5'10", 210lbs and carry XS packs! I suffered for years because I had large packs.

10:44 p.m. on February 27, 2007 (EST)

Thanks for all the help guys. I'm going to use the trash bag test to see what size I'll need. Right now, I'm looking at the Osprey Waypoint 60 or 80. Does anybody know of a good website where I can look for used backpacks?

3:23 p.m. on February 28, 2007 (EST)
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Whit-80L is a big pack. These sizes are in liters. A liter is 61 c.i. which means the 80 is over 4800 c.i., which is winter pack or expedition size. I looked at this pack on their website-they list it at 5000 c.i. It is no doubt good quality, but also heavy-almost 6 lbs for a regular and over 6 for the large. It is also complicated. Are you sure you want to carry something that big all over Europe?

I think even 60 is pushing it for summer travel. Probably that is even too big for carry on. Remember, you will be not only on a plane, but most likely on trains, buses and the occasional taxi as well.

For travel, I used to have a panel loader Jansport that had a tube frame, kind of like an external, but covered. The waistbelt came off and the shoulder straps could be tucked into a zippered pocket across the back of the pack, so it looked like a small suitcase. That worked great because there were no straps to catch on luggage carousels, racks, etc.

You could place a want ad here in the classifieds. EBay is a good place to look for used gear. Lighweight packs show up on The Lightweight Backpacker. Check the online store outlets-both REI and Backcountry have one. Sierra Trading Post always has gear at good prices. I wouldn't buy any off brand packs, no matter how cheap. However, having said that, I bought an Outdoor Products pack for winter day hiking and a friend took it to India for 3 weeks with no problems. It is probably around 3000 c.i.

7:44 p.m. on February 28, 2007 (EST)
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Carry-on size is roughly a 40L/2400 cu in pack. My Lowe packs that are 40L fit into the official measuring box with a bit of squeezing, mostly to tuck the straps into the box (Alpine Attack 40, which is pretty well worn out, and my newer South Peak Centro 40 which I used for my carryon going to and from Punta Arenas). United used to have an aluminum plate restrictor on the Xray conveyor at their security gates that I had to give the Alpine Attack 40 a bit of an assist to get through (other airlines allowed a slightly larger size and so United had to remove the restrictor plates on shared concourses, eventually removing them on all the machines). I never tried my Osprey Aether 60, but it is clearly too large to make it into the carryon measurement box.

Here is American's limitation:

"Size and Number of Pieces

* FAA security measures limit customers on all AA flights to one carry-on bag plus one personal item.

* All carry-on pieces, including laptops, must fit either underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin.

* The one carry-on bag must fit in an overhead compartment or under the seat. It should not exceed 45 linear inches (length + width + height) or weigh more than 40 lbs/18 kgs.

* Carry-on items which appear too large or irregularly shaped to fit under a seat, in an overhead compartment, or in a closet will not be accepted as carry-on baggage and will need to be checked."

Note that 45 linear inches is something like 24 long + 11 wide by 10 thick (2640 cu in) or maybe 22 long + 14 wide + 9 thick (2772 cu. in.). The measurement box (and under-seat and overhead bin) is rectangular, so a 15 inch cube won't work (3375 cu in or 55 liters).

As Brian noted, and I said in passing, having more than one item to carry when running between planes, or riding the Tube/Metro/U-bahn is a literal pain in the back and neck. I've been doing travel in Europe and elsewhere for over 40 years, and I know Brian has also done a lot of European and other travel. Save yourself a lot of pain (literally) and stick with something of carry-on size. Use synthetic clothes that pack well without wrinkling, use laundromats, and if you really need something you don't have with you, just buy it (they even have WalMarts in most of Europe - not Germany anymore, though). As Tom D said, you can mail extra stuff back or pass it along to someone else at the last Hostel you stay at. We used to trade cars on the street in front of the local American Express office in the 60s and 70s (don't know if that works any longer).

2:50 a.m. on March 1, 2007 (EST)
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Here's a good article on traveling light, with links to other travel sites.

2:29 p.m. on March 21, 2007 (EDT)
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I assume you are not serious when you say "jeans"? Nothing could be worse to hike in under virtually all conditions.

are we there yet

2:31 p.m. on March 21, 2007 (EDT)
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12 forum posts Check out the whole site - can't go wrong.

are we there yet

3:43 p.m. on April 10, 2007 (EDT)
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I made a similar trip way back (?) in 1997. I bought my pack based on what I would need for the great outdoors, so I had a lot of leftover room and a bit more pack weight and bulk. It wasn't really a problem since I never carried my stuff for more than a mile or two (hostel to train station).

The biggest suggestion I can offer is to carry something to lock down your pack. I took a large canvas laundry bag with a grommeted opening at one end. I put my entire pack inside this, ran a lock through the grommets, then ran the lock through something that wasn't going to move. Not only did that make a great bag for air travel (use something besides the lock for checked baggage), but it saved my pack on more than one overnight train trip when a less-than-desirable person attempted to grab my pack while I was sleeping. It also kept my stuff from "walking off" from the hostel. When not in use, I just rolled it up and stashed it like a sleeping pad.

Have fun!

April 20, 2018
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