Your rucksack will be your travelling companion and your best friend for the duration of your trip. From the waterfalls of Vietnam, to the glaciers of Patagonia, your rucksack will carry everything that is going to keep you alive for the many months or even years that you are away from home. It’s such an important part of the planning process that we spent hours and hours searching for the right rucksack. This article provides you with some attributes to consider, helping you cut down those hours that could be better spent in other areas of planning for your trip.
Related: Our search found 3 excellent travel backpacks that we loved; check them out and see if they suit your needs.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The very first thing to remember when it comes to choosing your rucksack is to see it as an investment. There are many things that you can afford to be a bit cheap on when your preparing for your trip, but your rucksack is 100% NOT one of them. You can get cheaper models and depending on your trip, they might be fine, but for anyone considering themselves as ‘backpackers’ you’re going to want to spend in excess of £60 – we were prepared to go as far as £120 each.
This does seem like quite the outlay for a bag but just imagine: you buy a cheaper, non-specialist bag, stuff all of your things in it, check it in to the luggage hold, get on your plane on the most exciting day of your life, and then get to the other side and see that its flimsy material has been ripped open by the luggage carousel. You’re in an unknown country, with a useless rucksack, and nowhere to store your panties.
WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT RUCKSACK?
Perfection is impossible to achieve, and the upshot of this is that there is always a trade-off. Certain models will have elements that you love, and some that you don’t love. It really depends on your individual preferences, but the things to look out for below are intended to make the trade-off easier to negotiate.
It needs to be durable. In all honesty, (if you’re as clumsy as I am) your rucksack is going to get well and truly battered on your trip, so you need to pick a bag that uses a strong material. The best way to test how strong the material is before you buy is to visit a local retailer and give your chosen rucksack a good pulling about. While this is by no means a comprehensive durability test, it’ll give you an idea of whether the material is likely to hold up against knocks on planes and buses.
You might also want a bag that is waterproof so that you don’t get soggy clothes when you get caught in that one deluge you didn’t prepare for. We don’t think this is really much of an issue as there are ways around it; such as buying a waterproof rain cover. You could even use a strong bin-bag if times get tough.
The size of your rucksack is clearly important, but it depends on the kind of trip you’re making. If you’re going on a weekender or a shorter trip, you almost certainly do not need to invest in a heavy-duty rucksack. A smaller 40L sack may work fine for you, saving you money on flights by dropping the excess luggage fees.
For the longer-term backpackers, you’re going to be looking at 60L – 80L capacity. This is plenty of room to pack everything you should need to exist quite comfortably on the road, especially in warmer climates like South East Asia (sorry guys and girls, you’ll need to leave your straighteners and hairdryers behind). If you’re planning on going to colder places, or you’re going to be camping, hiking or doing other extreme sports, then you may require more storage. This table by GO Outdoors gives a good illustration:
Extra tip: it’s actually a good idea to limit the amount of extra weight you can take because you will be less tempted to pick up that one extra Buddha souvenir for your uncle Martin.
Style is something that divides the backpacking community. You see some with top-loading bags (the ones with the drawstring where everything you need is inevitably at the bottom resulting in a Mary Poppins-esque struggle) and you see others which open conveniently all the way around, like a suitcase, so you can reach everything simultaneously. Can you guess which style we preferred? There are in fact a few models that combines elements of both these; the Berghaus Trailhead 60 is a good example.
Any rucksack you end up choosing must be comfortable. If it is an uncomfortable fit, you will have some very long days where you wonder why you ever left home in the first place. Backpackers on longer trips should go for a rucksack which has padded shoulder and hip straps. These help distribute the weight of your rucksack onto the stronger and more stabilised hip muscles and bones, taking the weight off your shoulders and lower back. We would recommend a rucksack with adjustable shoulder straps so that you can get that perfect fit. My ideal rucksack, and one of the leading brands, the Osprey Farpoint 80, doesn’t have adjustable shoulder straps which meant that it didn’t fit me correctly. If I hadn’t have checked with a store assistant, I may not have even noticed this.
Extra tip: spend some time in a store trying on different styles, sizes, and designs with an experienced member of staff; most outdoorsy stores like Blacks and GO Outdoors, will have weights designed to help you simulate what the rucksack would feel like to carry.
Another thing to consider is whether it comes with a detachable day pack. These are very useful for day trips, exploring the city, going for walks, and even at the beach, as well as for hand-luggage on any flights you need to take. These day packs can add an extra 20L of storage when attached to the main rucksack which bulks up the overall storage space. We don’t consider these packs to be too important in the grand scheme of things as it is just as easy to carry another smaller bag separately. They are a nice extra though.
Which rucksacks have we chosen?
We initially settled on the Vango Freedom 60+20; I had the black model and Katherine had the purple. We were happy with our choice because it satisfied most of the criteria above, and was a very agreeable price of £69.99 from Leisure Outlet in Attenborough, Nottingham. This range was notorious for ripping quite easily but Vango recently redesigned and rereleased the range with stronger material and a better design.
In itself, the Vango rucksack has its merits but upon first usage of this rucksack, which consisted of transporting it by car to Katherine’s house, it ripped at the seams on the front. We thought this was pretty appalling and hastily returned both Vangos to the company for a refund. 2 months later, and a lot more pollava, and we were still waiting for the full refund – I would recommend not choosing Leisure Outlet, there is likely a reason as to why their prices are cheaper than normal.
In the mean time, we visited the Manchester branch of Blacks and had a chat with the extremely helpful store assistant. We chatted about what our requirements were, our previous experience with rucksacks, and where we were going, and he pointed out the Berghaus Motive 60+10.
The Berghaus Motive 60+10 is a sleek, compact rucksack in the suitcase-style which has a detachable day sack, and an adaptable, on-the-move, strap system called BIOFIT (used by all Berghaus styles) which is infinitely more comfortable than the Vango. We each tried the Berghaus for size and comfort and it was pretty much everything we wanted; except dinky Katherine was too small, even for the adjustable straps. I left the store with this sack and I am very much looking forward to trying it out.
Katherine visited another outdoor store, Cotswold, and found another Berghaus model, the Trailhead 60. This has many of the same attributes as the Motive 60+10 but is technically a toploader. I laughed when she told me she’d got a toploader but she rebutted me as there are three different entries to the main compartment of the bag – very handy. It also has more internal compartments than the Motive 60+10, and because Berghaus intended it to be used for hiking, it is very sturdy.
We’re excited to see how these rucksacks hold up against the turbulent backpacking experience, hopefully better than the Vango Freedom’s rather pathetic demise. Either way, I’m sure we’ll both be envious of each other’s choices.
What is your experience with rucksacks? What do you think of our choices?