BUYING A NEW PACK
I’m half self-confessed gear junkie and half hipster minimalist. I know, those two things don’t sound like they mesh well. Basically, I don’t own or buy a lot of things, but the things I do buy need to be good quality and do exactly what I need them to do. So when it came time for buying a new travel pack, I looked for that sweet spot between cost, quality and functionality. I don’t mind paying a bit more for something that will last, on the condition I feel it is worth it. I’m also a firm believer that you shouldn’t buy based on brand.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A NEW PACK:
PACK, BAG OR SUITCASE
First thing to decide is what to buy. For myself it was definitely a pack. I do not use suitcases. While you can fit a lot into them, they’re impractical for the type of travel I do. I also have some chest-beating, macho, caveman bullshit that screams out to me “Carry your bag like a man, you little bitch, until you’re too old and broken to carry it any more.” I know it’s stupid, but we are none of us perfect.
When I first started travelling I set out for a few weeks with a Deuter Air Contact 75+10 hiking pack, quietly confident I had packed everything I needed to handle almost anything the gods of travel could throw at me. When I returned home, a third of what I packed had only served to weigh me down for every step I had taken.
Now I have balanced my “what if” with a lot more “meh, fuck it”. I pack lighter and can make do with a smaller pack. I prefer to travel with carry-on only. That limits me to 40L – 45L. This is the maximum size for most airlines and is usually enough to fit all of this.
FRONT OR TOP LOADING
I am not describing a washing machine, but the theory is the same. If I am going on a multi-day hike through wilderness, then top loading all the way (again, not a washing machine). With top loading, the load is narrower, kept closer to your back and the weight can be distributed to your hip belt. The annoying thing is trying to get into them. If you’re anything like me, you will always have the item you urgently need neatly stored in the most inconvenient place; the bottom of your pack.
However, for travelling front loading makes more sense. They’re easier to lock, easier to pack, and you generally do not carry it for long sessions, so the weight distribution doesn’t matter as much. I also want it to open completely. Like a suitcase, but not a suitcase.
STRAP AND BELT SYSTEMS
The straps need to be comfortable enough to do what you need. Hiking packs need to have comfortable shoulder straps and hip belts, as generally you are carrying more weight and you want to distribute the weight to your hips. The main thing is to get a strap and belt system that fits you and suits what you’re doing. Keep in mind there are different strapping systems for men and women.
As I am packing for carry-on, the lighter the better. I should at least try to stay under the 7KG total. This means the harness system won’t be as comfortable as a hiking pack. On the other hand, too light may mean losing some robustness. Of course, if you’re planning on checking your pack in, you probably don’t need to be as conscious of weight. Just remember, every extra gram it weighs is another gram you have to carry.
I’m a bit paranoid about security while I am travelling, especially as I have my laptop and camera with me and I cannot watch everything all the time. I need a pack that can lock. I also prefer a pack with fewer external pockets that people can either take stuff out of or put stuff into, as happened with the Filipino Airport Bullet Scam, where security operators at the airport were slipping bullets into traveller’s luggage then then fining them.
A requirement for any blogger wanting to work on the road. Writing, working on photos, Facebook and watching Netflix.
SOME THINGS THAT ANNOY ME ABOUT MOST PACKS:
DANGLY THINGS EVERYWHERE
I like packs to be simple and clean. As few strappy bits as possible. I don’t need gear loops for an ice axe or extra quick draws nor do I want eight compression straps when two will do. I also do not need lots of pockets, all slightly too small for any practical purpose. These are all failure points that can break or rip, especially if you check your bag in. Baggage handlers will use whatever straps they can to throw your pack around.
While I don’t need it made of canvas and leather, I also want it to last a reasonable length of time. I want to get good use out of it without it breaking. That includes any zips. Seriously! How many times have you owned a perfectly good item only to have a stupid zip fail? Grrr.
My current pack doesn’t stand up. The bottom is sloped for some reason, so if I put it down on the ground, it falls over, even if I lean it against a wall. I know, it is totally a first world problem, but it annoys the shit out of me. It also has a compression strap over the drink bottle pocket and the pocket is too small for a normal sized drink bottle. By normal sized, I mean one made for a person.
So what did my research come up with? Well you would think there would be a lot to choose from, given the number of people travelling the world. You would be mistaken. There is a lot of garbage, but I quickly narrowed it down to three from the selection I could find.
PacSafe Venturesafe 45L – The One. Good size, ticks all the boxes and had some pretty sweet security stuff on it that might be dangerous to rely on, but made me feel a bit better. Plus it was on sale at my local online store and delivery was free.
Osprey Farpoint 40L – this cost the same as the PacSafe and didn’t have the same security stuff I was drooling over. It was lighter, though slightly smaller. Still an excellent pack and I read a lot of reviews from other travellers who rated it highly.
Tortuga Travel Backpack 44L – Getting this in Australia was a pain as there were no local resellers and a $55 shipping fee from the US. It would have cost slightly more than the others. Again, rated as a great pack for travellers and checked almost all the boxes.
I have a good friend who shops online, fills the cart with all kinds of amazing things, then closes the page and discards everything. She gets the buzz of shopping, without actually spending money. I do a similar thing. It is easy to get caught up in the purchase of new things, so forcing myself to take a few days to think about it gives me a chance to change my mind, or get that last snippet of information that might influence my choice. It is hard and sometimes frustrating. But it has saved me a few times. It also drives sales people insane.
So I waited the better part of a week, then I bought the PacSafe Venturesafe 45L. It has some cool shit that I liked and a couple of things I don’t like.
Straight into the security stuff, which is what this pack is sold on.
I love this locking system. When I’m walking with my pack on my back, I want to know someone isn’t going to open my pack and grab my passport or any other goodies. There are two compartments and both have double zips. These slot together and the ends of the zips feed onto this single sliding bar. This by itself is a bit of a brain teaser to get into, but you can also add a padlock to make it completely secure.
In addition, the pack comes with a stainless steel cable, which you can loop around something and slide onto the locking bar. Perfect for when you have to leave your pack somewhere while you are off exploring, or sleeping on a dodgy train in the middle of nowhere.
The pack is also slash resistant with built in eXomesh. Basically it is a wire mesh inside the fabric which prevents people from cutting into your pack. On top of this is PacSafe’s ToughZip which is a zip designed to resist forced entry. Is it impenetrable? I doubt it. But it will likely be enough to deter anyone from bothering too much.
Someone has said to me “you wouldn’t need to worry about those kinds of things if you didn’t go to those kinds of places”. This is true. I could stay home and watch TV every night as well. I could spend my weekends mowing lawns and having BBQs with the neighbours. Unfortunately that isn’t a lifestyle that interests me very much.
The straps and hipbelt tuck away under the back plate so there is nothing to get caught or damaged in overhead lockers or if you have to check it in on a flight. The pack has simple external compression straps which shouldn’t get caught on anything.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE ABOUT THIS PACK
There is no drink bottle pocket. I know that is going to annoy me at some point, so I am planning on adding a drink bottle holder to the belt somehow. No major, but an inconvenience anyway.
The laptop sleeve is in a bit of a strange place on the flap of the pack, rather than against the back plate where they normally are. When I loaded the pack it doesn’t seem to matter.
The straps aren’t awesome. They’re alright and I can beef them up if I need to, but they’re not brilliant. I will have to load the pack and see how they feel after an hour of walking, keeping in mind this should, in theory, stay under 7kg…but we all push the limits a little, right?
Edit: Since writing this article, I have walked to the top of Mt Rinjani in Indonesia. I carried this pack for three days and the shortest day was seven hours of walking. The straps did just fine.
So now I need to plan another trip so I can test out my new pack. I will likely load it up with some weight this weekend and take it for a walk around the neighbourhood.
Whatever pack or bag or suitcase you decide to buy, I definitely recommend having a long think about what you are planning on using it for and getting the right one for you. I also recommend trying them on in store if you can. Not much point getting a great pack if it doesn’t fit you!
Hope this helps anyone who might be looking into the PacSafe. Enjoy!