Choosing your Travel Pack
A well-chosen pack/bag can take much of the worry and hassle out of travelling. Experienced travellers know that a pack that combines packing convenience, carrying comfort, versatility and that is large enough to carry your gear, can make all the difference when you are on the road. Your travel accessories should be chosen for their convenience and quality, so you can spend less time looking after your gear and more time exploring and experiencing new places.
How to choose a travel pack/bag/luggage
There is no piece of gear that is perfect for all kinds of adventure travel. That is why there are so many different types of packs, bags and luggage available. The difficulty is in knowing which one is right for you and that all depends on the type of travel you plan to do and your packing style. Consider the types of trips you will be taking, what kinds of activities you plan on doing and how much gear you want to bring.
The most common fabrics used are overwhelmingly texturised coated synthetics (e.g. Cordura®) and to a lesser extent canvas. The full synthetics are used because they are more abrasion resistant, stronger and lighter than canvas.
Texturised nylons: these include materials such as Cordura®. They are very strong and abrasion resistant.
Polyester: Entry level material quoted in denier thickness but can be very strong these days
Canvas: This includes manufacturer specified canvas fabrics. Although slightly heavier, canvas is more water-resistant than nylon. Many will have nylon abrasion patches sewn over the wear areas as well.
Decide on a Size
Both the volume of the pack (in litres) and its size are important. Some people with a big pack are tempted to carry more than is needed, but this is really only a problem of self-control.
Remember these maxims:
- We travellers tend to fill up whatever bag we are packing no matter how big it is.
- You can always send souvenirs home.
Find a pack that is big enough to hold your necessary gear, but small enough that you can carry it comfortably day after day.
30 to 50 litres: For weekend trips, a carry-on-size travel backpack or bag is big enough for most travelers particularly in warmer climes. A good size for smaller person who is traveling with a partner who could help carry the load of shared items on a longer trip.
NB: Most airlines allow carry-on baggage no larger than 20cm x 30cm x 50cm(approx). A few airlines do allow slightly larger baggage.
50 to 65 litres: For 1- to 2-week trips, if you can pack light, opt for a carry-on-size bag. If you pack a lot of gear, go for a slightly larger travel backpack or duffel/tote bag.
65 to 85 litres plus: For trips lasting a month or longer, choose a travel backpack or large duffel/tote.
The lower end of this range is good for most travellers. Don't buy a backpack that is too big if you don't anticipate needing the space. The smaller and lighter your load the easier it is to travel.
Types of Pack
Travelpacks: This style based on an internal-frame backpack can be carried as a backpack or duffel. The backpacks have good suspension systems, including a hipbelt. Pack straps can be hidden behind the back panel for airline travel. Most also feature a removable daypack for short excursions. These travel packs are best for travellers who will be moving around a lot and carrying all their gear. They are not intended for travelling on a serious outdoor expedition, as they lack the technical features of an internal-frame backpack (particularly ergonomics and waterproofness).
Hybrid Packs: These are backpacks that are designed for extended wilderness trips and yet contain the features of the more traditional travelpacks. If you travel to go camping, bushwalking or climbing, you should consider one of these packs because they are made specifically for your activities. They feature good support and make it more comfortable to carry a lot of gear over long periods of time.
Convertible wheeled luggage: Some travel packs that convert to either a handheld bag or backpack have wheels for convenience in airports, hotel lobbies and urban areas. Several come with a removable daypack for short trips. This luggage is best for travellers who occasionally venture out to remote areas but who usually stay in an urban environment. However, these packs lack the sophisticated suspension system of travel backpacks and therefore are not great to carry for longer periods of time.
Duffel or Tote bags: These bags come in a huge range of sizes and are typically less expensive than other types of luggage. Smaller duffels are convenient if you travel light and fast on shorter trips, and if you don't plan on moving around a lot once you get there. The larger ones can be awkward to carry when they are full so large-capacity wheeled duffels are best if you have to transport a lot of gear to your destination. Good at transporting gear from one place to another it is another thing if you are required to carry it very far.
Additional features to consider
Removable daypack: These usually detach from the compartment of the pack or bag and are convenient for day use.
Split compartments and pockets: This is where the main pack is split into two compartments, allowing easier access to your gear. Combined with external and internal pockets they make it easy to organise, pack and unpack.
Compression straps: Are the straps located on the outside of the pack. You can use them to squeeze a bulky bag down to a smaller size or pack on load overflow.
How to get a travelpack that fits
Forget about the colour and the features for a moment. What really matters when selecting a new travelpack is making sure that it's a good fit for your body. A pack that is too short will result in a hipbelt riding up around your waist, restricting breathing. If the pack is too long, the result will be ill-fitting shoulder straps and a gap between the pack and your back. Make sure the hipbelt sits firmly on your hips, and the yoke (the place where the shoulder harness comes out of the pack) is about 5cms below your C7 vertebrae (the bone that sticks out at the base of your neck). If the pack has a foam hipbelt, its centre should rest on your iliac crest - the front-most point of your hip bone.
Most equipment manufacturers now specifically make a range of women's travelpacks. These designs take into account that women generally have shorter torsos, wider hips and narrower shoulders than men. Because women's hips are more angular than men's, they form a natural cradle for the hip belt, especially one that is wider at the bottom than the top. The pack's chest strap should lie flat across your sternum, and not interfere with your breasts or your throat.
You want to choose a pack well suited to your individual dimensions, then you need to customize it to your body shape. Here are some tips to help you:
Back length is a crucial measurement. It is important to distinguish between your height and the length of your torso. Just because you are a certain height — say a 6' female or 5' 9" male — does not mean you automatically need a "large" or "tall" pack. Your back length, not your height, determines your pack size.
General scale to establish what size range your back length falls into:
Small: Up to 38cm
Medium/Regular: 38 – 43 cm
Large/Tall: 43cm plus
Note: Pack manufacturers typically use general terms (small, medium, large) to identify their frame sizes; look at each pack's technical specifications to find the actual numeric range.
- The padded sections of the shoulder straps should wrap around the crest of your shoulders comfortably and attach to the frame about 2cms below that point. No gaps should appear.
- Check the load-lifter/top tension straps. These should attach to your shoulder straps at a point just above your collarbone and just below the top of your shoulders. From there, they should rise up to join with the frame at an angle of between 40 and 50 degrees. If the angle is higher than that, your frame is too long. Any lower and your shoulders will carry too much of the load.
- Check the shoulder strap length and width. The buckle on the strap should be far enough below your armpit that it won't chafe. The straps should be far enough apart that they don't squeeze your neck, but close enough together that they don't slip off of your shoulders during hiking. The width is sometimes adjustable.
- Women need to pay special attention to the fit of shoulder straps. On some unisex packs, the distance between shoulder straps may be too wide, or the straps themselves are wide enough to gouge an armpit or breast. If you find a good fit is elusive, seek out a pack designed specifically for women.
- Check for a good torso fit. If the pack fits you correctly, you should be able to redistribute the weight of the pack between your shoulders and your hips simply by loosening and tightening your shoulder straps slightly.
Adjust the sternum strap. Position it about 5cms below your collarbone. You should be able to breathe comfortably when the strap is fastened. It is not essential that you keep your sternum strap fastened but it may be helpful when you are negotiating uneven ground.
Some questions to ask:
- Does the pack feel good on your back?
- Does it pinch or bind or unusually restrict your movement?
- Can you look up without hitting the pack with your head?
- Can you squat down without cutting off the circulation to your legs?
Travel accessories can save you time and hassle when traveling. The addition of a few simple items, like a secure document holder to keep your passport and cash away from prying hands, can make all the difference when you are on the road. However, you don't want to bring so much that your luggage is heavy and awkward to carry. When packing, think about what you really need and what will just take up space.
Here are several options that will make packing and travelling easier and provide some security for your gear:
Daypacks: Include small backpacks, shoulder bags, bum bags or organizers. A daypack is a useful for any trip. It can be small enough to hold just your money, credit cards and passport, or large enough for a camera, water bottle, book and jacket.
Security pouches/wallets: Designed to be worn under your clothes and these are the safest way to carry your money and passport. These security pouches include neck wallets and waist pouches that will keep your money, documents and passport safely hidden.
Organisers: There are a large number of available for tasks from packing to storing. Pack-It-Folders let you experience the joy of finding your clothes organized and wrinkle free. Mesh bags are handy for organizing items like t-shirts, socks and small accessories. While a well-designed toiletry kits can be just right for the essentials. All of these come in a variety of sizes, colours and styles.
Security: The Pacsafe is a stainless-steel web that locks around your pack or duffel to eliminate access to pockets. The locking system with adjustable draw wire and padlock secures your pack to fixed objects to deter theft. Small padlocks or key locks are convenient for locking your pack or duffel zippers together.
Sleeping bag liners: Even if you are staying in a hostel and not carrying your own sleeping bag, they are convenient, since many charge extra for sheets. Having your own sheets can also make you feel more at home, especially if you are sleeping in a new place every night.
Adapters: Are necessary if you plan on taking items like hair dryers, electric shavers and travel irons overseas. They convert foreign voltages to the Australian standard with plug adapters to fit most of the world's outlets.
Multi-tools/penknife: Are available with many different options and tools. Some are small enough to fit on a key ring while others have nearly every tool you could want. At the very least, a knife and bottle opener will be handy for a picnic lunch.
Other Travel Accessories
If you can't leave home without it, likely there is a travel-size version available that will take up less space in your luggage. Other travel accessories range from pegless clotheslines and torches to games and currency converters. Whether or not you need these accessories is dependent on the trip you have got planned.