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Backpack Packing Problem

The Rick Steves backpack is the specified measurements for carry on - when we pack it with everything - not taking much. It becomes an inch or two over. The weight is 15 lbs. Anyone have experience with this? Are the airlines picky about it being the exact
measurements. We are bringing a smaller backpack if we have to put some things in it just in case.

Posted by
2165 posts

It's hard to answer specifically since you haven't listed your airlines but I adhere to the weight and size guideline for each airline I fly. Sometimes they are checking and sometimes they are not but I don't want to mess with it. I've been size checked on lots of airlines but it's random and unpredictable.

One reason I don't use a backpack, though, is for what you are describing. I think they bulge out quickly and can then violate the depth limits for a lot of airlines. I like how little a backpack can weigh but I just think it's hard to keep them thin. I use a super cheaply made and (therefore super light) bag from Kmart that serves me well because I'm too cheap?frugal? to buy one of the fancy light ones. $20 and it works just fine.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for the information. We've never taken just a backpack before - didn't want to risk having our luggate lost. It's United Airlines - there is no weight limit for carry on but just a limit for measurements.

Posted by
961 posts

jongigi - have you used the compression straps on the inside of the backpack? You might also buy a luggage strap to cinch around the outside to keep it from ballooning. That also removes stress from the zipper. If your bag will mash down into the sizer (and it probably would) then it should be good to go. I found luggage straps at both Walmart and Target for about 5 bucks each.

Posted by
16941 posts

I've used bungy cords in case someone gets picky about the depth dimension. I've also found that if you are wearing it when you approach the gate, it is "invisible" to the gate agents. Not that they don't see it, it just doesn't occur to them to check it. Carry it in your hand and they may ask you to stick it in the sizer.

Posted by
5158 posts

Jongigi, which backpack are you using? I use the Appenzell, and I've never had any problem meeting the size limits.

Posted by
2526 posts

The overlooked but obvious solution is to pack less. Less is more. My goal for each trip is to try and pack less.

Posted by
961 posts

I don't know about packing less. Fifteen pounds seems more than reasonable. I flew last year with close to twenty pounds in my RS convertible pack and I think it would have fit in the sizer. It was easily squished this way or that.

I suppose you could make your own sizer out of cardboard and see if you can get it in there.

Posted by
5792 posts

My RS Classic backpack style carry-on works. Being soft-sided (no rigid roller frame), the packed bag fits sizing frames as long as the contents are soft (e.g. clothing) and not rigid. Pushing the bag into a sizing frame is not different from pushing the bag into the overhead compartment. Being soft the packed bag squeezes into the overhead compartment. Again, all bets off if you are bringing back a rigid souvenir statue or ceramic that bulges beyond the specified size.

On the other hand, I've observed folks with rigid roller bags that if a fraction of an inch too long, the overhead compartment door does not close. They end up rotating the bag the long way taking up overhead space for two bags.

Posted by
2526 posts

If your packed bag weighs 15 pounds and is stuffed such that you worry about not meeting the size limits...well remove some bulky items or substitute less bulky items. We have RS's convertible bags and when loaded for our trips, easily fit in overhead compartments, even on regional jets.

It should not be a problem, at least I didn't have any issues with airlines. Still if you worry, you make consider commuting backpacks that are smaller in size or have kind of plastic cover (don't now how to call it properly) that helps it to keep the shape and not become "bulky".

Posted by
9929 posts

I use the Eagle Creek Specter sil-nylon packing cubes in my RS bags, first the Convertible backpack and now the smaller roller bag. I have the ones that are called compression bags which zip down about 1/3 of the total height of the cube. They also help corral stuff and keep it in place.

Like Nance, I also use an external brightly colored luggage strap, mostly for ID purposes but also because I'm paranoid about the zippers coming open and stuff falling out.

I also try not to put much in the front zip pockets. They are handy for maps, umbrella, extra Kleenex, etc but that can add to the width.

Posted by
18388 posts

I also try not to put much in the front zip pockets. They are handy
for maps, umbrella, extra Kleenex, etc but that can add to the width.

That's the trouble with external pockets and why I look for a bag with minimal (or large pockets). Small pockets add to a dimension (width) without adding significant volume to the bag.

Oversized at 15 lb? When I started to carry on with Lufthansa, I was close to the maximum weight (17.6 lb) but nowhere near the max dimensions. The bag might bulge out a little in the thickness dimension, but being soft it easily pushes back in to fit a sizer. Now that I have learned to travel really light (about 9 lb of contents), my problem is the bag is not completely filled (about 1400 cu in), and it's droopy. I'm looking for a smaller bag, or a least one with cinch straps.

Posted by
1128 posts

The separate compression stuff sacks that some backpackers use for sleeping bags and clothes should solve any problem with getting things to fit in a certain space. You can put your clothes and other soft things in a bag and squish it down tight. It really works to save space, although, of course, it doesn't change the weight at all. Also, it is a tiny bit of a pain to have to unsquish all your clothes when you want to pull something out. If you are only an inch or two over airline limits, however, you can use the compression sack just for getting on the plane and otherwise pack it away in the bottom of the bag.

Posted by
3 posts

Couple of tips. For weight issues, I've found it very helpful to KNOW how much you have in your backpack or luggage. When you're in an airport, there are almost always slots at the check-in counter that don't have an agent there... but the scale is usually on. Slip over to the scale and as unobtrusively as possible, put your pack on the scales. Remember, it's in kilograms. If you're light, cool. If not, walk to another area and go through the pack and see what you can stuff in your pockets or under your belt. Remember, they check the bag, not you. One year I was over a little bit in Paris and took my Rick Steves guidebooks and tucked them under my belt, pulled my shirt out of my pants and over them and presto - came in underweight. Of course, they didn't check it, but if I hadn't done that, they would have for sure. Just remember to put the items back in the pack once you're past the scales and check in person. Happy traveling!

Posted by
1 posts

as an fyi to the flying backpackers, we flew from Glasgow to Paris this fall with Air France. At check-in our carry-on was also weighed.

Posted by
1 posts

I have a Rick Steves "Convertable Carry-On" bag, and have never had a issue with either International Travel (e.g. British Airlines, AA, etc) or local (e.g. Ryan, etc). I've traveled to and through Europe 12 times in the last 6 years and never a word. I usually leave with 16-18 lbs, returning with slightly more (never more than 22lbs). I like the soft bag because while packing "settles" with carry, it also "squishes" to conform to room available. I do (on occasion) check bag size at the terminal (many airlines have different size requirements), and have always been able to fit requirements (sometimes with commuter flights have had to "push" a little).
Most everything is individually bagged in vacuum type packing bags or various zip locked bags; especially important in inclement weather. Also easier to keep track of travel items when divided between bags containing like items.
Have a unique item tied to handle for easy recognition. BTW, I really like that bag, often much more convenient than anything on wheels.

Posted by
35 posts

Good ideas above, especially the bungee or straps idea to constrict dimensions.
I have been using the Rick Steves bag for my carry-on luggage 2 years now and have never been weighed or measured on Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Angkor Air, Cubana Airlines or American Eagle. I always strap/bungee down the RS bag to keep the dimensions as tight as possible and always have an extra smaller empty bag for any surplus just in case as most airlines allow two carry-ons.

Posted by
3 posts

Many good ideas!
My strategy has been to always pack my "don't tell Rick " bag.
I can unload some non-critical bulkier/heavier stuff into that and check it if there's a weight/size problem. On a budget carrier I may pay for a checked bag and only use if needed.

A couple years ago TAP put a 6kg limit on carryons for continental flights although allowance was 10 kg on flights from US. I made the weight limit but had to leave my French phrase book home.

Posted by
41 posts

We have only been hassled by Alitalia, for an overweight carry-on bag. The dimensions were fine; it was 8 lbs. over their 17.6 lb limit. As to the standard 9"x14"x22" bag, United Airlines gate staff have never asked us to place ours in the sizing bin to check its dimensions, even when they looked a bit full-figured.

But - as mentioned by another traveler - we have made good use of Rick Steves vacuum clothing bags, as well as other brands. They're very helpful for eliminating that two or three inch "bulge factor" that makes wrestling a bag into the overhead an embarrassing, aisle-blocking, Olympic event.