Trains, planes, buses, boats, rickshaws, camels, burros, and your back. The best journeys entail all kinds of locomotion, and your pack should match. There are many options, from duffels to backpacks to do-it-all carry-ons. You want to determine your needs so you get the right combination of features, capacity, and carrying performance. Here’s how to get started.
In this guide, you'll learn about:
- Pros and Cons of Travel Packs
- Questions to Ask Yourself
- Types of Travel Packs
- Size and Fit
- Design and Materials
Travel Pack Pros and Cons
While a dedicated travel pack is a great choice for many journeys, it’s a specialist piece of gear. Here are some factors to consider.
- Backpack-style travel bags are easier to maneuver in tight, crowded spaces.
- You can move faster than with a suitcase or wheeled bag—which is great when racing to catch a train.
- On trips that include moderate trekking, travel packs perform well both in town and on the trail.
- Adjustable straps improve fit and weight distribution.
- Style is often low-key, which blends in better in town than a colorful trekking pack.
- Organizational features are usually better than you’ll find with conventional packs.
- If you plan to travel with a smaller daypack also, carrying two packs can be challenging.
- Straps and outside pockets can be damaged when checking baggage on airlines.
- Top-loading packs are not always as good as traditional luggage for gear organization.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Now that you understand the pros and cons of a travel pack, ask yourself a few questions to help determine your individual needs before diving into the details.
How much gear will you need to pack?
Think about the amount of time you’ll be gone, any special gear you need, and if you can stow supplies in a hotel or elsewhere during your trip.
Do you want a carry-on pack or will you check it?
If lost or delayed baggage will seriously compromise your trip, consider prioritizing carry-on size packs. At the least, use a carry-on for essential gear.
What activities will you be doing while traveling?
For example, will you be trekking or lashing your bag to pack animals? For the former, prioritize comfort. For the latter, durability.
Types of Packs
These packs are lighter but don’t distribute the weight load as well as packs with an internal frame. If you’re traveling for a weekend and don’t need much support, a frameless pack might be a good option. They tend to be smaller, lighter, and more compact when not packed. For these reasons they often make great daypacks once you arrive at your destination.
A pack with an internal frame is the best choice for travelers going for longer trips, especially with trekking on the itinerary. As with conventional backpacks, the frame stabilizes the weight and distributes the load, making for the most comfortable carry. There are plenty of options within this category, so you’ll also need to decide on the capacity you need and the features you want.
The traditional style trekking backpack opens and packs from the top. These packs will be more challenging to organize for travel but can carry heavy loads, have a larger capacity, and are versatile. The larger top-loading packs usually have an internal frame.
These travel packs open up more fully to make access and organization easier. Some open like a clamshell with a center divider, some have zippers around the perimeter, some have a combination of access points. The larger panel-loading packs usually have an internal frame.
If you have a lot of gear to schlep, or need the highest level of durability (tough materials and minimal straps and doodads to break), a duffel with built-in shoulder straps is a great choice. They’re not as good as travel packs when it comes to carrying performance (so not a good choice for trekking), but for trips that require hauling your gear short distances, a backpack-style duffel is a smart option.