The first time I went out into the world of backpacking, I traveled with an ancient wreck of a 90 liter rucksack. I travelled 6 months without any plans or hopes. That's when I learned how stupid it was to take the wrong backpack, not to mention the wrong content.
Due to my lack of planning I would often just jump on a random bus to some random city, And then i was moping around with a giant bag until I found a cheap fleainfested hostel to stay at.
My back suffered many a time on the trip, since this bag was anything but ergonomic design.
This time I'm determined to not make the same mistake. It is worth spending a little time to find the perfect backpack for RTW purposes. The 2 important thing is the weight, volume and opening mechanisms.
Volume – There is a separate faction of RTW travelers who believe that one should make do with a bag that you can bring as hand luggage, i.e.. and under 10 kg , and dimensions 55*35*23 cm. That amounts to a volum of about 40-45 litre capacity. It does'nt sound too bad, but it is actually very little, especially if you are traveling for a year or more. With a small bag you can't bring many changes of clothes, so you'll be forced to wash your clothes much more frequently. Alternatively you can wear the same clothes all the time, but then you will smell and have trouble finding friends on the trip !
I travelled 2 months through Thailand / Malaysia / Singapore with a 40 litre backpack. It was an incredibly sweet feeling, especially when I met other backpackers with gigantic, heavy bags that they were dragging around, while I was strolling with my little school backpack. It was a tight fit, but it was ok with a little smart packing. On long trips I don't agree with the faction of people who thinks it's okay to travel with hand luggage. Yes it is incredibly nice, but there are just too many compromises on what you can actually bring along.
A 60-75 litre rucksack is ideal. The best thing is actually to pack it 1/2-2/3 full so that you have some extra space in case you want to pick up some souvenirs along the way. Nevertheless, there is always the option of sending things home in a package if there is too much to fit in the backpack.
You should also consider bringing a daypack along , about 30 litre capacity. Some bags come with built-in daypacks, but they tend to become extremely bulky and wide in my experience.
.. Another good reason for not filling your mainpack to the top is that then you won't be able to fit the daypack into it..
Weight – You would ideally want a backpack that has very low weight without making any compromises on quality and design. It is possible, but these packs are usually more expensive. To find a 75 liter backpack that weighs less then 1.5 kg is quite an achievement, but it is possible. It is important to also check that the material it is made of is durable, and that it has an ergonomic design / is comfortable to use and has enough straps around the hips/chest,.. . The image to the right is of a backpack called Ultralight Adventure Equipment circuit 68 litre capacity. It is a sack made of carbon fibers, and it only weighs 1088 grams. The main compartment can hold 39 litre capacity, but it is 68 litres in total when counting the side pockets.
It has a foam support frame, so it should be relatively comfortable to carry. Search for bags that are made of DYNEEMA. DYNEEMA is a new super-lightweight and super strong material that is becoming increasingly popular to create bags from. A bag made of this material may not weigh more than 600 grams and can contain the same volume like other bags that weigh up to 3 kg .
Design Most backpack manufacturers will provide you with long stories about how wonderfully comfortable and ergonomic backpacks they produce, but it is difficult to know how good they are without actually trying the bag on. There should obviously be good to support for your back and shoulders. Some bags also have very good hip support, allowing you to carry all the weight on the hips instead of your back. It is especially the bags made for girls that focuses on the hip support.
The best way forward is really to buy a bag a few weeks before going on a journey around the earth. Then you will get a chance to use it on several trips in the woods. If the bag is uncomfortable to wear for a few hours in your own backyard then it certainly won't do much good going around the world with you., so then the best option is to bring it back to the shop and look for new packs..
Opening mechanisms : This is definitely an important thing to consider. All bags have a flap opening on the top , but not all can be opened in the middle and bottom. I have always travelled with a top-loading pack, but a pack that could be opened on the centre would make life so much easier.. Every time I have been out travelling I have usually spent 1-2 days at each location until I have moved on, so that means a lot of unpacking and repacking the bag. Sometimes I had to take everything out of the bag only to find something that was on the bottom of the pack. It can be an unnecessary amount of work. The best option would be a bag that could be opened from the top , the middle and the bottom without too much fiddling around. It is also a great advantage to have a pack that has side pockets and front pocket for those small items that you need all the time (toothbrush, deodorant,mobile phones, stereo..) .
Other things that are worth remembering
I love the backpacks that have built-in rain cover. If it is not buildt-in it is still worth getting it seperately as it should'nt cost too much.. It is really a must-have on those long journeys. When you are in the tropics in the middle of the rainy season and the bag is on the roof of a local bus, or boat, it does take too long for all the stuff inside the backpack to get soaking wet. There are more than one occasion that I have regretted the lack of rain cover on my sack.
Hydration system: Some of the newer backpack comes with the hydration system design. This means that you can fill water into a specific bag that will fit into a pocket inside the backpack so that the drinking tube will exit from the top of the pack., just like a Camelback. It can be useful if you intend to trudge around in the jungle for days with the sack on, or when trekking in the mountains, you won't have to drag around lots of water bottles. For typical backpackers it has a limited usefulness, and there is always a danger that the bag is punctured and that the water escapes over the content of the bag..
Back ventilation – a very practical design that prevents your back and the back of the backpack of becoming really sweaty and nasty when you trudge around. The disadvantage is that the bag becomes more curved, and thus more difficult to pack properly. Some newer backpacks have avoided this problem by providing an external frame with a strong, breathable mesh to support the back (Osprey Exos58 -my favorite).
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