What’s in my bag | Choosing the right backpack for travel | by Miles Cottingham

What’s in my bag  | Choosing the right backpack for travel | by Miles Cottingham

Looking to invest in a new backpack? Whether you’re an urban traveler bouncing from hostel to hostel. Or an ultralight backpacker maximizing your packing efficiency for a trail. Choosing the right backpack for travel is of paramount importance. An ill-fitting piece of crucial gear in your arsenal not only will diminish your experience but can also cause extreme discomfort and in some cases, injury.


Choosing the right backpack for travel


Regardless of function, here are a few things to keep in mind that will assist you in making the right decision.

1. Volume capacity and weight limit

Are you going out for a day hike? Or are you in it for the long haul? The volume of your pack is determined by function. Many packs have attachments and lids than can increase your space by a few liters and be removed for shorter trips. Additionally, each pack has a recommended weight limit that should be adhered to. If you overpack or fill out your bag unevenly, the structure of your frame might not be able to perform, regardless of design!

As always, it depends on function and design.

2. Sizing

Many brands feature customizable pieces to adapt to your specific body type. It is important to consider how the weight of your load is distributed and balanced symmetrically. Though much of this is determined by packing method, it doesn’t matter how well you pack if your bag doesn’t fit! Think “snug”, but without constricting airflow. 

Most of your weight should be resting above your hips, so be sure your hip belt has room to be tightened. If not, then your shoulders will absorb too much of the load. This can lead to immediate and long-term problems. Always adjust your hip belt first, then shoulder straps, then sternum strap. Additionally, make sure your frame is properly sized to match your torso. If you have a small frame, your pack should also!

3. Packing MethodGuest Post - Volcano Hikes Near Antigua - Miles Cottingham

A common misconception is that your heaviest item should be on the bottom and packed first. This is not entirely true when you consider how weight will accumulate to rest on your lumbar or lower back. It’s important to keep your heaviest item above your hips and as close to your back as possible as to not throw off your balance or sag too far below as the day progresses. Consider packing something like a sleeping bag or extra clothing on the bottom to fill out and maximize space, only after resting your more weighty pieces towards the middle.

Lastly, remember to keep frequently-used items handy. This will also be determined by the style of your gear and how easily you prefer to have access to certain pieces. For example, a raincoat, some cash, a map, compass, travel itinerary or other essentials may be best served in a handy pocket, so consider your needs before choosing how many/what kind of outside attachments exist on your pack.



Final Thoughts

As always, your preference plays a key role in your decision. There are many styles and designs to choose from, and the options go on in every direction. Just keep in mind these factors, and you should be well-equipped to equip yourself.



Whats in my bag | Choosing the right backpack for travel | by Miles Cottingham Whats in my bag | Choosing the right backpack for travel | by Miles Cottingham

Guest Post - Volcano Hikes Near Antigua - Miles Cottingham




Miles Cottingham – Texas-bred vegan chef, musician, writer, trail-wanderer and backpacking guide with an affinity for the extreme and the obscure. A firm advocate of human rights and environmental stewardship.





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  1. June 15, 2017 / 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the article. Its quite useful and dispels on my my myths that the heaviest item should be on the bottom and packed first ! The brand Quechua is one of my favs too, comfortable and cost effective !

    • June 15, 2017 / 3:15 pm

      Yes I always though heavy stuff should be at the bottom too. I’ll have to check that brand out 🙂

  2. Tanya
    June 15, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    Sometimes, comfort is everything. That would include when you are wearing a backpack!

    • June 15, 2017 / 3:13 pm

      So true! Especially when you are carrying everything you own in it haha

  3. June 16, 2017 / 2:38 pm

    I know choosing the right backpack is so very important. If you have a comfortable backpack that supports the weight of things inside it properly, half the problems of your journey would be solved. These are some great tips to choose the right one.

  4. June 16, 2017 / 10:28 pm

    So you don’t put the heaviest thing in the lower part of the bag? I sure didn’t know that. And now that you explained why, I must say it makes a lot of sense. Now I know why I’ve been getting terrible back pains when I carry my backpack, it’s because I didn’t know how to do it right. I remember when I went to Taiwan and I literally cried because my backpack was so heavy it was giving me so much pain.

  5. Chel
    June 22, 2017 / 3:16 pm

    Couldn’t agree more! I learned the packing method that best works for me after a month of traveling. You learn along the way haha!

    • July 3, 2017 / 11:52 pm

      You really do! I have it down to an art now haha

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