Travel Backpack Buying Guide - what to look for

Travel Packpacks in Use

When purchasing a travel backpack, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, have a think about what you will be using the backpack for the majority of the time and how long it is going to be on your back. Are you requiring the backpack to be on your back for brief periods only, just to get through the airport terminal and to the taxi ramp, or the connecting bus and train? Or is it something you will be carrying around for longer times on your back? This is an important consideration, as some travel packs come with a very basic harness system and others are made with a more sophisticated and comfortable harness, usually with a frame inside the pack. 

Differences between a Travel Pack and a Hiking Backpack

Zippered Panel Style Opening

The main and most obvious distinguishing feature between a travel backpack and a hiking backpack is the opening. In a travel backpack, the zippered opening is usually more like that of a suitcase - that is wide and rectangular in shape, with a zipper that allows for the top flap of the backpack to open up and flip off to one side, leaving a wide and moderately deep internal space with in which you can pack your belongings.

 Travel Backpack interior showing suitcase style opening and internal compression straps


Internal Compression Straps

Internal compression straps are usually attached at the top of the travel backpack as a way of holding your gear in the bag in place. These straps are placed over your packed gear and cinched in to hold and compress your gear into your pack.  It is a similar feature that many suitcases used to have as well.

Streamlined Design with Zip-Away Harness

As most travel backpacks will be checked in at the airport, it is important that there is nothing much attached to the outside of the bag that will get caught in airline conveyor belts, or will be torn or ripped off in transit as the bag bounces around on carousels and luggage bays on its journey. You do not want too many buckles, belts and straps on the outside of your bag, as they will either get caught in something or just snap off.

Travel packs usually have a flap that comes out  from a pocket and covers over the travel harness to protect it in transit too. There are a lot of buckles and webbing here that could get caught if these are not tucked away.


Travel Backpack Zip Away Harness

Other important features of a Travelpack

Large and Good Quality Zippers

 A good quality heavy duty large gauge zipper is critical. It's the  main access point into your bag and you don't want to be having problems with the zipper. The last thing you want to have happen when on a trip away is to have a zipper burst or come off leaving you with a travel pack with gear spewing out from it. The main compartment of a backpack will hold a fair bit of gear, and it is quite common that travellers are going to cram a fair bit in here. When travelling for longer periods, and picking up souvenirs along the way, more and more gear is pushed in, and the zippers need to be strong enough to handle the pressure placed upon them. You will see that many travelpacks these days are made less rectangular with more of a curved shape to them.  This is to prevent stress points on the zipper around edges and corners of the travel pack.Typically this is where teeth come off or the zipper fabric comes away from the bag. Any Travelpack company that has a good long term back up warranty on their travel pack or backpack will more than likely use a good quality zipper.  YKK zippers are the best zipper in the world. They cost more than any other zipper because they work and are reliable. Reputable brands use YKK zippers. If you purchase a travelpack which offers only a brief warranty period then you may end up with a bag where the zipper does not last (or something else may go wrong)

Good quality Buckles
Have a look at buckles too. YKK again make the best buckles, there is no other buckle manufacturer that comes close. You don’t want a hipbelt buckle on your carry harness breaking when overseas, so look for a nice big YKK buckle on your hipbelt. YKK buckles are made of a plastic that is not brittle, so it will not snap in cold weather, and the plastic is flexible, so they will not snap when force is applied to them. I’ve had numerous backpacks over the years with YKK buckles, and they have been reliable and performed well.

Internal Pockets for Organisation
Depending on the price of the travelpack, you may find some offer more internal compartments and zippers to organise your gear. Some of the large travel bags may also have a removable divider in them so you can separate your gear. The bottom compartment may be used for storing your sleeping bag or dirty clothing or shoes.

Zip Off Daypack
Depending on the size of the Travel Pack, it is common to find a daypack that can be zipped onto the back of the pack for carry and zipped off and worn separately when you are at your destination and only need a small bag for daytrips. These vary in style, but these days many come with laptop and tablet sleeves, and some external pockets for water bottles and access to items you need to get to quickly. Some people will check in their travelpack on the plane and take the zip-off daypack on the plane with them for use on the flight. Again, good quality zippers and buckles, a nice comfortable carry harness, pockets for organisation are all things to look for here.

Zip Off Daypack

Fabric of the pack
Fabric in a travel backpack is an important consideration. If you are travelling with this bag for long periods of time and using it regularly, then you will want to look at a durable fabric that will handle the rigours of travel with the bag bouncing around on buses, planes, trains and the like. Nylon fabric is more durable than polyester and cotton, and it is quite common to find nylons of 600 up to 1000 denier (denier is a measure of the fabric's thickness) used in the base and wear points of a travel pack to prevent wear on the fabric.  Some bag manufacturers go a bit overboard and the fabric used is too heavy for its end-use and results in unnecessary weight and bulk to a pack. , especially if you are doing short-burst trips and not using the regularly, day in, day out for extended periods.

Grab and Carry Handles
Grab and carry handles are useful when you are collecting your pack from baggage carousels and from luggage compartments in planes and other modes of transport. It’s an easy way to pick up your bag and hold it before placing it on or off a trolley or conveyer belt. There will be times when you are just transferring your bag quickly and you do not need to put the pack on your back, so having a handle or two to lift the pack loaded easily is convenient.

 Travel Backpack Carry Handles

Selecting the right Carry Harness for your Travel Pack

When selecting a harness for your pack, have a think about what you want the pack to do. Are you carrying you pack on your back for just a 15 minute walk to the bus stop or train station or taxi rank? Or will it need to be on your back for a couple of hours or maybe even a day? Harnesses that have a frame in them will aid in taking the weight of your pack off your shoulders and load the weight onto your hips so that you end up with a load that you can carry comfortably. For those travellers who are only carrying the pack short distances and for short periods, the carry harness is going to be less important. If you are however carrying a larger pack for longer periods, then a framed harness with padding in the shoulder straps and hipbelt will be critical for comfort. The larger volume travel packs will require a more sophisticated harness to support the greater load. This is why in smaller packs you may see very little in the way of padding or even provision of a hipbelt, as it is unnecessary. The weight of the pack is low, as the volume is small.

 Travel Pack Harnesses

Hybrid Travelpacks
For those travellers who also enjoy hiking or bushwalking, they may opt for a pack that acts as a travel pack as well as a hiking pack. These hybrid backpacks will have a carry harness on them that has thicker foam on the shoulder straps and hipbelts with added lumbar support for more comfortable carry as the pack will be on the back for longer periods of time. The packs are also loaded up with more gear, and weigh more so a strong, supportive frame is crucial. These hybrid packs can be used as a travel pack as they are made with a zippered compartment access to the main part of the pack and will have a flap that covers the carry harness as well. They are not however going to work in the exact same way as a travelpack functions. The zippered access is generally not as broad and they tend to have additional access points for hikers, usually located in the top and bottom of the pack. So if you are looking at investing in a pack that will serve you for a variety of functions, a hybrid backpack is worth looking at.

Hybrid Travelpack
Pack Volume
A number of variables can affect your decision on what size pack you need. Your trip duration, the climate you are travelling to and the types of activities you are participating in while there. Cold weather trips will require you to take clothing that will fill up your bag more, and some people that are more self-sufficient on their travels are going to be carrying more gear and will need additional space. So keep this in mind when thinking about your requirements. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen people make over the years is to look at getting the largest volume pack possible, and then suffer by trying to haul this massive pack around the world! Not only do they struggle to get this loaded bag onto their backs, but when they are on buses and trains they knock people over when they turn around! For women, a 55 litre backpack is ideal. For the guys, 70 litres tends to be plenty.  

A note about Carry- On luggage.
A lot of our customers are opting for travel with a pack that fits as carry on luggage. They do this as they do not want to be waiting at the other end of their trip for their bag to arrive in a luggage carousel. They want to move fast without the holdups and they are also interested in keeping less in the bags. It’s a liberating experience not to be weighed down by a heavy pack and if this is something that appeals to you then you should consider this option. We have seen vast improvements over recent years in the way clothing for travel and hiking gear is made, gear that does the job but is lighter, and more compact then ever before. So packing this sort of gear into your bag will make it possible to go as only a carry-on luggage traveller, and not having to check in your gear. 

Wheeled Travel Packs

For some people who are not travelling long distances and do not intend to have to carry their pack up lots of flights of stairs, a wheeled travel pack may be the way to go.  Some wheeled bags also have a zip-out harness to carry the bag up a flight of stairs or uneven ground where wheels won't go.  In addition to durable fabric and good quality buckles and zippers, look for heavy duty wheels that are going to last the distance, roll smoothly and are large enough to handle some uneven ground. A lightweight aluminium shaft and handle that extends for comfortable pulling is also important.

Wheeled Travel Packs

Security Features on Travel Packs

For those travelling to those places where travel security is a concern, then there are travelpacks made to address these issues.  Pacsafe is a brand that has been manufacturing travel equipment for this purpose.  The travelpacks will tend to weigh more because of all of there anti-theft features, but are well worth it in those particular parts of the globe where additional security is required.  Features available are puncture resistant zippers, special locking and attachment zippers and cables, slashguard fabric and RFID blocking pockets.

Seven Horizons stock a range of Travelpacks for different purposes from reputable brands that offer excellent warranties should there ever be an issue with the pack.  Check out the links below to view our range:

Travel Backpacks:

Hybrid Travelpacks:

Wheeled Travel Luggage:

Carry-On Luggage:

Secure Travel Luggage and Accessories:

I hope this information helps you with your purchase decision.  If you require any assistance with your purchase, please feel free to contact us:

Tim Coles
Seven Horizons

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