Packing Lite: Choosing the Right Bag

1)  Backpack/Rucksack/Suitcase?

As we are travelling with only ‘Carry On’ luggage, we can rule out suitcases, but if you are doing  your thing the ‘luxury way’ and staying in hotels all the time and don’t mind booking a case into hold luggage, by all means take one.  Look for a case that will fulfil your needs, but one that is as light and robust enough for the job in hand. There are many makes of suitcase out there, but there are some very light ones about nowadays designed because of airlines continually playing around with the weight of stuff they will accept in them. Research your needs, look online, go to shops, play with things.  I use a lightweight case or cases when we go away diving and they have stood up to having up to 25kg of diving gear in them and are still going strong. Some of these cases look quite flimsy at first sight, but don’t forget the manufacturer has tested them rigorously.  After all, their name and business depend on it! Lastly on suitcases, go for the ones with four wheels on. You will not only find then that you can push them along on their four wheels (Upright), but you can tilt them and pull them along using two wheels just like any other.

Backpacks and rucksacks?

What is a Backpack? What is a Rucksack?

If you look on Google as I just have, you will see in ‘Images’ that both appear to be the same. I like to think of Rucksacks as the sort of thing mountaineers, expeditionary types, etc. would use, and Backpacks fall into a smaller group of luggage carried on your back that would contain things like camera gear, laptops etc. You know what I mean, the sort of thing my two girls would take their gear to school in.  You could also call them Day Packs, smaller bags falling into a size category of around 20 litres or less. Once you get above this size, you are really getting into the Rucksack category with the biggest I’ve come across being around the 140 litre mark.  Anything bigger than this is really going to be beyond the capability of most people to carry comfortably, especially for long time periods.

What do you buy for your trip then? Again research is a must, and after looking at other peoples blogs and their recommendations, head down to some good outdoor suppliers. The choice you make is going to be an important one, so make a day of it!

Having used my experience, and read about other peoples choices, I looked at a couple of web sites first to see where I could go and get my hands on the gear to have a play. I used to live in Rugby, so Go Outdoors in Coventry was an obvious choice for me, but I used to travel to London on business quite regularly and popped into the Nomad Travel store in Victoria.  Both companies have good web sites, helpful and friendly staff and don’t mind you spending as long as you like trying on, pushing, prodding, and generally assessing their stuff before you buy it.  E-bay is another place you can get gear from, new or second hand, but you need to know what you are looking at.

I bought two bags, both from suppliers mentioned, one for me and one for Arlene.  Believe me, I spent many a happy hour trying, testing and adjusting before making my decision to buy and I think I got it right first time.

If you are doing the Carry On thing like us, research the airlines’ web sites as they will all list the maximum size of carry on bag you can have dimension-wise and also the maximum weight. This information could therefore place restrictions on your choice of bag.  Secondly, are you going to be carrying your bag around a lot?  If you are, this will also place restrictions on what you choose. We will be carrying our bags a lot, so good Full Harnesses were a must in my book to get the most comfort.

Bag No 1. – Arlene’s Bag

A Travelproof Worldwide 40, purchased from Nomad Travel.  The Travelproof range covers a good range of differing size luggage, but the 40 litre  was a good size for us and fitted the airline’s size criteria.

The bag is of the Clamshell design, meaning it has a zip that goes round the vast majority of its circumference allowing you to open it up like a suitcase for easy packing. It is also roughly rectangular in shape which means separation bags fit easily into it, but we’ll come onto them a little later.

What else were we looking for?  Oh yes, a full harness.  This bag, like many others has a zipped compartment containing the harness, so when not needed it is tucked out of sight and will not snag on anything.  If not using the full harness, the bag has a side carry handle and also a single shoulder strap.

Bag No 2 – Bob’s Bag

An Osprey Farpoint 55 also purchased from Nomad Travel.

Now, please don’t think I’m just pushing Nomad Travel on its own as I’m not.  Other suppliers stock both these bags, but none of them locally to either where I was living or visiting due to work. Some stockists also don’t have a full range of the manufacturer you are interested in, so if they don’t carry the one you’re interested in, ask if they can get it in for you. Don’t give up on your choice until you have exhausted all avenues first, and of course shop around as you can get some great deals/reductions and special offers. I got great offers on both our bags and saved over £40 on one bag alone!

Farpoint spec taken from the information sheet.

  • Padded top and side carry handles.
  • Modified straight jacket style compression.
  • Panel zip main compartment with dual lockable pulls.
  • Dual side gear attachment points.
  • Removable sleeping pad straps.
  • Zip away removable ‘Day Pack’.
  • Internal zippered mesh pocket on inside front panel.
  • Dual internal compression straps.
  • Zip-away harness/hip belt access with panel stow slot.
  • Farpoint harness features day pack attachment buckles and adjustable sternum strap with rescue wrist buckle.
  • Padded, ErgoPull hip belt with side compression.

Weight empty  – 1.78kg

Day pack spec.

  • Tuck away harness with Farpoint main harness front attachment system, adjustable sternum strap and rescue whistle buckle.
  • Removable, stowable webbing hip belt.
  • Top zippered slash pocket.
  • Dual side mesh pockets. (great for water bottles)
    • Full panel, zippered access to laptop/hydration sleeve with zippered mesh pocket and electronics port.

What else can you say really! Check it out on the Osprey web site.

I mentioned Separation bags (or travel cubes) earlier.  These are bags you can buy to put inside your chosen case or bag.  How often have you had a packed suitcase or rucksack you need to find things in quickly?  Well these bags allow you to break down the contents of your bag and to sub-pack them separately.  They are zippered, some even double sided and are sold by several manufacturers, with differing colours, to help you identify your bits and pieces a lot faster when needed.

I bought Travelproof ones as it turns out, only to come across similar items at greatly reduced cost in Ikea of all places. It is a good idea though, to have access to both these separation bags and the case/rucksack you are buying at the same time. At least you can get a good selection that fit comfortably in your chosen case/rucksack utilising all available space.