Desperately Seeking My Dream Backpack

With all the travel we’ve done, our closet resembles a luggage store filled with past lovers. That rolling bag whose fancy wheels I fell for is now just a drag to take anywhere. That huge hiking backpack carried everything I could ever want, but was always such a gold digger when it came to airline travel. That incredible fling with that daypack was short-lived and bound to fail. We just didn’t have anything in common. I won’t even begin to talk about the waist pack that brought out my feminine side. I don’t discriminate and have just about every size, style, and shape of bag that you could imagine, yet nearly every trip is different and requires a new bag. It’s not that I’m fickle. Either my existing luggage has certain deficiencies that I discovered after spending a few weeks with it, or the bag I really like is beginning to fall apart and won’t survive a month on the road, much less a year. I’m very demanding and hard on my luggage and that’s probably why I haven’t found my perfect match.

So I’m back on the market and searching the usual places. There’s nothing like a big trip in the future to peak my excitement. With it comes an opportunity to fine tune all my travel gear. Shopping around for a new travel bag is almost like the excitement of a first date, with the renewed promise of finding another perfect travel companion. In addition to the perfect travel companion I married, my travel bag and I will be spending a great deal of time together so we need to be truly compatible. Sometimes everything clicks and it’s true love, but more often there’s something missing or you find a fault you just can’t overlook and you start over. Too bad there isn’t an eHarmony site for luggage.

Our trip is months away, however, now is the time to go “dating” some new travel backpacks, because buying, testing, and returning bags is time consuming. It wouldn’t be such a difficult chore if there was actually a bag that I could love and met all the requirements I have for a travel backpack. In the end, I know there isn’t anything currently on the market that does everything I want, but for all those companies making so-called travel bags, here’s my personal ad for your consideration.

Married Asian Male Seeking Long-Term Travel Backpack

Carry-on Size – Yes, size matters. Most travel packs are too large, which only encourages overpacking. If you know what you’re doing, packing for a year abroad isn’t very different than packing for two weeks abroad. So why do manufacturers think that long-term travelers need 60 and 80 liter bags? Crazy. I want my luggage to be a svelte 45 liters or less. My ideal bag needs to fit the size requirements of carry-on luggage for most airlines which means 22-14-9 or 45 linear inches. Now those are some sexy measurements.

Lightweight, Yet Durable – There’s fabric that can stop a bullet, but bag manufacturers can’t seem to make a bag that won’t rip, fray or split at the seams and doesn’t weigh a ton. I’m not asking for Kevlar, just be HWP. A 45-liter bag shouldn’t weigh more than 4 pounds. If so, you really need to shed some weight. You should be able to last at least a year on the road and take the abuse of baggage handlers with aplomb.

Hideaway Padded Straps & Hip Belt – I like my backpacks with a little meat on those straps. More padding means more comfort. And just because the bag is smaller volume, doesn’t mean a hip belt isn’t necessary or can be some skimpy little strap. A fully padded hip belt is essential for those of us traveling to places with few paved roads and needing to carry our bag more than just a few minutes. You should be flexible and adjust to accommodate someone who’s 5’11” or 4’11”. I’m not suggesting bag swapping or a threesome, but if that means different sizes, then so be it. Just don’t make a smaller torso size bag so small that it won’t carry everything my wife needs. Some stabilizing straps at the shoulder and on the hip belt would be nice too. Please, no mesh fabric on the skin side of straps. It does absolutely nothing to make me cooler or perspire less and starts to hurt like hell when it rubs for several hours. I’m not really into that S&M stuff. The straps and hip belt should ideally stow behind a zip panel, even if it’s a bit revealing. It’s okay to show off your figure.

Secure Lockable Zippers – Don’t go giving away my prized possessions. Most hiking backpacks don’t have zippers, only drawstrings that aren’t at all secure. Most travel backpacks have locking zippers, which are fine when you are carrying the bag and trying to avoid pickpockets. However, if the bag is out of sight, such as on top of a bus, and the zippers can be forced open easily with a sharp object, such a ballpoint pen, locking the zippers is just a superficial attempt at security.

Suitcase-style Opening – I want a pack that will open up to me. That means all the way. Don’t be a tease. Not halfway, not three-quarters of the way, but all the way so that I can easily see everything at a glance and readily access it. And while we’re at it, stop making outside pockets with just a small zippered opening. When the pack is full, I can’t see what’s in it, much less get it out.

Minimal Dangling Straps – Sometimes, I just need my space…so I’ll check my bag, especially if it’s an international flight and I’m allowed one checked piece. Sometimes, I have no choice when it’s a very full flight. But if there are straps dangling from my bag, there’s a good chance it might get caught in the machinery and damage the bag itself. The fewer straps than can get snagged, the better. Inside compression straps help; so do strap retaining clips, full pack covers, packing cubes, and zippered back panels. Unfortunately, eliminating outside compression straps will decrease load stability and could make the pack more difficult to carry, so you’ll have to be clever and resourceful.

Usable Outside Pockets – You should not only have deep pockets, but also accessible ones that can fit what I want to carry. Pockets that I can’t see when I’m carrying the bag should have locking zippers, if not, they should only be intended for non-valuable items, such as water, and sized appropriately to fit a real world half-liter bottle. Stretch fabrics would work wonders. Heck, look what it did for yoga pants. Zip pockets on both sides of the hip belt would be ideal, but only if they’re large enough to be useful. And don’t put pockets underneath a compression strap making them essentially useless. That’s just stupid design, (I’m talking to you, Osprey.) and I like my bags to be intelligent.

Slash Resistant – After hearing all the horror stories from friends about traveling in India and the small urchins who surreptitiously slash your bags in crowded train stations, I became a bit paranoid that a regular travel bag just wouldn’t make the cut. (Ha! Little pun there.) So, if you don’t like kids, especially the pickpocketing kind, I’m okay with that. In fact, the more hostile you are to them, the more I like you. I’m aware of only two companies that make slashproof bags, Pacsafe and Travelon, but neither makes a bag that suits my requirements. Although it’s on my list of requirements, slash resistance would increase the cost and make it nearly unaffordable. Simply being vigilant of your surroundings will do more to protect your belongings than a wire mesh bag. Besides, having such a bag might actually make me more vulnerable, not only because of the sense of security may lead me to let down my guard, the logo on the bag itself may make it more of a target by more determined thieves.

Waterproof – I’m really attracted to the strong waterproof type. It would be nice to not worry about everything getting soaked if my bag drops into a puddle or I caught in a monsoon rain. Coated fabrics and sealed seams shouldn’t be just the domain of tents and bivy sacks. Many waterproof jackets also have waterproof zippers, so I know it’s possible. If not fully waterproof, at least offer a rain cover. It’s the next best thing to offering to share your umbrella. Besides, sealed seams would be much stronger than a simple sewn seam.

Padded Laptop/Hydration Pocket – I dig you. At least I want to dig you. I just don’t want to go digging through my bag at airport security just to pull out my laptop. It should have its own lightly padded compartment, easily accessible, but ergonomically located closer to my body to better transfer the weight to the hip belt. The pocket should load from the top but not extend all the way to the bottom to be vulnerable to a bag slasher. If the shoulder straps and hip belt were completely detachable, this pocket could double as storage for these when checking the bag. After all, I wouldn’t check my bag with the laptop in it, so why not make use of this space.

No Loud Gaudy Colors – Please have a sense of style. Whoever thought luggage should be neon green is either colorblind or in desperate need of a style transplant. It’s conspicuous enough just being a tourist in another country; there’s no need to draw any more attention to yourself with your backpack. Manufacturers, we should get a discount if you want us to advertise your brand with that huge bright logo. Otherwise, keep it small and discreet.

Under $300 – I’m asking for quite a lot, but I’ll give back in return, within reason. $300 is priced higher than almost every other bag I’ve considered, but I think that would be reasonable for all the features I’m asking to be included.

In the past, I’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s just that there aren’t many places to look for the travel bag of my dreams. I’m still hopeful and have quite a bit of time before we leave, so maybe the dream bag will respond to my ad and set my heart aflutter. Manufacturers, if you think you have the bag for me, I’m willing to go on a blind date if you want to set it up. However, be forewarned; I believe in honesty and you may not like that I’m so forthright about the shortcomings of what you set me up with.

3 thoughts on “Desperately Seeking My Dream Backpack

    • Hi Kristen,
      I have been seriously considering the Tortuga. It meets most of the requirements I have. However, it doesn’t seem very secure. I just got off a webinar with a travel photographer whom I asked about security and their equipment. He told how he got all his camera gear stolen in Chile when thieves slashed through his bag. I asked Tortuga a question about the zippers and they avoided answering it in their response. I dislike it when people are evasive. I’m also not sure how waterproof it is. Do you have any insights about the Tortuga bag that you can share?
      Thanks, Eric

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