Pack recommendations for a two-week backpacking trip?
May 5, 2010 3:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be backpacking around the EU for a couple weeks. I've got my trip all planned out, but I lack one thing: a good backpack! I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations for a backpack. List of criteria inside:

Things I'm looking for:

1) theft-resistant (anti-slash?)

2) light

3) durable

4) capable of storing at least four days worth of (albeit light) clothing and a couple misc. items

5) anything else you think is important.

Budget is <= 150 USD.

posted by -1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I really like the GoLite Backcountry Ultralite Jam (women's link). It's really, really light-- under 2 lbs-- and not as big as most packs, but perfect for 4 days. also, it lacks the extraneous pockets of most backpacks-- just the top one (with a drawstring enclosure and buckle) and a small zipped front pocket, plus zipped pockets on the waistbelt. It's meant for serious backpacking where weight is essential, but in my city travels I've really appreciated the low weight.
posted by acidic at 4:06 AM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: We've tried many solutions over the years and we've settled on Osprey Porters. I have the 65 and it was too big for three weeks in Peru + accumulated things. The 46 would probably fit as carry on. My husband has the 90, because he's a big person and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're six feet tall with jeans to match. I love this bag so much, I've quit using suitcases even when traveling in the US.

The backpack straps can be tucked away to use it as a duffel or a pack. It's incredibly lightweight - filled to the brim with everything for Peru, my bag came in under 15lbs. It's top loading with compression straps so instead of having everything in a 'pile' like a normal backpack, you can actually find things with ease. I've drug it all over Peru and the US and it... doesn't look new, because you don't want it to look new, but it's not got any damage or signs of wear.

As far as theft resistance: The main pouch can be padlocked closed, but not the top map pocket or the shoe pocket. You could probably get a very thin steel cable and wind it through all the zippers. We usually use zip ties if we're worried about it. It wouldn't be easy to slash it open since it's some kind of canvas like thing around half inch thick foam pads. Like anything else, it'll fit in a pac-safe.

My favorite part of the Osprey is the compression straps. It makes the bag exactly as big as you need it to be for today and no bigger. There's no wasted deadspace in the design - you can use up every last little corner.

They have a great warranty, too. I called them about a piece that had been broken in the store, and they sent it out immediately.
posted by arabelladragon at 4:13 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had great luck going to REI or EMS and talking to the people there. If you have one near you. They are generally staffed by super outdoors nerds who know everything about gear and can help you out a lot. I'd shoot for walking around the store avoiding help until you figure out who the oldest guy there is and then asking that guy (or girl) for help.
posted by sully75 at 4:39 AM on May 5, 2010

I had a Karrimor backpack for sometime and it served me well on a lot of trips. It was very, very robust. It still is, even though I don't use it any more. They do a 40 liter bag that can also be dragged along on wheels (IMHO a useful feature given that often in Europe the need to carry something on one's back for a long time isn't that pressing). One bonus is not having to rootle about to much each time you move because of its easy opening. It is £85 ($125), but may be a little hard to find in the US unless you import it.

As for slash-proof: in my experience it hasn't been necessary in Europe. More important for safety - especially in some places in Spain and Italy is not to have handbags etc within obvious reach of a snatch and grab. YMMV. The best defence if you're worried is a wire mesh - something like this. it's $70, so combined with the backpack would be a little over on budget.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:42 AM on May 5, 2010

No brands to suggest but something to consider: if you will be travelling by train, get the narrowest bag, ie one that fits on your back between your elbows, with no exterior side pockets. Walking down narrow aisles, it will be much appreciated.

Personally I prefer top-loading vs front loading. Easier to balance the weight over your shoulders, stays upright when you're not using it (smaller footprint). If you are methodical, you don't need to completely unpack very often.

Small combination padlocks to secure zippers.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:32 AM on May 5, 2010

I really like Deuter backpacks - they are a good combination of cozy comfort and medium weight (the ACT lite line weighs around 1500 g) for a 40+10 L pack.

You can adapt the back length and they have a ton of nifty features that you discover over time :) .
posted by lenehan at 5:35 AM on May 5, 2010

Have you looked at This guy has brilliant advice for "travelling light, going pretty much anywhere, for an indefinite length of time, with no more than a single carry-on-sized bag." Check out the What To Pack It In section for an abundance of detailed advice, including specific bag recommendations.

Personally, I use the Osprey Sojourn (the older 22" model - see it in action here). The front-panel access design is a godsend - it means you can easily get to anything in your bag, instead of rooting through all your stuff in a top-loading bag to find the one thing you need, which is of course at the very bottom. I'd say the front-loading design with a big U-shaped zipper is the single most important thing in a travel pack. This bag also works perfectly with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes, which fit exactly into the Soujorn when packed vertically (like books on a bookshelf). I usually put a cube with clothes vertically on each side of the pack, leaving a space in the middle for shoes, gear, electronics, etc. Then I can pull out or put back whichever cube I need without moving the others at all. The Sojourn is similar to the Osprey Porter recommended above, except that the Sojourn is both significantly sturdier and a bit heavier because of the wheels and internal frame. For me, the sturdiness is definitely worth it - I know I can bang it around, and also I can stuff it full or leave it almost empty and it won't sag or collapse because of the frame. And it's carry-on legal!
posted by danceswithlight at 6:41 AM on May 5, 2010

My husband and I have had good luck with backpacks made by Lowe Alpine and by Gregory. The Osprey and Arcteryx packs are also very nice. You probably want an internal-frame backpack like the kind used for backcountry hiking and camping -- a daypack isn't going to be very comfortable to carry all your stuff in every day for two weeks, and an external-frame pack is going to be damned annoying on a train, because the frame will catch on seats and in doorways. If you are a woman, look for a women's-specific backpack if you have any kind of curves to your figure, because it will fit you more comfortably.

That said, $150 is on the low end of what you will pay for a decent internal-frame pack with an appropriate capacity for a 2-week trip to Europe. Going to REI or EMS might be a good bet in terms of getting help choosing the right thing, but you will pay a steeper price and might not be able to afford as good a pack as you want to get. I've had luck buying backpacks and other camping equipment on, Sierra Trading Post, and Campmor. The caveat here is that you want to make sure that the backpack fits well and is comfortable under load. When you buy from the Internet, you have to test it out a bit at home and decide whether or not to return it. This can be problematic if you're going to Europe in the next couple weeks.

If you have an REI store near you, you can mitigate this problem somewhat: when I bought my frame pack (this one), I was planning a backpacking trip within the next month. I got my pack on closeout from REI Outlet for under $150, which was significantly less than its full retail price. My strategy to hedge against its not fitting was to have it shipped to my local REI store (which is also free). When I went to pick it up from the store, I got the people in the camping department to help me adjust the pack, load me up with some weight, and make sure that it fit properly. Luckily, the pack fit great -- if it didn't fit, I would have immediately returned it at the store counter and purchased another, less-awesome, pack at full price right then.

Links that might be helpful:
Choosing a Backpack
How to Choose the Perfect Backpack
Backpack Sizing Guide (Sierra Trading Post)
Backpack Sizing Guide (REI)
posted by kataclysm at 6:50 AM on May 5, 2010

My experience is that there is no one perfect bag for everyone. I would recommend going to whatever outfitters you have nearby and trying on various packs, preferably with weights so you have some idea of how it will sit on your frame. Many places will have sandbags or something similar to load your pack with to get an idea of the weight distribution.
posted by Gneisskate at 6:51 AM on May 5, 2010

The point of a backpack is to be able to carry quantities of stuff over rough ground while leaving your hands free. Great if you are going on a hike where you plan to camp for example - but there are a few disadvantages:
1. Quite a lot of effort, cost and weight goes into making a comfortable carrying system.
2. Getting at your belongings can be quite tricky.
3. People hate you when you turn around in crowded spaces
4. Airport baggage handling systems want to devour your luggage.
5. You can't see what you are carrying behind you - leaving you vulnerable to razor theives.
6. You are part of the backpacking club - for worse as well as better.

Consider how much of your planned journey actually needs a backpack. It could be that you would be better served by some kind of holdall -perhaps one like this which has wheels, a handle to carry and a shoulder strap. This type of luggage tends to be cheaper, more flexible and lighter per volume carried.
posted by rongorongo at 6:52 AM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: 2nding the Osprey Porter. My wife and I spent 5 weeks in Europe with the Porter 46. The bags were very durable hardly looked used when we got back. I think each of our bags ended up being less then 20 lb packed.
posted by bajema at 7:58 AM on May 5, 2010

Best answer: Osprey Porter 46. It's way bigger than you think!
posted by CPAGirl at 8:04 AM on May 5, 2010

We can tell you what backpacks we like and what kind of capacity would be good for you, what backpacks have the features you desire &c forever.

What we cannot do is make sure that a backpack fits you and feels comfortable and supportive on your body, with weight. So, get as much advice as you like from us fine folks on the internets (and there is some very good advice in this thread), but take that as a shopping guide so you're the discerning and informed customer when you go to an outfitter and actually try backpacks on, weighted, so you know that they feel good on your body before you buy them

I learned this lesson the hard way.
and if they're not willing and comfortable —and used to— doing something like this for you, walk away. You are not dealing with a good outfitter.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2010

Whatever you end up with (I used an Arcteryx RT45 for 6 months travel through extreme heat and extreme cold on 4 continents and with 300+ rolls of film taking up space and weight) make sure it's small. Find the smallest bag you think you can manage with, and then go smaller. I so many people in hostels in Europe with packs as big as themselves, and it really impacted how and where they would travel. You'll need to be able to lift the bag above your head and stuff it on a shelf above the seats in trains, or you'll need to be able to cram it under seats, or you'll need to be comfortable with it in your lap for a 3 hour ride on a bus or a train, or you need to fit it into really small lockers provided at hostels, or you need to fit yourself and your pack onto a packed subway car.

One thing I really liked about the RT45 was the separate, water proof pouch on the outside of the bag. It was small, but if I had some dirty laundry or my shoes got wet, I could put them in there without risking the rest of my bag. I also really liked the top-loading, fold-over closure system of the bag. No zippers to worry about.

As for checking the bag in an airport, get a secondary duffel that just fits your fully-loaded pack. It will protect all the external straps and you can roll it up and connect it to the outside of your bag when you're walking around.
posted by msbrauer at 6:52 PM on May 5, 2010

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