I cannot remember exactly the first time when I packed a travel backpack, but the earliest memory I do have was when I went to summer camps with the Scouts around 9 years old. Yes, I’ve been a backpacker all my life. In fact, I have traveled Europe, Asia and America with the same backpack until just last year. After 18 years, I finally had to get a new one. Since then, I have traveled with it for months on all kind of trips. It has come on Interrail and even business trips with me. So, I think you can trust me to help you pick and pack the perfect travel backpack, whether it is for a long-term or short-term adventures.
The first section we created here is to help you choose the best backpack for long-term trips, but if you already have your own backpack and want to skip directly to packing, go to the next section.
CHOOSING THE BEST BACKPACK
Choosing a good backpack is a crucial decision, as you will spend many hours with it whether you are planning a route through Southeast Asia, Camino de Santiago in Spain, or a road trip through the Canadian Rockies.
Buying a good backpack is a long-term investment. If you buy a high quality one and take care of it properly, it can last you a lifetime. And this is an important decision because once you start traveling as a backpacker, you may not want to travel any other way.
Take into account these four essential categories when choosing a backpack:
One question that most people ask is how much capacity the backpack should have. My experience is that bigger is often better. My backpack has a 65 liters capacity. I almost never fill it all the way except when I take long-term trips to cold areas.
In addition, I have always managed to pass it as a carry-on for the plane without any bag fees.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that I actually use a men’s backpack, because I did not find any that I liked with the same capacity in the women’s section. Additionally, like deodorant and razor blades, two products that are exactly the same often cost more when labeled as a product for women, all because the colour is pink.
The most important thing while choosing a good backpack is the fastening system. The pack’s weight should not sit on your shoulders but rather on your hip to avoid straining your back.
There should be a Side Release Buckle on the hip that you can adjust according to your contour and one on the chest so that the backpack straps aren’t pulling you back.
Once you have these two positions adjusted to your body, you can then release the weight on your shoulders by adjusting the straps on the sides. When you feel that the weight is comfortably resting on your hips, you will know that it is well adjusted. You can find the positions of the different buckles marked in the image below.
It is best to buy a backpack that you can return if you are not sure it is the right one. Then, you can go hiking with the backpack with full weight to determine that this is the best one for you.
With that, you also can check if the padding of the Shoulder Straps causes chafing.
The next thing to analyze is the position of the different pockets. These are the pockets that I find indispensable in a backpack for long-term travel:
- Inside the main compartment, there should be two independent compartments but with the option to connect them.
- Pockets on the sides of the hip fasteners, to keep certain things like the phone or lip balm handy so that you don’t have to take off your backpack to get to them.
- Upper pocket with a security pocket inside. Perfect for the passport.
- Rear side pocket. For easy access to things of low volume and that you want to have located easily.
- Bottle holder. To have water available at all times.
The next thing to consider is the type and quality of the fabric. Look especially for ventilating waterproof fabrics and choose brands with a lifetime guarantee (in case of product defects) whenever possible.
There are many others to consider when choosing the perfect backpack for your trip.
COUPLINGS FOR MAT
In the previous image, you can see other side hooks that are very useful for things like fastening insulating sleeping mats. It is a mandatory accessory when choosing a backpack if you plan to camp. Other models have the buckles at the top.
AIR CHANNEL SYSTEM
To keep your back ventilated, it is better if the backpack has air channels between your back and the load. These channels are also shown in the previous image.
OPENING FOR HYDRATIONpacks
Some models have a small opening in the backpack through which you can pass a hydration hose. With this, you can drink water on demand with no need to stop and take the backpack off.
Some brands also offer height adjustment so that the backpack adapts even better to your anatomy.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I used the same backpack for 18 consecutive years. After it broke, I wanted to buy the same model. However, the company that made it had shut down so I launched myself into the market until I found the one that I hope will accompany me on all my trips to come. After analyzing different options, I opted for this model since it fulfilled everything described above:
Backpack – 65L
HOW TO PACK A BACKPACK FOR LONGTERM TRAVEL
Now we enter into the specifics. Each trip is different so we are going to ask you a series of questions and we will redirect you according to your answers throughout the post.
But first let’s review the basics for all types of travel. This is how we start prepping whether it’s a trip to the city, countryside, Interrail, camp, adventure trip or Camino de Santiago.
INDISPENSABLE THINGS IN YOUR TRAVEL BACKPACK FOR ANY TRIP
These are our indispensable things that we take on 100% of our trips. It must be the first thing you account for when preparing your travel backpack.
- Soap travel bottles
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hair brush
- Mosquito repellent
- Nail clipper
- Lip balm
- Hand cream
- Menstrual cup
- Swimsuit – 1 or 2 (Depending on if it is a trip of more than two weeks)
- Quick drying towel
- Tracksuit Bottoms – 1 or 2 changes (Depending on if it is a trip of more than two weeks)
- Underwear – 5 changes (regardless of trip duration)
- Socks – 5 changes (regardless of trip duration)
- T-shirts – 5 changes (regardless of trip duration)
♦ Traveling to a warm destination
- Shorts – 1 or 2 (Depending on if it is a trip of more than two weeks)
- Dresses or jumpsuits – 2 or 3 (Depending on if it is a trip of more than two weeks)
♦ Traveling to a cold destination
- Long pants – 1 or 2 (Depending on a trip of more than three weeks). Sport type if it is to an adventure trip and mountain or jeans if it is to the city.
- Long sleeves Top – 1 or 2 (Depending again on if it is a trip of more than three weeks). Sweatshirt if it is an adventure and mountain trip or jersey if it is to the city.
DO YOU PLAN TO CAMP DURING YOUR TRIP?
PACKing A BACKPACK FOR A CAMPING TRIP
If it’s your first time going camping, I understand that you may find it difficult and possibly uncomfortable. However, I assure you that once you try it, there will be no hotels capable of making you feel more happy and free. Do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions, we almost always camp on our travels.
Although it is a bit more expensive to choose an ultralight and compact tent, this is always the best solution if you are backpacking. We all like “easy-open” tents but they are bulky and uncomfortable to transport.
I recommend that you choose one fit for all seasons, so you will not need to have two different tents for cold and warm destinations.
Until recently, we used individual winter sleeping bags. But then we bought a double sleeping bag which we could not live without nowadays.
Choose a winter sleeping bag that can be used during all seasons. In the summer, we use it open as a sheet and it is very comfortable too.
The best option is always the simpler mats, although if you are going to do a road trip, another option is to choose inflatable mats.
We always carry a USB rechargeable lamp for the tent. It is a MUST in your travel backpack when camping.
ARE YOU GOING TO DO EXCURSIONS OR TREKS?
PACK A BACKPACK for TREKKING OR HIKING
Choosing appropriate footwear is fundamental if we plan to be walking for many hours, whether to visit cities or hiking.
When preparing the backpack for a trip, we have to be aware that the footwear usually occupies a lot of space. I usually choose to wear two of the following three types of footwear:
- Hiking boots: ideal for long treks on difficult terrain or in cold places.
- Lightweight sneakers with cushioning: perfect for many hours of walking in the city or on easy trails. My running shoes works pretty well for me in these moments.
- Sport sandals: the best option for walking in hot and humid places. For example, on a backpacking trip to Cuba.
BACKPACK FOR TREKKING
If you are going to take short trekking trips or excursions around the city, remember to take a smaller backpack.
We always prefer to use thermal bottles than plastic bottles so that the water stays at a good temperature. We like those that have a standard bottle shape because they are easier to attach to backpacks.
You can buy them at most destinations, but I wanted to add it to the list so you do not forget. My favorites are Clif bars because they do not cloy like the vast majority.
ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE A ROAD TRIP?
PREPARE THE BACKPACK FOR A road trip
We love to road trip, and there are two items that can never be missed when packing. We reveal them to you here.
CHARGER FOR THE CAR WITH 4 USB PORTS
Without a doubt this was the best discovery in the preparation of our trip to Sicily. No more having to decide which device to charge (camera, mobile, batteries ..).
Don’t have Internet connection? No problem. Connect your Spotify list and ride.
ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE A TRIP INTO THE WILD?
PREPARE A BACKPACK FOR AN ADVENTURE AND NATURE TRIP
These trips are our favorites. Feeling free and attached to the Earth requires extra good preparation so that we are not missing anything when we are miles away from civilization. This is what you need to pack a survival backpack.
CAMPINGAZ + JETBOIL
Your portable kitchen. You can reuse the Jetboil as many times as you want but buy the gas bottle once you reach your destination.
Emergency Food Supply
They are not used very often in Spain, but when we travel to countries like Canada or the United States where there is a bigger outdoor scene, they are very easy to find in any sports store. It is the best option to feed yourself while taking trips to the unknown.
You can find them made of plastic or stainless steel. We used plastic in recent trips. The important thing is that they do not bulge or weigh too much.
It is easy for non-smokers to forget about it. If you want to build a good campfire to warm up before tenting for the night, you likely can’t do it without a lighter unless you are Bear Grylls.
To cut bread, rope or defend yourself from any animal. A knife is essential in a nature trip full of adventures.
We do not use it just to hang clothes, but also to hang our backpacks in the trees if there’s food in them. In some places like Canada, it is very dangerous to leave backpacks with food at ground level due to the presence of bears.
If you want to keep your backpack light, you cannot take as many changes of clothes as the days you will be traveling, especially if it is a long trip. A bar soap solves this problem. For travels with an indefinite timeline, 5 changes are the maximum I would take with me. Every two or three days, you can wash your clothes with the soap, which is cheaper and faster than going to the laundry mat.
We love to photograph the Milky Way, so we usually do night hiking routes where we always carry a flashlight. If the route is a bit more complicated or we are going to cook at night, then we will use a headlamp to keep our hands free. In our case, we always carry both and use one or the other depending on what we are going to do.
THINGS YOU MUST INCLUDE IN YOUR BACKPACK FOR SPECIFIC DESTINATION
Essential if you visit National Parks of Canada and the United States where there are bears.
Check here if the same type of plug is used in your country of destination.
If you travel to a place where you can find icy hiking trails like Canada, Iceland or Norway.
HOW TO DISTRIBUTE WEIGHT WITHIN THE BACKPACK
Once we know everything we want to put inside the backpack, we have to decide how to distribute the weight so that everything fits nicely.
The general rule goes that heavier things should be closer to your back while the lighter toward the outer pockets.
My experience is that you have to pay attention to how often you will use and access something rather than just looking at the weight.
For example, since I use my toiletries every day, I always keep my toiletry bag in the top pocket along with my wallet, passport, etc. That way I will not have to rummage around inside my backpack every time I want to brush my teeth or pay for something.
I also want my underwear to be very accessible. That’s why I keep them in the big compartment but in the bottom part since it has a quick access.
However, articles like crampons which I won’t be using frequently, I leave them in the middle of the backpack so they are not in the way when I want to access something near the top or bottom of my pack.
AND YOU, HOW DO YOU Pack YOUR BACKPACK FOR LONG-term TRAVEL?
Notice of affiliation links: if you buy through some of the links that you will find in this post, we may take a small commission without affecting at all the price paid by the reader. Buying through them helps us to continue with this project.