How to choose your backpack

What kind of backpack to use? I have heard this from a lot of people – travelers, wanna -be travelers or random strangers have asked me this question over and over again.

“How do you choose the right one? What do you look for in a backpack?


Pretty handy it was: On the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea

Well, it may appear like a tough question, but it really is not. Remember that you want your backpack to last not just through one journey, but multiple journeys – so keep that in mind when buying one.  I have learnt through experience too, but I suppose now years of experience later I have found the answer.

Here are the few questions commonly asked about a backpack.

  1. How do I know what is right for me?
  2. Which is the best brand?
  3. What should I look for in a backpack?
  4. How is it better than a suitcase or a duffel bag?
  5. Are they expensive?
  6. How much weight can you carry in a backpack?

Let me try and answer each of the questions.

  1. The backpack you choose should allow you to carry at least 10-12 kgs (20-30 pounds) comfortably.  It shouldn’t be so large as to carry your family inside it. Try out different styles (and get the salesman to thrown in some weight) when you are trying out different styles. Often people have little idea about what 10-12kgs on their back feels like.
  2. Get something that is proportionate to your body size – nothing too large (that goes over your head when full) or nothing too small that you can’t fit in your toothbrush.
  3. Don’t hesitate to shop around for options. Get one that allows easy access to your contents and you do not have to spill out everything inside to get to the bottom. Easy access means side openings. Backpacks are not to be bought for their great looks but for the functionality. The one that have multiple pockets, separate section at the bottom for your sleeping bag and mat are ideal. They keep the things separate.
  4. Expensive backpack is not necessarily the best, although I swear by North Face (but there are some equally great brands with fabulous products, like Osprey). A one time investment in a good product will mean that you don’t have to spend on the same thing a dozen times or for different trips.
  5. Backpacks are better than duffel bags because it goes over your back and leaves both your arms free. Plus, you can’t carry a duffel bag or a suitcases when you will probably be walking or thumbing or stumbling over harsh terrains most of the time. Suitcases are for tourists and you as a backpacker, don’t want to be caught dead with one!

What to look out for in a backpack

  1. Panel loading – zippers that open around. Better than top loading ones
  2. Two zippers on each compartment, so you could lock the pack
  3. Backpack with an internal frame for added support. The one with the exterior frame can be tricky.
  4. Make sure the pack has a padded hip belt. (Its where you carry most of the weight)
  5. Padded shoulder straps. You will be thankful that the straps don’t cut into your skin on a hot day
  6. Sternum strap that brings the weight forward and hence saves your back and shoulder from strain


Trekking up to a week and more? Get a 75-80 Liter capacity pack. An ideal day pack should be between 30-45lts. If you are only backpacking (and not trekking) and are sure not to be camping and are using dorm/hostel/hotel instead, chances are that you won’t be carrying tents/sleeping bags/mats, which means you could make do with 65-75 Liter pack


  1. Very informative and helpful for those planning to travel. That it comes from your personal experience is a double bonus. Thanks for the piece.

  2. Although this falls out of the regular backpacker zone, I can recommend the Osprey Sojourn wheeled backpack, a full hybrid system where I could put on my back if need be. I used the back system once in my whole ten months of travel! The rest of the time the wheels were perfect, it is an extremely rugged high quality bag. Mine was 60 litres so you still have to be mindful of weight, because you will be carrying it up stairs obviously, but it has well placed handles so you are distributing the weight, and it is fine to carry like this for a quick burst up stairs, even five flights or so, which happens fairly regularly in towns in Asia. Yes the wheels add weight to the overall weight of the bag, but this is compensated by not having to literally lug the bag on your bag wherever you go. Most places have pavements these days, and when the pavements are in disrepair, unsuitable for wheels, I just walked in the road like everything else seems to, and it can be difficult for anyone to get through on the pavements due to them being lined with parked scooters anyway! ) So, many would still disagree with me, but I am an advocate of the wheeled backpack. But, I didn’t find many with a FULL support back system (ie. With hip belt and fully adjustable back straps) but the Osprey is perfect.

  3. Agreed! But what do you think of trying to squeeze it into small carry on luggage only? I’ve tried but struggle with the toiletries.

  4. Good article.
    I’ve a top loading backpack from Wildcraft which I swear by. It seemed expensive when I bought it 10 years ago, but it is still going strong. Hasn’t lost a stitch. It doesn’t have side zippers. I throw in the least used items first and a full change of clothes on top.
    Apart from that, it has several outer compartments, padded straps, comfort padding on the outside, side and hip straps. And yeah, I love that my hands are free when I walk 🙂

    • Nothing like a sturdy and dependable backpack that doesnt demand all your attention!!! I could write a book on mine! Now, though I am looking for newer options – perhaps one with a wheel?

  5. Cool .good day ..thank you for the great tips …looking forwarded to read more traveling tips from you .can you share uae traveling guide ?really helpful
    Regards Cyril

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *