Our Travel Backpacks: Pros and Cons

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 in stories | 0 comments

Ryan and I both have the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack in black. The pack opens the same way as any rollerboard suitcase, which makes it easy to pack and live out of, but the exterior is designed like a backpacking pack, with all the same padding, belts, and straps for the shoulders and (almost) for the waist.

We purchased the pack specifically for this trip, for $99 per bag. Kind of a hefty expense, but we knew we needed a pack that would work for us. Overall, we’ve been pleased.


Wheels or No Wheels?

We flipflopped back and forth for awhile about whether we wanted a bag with wheels or not. We almost got the Osprey Meridian or Rick Steves’ wheeled backpack (each of my family members have one of these), but we ultimately decided against the wheels. We were flying to Europe via Iceland Express, which has a 20-lb weight limit for carry-ons. We needed to save all the weight we could. (We ended up checking one bag anyway, but that’s a different story…)

Ryan has told me there have been times when he’s wished we had wheels, but honestly, I can’t think of a time wheels have crossed my mind. I know I have total control over my bag: if it is too heavy, I can toss out more stuff.

If the wheels didn’t add so much weight, I would go for them in heartbeat, but as it stands right now, no wheeled backpack is light enough to justify the feature on a trip like this.


Our One Major Complaint

The one complaint we’ve both had about our backpacks is the waist belt–a pretty serious complaint, in my eyes.

Our packs do have a waist-belt feature, but it is nothing more than a strip of fabric–no padding whatsoever. This means that even with the waist belt cinched tight around your hips, there is still weight pushing on your shoulders. It’s an ineffective system, make no mistake. (We’ve been trying to figure out who in their right mind would fashion such a great pack and then put a faulty waist belt on it. Someone wasn’t thinking.)

If you keep your pack at a reasonable weight, however, the waist belt works well enough to make everything okay. After a travel day, I can usually feel tension in my back and neck for a day or two afterward, but this is mainly because I need to lighten my pack by at least 5 pounds.



Other than that one complaint, the packs are fantastic:

  • Standard size for international carry-ons (22 x 14 x 9 inches), which means less bulk and more options when you travel.
  • Super lightweight (about 3 pounds), which gives you more weight to work with when you fly.
  • A nice, open square of space to store items. I’m continually amazed at how much I can fit into my bag.
  • Several large pockets–mesh and otherwise–to hold smaller items or dirty laundry.
  • Durable fabric. Our packs look pretty much the same now as when we got them 4 months ago, and we haven’t babied them.
  • Strong, lockable zippers. My bag has been so full at times that I’ve had to sit on it to close it. The zippers still held like magic.
  • Strong, well-placed handles. There are large ones on the top and side and two thinner straps on the front, so you can pick up the bag from almost any angle.
  • Distribution straps. Two buckle straps wrap around the front of your bag and pull tight to distribute weight more evenly and diminish the pack’s width.
  • Appealing design: There isn’t anything tacky or unusual about them, although they do look different than your traditional backpacking pack.

If I were to do it again, I’d buy this pack in a heartbeat. It’s true that the waist belt limits its usefulness–for future US backpacking/hiking trips, I’ll definitely choose my traditional pack over this one–but it has served us well for our current circumstances.

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