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Which backpacks

We don't have a ton of money to spend, but need 4 backpacks for our trip to Europe in November. We will be traveling by train for 3 weeks. Sizes of the 4 travelers is -

Female 5'4" - 180lbs
Male 5'9" - 140
Male 5'11" - 180
Male 6' - 190

Thanks, Lynn

Posted by
15503 posts

Are you talking about a traditional backpack with internal frame for use when walking long distances or a convertible carry-on with hidden backpack straps?

If the former, go to a good sporting goods or camping store and get fitted properly. If the latter, here are four bags for under $100:

Campmor Essential Carry On

eBags TLS Motherlode Weekender--regular and junior

eBags eTech 2.0 Weekender Convertible Junior

Rick Steves Convertible Carry On

Posted by
27 posts

I have an older version of the e-bags weekender. It works well to keep me organized. I'm five feet tall.

Posted by
6352 posts

I love love love my Appenzell, purchased from the Rick Steves website. They call it a day pack, but it's 18" x 13" x 6.5", and is my primary bag for all European trips. The current price on it is $49.95. I can pack enough clothes for a 3 to 4 week trip, with room left over for odds and ends that don't fit into my "personal item" - a shoulder bag the size of a medium purse.

One of the advantages of the Appenzell is it is small enough to be considered carry-on even on the smaller European airlines. I've never been asked to check or even gate check my bag. The straps are padded, and it's surprisingly comfortable to carry. Highly recommended. My DH is eager for his backpack to wear out, so he can get one like mine!

Oh, I'm female, chronologically enhanced, 5'8" (or I used to be!) and ummmm ... not thin.

Posted by
715 posts

There is not a lot of information here to work with. What do you want out of your backpack? Backpacks are incredibly convenient if you pick the proper one for the task at hand. I always use one, but for travel, especially on trains I use a convertible backpack - one where i can tuck away the straps and it becomes more like a duffle or suitcase. Backpacks on your back on a train or in a crowd getting on a train can be problematic and rather annoying to those around you if you are not cautious and aware of your surroundings.

I use an Osprey Porter 45, or is it 46? It is carry on for flights if you do not over stuff it, its straps pack away so you can carry it down narrow aisles and the straps don't catch on things, and when you need to walk some place it converts to a back pack and is easier to get from point a to point b. However, it is not made for extensive hiking, it just works out well to get from train station to hotel, etc.

You need to focus on pack length. For the 5'4" woman - I highly recommend the ebags etech 2.0 JUNIOR pack. I am the same size and use this pack. Everyone else can handle a 21 -22" pack. Sometimes the etech pack is on sale for around $55 - $65. Just look for the promo. codes at the top of the Ebags site near the "bar" or line. The other Ebags recommendations given above are very good. Be sure to get a set of packing cubes. I recommend the ebags Classic cubes. For the woman - one 3 pack of medium cubes and one pack of slim cubes of varying sizes. The men may each want one value pack of all 3 cube sizes and one slimline pack of varying sizes. The cubes will really help with content distribution within the bag.

Posted by
29 posts

Use will be mostly from trains to hotels. I like the idea of a side opening one, and for it to convert to a carry-on is great!

Posted by
8580 posts

So you are really looking for a carry-on- sized bag that has shoulder straps for wearing on your back, versus a hiking backpack or rolling bag.

I'm very happy with the RS Classic carry-on bag. But there are probably many, many choices for bags like that.

Posted by
15503 posts

I gave you four choices for under $100 because you stated "you don't have a ton of money to spend." What is your budget? If over $100 I can give you more suggestions.

Posted by
1238 posts

Have you considered a rolling carryon size suitcase instead of backpacks? We've found those very practical, then a smaller backpack for odds and ends, sweatshirt, etc. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
5837 posts

We've been happy with the Rick Steves marketed carry-on bags. I have been using the RS Classic Back Door Backpack and my wife has been using the RS Rolling Carry-on for a number of years involving planes, trains and cars. The RS bags are relatively light, with the Classic Backpack being lighter than the Rolling Carry-on and both have been small enough to meet carry-on size restrictions including European and China internal flights.

If the three men are reasonably fit and free of physical limitations, backpack style carry-ons work well especially in navigating cobble pavements and subway and walk-up B&B stairs. The roller may be the choice if any of your group have upper body strength or mobility issues.

The RS Roller is the two wheel version with roller blade type wheels and recessed axle. While the roller is heavier it would be only a concern for some of the carriers with carry-on weight limits (e.g. Lufthansa's 8 kg max). The RS Roller has survived European cobbles and train station stairs and does have convenient handles if you have to manhandle the bag onto trains or into overhead compartments.

From a cost point of view the RS Classic Backpack is the cheaper alternative at $80 and even cheaper during the periodic RS luggage 20% off sale. The roller is more expensive ($160 + S&H). On a per d basis, the roller is cheaper at $24/lbs with the Backpack costing $40/lbs.

I'll add that while the RS Roller is cheaper per pound than the RS Classic Backpack, it is more expansive per liter of storage space. The Roller cost $4.00 per liter (2430 cu in = 40 L) while the Classic Backpack (2500 cu in = 41 L) cost $1.95 per liter of carrying capacity.

Posted by
4132 posts

Get the smallest lightest cheapest one.

Honestly, all of these bags are substantially larger than any bag I have ever used to travel to Europe. Including my honeymoon. Including October-November. Including a five-week trip, once.

(*I did once check a bicycle pannier full of cycling gear for a cycling trip. But my non-cycling stuff fit into my 2k cu bag)

The hive mind here likes big bags, and maybe they are right for you. But I just want to say, if you want to travel light, you can, and there are a lot of advantages to doing so.

Posted by
4171 posts

I'm always searching for the "perfect" travel bag. Not too big, not too small, just right. Something with enough space for what I need to take and not enough for what I want to take.

I've been a roller bag person for a long time, but I recently bought a backpack to try out. Because it was on sale for less than half the normal list price, and because it was my target size, I got this Eagle Creek Afar backpack. It measures 20.5x12.5x8.5. It weighs 1.7 pounds and the cubic inches are 2050. I like the strap arrangement. I tried it on with weight in it and it feels good, but the proof is always in the using.

I'll be using it for a domestic trip this fall, so I'll soon find out whether or not it was a waste of money. I hope it will force me to pack less. I'll use it in combination with a medium sized crossbody personal item like I normally carry.

I've had the RS Convertible Carry-on since 2009. My husband still uses his, but I switched to a roller bag when it became too heavy and bulky for me to put on, much less wear. I'm tall and wide, but I think it's the width that's the issue. It's 21x14x9, weighs 2.7 pounds and is 2500 cubic inches unless you expand it, making it 3000 cubic inches. Of course, expanding it makes it too big to be a carry-on.

I considered the RS Alpenzell already mentioned, but I think it is really too small for me at 18x13x6.5 and 1400 cubic inches, although the 1.35 pounds sounds good.

Everybody has their favorites. I hope you can find yours.

Posted by
32237 posts


The answer to your question will depend to some extent on how much gear and weight you want to pack. While in most cases, you'll only be carrying the pack from train to hotel, there may be occasions when you have to carry it for longer periods. Therefore, getting a Backpack which is properly fitted according to torso length (which is different than height) is very important. With a properly fitted backpack, the majority of weight will rest on your hips on the waist belt, not your shoulders (trust me, they're much more comfortable).

A few points to consider.....

  • As mentioned, how much capacity do you need?
  • Do you prefer a panel-load model (zipper opening which allows all contents to be accessed) or a top-loading model (contents at bottom harder to access without digging through everything on the top). The panel load models allow the zippers to be locked, which provides a minimal level of security for opportunistic theft.
  • Detachable Daypack (can be used for a carry-on if main pack is checked).
  • Stowable harness - straps go behind a zippered panel to protect them from airport baggage handling equipment.

You might have a look at packs from Eagle Creek or Osprey Packs as they have a fairly extensive line in various sizes. Your profile doesn't indicate where you're from, but if you have any REI or similar stores close by, you might have a look there.

The Rick Steves packs are very popular with many, but they don't have torso range adjustment so may not be the most comfortable to wear for long periods if they're heavily loaded. If you want to try smaller Backpacks, you could also look at Tom Bihn (expensive but exceptional quality, made in the USA).

My packing has "evolved." I started with a 26" suitcase - pre- carry-on era. Then, after a train experience, downsized to a RS 22" roller case. (It's a fine bag. I still use it.). On my last trip to Europe in June, I sized down even further to the etech 2.0 Ebags Junior pack. I found this to be best for many reasons. For women under 5'6" - I recommend this bag. It can be compressed or expanded based on load. Durable fabrics. Makes hopping on and off trains much easier. Has some nice organizational features. Cheap. The RS Appenzell which I also have, will work - but there is no wiggle room for packing. It's good as 1) a child bag 2) family daypack 3) for 1-3 nights out 4) very organized packers. The others in your group can handle a 20" - 21" back pack. You don't need anything larger.

Posted by
1194 posts

The hive mind here likes big bags

I think it is more of an acknowledgement that a newbie will need a bigger bag until they learn how to downsize. Most first time carry on types start with a 45 liter bag. As they learn what works for them they go smaller.

You stated that you took a 2k cu bag. That's around 32 liters. It's still big for true light travel.

Most light travel folks go for 25 L or under. I know I recently went for 10 days with a 22 L pack. The main compartment was 16 L and I had room left over for souvenirs.

My point is that beginners will need a bigger carry on and there is no shame in that. It's what works for them. If you can travel lighter then do so as lighter bags are less hassle. If not then it's not really a big deal.

Posted by
5837 posts

The advantage of a MLC (Maximum Legal Carryon) bag is stuff seems to expand. Not only does worn clothing seem to puff up in volume, but some of us buy or are given stuff during the course of a trip.

During one winter trip I was given a thick fleece pullover. Given that I wear my jackets (plural) in transit, my only option was packing one of my fleece jackets. My RS Classic Backpack has cinch straps and I could compress the expanded return trip load.

Note that while the RS Classic Backpack has a specified 41 L capacity, the cinch straps allow you to go outbound with 20L or what ever by not filling the bag to maximum capacity. The ability to expand to MLC capacity give you the option of bringing back stuff without buying a duffel bag to bring back stuff.

Posted by
8580 posts

For a new traveler only interested in a bag to use in transit, a bigger (soft) bag, less than full, is better than a smaller super efficient bag, packed drum tight.

Posted by
6352 posts

Adam, the Appenzell is 1400 cubic inches in the main compartment; I don't think the other pockets, while handy, add another 600 ci. I do think Lynn and her family will have a learning curve adapting to a medium sized bag, which is what I consider the Appenzell. My DH uses a backpack that's about 2/3 the size of mine, but he also carries a laptop case - without the laptop. He can get a surprising number of shirts and undies in there, freeing up his small backpack for shoes and slacks.

Lynn, there are lots of threads on this forum dealing with packing light, or once you've chosen a bag, you can start your own thread! Be sure there will be lots of responses and suggestions.

Posted by
4132 posts

Jane, you are right--I missed the reference to the Appenzell, since it was not being suggested for travelnewbie & co. or for a long trip. But it is a good reference point for what is possible.

I am glad to hear that not everybody has jumped n the 40+ liter train. I think even a newbie can do better than that, and have a more nimble trip.

Posted by
14 posts

Tom Bihn makes excellent bags although a little expensive. The Aeronaut 30 is a 3 way carry bag as is the Aeronaut 45. Also have straight up backpacks such as the Synapse 25. Can't wrong with Rick Steve's backpacks either.

Posted by
1 posts

Traveled before to Europe awhile back then to Philippines multiple times, I carried multiple types of bags. Now if I wanted to go with two bags, possible I would go with Tom Bihn myself. I own now a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 and alongside with my packing cubes from Eaglecreek, I would survive with a week of clothes to groups of 4 method, 4 shirts (two long sleeved/two short sleeved), 4 underwears, and 4 socks. Tom Bihn is a good choice.

Posted by
28 posts

I WAS a big fan of the RS Convertible Carryon, but then eBags converted ME to the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible.


  1. A sterum strap. It keeps the shoulder straps from falling off of your shoulders. The RS bags do not have them, unfortunately.

  2. Clam shell 50 : 50 type opening. The RS bag puts ALL the clothing, etc., in the main compartment, which makes shutting the bag a challenge sometimes (or, just don't overpack).

  3. The external compression straps on the eBags reach all the way around. The RS straps don't. You can't tighten up the load properly so it tends to fall away from your back

  4. EBags is heavier, but it's due to more substantial components - zippers, fabric, & structure

  5. TLS bag allows packing cubes to be distributed to both sides of the bag. The RS doesn't. Ebags Classic packing cubes are shorter (3") than the RS brand (5") but they can be put in the various compartments making the cubes easier to find as opposed to being in 1 main compartment

No matter which brand(s) you end up buying, packing cubes are a must, IMHO. It's much easier to pull out bundles of clothes vs. digging through the entire bag to find something.

Bon voyage, gute Reise, and happy landings!

Posted by
531 posts

One of the travel blogs I enjoy reading. Some good recommendations to consider, he reviews a number of others but, those listed and reasons should give you some choices.

For the lady of the group, make sure the shoulder straps aren't too wide. General packs tend to be fitted for a male frame thus, the straps will be set-wide and she'll feel like a mule pulling a wagon. If there's two versions of the pack, the smaller will likely be sized to a women's frame.

Posted by
19136 posts

After years of traveling "carry-on", I've reduced my load (contents) down to about 9 lb, 1400 cubic inches. Some thoughts on bags I've used.

  1. Appenzell bag: I bought one of these. It fits my load, but just barely, in the 1400 ci main compartment. No room for extras (not that I'm going to add anything). My main objection is it's difficult to pack, as it doesn't open like a book. I've relegated it to a gym bag.

  2. Essential Carry-on: I've used one for 5 trips to Europe, more domestically. It has held up fine. It has more than enough room and, at 1¾# is the lightest bag I own. Major objection is that it is too big and doesn't have cinch straps. Very reasonable price.

  3. eTech 2.0 Weekender Jr: I recently acquired this bag from eBags. It's a little heavier than the Essential Carry-on but has cinch straps. I also like the sternum strap to keep the backpack straps on my shoulders. The waist belt works well but isn't necessary with my light load. I intend it to be the main bag I travel with in the future.

  4. Travelwell 3-in-1 Convertible: I found this years ago. It's been hard to find, and now I can't find it at all. It's like a miniature version (1400 ci) of an RS convertible. I don't take it to Europe for the same reason I don't take the Appenzell, no extra room.

I really wish someone (Rick, hint, hint) would make a bag about the size of the Rolling Backpack except without the weight of the wheels, handle, and structure. It really makes sense. Someone who wants that small of a bag is probably trying to pack light and doesn't need or want wheels. Those who want wheels are probably over-packing and want a larger bag.

Posted by
10 posts

Just got back from 2 weeks in France, Italy by train, car, bus, Metro, etc. Lots of walking with backpacks.
We took the following:
Husband- Kelty Redwing 50 L ( he loved it- good hip support- 130.00 or so from Amazon)
I took Osprey Porter- got it for 100.00 from Eastern Mountain Sports online- great store to work with and they had it on sale. Good news- zips opens like a suitcase and just the right size. Bad news- narrow hip belt).I have back issues, so I think any pack would have been difficult.
Daughter- Osprey Aura ( I think). Most expensive but she plans to use it hiking in college. Nicest pack of the bunch with good hip/back support.
Son used old NorthFace pack 70 L we picked up on trading site before we left. Large pack so he filled it half full and it was fine. ( He's 6'3" so long narrow pack made sense).
All of them made it as carry on, except for smaller planes where we gate checked them.SO glad we had packs and not rolling suitcases for rapid on/off of trains and subways.
Advice: load them HALF full. Although we were able to wash clothes throughout the trip at Airbnbs, I still wish I had taken less. I would have bought much more if I had packed less. I would agree with this advice: Wear one outfit, have 3 extra outfits. That's all. Also, packed a good rectangular memory foam pillow that zipped into the front of the pack and power packs for cell phones. Used them throughout the trip.

Posted by
4 posts


Give the Osprey Farpoint 40 a whirl. If you are able, join Promotive and get pro pricing 40+% off all kinds of gear. I used it for my Best of Europe 21 day tour and found it was a great choice. One bag (carry-on) - 24lbs including my MacBook. Next best purchase was an ounce scale.......used everything I brought and wanted for nothing. It is liberating when you really get light. If you want any tips or other advice in a specific area just ask.