Criteria to consider when selecting the right travel pack

Last Updated: Thursday 20 July 2023
Buying a travel pack

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Recently, one of our readers contacted us about items on my packing list – specifically about my travel pack and my Turkish towel. Her questions made me realise I had never actually gotten around to writing an article on my travel pack and why I chose it.

So, if you are interested in

  • understanding what the benefits are of travelling light; and/or
  • learning how to choose the right carry-on travel pack
  • you’ve come to the right place. If not, please pass this post on to someone you know who might find it useful.

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Why travelling light is great

I have stopped counting how many travellers we see on the road every day lugging around travel packs that are often larger than themselves. We wish we could talk to every one of them there and then, and try and convince them to travel light next time.

Sandra and her big backpack in 2012

Sandra and her big backpack in 2012

Paul and his big backpack in 2012

Paul with way too much carry a travel pack and daypack in 2012. He knows differently now.

We’ve been there. We travelled with our big 70-litre travel packs during our three-month trip in 2012. But we have now also travelled for more than seven years with carry-on-only travel packs, and we will never go back.

So, what are the benefits of travelling light? Here are three of them but there are way more…

It makes arriving a breeze

Ever waited for (what seems like) an eternity at the luggage carousel? The conveyor belt seems to be the most popular place on earth. You can’t see a thing as everyone else has claimed their spot right next to it. As the place slowly empties, you wonder what happened with your luggage. And then finally, half an hour after you went through security, it makes an appearance and you breathe a sigh of relief.

Now imagine travelling with a carry-on: You grab your travel pack (or small wheelie) out of the overhead locker and swiftly walk past fellow travellers (who have somehow managed to take the kitchen sink on board). The lines at security are still short. A few minutes after you landed, you’re out of the airport and greet your friends/family and/or grab that taxi/bus/train into town.

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Baggage claim

No need to wait if you have carry-on only luggage

Your luggage can’t get delayed, lost or stolen

How many times was your luggage delayed, or even lost or stolen? I arrived in Berlin on Christmas Eve without even a winter jacket (since we flew in from Sydney where it was summer). My check-in luggage finally arrived four days later, damaged and unusable. A strike combined with bad weather (and Christmas) had made Heathrow Airport a giant luggage warehouse.

Paul almost missed out on competing in a half marathon in Italy a few years ago, when our plane was delayed in Dubai, and Emirates wasn’t fast enough to get our luggage from one plane to the next. In that instance, we were reunited with our luggage (including his running gear) less than 12 hours before the race. I’m sure everyone who has ever travelled with check-in luggage can tell similar stories. Not much fun.

If you travel solo, how many times did you wish you had a travel buddy to look after your 70-litre pack while you quickly popped into the bathroom (or elsewhere)? Well, a carry-on travel pack is small and light enough to take with you – wherever you go.

Baggage in cargo hold

You won't have to worry about your baggage getting damaged in the cargo holds

It may just save your travel plans

Imagine you wake up late. You have 30 minutes to catch your train. The train station is a good 20 minutes walk away. The morning traffic is horrendous. If you want to make your train you have to run.

Now imagine you have a (check-in sized) wheelie and a day pack or a 70-litre backpack. You gather your gear as quickly as you can, but it still seems like an eternity until you’ve made it down the stairs and out onto the streets. The streets to the train station are cobble-stoned and full of people heading to work. Good luck making that train.

Now imagine grabbing your carry-on travel pack. It’s packed and ready in a flash. You run down the stairs and along the streets, shouting apologies as you zigzag between people. You only carry around 10 kilograms on your back, so even moving on cobble-stone is not too difficult. What are your chances now catching your train?

Wheeling luggage in street

How much hassle is it for you to wheel your luggage in the street?

What is considered carry-on?

Unfortunately, every airline has its own carry-on luggage rules, especially when it comes to weight. Some allow ten kilograms, others only seven. And it’s often those with a lower limit that enforce the rules (to make some extra money for the airline’s shareholders). How much you are allowed to bring into the cabin also depends on whether you travel domestically or internationally, and what class you’re seated in. So, do check the rules (on the airline’s website) before you book your flight.

The most common dimensions seem to be as follows:

  • 56 centimetres Length x 36 centimetres Height x 23 centimetres Width
  • 22 inches Length x 14 inches Height x 9 inches Width

By pure maths, this gives you about 46 litres and will be the (maximum) size of luggage you are looking for.

Most airlines allow one piece of hand luggage (up to the weight limit they impose) plus one personal item (which does not usually count towards the weight of your carry-on luggage). So, if you find your laptop pushes you over the weight limit take it out of your travel pack and carry it in your hands as your personal item. When we encounter airline staff that takes the weight limitations too seriously, we put my little handbag (my usual personal item) and whatever else makes my travel pack too heavy into a silk bag (usually used to carry groceries or laundry). That silk bag then becomes my personal item.

Putting bag away in cabin

A soft-sided bag is easier to get onto the aeroplane as hand luggage

Carry-on travel pack considerations

Before you go shopping, think about and write down your requirements. They may not be as obvious initially, but the more you look at the options out there the clearer they’ll become. To help you get started, here are my criteria:

Close to maximum carry-on dimensions

I wasn’t so sure about how much I’d need but the more I looked at different sizes, I realised that less than 40 litres would be a bit of a squeeze for me, even as a practising minimalist. The benefit of going larger is also that you can fit in that cool t-shirt or colourful sarong you bought on your trip.

Super strong yet ultra-lightweight

Considering your 10-kilogram weight limit, the lighter your travel pack is the more content you can carry. Make sure your travel pack is of good quality. The last thing you want is for your travel pack to break at that busy intersection in Hanoi or when you’re jumping on that chicken bus in Guatemala.

Proper waist strap/hip belt to distribute the weight evenly

That’s an absolute must (and I’m surprised how many carry-on travel packs don’t come with one). Your full travel pack needs to sit comfortably on your hips. So, if your (shoulders’ and back’s) health is important to you make sure your carry-on travel pack has a proper waist strap/hip belt.

Female with red backpack

Travelling light really does take a load off your mind

Separate laptop compartment at the back

This goes hand in hand with the former. A laptop is likely the single heaviest item you carry in your travel pack. So, the best place for it is right against your back. You also want a laptop compartment that can be accessed easily even when the travel pack is full. You don’t want to have to empty your travel pack each time you go through security. Trust me.

A separate compartment at the bottom

Speaking of security, another item that has to be taken out whenever you go through security is your toiletry bag. A toiletry bag usually also weighs a bit (at least mine does). So for my toiletry bag, I prefer to have a separate compartment at the bottom that can be accessed easily from the outside. Why at the bottom? Again, for better weight distribution.

Stretchy side pockets that fit a water bottle

Staying hydrated is important when travelling. For that reason, we travel with a Klean Kanteen 27 oz Wide Water Bottle with Loop Cap. That bottle (and Egon, my travel mascot) need to fit somewhere, and that’s what the side pockets are great for.

Water bottle in red backpack

Selecting a travel pack that can hold your water bottle is essential

The main compartment opens like a suitcase

Imagine you’re waiting for your flight to board, and the airport feels like a freezer. So, the best thing to do is to grab your jumper/cardigan/shawl. If your travel pack opens from the top (like a potato sack) you’ll have to unpack everything on top, and by the time you get to your jumper/cardigan/shawl, you’ve frozen to death. Having a travel pack that opens like a suitcase makes (packing and) accessing an item a breeze.

Lockable compartments

Travelling with a carry-on, you’ll have your luggage on you most of the time. But if you do have to check in your luggage (for example, if the bus is too crowded or your plane too small) lockable compartments come in handy.

Ideally built-in rain cover

This was more of a nice-to-have requirement (at least for me) as there are other options to protect your gear from a downpour, for example, a rain poncho (which not only covers your luggage but you as well).

Reasonably priced

Good quality luggage is not cheap. The same applies to carry-ons. I saw a lot of Chinese-branded travel packs online that were insanely cheap. While I have no experience with them, I’d be concerned about their quality (see above).

Your requirements might be different. That’s okay. Find one that ticks all (or at least the most important ones) of YOUR boxes.

Tortuga backpack v2 and Osprey Ozone 46 on Kumano Kodo 2023

More than seven years since we purchased them, our Tortuga v2 and Osprey Ozone 46 travel packs (both no longer being manufactured) are still going strong

What did I choose and why?

I did a lot of research and checked out over a dozen different travel packs from different manufacturers before I bought my Osprey Ozone 46 in mid-2016. Unfortunately, it is no longer being manufactured. And a lot has changed since then. My pack is suitable for my purposes, however, Paul is now looking for a replacement. Below is his current shortlist as of July 2023.

  • GORUCK GR3

    GORUCK GR3

    $495.00
  • Matador Globerider45 Travel Backpack

    Matador GlobeRider45 Travel Backpack

    $350.00
  • Nomatic travel bag 40l

    Nomatic 40 L Travel Bag

    $439.75
  • Osprey Porter Travel Pack 46

    Osprey Porter Travel Pack 46

    $185.00
  • Osprey Sojourn Porter 46l

    Osprey Sojourn Porter™ 46L

    $195.00
  • Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack

    Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack

    $299.95
  • Tortuga 40L Travel Backpack

    Tortuga 40L Travel Backpack

    $350.00

Osprey Ozone 46

The Osprey Ozone 46 was the best compromise out of the bunch in terms of value for money. It meets most of my requirements (bar the following):

Main compartment

I would have preferred a travel pack that you can open like a suitcase, but the Osprey Ozone 46’s main compartment opens really wide, and my packing cubes slide in easily. So I have found that not too big an issue.

Lockability

The main compartment is lockable (I use a TSA-approved number lock) but the other three compartments (one at the bottom and two in front of the main compartment) can’t be locked. On the rare occasion we had to check in our luggage (for example on the small planes in the Caribbean), I used cable ties to secure those compartments.

Rain cover

The Osprey Ozone 46 doesn’t have a built-in rain cover. We did have a few heavy downpours (given we travelled the Americas in the rainy season) but we managed with rain ponchos that covered us including our travel packs (bought on the road for about USD10 each).

My Osprey Ozone 46 has done more than six years now, and apart from a few minor scratches, it’s still in very good condition.

Are you heading overseas for your next big adventure? Or away for the weekend and need to replace your luggage? We can help you in selecting the right travel pack and daypack with our useful buyer’s guides – all based on our years of being location-independent.

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