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Travel Backpacks and Availability in Canada

Hi Everyone. I just managed to go down a deep rabbit hole this weekend searching for the ideal travel backpack (20 hours and still going) . I'm looking at upgrading my RickSteves Europe Thru the Backdoor one for something a bit better and substantial. The bag is good for what it is, but I'm finding it a bit too floppy and lacking organization. It's also not the most comfortable to carry on your shoulders. My ideal bag would be around 35l and sized just below the most common airline restrictions of 21"x14"x9" (55cm x 25cm x 23cm). Using PackHackers web site, I was surprised by how many of the packs stated dimensions actually fall outside of many airlines specs. The harness would need to be comfortable and have a removable or packable hip belt. The backpack straps would also have to be able to be put away. Handles and pockets on the outside for quick access and some options for organization on the inside, but not hindering if you have something a bit bulkier. And the bags have to be available in Canada. Shipping cost are ridiculously high from the US for the ones I did check on. I understand that the bag will be costlier, but I don't want to take out a mortgage, especially since I need to buy 2.

I've looked at a bunch of bags, from highest rated and popular to lower rated ones and can't seem to find anything that works. Well, that's not true, I like the Aer ones, or the Tortuga, or the Peak and Pack ones, but no availability in Canada that I can see, and a small loan would be needed :). I'm looking for suggestions of bags that might not be as well known that I can take a look at. I haven't been in any stores yet since I'm still in the middle of a trip, but even then, my only option is a MEC store, so I'm thinking online is where I should concentrate. ( I know this will be suggested, but the popular Cotopaxi has a stated thickness of 10", so its out of the running and the Osprey Farpoint has a fixed hipbelt that can't be hidden separate from the carrying straps).

Thanks for you time.

Posted by
432 posts

Ebags doesn't ship internationally. You can find that particular bag ($90usd) on Amazon.ca for $230. No hipbelt, and the pack is not rated that well from what I've read. Thank you for the suggestion.

Posted by
7213 posts

Hi Warren, i have the Cotopaxi35L that you mentioned at the end of your post as being too thick. I have packed mine for a 3-week and also a 1-month trip in Europe. I pack light, and it easily is not the full 10”. The bag is sturdy material but not rigid. As long as you’re not filling it 100% full, it can meet your 9” requirement.

”… some options for organization on the inside, but not hindering if you have something a bit bulkier.”

Look at some YouTube videos of the Cotopaxi design on the inside. It opens as a clamshell with two main mesh sides with zippers. There’s also two smaller mesh pockets on the left side near the top. If your bulky item needs the entire thickness of the bag, you wouldn’t like the Cotopaxi. Personally, I love the easy organization and quit using packing cubes for my main clothes - just my underwear in a mesh bag. And my misc. stuff in a gallon Ziploc. The outer pocket is very handy, too. Hope that helps since you can’t see one in person.

Posted by
432 posts

I had just about ordered them as I found one place online that carried them in Canada, but pulled back as soon as I seen it only meets a surprisingly small percentage of airline requirements. I know you can not fill it up etc, but was hoping to not always having to plan for that. Also, the scarcity in Canada concerns me if I ever needed service, repair etc
(Ha, ha. I've watched about a dozen YouTube's on this pack)

Posted by
1353 posts

Warren, please come back and let us know if you ever find the pack that you're describing because I want it too. LoL. I use the Osprey Fairview 40L. Had gotten the Cotopaxi 35L precisely because I wanted a separately stowable hip belt. But I gave it to a friend because I like to use packing cubes. That's all the bad news. The good news is that you can find used Cotopaxi and other packs online. If you are a member of or willing to join REI you can haunt their used gear site and order one. I found my Cotopaxi there at a significant discount. And last week I saw 2-3 Cotopaxi packs available. But they go fast. There is a REI store in Spokane which I think may be a drivable distance for you. The other alternative is Poshmark.ca. Although the annoying thing about Poshmark is the number of emails they send every day. Good Luck!

Go to CabinZero.com. Variety of bags in sizes more amenable to budget flights. CabinZero ships internationally. Prices are reasonable. Only negative is made in China. You may have to flex on some features though. Worth a browse.

Posted by
1183 posts

I bought a SOC Bugout Bag nine years ago and it is still going strong. It is currently selling for about CAD$145 at amazon.ca.

Amazon.ca SOC Bugout Bag

The bag has shoulder straps and a hip belt which can be stowed separately. It also has two removable aluminum stays to provide rigidity and weight transfer to the hips.

Despite the posted specs, I measured the bag seam to seam 21" x 14" x 9" and its weight is 4lbs. The bag has external compression straps which allow you to compress the bag to fit any sizer. You could also unzip and extend the depth of the bag another 3" if you buy a lot of stuff and want to check the bag.

Posted by
7213 posts

Hi Warren, if you decide to drive down to Spokane, and it happens to be on the first Saturday of the month, our local RS travel group meet up is at the Woops Bakery at 119 N. 4th Street in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at 10am. Our next one will be March 2. There’s a Sportsmans in Coeur d’Alene that carries some backpack options, and our group could bring what we currently use, too.

Posted by
432 posts

Probably not. We ended up moving further away to Kelowna year and a bit ago. Thanks for the invite, though.

Posted by
1183 posts

Warren

Ebags.com just came out with a new bag that looks interesting. It is the Mother Lode DLX Travel Backpack which has a removable waist belt for USD$105 (50% off). I almost bought the original version of this bag (no waist belt) 9 years ago. I opted for the SOC Bugout Bag because it had the waist belt and was on sale through ebags. I think ebags still does not ship to Canada. I live near the border and picked up the package at a US package delivery office.

Ebags.com Mother Lode DLX

Posted by
432 posts

I used to do that cross border ordering when I lived close to the border. In fact, that's how I got the RS bag, but now I'm quite a few hours drive away. I did look at that ebag and it had potential. It says it's 10" thick, which exceeds quite a few of the airlines, though.

Posted by
1183 posts

All soft sided bags can be squeezed down if they have external compression straps. My SOC Bag is listed as 15.5" wide, but measures only 14" between the seams. If I overpack and do not compress, the width can puff out over 16". The depth can also puff out to almost 12" and that is before I expand it to another 3". I have always been able to squeeze it down into a sizer.

My biggest challenge is weight. In October, we will be flying ZipAir to Japan and the carry-on limit is only 7kg. At 4lbs, the Bugout is heavier than most newer backpacks, but still lighter than a rolling bag.

You should not dismiss the Osprey Farpoint. It is sleek looking, nicely designed and made of modern lightweight materials. IMO, the fact that the hip belt cannot be removed or packed separately from the shoulder straps is not so important. If you are going to wear a bag on your back even for a short distance, you should always use the waist belt to transfer the weight to your hips and prevent stress to your spine.

SportChek.ca often has the new version of the Farpoint 40 on sale for 25% off. And if you sign up for a new membership, they will give you an additional 10% off. My brother bought two of them just before Christmas.

The following is a youtube video comparing the older Farpoint to the older Ebag. The new Fairpoint has been improved by moving the laptop slot closer to the back and getting rid of the mesh bottle pockets. And the new Ebag has added the removable hip belt. However, the review is still very good for comparing the different features and packing styles of the two bags.

https://youtu.be/x8n3mc1sdyU?feature=shared

Posted by
432 posts

The Farpoint is on my list to check out. Even though the fixed hipbelt is not desirable, it's not a deal breaker. If the new version does have the laptop pocket near you back, this is definitely a plus for me. Just checked sportchek and I can't see a sale. Maybe it ended. The other packs I'm wanting to look at are the Gregory Border 40 and MEC's Pangea 40, both available in Canada, yea!

Posted by
1183 posts

I still prefer the Farpoint because it has the light weight wire frame which transfers the weight to your hip belt and makes carrying a heavy load much more comfortable on your back. Osprey really knows how to engineer their backpacks for use in the outdoors. I am not sure that the other two backpacks have any internal frame or structure. Sportchek has put it on sale twice in the last 4 months. You can try calling your local sportchek and ask when it will go on sale again.

FWIW, I prefer the MEC Pangea over the Gregory because it has the compression straps to squeeze down the bag. Otherwise, the bag may bulge too much and fail to meet the carry on limits. Also, a partially filled bag without compression straps ends up being a saggy floppy sack on your back. The compression straps can also compress the contents and creates some internal structure and support in place of an internal frame.

Posted by
432 posts

Patagonia I have. Haven't heard of Fjallraven, but will check.

Posted by
1406 posts

Have the osprey Fair view, and love it. FYI, for a through the airport short term fix you can wrap the back flap (that would zip to cover all the straps) around the waist belt and tuck it all down in.

Posted by
432 posts

Saw a short YouTube on that hack. That would eliminate one of my concerns. Thanks

Posted by
237 posts

Posted by Warren OP

Patagonia I have. Haven't heard of Fjallraven, but will check.

I've seen Fjallraven backpacks in Barnes & Noble. They only had 1 size/style, but it gives you an idea of the fabric and construction.

Posted by
54 posts

We have not traveled with these yet, but have purchased two Deuter Aviant Pro 40 duffels for an upcoming trip. They do not have a sternum strap (which is a big bummer) and do not have a hip belt (not as big of a bummer) so I do think they will start to not be great if we have long walks. But really they are for plane-to-train-to-hotel transit, so hopefully only 30 minutes wear at a time. I linked to the Deuter Canada website above, but we bought ours from Backcountry for a much lower price (in the US).

In addition I looked at the Decathlon Forclaz duffel. We went with the Deuter because the material on the forclaz seems more stiff than I'd like, but it really does look like a solid option and available in Canada.

Good luck!

Carrie

Posted by
432 posts

Pretty sure I want a backpack and not a duffel for no reason other than I don't like the look of them. thanks for the suggestion.

Posted by
479 posts

Thanks for the post Warren, I've followed in with interest. I'm trying to find something very similar with similar results! Please post back if you have any luck.

Posted by
432 posts

Just based on online reviews etc. I'm leaning towards the Osprey, but am hoping the MEC will surprise me. I like that the MEC has more compartments, but comfort may win out. Just waiting to get home and have some hands on (hopefully).

Posted by
1183 posts

Warren

Amazon.ca is currently selling the Osprey Farpoint at up to 23% off, CAD$193, depending on the colour..

EDIT: I checked the Osprey Farpoint on Amazon.ca again this morning. Only the tunnel vision grey version is still on sale at CAD$201.

Posted by
432 posts

Thanks for the tip. Still not home until end of month, might have to get creative with ordering. I wonder if these are the new version with laptop sleeve at the back. I see the MEC Pangea is also on sale until end of the month. Figures.

Posted by
32196 posts

Warren,

I haven't read all the previous replies, but wondering if you've checked Valhalla Pure as I believe they also stock Osprey backpacks, and also possibly Eagle Creek.

Good luck!

Posted by
1183 posts

The Osprey Farpoint 40 on Amazon.ca is back to full price CAD$249. It may go on sale again at Sportchek in the Spring

If you like the MEC Pangea 40 which is on sale, you could order it and have it shipped to a friend or work address while you are away from home. MEC allows 30 days to return.

Did you look at the Pangea 60 which includes the detachable 20L daypack? Personally, I would not use it on a trip, at least not as an attachment which makes the whole pack very unwieldy. However, some people like the option of carrying that daypack as their "personal item". On sale, it is not a bad add-on for the extra $30, if you have use for a separate day pack. Osprey also sells a daypack that can clip on the Farpoint and it costs about $150. If you do a search on Reddit for "MEC Pangea 40", you can see several reviews and photos for both the 40 l bag and the 20 l day pack.

Posted by
432 posts

I ended up ordering the Farpoint from Amazon. I checked price on my tablet and it was $209. When I went on my computer moments later, it was $197, so I placed the order. 1/2 hour later I went on again for something else and it was $187, so I cancelled the first and reordered. Never knew things change that fast. Today that particular colour on sale one is sold out. I saw those Pangea pics on Reddit and it appears that the length of it is 28 inches packed. That's my only concern about it, but I'm planning on ordering it as well while on sale to have a look.

Posted by
1183 posts

Good for you! Amazon has dynamic pricing based upon supply and demand. My brother and sister-in-law left for Vietnam yesterday with their Farpoints. I have seen the bag and it is excellent.

I saw the same photos of the Pangea 40 in Reddit. I think that it just the perspective of the photo that made the length look like 28" (ie laying measuring tape on the floor beneath the bag and away from the camera). After looking at those photos and reading the reviews, I have 2 other concerns: 1. The location of the laptop opening is at the top near the shoulder strap connection. If you overload the bag, the weight will put a lot of stress on that laptop zipper and it could possibly separate. The Farpoint laptop zipper is on the side and there is no other zipper opening on that critical top edge by the straps. 2. Based upon the reviews, the Pangea zipper pulls also seem to fray and break off easily. Not a big issue (I just have shoestrings on my Bugout Bag), but it would be nicer if they were more durable.

Let us know which one you decide to keep.

Posted by
432 posts

Not surprisingly, I too have seen the comments about the Pangea. Didn't think of the zipper location though. Thanks

Posted by
1183 posts

Warren

Did you get a chance to compare bags and did you make a decision?

Posted by
432 posts

Just got home this morning. Went and saw 3 of them, one to go and then I'll decide something.

Posted by
432 posts

I managed to physically look at 4 different backpacks. The Pantagonia MLC 45, The MEC Pangea 40l, The Cotapaxi Alpa 35 and the Osprey Farpoint 40l. The Osprey and the MEC one I purchased, so I had some extra time with them, packing them up, walking around, adjusting the straps. The other two were in the store where my wife and I tried them on with weight and spent about 1/2 hour with them. First up, the Pantagonia. The first thing that hits you is it looks big, noticeably bigger than the others ones. At first this seems not an issue, but we just flew back from Cabo, and at that airport and at Calgary airport, agents were going around looking at people's carry on and asking for them to size them. This bag has no structure and feels floppy, The salesperson agreed that clothes could slide down and bulge the bag. The hip belt barely fit me, and my wife could not get it on because of the length of straps. It was comfortable to carry. The bag has a waterproof coating, but I was pointed out that the YKK zippers did not, (I thought zippers are where most water comes in). The secondary straps, the sternum, the cinch ones etc all were about 1/2" wide. My wife had trouble keeping the shoulder straps on her shoulders as they kept sliding off. Finally, the stowage of the straps behind the back panel were slow to pack and made bulges. I really like the look of the Cotapaxi. It looks smaller and compact and the colours were cool. The secondary straps were also kinda thin and about 1/2" wide. Material felt much thinner than all the other packs and the hip belt was useless. I'm only 5'-9" and it fit around my waist, no where near where it has to be. Storing the straps is a bit time consuming and it really bulges the back. I did not like the excess material on the lid part of the bag. It would super easy to overstuff this section, and since the bag already exceeds 9" high, I could see it easily getting to about 12". It's narrower than allowed, so I'm not sure why they just don't reconfigure it a bit, take advantage of the width, while reducing the height. The MEC one felt heavy right off the bat. The little pouch on the bottom that stores the back cover and rain cover is a problem. It adds about 2" to the length of the pack, exceeding the allotment by quite a bit. The sternum straps (adjusted all the way down), are way too high on the shoulder straps. It's almost at my neck. The shoulder straps cut into my armpits and all the secondary straps are about 1/2" wide. No YKK zippers and the shoulder harness adjusts up and down by sticking it onto a large velcro patch. This is awkward to do. The straps, once packed behind the cover bulge a bit. The hipbelt was not too bad. The Osprey also felt heavy (because of the frame). It was by far the easiest to get on and off, the strap adjustments work easily and once I dialed it in, the bag felt stuck to my body. The shoulder and secondary straps were much more substantial, the material felt premium, the zippers all worked smoother than all the others and it has much sleeker appearance when all the straps are stowed. However, the farpoint did not fit my wife too well. Because of her womanly shape, the straps were being pushed and twisted outward, off her shoulders, and cutting into her armpits. So we ended up buying another Osprey, the fairview women's version and happy to report that the bag fits much better. Not perfect because of bosomy issues, but well enough that she likes the comfort.

Posted by
32196 posts

Warren,

It's great to hear that you've found packs that work for you. I'm not surprised that Osprey was the brand you chose, as I own a (larger) Osprey pack and I've always felt their quality was excellent.

Happy travels!

Posted by
1183 posts

Warren

Thanks for your detailed comparisons.

You can't go wrong with the Ospreys. They probably feel denser because of the high quality materials. However, if you look at the specification or throw them on a luggage scale, at about 1.54 kg, the absolute weight is still at the lower end of the spectrum compared to most other bags.

FYI, the Osprey Fairview 40L in Night Jungle Blue is selling for CAD$204.37 on Amazon.ca. The other colors are selling for the regular price of CAD$249.

Posted by
1406 posts

Warren, glad the fairview won out for yr wife, a small tip for her is to definitely use the sternum strap, it help keep the shoulder straps in a comfortable spot for me. I am 8 yrs post breast cancer surgery, and the fairview accommodates my surgery scars and tender areas