How to Pick the Perfect Travel Backpack

If you’re anything like me, you know that you need a travel backpack for your upcoming adventures, but have no idea where to begin your search. Questions of material, size, and price are all jumping through your head… and should you account for a compartment for your future travel monkey sidekick?

Well, I’ve been in your shoes and am now the proud owner of a beautiful travel backpack (although I’m still trying to figure out how to befriend monkeys). It took a bit of research (and a super helpful trip to REI), but I’ve found that these are the most important things to consider when buying a travel backpack:

1.Internal frame

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Unlike backpacks that are made for outdoor trekking, travel backpacks are built with internal frames. External frame packs are built for heavy, irregular loads, whereas a standard travel backpack accounts for holding all your items safely in place. Most travel backpacks nowadays are built with internal frames, and this design helps stabilize your pack and shifts weight onto your hips.

2. Size 

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Size really does matter when it comes to travel backpacks. Not only will you have to pick a pack correctly sized for your height (XS, S, M, L, etc), but you need to buy a travel backpack that’s large enough for all your gear. When looking into capacities, factor in how long you’re planning to be gone, how much gear you need to bring along, and how much weight you can realistically carry on your back. When looking for my longterm travel backpack, I selected a 70 liter bag (55 liter capacity in the main compartment, and an additional 15 capacity in the detachable day bag).

3. Material

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No matter if you’re traveling to Portland, Oregon, or the Sahara Desert, it’s a good idea to make sure your backpack is made of water resistant material (you neverrrrr know). You want your gear to remain dry at all times. Pro tip: You can buy waterproof spray at your local home goods store for an added element of security.

4. Zippers

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By buying a backpack that has two lockable zippers per compartment, you can thwart thieves (or at least improve your peace of mind). That way, you can buy a combo lock and ensure all of your stuff will be safely locked away.

5. Padding

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You can buy most worthwhile backpacks online, but if you can go to an REI or Sports Authority (your local sporting goods store), it’s a good idea to try before you buy. Checking out your backpack will let you know how much padding you can expect. A quality backpack will have padded shoulder straps, a padded back with adequate lumbar support, and a padded hip belt for the times when you fully fasten your pack around your waist.

6. Front loading

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Trekking backpacks are top loading, which can make it tricky to easily locate your favorite swimsuit or toothbrush in a pinch. Front loading backpacks function more like duffel bags. You set the bag down and the entire front portion of the bag unzips–giving you quick access to all your gear.

7. Cost

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I was shocked to find that big name backpacks can range anywhere form $80-500. However, during my hunt for the perfect pack, it seemed like there’s no good reason to ever buy a travel backpack that’s over $200. If you’re paying anything more than that, you need to be seriously committed to bells and whistles.

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My backpack: For my longterm travel needs, I chose to buy the Osprey Farpoint 70 pack. This backpack had everything I wanted (and I managed to find it on sale online for $139.00).

Is there anything else you’re looking for when shopping for the best travel backpack? Let us know in the comments below, and happy hunting!

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