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Anyone recommend backpacks?

I've always loved rolling bags, but traveling on budget European airlines has made me realize that the extra weight for the wheels just isn't worth it! Or is it? I don't know. I'm taking a flight with a max weight of 7kg in a few weeks, and I've wondered if I should just give in and get an ultra-lightweight backpack as my main piece of luggage.

Anyone want to weigh in on Rick's two non-wheeled bags or any others you'd recommend? I'd like to keep the cost under $100, possibly even $50 but I'm willing to splurge if there's a bag people swear by.

Posted by
1098 posts

My wife and I (63 and 60) have used RS classic back pack for about 5 years now and we love them. I guess we will have to use rolling bags when we get old, but as long as we can, we will carry our luggage on our backs.

Carry-on to planes is actually the least part. Carrying them up in trains and buses and up stairs to hotel rooms - not to mention over bridges in Venice - is much more important to us.

Posted by
724 posts

We love using backpacks! So easy to get around. We kept the weight under 7 kg.

Posted by
3789 posts

My opinion may vary, but backpacks should not be purchased by price point. It needs to fit comfortably for your body. There is usually a reason that brands like Osprey get so many reviews and are often used by world backpackers. These are not huge camping backpacks, but 40 litre travel packs. Just down the list is a thread about the Fairview. Ignore the first number of comments and get closer to the bottom where the original poster explains what the post was supposed to be about. She describes how well it fits and how to pack it. I added a link to a review with more extensive 'dissection' of the bag.
Otherwise, look at Sarah Murdoch's blog and her recommendation of a lightweight inexpensive pack she has used for Asia travel. There is no hip belt, however, and that can make or break it for some people. I have something similar that I trialed on a trip close to home. It was slightly over 7 kg, and I felt the weight on my shoulders and upper back for several days. If I had been able to carry the weight on my hips, it might have been better.
https://adventureswithsarah.net/best-travel-backpack/
as well, this forum is full of luggage and backpack comments. Use the search field above type in backpack and sit back with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine), and read through.

Posted by
1098 posts

One more advice: Test your bag and your back before you leave. Pack your bag with what you expect to take on vacation and carry it around your city for a couple of hours, take a train, take a bus, go up stairs to third floor.

It's irritating to have to change your packing plan before you leave, but it is disaster if you arrive in Europe and after two days find that you cannot bear thinking of carrying the back pack one step further.

Posted by
6627 posts

Sarah, I am used to wearing backpacks, so prefer them, as you say, to avoid the extra weight and space of the wheels of a roller. I've been using the RS Classic bag for a few years now, and think its a great bargain, especially when you catch it on sale. What I dont' like about it, are the drab color choices, but thats minor.

However, I will say that its designed as luggage, and not a true backpack - the kind you would use for camping and wearing on your back for hours while hiking. So the straps are not as adjustable or comfortable, and it may not sit on your back the way you want it to. But it works perfectly fine as luggage, keeping your hands free while in transit, and fits in the overhead.

Posted by
4986 posts

Sarah, I love my Appenzell - and they're on sale now!

The website calls it a day pack, but really, it's too big for that. It's about 23 liters, so quite a bit easier to handle than some of the larger bags. I've used mine as my one "travel light" bag for the last 10 years. An advantage of a smaller pack is overall weight - mine usually comes in about 13 lb, fully loaded. (I was down to 10.5 on the last trip, but that was a fluke.)

The back is padded, sort of. There's in inside back pocket meant for a laptop or some such. I don't carry a laptop, so the padding makes the bag more comfortable, even fully loaded.

And I second the suggestion to "test drive" your bag. Don't just put it on and say "I can handle this." Nope, load it, wear it as you walk a mile or two, climb stairs, and practice putting it on and taking it off. Really. At least one frequent poster on this Forum switched from a backpack to a roller bag because she had too much trouble getting her bag on and off.

Posted by
724 posts

To clarify, we use backpacks that originally were bought as daypacks when trekking in Nepal. I think you need a hip strap so you can balance the weight. We were not able to use the side pockets to fit within airline dimensions, but once we were on the ground I moved my water bottle and umbrella to the side.

Posted by
50 posts

I like Jane's advice to carry the bag around for a mile or two in your city before heading to Europe with a backpack. I sometimes see advice to walk around all day with your packed bag but apparently these people are doing a A LOT more walking with full luggage than I am. Generally I'm carrying the backpack across the airport, which is some distance but not miles, and then from my transportation to the hotel, which is usually blocks and not miles.

It's been awhile since we've been to Europe but we've done it with Rick's bag and also a Northface luggage-style backpack with a hip strap and detachable smaller bag (which I'm sure is no longer available). I've always loved using a backpack because it squishes into smaller spaces better, you never get caught up by a snagged wheel, and it makes climbing stairs much easier. But wheeled bags are nice too and if you decide wheels are worth the extra weight and space, go for it. It's your vacation.

Posted by
3491 posts

I also use the RS Classic bag. Have been for over 12 years. I carry it like a suitcase more than wear it like a backpack. But I really like it because by itself it is very light weight maximizing what I can stuff into it before I hit the airline weight restrictions. Only drawback when wearing it like a backpack is there is little structure to it and without carefully packing it can have uncomfortable lumps against your back.

Posted by
1179 posts

I travel with a backpack when on personal travel. The backpack changes with the type of trip.

For regular trips I use a Patagonia Travel Tote. I try to stay under 7 kg.

My adventure pack is the Voyageur by Mountain Equipment Inc. It is a true backpack that looks like luggage. The suspension is amazing. I had them created a custom pack for my needs. I added: a mesh pocket inside the lid, a mesh water bottle holder, and security rings to lock the zippers to the corners of the bag. The work was excellent.

I have several others that I’ve used through the years which are no longer manufactured. This includes the REI weekender and the LL Bean Quickload Travel Pack.

I’ve been playing around with an Osprey day pack too. I wanted something around 20 liters.

The Cotopaxi Nazca travel pack has had some great reviews. It’s a bit heavy for its size.

Posted by
4455 posts

I purchased the very inexpensive ultralight backpack last year that Sarah Murdoch recommended (the one she took to Cambodia and Italy). It’s the G4Free travel backpack, and I bought it on Amazon. I’ve used it on trips within the US, but I still really like my Eddie Bauer roller bag for Europe. Sarah has a video on YouTube- search for Sarah Murdoch Ultralight unpack.

Posted by
366 posts

I've used roller carry-ons for 25 years and am happy w/ them. I use a PackSafe w/ embeded mesh for my bag (Travelon has also).
I get ads from ebags.com and drool over them. There are SO many options. But I can't justify spending more $ when I'm happy as-is.
i.e. this is a recommendation to review the ebags site just to see the options.

Posted by
32 posts

I really like the Osprey Porter 46L....it's the size of a carry-on roller bag (so within size limits), has handles on the top, side and bottom (and other side has two thingys to put on the ground and keep the pack protected), tuck-away shoulder and waist straps (that are actually comfortable) with chest clip, and zips open like a suitcase so you have full access and aren't digging in from the top. I think it runs around $100-110? It does go on sale every now and then. There are some good YouTube reviews so you can see what it looks like and how it packs a huge amount of stuff....oh, and it's lightweight, so you get more pounds to pack and not just weight from the bag. A smaller daypack can be attached to it too, so if you're looking for something that would be a carry-on and personal item, that works nicely and you don't have to pack within your stuff your day backpack for when you leave the larger one where you're staying.

Posted by
154 posts

Sarah, you don't say how long your trip is or if you're willing to do laundry at some point. But if it's a fairly short trip, the Appenzell pack sold here is a good choice. I've been able to get several days worth of clothes in it and it's lightweight. The outside pockets are good for small electronics and toiletries, and it's also a good underseat bag if you don't pack it too full.

I recently purchased an Eagle Creek No Matter What Toploader backpack, and it's another good choice for short trips. The downside is that it loads only from the top and there are no outside pockets. However, Eagle Creek is one of the best brands out there and their guarantee can't be beat. If you're a true minimalist packer, this one might suit you, though at 24 L it's a bit on the small side. Caveat: The Eagle Creek website has been down for a while for renovation, and I picked mine up on Amazon. EC has worked out an arrangement with eBags to market their stuff there as well. I found it today for $59 on Wikibuy.

If you want a really good travel pack for a trip lasting over a week to ten days, you need a true travel pack (IMO). Just be careful about the weight, because even if you're in good shape, you still need to practice efficient packing, especially if you're walking a lot with it. I'm 61 now and have pretty much gone over to wheeled bags with small backpacks as a "personal item", but was pleasantly surprised that the RS rolling bag meets the standards of most European carriers. And it holds a ton! Good luck.

Posted by
2987 posts

Thanks for all the suggestions and recommendations, everyone. I think I'm sold on giving up the wheels.

Amazon Basics has a well-reviewed backpack for only $50, but it's not in stock and they won't get in time for my trip. I was considering the eBags TSL Weekender Motherlode Junior (I'm only 5'3, and apparently the regular sized one can be a bit awkward for short people), but I'm going to check out some of the suggestions, too.

My trip is 11 days (we will do laundry at least once, maybe twice) and I'd like this new bag to become the bag I use for pretty much all flights in Europe regardless of length, since I'm just so tired over stressing out about weight restrictions.

I recommend a bag that's about 19" long. Don't go over 20" long. I am on the short side. Trust me - you are better off giving up a couple of things and getting a smaller bag. I have an Ebags bag that is no longer available. Too bad - I really like it. I am giving you this advice based on my own experience.

Posted by
8108 posts

Head over to Globetrotters if they have one in Stuttgart. They really helped both me and my daughter find a back pack that fit us personally. Mine is a Deuter 35L+10 and hers is a Jade 35L. Both fit into the bins on RyanAir.

It makes a huge difference to find a back pack that fits you so recommend doing this rather than ordering online. Even Galleria Kaufhof and Karstadt have large sport sections with a fairly good selection. Sport Scheck is a lot smaller than Globetrotters, but give them a try too.

Posted by
54 posts

I really like my eBags TSL Weekender. It was a real game changer. From three weeks through Italy to two weeks island hopping in the virgin islands, to me it is the ideal bag for my travels.

Posted by
154 posts

I've used the eBags TLS Motherlode Convertible Junior for a few short trips and have found it to be just the right size compared to the slightly larger standard model. My only knock on its is its weight, which is typical for eBags brand bags in my experience. They always seem to be heavier than comparable models. I'm considering buying the RS convertible backpack, but am on a spouse-ordered moratorium on buying more luggage until I take a few older bags to Goodwill;)

The Motherlode Junior works well if you don't overpack it, which is always a temptation due to its handy expansion feature. Disclaimer: I'm 5'8 and not athletic, so this probably isn't an issue for younger, more in-shape folks. But all my eBags luggage pieces have been quite durable over a lot of years and trips.

Posted by
2987 posts

I wish I'd read this before I ordered, Jo, but I went ahead and ordered the eBags TSL Weekender Motherlode Junior off Amazon. I am small but sturdy and relatively hardy so hopefully it will do OK. If not, my 5'11 husband can have it, he's never had a wheeled bag, choosing instead to use his Tumi duffel he's had since he was a Coast Guard Petty Officer 20 years ago. He loves that bag and it's fine as a carry on if he doesn't over-stuff it, but carrying it on one shoulder has started to become painful for him. So if this new bag is too big for my frame, he can have it.

I was really tempted by the RS basic bag because it's just so....light! But between complaints about durability and the slightly shallow concern that they just don't look all that great, I found the eBags a bit more appealing, and it's still less than half the weight of my current wheeled bag.

I'll let you guys know in mid-September how it goes!

Do not regret the Ebags Junior bag! It's a great bag. Ebags makes good stuff. My ebags bag (etech 2.0) is going strong and I really like the organization of it. Don't overthink this - just enjoy.

Posted by
154 posts

I think you’ll be fine with the Convertible Junior, as long as you don’t overpack. And based on my experience, it should be quite durable.

It’s been mentioned that you really have to watch the weight and dimensions of backpacks, particularly if you’re “vertically challenged”. (Not that 5’3” is that short. But I’m 5’8” and have to be careful about this myself.). I always check via Amazon reviews and the like that the specs are correct when buying online. Waist straps can be a big help to distribute the weight as well.

Note that you can also carry the pack with its shoulder strap or side mounted carry handle like a suitcase. I sometimes do this if it’s getting uncomfortable carrying as a backpack.

Enjoy!

Posted by
8 posts

I have the Osprey Exos 46. I find it very comfortable because the weight is on my hips, and not my shoulders, and with its ventilation webbing keeping it off my back and also giving some ventilation for the hips and shoulders, I'm so much cooler and that makes me happier. Lots of well thought-out attachment points, such as the easy stowage for my poles under my left arm, and quick access to my water bottles without having to take off the pack .And it's only 1 kilo even though it has a frame.
https://flipboard.com/@maxgoodz/top-20-best-tool-backpack-review-2019-iteil953y
I'm happy I picked if up on sale too

Posted by
2987 posts

My bag arrived yesterday and I'm very excited about it! (Who'd ever thought I'd become such a nerd about packing of all things? Enough travel though and it happens.) Yeah, it's a little heavy for this kind of bag and it might have just one or two many zippered compartments but as someone who is very ADHD and thus needs to know where everything is at all times to keep my flighty mind focused, I do appreciate a lot of the little touches in this bag. It seems a bit obsessively designed and I'm into it. It's crazy how flat it can fold down versus how big it can be when fully packed.

It seems to sit at a comfortable position on my shoulders and I'm glad I went for the smaller bag. On Friday when it's a little cooler I'm going to do a test pack of what I want to take on Spain trip and head downtown and wear it around for a couple hours. (Good advice, everyone!)

Even my husband, who was a little skeptical (he's a simple man, with his simple duffel bag, despite how much it often hurts his shoulder) seems relatively impressed with the thing.

I'll let y'all know how it holds up in Spain but it seems like the solution!

Posted by
5462 posts

Please remember on subways, busses, and in terminals and corridors that your backpack intrudes on public space. It can injure others, especially when you turn left or right.

Posted by
26 posts

Glad you found something you like. I bought the RS Classic Travel Backpack and it worked great for me. The comment about not just airport but all the Metro, hotel stairs, walking between transportation is spot on. I just returned from Paris and the stairs, escalators, tunnels between Metro stations is amazing and I can’t imagine lugging and hopping the wheels through that would be easy.

Posted by
18301 posts

your backpack intrudes on public space. It can injure others, especially when you turn left or right.

Are you referring to full, framed, camping backpacks that extend over a foot and a half out from the wearer, or a convertible carry-on that extends, at most, 8 or 9 inches behind the wearer? In the later case, if you are contacted by the "backpack", you are probably intruding on the wearer's personal space.

Nevertheless, in all my years of traveling, I have never had a problem with backpacks, but I am constantly having to avoid those infernal rolling things that people drag three feet behind them, well below the normal line of vision. And when three of them waddle side by side down an airport concourse, with their rollers out to their sides, everyone has to go out into opposing traffic to get around them.

Posted by
4986 posts

I'm going to agree with Lee on one point, and disagree on another.

Even smallish backpacks can be intrusive, especially in crowded places. I've been whopped a number of times by folks who spin around without looking behind themselves. And, as a dedicated backpack user, I'm sure I've done my share of whopping as well. I know several times my DH has warned me "Look out, you're going to hit" whomever.

But I agree about roller bags - or as I call them, ankle bangers. I've been tripped by them, or had to jump out of the way, when people shift to one side without looking behind them. And yes, two or three people together (or a tour group) take up way more room than one would expect.

In short, we should all pay more attention; I've been knocked to my knees by someone with a briefcase!

So try to remember - all of us - that we're probably taking up at least twice as much room as we think.

Posted by
7 posts

We just came back from two weeks using RS backpacks and loved it. While everyone else was fighting the uneven terrain in Venice and stairs in Metro, we just kept right on walking! If all you're doing is going through the metro to your hotel they work great! I would add the small lifts in Europe that sometimes only hold two people, when my wife and I both got on with our packs it was quite comical! we also took the fold-up bag and checked this on the way home with dirty laundry inside so we could keep our precious souvenirs with us on the plane!

Posted by
1217 posts

I do wish the airlines would put up some posters or signs on the jet bridge encouraging people to move their backpacks to 'kangaroo' position before getting on the plane proper.

Posted by
4986 posts

Good idea, selkie. My DH wears his in front much of the time; I carry mine low getting on and off the plane, holding the top loop in one hand, more like a suitcase (remember those?)

Posted by
154 posts

I do the same thing. In confined or crowded areas, I just know I’m going to unconsciously swing around and hit someone, so I (usually) remember to carry it by the handle. I also always buy backpacks with a trolley strap, so I can slip it over the handle of a wheeled bag (if I’m using one).

Posted by
2987 posts

Decided to update this thread although I may make a new one but I absolutely LOVED my eBags TSL Weekender Motherlode Junior. I'm a backpack convert!

I did a test run of my packing, carried it around for a couple hours, and we got on the plane and it was so freeing. The ONLY time I missed a roller bag was walking through airport terminals over that smooth walkway but in every other situation it worked great and I was very organized.

I packed about 5-6 days worth of clothing in it for a 12 day trip, but our easy access to laundry was at the end of the 3rd full day and not again until day 10, but it worked. I also had to schlep about a mile with it through the suburbs of Madrid to my friend's flat and I was SO glad I had a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase.

I managed not to fwap or injure anyone with it on the metro quite easily (as it's not a giant frame backpack) and I never went "kangaroo" mode either.

I just lent the bag to a friend who's visiting Liverpool via RyanAir for the weekend and was worried about weight restrictions. She had heavy groceries to take home and threw them in the bag and traipsed all over Stuggart without a problem. My husband now wants one to replace his more awkward and painful Tumi duffel.

Boarding one flight I was told by an agent that my bag was really too big - I was shocked, it was well within regs, but what she meant was as hand luggage (like a purse) as opposed to "hold luggage" via RyanAir's new policy but she let me take it on board anyway. I had expected to put it in the hold at the gate so I was shocked when I realized she was letting me board with the bag. Cool.

Posted by
3681 posts

Sarah, that's a very generously sized bag at 2500+ cubic inches or 41 liters. At 3 lbs, 5 oz it seems a bit heavy. How did the hip belt work? I have yet to see a picture showing it.

Posted by
2987 posts

Hey Lo, are you sure you're looking at the right bag? There is no hip belt, there's a chest strap that you can use (and I did, despite feeling dorky, as it just made the bag more comfortable). It's actually smaller than most European Airline regulations, provide you don't stuff it excessively - I was going to get the regular, as opposed to the junior, but I read reviews and on here that if you're short (I'm 5'3) that the junior is less awkward and I'm glad I went with it.

I did use the compression zipper when boarding planes and the bag was slightly overstuffed using the expansion zipper when we weren't and I could be less worried about size. The trip was EuroWings flight from Stuttgart to Bilbao (no bag issues), rental car to San Sebastian for 3 nights, drove to Polientes 1 night, drove to Llanes 2 nights, drove to Leon for 1 night (dropped off rental car), train to Madrid for 3 nights (including that walk from metro station to my friend's flat - seriously, what was she thinking taking us that far with our luggage as opposed to taking a bus?) then flight to Mallorca, layover, flight back to Stuttgart.

It's not the same as a trip conducted entirely via public transport, as we had a car for a week, but I spent plenty of time on the train/metros/buses with the bag and I was really happy with my choice. Of course my bag was never actually weighed at the airports but it was 7 kg every time just in case. (Ok, maybe 7.1 - what can I say, I live dangerously!) I had to walk with the bag plenty, about a 20 minute walk from the car rental drop off to our hotel in Leon for example, and was again glad I wasn't dragging a wheeled bag through the old city.

I actually plan on using it as my carry-on for an upcoming visit home to California, and will be checking a mostly empty large suitcase to fill up with goods from Our Lady of Target and the Sacred Heart of Vacaville Outlet Gap for my back to Stuttgart.

My only mild complaint it that the bag has probably one or two many small zippered pouches that add unnecessarily to the weight of the bag. I used one of them a lot but there were two others I didn't really use at all. But I didn't see another bag at that price point with good reviews that had a more simple or lightweight design. I am very impressed with the durability and construction of the thing - it's very sturdy. I thought I might carry it like a suitcase given the handle but I packed it so full it was less comfortable than simply carrying it as a backpack. For shorter weekend trips I might use it this way, though.

Posted by
843 posts

Anyone coming into the thread late: Deciding between a wheeled bag and a backpack style travel bag is not simply personal tastes. But the market for travel backpacks is huge. There are literally hundreds of bag choices ranging from 20-50 liters in size and costing US$50-$500. If you want to dive deeply into this topic, research “one bag travel”, “minimalist traveling”, and “onebag packing lists”. These topics should return many hours worth of interesting reading and many video clips that review many different onebag solutions and how to pack them for endless days abroad.

Many of these once-simple roller top backpacks have evolved into super sophisticated, clamshell-opening, highly organized systems designed to accommodate the needs of today’s digital nomads or those of us who are enjoying life after retirement. If you’re shopping for a travel backpack, take your time, try not to get caught up in the hype over a particular brand or weird features and bombrproof construction that you don’t really need or will want to pay for.