Backpacks are the number one asset of every backpacker (the British also call them "Rucksack" which is a German word). What do we expect from a Backpack actually? Here are some major aspects and criteria to consider when buying a backpack.

  • Type (Top/Front loader)
  • Size/Volume
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Wearing comfort (Shoulder & Hip straps)
  • Water proof/Rain cover
  • Own Weight
  • Extra pockets/loops for additional gear
  • TÜV/CE certified
  • Warranty


There are 2 major types of backpacks: The ones loaded from the top ("Top Loaders") and the ones loaded from the front ("Front Loaders"). From own experience we can say that the ones loaded from the top tend to become totally messy inside. There is no proper way to organize things and once you are looking for something in particular, you’ll never find it easily (well, you do – after running through all your belongings and shuffling things around). So we really don’t see any reason to buy this kind of backpacks anymore.

On the other hand there are the ones loaded from the front. These are very convenient to use, as you can almost use them as a suitcase by flipping back the ‘lid’. Things can be easily organized and you can find them almost instantly. This kind of front loader backpacks come with nets and straps inside, often the space can also be divided to create an extra compartment on the bottom (when you carry it). This could be used for shoes for example, but also for a sleeping bag or blanket.

Some backpacks also come with rolls underneath, so if you only buy a backpack for some city trips with sealed walkways, you might want to give this a try. But don’t expect these rolls to last very long. After maybe 5-10 cities visited, transfers from bus/airport to hostel/hotel and back, it is likely that the rolls will break down eventually. But as long as you can carry it on your back when this should ever happen it’s still alright. Just be prepared for that case.

Size/Volume/Capacity/Total weight

The size of backpacks is usually measured in liters of volume. For the passionate backpacker the bare minimum size should not be less than 50 liters. This is just enough for the most important things and doesn’t leave room for any fancy books or toiletries. You will also find sizes like 50+10 which indicates that there is some additional space somewhere. This space can be either an unfolding top/bottom or an attached daypack (smaller backpack on the front side). The best size for a backpack when traveling the world in different climatic zones is usually somewhere between 60 and 70 liters. It mainly depends on what you are planning to do and also how much you can carry. The bigger and heavier you are yourself, the more you are capable to carry (your clothes are bigger and heavier anyway). The tall, strong backpacker might go for the 75-80 liter versions, but this is the very most and will become too heavy when walking longer distances. Remember, the more space you have, the more likely you are to fill up that space with something, making it heavier again. Also the big 80 liter ones will often cause problems at the airports because with them it is easy to exceed the weight limits of 15kg or 20kg.

As a general rule from own experience, a 60 liter backpack filled with clothes, 2-3 books, toiletries and some other common stuff has a total weight of about 12-14kg. But if you carry around more books and presents for all your friends and family it is in fact possible to fit 20kg in a 60 liter backpack (again, speaking own experience). However, this is overkill as you have to walk around with it. So remember to take just the most essential things with you. After all, you can buy everything you need everywhere in the world, unless you are planning to go to Antarctica, the South Pole, a desert or some rain forest.

Backpack Weight

The weight of the backpack itself should never exceed 2.5kg. Common weights are around 1.8-2.2kg for 50-80 liter backpacks. Remember that every gram counts, because a hundred gram here, two hundred there… it does add up. Also keep in mind the weight limits of the airlines (i.e. AirAsia the usual add-on weight limit is just 15kg, unless you pay even higher surcharges for your luggage up to 20kg).


Make sure the harness system is made from stable aluminium stays and doesn’t deform easily. Even heavily loaded, the suspension system should not bend, move around or break.

Wearing comfort

For best wearing comfort all straps should be made of a thick, breathable padding with soft foam materials. The suspension system should feel comfortable on the back and most importantly the waist belt should do too. A breathable construction prevents excessive sweating, a funnel between the back and the body provides ventilation in form of free air flow through the back. The chest strap shall be adjustable in height. An all-round compression strap keeps things in place and making the backpack slightly smaller in size. When trying a tracking backpack in a shop, make sure to put some weights inside (min 15kg). Some professional merchants or outdoor shops provide weights in form of bags filled with sand or rice. This gives you a feeling for the weight and wearing comfort. As a general rule, the weight of the backpack has to be carried by your WAIST, not the shoulders. That’s why proper adjustment of the waist belt and shoulder straps is necessary. The sales staff in outdoor shops are usually very helpful and knowledgeable – they will be happy to give you advice on this.

Water proof

Good quality backpacks have some sort of water proof, having a membrane on the inside of the bag. Be aware that this one tends to come off after some time, usually years of use. Some backpacks even provide an additional rain cover in an extra pouch usually located underneath the bag.

Extra pockets/loops

Extra pockets in form of mesh compartments inside and outside making the bag more versatile. You can organize your stuff more properly this way. The mesh side pockets can be useful for drink bottles or maps, but don’t put anything inside that you can’t afford to loose – it could get stolen very easily. Loops can be useful for hiking gear such as walking sticks or tracking shoes.


The durability goes hand in hand with quality and price. When you buy a backpack from a good brand like the ones mentioned below, chances are you will get a good product that will last you for many years and countless journeys. The materials used are very robust and have proven to withstand heavy tensions. Especially the buckles and plastic parts that allow you to adjust your shoulder straps should be of very high quality such as highly durable polyethylene. These usually fail easily on the cheap products from China after a few times carrying the backpack. Also the threats and seams, the neoprene and foam materials have to withstand high physical stress – they tend to break rather quickly in cheap backpacks. So don’t buy cheap, buy quality! It’s really worth it.

TÜV/CE certification

These certifications show that the product has undergone hard, stringent stress tests and durability tests under scientific lab conditions. Products carrying this kind of certificates can also be considered as ‘safe to use’ and have a low risk of causing any kind of personal accidents or damages (i.e. sharp edges, straps breaking).


Expect to pay around 170-300 USD (130-230 EUR) for a decent backpack from a renowned brand like the ones listed below.


All backpacks of the top brands carry a 1 year warranty, some manufacturers might give even more. In case of a warranty claim you can either return the backpack to the shop you bought it from or (if this isn’t possible) you will be asked to send the defective item directly back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer will normally repair it free of charge (only if it falls under warranty of course).

List of leading backpack manufacturers/companies:
Lowe Alpine
The North Face
Jack Wolfskin