Why are some backpacks smaller, but hold more liters?
January 8, 2013 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Why are some backpacks smaller, but hold more liters?

I had purchased this 38L pack and when it arrived, I realized I needed more space. So I found this 60L pack which is noticeably smaller, but more storage. Is this due to the number of pockets? Why else is it physically smaller but can hold more?

Side question: I'm traveling for a month in Asia so I'm assuming 60L is enough. People who have done this before, is it annoying to have a pack with no external pockets so you can regularly stow stuff? Or is that beneficial for preventing pickpockets?

(Any other backpack recommendations or advice would be great too!)
posted by deern the headlice to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
They expand- that top portion will be able to be loosened, with the interior expanding upwards as you stuff it full. Most internal frame backpacks work this way; external frame backpacks are more WYSIWYG.

A lack of sidepockets can be annoying at times, but a minor annoyance as anything you need really frequently will be in your pants/jacket pockets anyway. Plus, that pack seems to have a top pouch. Also remember that the convenience of a side pocket compared to reaching in your bag is small when put in the context that you'll have to remove all the buckles to take off the pack (and vice versa) to reach either of those.
posted by MangyCarface at 6:58 AM on January 8, 2013

Random tip: Get things like this - you'll be amazed how much less time you spend repacking when everything is separated into logical known-sized units.
posted by mdonley at 7:01 AM on January 8, 2013

I think there is something wrong with the posted dimensions. 21"x11"x7" is 1619 cubic inches, which is 27 litres (and of course the pack is not a perfect rectangle, so the space is less). I suspect the pack is actually quite a bit bigger than that.
posted by ssg at 7:02 AM on January 8, 2013

i've traveled over 2 years at one time with a 2/3 full 46L bag (link found in thread below), 7kg at most (including small shoulder bag). pack light. you can buy/replace most stuff in asia. you'll only need more if you're in extreme environments.

this thread is good: http://ask.metafilter.com/217974/Looking-for-a-convertible-carryon-bag

also, a day backpack is a bad idea. take a small cross shoulder bag. also, avoid the internal or external frame bags and top loaders.
posted by maya at 7:14 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

But to the original question - is number of liters my gauge for how much stuff I can pack? Because 60 is obviously much better than 38, in which case I'd go with this one. Still how confused how it's so much smaller, though, in terms of inches.
posted by deern the headlice at 7:37 AM on January 8, 2013

i agree with maya. Aside from the accuracy of the bags measurements, 60L is too big, unless you are a really big tall guy. 45 liters is about the right size, and you should be able to have some room to spare in that. And get small stuff sacks or zippered mesh bags so that your stuff is easier to pack/unpack. Avoid a bunch of external pockets - all they do is provide more opportunities for breakage and theft; you don't actually need them for accessibility. Anything that needs to be accessible to you should be in your daybag.

A good rule of thumb: the stuff you need for a ten day trip is exactly what you need for any trip longer than ten days.
posted by Kololo at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, liters are the gauge you should follow. Those measurements are probably based on collapsed state while the liters refers to expanded. Which is weird.
posted by Kololo at 7:41 AM on January 8, 2013

I have two friends who recently sold almost everything they owned and have gone travelling around Asia/Australia for a few months. If I recall correctly they had just one 40L bag each. In a recent holiday snap on FB, it looked like they were using the garment bags linked to above by mdonley, which I can see being very useful if you're using a fairly small bag like that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2013

60 litres is plenty, and IMHO 38 litres is too small unless you are an ace at packing light and disciplined. I backpacked once with an old 80 litre bag and lots of people had similar size backpacks. I didn't fill mine by any margin, but 38 litres would have been too small.

I'd go with the 60 litre bag. For one thing, you don't have to use all 60 litres, and having a bag that isn't packed tight means it will be easier for you to get stuff in and out when you need it.

Yes, it is annoying not to have side pockets. No, don't keep anything of value in them. Your largest risk will be bag slashers and people digging about in your stuff when you're not there. The dirty secret about backpacks generally is that they're pretty annoying when it comes to getting stuff in and out. A friend I backpacked with swore by a large, light duffle bag whose straps he could use to put over his shoulders because it was comfy to sit/lie on, and was dead easy to get stuff in and out of.

There are, broadly, three ways to pack:

- The minimalist: if you can pull this off, more power to you. Go with a 20-ish to 30-ish litre bag and bring one complete change of clothes, a super thin towel, some basic wash kit and a camera, ipod etc. Your bag basically goes everywhere with you. Your change of clothes covers a basic range of temperatures but you struggle in heavy rain or cold unless you buy something on the spot. You can chuck some clothes temporarily out when you find accommodation. I've seen it done, and it is liberating, but you do basically end up wearing the same clothes every day. It does work in SE Asia because it is easy to buy replacements and the weather is typically clement.

- The pragmatist: you fill up to about 40-55 litres. So you get to bring a charger, a real book, a camera, more than one change of clothes (and more importantly more than one pair of shoes) and you can basically get by in a tin shack or a drink in a hotel. You also have room for souvenirs. It still requires discipline, and the way to approach this is to remember that a) where you're going has shops and b) you don't need more than 2 of anything you wear (t shirts, shorts, pants, shoes, underwear) with one exception (you choose). You get to bring/buy a sarong/kikoy etc and have a thin towel. If you need a sleeping bag, you can bring one. Remember, having extra room in your bag is ok. It makes packing easier.

- The diva/noob: you will see people like this. 55+ litres bags. Curved spine like a pack horses. Manfully resolute expression. The giveaway is that they often have a pair of shoes or sleeping bag swinging below their backpack uncomfortably. They have overpacked, or let their mother overpack for them. They have a first aid kit that would be the envy of a military field hospital. They have brought fresh clothes for each day of the week. They will not wear them, and will be consigned to hoiking it around Asia for months cursing their lack of bottle at just throwing away some of it. Or else they are a diva, and have packed for slumming it and five star hotels. In which case they aren't on your budget and must be scorned at all costs as not keeping it real.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Liters are the appropriate thing to go by. Some companies may include in the L measurements external pockets or compartments, while others do not, that could be why you see a difference. Some companies advertise how they measure their packs, others to not, so you could try poking around on their site or asking their FB or twitter pages about their methods. I don't know much about Vaude off-hand, so I couldn't say. I do love my Osprey pack thought!
posted by zombieApoc at 9:14 AM on January 8, 2013

I travelled for three months through central america. I bought a travel pack from rei. (not that specific one, but something like that). The advantage is that it has a detachable day bag and you can lock your big bag in the hostel.

What I settled on what putting ONLY clothes, shoes, books, etc, that wouldn't be a tragedy to lose in the big bag, and kept only essentials and expensive things in the small bag (the lonely planet book, my ipad and camera, extra money and passport, etc.). I'd throw the big bag on the racks in buses, but would never let go of the day bag if it wasn't safely locked away.. I always sat with it in my lap. If I ever left it at the hostel, I'd always lock it up. I was pretty okay with leaving my big bag just sitting on my bed at the hostel, because worst case scenario, I'd have to buy some new clothes, and if any rifled through it, they wouldn't find anything. The only thing I ever lost was a nice shirt.

As far as what to take with you? Bring a few alcohol wipes and some bandaids (not much, just what you'd need to deal with one 'accident'). Bring a small combination lock. An led flashlight you can put on a keychain. A bottle/can opener. A camera you wouldn't be distraught about losing.

When you land, buy some water and snacks and make sure you always have some with you (I once got stuck on a bus for 12 hours, you never know what could happen). Buy a cheap cellphone when you land and don't bring one with you. Bring a credit card and an ATM card, and keep them in separate places (ie different pockets). Always have enough cash on you for a room for the night and a meal.
posted by empath at 9:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

60L is more than enough for a month of traveling. I'd say you did wrong and should have stuck to the 38L pack, but if the 60L is genuinely smaller when filled with your things, have at it I guess.

In terms of travel strategy and where/how to stow things, here is what I prefer (I have a ~45L top loading pack with a main compartment, two large zippered pockets on the sides, and a few extra pouches, as well as a compartment for a camelbak):

- Bulky and/or rarely used items in the inner compartment. I last used my pack to go home for the holidays, and I put my shoes, sweaters, jeans, et al in the main compartment. On the way back, I had been given a bunch of books as Christmas presents, so those went in the main compartment as well.

- My pack has a bottom zipper, so if I think I might be cold at all, I'll put a sweater or scarf in the very bottom so it can be pulled out easily without disturbing anything else.

- Small lightweight/often used items in the large zippered side pockets. I tend to use these for underwear, socks, t-shirts and other small clothing items. Assuming you're going lighter on clothes for your month of traveling, you'll also probably want to use easily accessed outer compartments for things like chargers and cables, headlamp, deet, water purifying tablets, and any other gear you plan to use day to day.

- Toiletries have their own dedicated pouch. Makes life easier if you're carrying your pack on and need to deal with airport security.

- I try to have a place for everything and everything in its place. There are a few other miscellaneous pouches on my pack, and if I use them, I'll use them in a systematic and habitual way. Corkscrew is always in the left hip pocket. That sort of thing.

- My pack has a bunch of areas on the outside where you can attach things. I typically don't use this feature unless things are getting really dire, storage wise. Even so, I only attach large rugged items that I wouldn't be heartbroken to lose.

A word about pack security. You should really only be wearing your pack out and about on travel days. My strategy has always been to keep pack-wearing to a minimum, so that I look like less of a target. I very rarely go straight from a train station to a tourist attraction, for instance. Even if it's not efficient, I will always get settled in at my hostel first, put down my stuff, and THEN go out exploring.

For traveling, I keep (virtually) all my "valuables" -- such as they are, you should leave anything truly valuable at home if at all possible -- on my person and/or in my day pack which stays on my person at all times. There is nothing worth stealing in my main pack, or at least nothing I would be up shit creek without. Passport and credit cards are carried in a moneybelt under my clothes. Camera, kindle, iPhone, etc. are in my day pack.

When I arrive at a destination, this gets switched up, and my general MO is to be walking around town with as few valuables as possible. I remove the moneybelt, put my passport in my day pack, and lock up anything I don't want to walk around town with. I do not stay in hostels without lockers (and I typically carry my own padlock). If I'm in a real hotel with a private room, I keep valuables discreetly out of view and generally trust that hotel staff aren't going to sack the place. YMMV in terms of economic conditions in the countries you're visiting.

A lot of people talk about splitting up important stuff like ID and money, so that if you're robbed, the thieves don't get every single thing. I usually keep small cash in the local currency, a credit card with a very low limit (an Amex gift card might not be a bad idea), and copies of my passport in the camelbak compartment of my pack. I keep my debit card and my passport on my person. I also keep an emergency stash of US dollars (usually about $50) and another copy of my passport in a super-secret third place just in case of some drastic situation like being kidnapped or mugged. It might be in an empty toiletry bottle, or rolled up in a pair of socks, or in a hidden interior pocket of some item that wouldn't be expected to have such a pocket. I've only had to access my emergency USD a few times, and those times had to do with broken ATMs, not dangerous crises, thank god.
posted by Sara C. at 1:20 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks guys.

I borrowed a pack that fits exactly the volume I need. When not full, it is within the 45" max allowed by Avianca airlines. I would like to buy something comparable, but the problem is, it's a 20-year old pack and I have no idea the model, so I don't know the liters. Any ideas?


My guess is it's about 60L.
posted by deern the headlice at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2013

Is there somewhere you can go to shop for packs in person? Fit is a big issue with packs, so you are best off trying them on, especially if you don't know exactly what you want.
posted by ssg at 6:13 PM on January 8, 2013

Sara C. said most of what I was going to post. I've been doing this kind of backpacking holiday in developing countries for a couple of decades now & follow about 99% of what she advises.

The only thing I would change, is that it's *very* handy to have a larger pack than you need* to store all your stuff because:

- you can instantly pop your daypack into it, eg when getting off a bus & the bigger pack has been sitting on the roof. Voila! Within seconds you have only one bag to deal with, and can start haggling for rickshaws. Don't be one of those people with a backpack on your back & daypack on the front. Just don't.

- it gives you more options of picking up souvenirs & things on the trip, and sending them all back in your checked-in luggage (depending on value, of course, but nobody's going to steal things like tapestries or clothes).

* I agree with others that you don't 'need' to carry 60L of stuff for 1 month in Asia. So, you'll have a half or one-third empty backpack. No harm, it doesn't take up more space or weigh more. Not significantly, anyway.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:52 PM on January 8, 2013

« Older Seattle Therapist that specializes in health...   |   How to recover from a house fire. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.