It lies on dusty bus station floors and sinks into golden sands on the beach; it gets thrown unceremoniously on top of buses and used as a pillow in cold, empty airports. It holds everything you have in this world.
Isn’t it time you loved your backpack back? Here are some tips for choosing the perfect backpack and keeping it in good shape on the road.
Picking a good one
Step one to loving your backpack is picking a good’un. It’s not a wand and it doesn’t choose you.
To do that you need to know what you want. First things first: how big? It might seem bigger is better – more shoes yay! – But in reality most airlines are limited at 23kg, and you have to carry the damn thing. So maybe don’t choose the biggest one in the shop.
I have a 75litre bag that is made up of a 60litre main pack with a zip off 15litre day bag and I find that perfect for any length trip. You may find you can pack lighter – especially you boys – but like I said: shoes.
Next is how you want it to open: do you want it filled from the top or front-loading like a suitcase? Personally I love a front loading bag, it means I can reach a clean pair of socks at the bottom of the pack without pulling the full load – including my delicates – out onto the floor.
Most importantly check the backpack of your dreams fits you. Where possible try it on in a shop. A lot of backpack manufacturers now offer packs in two or more sizes; this is great for the very short and the very tall people out there. At 5’ 0” this is very important to me.
Take along a few big textbooks or some big bottles of water to put in the pack, you will look like a crazy person but you’ll get a better feel for how the bag will feel when full.
Finally, always buy the most expensive backpack you can afford. Quality is key here – only the best will do.
Treating it well
Now you’ve chosen ‘the one’ you need to give it some tender loving care. Invest in a rain cover for it to keep the poor thing from getting soggy; it doesn’t need you cursing it over damp t-shirts.
If you don’t want to have to carry a rain cover as well as everything else (though they really are tiny packed away) think about spraying your backpack pretty regularly with waterproofing spray to at least fend off some of the wet stuff (note this will not protect you from anything more than light drizzle – monsoons will win).
Now although most backpacks are sturdy strong things they do have some little weaknesses, one being the straps and the point they connect with the fabric of the rucksack and also the buckles.
They tend to get damaged and tears appear when they are manhandled through customs by an over exuberant luggage attendant who just wants to squeeze one more into his van. And then traps the buckle in the door as he wedges it shut.
Some rucksacks now come with a way to zip all the straps away, though some airports have cling wrap to tuck everything in. Or you can resort to taping it down.
This brings me onto the real miracle of the backpack lover’s arsenal: the mighty duct tape. Keep a roll on your person at all times for emergency backpack rehabilitation. It can fix tears, reattach buckles and generally perform life-saving wonders.
Packing it right
When it comes to filling her up, there are a few tips and tricks to maximising the space in your beautiful backpack.
Packing cubes are a gift from heaven for backpackers allowing you to squeeze more clothes into a smaller space. Just remember when you’re pushing the 17th swimming costume in that all of those clothes have weight that adds up.
Packing cubes are also a great way to stay organised while on the road. Pack them in clothes groups, one for bottoms, one for tops, one for pants etc. They come in different sizes and you could even colour code them if you’re feeling particularly prepared.
Remember to roll and not fold, you’ll manage to pack way more in and it makes it a little easier to find things as you have a peek of each item poking out. Rolling also minimises creasing so no ironing – yay!
Pack plastic bags – big Ziploc-types are great – this way you can keep dirty or wet clothes separate, especially towels and swimming costumes if you leave in a hurry.
More ways to eek space out of your backpack.
So, you’ve chosen the perfect soul-mate-backpack and packed it to perfection. It holds your travelling world. The last thing you need is for it to be broken into or the whole thing stolen. Buy a lock (choose a bag with a lockable external zip, most now feature this) and lock your bag – in a busy hostel room thieves are more likely to move on to an easier target.
You can now get nets and long bike-lock style locks to attach your bag to your bed – I’d like to see a thief make off with your bag and a bunk bed in tow. However if you’re leaving your bag for any length of time try and lock it in a locker either at your hostel (many have lockers) or at a train or bus station.
I know it’s a terribly grown up thing to say but make sure you’re insured. At least then if your faithful sidekick is wandered off with or left in an airport or fed to alligators you have a chance to replace it tout suite.
Never forget to book your hotel before you go: Booking.com