Why a Travel Backpack is For Traveling and a Hiking Backpack is For Hiking!

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Travel backpack
雪霸農場單車行 by Ted Chi, on Flickr

You would think it would be easy to buy a travel backpack, but it’s probably the most confusing type of luggage to buy because there are different types of backpacks for different kinds of needs.

I see it all the time – petite women carrying an 80 liter backpack around Europe or Asia and they don’t look too comfortable! Or I’ve seen someone rummaging for something in a tall cylindrical hiking backpack with a top opening for more than 5 minutes. I’ve even seen a pickpocket slip his hand under the top buckle flap and make away with something (No, I wasn’t close enough to see what it was).

Why was this happening? Because they were carrying hiking backpacks instead of travel packs! Trust me – hiking packs are rarely a good idea unless you’re going hiking. So let’s take a look at 5 reasons why you should buy a backpack specifically meant for traveling rather than hiking.


1.       A hiking backpack is too large

I love my stuff as much as the next gal, but even I know you don’t need a huge 80 liter backpack for any kind of trip – even if it’s for a month. Imagine walking the potholed streets of an Asian city or the cobblestones of a European one day after day. Is that extra evening dress really doing you any good?

Learn to pare down and eliminate any unnecessary items from your luggage. Think about whether it makes more sense to buy things like toiletries at your destination.

Another danger with buying a large backpack is you’ll be tempted to pack more unnecessary things just because they’ll fit into it. This can result in a very heavy load for your shoulders and back. A smaller one forces you to get smart and pack light.

Plus, if you want to take the backpack as a carry on, no hiking pack will be allowed because of its size. With increasing fees being slapped on for excess baggage, it may be a good idea to get a backpack that is within carry on size measurements.

2.       It’s tough to access things at the bottom of a hiking pack

Most hiking backpacks are top loading. That means when you want something from it, you have to dig through other things to get to it. That is if you have enough light to see inside. Think about why a suitcase or duffel bag opening is designed the way it is. The side opening, whether it’s the clam style like on a suitcase or the U shape on the duffel, lets you see and extract any of your possessions without having to rummage about too much and messing up your neat packing.

With a top loading bag, especially a long one, accessibility is low on the list of priorities for hikers, as they have to carry a sleeping bag, food supplies and a medical kit among other things. None of these are normally needed in a rush.

3.       A hiking pack attracts pickpockets

Most hiking packs have a drawstring closure on top with a buckle strapped flap over it. This makes it much easier for sticky fingers to reach in an extract whatever is accessible. For example, if you fall asleep at a train station with your luggage at your feet, you would not want to find that your passport and credit cards are gone when you wake up!

A travel backpack should absolutely come with lockable zippers so that nearby thieves are encouraged to go find an easier target.

4.       No day pack attachment on hiking bags

While not all travel backpacks include a detachable day pack, many do and they’re very practical for day excursions at destinations where you’ll be staying overnight. After all, why carry all your possessions with if you don’t need them?

5.       Hiking packs can get damaged in transit

The various straps on a hiking pack can’t be stowed away or detached when they’re not in use. This means they can get snagged and damaged while being checked. In fact, you may even find that your pack has arrived at its destination with just one strap!

Most travel backpacks have either a zippered compartment at the back that is meant for stowing the straps, or they can be completely detached and stowed instead. That means at least one less way for the bag to get damaged.


So there you have it – 5 good reasons for you to buy a travel backpack instead of a hiking one for those times when you’re not hiking!

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