in search of the perfect travel backpack
Another of the dorky yet ongoing quests in my life is for the perfect travel backpack. Conditions in the blogosphere (do people really use that word?) seem ripe for me to share my discoveries so far. Brave New Traveler, Lorelle and Travel Betty all inspired this entry.
Like Travel Betty, my dad bought me my first pack. It was a great pack, a Mountainsmith, well-made, top-loading, ginormous. It didnt fit me particularly well, nor did I know how to make the right adjustments, but I managed well with it on a relaxed one-month trip to Finland. Studying in Lapland and staying with fam in Helsinki meant I didnt need to rush around with it too much. It worked great on a two-day hike, but you dont need much gear on an organized, two-day hike. . .
It was when I tried to use it for my 3 month Euro tour that I ran into trouble. Admittedly, I made a lot of mistakes on that trip. Not only had I over-packed, I’d bought too much almost right away, including books (books??!) and some very styling, chunky-heeled boots on day 3 in Dublin. The boots wouldnt fit in the pack so I wore them all the time. On day 4 I broke my arm falling from the upper bunk of a hostel bed.
It was only a minor fracture, but it made my overstuffed, ill-fitted bag a major problem.
It also made anything with buttons a problem, but luckily I had a tank dress that I lived in for the better part of the next couple weeks. And it paired nicely with the cute, 3-inch high boots.
But I couldnt lift my bag for shit. Not from a squatting position and not down from a luggage rack. Kind strangers and friends helped me out along the way. And laughed at me, too, as did a group of old men at a Paris train station watching me in my cute boots and long dress trying to get up from the floor with my oversize pack and falling on my ass in the process. Merci, gentlemen, merci.
When I returned home three months later with unworn clothes in the bottom of my bag, I knew my travel style would have to change. I was over the unwieldy size, the top-loading feature and the wilderness look. Even though I like the wilderness, I like the urban, too.
My next big jaunt was to Cuba and my luggage arrangement from that trip is still my favorite. I borrowed a just-larger-than-daypack (no longer available) North Face pack and brought along a small rolling luggage for a month of study in Havana. When we set out for a week trip to the other side of the island, I simply lived out of the pack and left the rolling luggage behind. My travel buddy with her towering backpacker-pack was slightly envious of the compact load I carried, and I was slightly too proud. Because living out of a small pack is not a special talent of mine. But damn it felt good for that week.
The next pack I picked up was the Mountainsmith Ramble. It’s a pretty slick “travel pack,” but wasn’t for me, either. The main compartment was awkward (basically spilled the guts of the contents every time I opened it). And when I overstuffed it–as is my way–the thin, plastic frame bowed outward, making tucking the straps irritatingly hard. As a final straw, it was no good for real hiking on account of minimal padding and lack of external water bottle type pockets or hydration. I ended up passing it on to a friend who never overstuffs it and perhaps consequently, really likes it.
With that experience under my waistbelt, plus a lot of online research, I finally came up with my list of requirements for my main travel pack:
- carry-on size
- panel loading
- good organization/pockets
- works for real hiking
- works for urban environments
- can handle a very full load
That’s all I ask. And this is the pack that best does it for me, so far: the Kelty Redwing 2650.
The Kelty has come with me neighbor-island-hopping in Hawaiʻi, to California a couple times and on the cross country midwest trek, but not yet abroad. Most recently, I’ve detached the waistpack and have started using it daily, which is to me the ultimate proof of urban workability.
The pack is as yet untested in the wilderness or on trips longer than two weeks, so I’ll save the singing of praises for another day. But so far, so good. Me likey.