A Backpackers Guide to Buying A Backpack: all the tips
Picture the horror: You bring a suitcase on your interrailing trip instead of a backpack. Every other person in your hostel group has a kitted out backpack perched on their back - and you’re the only one who seems to be rolling your wheeled suitcase through traffic in Barcelona heat, down the metro stairs and through narrow paths. You look ridiculous.
Trying to make sure other tourists behind you don’t trip over it adds to your list of worries. The struggle is real. Massive mistake. Biggest regret. You thought the shiny black suitcase looked so cool in the shop - but how wrong you were. If only you knew what you know now.
A backpack is probably the most important thing you’re going to buy for your travels. When hopping from hostel to hostel, city to city you need to be equipped with the right gear. And a backpack is a travel essential whether you’re in Amsterdam, Interlaken or Berlin. However it has to tick of all the right boxes. Is it durable enough? Is the storage space sufficient? Is it from a reputable brand? Are there compartments that are easier to access on the go? There are so many things that you question first before buying a backpack.
To help you guys choose the right one, we carried out a survey to find out what sums up the perfect backpack. With so much on the market to choose from, it’s not an easy task. Everyone will have different needs, and that all depends on what kind of trip you’re going on. Is it just a weekend or an extended trip for example?
Our guide will help ya out if you read from start to finish.
We asked expert backpackers and travel bloggers to answer questions to find out their backpack buying habits. A few weeks later we gathered all the results to help you guys when choosing your gear.
So what did our research find?
Important factors to consider
Durable and hardwearing materials are the most important things to look for in a backpack by far, according to 62% of our respondents. And this makes sense considering our research found that the majority of respondents buy backpacks for the long term rather than for short term. You want something that will last, right? So always make sure to check the robustness of your pack before buying.
Sufficient padding and support was by far the most important feature for respondents with 69% stating it as the top feature. Good padding = maximised comfort.
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many travellers find themselves complaining on the road about pain on their shoulders from a backpack strap. So yeah, test out the padding first before you buy!
The second most important feature is lots of pockets, coming in at 30%.
So thick padding, durability and pockets before anything else!
How to buy it
In fact the most popular way to buy a backpack with our respondents was the old fashioned "go into a shop and try it on" method - 54% said this. So we would recommend you do the same. Reading reviews before buying a backpack online was the second most popular option, joint with taking recommendations from friends.
All three ways are useful and the only buying methods we’d recommend actioning.
There was 50/50 split over whether style and fashion came into the decision for buying a backpack. It really depends how style-conscious you are as a person, or if you just don’t give a toss. These days backpacks come in all kinds of colours and prints. Or would you rather opt for something a little more conservative...That’s your call.
How much to spend
So how much money are you willing to spend on a backpack? This is probably the hardest decision of all, especially if it's your first time buying a backpack.
38.5% people said they generally spend between £90-200 on a backpack.
38.5% spend between £70-90.
It really depends on if it’s a purchase to last you a few years, or a cheap and cheerful one get you through a one-off trip. So try to base your decisions on the kind of trip you’re going and whether you’ll be needing this backpack a lot more in the future.
I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for brands. When it comes to things like backpacks I find buying from a reputable brand reflects the quality of the product (in most cases).
However I’m no expert (and what does my opinion matter). 54% of expert travellers in our survey said the brand wasn't a deciding factor as long as they liked the product.
Which means that just under half feel the brand is representative of the quality of a product (like me). Brands such as North Face and Karrimor are popular for a reason but that doesn’t mean to say a less well known brand, offering a cheaper price is no better quality than a something from a more reputable brand. And that’s what our research proves: it’s not all about the brand!
If you’ve already decided to go for a well-known brand, Osprey listed top in our survey when we asked which their favourite backpack brand is. When we asked which backpack the respondents currently own, they said North Face. So it seems expert backpackers would recommed these two brands.
You have to dig around and see what you find in the shops.
Top tips from the Pros
From size to top features, the experts tell us their top tips
We had a look to see what the experts in the travelsphere look for in a backpack. These are full-time travellers who KNOW their stuff when it comes to backpacks. This will give you a good idea of what to look for when buying your own...
Big-time travel blogger and New York Times best selling author Nomadic Matt says that for him the most important features of a backpack include: water-resistant material, Lockable zippers, Multiple compartments, Internal frame, Padded hip belt, Padded shoulder straps and Contoured/padded back.
Award-winning travel videographers, The Vagabrothers, said their top tip when looking for a backpack is in the size. They found that 40-50L is the ideal size as it means you don't have to check your bag constantly saving time, money and stress!
Michael Lanza, the brains behind travel blog The Big Outside says decide what the backpack is for, consider capacity and weight, then get the right fit.
And our number one tip at St Christopher’s? Buy a backpack with suitcase-style side opening so you can get to your gear quickly, rather than one that only opens from the top.
Here’s what the retailers said:
We also had a bit of nose at what the backpack retailers had to say, too.
Choosing a size
Mountain Warehouse gives great advice on its website on how to choose the size:
40-60L is a good volume for most people for 1-5 nights.
For 2-7 night trips, they would recommend 50-75L packs.
For most people taking trips one week or longer, they would recommend 60-85L packs.
The retailer also gives a great tip, which is don't start with a backpack and try to fit your gear into it. Start with the pile of gear that you need to carry, and select the appropriate model to carry that gear.
Trust us, it will make your life a whole lot easier!
Best features to look for
Go Outdoors also has some great advice on its website in regards to useful backpack features. It recommends:
Large front zip opening for easy access to your gear
Detachable day pack
An alternative to fixed side pockets, collapsible pockets give useful fast access/extra storage when deployed but can be packed away to keep your bag compact.
Cotswold Outdoor mentioned the importance of good backpack straps on its website:
Straps: They said:
Look out for padded hip belts and chunky shoulder straps for extra comfort
Take time to familiarise yourself with external straps as although they may look alike, they have very different functions.
Avoid sweaty back syndrome
Lastly, outdoor clothing and travel gear retailer, Rei said:
Avoid "sweaty back syndrome" with a suspended mesh back panel.
Very useful tip!
With all of this in mind, you should feel a little more enlightened when buying your first travel backpack. You’ve heard from the experts, you’ve heard from our survey respondents - now go out there, get yourself a killer backpack and enjoy your travels! Carpe diem!
We hope you found our Backpackers Guide to Choosing A Backpack helpful.
Need more guidance? These are the 10 best backpacks of 2017.
Article by Shereen Sagoo
Lead image photographer: Jake Ingle