Backpacks, Shoes and More for 3 Month Eurail Trip in European Winter!
May 13, 2008 1:12 AM   Subscribe

Four part backpacking question: backpacks, international shipping, shoes, and more travel orientated places to ask such questions.

I am going to be traveling Europe (mostly Western countries) on a 3 Eurail pass from October to January. I am planning on balancing time in big cities, smaller towns and then some villages, but will not be doing any camping or extensive hiking - mostly train travel and hosteling. I am in the stage of getting kitted out for this winter backpacking trek and need advice in the following areas:

Backpacks - I have decided that since I don't want to spend a huge amount on the contents of the backpack and as a bonus can travel light (which is the number one travel tip of all time), I am going to limit myself to a 55L backpack. I know the best backpack will be the one that fits me best and that the best way to achieve this is to go in to outdoorsy stores and talk to the shop assistant and try on as many as I can etc, but I am wondering if people have any standout models in the general 45-65L range they want to suggest. Something to keep in mind though is that I live in New Zealand - we have most big brands here, but for instance I have not yet found a place that stocks Eagle Creek, a brand I hear mentioned often. Any other important advice about backpacks is also appreciated, e.g. things you hated or loved about your backpack or important (but not obvious) information you want to share.

Shoes - I am in the early stages of looking at shoes, but I know a lot less about it than I do about backpacks. I don't know what brands to be looking for, what makes a good shoe for my sort of backpacking trip etc. All I really know is I would like it if the shoe was waterproof (due to winterness, but feel free to convince me otherwise) and was not too huge and chunky and obvious (although I am exploring the option of taking a second pair of less touristy shoes). Tell me all about what shoes I need!

International Shipping - New Zealand isn't cheap for this sort of stuff, and with the awesome exchange rate with the American dollar, I am looking at buying online once I have established my top choices (e.g. trying shoes/backpacks on here first) Can anyone recommend good websites for shopping online for outdoor gear that provide shipping to New Zealand (possibly at costs that won't negate the savings of shopping online)?

Other places to ask - Whilst I love the high standard of the askmefi community, I realize it is not the most travel orientated place and there might be better places to ask such questions. Any good backpacking forums/communities where the info is generally reliable as it is here?

Thank you to anyone who has taken time to read all (or part) of this mammothly oversized post, and thanks to any and all help you can give me hive mind!
posted by atmosphere to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I backpacked from St. Petersburg to Chengdu (China) in the middle of 2007, taking the trans-siberian through Mongolia.

Backpacks -- I honestly can't remember the size of the backpack I used, and am not very familiar with all the xyz-L specifications. But the backpack I used was an old military one that I bought off eBay. It was a straightforward top-loading type; none of those funky access-main-compartment-from zips on the side, but it was sufficient for my purposes and a lot cheaper than anything I could have gotten from the outdoorsy stores.

Shoes -- I wore a pair of Caterpillar shoes; they looked something like this. They were excellent; held up without any complaints whatsoever, and were very comfortable once I broke them in. I would strongly recommend them for a trip of your description.
posted by nihraguk at 1:31 AM on May 13, 2008

Check out the bags recommended by OneBag to see if they will suit you. I use a Carribee backpack. You can zip away the backpack part for easier travel on planes and trains.

Shoes - I rely on Keens now. I don't go for boots - it's never cold enough in Europe to need them (and I live here now). I just wear regular laceup shoes almost every day, and put waterproofer on them.

Your jacket is the most important clothing item - wool is impractical so a medium weight jacket with layers underneath works best. October can be surprisingly warm so you need to be able to vary what you wear.

NZ has so many awesome outdoor stores - surely you can find these items there at a good price?

Other forums - Lonely Planet Thorntree.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:41 AM on May 13, 2008

As an avid walker I recommend buying your shoes ASAP and doing some good distance walks in them long before you go. I also lean towards buying shoes that are slightly on the large side and bulking them out with socks, as shoes even slightly too tight can make your life miserable. Also, don't buy cheap socks - I spend about $25.00 for a good pair of walking socks, and they last much, much longer, don't rub or bunch, have no annoying seams and are all around better than a cheap pair.
posted by tomble at 3:03 AM on May 13, 2008

For forums, try BootsnAll. In particular, the Europe travel forum, RTW and Vagabonding forum, and Gear forum
posted by nitsuj at 5:26 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

The best backpacks I've found are ones that come with an integrated daybag that attaches to the main pack so that you can easily carry the two on your back, and then quickly detach the daybag when say, getting onto a coach.

Means you keep both hands free at all times without having to leave space inside you main bag for you daybag items and you don't have to fuss about changing the contents of your daybag meaning you don't forget to pack anything as you go along.
posted by paulfreeman at 6:59 AM on May 13, 2008

I have an Eagle Creek pack with integrated daypack (the old Continental Journey, which is the precursor to the current Voyager pack). My boyfriend just bought the Voyager pack. They are both nice but in my opinion, too big. If I was in the market today I would probably buy something like this Kelty pack which is 50L, and half the cost of the Eagle Creek Voyager.

I understand paulfreemans's point about having the daypack handy, but sometimes the daypack is overkill. If you have a small shoulder bag you can tuck into your pack for every day, that might serve you better.

Regarding shoes, I think you'd be better off with some kind of shoe like the Merrell Jungle Moc rather than hiking boots. They are lighter, blend in better if you decide to have a nice meal somewhere, and require much less breakin time. I wore the Land's End version for a month-long trip and they were great. Really, really try not to take a second pair of shoes. They are heavy and take up too much room. If your shoes give out you can always find another pair...they have great shoes in Europe, after all.
posted by cabingirl at 8:04 AM on May 13, 2008

Seconding Merrell for the shoes.They're confortable and kinda blend in.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:23 AM on May 13, 2008

A few travel related sites I employ (can't access the other just now because of an iGoogle screwup):
Bootsnall (above) is arguably the best
ExecutivePlanet (a wiki)
Peter Greenberg.
Lonely Planet also has some decent stuff as does BackPackers and TravelPunk.
As for footwear I've put tens of thousands of miles on Frye shit kickers and Justin lace-ups, both w/ steel taps and decent inserts. But I think I may be unique in this preference.
posted by dawson at 10:27 AM on May 13, 2008

I recently bought this pack and I freakin' love it. It's 48L, so a little small for the range you specified, but it's a very nice pack for the price. It has plenty of straps for attaching extra gear and side and front "stretchy" pouches for keeping things accessible, plus built in small pouches on the waistband (useful for loose change, subway tickets, etc). Comes with it's own built in rain fly, too, which could come in handy. It's a top loader, but it also has a zipper panel at the bottom, so you can easily stash and retrieve sleeping gear. It's also lightweight and adjustable to a range of torso sizes. The one critical part that I can't speak to is how it handles a full capacity load. I've really only loaded it about halfway, so I don't know how the suspension will hold up under 15-20 kg, but it's supposedly built for that kind of thing. There are probably stores that carry them in your area for you to test one out. I spent several months looking for the perfect pack and this was my first choice.
posted by otolith at 1:35 PM on May 13, 2008

I travel with this bag and I love it. I did a two and a half month tent camping trip by train through Europe once and it was a champ. The possible big surprise? It's not framed. Some people might disagree, but for me it's great to have the lightness and flexibility of an unframed bag. I could easily walk ten kms from the train station to the center to a campsite (it has great padded shoulder and stomach straps), I could easily stash it in the luggage compartments on trains and busses (sometimes framed bags don't fit as well), and it expanded and contracted perfectly for me. Not to mention it's still a carryon size yet held all my clothes, shoes, guidebooks, tent, ground mat, etc for almost three months. I think framed bags are great, too, just not at all the only option.

Everyone I've ever met has raved about mac pac, a local New Zealand company. One friend I have has been traveling with one of their bags for almost twenty years now. I'd recommend checking them out.

As far as shoes, I always just bring regular walking shoes, something I'd be happy wearing around my city. I stay away from white tennis shoes and usually go with something more like this, something comfortable yet slightly fashionable so that I can wear them for any occasion. I see a lot of people traveling Europe, walking through the center of Paris with hiking boots. I've never understood this. Would these people wear hiking boots to the big city in their area? I understand it for more rugged parts of the world, but I always go for slightly more fashionable clothes/shoes when in Europe. It makes me feel a lot less obvious. Also, I've always packed a pair of shoes like this or this, and I've never regretted it. They're great when you decide to go hiking, they're great for hostel showers, they're great if it's pouring down rain. Plus, I think it's important to have more than one pair of shoes to give your feet a change, and these pack really small.

As far as forums, other folks have already mentioned them, but I love Bootsnall and Lonely Planet Thorntree. Also, Couchsurfing and Hospitality Exchange provide places to meet locals and maybe get the scoop on a place if you think you'll be there for a while, or if you're looking for someone to crash with.
posted by mosessis at 8:11 PM on May 13, 2008

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