Hunting the wild backpack!
November 15, 2006 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Travelers: help me choose a sturdy, small backpack for long-term traveling.

The more I travel the easier it is for me to condense several weeks worth of gear into 25-30lbs, leaving my huge old Mountainsmith bag with lots of room at the top. So I'm looking for a backpack the size of a large daypack but with the structural features of a sturdy hiking pack: internal frame, well-padded straps & hip-belt, a chest cinch/buckle, lots of buckles & loops to strap a sleeping bag &/or tent to on the outside, and a way to adjust the height of the shoulder straps on the bag. Other bonuses (hydration-compatible, has a removable top pouch that turns into a satchel, etc) are awesome, too.

If it helps, I'm a 5'9" woman, thin, and not especially strong. Because of the way I travel (very seat-of-my-pants, rarely in hotels or even hostels), suitcase-y bags and other non-backpacker luggage is out of the question. With all this in mind, I'm having very little luck finding something small but full-featured, particularly on a limited budget. Because I'll probably be buying off ebay ultimately, please suggest anything that comes to mind--pricy is okay, but cheap is better!--and if you have any recommendations on where to get discounted backpacks/gear, please say so. Thank you!
posted by soviet sleepover to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You have described almost perfectly a travel pack. Eagle Creek has a good page for them, but there are many other manufacturers.

Basically, they're large backpacks designed for travel (as opposed to mountaineering type stuff). I love mine.
posted by Brian James at 10:10 PM on November 15, 2006

I love mine too. Mine's a JanSport, but essentially the same thing. Had it for over 15 years now!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:36 PM on November 15, 2006

I love my Osprey Atmos 50. I hiked with it for about 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail this year. I'm not sure whether it is cheap enough for your budget, but it is a very well designed pack. One feature I especially enjoy is the netting on the back of it that gives a couple inches of air flow for your back. You could drop down to one of the lower sizes if you don't need the space of the 50 obviously.

It is extremely important to get one that is the right size for you and that is adjusted correctly. Not sure if you have a store with knowledgeable staff that could help you with that, but if so definitely look into it. I hiked for a month with a pack that was the wrong size and my back was constantly aching. If you are going to be using it alot I think it is worth the extra money.

Hope this helps!
posted by meta87 at 11:41 PM on November 15, 2006

You did not specify an exact budget, so I am going to go ahead and recommend the Arc'Teryx Bora 62 (there are various sizes of this model), which is the Cadillac of weekends in my opinion. It is a small backpack designed to minimize space and weight and provide the full features of a real pack. I currently own one (not the women's version) and absolutely love it. I often take it on extended trips where I just lash the stuff that won't fit inside to the outside instead of busting out my larger Gregory bigtime backpack because I prefer the smaller Arc'Terx. It has never let me down. New, one of these puppies is going to run you around $300 though, and people are loathe to give them up on eBay for cheap.

Of the cheaper stuff, I prefer Lowe Alpine. Something like the Lowe Alpine Beartooth is under $75 and also quite sturdy and functional. Other companies to look at are Osprey, Gregory, Kelty, and the EMS and REI packs.
posted by sophist at 11:55 PM on November 15, 2006

I second the recommendation for the Arc'Teryx, especially if you are a women. Their women's backpacks work very well with a waist and hips. I have a Bora myself that I used while trekking in Nepal with about 30 lbs, and it's very comfortable. Make sure you get it fitted properly at a outdoor goods store.
posted by AArtaud at 12:20 AM on November 16, 2006

My Eagle Creek has survived 5 years and 2 long trips around europe. I have a fairly old Continental Journey which I think is about 4000 cubic inches(?). Honestly it's a a bit big for backpacking as it tempts you to overburden yourself.

I probably wouldn't go for the detatchable daypack anymore either, but I'm a very minimalist traveler.

It looks like Eagle Creek has renamed their packs but that Explore Trek LT looks like a good one.

My girlfriend has a Jansport travel pack which I wasn't overly impressed with.

I'd check out as they have some great deals. I usually fit myself at a local outfitter then buy online for a 40% discount. Some people think that is rude, but most local "outfitters" mark things up ridiculously high.

Twice the money and half the clothes is what Rick Steves says.
posted by Telf at 12:21 AM on November 16, 2006

None of the packs suggested fit the airline limits for carry on luggage. If that's something that's important to you, check out with that in mind I got tom bihn's aeoronaut ( and I'm pretty happy with the size/quality. It's a convertible shoulder bag/backpack. Very convenient.
posted by aeighty at 12:48 AM on November 16, 2006

None of the packs suggested fit the airline limits for carry on luggage.

My JanSport does. I like to carry liquids though so I've started checking it though. Bummer. But, hey, if you too carry liquids it just means you can get the bigger bag (or better yet the daypack model).
posted by Pollomacho at 1:18 AM on November 16, 2006

As aeighty mentioned, if you'll be flying, definitely read the site. I fly every week, and have been using a small rollaboard for the past few years. Decided to switch to a non-wheeled bag to avoid gate-checking when I end up on a RJ, and bought 5 of the bags mentioned on the site to give them a look. Ended up keeping 2 of them: a Red Oxx Air Boss bag for weekly business travel, and a MEI Voyageur for vacation travel. The Voyageur doesn't meet your exact specs, but it might meet your needs. There is little or no info available on this bag online, but contact info is on the onebag site. I emailed them, and they returned my call the next day to take my order and shipped it out within hours. I think it was $120 or so.

It's basically a single-compartment rectangular backpack that unzips on 3 sides for very easy packing, has nice shoulder and hip belt padding, employs flat aluminum "stays" only on the back area for rigidity (not full framed) and a few external straps (not buckles--just affixed straps) on the top and bottom to attach external items. Simple but very usable and durable. And all of this in a carry-on-legal size bag. If you're not going to be doing high mileage trekking, and will be on planes a bit, it's worth a look.
posted by Bradley at 4:17 AM on November 16, 2006

Second the Osprey recommendation, though maybe not the Atmos. Osprey make specialized women's ranges, so try one of those. The harnesses on their small packs are so supportive and narrow (I am a small-framed woman), that I could even comfortably run with them.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:28 AM on November 16, 2006

I used a Lowe Half Dome 40 for several years, and routinely hauled ~30 pounds of stuff in it. It was cheap, light and had everything that you're looking for except an internal frame. The other closest thing I was able to find with a quick search was another Lowe. It's $10 more than the one sophist mentions, but 10 ounces lighter and it's got an internal frame sheet. Also, yeah, Osprey packs are pretty great but a little more expensive.
posted by cog_nate at 6:46 AM on November 16, 2006

look at the macpac weka 20 or 30
posted by yonation at 6:47 AM on November 16, 2006

None of the packs suggested fit the airline limits for carry on luggage.

The Eagle Creek Continental Journey does if you zip off the daypack (which can be your "personal item"). Or at least the version I have does. I had no backpacking experience at all when I took a trip to Europe in 2003 and that bag worked great for me. They make a Women's Fit version too with more contoured straps.
posted by cabingirl at 7:11 AM on November 16, 2006

I spent two months backpacking around Asia last summer with this backpack from REI. The straps are well-padded and very adjustable and it meets carry-on dimensions (or you can unzip the gusset and it expands four inches if you need extra room.) If that doesn't quite fit the bill, check out the rest of REI's selection- it's pretty extensive.
posted by ambrosia at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2006

I dont have a specific reccomendation. Just a brand. Lowe Alpine.

I still use my 80 litre, main pack. After 6 years of use I've not got a single rip or broken strap. Quality workmanship.
posted by gergtreble at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2006

I have an REI Tour backpack that I love, but it's not the one they currently sell by that name. I think it's 2200 cubic inches with its expansion section closed (carry-on sized) and 2800 with it open. I think REI ruined this bag in the new version by making it much bigger (encouraging you to pack things you don't need) and adding a zip-off daypack. Perhaps you can find the old version?

The feature that makes me like it much better than my old bag (a 2700 cu. in. North Face Dumpster) is that it zips almost entirely open, rather than top-loading.
posted by aneel at 9:33 PM on November 16, 2006

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