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Backpacking through Europe

We are planning a 3 week trip with our boys (17&15). We plan on taking trains from destination to destination. So we will be using backpacks that we can leave in our room or a station locker

Can you tell us.......

What packs are the best?
One that you would use?
Tips on picking backpacks
Do's and dont's while traveling with a backpack


Posted by
31524 posts


Although you may only be carrying your Backpacks a short distance from the station to your hotel, it's important to have the packs properly fitted according to torso length, so that most of the weight rests on your hips rather than your shoulders. Any competent sales person can do the measurements for torso length. Your profile doesn't indicate where you're located, so I'm not sure what stores might be available in your area.

Here are some of the features that I consider to be important.....

  • Panel load design - the main compartment opens completely so it's easy to load and one can access the contents easily. The other version is the top-load design which means if you want to reach something on the bottom, you'll have to dig through all the other contents.
  • Detachable Day pack - many of the travel Backpacks have a detachable day pack, which is great for a carry-on when the main pack is checked.
  • Stowable harness system - many travel packs are designed with a harness system which can be stored behind a zippered panel, so that the straps don't get caught in airport conveyor belts.

Some popular brands of travel backpacks offer separate designs for men and women. One other point to mention is that I would NOT recommend using a wheeled backpack, as the wheels add weight and also reduces the available space slightly.

Two brands of good quality packs are.....

One thing you'll need to give some thought to is the capacity that each person wants to use. Keep in mind that you'll be carrying whatever you decide to pack as well as hauling your gear off & on trains, so packing light is a good idea.

Regarding "do's and dont's", if you're wearing the pack in crowded spaces, you'll need to be aware that if you turn suddenly you could whack someone with your pack. Also if travelling on boats (such as the Vaporetti in Venice) you'll need to take the pack off and place it on the deck.

For longer European trips, I use both of the brands I mentioned above. One pack is slightly larger than the other, so I choose which pack to use based on the specifics of the trip. For shorter domestic trips, I use Tom Bihn or Red Oxx luggage.

If this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as that contains a lot of good information on how to travel well in Europe and includes information on packing.

Posted by
607 posts

I agree with all of the above, except the detachable day pack. I think this gimmick increases the dimensions and weight. For day trips, i use a sackpack which folds down to almost nothing when not in use.

Two features which I always look for are a good hip belt and an internal frame. The frame and hip belt gives the bag structure and transfers the most of the weight to you hips and off of your shoulders. This is important if you plan to carry for a long time or have a weak back. I currently use a SOC Gear Bugout Bag.

Nylon is lighter and stronger material than polyester, but is usually more expensive in higher end bags. Most of my packs are made of polyester. I still own a 30+ year old polyester travel/hiking pack made by a local company called Taiga Works.

I don't use locks on the zippers. I am paranoid that I will lose the stupid little key. I also think a lock attracts attention; what is so valuable that it needs to be locked up? I just accept the fact that any zipper or fabric bag can be opened or slashed. I would prefer a thief just open the bag normally and not damage it. I will just bury my old netbook or other bulky valuables in the bottom and hope for the best when the bag is being stored. Most things are replacable. The important essentials are always carried on my person.

I am one of those guys that spends a lot of time shopping for the right backpack. When you have to live out of the thing for two months in Europe or hiking a week on the West Coast Trail, you learn to love or hate your backpack.

Posted by
961 posts

halfdozmom -

Ken had excellent points about bags that open all the way and that have a zippered area that you can push the straps down into if you have to check the bag - keeps the conveyor belt from ripping them off. We have both used Rick Steve's convertible bag for the last two years when traveling (if we need to carry that much) and the bags have performed very well. Not terribly expensive, seem to be well made, lightweight, and comfortable to wear.
Besides being careful when turning in a crowd,
1) Make sure you never set your bag down and look away. Don't set it down beside your chair; instead tuck it in front of you or between your legs under the table. If you don't keep an eye on it then it could be gone in a blink. Don't be paranoid but be observant.
2) Instead of locks you might consider nifty little S hooks that attach to the two zipper pulls to keep it from being unzipped. Even plastic twisty ties or zip ties will deter some thieves as they want something simple and not time consuming to get into.
3) You might consider using packing cubes that you can pop into a large trash bag inside your backpack. In case of rain your bag might get wet but everything inside will stay dry.
4) DO NOT put your passport into your backpack. Keep items of value on your body. During travel, keep your passport, credit cards not being used, bulk of money inside of a money belt or neck wallet. We put the passports in small baggies inside the money belt to keep them safe from sweat or rain. I like to turn my money belt around backwards so that the bulk is at the small of my back- less noticeable that way and more comfortable to me. We only carry cash needed for the day in little purses/daybags and we split it up between us. No wallets in back OR front pocket unless you want to use an old one as a decoy and see how long it takes to disappear.

I know this is more than you asked for but I am having my coffee right now and my brain is running like a hamster on a wheel.
Have a safe and fun trip with your family!

Posted by
415 posts

Some people might say each family member should hold his or her own passport. I was much more comfortable carrying my kids and husband's passport. If you plan on doing the same a hidden money belt won't work as 4 passports are to bulky. I went with a Pacsafe sling. However, if you're carrying a backpack you'll need to find something that works for you. Have a great trip! We did Europe with our kids last summer 35 days, 6 countries, by train and it was a blast.

Posted by
307 posts

I have been traveling with a backpack since I was 15. I love how easy it is to get on and off trains without having to drag a suitcase around. I have a Deuter pack from REI, and I believe it is a 45 liter capacity. My husband has an Osprey and really likes it. We both had our packs fitted at REI before we left. It's important to find the backpack that works best for you. It's especially important to make sure that the hip belt hits in the right place, as that takes a lot of pressure and weight off your back and shoulders.

I believe my pack was just under 20 pounds, which was comfortable for me. I definitely recommend that everyone try walking with their pack for a few miles to make sure that it is truly comfortable.

For packing, I used packing cubes to keep my pack organized. Then I could just take out a cube and get what I needed, rather than having to dig through my bag. It made packing and unpacking so much quicker and easier! I hope this helps. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
1179 posts

First off, there is a difference between a backpacking pack and a traveling backpack. Some hybrids exist (see below).

I'm going to disagree with Ken a little. If you pack light enough, you don't need a hip belt. With that said, many people have a hard time packing light enough. I'll also disagree that a detachable day pack is necessary. I usually travel one bag only, have my purse or packable day pack in the main bag. My purse is a cross body purse that I can swing in front of me so people can't get in to it if I take it out of my bag. Usually I have the big bag OR the personal item.

I do agree that you want a 45 liter pack (or smaller) that has stowable pack straps. This is known as a "travel pack". My favorites:
Mountain Equipment Incorporated Voyageur This is a true frame pack with hipbelt. I traveled for 5 weeks in South America using this bag. You can get custom made bags for a little more. I had them add in a water bottle holder and luggage security rings. They're slow but so worth it.

LL Bean Quickload Convertible (unavailable right now)

Essential Carryon bag (floppy as all get out but gets the job done. Uncomfortable for heavy loads) Lightest 45 L bag.

Note that the bags are fairly light. The MEI is more of a beefy backpack type pack. All have book or clam openings. All have internal tiedown straps for clothes.

Other topics: Use a combination lock instead of a key lock. There's no key to lose and you can set the combo to something you remember. If you don't want that then use zip ties.
Packing cubes. I prefer zip-locks, but like the ultra-light sil-nylon bags too. Eagle Creek has their Spectre brand. Sea to Summit has Ultra-Sil. Yes, it is worth the extra money for silnylon.

My day pack is the Barefoot Enterprises Wanderlite

Posted by
1179 posts

@Kaeleku - ??? All of the bags mentioned are carry on bags except the ones mentioned by Ken. If you stay under 45 L you are usually good.

The Tortuga is pretty heavy for what you get. It doesn't have a frame and yet weighs the same as my fully framed MEI. Some people like the computer compartment but you can solve that problem with a computer sleeve. And the sleeve is more portable!

Posted by
31524 posts

Cindy H,

The OP didn't specify whether they wanted Backpacks that would meet carry-on regulations nor what type of weight they would be packing, so I provided information on "standard" travel Backpacks. For those who tend to pack "heavier", the hip belt is essential (IMO).

If the OP requires information on carry-on size Backpacks as well, I can certainly offer information on some excellent models.

Posted by
1179 posts

Ken - I understand.

I'll just recite one of the best pieces of advice I received when I started backpacking. The person told me to get the smallest backpack possible because I would fill up whatever I had. They were right! One of the beneficial side effects is that it forced me into packing lightly.

Now I keep going for smaller and smaller bags. My current favorite is 22 L.

Posted by
308 posts

Thanks for all the info. We will be checking out backpacks when we fly, so don't need a carry on size. We are pretty good at packing light if needed.

Thanks for the info about picking cubes. Being that we are traveling in Nov/Dec. that would be great for insuring dry contents.