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Backpacking: Picking a backpack

Before even beginning our trip, we found that backpacking is no joke. Picking a backpack takes careful consideration, quite a bit of research, and some trial-and-error.

Bags vary in size, weight, capacity, materials, loading method, suspension, number of pockets, etc.


Backpack Capacity


Our first step was to decide what the capacity of our bag should be. Capacity is generally measured in liters, which can make it a little difficult, especially for us non-metric system users. To make it simple, we started looking into what a carry-on bag would look like. Most airlines have a limit on the dimensions of your carry-on bags (generally 21″x14″x9″, but can vary slightly).

We found that the bags between 35 and 40 liters would most closely resemble those carry-on dimensions. This meant several good things:

  1. Our bags would fit in the overhead compartment, so no checked bags
  2. No checked bags meant no checked bag fees
  3. The size would limit the amount of things we could bring, keeping us lean and light
  4. Our bags would already be pretty full, so buying a ton of souvenirs would be out of the question – a great thing when we’d have to carry that around for months!

Next, we had to decide our budget. Some of these bags go for $200 or even $300! Yikes! We were looking for something closer to $100, willing to go up to $150 for the right bag. After all, you don’t want to be cheap here, either. Find a good deal, but remember that these will be on your back for months. You want to make sure it will be absolutely comfortable.

We found quite a few at the REI Outlet online. After doing lots of research and watching lots of videos about the different models they had, we ordered a few to try them out.

One thing to note is that each bag has different torso dimensions. A few backpacks such as this Deuter ACT Lite 40+10L are great to try. This one has an adjustable torso, meaning that you can detach the straps and set them higher or lower to better fit your torso.

Deuter ACT Lite 40+10L Backpack

Deuter ACT Lite 40+10L Backpack

Osprey Women's Kyte 36 Backpack

Osprey Women’s Kyte 36 Backpack

Be sure to check Amazon as they might have some good deals as well.

Backpack Size

REI has a pretty neat guide to finding the right size for you. After learning about your torso and hip sizes, you can more easily pick backpacks that fit your needs. Most backpacks tend to have the torso dimensions on the REI website, and a few also have it on Amazon.

I found that for my 19″ torso, a Medium backpack might be the right size. However, Ceci had a little more trouble. With her petite size (5’2″, 1.55m), few backpacks would fit her needs.

She bought the Osprey Women’s Kyte 36L Backpack at the REI store, and ordered the Deuter ACT Lite 40+10L I mentioned before from REI, as well as another women’s backpack that was labeled as petite.

After she had them all at home, she adjusted the torso on those that could be adjusted and tested them out with a few pounds of items. She concluded that she would go with the Osprey 36L Backpack as the fit was much better for her short, petite frame. Additionally, the straps are sturdy, the back has foam spacers that allow your back to breathe well, and it has a separate compartment in which you can either place your dirty clothes or a pair of shoes. Furthermore, the hidden compartment inside the hood is a great place to store passports and other items that need to be securely stored but easy to reach. One thing that it could use is a front-loading zipper.

I also wanted to try the Deuter ACT Lite 40+10L as the adjustable torso was really attractive for a short guy (5’5″, 1.65m) like me. It had great reviews on both REI and Amazon, as well as several YouTube videos. But in the end, it made the cut for neither of us. The additional 10L made it a little scary as we knew we would likely fill this space somehow. Its red color is rather bright and seems like it might make us stand out even more as tourists. For Ceci, while it was very similar to the Osprey 36L, it was just big enough that it lost the competition.

As for me, I opted for the second backpack I had ordered: the Columbia Endura 35L Backpack (the link is to the 65L version on Amazon). Not only was this backpack the right size (Men’s Medium), right capacity (35L), and had a great suspension, but it was on clearance at REI for $85! It easily became my number one choice. Although the Deuter was a great choice, it was not nearly superior enough to warrant almost double the price.

Columbia Endura 35L (65L shown) Backpack

Columbia Endura 35L (65L shown) Backpack


In conclusion, find out what your torso and hips sizes are, decide on whether you need carry-on size or are OK with checking in (tip: go with carry-on size!), and buy a couple if you need to order online. Once you’ve tried them out with representative weights on your back, you’ll get a much better idea for what feels right and what doesn’t.

Be on the lookout for a new post regarding what we brought in our packs, and some reviews based on what is working for us so far!

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