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Traveling With A Small Backpack Is Best – But Are You Doing It For The Wrong Reasons?

by Tony · 116 comments

What size backpack?My job officially ended at the end of October 2011, but we weren’t going to start our trip until January 2012. My time between those two dates was spent mostly researching and buying all of the travel gear we would need… and I read everything about what size backpack to get: product reviews, travel forums, blogs…

In all of this research, I kept seeing that small backpacks were the only way to go. It honestly sounded like we would be laughed out of any hostel if we showed up with anything more than a 40 liter bag. So I told Meg to get ready, because we were going to fit our lives for the next year into two 32 liter backpacks.

But I soon learned that the two biggest reasons I told Meg for why she had to leave all her dresses at home were total BS.

While I was definitely wrong about my initial reasons, I still believe in traveling with the smallest backpack possible. Check out this constantly updated list of…

The Top 5 Travel Backpacks Under 45 Liters In 2015

Deuter Futura 32L Daypack (our actual bags)
Osprey Farpoint 40L
Osprey Porter 30L
Kelty Redwing 32L
Gregory Fury 32L

The Wrong Reasons For Wanting To Travel With A Small Backpack

1. Because You Don’t Want To Check Your Backpack On Flights

checked backpack

This was definitely our #1 reason for wanting small bags.

If everything you need is in one bag, that bag becomes pretty valuable. You do not want it getting thrown around by baggage handlers and being lost on a foreign airline.

But if you’re traveling on a budget, and almost all long-term travelers are, you are going to have a hard time avoiding checking your bags.

Why?

Because of all the incredibly cheap, yet incredibly restrictive, foreign discount airlines.

Instead of limiting carry-on bag size to certain size dimensions (which almost any 32 liter bag would fit), these discount airlines do it by weight. The most common restriction we saw was a maximum of 5 or 7 kilograms and when you pack your whole life into a tiny bag… it is going to be more (ours were 10 kilos).

Since these smaller backpacks do look they should be allowable as a carry-on, you can always try not checking them and see if anyone at the gate will stop you. But then you run the risk of paying extra to check the bag at the gate… discount airlines never miss a chance to charge!

For those of you thinking about buying an Around The World plane ticket, you might have better luck since you’re flying on the bigger airlines. Hopefully someone can tell us in the Comments section if they had any issues carrying-on when using an Around The World ticket.

Bottom-line? Don’t go for a small backpack just because you don’t want to check your bag. Odds are you will be checking it no matter what.

2. Because Everyone Else Is Going To Have A Small Backpack

HA!

After my few months of backpack research, I thought that everyone travelling would have ultralight bags. That’s what reading all of those minimalist blogs will get you!

We never once came across anyone else on the road who had smaller or even the same size backpacks as us. We did see a lot of 60 and 75 liter bags though… how do people carry so much?!

While I don’t think it sounds fun (at all) to carry around such a big bag, don’t think you have to go light just because that’s what travelers do. Meg would definitely have preferred the convenience of a few more shirts to the inconvenience of a slightly larger bag. Our small bags were such novelties that it became a running joke how often people would ask to see our backpacks at hostels.

The Right Reasons For Wanting To Travel With A Small Backpack

Fits Overhead On Most Buses

Backpacks on bus

While you probably will still have to check your backpack on most flights, you definitely can get it onto most buses as it will fit in the overhead racks. Plus, if you travel like we do, you will spend A LOT more time on buses anyway and the ability to keep it with you greatly reduces the risk of theft.

You Really Don’t Need All Of Those Clothes

You really don’t.

The small bag takes away your ability to over pack so that you only take exactly what you need. And do you know what?

Even that is probably too much.

There were definitely some items I packed that I never (or rarely) used – and I only had a 32 liter bag. Think small and pack even less.

Small Backpacks Are Easy To Carry When Scrambling Around A City Trying To Find Hostel

What Size backpack do I need?

Do not underestimate how much time you will spend walking around cities with your backpack strapped on. You might think that your backpack is just luggage and that you will only wear it from airport to hostel… but you would be very wrong.

You will get dropped off by buses and taxis in the wrong location and have to walk to your destination. You will switch hostels and need to walk the 10 blocks to get there. There will be roads that cars can’t go down when you have to carry all of your own gear.

Just trust me. However much time you think you will spend carrying your bag… triple it.

A Small Backpack Means Less Packing & Makes You More Mobile

Watch someone with a 75 liter backpack try to find anything in their bag or pack it up after a 3 night stay at a hostel and you will be so happy to have a smaller bag. Since you have so much less and it is all accessible in such a small space, you can normally be packed and ready to go within 5-10 minutes.

This is a monster stress-reducer when you’re already late for that bus and haven’t started packing.

The Top 5 Travel Backpacks Under 45 Liters In 2015

Deuter Futura 32L Daypack (our actual bags)
Osprey Farpoint 40L
Osprey Porter 30L
Kelty Redwing 32L
Gregory Fury 32L

Your turn: What size backpack are you thinking of getting and why? What size backpack did you already travel with and would get a different size if you could do it again? 

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

eemusings April 16, 2013 at 7:57 pm

We JUST bought our packs and struggled with this exact dilemma.

I wanted the smallest pack possible, despite all my partner’s protests to the contrary (he’s a giant) – but I’m a tiny person, all the RTW couchsurfers we’ve met have emphasised how little you need, and all the RTW blogs I read do too. And I wanted to skip checking baggage (mainly for the time saved, because we booked world tickets with STA with fairly big airlines that I’m almost positive include baggage). I’ve come to terms with the fact we probably will need to check our bags, however.

I think we ended up getting 60L packs (which, as they’re still flat and more or less untouched, look tiny – I know they expand a lot though as needed). I doubt we’ll fill them to capacity – my thinking is we have the space if we need it but hopefully we won’t.

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Tony April 17, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Picking out the perfect backpack is so stressful!

A 60 liter bag can definitely be snuck on as a carryon if it isn’t full and you’re willing to risk getting caught at the gate. My biggest advice would be to try to pick them as if they were 40 liter bags… people tend to pack whatever size bag they have to the brim.

My ideal solution I think is to buy a bag a little smaller than you want, fill it up, then return it for a size larger but don’t add any new stuff to it. That way you have the minimum you need plus a little room for flexibility while on the road.

Your RTW trip looks great by the way… we’re from Boston originally so if you want any tips when you get there let us know!

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Edward December 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

this is so comforting to hear since I packed in a 40 liter hiking bag then returned it for a stealthier and lighter 60L model. going to put in 40L of gear and leave the rest for room ! thanks for your blog tony!

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Tony December 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm

So glad to hear that, Edward! It’s exactly what I wish I had done when I bought my bag. It will make packing up to leave places when you travel so much easier too as you won’t have to stuff it super tight….

Happy travels!!!!

-Tony

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) April 17, 2013 at 4:12 am

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Tony & I originally picked small packs (we both have packs around 45L) because we wanted to be able to save money by flying carry-on only; our packs are the correct dimensions to allow this, but with the extreme budget operators in Asia & Europe, there is no way we can meet their insanely restrictive weight allowances. A few times we have been able to carry all our bags on, but with Air Asia, I always end up paying in advance to check our main packs because the penalty of showing up and having them weigh them and having to check them anyway is so steep. The frustrating thing is that we are always going through our packs trying to figure out what we can get rid of so that we can get our weight down (my pack is 9kg, Tony’s is 11kg) but we pretty much use/need everything that we’ve got at this point.

That said, while I wish I could somehow pack lighter, I am really glad we went with small bags. I remember wandering around Europe with a 75L bag back in 2005 and I was always in pain because my bag was so heavy. It really is true that if you have room in your pack you will somehow find a way to fill it, so with these small bags, it’s just impossible for us to weigh ourselves down. There have been plenty of times where we’ve had to hoof it, and it’s been no problem for us.

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Tony April 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

So glad to see someone totally understood what I was trying to say!

I highly recommend the small bags, but just wanted to let people know that if they have hopes of carrying on for all flights… it probably won’t happen.

Plus, it is so hard to find things you could take out of a bag once you get to the 45 liter size or less! We packed our bags to the brim so even though they were 32 liters… they were at 10 kilos!

Makes a big difference though when walking the cities… I can’t imagine hoofing it with a 75 liter bag! You’re crazy! I’m so impressed.

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Jay March 2, 2014 at 4:29 am

What backpack did you use exactly?

Got a link to it?

…thanks for the travelling tips n info by the way :)

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Tony March 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm

We had a slightly older model of this – the Deuter 32 Liter: http://bit.ly/1kobYj1

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Robin December 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

I actually went for a 1 year RTW trip last year and have an Osprey farpoint 40L. I love the backpack. I did have a RTW ticket and had no problem carrying it on those airlines. I did also risk carrying it on budget airline and had success in almost all of them (Ryan air, easy jet, air asia, etc.), the only flight (out of about 30) I had to check my baggage on was a Malindo flight in Malaysia, and only the return flight. Even checking it, they didn’t charge extra. So I think overall, at least for me, it was worth carrying it on. BTW, the weight of my pack oscillated between 10kg and 12kg.

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cindy singer April 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I’m very short (4′ 11″) and I just bought a 55L bag for my rtw adventure (which starts in 2 weeks!!). I’m trying to keep the weight under 11 kg. I originally thought I would use a rolling suitcase, but we’ll be in too many places that can’t accommodate wheels. I’m looking forward to the freedom and flexibility a backpack offers. Now, as long as my knees hold up, I’ll be OK!

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Tony April 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Great choice, Cindy! Rolling suitcases typically end up being trouble when you have to do any kind of walk. Backpacks also tend to be more comfortable if they are fitted correctly.

55 liters is a pretty big bag but keeping it under 11 kilos is really all that matters. We had 32 liter bags but they were 10 kilos… no idea how that happened!

Where are you going on your RTW? You must be incredibly excited!!!

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cindy April 22, 2013 at 8:49 am

I’m so excited! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel when I can stop doing all this minutae preparing for the trip and actually get on the road. Our agenda might be a little ambitious but we are definitely planning on playing it by ear and remaining flexible. We’re starting in Egypt, then moving on to Israel, Turkey, Tanzania, Mulawi, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, South America (1-month Spanish immersion program in Columbia and then just cruising around South America practicing our newly-learned language. What do you think? Is it too much?

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Tony April 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Love everything about this plan, Cindy!

It is super important to dream big, but remain flexible, so you’re doing it right! We have had friends who studied spanish in SA and loved traveling while practicing their new language. A great challenge!

Have a great adventure and be sure to check back in so we can hear about your progress!

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OCDemon April 19, 2013 at 9:29 pm

This was quite a helpful list of pros and cons for those thinking of going ultralight or not. It’s not that it’s always superior in all possible scenarios, but there are good reasons to do it, and bad reasons that should be avoided. I always try to nudge people into going lighter, but that’s because, as you say, they’re mostly carrying 75L monstrosities they end up regretting.

I think there’s a practical limit after which you’ll be cutting corners on functionality, but that limit is a lot smaller than most people think, and I’d say it’s around 25-30L. I managed to get by with just 20, and I never regretted it, but the gear just barely fit into the pack.

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Tony April 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

The limit on small is definitely less than people think. So true! I think my 32 liter bag was the smallest I could have gone, but I would have liked to pack the same items into a slightly bigger bag. My 32 liter pack was so stuffed!

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Denny Robert April 20, 2013 at 12:28 am

I started out with a giant backpacking bag I picked up off of Craigslist for $15. It’s a great bag, especially for $15, but way too big. I bought a second bag that is around 40L, but its still bigger than I like carrying around.

I’m going for 26L next, probably GoRuck.

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Tony April 23, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Can’t wait to hear about traveling with a 26 liter bag… for me the problem is packing any shoes besides the ones i’m wearing. Those take up way too much room to fit in a bag that small plus the minimum amount of clothes I need!

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Fred Perrotta April 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Thanks for writing this article, Tony. You made a lot of good points.

I recommend 45L, the max size for a carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″. It’s big enough to fit a lot of stuff (even with a pair of shoes) but can still be carried onto most airlines. Your disclaimer about weight restrictions on budget European airlines is a good one though.

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Tony April 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm

45 liter sounds like a good size. I think a 38 liter would be perfect for me, but i’ve gotten used to traveling with a 32 liter bag so 45L sounds huge! Discovering the weight restriction was definitely a bummer… oh well!

Thanks Fred!

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Carlo April 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Finding the right balance regarding backpack size will only come with experience and trial and error. It certainly did for me anyways.

Consistent travel lends itself better to a smaller backpack for sure, but if you are stopping/starting then a slightly bigger one can also work just fine.

Nice blog folks. Keep up the great posts :)

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Tony April 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Very true, Carlo. Experience definitely helps.

Although I do think that people almost always pick a bag bigger than they need. I would think of the smallest bag you could imagine traveling with and then go a size lower. This makes sure you are only packing the essentials and you’re back will be happy later!

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Ali May 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I traveled with a 40L and a 20L daypack on my RTW. I also had a RTW ticket, although it only covered 6 of my flights because I bought the ticket with miles. So yes, on the major airlines, I had no problem taking my bags as carry-on. But I had a few flights in SE Asia and New Zealand that were on propjets and I had to check my 40L because it’s too big to fit in the overhead compartment. I also ran into a few airlines, both low budget ones and “normal” ones, that had really low weight restrictions for carry-on and I was forced to check my 40L bag. I think picking a small bag because you want to go carry-on only is a great goal, and certainly something I aim for, but you have to go into it knowing you probably won’t be successful with every flight, and you have to be prepared to take out a few things you absolutely wouldn’t want to have to check. Even with all the times I did have to check my bag, I still wouldn’t choose to travel with a bigger bag. Like you said, you will end up walking around with that thing on your back a lot more than you think, and a smaller bag is well worth it. You really DON’T need all that stuff. On a long trip, you will have to do laundry no matter what, so a week’s worth of clothes is probably sufficient in most cases. The people I saw with the giant bags just looked miserable, whereas I thought even my 40L felt too heavy after awhile. Pack light because it just makes your life easier!

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Tony May 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Oh my gosh… so true Ali! After awhile our 32 liter bags felt soooo heavy. I honestly don’t know how people carry around those big 65 or 75 liter bags.

It is definitely worth it to carry a smaller bag, but I was seriously disappointed that the budget airlines had such tight weight restrictions. It such a big convenience and load off the mind knowing your bags/life are in the overhead compartment :)

A weeks worth of clothes is definitely a good limit. We ended up doing laundry as sinks/machines were available so we really never went more than a week.

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Alanna May 7, 2013 at 4:10 am

My husband and I are both so happy to not have anything bigger than 40L, sometimes they seem too big.
We have always managed to take them on as carry-on (flying Air Asia from Australia to South-East Asia and around Asia). Its rare that they even get weighed at the airport. One trick we have found is that airlines allow you to also take on a handbag or the like and so I use a ‘green bag’ (recyclable shopping bag) which is much bigger than my handbag but it has never been queried. That way I fit in my handbag (normally flattened) plus books (before the days of electronic books), snacks, tissues, etc. Then when we arrive and are travelling it comes in handy or can be folded up and put in the backpack.
I could never imagine carrying around a big heavy backpack all day, every day. Our backpacks weighing 7kgs or so is enough for me and there are always things that we never wear/use so less is best.
Also, when you are wandering the streets of Bangkok or navigating the bus system or travelling through the bumpy roads of Cambodia, having a not too heavy bag on your back is really the easiest and safest way to go.

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Tony May 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Ooooo great tip, Alanna! Love the idea of using a big recyclable shopping bag as your hand bag. That is definitely a big loop hole that people need to exploit.

We have also done the trick where you pack snacks/extra clothes in a plastic shopping bag and use it as a 3rd bag. Airlines never stop you for carrying on a third bag if it is mostly food… at least in our experience.

We have also resorted to tying clothes around our waist and stuffing our pockets full of stuff to make any weight requirements for carry-ons… you gotta get creative!

Thanks for reading!

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Steff May 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I travelled for 8 months with a 20L bag (not just in hot climates btw). I understand this isn’t for everyone but I loved it so much, I’ve always been an extreme minamilist- even when I was little, I always had the lightest school bag and I just love the freeing feeling of owning/having next to nothing… and the disbelieving looks of other travellers 😛 I went to in Central America (mainly Costa Rica), Senegal, Togo, Morocco, Spain and France… and I am hoping to do the same soon in Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Austria :)

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Tony May 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Steff… I totally believe that it’s possible! I had 4 pairs of some items: tshirts, underwear, socks… then a pair of pants, shorts, long sleeve shirt and jacket. If i reduced my 4 pair items to 1 (+ what’s on my back), I can definitely see my stuff fitting in a bag smaller than 32 liters.

I love that you did it!

Being a minimalist in travel can be a fun challenge and opens up a whole world of possibilities about how to live after travel. I definitely think twice (or ten times) before buying anything new now.

Thanks for sharing your backpack details! More people need to see what is possible!

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Jay July 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

I think in terms of traveling it depends where you go! I ended up taking a trip around the world and used a 50L bag and the reason I did so was not because I pack a lot, but I tend to bring home more than I come with. However, I recently did a trip around the US (NYC to Washington State) and found travel easier and was able to use a 35L bag and was just fine.
Also weather is a factor (went on US trip this summer). You will definitely bring more in the winter seasons than in the summer especially hand washing clothes dry faster in the summer so packing less is easier.

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Tony July 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Thanks for your thoughts, Jay!

I think bringing a bigger backpack but not packing it fully is a great idea. I think what I would ideally do next time I buy a pack is buy a small backpack, pack it as tightly as I can, return it for a bag one size bigger, and then not add anything to what I pack.

That way I know I have the minimum I can pack with the flexibility of adding to the bag as I travel. I definitely had NO room to buy anything new to add to my bag….

Summer travel is definitely lighter as well. We planned our trip in 2012 to start in South America in January (summer) and then kept traveling east. We hit Europe in april, which was a bit cold for some of our clothes, but that quickly heated up. Plus we bought super cheap alpaca sweaters in Peru that kept us warm until summer finally hit the northern hemisphere!

Really appreciate your comment!

-Tony

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Mariana July 31, 2013 at 10:09 am

Hello Tony,

Soon with my boyfriend we are heading to SEA, being the first stop from our 9-10 months trip.
I have tried many backpacks and the one that fits me the best is Deuter Aircontact Pro 55+15 SL. It is comfortable and fits good even loaded.
However I am a bit doubting as it is a bit big (85 / 34 / 32 (H x W x D)cm and heavy 2900 g.
I am not going to fill it until the brim though, as I would like to carry at most 10kg (so basically 7 kg left for my clothes and stuff).

So the only thing that stops me choosing this bag is the size/weight.
I am worrying that I will look very funny with such a big bag and the “pro’s” will kinda laugh at me :P.

However, after reading your post I feel a bit more reliefed that actually I should not bother about the size/weight that much if it fits very good.

Right!?! :)

Thank you!! :)

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Tony July 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

What an awesome trip, Mariana!

A lot of the people who write about travel online have been doing it awhile and stress the importance of carrying the smallest bag possible. I would agree!

But if you’re worried about looking funny, don’t. Most of the travelers we ran into on the road had MASSIVE bags with months of clothes. While I think this is silly, it was normal.

Our 32 liter bags weighed 10kilos each when they were packed at that was perfect. We didn’t have much extra room though… I would suggest you try to pack your 55 liter bag 75% full and leave the 15 liter bag empty. Then you can just use the little bag as a day bag and repack it.

I can’t wait to hear more about your trip, so let us know how it goes and if you have any more questions.

-Tony

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Charanpreet August 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Hey,

I Travel and i do photography mostly in India this time i am goin to Leh (19000 ft above sea lavel ) and wanted to buy 1st rucksack which lasts well and will usefull in further domestic and international travel trips.i will also keep my DSLR camera bag also in rucksack.i am 6ft 2 inch tall guy.kindly suggest me which rucksack will be suitable for me.and how is Quechua and Westfield brand wise.Thanks

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Tony August 17, 2014 at 9:39 am

Hi there! We don’t have much experience with ruck sacks, but I bet you can find some great answers over on the travel forums like Thorntree: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree

You definitely want something sturdy that can protect your camera and take a beating from the travel. We were big fans of our Deuter bags, but I am not sure if they make big rucksacks…

Best of luck!

-Tony

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Arkienkeli February 12, 2014 at 1:18 am

5 case studies:

3 week photography assignment to Israel and Jordania with system camera and 3 lenses: one 24 liter Osprey Stratos, with a small messenger/camera bag stuffed inside the “main” pack for the fights, one piece of luggage, 7 kg.

3 weeks in China/Tibet with wife & 5 children aged 15 to 20. One daypack 22-32 liters each, and one 55 liter common backpack for all, mostly for triple sets of diabetes medications in styrofoam boxes (and ladies lotions…).

3 weeks in India, Nepal on photo assignment with large DSLR with 3 lenses, flash, backup P&S, chargers. One 32 liter Osprey Sratos 32.

3 weeks in Burma on photo assignment with 2 system cameras and 3 lenses: 32 liter Osprey Stratos.

3 weeks in Laos & Cambodia with Nikon D800e/24-120 f4 zoom: 33 liter Osprey Talon.

Enough said.

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Tony February 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

If anyone wants to see how it’s done… just read this comment!

Epic case studies :) Love that the whole family just carried day packs and that you only one 55 liter bag for the group. So many people need a 55 liter bag just for themselves!

We had a 32 liter bag and it was great. Although I have no idea how you got a full camera into yours and still had everything else. You are the packing master!!!!

Thanks for sharing such a great comment :)

-Tony

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Arkienkeli February 13, 2014 at 12:16 am

Well, in China I certainly did not carry the common 55 liter pack, as we had 4 strapping young men with us for just that purpose… And I forgot to add: I had no stuff of mine at all in that big pack, even though I had a large prosumer video camera (Canon XH-A1) with me, in my 32 liter daypack…

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Mia Puhawan February 17, 2015 at 5:16 pm

A friend and I are planning to go backpacking in Europe this August for about 2-3 weeks. What would you recommend would be a good size bag and brand?

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Tony February 18, 2015 at 12:26 pm

We did a whole year of backpacking with just our 32 liter Deuter bags, so I always recommend those. You definitely have to be comfortable with not packing a lot of stuff though! Since it’s summer, you at least won’t have winter coats and other heavy gear. If you plan on going out to nice places, you might want to get a 38-40 liter bag to fit dressier clothes and anything you need to get ready (like hair products, etc) – this was my wife’s suggestion :)

Pack as light as possible though! Europe in August is hot and nothing is worse than trudging from a train station to your hotel/hostel with a huge and heavy backpack.

Hope that helps!

-Tony

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Ashley March 2, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I know this post is from last year- my experience is not with over seas travel but with backpacking/hiking/camping. I have a 60 L bag that I wish I had more space in the sleeping bag compartment because I didn’t spend $700 to get the ultra light feathered friends down bag rated for super cold, which I hope to get someday- anyway, so for me to fit a little bigger sleeping bag, and little beefier tent (rated for snow & wind for those alpine nights when it gets below zero) going up in size is something I greatly desire, and for trips when its summer (which in a lot of alpine places there is still snow and it still gets cold at night) , you can sinch your pack tight and just not use the extra space. When you’re in the woods, you are not going to “fill it up.” On another note I use a super small pack for everyday and for weekend trips(no tent room however, and my lighter sleeping bag packs down very small). Osprey Talon 22, which 1220 cubic inches (s/m). If you’re not packing a tent or stove, water purifier etc, you really shouldn’t need 60L or above.

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Tony March 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm

BIG difference between backpack size for travel and actual camping. Great point, Ashley.

The point about not filling it up is also key. If you have the self control, the size of the bag shouldn’t matter. Just pack what you absolutely need and leave the rest at home. Then you can cinch up the extra room!

Tents and sleeping bags take up A LOT of space… when we climbed machu picchu we tied our tent to the outside of my bag and stuffed two sleepings inside. Then Meg carried our clothes and extra gear… but we still had porter that carried food all of that equipment!

Thanks for the great comment, Ashley!

-Tony

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Mat May 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

For a short while I had the same dilemma, “What liter backpack should I choose?” :( But luckily I have a lot of experience in packing, which I forgot I had lol I’m in the infantry so I seriously know how to pack.

For myself and the kind of person I am, I went with a 60 Liter Osprey backpack. I made that decision because I knew I could pack it a little over half way, leaving plenty of room to fit my day pack when I am not using it, as well as souvenirs I might pick up along the way. Also, when I’m walking long distances through cities or jungles my backpack will cause ZERO injury to my back or rest of my body. This is do to the ergonomically designed frame, back rest, shoulder straps and hip belt. Smaller backpacks tend to have very little back support, which is especially bad when it’s extremely heavy with all your belongings inside of it. Back problems!

When packing, people tend to think they must fill it to the top, because you don’t want to waste space, right?. That is BS! I only packed mine a little over half way, which left me room to compress my backpack, using the straps, to a smaller size. Also, I don’t have any problems putting my backpack on the top rack of a bus. As I have my daypack on me with a few things in it, I am able to spread out the items in my bag top to bottom making my backpack a lot thinner, and able to squeeze into tight spaces. However, if you stuff a 30something liter bag with everything you will need for a trip it is often TOO BULKY to squeeze into anything for quick storage.

A lot of people say the smaller the backpack the better, but that’s not true. Their is an equilibrium (balance), kind of like Goldy Locks’s porridge.

TIPS
1. Before you leave pack your bag 2-3 times, and each time you pack it again create more space by leaving out non essential items. Things you know you will not need.

2. rather than a big bottle of body wash bring a bar of soap or something else that is small….
3. rather than 7 pairs of sock bring 1 pair of regular socks and 2 pairs of very thin ankle sock. I say thin because they dry very fast after you wash them. (If you’re going somewhere hot like SEA you will be wearing sandals and will only need socks for when you’re wearing hiking boots in the bush)

4. honestly, in SEA you will likely be in urban cities like Bankok or in remote villages that require a serious hike. So you only really need two pairs of foot wear, sandal and very light hiking shoes. Some people bring 3+ pairs of shoes and that really isn’t necessary, I advise against it as they will take up precious space and add unnecessary weight.

5. purchase a rain cover for your backpack…. seriously… they weigh almost nothing and can be crumpled down to fit into the tightest of spaces…..

I have so much more I could write, but I have to go :(

So good luck!

Quick tip. Put heavy items closer to the middle or top in the pack. You don’t want a pack that is bottom heavy.

Cheers!

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Tony June 25, 2014 at 1:36 am

Such great tips, Mat!

Our #1 tip for packing is to pack less than you think. We advise people to pack for a 32 liter bag and then once they have what they want and what will fit… then get a larger bag and add nothing more to it. Not everyone is as disciplined as you, but you’re exactly right that packing half of a 60 liter bag is the best.

Great tip about the socks and hiking. You don’t need that much extra footwear, especially in SEA. I actually brought a 3rd pair of shoes for dressier occasions, but they were ultralight and compacted into a very small profile so they didn’t much to my bag.

Thanks again for the great tips! Would love to check out your site, btw… but the link isn’t currently working!

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Babin Lonston June 22, 2014 at 1:59 am

Hi Tony,

This is Babin Lonston from India, planned for a trip towards Malaysia, And ill stay there for 3 months and more too if possible, I want to take 6 no’s of Formal Shirts, 6 Trousers, 3 T-shirts, 3 shorts, 6 Pair of Underwear and Socks, 1 shoe, 1 no of Western Digital 4TB USB Desktop Hard disk, How much liter’s of bag i can choose ? Guide me to get the right size.

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Tony June 25, 2014 at 1:27 am

Hi Babin!

It’s hard to see without actually getting my hands on all of that, but I would guess that you’ll definitely need more than the 32 liter bags we had. You might be able to get away with You might be able to get by with a 38 liter bag if the shoes are being worn and not packed (or if they can pack down into a smaller profile).

I’m mainly thinking that 6 trousers will take up the most room, so i’d experiment with reducing or packing those tight to see what you can do.

Good luck and please come back to let us know how close my guess was on the correct size!

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Dan July 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I’m about to leave for a year with a 38litre, i have also bought a 28 litre daypack that only weighs 98grams and stuffs down real small so I can separate stuff for day trips or if I have to put my bag in the hold.

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Tony July 11, 2014 at 8:15 am

That’s a great size day pack if it can really stuff down that small. Awesome find! Plane travel outside of the US uses weight more than size for checked bag requirements so having a bag ready for that is smart.

Nice work, Dan!

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Philippa Coin August 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for this article and especially thank you everyone for this comment thread! It’s all been extremely helpful. I was about to go off into the world with a 75L pack but I’m definitely headed down a size.

Happy travels!

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Tony August 14, 2014 at 4:27 pm

So glad that article and comments were helpful, Philippa!

The convenience of having everything you possibly need in your backpack is soon outweighed (literally) by annoying it is to carry it around from bus stop to hostel and around town. You’d be surprised how little you miss the extra stuff you would have packed when you get a smaller bag.

Let us know how the smaller bag works and how your travels go!

-Tony

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Nick January 7, 2015 at 6:29 am

Hi there!
I’m going travelling around South East Asia for five months and was seriously considering the 55 litre Peru from Mountain Warehouse, however as we are outside monsoon season the rain cover seems fairly redundant for the climate. (I was going to use the 75+15 Litre bag I had for the Arctic but realised I wouldn’t need to be carrying heavy duty gear and 5 weeks worth of food this time around, so am shopping for something smaller) Does anyone here have the Peru 55L and can they tell me if the rain cover can be removed and its storage pouch used as a pocket instead? No point having the rain cover taking up space if I’m never going to use it! Thanks =)

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Tony January 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Great question, Nick!

You definitely won’t need a bag as big as the one you had for the arctic! I’m still a fan of keeping the rain cover, as you never know when a storm will hit. But it also has a few other purposes. I always put the cover on when throwing it in buses because there were always a lot of weird leaks and mystery substances that seemed to get on my bag if I didn’t.

It’s also nice to put over your bag when walking around crowded streets as it makes your zippers less accessible to pick pockets. Just my two cents…

Let’s see if anyone has any specific experience with the Peru 55L, but my guess would be it’s detachable.

Thanks for commenting!

-Tony

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Ashleigh February 3, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Thanks for this Tony.
This article has really changed my opinion, I was going to use my 70L pack when hiking in Nepal and India for a month but am definitely going to down size now. Would a 28L pack be too small?
Thanks 😀

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Tony February 3, 2015 at 7:05 pm

So glad to hear that the article helped, Ashleigh!

First… let me just say how amazing your hiking trip sounds :) Increadible! I really hope you follow up with us so we can see some pictures and hear a few stories from your adventure.

Second… pack size is really about personal preference. While 70l is big and sounds really heavy to me on a big month long trek, anything under 38l is all about how you like to travel. If you’re not packing for multiple types of trips (we had to pack for cold and warm weather on our RTW trip), you could get away with a 28l bag.

How often will you have access to water to wash your clothes (sink/river washing is pretty easy if you have the right type of clothing) and often are you going to want to change clothes? We did the inca trail hike which is 4 days and I had one change of clothes which worked out well.

Plus, are you going to need to carry a lot of hiking equipment and water or will you have support from a guide?

I would honestly recommend getting a 28l pack and packing it as tight as possible with everything that you think you absolutely must have. Then return it and get a 32l or 38l pack and don’t add anything more to it. That way you’ll have extra room for last minute supplies that are needed and anything you want to add once you are at your destination.

I hope this helps and I’m serious about wanting to hear about how your adventure goes!

-Tony

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Ashleigh February 3, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Oh I know I cant wait!!! I’m planning for November as I’ve done a lot of research and this seems to be the best time to go.
I like to go light and have as little as possible which is why the smaller the better. My 70l has been really useful on past tramps where I needed a big warm sleeping bag, food, cooker and pots etc… in that case it was a necessity. So it would definitely be better going for 28L in that case.
Most of my tops and underwear are merino as these are the best for temperature regulation, chafing, quick drying and odor prevention. So I plan on washing as least as I can.
Awesome the Inca trail is on my bucket list!!! Was it epic?
You should do a blog, would be cool, cause you seem to know a lot about hiking and I would love to see some pictures.
Thanks heaps for the help 😀
Ash

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Tony February 4, 2015 at 6:12 am

Merino wool is the absolute BEST! Great call.

Here are some posts Meg did on the Inca trail… it really was epic :)

http://www.landingstanding.com/knew-hiking-inca-trail-machu-picchu/

http://www.landingstanding.com/best-time-to-visit-machu-picchu/

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jdiz February 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Wow you guys travel really light… I use a 90L and my gf uses a 78L… I like traveling with them b/c I can always bring back more stuff than I take… I used to have a Kelty 6600… 110L…was fine traveling in Africa with it. I am a big guy though 6’4″ 220 lbs, so … I’m sure has a lot to do with your size.

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Tony February 27, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Thanking for commenting, Joe!

Everyone has a different preference when it comes to backpack size. For us, it just came down to living with these bags for a whole year and knowing how sick we would be of lugging around anything to bulky/heavy. I’m 6’1″ so packing the bag definitely wasn’t easy (especially trying to get my shoes to fit…) but it all worked out.

The real question is how often are you able to do laundry and how much of what you packed was used? For us, we never went more than a 5-7 days without doing laundry (had ultralight clothes we could wash in the sink if nothing else was available), so we only needed 5-7 days of clothes.

Great point about being able to bring stuff back! As long as you leave a lot of room, it doesn’t really matter size the bag is :)

-Tony

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victoria March 5, 2015 at 8:48 pm

Hello! I’m travelling to Australia next Argentinian summer 2016 (December) to do a three months trip ending up in China. I don’t know if I should buy a 50lt or 60lt backpack, and that problem is driving me crazy! hahah I would like to buy one that can also be used in other types of journeys and destinations as after this one I plan to go to Europe during winter, so I don’t know that if, in that case, it would be better to have a 60lt one as the clothes I will be taking are heavier.
I don’t know what to do! So my last words are.. HELP! hahaha
Thank you! :)

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Tony March 6, 2015 at 10:13 am

We’ve all been there, Vicky!

My advice is always to get the smaller bag, leave the tags on, and pack it like you were really leaving. Get as much in as you can and then think about if you really need any more. In most cases, the things that don’t fit aren’t crucial.

Then, return the smaller bag and buy the bigger one – but don’t pack anything else!!! Now you will have some extra room and the bag won’t be packed as tight.

Just remember that you’ll almost always be wearing at least one or two heavier items while you travel, so don’t pack them in the bag when you are testing it out. I also would often tie a big sweater and my jacket to the outside of my bag when riding buses and trains.

I hope that helps and let us know what you end up doing!

-Tony

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Lotte March 15, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Hello

In three days I am trawling 6 weeks to Peru and Bolivia. I want to bring the new Ospray Aura but it only come in 47 liter and 62 liter (small). I am bringing my own sleeping bag and pillow and can have it all in the small backpag. It ways 8 kilos. I also bring a daypag.
I don’t I can carry much more kilos, and like the thought of trawling light. But I would like to have the possibility of buying stuff and are therefore still thinking if the bigger bag (62 liters) is to prefere. What do you think?

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Tony March 16, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Thanks for reaching out!

I tend to recommend that you pack for the trip using the 47 liter bag, but then buy the 62 liter for your trip (and don’t add anything new). This way you force yourself to limit what you bring, but still have plenty of space for buying things as you go. Usually you can return bags pretty easily at the best hiking/camping stores like REI in the US.

Sounds like a great trip! I’d love to hear what you decide to do and learn more about your plans, so be sure to follow up!

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Laura March 16, 2015 at 10:06 am

Hey Tony,

I’m heading to Thailand for a month in August, followed by 2 years backpacking in Australia, then 2 in New Zealand and then who knows! Basically looking to avoid returning to the UK for as long as possible! I was looking at getting the Mountain Warehouse 60L + 20L daypack, but now thinking I should downsize… It’s hard to know how much room I will need when I am going to be away for so long! I’m selling everything I own so will only have the possessions in my backpack… any ideas what I should go for?

Thanks,

Laura

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Tony March 16, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Hi Laura!

Thanks for reaching out and did you mean 2 months instead of 2 years? If not, a 4 year trip sounds incredible!

Spending a little more money up front on breathable clothing that dries quickly is never something you regret. Icebreaker sells some great stuff that actually can look pretty dressy, but still can fold up into a ball. Flexibility is key!

We were able to do a year long trip using just a 32 liter bag and shoulder bag (we each had backpack and shoulder bag). We tended to do laundry every 7-10 days, so we only needed enough clothes to last us that long. And since you’re always meeting new people on the road, no need to worry about repeating outfits :)

You can also buy big wool sweaters if you go somewhere cold when you are in the region, so better to pack less upfront and then only buy stuff like that if you really need it (unless you know for a fact you’ll be spending a lot of time in a cold place).

80L total is a lot of stuff. We saw many people on the road have trouble even lifting bags that size that were fully packed. I would recommend trying a smaller bag and see if you can pack the essentials in there. It’s amazing how many items become essential when you have a big bag that can fit everything…

Maybe try something in the 40L range with a 15L day pack? 55 Liters total is still a lot if you pack it full.

Be sure to follow up with more questions and let us know what you decide!

-Tony

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Laura March 17, 2015 at 7:23 am

Hey Tony,

Thanks for the reply!

Yeah I did mean 4 years! Longer if possible, doing my two year working holiday visa in Australia and then in New Zealand- making the most of the Visa’s I can get before I turn 30! Then I plan on moving to Vietnam to teach English as I’m a TEFL teacher :)

I’m going to go to Mountain Warehouse on Thursday and have a fitting and see how much of a ‘turtle’ I feel with everything on my back. I’ve never been one for packing light but I am quite looking forward to the challenge.
My main concern is taking clothes for the Regional work I will have to undertake in Australian to get my second year working visa- they expect you to have work boots, long sleeved shirts and hats, I might purchase these in Australia though so I don’t have to lug that all round Thailand with me.

Breathable clothing sounds great. Did you use Packing cubes too? And did you take an inflatable pillow? I feel like my packing list is getting longer every day!

Laura

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Tony March 17, 2015 at 9:26 am

Ha! The packing list can definitely grow…

I compensated by packing fewer other shoes and bought hiking boots/trail running shoes so that they could be used for either.

My wife definitely took advantage of packing cubes and also packed nice ballet style slippers so that they packed down small but could still be worn out to nice places.

The weight of the bag is what really gets you… just imagine yourself walking more than 1/2 a mile between train/bus stops and see if that sounds horrible!

No inflatable pillow for me. I’ve never been able to use them for a plan and always found pillows wherever we slept while we traveled.

Everyone has a different style, so I can only say pack as little as you are comfortable with. That could be 32L or 60L, but definitely try to make it as small as you think you can manage!

Hope that helps!

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Lotte March 17, 2015 at 7:44 am

Hi
I already bought the 47 liters and love it already:)
I can’t carry any more if the trip shall be nice – and it will – and do I find many things I want to bring home I will find a way:).

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Tony March 17, 2015 at 9:26 am

Awesome, Lotte! Have an amazing trip and enjoy the smaller bag… your shoulders will thank you :)

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Shaun April 12, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Great write up, thank you! I have downsized a time or two (my current pack is a Gregory Z55 for week long hikes along the eastern US) but that is way more than I need for over seas travel. This year for Europe I have ordered the Kelty 32 because all I ever really bring is a change or so of wool wear and my camera. Imy claim to fame is going to visit my family in England and having my two make shift packs get caught in the doors on the Underground (insert red face here). So my Gregory will stay home until my Nepal trip and my Kelty will be my go to. I figure wearing one out fit and packing the backups will be perfect for my travels. Plus with a 32 bag you tend to blend in a bit more. I personally like to never stick out if I can help it. I feel more secure.

Cheers!

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Tony April 29, 2015 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for sharing, Shaun! Week long hikes definitely can require bigger bags because you have to carry your kitchen and shelter on your back :)

Wearing only a few outfits definitely helps and if you have everything be the same color (at least for the same type of clothing), it all matches!

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Eliza April 29, 2015 at 9:52 am

I always have this discussion with my partner. I think we should go as small as possible – he wants to have plenty of room to pick up more “stuff” along the way! Its complicated somehwat in that we travel with a small child, so have to carry his stuff too. Last trip my partner had 60litres, I had 45 plus we had a 20litre pack that we used as a daypack and when on flights, buses etc to keep our kid’s stuff at hand. Along the way, my partners pack exploded and he went off (alone) to get another and came back with a 100 litre pack!!! The worst of it is though, we filled it! I decided I needed haf a dozen new skirts in India and that throw that had been out of the question, now suddenly could be fit in somewhere. I have banished the giant pack and we are currently, er…discussing what size to take this year. I will be taking a 55litre and I’m trying to convince my partner that he needs 60 litres max. He wants a minimum of 80. We will have a bit more stuff to carry this year, a junior airbed for our son and a bag of homeschool stuff and a netbook as opposed to a tablet. Do you think, given that we have to carry our son’s stuff a 55litre and a 60 litre is enough?

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Tony April 29, 2015 at 7:19 pm

So interesting, Eliza! My wife and I have almost no interest in picking up more “stuff” when we travel. We have become allergic to clutter lately – I think this comes from moving apartments 4 times in 4 year and having to throw so much away :)

I will say that by limiting the size of your pack up front, you definitely don’t give yourself the opportunity to even consider picking up stuff on your travels. That’s what we did!

100 liters hurts my back just thinking about… impressive!

It’s hard to recommend backpacks on an individual basis as everyone has to adjust to their own preferences… but we made due with 2 32 liter bags and a computer bag for each of us. I would think that a 55 and 60 liter back would be plenty to handle all three of your clothes plus school supplies. It might take some sacrifice though!

I’d love to hear what you decide to do and how it works out. Definitely come on back to let us know!

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Sarah Cowan May 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm

This is a great post! I’m planning a 10 day hike in Spain and I want to travel super light! I was starting to panic when I started to read lots of websites saying that I would need to go minimum 60+L!! I’m going for a 40 or 45L and sticking with that after reading this.

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Tony May 6, 2015 at 7:41 pm

So glad to hear that, Sarah! I honestly have heard SO MANY people say they wish they had packed a smaller bag… but I never heard anyone complain about not having one that was big enough. Your back will thank you :)

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Duncan May 24, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Hi Tony
Myself and my wife are taking a year long trip with our 8 and 6 year old daughters next June. We’re spending approx 5 months in South America (Argentina, Chile , Peru , Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil) followed by approx 6months in South east asia and 1 month in China. We’re hoping to all carry 1 bag each and are trying to find the right backpacks for our kids. I could definitely travel with a 30l pack. My wife might struggle! Any tips on childrens backpacks? They need to be able to carry what we need without weighing them down too much. We want to be able to move as freely as possible.
Think all the advice is great. Keep it going!
Thanks
Duncan, Mandi, Isobel and Matilda

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Tony May 26, 2015 at 3:31 am

Believe it or not this is the first time i’ve gotten this question, Duncan… so good!

I might think about getting a bit larger packs for you and your wife, just so you have room to carry some of your kids stuff. If they get tired of carrying their packs, it will be a lot more awkward to carry their bag plus yours than just having a little extra room in yours. Maybe you could even get the backpacks that have day packs attached and give the day packs to your kids. That way if they do need help carrying them, it’s be super easy to attach to your bag.

I haven’t come across any specific bags for kids that can hold up to longterm travel – but I would think the daypacks attached to some of the 40liter or bigger bags might be perfect.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on if this would work and what you ultimately decide on as I might write about backpacks for kids in the future and would love your insight!

Thanks, Duncan :)

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Duncan May 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Hi Tony.
Thanks for your brilliant idea! I’d not even thought about that but it would solve both the issue of tired/Whiney kids and provide day packs for me and the wife when we stop for a few days. So massive thanks for that!
Also, do you have any idea of costs of travelling with kids? Obviously, I am aware that we pay for whatever they eat but are there any discounts for local transport/hostels/tours?
Again, any advice or knowledge is appreciated.
Thanks again
Duncan

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Tony June 12, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Depending on their age, there tends to be some activities and places that give discounts. Some tours I’ve seen have 12 and under for free while if they are young enough and you can share a bed, you might be able to do that cheaply as well.

Usually getting a cot for the kids in your room is much cheaper than renting an entire extra room.

Otherwise not a lot more info for you :(

Caz & Craig travel with their kids and might have some ideas for you: http://www.ytravelblog.com/

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adil June 2, 2015 at 2:53 am

heres a suggestion, dont think backpack first instead think what is being packed.

pack it throw into a bag you already have then walk around with it for at least one hour. I assure you, you’ll get down to packing needs quickly!

Second think sustainable replenishment. you dont have to be long term travellers to know this one, few days on the road and youll find that toileteries actually do exist where your going and sometimes whats from home can still be found anywhere else

Last, the right sizeis whats right for you and your trip. packing for asia just dont cut it for winter in scandinavia

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Tony June 12, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Great advice, Adil!

We chased summer our whole trip – started south of the equator for January and then slowly moved north as the weather warmed up. This let us save room by only packing warm weather clothes and when we needed cold weather clothes (like at high elevation) we could buy cheap stuff locally.

Thanks for sharing!

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Kelly July 22, 2015 at 2:39 am

I am going to America for 6 weeks next year.
I have never travelled out of a back pack. But just feel like its going to be the easiest way to go in terms of moving from destinations without any major hassles of a heavy suitcase being lugged around.

We hit NYC first which will be 4 degree’s but then Cancun is our last stop which is in their prime weather.
So packing for what we needs feels over whelming to me. It would make sense to have a smaller backpack but in terms of clothing for different climates I may have to opt for something bigger?

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Tony July 22, 2015 at 10:21 am

Hi Kelly – That is such a tough thing to do! Packing for vastly different weather is a huge challenge. Layers are crucial. As is being OK with only having one sweater (instead of packing many different cold weather outfits).

Our friend Brooke over at HerPackingList.com has some great ideas for packing for different types of weather… definitely check her out too!

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Claire November 13, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Hi Tony,
I was just wondering your opinion on what type of pack would be most suitable for the trip I am planning with my friends. It will be a year long trip with roughly 10 volunteer locations, and a couple of special places; such as New Zealand. I was thinking a 45L pack because I am a relatively light packer but we will be doing a moderate amount of camping (I will be sleeping in a hammock most likely) and hiking.

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Tony November 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm

A 45 liter pack is a great size. You might be able to get it on planes as a carry on if you wear it on your back when checking in (they eyeball it a lot and don’t always make you weigh it).

If you can pack light and if you’re comfortable washing your clothes in sinks (make sure your clothes are quick dry), you really don’t need much. We packed a universal drain stopper and some travel soap and that helped us pack a lot less but still keep our clothes relatively clean when we were in more rustic environments.

I highly recommend buying a pack and keeping the tags on it. Then pack it like you want to see if it makes sense – no point in guessing!

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Charlie November 25, 2015 at 7:56 pm

First of all, this post is not meant to be rude.

I am wondering how anyone can pack for a multi month trip in a 32 liter bag. On multi month trips into the back woods I take a 99 liter expedition pack that weighs 10 pounds empty. Full loadout is about 80 pounds or 36 kilos. I use all of the gear in my pack and it is completely full. My packs are also capable of holding a rifle Wich is another 8 pounds or about 4 kilos.
No that I’m done rambling, how the #%@* can anyone pack enough gear into a small pack that ends up weighing 10 to 15 kilos.

Regards,
Charlie

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Tony November 28, 2015 at 12:25 pm

In the back woods you have to supply everything… that you can’t catch :)

When traveling internationally or even domestically, you have grocery stores, restaurants, hostels. No need to pack a tent, sleeping bags, or food. Two very different experiences.

If you ever sleep over at a friend’s place, you barely pack anything, right? But if you were doing just one overnight backpacking trip, you’d probably pack a ton. That’s the same with travel vs backpacking!

Make sense? Would love to hear your thoughts…

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Charlie November 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Tony,
Yes, that makes more sense. You are correct in saying that one must suply everything in the back country, be it a 5 kilo bag of rice or ammunition for a rifle. I did not know that while traveling around the world it was easy to resupply.

Regards,
Charlie

Diego December 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Hey there Tony! I have a question. Its awesome that you reply back to everyone on here also.
I will be going to New Zealand soon and will going on the WHV and will be there for the full time allowed(I am from america so sadly that’s only 1 year.) But my question is about what size pack I will need.My delima is that while there I plan to indulge in nature as much as possible and go on 3-5 day hiking excursions but I will also be staying in hostels a fair amount of the time as well so I will need something that can accommodate both lifestyles. I was looking at a 60L. I will be going with my girlfriend and so we can split our camping needs between packs. For my girlfriend I was looking at a 50L. Would you say these are decent sizes? Maybe the girlfriend could get away with a 40-45L? Would a 60L pack even fit in a hostel locker? I was just wondering what your opinions were for this situation of wanting to mix traveling with camping as well. Have you ever done any mutli-day treks?
Thanks a bunch!

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Landon January 6, 2016 at 4:19 am

I just got back from NZ and i did a lot of back country trekking so for me my 75L + a day pack was necessary. Its not the easiest when hitchhiking around and moving through cities but if you plan on any lengthy hikes above 1 or 2 nights then you will need it. The dusky required 10 days of food + rain gear so that alone takes up nearly 20L of space. Bottom line. Day pack for exploring cites and doing day hikes either way. then a 50L if you are looking at 3 or 4 day treks and a 70L if you are looking at 8+ days. also i would like to note that i used a 32L for for a 4 month asian excursion so I’m not one to advise against larger bags. cheers m8 enjoy beautiful NZ

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Tony February 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for the assist, Landon!

Great advice!

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Tony February 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Sorry I’m a bit late seeing this, Diego! Please let me know how your trip went!

I saw 75 liter behemoths so your bags will fit in nicely :) Every hostel is different so it is hard to say if that will fit in a locker. Splitting up gear will definitely be key – but packing the right clothes is really where you save room. Stuff like merino wool t shirts that doesn’t stink and quick dries is the way to go – especially if you’re camping!

No multi day treks on our travels, but we have done them in Portland, OR.

Happy hiking and travels!

-Tony

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Strahlungsfluss January 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Thanks for the great article. My wife and I are planning a 3-week train trip across Europe with our 11-month-old daughter and are working out what sort of bags we need. As I’ll be carrying her in carrier in the front (she nearly 10 kgs and getting to heavy for my wife for extended periods) getting the right (i.e., smallest) reasonable bag on the back is important.

I’m thinking we’d probably be best with two 40ish L rucksacks (I find it hard to believe 32L is sufficient – but it would be great if it were). She would also like a day pack – for baby stuff etc – but I wonder if we could use one 32 L and one 40+ L pack instead.

For testing purposes I wonder if it’s worth just trying to see how much you can fit into a 35 L garbage bag. A litre is a litre isn’t it?

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Tony February 14, 2016 at 5:37 pm

A liter is a liter! Although sometimes a garbage bag lets you squeeze in a lot more :)

My best recommendation is to pack a 32l as efficiently as possible and really try to make it work. Then return the 32l and use a 40l without adding any more stuff. This will make packing easy and will make sure you have no more than you need.

The only way to make this work though is to invest a bit in nicer clothing, like merino wool t shirts, that don’t stink easily and that dry quickly. This lets you have fewer clothes and saves a TON of room.

Test it out and let me know how it goes!

-Tony

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Tressa February 12, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Hello Tony,

I am traveling to Peru for 10 days. I just bought a 55L Northface Terra backpack. I don’t plan on filling it to capacity, but wanted to buy a big enough bag for future trips and hikes… I am planning on bringing two pairs of shoes two pants and about 5 shirts… Should I go for a smaller bag? Will a 55L attract two much attention?

I am also going to put a Camelbak daypack in there to use for shorter out and about trips.

I am worried slightly as I have traveled and lived out of the country for two plus years, but that was in Eastern Europe and China in relatively safe areas.

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Tony February 14, 2016 at 5:38 pm

That sounds perfect! The bag will be MORE than enough for the little that you are packing, but you can tie it down tight so it has a smaller profile.

I would highly recommend you have a day bag that sits on the side and not a smaller backpack. Anything you carry on your back and can’t see at times is a target for pickpockets. That’s why you will see everyone on the trains holding their bags in front of them.

Happy travels! We loved Peru :)

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Bob February 24, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Going to Alaska for 3 weeks in late summer. Kodiak Island to Dutch Harbor and then as far out on the Aleutian Islands as possible. Will carry a DSLR and 2 lenses. Plan to use lodges/cabins where available but will need a small tent and sleeping bag. I have no experience in this area. Can I make it work with a 40-45 liter bag? Thanks.

Great blog!

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Tony October 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm

The tent can go on the outside of the bag, Bob. The sleeping bag though might be tough. Do you have a water proof bag for it? If so, keep that on the outside too and you should be able to fit everything.

Would love to hear what you ended up doing!

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Chiara June 5, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for posting this. So comforting to hear! I’ve been overwhelmed by all the minimalist blogs that, while very informative and helpful, were starting to really stress me out about the size of my bag more than anything else. I was really falling victim to that assumption that everyone is going to have tiny day bags.

I ended up going with a 45L… I think it works well for me, and is versatile for when I do camping backpack trips as well as hostel/city ones. I still feel nervous about the whole bag-check thing on airlines, but I don’t know… I think I will be OK.

Anyway, thanks.

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Tony October 19, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Right? EVERYONE talks about the small bags, but we were abnormal with our 32L bags once we met real travelers.

Having a smaller bag definitely helps, but 45L is plenty small. You can get away with no bag check a lot of times with a backpack as they often assume it’s a carry on – no matter the size!

Thanks for writing in, Chiara!

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Jhowayne October 4, 2016 at 8:48 am

Hi Tony,

i bought my Deuter futura pro 34 SL past weeks without reading some tips and reviews on how to select right backpack for traveling. and now, i am wondering if i can still make this carry-on luggage? and dont want it to be check in luggage. thanks

jho

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Tony October 19, 2016 at 9:45 pm

Hey Jho – It depends. International airlines often go by weight not size. However, we found that if you don’t ask, they’ll often assume backpacks are carry on and just let you through.

Act like you belong and you can get away with it!

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Shane October 6, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Hi Tony,

First off this thread is amazing ! I read all of it over 2 days of casual reading, great replies all around.

I realize you have typically recommended going with the smaller bag on here but still I have a somewhat unique question. My backpack needs are kind of scattered I live in the Bronx and so i commute to 2 different part-time jobs, so I tend to bring a lot of things back and forth , coffee thermoses , water bottles, lunch bowls, chargers, etc. Also, I am a photographer on the weekends when I can get out. Lastly, I do like to day hike in and around the Hudson Valley here in NY when I get away.

I think I found the perfect bag to balance all three needs: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-everyday-backpack-tote-and-sling-photography-bag#/

I am trying to figure out between the 20L and 30L choices. Keep in mind that the 20L goes from 12-20L based on what peg you use and the 30L goes from 18L-30L.

I know you usually say that below 20-30L you usually have to make sacrifices. Thought I might pick your brain on this one since its a different take on the backpacking questions I read on here.

Thanks in advance, and great thread again !

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Tony October 20, 2016 at 1:32 pm

For an everyday bag where you don’t have to deal with flights and aren’t carrying every single thing you need, I think a 30L bag makes sense.

You can always fill it with less!

The problem is when you travel for an extended period or on vacation, people tend to overpack and try to justify a monster bag which gets burdensome.

Cool looking indiegogo bag :)

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Stephanie October 14, 2016 at 1:45 am

Hi Tony,

I am trying to find a backpack and it’s so stressful!! I am moving to Australia for a year and possibly travelling for a couple months after that. Is a smaller pack really realistic for that long?! Especially since I will be settling down for a while I would love to bring a couple different pairs of shoes (hoping to get an office job in Aus for at least 6 months!). What’s the largest pack I could get away with for a carry on? I know it varies per airline but what’s your best guess? I’m looking at 55L or maybe even 60L.

Sorry if these questions have been asked before, there’s a lot of comments!

Thank you!
Stephanie

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Stephanie October 14, 2016 at 1:45 am

OH also, do you use packing cubes?!

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Tony October 20, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Meg does and loves them! I probably should too… but just haven’t done it yet :)

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Tony October 20, 2016 at 1:37 pm

So many comments!

Most international airlines go by weight… but if you’re flying from the US, sometimes it’s size. If you keep it on you back at all times, you might get away with a 55L. Just depends on the who checks you in…

Sometimes when you travel longer you can actually bring less. Sounds weird, but here’s why… you can do laundry! For a 1 month trip I actually bring less than a 10 day trip. On a 10 day trip I’m not going to want to do laundry… but for 1 month I know I will so I only bring 5-7 days worth of clothes.

I just did 3 weeks in europe with a 32L bag… a pair of slip on casual shoes, dress shoes, and running shoes. It all worked!

I know for guys it’s a little different, but it’s definitely possible. If you are looking to save room, why not buy a decent, not expensive pair of shoes in Australia after you get the job? Just a thought!

My wife did a 32L bag for a year of traveling. She made it, but ultimately got bored with her clothes. She bought some cool stuff along the way (and in some places pretty cheaply), but a 40L would have worked too.

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Mh October 24, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Hey man, great stuff!
Got a question, I’m buying a backpack in few days and I cant decide what size to go for. I wanna use the bag for camping as well as travelling thru cities and countries. The main things that I wanna be able to fit into the pack are tent, sleeping bag and a mat. So what size should I go for which is big enough for the 3 items I mentioned above and a little bit of extra room for cloths and a pair of shoes and some other stuff.
Looking forward to know your opinion.
Cheers!

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Tony October 24, 2016 at 9:52 pm

It all depends on the equipment… if you spend more and get the tiniest camping gear, you could get a lot smaller of a bag.

I upgraded my sleeping pad from a big roller that was about 3 feet wide by 10 inches thick when rolled up to one that packs down to a 3 inch x 6 inch tube… AND it’s more comfortable.

Plus if it’s a down sleeping bag, that will take up a lot of room…

If you get the tiniest stuff of everything I bet you could get by with a 40L bag and have room for clothes and maybe one pair of shoes?

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Mh October 25, 2016 at 7:07 am

Thanks for the feedback man.
In case I couldn’t afford or find tiny equipment, what size of a bag should I go for tho?

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Spork October 25, 2016 at 11:00 am

I have just finished up this same hunt. I’ve been waffling between a 60L and 85L my month long trip to Central America. I will be camping and staying at hostels, with hiking being a priority.

I’ve decided to use an Eagle Creek 60L (women’s), which is a 45L + 15L daypack. I looked at the Lunar solo tent (very light), but ended up getting a hammock with bugnet, along with a tarp. It’s a bit tight, but it does work with the help of compression packs.

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donna November 21, 2016 at 6:58 am

Hi Tony,

I was wondering if you have ever been to cambodia or vietnam? I love your great tips on finding a backpack for traveling around. im definitely on the lookout for one tomorrow. going to try to find your list of suggested backpacks. i had bought a 75 liter one and im 5’1, i got home, theres no way im going to carry that around for a whole day if it just in case.

thanks,
donna

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Basa D Nomad November 24, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Just checked out the Deuter Futura 32 they must ahve changed the bag the dimensions are now 27 inch tall/long 68cm no way will that get through carry on. I was looking at a Fjallraven Kaipak 38 litre it’s 65cm long perfect for me at 6’2″ but am/was worried about that issue since I intend to teach ESL and travel for next 10 years before retirement so am contemplating the 28 litre – anyway thought you needed a heads up on that length of the Futura – they must have changed teh dimensions.

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Kira January 3, 2017 at 3:55 am

I’m surprised about the trouble you had with the budget airlines! I have a 45L Pacsafe Venturesafe, which is quite heavy of itself and stuffed to the rim takes up quite some space (exactly carry-on dimensions). Weight with laptop and 10-year-old-brick-of-a-DSLR: a whopping 13kg !
When aproaching the Check-in or any other contact with security, I casually sling my 13kg over one shoulder and force a smile. Works a charm!
However after 6 month of travel I’m sick of 45L… today I managed to pack everything essential (minus camera) into a 15L pack. While that’s probably no permanent solution I’m thinking maybe a 25-30l pack will suffice.

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