Backpacks for Backpackers
Every travel blogger seems to have a post on the best backpacks for backpackers. I understand why, if they rank well in search engines, they can potentially earn some decent money with affiliate commissions. However, for almost everyone considering long-term travel, the question I would ask is:
Do I need a Backpack at all?
I don’t understand why anyone would travel with a backpack. That’s such a barbaric way to travel, especially if you are traveling long-term. A good hard shell suitcase like my Samsonsite is far more convenient and effective and here are 8 reasons why.
1. Why carry a backpack when you can roll your gear?
It’s insane to carry heavy stuff on your back when you can easily roll everything. It’s not like most backpackers are trekking through mountain trails. For the times you are trekking, you don’t need a full-size backpack anyway.
The huge wheels on my Samsonite make it easy to roll over any terrain. When I was younger, I didn’t mind carrying stuff on my back. Unfortunately, my shoulders and neck don’t like that punishment anymore.
2. You can’t carry your backpack on board anyway.
With stricter carry-on luggage limits, most backpacks will have to be checked in anyway. A good hard shell suitcase is more durable and will protect your belongings much more effectively.
3. You already have a computer bag, you don’t need to carry two backpacks.
Almost every long-term traveler has a separate carry-on backpack for their computer, camera and other valuables. Carrying two backpacks at that same time is damn heavy and uncomfortable.
4. Backpacks are dirty.
Your backpack will be set on the ground repeatedly. It’ll be on the floor in public bathrooms. It’ll ride in the back of trucks and luggage compartments on buses. It’ll be on the floor of restaurants and hostels. It’s going to get abused and soon become filthy. A hard shell suitcase is very easy to wipe clean.
5. Backpacks are hard to access.
Even with well designed backpacks, you will inevitably have to repeatedly sift to the bottom of the bag to get stuff out. Suitcases have much wider openings so it is much easier to get what you need. In fact, for shorter stays you don’t even need to unpack, because all of your stuff is always there.
6. A hard shell suitcase is a great safe.
Combined with a hard to open suitcase strap, a good hard shell suitcase is the perfect place to store valuables. The built in lock on most suitcases is enough to deter most thieves. That makes it impossible to access in crowded tourist areas. You can’t stop a crowd of gypsy kids from rummaging through your pockets on a packed train, but there is nothing to grab from a good suitcase.
I also use a an old feed-through-the-loop suitcase strap because it takes time to open. Sure someone with a box cutter and screw-driver could get in if they really wanted to, but that is unlikely in any hotel or public place.
7. Hard shell suitcases are waterproof.
The plastic shell on the suitcase and rubber seal are very water resistant. I have no worries about my suitcase getting wet. A wet backpack on the other hand, will stink you right out of your own room.
8. The suitcase is better protection for your belongings.
It’s possible to check in semi-fragile items like liquor bottles, glass, and other items that are unlikely to fair well in a backpack. There’s always about 10 to 20 cm (3 to 7 inches) of empty space above my things in the suitcase, so breakable items are well protected.
It’s also very possible to take apart an electric guitar and bring it in the suitcase. I haven’t done this yet, but I likely will on future trips.
What suitcase should you buy?
I’m a huge fan of hard shell Samsonite suitcases. Don’t buy the fancy ones that are ultra-light, have complex locks or small wheels. Make sure you get the old-fashioned ones that are made of the thick plastic. They have large wheels that role over everything and the large simple locks are extremely durable. They weigh about 4 or 5 kg, but that is probably only a couple of kilograms more than your backpack.
My wife and I bought our first Samsonite in Europe about 7 years ago, and have gone through three other cheaper suitcases in that same time. Spend a little extra money and get something that will last. The small wheels and locks frequently break on lower quality suitcases.
A couple of years ago, I was lugging around a heavy bag in Montreal and was killing my back so we went and bought our second Samsonite. Normally, we only travel with one suitcase between the two of us, but for longer trips we still sometimes bring the second suitcase. It was one of the greatest travel purchases we have made. (I am not making money from promoting Samsonite either. They really are that good.)
All you really need in life are good friends, a good suitcase, a good computer (that means Mac) and good coffee. The rest will take care of itself. 🙂
The Case for Backpacks
Collin Ferry shared this picture of his small backpack. If you are traveling this light and plan to do some overnight trekking, then yes a backpack is the better choice.