What's the perfect Alaska bag?
May 11, 2021 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Celebrating my second vaxx with a 10 day trip to Alaska. Some hotel stuff. Some train stuff. Some boat stuff. Some dirt road stuff. This is not a job for my trusty wheeled carryon. What's the right bag for this journey? Duffel? Backpack? Leather? Lightweight? UNLEASH THE HOUNDS OF RECOMMENDATION
posted by rileyray3000 to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats on the vaxx!

I'm in my early 50s, 6' tall, and not in particularly good shape. I usually travel with a Tom Bihn bag or two, but in late 2019 my wife and I decided to explore some of Europe for two weeks using trains and mid-range hotels. Bihn bags are great but we wanted the convenience and portability of a real backpack. We did our research and wound up looking at the Osprey Farpoint 70.

We went down to our local outdoors store and tried them on to make sure the fit was good; it was, so we went with them. They were plenty big enough for our trip, bearing in mind that we did laundry every few days. We checked them on the plane and they weren't too bulky to fit on any train luggage racks we encountered. We also found the detachable day pack to be really useful for carrying around during the day and as a carry on bag for the plane.

The Farpoint also comes in 55 and 80 liter models if the 70 liter size isn't quite right.
posted by Bryant at 9:59 AM on May 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I highly recommend the Osprey Duffle/Backpack convertibles - they tend to be really well made and are comfortable when used as a backpack.
posted by iamabot at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2021

In my experience, a daypack attached to the outside of the bag per Osprey, throws your weight off balance but Bihn’s interior frame might be better engineered. In my case, I ended up strapping the day pack to the top (and then returning it to LL Bean after my trip with a lengthy letter pointing out the multiple deficiencies). In general I preferred a top loader because it stood up and took up less floor space but that might not be an issue on your trip.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:26 AM on May 11, 2021

I would go with a ~40L backpack that's carry-on capable, but it really depends on:

- how much you need to carry
- how much you can actually carry

Ten days can be stretched out with laundry facilities/handwashing or simply by wearing a very limited set of clothes. This depends on the variation of activities you plan to do on your vacation. Electronics and specialized sports equipment weight a lot.

The other issue is that whether you can carry whatever you want. If packed very densely, 40L of stuff can weigh more than 70L loosely-packed. If you have to walk with it several miles in hot weather, it's going to be exhausting. If you are in bad shape or just simply a very light person, you are less able to carry more stuff.

Wirecutter has some recommendations, but there are lots of bags of this nature.
posted by meowzilla at 10:50 AM on May 11, 2021

If you want comfort, contemporary backpacking gear is great. If you're mostly in the wilderness and hotels, that's ideal. (I've also been happy with Osprey, but have no reason to believe their stuff is better than any other.)

My strategy when trying not to stand out quite as much as a tourist in poorer, rural communities is an army surplus duffle with a single across-the-shoulder strap. It's not nearly as good for a long hike. But, it does seem to make a difference in how you are treated in small towns. And it's cheap.
posted by eotvos at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2021

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel.

Has backpack straps, and the thing I love most is I don't have to worry about it getting dirty since the material is very dirt / water / sludge resistant. I like its pocket layout too.

Have a great time!!
posted by blueberrypuffin at 11:15 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'd go with a weatherproof (not necessarily fully waterproof/submersible) duffel pack. If you're feeling spendy, Mission Workshop has some great ones. Patagonia's black hole series is nice, more on the duffel than backpack side if I remember correctly, so if you're walking more than a kilometer or so you'll probably want something with nicer straps and padding.

On the other hand it's super annoying to have something with giant springy straps when you just need to grab it from the lobby and put it in the truck. Given the variety of conditions and modes of transport up there, you'll want to be able to put your pack down in any orientation or on any surface and not be worried about whether that side is the strong side, the waterproof side etc. Boats, bumpy roads etc... you will never know from what direction the rain, splash, mud etc will come or what will be put on top of it.

Enjoy! Alaska is beautiful and full of surprises.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:02 PM on May 11, 2021

You say you're going to Alaska? Get a 48-Hour Tin Cloth Duffle from Filson. Might as well have the best.
posted by rocketman at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2021

Our LL Bean Duffles are our gotos for Alaska because if need be they can be worn as a backpack and they're durable as all getout. That said, I would not want to wear one for any sort of lengthy hike, if that's in your plans.
posted by notjustthefish at 1:33 PM on May 11, 2021

A slightly cheaper version of the Patagonia Black Hole upthread is the North Face Base Camp duffle, the medium size and up of which comes with shoulder/backpack straps.

My partner and I have been using the large one as our go to adventure bag for about 5 years and it still looks new. This includes long haul air travel and even longer bus journeys with it strapped on the roof.

It is bomber
posted by Faff at 12:25 AM on May 12, 2021

I have the REI ruckpack 40 liter bag. I took a previous iteration to Alaska for a week+ trip. It is perfect.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 3:03 PM on May 12, 2021

My time in Alaska was with Mountain Equipment Inc. frameless backpack. They have a travel bag that has been SOLID for me on my international travel meeting all onboard luggage rules, has hidden backpack straps and has duffle handles. Built for
Life and less than $270. Can also be built to spec. Their online store is a bit primitive and they spend no money on marketing. I dig that.
posted by jadepearl at 12:40 AM on May 13, 2021

I absolutely love my Freitag Voyager.

It's dead simple: one very large opening so easy to find things in, lays flat, waterproof, very light when empty, fits in carry-on, one external pocket for flat items, one internal pocket for items you need separated. It is not the bag for wanting to stop and take things out constantly while on a trail or whatnot. It's for destination travel -- the best way to fly carry-on that I've found (I formally used Tom Bihn bags).

Scroll down the page to see a video of it in action. They make a smaller version called the Skipper, which has a padded pouch for laptop.
posted by dobbs at 5:16 AM on May 13, 2021

Response by poster: As always AskMefi delivers.

I really liked that Mountain Equipment Inc stuff but unfortunately they are a bit primitive on the storefront side. To the degree that I wasn't sure i'd get the stuff by the time my trip came up at the end of the month if I picked the wrong color. Which they also don't show.

I was between the Osprey and the Black Hole from Patagonia but went with the Patagonia. Don't love that they need to have a giant logo on the side but I do love the strong fabric that' water resistant on the sides and waterproof on the bottom.

Thanks everyone. One big purchase down only...(CHECKS LIST)...20 or so to go.
posted by rileyray3000 at 7:35 PM on May 13, 2021

Just a quick follow up note, MEI's owner is available on WhatsApp and may call you if you pop a concern or question with an order. I got this experience with a concern on shipping and duties to Australia. So get past the primitive online store front and just call or email they uh, seem to run an old fashioned business.
posted by jadepearl at 12:52 PM on May 31, 2021

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