I have already mentioned the advantages, in my opinion, of adopting a backpack: independence, mobility, adaptation and responsiveness.
- Independence: no need to draw a picture, thanks to the backpack, no need to pay for the taxi when leaving the bus station, on foot you can reach the city centre like a big one!
- Mobility: whatever your path, you will always pass with your bag, which – if you don’t exaggerate! – is neither wider nor taller than you: if you pass, it passes. Whether it’s the narrow streets, the steep paths or the narrow stairways, nothing stops you!
- Reactivity and adaptation: an unforeseen event, a last-minute change of schedule, no problem! with your bag, you are ready to go quickly, and can move easily. You always have it on your back and don’t risk misplacing it.
Now that you are convinced to leave your rigid and bulky suitcases on the side, let’s talk about what you’re going to have on your back. How to choose the right backpack?
With experience, travellers tend to reduce the volume of their bags and, of course, their contents. For our first trip, we each left with a large backpack, me 55l and François 70 liters. We are currently considering adopting smaller bags, 30-40 litres and 40-50 litres.
Your bag should be proportional to your body size. But be careful, the bigger it is, the more tempting it will be to fill it, and the heavier it will be (implacable logic!)! To give you an idea, a well-filled 80-litre bag exceeds 20kg, while for 50l, you will have about 10kg. As a general rule, aim for a maximum bag weight of one third of your weight.
This is not easy, because there is a fair balance to be found between weight, size, comfort of “carrying the bag”, and comfort of life. Because it contains everything you have for the coming months.
And as for many “techno-nomadic” or “blogger-traveller”, the photo-informatics part already takes up a lot of space and weight: the reflex camera, the additional lens, the feet, the additional batteries, the charger, the water camera, the small discreet camera (to be able to take it out in situations where you don’t want to attract attention), the laptop, the tablet, the cables, the USB stick, the memory cards in sufficient quantity… not to mention the power adapters.
To travel light, each gram is weighed before adding it to your list of takeaway items.
For our first trip, I wanted to anticipate all situations and be as “ready for anything” as possible. I’m the organized type, and taking a lot of equipment reassured me about our ability to cope when travelling. Thus, all along the trip, we wore our big, hot, high-boot walking boots, even in the middle of the city in Paraguay by more than 40°! And at the same time was in my bag a fleece to face the cold… Planned for in several weeks. So I had to endure several weeks of discomfort, to make sure I was ready for next month. Not a great calculation! All along the way we gradually abandoned certain things: a towel, pants, a sheet, a hat, a sweater… Because they were dead weights: almost never used, they weighed unnecessarily on our backs.
Assume that you can always find what you need on the spot (not quite true for the technological part), and often for less than here. Other things that seem vital to you here will be put into perspective on the road, habits being lost to adapt to their environment and learn to do with what is there. So don’t panic!
What to look for?
Before looking at the look or color, pay attention to some details such as :
- the thickness of the straps, the comfort of the straps,
- protection, comfort and ventilation in the back (padded with foam pads, with the option “adjustable back”),
- the belt around the hips to distribute the weight, the strap at the chest for more stability,
- the location of the zippers (too easy to access and visible = risk of theft),
- the side pockets and compartments, the possibility of putting a bottle of water in them,
- the rain cover,
- the strength of the seams, the brand’s reputation…
In short: comfort, resistance and safety.
There are women’s backpacks, optimized for our body shape and size (and some even have a nice look and colors!).
Packaging and packaging
Several weeks before you leave, start collecting the different objects in your list. This will give you a clearer idea of the volume and weight, by testing directly in your bag:
- if everything fits,
- if it is not too heavy and if it is comfortable for your back (it is recommended not to carry more than 20% of its weight),
- if it’s not too heavy for the plane.
Already at this stage, you will see, you will already abandon part of your list (and maybe you will add others “indispensable” that you hadn’t thought of yet), I guarantee it! The ideal is to fill your backpack only 2/3 full, to be able to bring back your purchases and souvenirs; otherwise you will have to leave things behind on the spot (what happened to us during our first long trip).
Practice your skills
Then, practice: make your bag out of defeats. Think about how to store intelligently, according to the principles of probability of necessity, ergonomics and protection:
- probability: if you start your stay in the tropics, you probably won’t need your big sweater! Keep at the top of your bag what you will use most often.
- ergonomics: it is better to place the heaviest weight in the bottom of the bag, to better distribute the weight (whether your pelvis supports the weight, not just your shoulders) and for more stability. Your back will thank you for it!
- protection: protect more fragile objects. By wrapping them in your clothes or towels; also protect the contents of your bag – especially what is most precious to you – by not placing it too close to the zippers.
You’ll see that over time, you’ll further optimize your bag and its storage: you’ll become an expert and know directly where what you need is.
Count between 80 and 150 euros for your backpack, depending on the brand and volume of your bag. On average, prices are around:
- 120 to 170$ for volumes over 70 litres
- 80 to 120$ for volumes of 45 – 60l
- 50 to 80$ for volumes of 20 – 35l
You can also check it out for an used one.
At the airport
Before checking in your bag, for some countries, I advise you to pack your bag, either “resourceful mode” or by machines at the airport entrances. This will ensure that your bag does not have a “surprise visit” to the airport’s back shop (nothing stolen, but especially nothing added…).