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How to Carry Soft Backpack and Daypack?

We are going to Europe for two weeks this summer, one week each in Annecy and Varenna. During the trip there will be planes, trains, cobblestone streets, stairs and the like. We're aiming to do this without checking bags. I see that Rick generally recommends a soft carry-on backpack along with a daypack. One of the advantages of having a backpack is having hands free but I'm confused....how do you carry both a backpack and a daypack, without having to carry the daypack in your hands, which seems unwieldy?

Alternatively, if the idea is that on travel days when you need to carry your backpack you just empty out the daypack and put it inside the backpack, what do you use for those items you need to be more accessible (during a flight, for example)?

Just curious to hear how others using this system have worked it, and if you have any brand suggestions for each other than the ones Rick sells (just as a point of comparison). Thanks!

Posted by
5636 posts

When I used to travel with a backpack, I put my daypack and its contents inside the backpack on days when I was changing locations. Some people wear the daypack on their front when they are carrying the backpack.

I now prefer a rollaboard and a daypack. I have one hand free and quite frankly that works fine since I am usually using a map on my phone. In the old days when Rick started traveling, you needed a paper map (and two hands to hold it). I find a rolling suitcase much easier. YMMV.

Posted by
975 posts

You do what young backpackers do and carry the bigger pack on your back and your smaller day pack in front of you (like a baby carrier). If you're lucky there will be attachment points that let you attach your front backpack to your main backpack straps.

We try to travel with one bag and so mostly pack our small backpack inside our big one for travel days. I carry a lightweight re-usable fold up shopping bag (made of really lightweight nylon) for the things we might need on the train/bus. It weighs very little, folds down to nothing and on other days gets used as a shopping bag for groceries or beach bag.

Posted by
1333 posts

No problem! My daypack is a cross body bag, I put on first so I can easyly take off the backpack and checkin at the airport, put it in the luggage room on a bus, leave it at my seat in the train and go to the bar og toilet, without compromising important stuff like mobile phone, wallet, prescription medicine, etc.

Posted by
7394 posts

I planned to use my very light daypack worn across my chest when I purchased my Cotopaxi Allpa 35L as my main backpack bag that would be on my back. When I tried it at home, I didn’t like how the daypack on my chest didn’t stay stable. And thinking of getting on trains, etc. walking down stairs felt like it wouldn’t be a good idea for me.

So, my second lighter daypack is the Sherpani Camden. It has backpack straps, but I carefully cut those off and wear it either as a crossbody or carry it with the handles as a tote.

I am not wearing either after arriving at my hotel/B&B. I just carry my small crossbody purse.

By the way, both of your locations are lovely! Have a great time!

Posted by
15545 posts

Let me ask you a question.....if Rick hadn't said anything, would you still be trying to use a travel backpack or would you prefer wheels?

And before you actually travel with one, I suggest you borrow a backpack from someone, fill it to the approximate weight that you will travel with, and take a walk. Not just a few feet but a few blocks and up and down stairs if possible.

After that, ask yourself if this is how you want to travel. If yes, then besides Rick Steves's brands, there are many to look at: Ebags, Cotaxpi, Eagle Creek, Osprey, and more (many of which are actually better than the RS bag.) If you have an REI near you or a big camping store you can check out a few in person.

If you find that a backpack is not for you, then you can take a wheeled carry on. In fact, Rick's top selling bag is his wheeled carry on. He also admits than the majority of his staff now use wheels.

Posted by
885 posts

And before you actually travel with one, I suggest you borrow a backpack from someone, fill it to the approximate weight that you will travel with, and take a walk. Not just a few feet but a few blocks and up and down stairs if possible.

I agree with this test, and I would add to do the test under the conditions that would mirror the temps you anticipate wherever you are going. I find backpacks not only inconvenient and uncomfortable but sweaty. In addition, wear this backpack not just on walks, but use it in your daily life - go to the store, movie theater, restaurant, enter shops, museums - note when you take it off, and what do you do with it? Do you set it on another chair, or on the floor at your feet? Is that really a safe place for it? Over the years, I twice accidentally left a daybag/backpack behind in a restaurant in Europe - once I remembered it before I got to the exit, and one I didn't figure out I had left it until about 2 hours later, and fortunately it was being held behind the bar. If you are not a "backpack" person in your daily life at home, don't assume you will enjoy wearing one on a trip. I quit doing it years ago, one less thing to have to keep track of, one less thing to lose or leave behind.

Posted by
346 posts

Add in a purse and you have an additional problem! (although for men, this isn't an issue)
We've done the backpack and daypack scenario while traveling and switched to carry-on size suitcases with a daypack a few years ago. Using the backpack made me feel unbalanced and like I'm bumping into things. Also, it tends to hurt arthritic hips (hip replacement, anyone?). I find the carry-on roller bag easy to lift onto trains, busses, ferries, etc, as long as I haven't over packed. We use Timbuktu Copilot luggage (size small) which has skateboard wheels. These easily go over cobblestones (5 weeks in Eastern Europe and Italy last year, Greece the year before, all over the US). We each carry a Pacsafe daypack with chest straps for stability. I make sure there is enough room that my small crossbody fits inside if needed (I use either a Pacsafe or a Travelon crossbody purse).
If you're able, try both scenarios out in your local city first. You'll quickly decide which is best for you.

https://www.timbuk2.com/collections/rolling-travel-bags/products/544-copilot-luggage-roller

Posted by
6 posts

I just had to reply so I could say “Hi” from Southport in England to Southport in the USA.

Posted by
8587 posts

". . . Alternatively, if the idea is that on travel days when you need to carry your backpack you just empty out the daypack and put it inside the backpack, what do you use for those items you need to be more accessible (during a flight, for example)?"

This is not unmanageable. Get to the airport and reload your day pack. If you keep it light you can just carry it by hand. Any brand will do. Even a cheap one off the street. I know a guy who used a pillowcase.

Posted by
2529 posts

My solution, and for years, is to utilize a modestly sized very lightweight soft backpack and a very lightweight daypack. Carrying both long distances is not a struggle. For flights, essentials and 3-1-1 goods are in the daypack...no need to check a bag. When walking about with both, most goods are in the main pack, which is about 8"-9" in depth fully loaded and easy to carry given significantly fewer clothes than what Rick recommends. As for carrying both bags, my backpack goes on my back and then I just sling my daypack over one shoulder. Thus, both hands are free or use the carry strap at the top of the daypack using one hand. Valuable items are deep within both packs and away from pickpockets. I remain conscious about turning about in crowded situations and never "thwacked" anyone...a criticism offered by some on using a backpack. Go to an REI or other stores and select your solution, which may or may not be a bag with wheels.

Posted by
32 posts

We have a great soft backpack from Eddie Bauer that folds up really small, but can hold a lot. So we packed that in our carry-ons, and used it for daytrips when we’d be out and about a lot of the day. I have a crossbody purse I carried for regular sightseeing days.

Posted by
268 posts

Posted by adamsaround on 05/16/24 12:49 AM

Alternatively, if the idea is that on travel days when you need to
carry your backpack you just empty out the daypack and put it inside
the backpack, what do you use for those items you need to be more
accessible (during a flight, for example)?

On another blog called Packing Light Travel, the recommendation to achieve 1-bag travel is to nest the various bags.

So instead of emptying the contents of the daypack and putting the empty daypack inside the backpack, fill your daypack with the essential items and purse, if you have one, and put it inside the main bag like a packing cube.

Another advantage of this method is if you are gate-checked at the last minute, you just reach in the main bag for your "already packed with essentials" daypack and you are good to go. If your gate-checked bag doesn't arrive at your destination at the same time you do, you still have what you need in the daypack.

Posted by
99 posts

Something to consider that's not clear from your initial post is whether you have one lodging in each city or will be frequently on the move.
If you are staying 3-4 nights in each and are not traveling solo (as in, you have somebody to keep your bag while you use airport toilets, etc) this seems like a wheeled situation to me.
I'm going to use a 30L backpack for my upcoming 3 week trip but that's because I'm never in one place more than 2 nights and have trains and some buses, too.
I have the EB zip-to-a-small backpack for hiking days and a tiny museum tote (black) for city days that also zips into itself. They are empty when not in use. For the plane I have a smallish tote that I pack flat on the bottom of my luggage once I've arrived. I carry it by the handles or in the "crook"of my arm.
I wear a small crossbody wallet that can also fit my phone all the time, and a money belt (from RS or else a fabric stretchy ones) whenever in transit.
It sounds like step 1 is figuring out what you will take/need and then (packing cubes, regardless!) you might have a better idea?

Posted by
23 posts

I'm a big fan of the convertible backpacks (straps that flip into briefcase- or tote bag-mode) as daypacks. Not only are they easier to carry with a bigger bag on your back, they give you more secure and considerate options on crowded trains and in areas where pickpocketing might be common.

I swear by the Fjallraven Totepack (https://www.fjallraven.com/us/en-us/bags-gear/backpacks-bags/shoulder-bags/totepack-no-1/) and the North Face Borealis Tote is currently on sale from Backcountry (https://www.backcountry.com/the-north-face-borealis-tote).

Posted by
1790 posts

No matter the weight, backpacks place a strain on your back, neck and legs if you are not use to carrying them.

I am a two wheeled soft suitcase fan and a use the RS Civita Day Pack when on the move. I just attach it to my rolling suitcase. The day pack is very light and holds a lot when out for the day. Most days I do not have a pack if I am heading into a museum or a place that may restrict a pack. I only use one if I am traveling a ways away from my hotel for the day.

If you are spending a week each in Annecy and Varenna you won't be doing much travelling. I doubt you will need a backpack at all. A day pack may be your answer for daily use.

Posted by
1426 posts

@amygee, I really like that Fjalraven bag. Thanks.

I do not use a backpack as my day bag. Instead I use a lightweight cross body purse which is large enough to hold a small water bottle, phone, money, cards, passport, etc. As someone up thread mentioned, that bag becomes a "packing cube" for transit days and is placed inside my "personal item" bag. The personal item bag is either a Fjalraven 15" laptop Kanken which converts between a backpack and a tote bag or a cross body messenger bag. It all depends on how active my trip is. I like the Kanken for active trips which require more gear for hiking or biking. The benefit of the Kanken is that the backpack straps are padded.

Posted by
9769 posts

There is nothing that says a daypack has to be a backpack.

Posted by
23 posts

@Trotter It's great and, like all Fjallraven, holds up beautifully over the years with proper care. My only caveat is that the straps have no padding and can be a little 'ouch' if overfilled. But for my plane carry (noise cancelling headphones, wallet, passport, backup battery and charging cable, Kindle, a bottle of water and a small snack) it's fine.

Posted by
1489 posts

We did this on our very first trip to Europe. We stuffed our day packs into the top of our backpacks while in transit. We learned our lesson and next few trips used bags - back pack then rolling bag with zip on/off day bag. Now that we're a bit older / wiser:) we use rolling bags like many others.

Posted by
1251 posts

I have a 40L convertible backpack and a sackpack which folds down. I generally put the sackpack inside the backpack to keep my hands free when in the airport, train station or changing hotels. I will take the sackpack out and use it as a personal item if I need to divide my items in order to satisfy a carry-on weight limit. Once I pass an inspection, I shove the full sackpack back into the big pack. During moving days, I prefer to deal with a single item and keep my hand free to take photos, eat, drink, read or assist my wife. During the tourist days, I use the sackpack to hold my day stuff e.g. jacket, water, snack, battery pack, sunglasses, shopping, etc.

Posted by
18520 posts
Posted by
1790 posts

Backpacks or daypacks are not easy to recommend because we all have different body shapes and sizes.

I like a daypack that has a lot of pockets, otherwise to me, without a bunch of pockets, its just a sack or a bag and everything falls to the bottom. The more interior pockets the better to avoid any theft of any real costly items (phone, passport, money, etc.) It may not be convenient, but it is safer. Hard to find daypacks with many interior pockets that isn't a full blown travelling backpack.

Posted by
12 posts

These replies have been incredibly helpful, thanks! Given all you've said, and the circumstances of our upcoming trip (where we are staying 1 week in each place, not changing locales all the time) it sounds like a rolling carry-on + daypack would be the best option. We'll need to pack light in any event, since I learned the weight limit for carry-ons on our flight from GVA to MXP is 18 lbs. So hopefully the few times we are having to go up and down stairs won't be too cumbersome, and there will be overhead compartments on the trains that they will fit in. Only thing is that I currently have a Travelpro Platinum Elite and it has the 4 spinner wheels, which I've heard don't work well on cobblestones. Perhaps I can borrow someone's carry-on; if not I may have to make do.

There are a few times on the trip (during a long layover at IAD, once in the Annecy train station) where we may need to store our luggage in a locker. Does anyone know if those lockers will accommodate wheeled carry-ons and not just softer more malleable backpacks? Meanwhile, it's good to know for any future trips the options for the backpack + daypack combo. Thanks again to all!

Posted by
15545 posts

there will be overhead compartments on the trains that they will fit in.

If not, there will usually be a baggage section in each car or sometimes they can fit between opposite facing seats.

Only thing is that I currently have a Travelpro Platinum Elite and it has the 4 spinner wheels, which I've heard don't work well on cobblestones.

They will work fine. I have been using spinners for years and travel full time. I'm just a little more careful over cobblestones and sometimes tilt that bag like a two-wheeler.

Posted by
343 posts

adamsaround, I have that same suitcase and while I love it for many reasons, I plan on only using it when I travel here by car where I don’t have to lift it up or pull for any significant time. Or maybe gift it to my son. It’s weight is an issue for me. I felt I packed efficiently on our ten day trip to London, but that thing was heavy. The case itself is almost 8 lbs empty. So well built, but I had a tough time lifting it and fitting it into my overhead compartment (United). The kind flight attendant helped me lift and turn sideways (apparently a big no no but she offered to do it). Your strength may be superior to mine, though, and my concerns may not be applicable.

After that trip, I decided I to try and lighten my load and bought the two wheel Rick Steves carryon when it was on sale. Even though I am saving a mere two pounds with it, it feels a lot lighter to me, and not nearly as bulky.

Just food for thought as you decide.

Posted by
796 posts

We have been traveling that way for years. 20+ years. We use RS original packs and some sort of smaller daypack or crossbody bag. Never once was I perplexed on how to go about this.

Posted by
3 posts

Unpopular opinion: I'm over the backpack. I recently had my very small handbag stolen from my zippered day backpack. Never felt a thing. Luckily, the thief took the paper Euros and discarded everything else, which I miraculously found. I didn't use the daypack for the rest of the trip and will not take it going forward. Instead, I use a flat, leather crossbody bag. It holds everything I need for the day.

Posted by
18520 posts

I don't really get day packs. Sure a little crossbody for maybe your cash and phone. What else do you need to carry. I actually go out with one almost every day and it's small but fits my fairly compact camera and a super lightweight back pack that stuffs into a tiny bag just in case I go shopping.

As for backpacks, I don't go hiking. Hiking is one of the few places you can wear it with out banging into everyone around you. Certainly not in an airport, on a plane, train or bus or busy tourist walkway or tourist sight. Polite people take them off in those situations.

Posted by
343 posts

I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the topic of this thread as well. I decided I am going to try the backpack route this fall. I wasn’t sure which type bag to use an an additional pack for IDs, passport, wallet, etc. I would like to carry two pieces total, with possibly an empty duffel packed in the backpack so I can send a checked bag home with any purchases I can’t live without.

I used a crossbody purse last summer (kipling) and while it was ok, it did get heavy on my neck/shoulder. With a water bottle tucked into the side pocket, it was uncomfortable.

I don’t think I would want to have that and the backpack strap, so I’m going a different direction with the smaller personal day bag next trip: a waist or hip pack. I saw this one at the rei on sale during their big anniversary sale and bought it. I read a lot of backpackers are using these, and while it may not be the most fashionable thing, I hope its functionality overrides that. It can also be worn sling style.

https://www.rei.com/product/227961/rei-co-op-trail-5-waist-pack

Just another option. We’ll see!

Posted by
453 posts

Depending on the weather and what I'm doing that day, I will bring either a crossbody purse or a very small crossbody purse (for my phone & wallet) and a lightweight backpack. The lightweight backpack is usually one of my Eddie Bauer Stowaway packable backpack or perhaps a string backpack, and either of those would be to carry a jacket.

Posted by
100 posts

The problem is that most women say "crossbody purse" but that doesn't help the men. Yes, many more men in Europe do wear bags or what at least we used to call bum bags worn crossbody style. I've not found that American men of a certain age are comfortable with that. Sling bags are great to wear in front for security or in back. Some, like the Patagonia 8liter Atom hold A LOT. I generally don't use mine for European trips but have for naturentrips where I want to take my DSLR, lg water bottle and raincoat strapped to the front.

Posted by
15545 posts

I am not a big fan of backpacks as daypacks because they are susceptible to theft when on my back.

I do have a foldable messenger bag--no longer made--and I'm warming up to the sling. It still looks ridiculous to me but it is more practicle should I need to have something.

If it's not too hot, I wear a jacket and fill the pockets.

I also have an Eagle Creek foldable waist pack that can be worn as a sling. It carries enough for what I might need.

Posted by
18520 posts

This sort of thing purchased in Budapest metro station for 3.500 forints (about $10) https://images-static.nykaa.com/media/catalog/product/5/1/512eb1cMNFIES00000583_1.jpg?tr=w-500 .
Holds passport, wallet, cash and this ftits too https://cdn.walletmonitor.com/img/5fca4160878b15a1a96f81a651bf342a.jpg (about $25) for shopping as does this for recording the event https://amateurphotographer.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2021/08/Olympus-PEN-E-P7-White-20.jpg?w=900

Posted by
77 posts

We just got back from 2 weeks in Italy using travel backpacks + daypacks. One consideration is that we were doing inn-to-inn supported hiking for 75% of our trip, so while our main bags were moved for us, we needed to have a comfortable daypack for day hikes (not in a city). We also spent 3 days in Rome.

My main bag was a 38L travel backpack (bargain basement) that while wasn't optimal, was just fine for carrying through the airport, on the train, up stairs to lodging, etc. I would have loved a waist belt, but it wasn't terrible for the 30ish minutes I needed to wear it at each stretch. My daypack is an Osprey Daylight Plus. It was overkill for the plane (only about 1/4 'full'), but needed for the hiking. In the city (and walking around the small towns we were in each evening), I have a Fjallraven High Coast Pocket for my phone/pen/glasses/etc. I just carried my water bottle by hand :). I tucked the sling bag into my daypack while hiking (and for boarding the plane).

In regards to how did we carry things -- if it was a short walk most of us wore the main backpack and then slung our daypack over one shoulder. If we had farther to go we would wear the daypack backwards on our chests. Sure we maybe looked dorky, etc. but it actually was pretty well balanced, etc. And was MUCH easier to manage going up/down stairs than a roller suitcase would have been, IMO.