RTW Backpack – Rookie Mistakes & Mr(s) Right

For my very first backpacking trip, I got the largest backpack to fit everything I wanted to carry, a whopping 72L of goodies. How’d that turnout? Let me sum it up visually…

PC: Childzy at en.wikipedia

Image: Childzy at en.wikipedia

Just like everyone else who carries a 72L bag, I did not use half the clothes in there and the top loading only style means I had to dig quite hard to find just a sweater. Needless to say, that’s the first and last trip with that 72L backpack. Since it’s still rather new, if anyone is interested in buying one at a steep discount please PM me. It is great for overnight camping trips, just not for RTW travel.

Why go small?

  • Trains, buses, planes often have little overhead space for luggage. The smaller the backpack, the more likely it’ll fit in the overhead compartment, which means it won’t have to be stored out-of-sight.
  • Budget airlines allow even smaller luggage for carry on. And because they’re on a budget, the charges for baggage check-ins are often half the price of the ticket.
  • You can maneuver better with a smaller pack without feeling like you’ll tip over the moment you stand straight.
  • The 72L backpack might feel fine walking around for 5 minutes; but unless you’re certain you’ll never get lost, or have to climb flights of stairs because where you’re going have elevators everywhere, you’ll be thankful for having less to carry.
  • Aside from saving money and strength…let’s be honest, a giant backpack looks ridiculous. You’re not camping out on the streets (which is what the 70L+ backpacks are designed for), you don’t have a tent (or do you?), so why would you want to stroll through cities and towns looking like a tortoise?

If first you don’t succeed…

For my second long-term backpacking trip, I took my time to research and shop for the right (it doesn’t have to be perfect!) backpack. Must haves:

  • 40L – 50L max
  • Top loading and side loading
  • Hip belt (wide and soft)
  • Light/removable frame
  • Adjustable torso straps
  • A few outside compartments
  • At least one bottle holder on the side
  • Hideaway straps
  • Weight less than 2 lbs

I went to several stores to try on backpacks but selections for hideaway straps were few. So I turned to the mighty net. With great pleasure, I’d like to introduce the backpack of my dreams!

 Meet Eagle Creek Ardeo, 45L


This backpack had everything I was looking for and more. Extra storage, elastic pocket, and even comes with rain cover. Not to mention a site wide sale where I got 30% off which knocks the total to $98. Unfortunately being an older model, it’s hard to find the Ardeo now. Fret not! The market is always improving RTW backpacks, making it more lightweight and efficient.

RTW Friendly Lightweight Carry on Backpacks

1. REI Vegabond 40 – $120 on REI.com


36.5 liters / 2,227 cubic inches / 2 lbs. 8 oz.

  • Front and top load
  • Shoulder harness and padded hip belt 
  • A zippered panel covers the harness and hip belt
  • Zip-front panel provides wide-open access to contents
  • Top organizer pocket and side pocket 
  • Inner compression straps; outer lash patches 
  • Stowaway back panel


  • It’s so precisely designed it leaves little for expansion

Tortuga Backpack – $199 on Tortuga

2,685 cubic inches / 3.65 lbs

2,685 cubic inches / 3.65 lbs


  • Made by backpackers for backpackers
  • Front load
  • Waist belt with zipped pockets
  • Stowaway strap cover
  • Laptop sleeve up to 17″
  • Internal and external compression straps


  • Much like REI Vagabond, it’s so precisely designed there’s little to adjust for expansion
  • Heavier than others on this list

2. Osprey Farpoint 40 – $150 on Amazon

S/M - 2319 cubic inches / 3.11 lbs M/L - 2441 cubic inches / 3.17 lbs

S/M – 2319 cubic inches / 3.11 lbs
M/L – 2441 cubic inches / 3.17 lbs


  • Front load
  • 210D Double-Ripstop
  • Padded 13″ laptop or tablet sleeve
  • Large panel access to main compartment with internal compression straps
  • Small front zip pocket with key fob 
  • Stowaway back panel
  • A detachable daypack for Farpoint 70 and 55 only, worth checking out the 55


  • No top load
  • The laptop pocket is in the front and not near your back
  • Does not come with rain cover

3. Osprey Porter 46 – $125 on Amazon

2807 cubic inches / 3.31 lbs

2807 cubic inches / 3.31 lbs


  • Front load
  • 420D Nylon Hex Diamond Ripstop
  • Compression sidewalls
  • Reinforced cord loops let you attach an Osprey Daylite daypack (sold separately)
  • Stow away padded shoulder harness with adjustable sternum strap and rescue whistle buckle


  • No top load

4. Kelty Redwing 43 (similar to Flyway) – $120 on Amazon


2,650 cubic inches


  • Top load
  • Side compression straps
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Dual use Laptop / Hydration Sleeve
  • Ice axe/trekking pole loops
  • HDPE frame sheet
  • Sternum strap
  • Load lifter straps
  • Removable waist belt


  • Appears bulky
  • Straps are not stowaway
  • No front-load access

5. Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 – $280 on Tom Bihn

2700 cubic inches / 45 liters / 3.1 lbs

2700 cubic inches / 45 liters / 3.1 lbs


  • Sleek design, perfect for city travel
  • Convertible duffle to backpack
  • 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop
  • Three significant compartments can combine to two


  • No waist belt, not a good choice for long hauls
  • Not designed to expand on the exterior (no compression straps)
  • Expensive


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