The L(/R)ight Backpack
tldr; if you want a light, durable handluggage backpack, try the eagle creek load hauler extendable (not for hiking long distances!)
|Some years ago, I decided to travel handluggage only as much as possible. The last time, I’ve packed a ‘real’ bag was for my south-america trip in 2015 which involved multiple climate zones and hiking the inka trail. Usually, a cabin-sized backpack works great for weekend trips and offers enough space for ~1 week worth of clothes in a tropical climate. Since washing is extremely affordable in asia & southern america and availible almost everywhere, this is sufficient for multi-week trips as well. The remaining problem is the weight – some airlines restrict hand luggage to 7kg. A bag with less than 7Kg is hard to achieve when taking gadgets like a system-camera, a 2nd lens, a powerbank or an underwater camera with you, especially when the bag itself weighs in at 1.5Kg.
The loophole: Most airlines allow for a ‘personal item’ besides the cabin bag which is even less likely to be weighed than your hand luggage. Some don’t mention it on their website, but so far none complained. I use a 20L waterproof roll-top dry-bag as ‘personal item’. This will be the daypack which is perfect when near the water or on a boat to safeguard your electronics. During the flight, it holds heavy electronics/batteries and what you might need during the flight (earplugs, inflatable neck pillow, ebook-reader..). This picture shows the waterproof bag and my Kestrel packed for a 2.5 week thailand trip.
Although my backpack has never been weighed, I decided to swap my Jack Wolfskin backpack for a lighter alternative.
So here’s a small guide on cabin-sized backpacks:
- Cabin sized
- extendable to accomodate the jeans and sweater necessary for flights when travelling on the ground.
- as light as possible
- flexible carrying options as backpack or duffle bag
- opens like a suitcase for easy access
Starting Point: Bags I used previously:
|Jack Wolfskin Getaway 40L (discontinued):
+ cabin sized
+ opens like a suitcase
+ laptop-sleeve included
+ multiple carrying Options
– ~1.5Kg, with Laptop sleeve removed still 1.3kg
|Osprey kestrel 38 38L, 2014/15 Model.
+ cabin sized
+ great back ventilation
+ superior carrying system and weight distribution
– only top-flap access (the new model also offers an additional zipper for the main compartment)
– back-ventilation consumes space
Every travel-blogger tends to recommend the osprey farpoint 40 – which is a great backpack but weighs ~ 1.4Kg. Some tell you about ‘hybrid backpacks’ which have wheels like a trolly – they usually weigh around 2.5Kg or more. Since the desired bag will only be used to get from the airport, ferry or bus to the hostel/accomodation, and not for hiking, carrying time is limited.
To lower the weight, I was willing to make some compromises:
- padded compartment: I don’t always take a laptop and If I do, I can put it in a sleeve before packing -> drop the padded laptop compartment
- suspension system: when not hiking, the suspension system doesn’t need to be perfect. To walk 1-2km per day in Airports or from the ferry to the hotel, padded backpack-straps should suffice for 7Kg.
- hard PU/wire frame: light backpacks don’t maintain their rectangular shape when empty. That’s ok, as long compressions straps allow it to stay in shape when almost full.
I’ve searched the websites of most outdoor-equipment manufacturers, stores, amazon and local stores and realized, light backpacks are hard to find. There is the ‘Cabin Max’ series on amazon which is quite lightweight but some recommendations are devastating (ripped seams/fabric during 1st trip). Then there’s Minaal – a Kickstarter/indiegogo funded ‘perfect travel bag’ which is quite expensive (250$+) and some other premium 200$+ backpacks from e.g. Vaude but a low weight never seems to be the focus. Thanks to some american backpack store, I ended up on the eagle creek website. And they offered what I was looking for!
I bought the eagle creek load hauler extendable via Amazon.de (it didn’t show up initially due to incomplete data on the product page).
- + extremely light
- + durable despite fragile looking fabric
- – no bottle-compartment -> I’ll add this myself =)
I’ve used it for my latest trip to Thailand, Komodo and Malaysia and it was the most versatile backpack I’ve used so far. Durable, light, offered plenty of space and makes it easy to find whatever you want to get out. The only thing I missed was the bottle-holder (which my mother was able to add by using the sewing machine when I was home over christmas (I’ve never used the machine before and she was happy to help me 🙂 Thanks, mom! ) ) . Here it is just before its second big trip to beijing and the philippines, accompanied by my trusted drybag (personal item).
And a table with the facts on these 3 and additionally the smaller eagle creek expanse hauler and the famous farpoint 40.
Load Hauler extendable
Kestrel 38 M/L
Farpoint 40 M/L
|price ~||109$||129$||discontinued; was 100€||105€||100€|
|Volume||50 L||49 L / 57 L||32 L||38 L||40 L|
|Weight||950 g||830 g||1430 g||1420 g||1320 g|
|Height [cm]||56||56||55||71 (can be squeezed to 56)||54|
|Thickness [cm]||23||23.5 / 28 (extended)||27||40||23|
|Extendable?||–||+ 5 cm main compartment||–||–||–|
|Opens like a suitcase||x||x||x||–||–|
|2nd inner compartment||x||–||x||x boden||–|
|small compartments||1||2||1 + organizer||1 top + net||x|
|Padded compartment (Laptop/tablet)||–||–||x||–||x|
|Backpack-mode||x||x||x||comfy (vented back + hipbelt)||comfy (vented back + hipbelt)|