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How much are backpacks worn on RS tours?

I'm just wondering how much we would need to actually wear the backpacks...I see during transfers from and to the hotels (some longer distances but how long?) and from Airport and so forth but I'm wondering how much of the time we actually are wearing them? I've just recently found this site and I'm planning planning planning!

Posted by
4947 posts

Are you referring to backpacks you use as your carryon luggage? No, they stay at the hotel in your room, or to and from the bus. Yes the bus may be a few blocks away on days that you are going from city to city. And you might have to carry them up stairs to and from hotel rooms. Most people bring carryon-sized rollers anyway, not backpacks.

If you're referring to daypacks that you might want to have with you to carry a bottle of water, camera, and sundries, during the day while sightseeing - thats entirely up to you. Its not a forced march around town. And you're usually walking or taking public transport in town.

Perhaps you're envisioning something different for the tour.

Posted by
20598 posts

True backpacks or day bags??? Day bags are common. Backpacks are not.

Posted by
6128 posts

Walking the length of PDX is farther than I had to walk from bus to hotel on an RS tour.

Posted by
44 posts

I'm leaning towards an Osprey Fairview 40 Backpack Carry on for my main luggage. If I'm not hiking and such, I'm thinking I can limit myself on weight and use the backpack rather than the roller bag. It's a challenge that I'd like to try. I'm just wondering that it seems that when you get to your hotel, with no elevator, you have to lug the roller bag and if I'm wearing my backpack, it's easier. Am I wrong? Thank you to the first responder as I was not clear. I'll have a cross body bag and the Fairview and that's it....(that's the plan anyway)

Posted by
13930 posts

It depends on the tour. In some places, the hotels have elevators, or the staff carries bags up to the rooms (rare). And not everyone is on the higher floors. In some places, the bus takes you to the door of the hotel, in other places it can be a 2-3 block walk. For instance, a day or two before arriving in Hallstatt, our guide said it's a very long walk from the bus to the hotel and advised packing a small bag for one night and leaving the main luggage in storage on the bus.

Posted by
44 posts

thank you Chani, this is good information to have. I'm going to REI soon to take a closer look at the Fairview model along with the Porter 46. I'm really new to travel to Europe and just want to ensure an enjoyable time.

Posted by
378 posts

I have both the Porter 46 and the Fairview 40. If you have a short torso you may like the Fairview better. The weight transfers to my hips much better than the Porter. When you check them out at REI, load them both with about 20lbs and walk around the store, go up and down the stairs, etc. Note that the Fairview comes in two sizes for better torso fit.

Posted by
3249 posts

A lot depends on which tour you're taking.

Sometimes the walk from the bus to the hotel is long. Sometimes the walk in the airport or the train station or the metro is long. How long? 15-30+ minutes maybe. More problematic may be that the walks sometimes are up and down steep grades or stairs and that they may lack any kind of handrail.

There may not be easily accessible elevators in hotels, train or metro stations, or any elevators at all.

You may be wondering why I mention train and metro stations. Unless you take a taxi from the airport to your first lodging and from your last lodging to the airport, you'll have to walk or use some kind of public transportation.

As was said in a different post, if the pack doesn't fit you properly and/or it is too heavy, even walking on flat surfaces for any distance can be miserable.

And keep in mind that you are responsible for managing your own luggage. Full disclosure: I would never ask anyone for help, but I must admit that I've accepted help when the situation didn't feel too hinky. Usually this has happened getting on and off trains with my little roller bag where the steep, narrow stairs are difficult. It does seem that the grayer my hair gets, the more likely it is that people offer to help. Or maybe they just want to get me out of the way faster so they can get on or off. Either way, I'll take it.

Posted by
7633 posts

If there is a specific tour you’re looking at those who have taken it before may be able to shed some light on distances although different hotels are sometimes used.

Posted by
44 posts

I'm 62 and 5'3" so I'm inclined toward the Fairview as I like the look of the shoulder straps. I've been told by friends that I'm stubborn and I do feel that I will deal with whatever situation comes my way. I've traveled a while ago with bad bags to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. My main bag was a roller and the pulley part broke mid way through the trip...What a Mess! I'm wanting to be able to keep up with everyone and to be able to handle my own luggage accordingly....so.

Sorry that this is gone off topic. Any info is good info.

Posted by
2310 posts

If you have no experience carrying a fully loaded backpack starting off on a European tour with one is a bad idea. The straps may be “nice looking” but won’t feel so nice and neither will your back. If you had cheap luggage fall apart on you, well, that’s what cheap luggage does. Invest in a good rollaboard or spinner bag. Or, borrow a pack, fully load it and carry it on uneven surfaces for a few miles, up and down stairs. That will talk you out of it.

Posted by
3249 posts

"I'm really new to travel to Europe and just want to ensure an enjoyable time."

Please forgive me if you've already done a lot of reading and watching about traveling in Europe, but I can't let this comment go by without recommending that you throughly explore the RS Travel Tips. There's so much more to ensuring an enjoyable time than your luggage.

Having said that, I just noticed a 12+ minute video titled Comparing Osprey Fairview 40L vs. Osprey Porter 46L. This is the link, I think.

As someone else said, when you're at REI, fill each bag with about 20 pounds of something and walk around the store, up and down stairs, etc. One advantage of the 40 liter bag us that you'll be less tempted to pack heavy.

Posted by
44 posts

I've been watching a lot of RS videos, comparison videos, and I've seen this particular video. I've been to REI today and will be going back soon. I have had experience backpacking though it has been a while. I do appreciate all the kind words and doubts of my abilities. I assure you that I will be thoroughly testing all available choices. My trip isn't for a while, 2020, but I'm learning and studying beginning now. I'm asking these questions so that I can be thoroughly informed of what will make the experience best. Someone responded about having trouble with a roller getting on the train. That is one of the concerns I have, as well as rolling over cobble-stoned streets. Again, thank you for your thoughtful guidance.

Posted by
5397 posts

You’re doing this right — taking the time to consider way in advance what will work for you on the trip.

Some people on this Forum will tell you that you should ONLY carry a backpack or ONLY use wheeled luggage. You just need to figure out which one is right for you. With your search for information and try-outs in the store, you’ll figure it out!

Posted by
4947 posts

sweetshell1956, I use a backpack - the Rick Steves Classic bag. Its really a piece of luggage with straps so you can carry it on your back. But its not really a backpack as you would use hiking and camping - no structure, waist straps, etc. The Osprey is a popular bag. Its a personal preference between backpacks and rollers. I am used to carrying one on my back to keep my hands free, but some people aren't, and some can't. There are advantages and disadvantages for both. No wrong answer. You'll see people with all sorts of bags on the tour.

Posted by
13930 posts

Yes, you could end up with some difficult or long walking but you aren't trekking for hours in the wilderness. Don't worry so much about pre- and post- tour. Airports are easy to walk. It's usually a very short walk from the terminal to the bus or train or into the city. Avoid the metro (unless it's from the terminal) with the backpack because if it's crowded, you'll be a target for pickpockets and if it's crowded, you'll be a nuisance to others and you'll be standing.

Once you're on the tour, there will be few occasions (on some tours - none) when there will be long walks with a full pack

Posted by
3981 posts

sweetshell1956, I'm another dedicated backpack user, but of course it's a personal choice.

I use the Appenzell, sold here on the RS website. It's about 23 liters, and, when combined with a small shoulder bag that I use as my "personal item," holds everything I need. It usually weighs under 15 lbs, fully loaded.

Do heed the advice about testing the bag loaded. (The bag, not you.) And whatever bag you do buy, be sure to practice with it before you go on your tour - hills, stairs, rough sidewalks...

What tour are you thinking of taking? That'll help answer your questions about how much you'll be wearing or carrying your bag. For city tours? Just getting from the airport to the hotel. Bus tours? Well, getting from wherever the bus lands to your hotel, and quite possibly up several flights of stairs. But really, that's about all. I do remember at least one fairly long walk from where the bus parked to the hotel, but not terrible. Between 1/4 and 1/3 mile, maybe? But usually it's just a couple of blocks. Of the 12 tours I've taken, the Sicily tour had the longest walks with luggage.

Posted by
54 posts

I was in the same predicament as the OP and was wondering what to try a worn backpack versus roller and spent some time looking at tour photos to get ideas about what people were using. I am older 64, and am not very strong, and even though my husband could carry my bags I want to be able to handle what I have!

Look at the scrapbooks for what various couple use and when they post going to the bus photos! I have great luggage for cruise travel which is the Travel Pro Max Lite set, but these pieces were all too big for carry on except for the smallest, which does not hold much since it is an under the seat style bag. I have toted this set up and down the bridges in Venice and lets just say it was not much fun!

I took a short trip where I packed lightly in my under the seat roller and a backpack and found the roller easier for me to negotiate stairs. So I opted for the rollers, one for hubby and I. They do go on sale too so it is worthwhile to wait if your trip is not too close.!

Posted by
4947 posts

On my last RS tour, I think there were 5 of us with backpacks, the rest were all rollers, of which most were RS bags. Seems like a similar ratio in previous tours.

Posted by
850 posts

(i'm a tallish 64yo female)
I've been on 5 RS tours, and I think roller bags are far more common. I don't find it difficult to roll over uneven/cobblestone walkways. It MIGHT be more difficult with the 4 smaller wheel types than the 2 wheeler I use. I also don't think my 22" roller is more difficult to carry up the occasional stairway than a non-wheeled bag.

Even the small backpack I use in addition to the roller is challenging in crowded conditions--you have to be really careful to not knock into people if you turn.

If you can manage a backpack, great!, but don't assume that it's the norm for RS tours.

Posted by
78 posts

The backpack the OP is considering is an excellent choice and vastly preferable to a roller as long as she does not have any serious back issues.

A backpack with a hip belt and shoulder “load lifter” adjustment straps will be comfortable for at least an hour, maybe more. A pack with none of these features will be miserable immediately and maybe these types of packs have generated the negative comments aout backpacks.

I cannot imagine carrying a roller case on and off trains.

Tip: To put the pack on, lift it onto a table, ledge or other elevated surface. Loosen all of the straps first. Then back yourself into the bag. Then adjust the hip belt snugly - it is carrying the weight, not your back. Then adjust the shoulder straps so the top of the bag does not flop around. Finally, pull the load lifter straps until you can fit a finger between the pad and the top of the shoulder. If you try and lug the bag from the floor onto one arm, you are asking for trouble.

Nearly everyone I have met complaining about a backpack being uncomfortable has been wearing a poorly designed and improperly adjusted bag.

Posted by
44 posts

Thanks Jason, I do plan on testing testing testing. My biggest concern of the backpacks is being able to adjust as much as possible..I didn't see that with the RS models except for the convertible that has a web belt. The Fairview seems to have the best shoulder harness system.

Also I didn't want to cause a ruckus of backpack vs Roller. If I'm not planning a carry on only trip then I will use one of my other roller bags. I want to challenge myself and that's part of the excitement of travel, but will go in eyes wide open and with lots of practice. You don't know what's around that next corner.....

Posted by
904 posts

Just a heads up, US airline carriers and European airline carriers have different carry on size requirements. Make sure you are getting a size the will work for the airline you are using. The European carriers are usually a bit smaller than the US carriers.
Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
688 posts

I have an Osprey Porter 46L. I am 54 and 5'6" tall. I have flown internationally and locally (both in US and Europe) with this bag. It is true that it is slightly larger than some bag allowances, HOWEVER, my experience is that gate agents will let you pass if you are wearing a bag on your back. I am taller than you, the same bag might look bigger on you. On a smaller plane I do have trouble fitting the bag in to the over head space. I pack about 40L of stuff in the bag and then cinch it down. And then I carry a medium cafe bag from Tom Bihn. I like having the extra room in the bag while on tour and then I get more organized before a flight. I could always put some souvenirs in the bag and check it on the way home, also.

I prefer a backpack because with the bag properly fitted, the weight is distributed and falls on your core. No wrenching shoulders picking the bag up for stairs. I have a lot of arthritis, and this works best for me. I wear the cafe bag cross body, which means my hands are free to hold on to railings etc. I think this system will continue to work for me, even if (when) I get weaker. I will just decrease my 20 lb down further. So, I don't think strength is the biggest factor. My son is traveling with me this year and he will take a roller bag.

We all get to pick which bag we take and thank goodness not everyone travels with the same bag I have.
Enjoy the planning, it is almost as good as the trip!

Posted by
44 posts

Thank you vandrabrud, I'm like a sponge right now, just absorbing all the info I can. Thanks again.

Posted by
3249 posts

"Someone responded about having trouble with a roller getting on the train. That is one of the concerns I have, as well as rolling over cobble-stoned streets."

I'll 'fess up! That was me.

Since most people in Europe use roller bags, there's a lot of congestion at the train entrances with people trying to get off while others try to get on in very few minutes.

Many trains have steps with high risers and narrow treads. I'm 5'8" tall with long legs, but bum knees. At your height, those steps could be a challenge no matter what kind of bag you have.

If you are wearing a backpack, not only will you add the weight in it to your normal body weight, you'll add the depth of it to your profile, thereby taking up more space on the narrow tread steps.

I'd love to be able to use a backpack for all the reasons most devotees love them. But my orthopedist says no to that. Don't tell him that I do use my Appenzell sometimes.

The instructions given for getting into and out of a backpack are excellent -- until you use the toilet. Then you have to remove the pack and put it back on without the assistance of an "elevated surface." So in your testing, be sure you can get the loaded pack off and back on under those circumstances.

As for the cobblestones, neither my spinner nor my`2-wheeled bag give me any grief rolling over them. In fact, the handle of the bag almost serves as a walking stick over rough terrain, and I'm far more likely to pay close attention to what's under my feet with a roller bag than with a backpack.

I do abuse my roller bags. I never pick them up or carry them, even up or down flights of stairs. I roll them up or down one step at a time and stay close to the wall so that people can go around me. Per doctor's orders, that's the way I'm supposed to go up and down stairs even without carrying anything.

That smaller Osprey looks better than the similar women's Eagle Creek 40L bags. Please report back with your decision after the testing.

Posted by
44 posts

Lo, oh my, I'm sorry I didn't go back to figure out who said what....

I am aiming to use a backpack for as long as I can and once I have a few trips, RS or otherwise, I may opt to change over. I do keep other's space in mind both with the backpack and with roller bags. That's just common courtesy.

Love all the great info and here's to happy traveling!

Posted by
44 posts

I would also like to add that my sister and I went on a trip to Amazon, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. We each took one carry on (a roller!) and mine even had a wetsuit I used in the Galapagos...so I'm not a stranger to packing light (well, except for that damned wetsuit!) Thanks for all the assistance.

Posted by
2409 posts

I wouldn't think getting on and off a train would be solved by a backpack. Transportation courtesy does require one to remove his/her pack before getting on trains, subways, buses and planes. The few times I did travel with a backpack (2 European trips years ago), the pack was in my hand just like my wheelie is now when boarding trains, etc. For getting in the train, one can also put the pack or wheelie on the step above before climbing in if that is easier. I find if I have one hand to hold the hand hold, that's all I need (5'5"). So...think about other reasons that you might like the backpack for your pro and con list, IMO. I found the thought of wearing a backpack was much more fun than the actuality... on and off, on and off, and alway having extra weight...which I manage fine with just eating. LOL.

PS. And if you happen to be connecting in Schiphol, don't wear a backpack...long, long, long walk. Again, just my opinion.

Posted by
2310 posts

I am glad you will be trying this out first. I think REI has a generous return policy so really take your fully loaded bag for a test drive, especially walking up hill. Having been on 7 RS tours those carrying backpacks were in the minority, one to three on each tour. And these folks looked like they were born carrying them. Just keep this in mind-with a backpack you are always carrying your luggage, whether it be on your back or in your hand. If you find you just can’t bear the weight on your back anymore, you have no alternative but to carry it. The vast majority carry rollaboards, two or four wheels, for a reason. The minor bother of getting them on and off trains, over cobblestones, etc. is more than compensated by the fact that most of the time you are moving your bag you are not carrying it.

Posted by
2760 posts

I have taken 16 RS tours and doubt if there were more than one or two folks using backpacks. Most everyone uses roller suitcases.
I have travel from the top of Europe to the bottom and have never had a problem using my roller bags on busses, trains, stairs, or cobble stone streets. I just reach down and grab my pack by its sewn on handle and lift it up when necessary.

Posted by
60 posts

I took my first RS tour last year and used my lightweight TravelPro 2 wheeler which I carried on rather than checked. I didn't regret that decision at all, but like you, I thought I would consider the Osprey 40 for my next trip this fall. I am 63 years old, 5'5", and in pretty good shape. I thought a backpack would be an easier way to get through airports. Well, I went to my local REI and "played around" with a loaded Osprey...enough to decide against it. Here's why:

  1. I really think my 2 wheeler will accommodate more. I'm a light packer, but don't think I could get it all in the Osprey.
  2. Getting the pack on/off isn't as easy as I thought. I would carry it (not wear it) on and and off transportation so that's a concern.
  3. I didn't like the idea of having all my gear behind me. A rain guard would ease my mind a bit regarding thieves, but it would bother me
  4. I use a daypack for items I want on the plane, then later as a general daypack. Carrying a daypack on my chest with the Osprey on my back in the store was just uncomfortable.

As for how long you'd wear it, I think our longest walk was under 15 minutes (Paris and HOFrance). Having the roller bag was never a problem with the distance we traveled to/from bus to hotel or hotel lobby to room. The roller wasn't an inconvenience, I just really thought I'd like a backpack instead. I hope you find you do, and maybe I would as well but I'm sticking with the 2 wheeler.

Of the 27 people on my RS tour last year, there were 2 men using large backpacks in addition to a roller bag because they were in Europe for 3 weeks with their wives and needed the extra space. Everyone else had a roller bag.

Posted by
44 posts

Thanks JKL. I'm thinking that I'll end up with a two wheeler....my daughter is also concerned about how I would get around and was saying get a backpack with wheels that can be worn as well. I looked again at this configuration and found one but cost and weight were discouraging. I'm opting, for now, with Rick's roller bag. I have some with lots of pockets on the outside and I never seem to use them. Plus, they may not, technically, fit the carry on regs.

Thanks to everyone!

Posted by
2 posts

My family bought three of the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Packs a couple of years ago for myself, my wife, and our teenage son. We initially used them on a domestic trip, during which my wife discovered that some recurring back/shoulder pain issues prevented her from comfortably carrying the pack as intended. Last summer we went on the RS Scandinavia Tour, and she elected to use a rolling bag out of necessity, while my son and I enjoyed the benefits of the backpack-style luggage. Most of the tour members used rolling bags and managed just fine on that tour.

The advice to go to an REI or similar if available and try the pack weighted is prudent in my opinion. I highly recommend the $20 lifetime membership to the REI coop, which will get you 20% coupons a few times a year and a 10% dividend on full-priced items.

I really like the Porter 46. It has compression straps that can be easily cinched down to assist in smaller compartments when needed. I also have the Osprey Daylite Plus daypack that can be attached to the back of the Porter for one-bag carry through airports, train stations and the like. I remove it when boarding the airplane and place it under the seat for everything I need during the flight. I also use it daily on the the tour to carry essentials like guide books, rain jacket, water bottle, etc...

Osprey is not the only game in town for convertible travel packs, but I feel that they offer good value for comfort (they are primarily a backpacking backpack company), durability (lifetime warranty), and ready availability at retailers. I am intrigued by Tom Bihn bags and have been to their factory in Seattle, but despite the higher-grade materials and US manufacture, I have been unable to convince my self that for my purposes that the higher price is justifiable. Patagonia is another company that I really like, and their newer Black Hole MLC 45L bag is intriguing.

Posted by
440 posts

Sweetshell, this topic is a common discussion and can also be researched in the Packing forum. The rollie/backpack decision is personal—excellent reasons to go either way and only you can choose. Personally, I prefer a backpack style and I would not consider a roller a good solution for the pace and the distances and flights of stairs one is likely to encounter on a Rick Steves tour. The frame and transmission consume mass and volume a backpack does not need.

While it’s impossible to generalize, in my RS tour’s group of 28, only two of us were using a backpack. Edinburgh’s many professionals and students were mostly pulling wheelies and almost all of the tourists were, too. However, the few of us traveling or hauling our jobs around in backpacks were moving quickly and unencumbered.

Packing light is a more important skill to master than choosing the right bag. Most carry-on bags are in the 30 to 45 liter size range but if you get a large bag you will just fill it up. There are dozens of websites, forums, and YouTube channels dedicated to lightweight travel and learning that packing less is your ticket to enjoy the trip more. Less to keep track of, less to haul around. There are more online resources to help in electing durable and comfortable travel packs. You can spend $50 to $400 on your travel bag. Try to enjoy shopping.