Get Packing: How to Choose the Best Backpack for Long-Term Travel

choose backpack for travel

I remember when I first decided that I was going to go all out and get a backpack for my travels. I had been lugging around suitcases all over Europe, and I had grown tired of feeling like I was limited to where I traveled to and how I was going to get there with what I was carrying. My next destination was Iceland, where I knew that I didn’t want to be burdened with a wheelie bag.

It was time to hit the sports store. I had done my research and had prepared my bank account (because I knew I would be spending a lot of money). I came out with a new Osprey Ariel 65, which has been with me to 5 continents and 19 countries.

Here’s how you can choose a backpack that you’ll love and you can use for years too.

Know which size you’ll need 

For me, I do mostly international travel where I can be a long time. That means EVERYTHING has to fit into my bag. Jackets, shoes, souvenirs I bring home. I knew that if I was going to travel the world over a long period of time, I would be able to take all my clothes for several types of weather. I’m also pretty small (5’2”, 100 lbs.), so I needed a backpack that wouldn’t be too much for me to handle. Also, remember that many airlines only accept luggage for no cost under 20 kg.

If you’re flying mostly domestically, you might need to have a smaller option. I also have a 45-liter bag that gets me anywhere in the US and Central America with no problem. Know what kind of travel you’re most likely to be doing and pick your bag from there.

Know what you’ll be using it for 

Is your bag just for transporting your clothes? Or are you planning on using it for other purposes? My poor Osprey has been hell and back. At first, it was mostly supposed to be used as a way to take my belongings from one destination to the next. However, the more intense I become as a traveler, the more it’s been through. Hiking trips, jungle trips, mountain trips, I’ve used it as a way to pack tent poles and food and everything else in between.

When you know what you’re going to use your backpack for, you’re more likely to find one that makes sense price-wise too. One that you use to fly with might be worth paying less money for than one that you’re going to haul through thick and thin.

Pick one that fits

As tempting as it can be to order things online all the time, I’m a big advocate of going to a sporting store and trying the damn thing on. You might choose to scour the internet for a better price after, but you’re not going to know how it fits and whether you like it or not if you don’t put it on your back. For me, having a strong hip belt is essential after a lifetime of back issues. And because I’m petite (I guess that’s a nice way of saying short), I need one that I can manage.

Most likely, you’re going to end up spending a few hundred dollars on this thing, so it’s good that you know it feels as good as it possibly can on you. See if the straps are digging into you or if anything feels flimsy. If it doesn’t feel good in the store, it’s not going to feel good hiking or walking around the city trying to find your hotel.

I can honestly say that I’ve formed a relationship with my backpack (no judging). It’s a beautiful thing, and I think every traveler can find it.

How about you? Do you have a specific brand of backpack you like? Any questions?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


  1. kulsy a

    Great recommendation! I’m 5″1 so totally get understand the need to get something that fits. Not sure I made the best choice with my backpack so will check Osprey out 😊 thanks!

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