Finding The Travel Backpack We Call Home
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One of our most important decisions is what type of bag we’ll travel with. Our bag will be the closest thing we have to a home. So, just like we've had important criteria for the places we've chosen to live, we have just as important criteria for our bag.
Read on to see our criteria, the finalist bags, and what we decided to purchase.
Travel Bag Criteria
- Fit the smallest carry-on bag constraints
- Ryan Air: 10 kg (22lbs) with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (21.65in x 15.74in x 7.87in)
- Lockable zippers, including a way to DIY lockable zippers
- We’re going to be in places, especially in urban centers, where theft is possible. We know that if someone wants to take our bag or get something out of it, they'll find a way, no matter how many locks we put on it. However, locking the bag is a deterrent.
- Padded hipbelt
- We've heard from many people who said that at our travel bag weight, 15-20lbs, a hipbelt isn't really needed. But we know ourselves well enough to know that we’ll be walking everywhere. We’re the couple you see walking 2 miles from the airport to their hotel, even when there isn’t sidewalk. So, not only is a hipbelt a must, but it needs to be padded. This'll give us the most comfort carrying our packs on those long walks and hikes.
- We take really good care of our stuff, but at some point, something is bound to go wrong. We want to be able to get a replacement if a zipper or strap breaks. Most well-known travel bag brands have a warranty, so it'll come down to the specific terms of each warranty to judge how good it is.
- We both have long torsos, so finding a bag that fits correctly is going to be difficult. We need it to rest on our hips so that it takes the weight off of our shoulders. Many smaller capacity bags aren’t as long and don’t adjust like larger travel bags do.
- Capacity between 32-38 litters
- We originally considered a 25-30 litter travel bag requirement but increased it after looking at bags in person. The downside is that larger bags are heavier on their own, but the upside is that they tend to have more features, and worst case scenario you can stuff more in them. We don’t plan on filling our bags to capacity though.
- Curved shoulder straps
- Shoulder straps that are curved to fit your body will be comfortable through the last mile. Bags that don’t have this feature can begin to rub and dig into your shoulders over time.
- Padded back
- A travel bag without plenty of padding to protect our bodies is simply out of the running.
- Panel opening
- As opposed to a top loading bag. This just makes it easier to get to your stuff. Imagine needing something at the bottom of your bag and having to unload everything to get to it. That will get old very quickly. There are two types of panel openings; both are “U” shaped but one is smaller and doesn’t open down to the bottom of the bag. We prefer a full panel opening, but are okay with a smaller one.
- Same bag for both of us, so they're interchangeable
- We want to be able to carry either bag. We don’t know what type of situations will arise, but we're sure there are times where we may end up wanting to carry the other person’s bag. With a few adjustments to straps, we'll be able to pick up either one of our travel backpacks and go.
- Lots of compartments
- Just think MacGyver (the original, not the 2016 reboot).
- Laptop compartment
- Many around the world travelers will say not to even bring a laptop. But for us, it’s a must. It’s our livelihood.
- Suspension system
- Suspension systems on a travel backpack are key to comfort. They distribute weight evenly and very from foam padding, to aluminum frames with ventilated mesh.
- Top loading cinch top
- As noted above under panel opening, top loading travel backpacks make it challenging to get to things at the bottom of your bag. But worse than just a top loader is that of a cinch top, meaning that it has a drawstring to close it up. We see this as a huge security issue and nearly impossible to secure with a lock.
- A bad fit
- Even if the fit could be ‘hacked’ in some way, we didn’t want to take the chance of it being uncomfortable because of a DIY solution. If it didn’t fit correctly, back on the rack it went.
- Light and bright colors
- Neon bags stick out like a sore thumb. Not only do we want to fit into the crowd (relatively speaking, we’re tourists/backpackers after all), but we also want to have a bag that'll camouflage dirt.
- The heavier the bag, the less we can carry to stay within our target of 15-20lbs each.
- REI Trail 40 ~$110
- Osprey Manta AG 36 ~$175
- eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior ~$90
- Tortuga Travel Backpack ~$200
- Osprey Farpoint ~$160
- Osprey Escapist 32 Pack ~$130
As we narrowed our finalist travel backpack list we realized we had two types of bags we were considering. We had the suitcase travel backpack hybrid and we had a more traditional backpackers backpack.
The Travel Backpack Versus the Hiking Backpack
Suitcase Travel Backpack Hybrid
The benefits of the suitcase travel backpack hybrid are very alluring. Here is what we loved most about these types of bags:
- Hide-able shoulder straps – great for plane travel
- Usually come with an optional shoulder strap
- Side and top handles for traditional carrying
- Full panel opening
- Inner and outer compression straps to hold things in place
- Usually have a dedicated laptop compartment
- Lockable zippers
No bag is perfect. Here are the typical drawbacks of a suitcase travel backpack hybrid:
- Lack padding throughout the back and hipbelt
- Not contoured to fit well against the body
- Lack a robust suspension system
- No place for a hydration pouch
Traditional Backpacker’s Backpack
Looking at a traditional backpacker’s backpack, these are the benefits we loved about them:
- Contoured to fit the body
- Great padding for extra comfort
- Hydration pack included or comes with designated area
- Curved shoulder straps
- More traditional look
- Sternum strap
- Usually heavily padded hipbelt with pockets
And of course there are usually drawbacks to a traditional backpacker’s backpack:
- Full panel openings are rare
- Zippers are designed for opening comfortably instead of locking
- Lack a laptop compartment
- Rarely designed with airline carry on dimensions in mind
Our New Home, Errr We Mean Backpack Is...
Osprey Manta AG 36
After hours of online research, several trips to retail stores, a purchase and return to Amazon, and for good measure, more research, we finally settled on one bag. It’s a great combination of all of our musts and most of our preferred criteria. We chose the Osprey Manta AG 36 (not to be confused with the Osprey Manta AG Hydration). Be sure to check out the video review/unboxing below!
Here are the main reasons we are lovin' this bag:
- The fit is great for both of us.
- Reasonable bag weight (2.87lbs, Medium/Large) that won’t take much away from our total carrying target weight of 15-20lbs.
- Comes with a hydration pack, we ultimately decided to forgo the hydration pack to save about a half a pound.
- Several compartments, including pockets on the hip-belt and sides for water bottles and snacks.
- Comfortable with solid padding and a great suspension system.
- DIY lockable zippers. See our video tutorial.
- Deep “U” panel opening.
- Fits carry on dimension requirements for the strictest/budget airlines.
- Sternum strap
- Trekking pole attachment
- Great warranty, Osprey, ‘All Mighty Guarantee’