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I recently decided to try out the whole “digital nomad” thing. I’m planning on traveling to Thailand later this year and essentially bouncing around Southeast Asia. I’ve been gearing up for this trip for over 6 years. Traveling around the world is one of my main goals in life. I can go into the whole tangent about the “Things I want to do before I die,” but that has nothing to do with this article. If you yourself are a digital nomad, then feel free drop some knowledge on me.
Prior to leaving, I’ve been stressing out over selecting the best backpack my money can buy. One of the most important things I hear other travelers talk about is having a
good great backpack. You basically want something that will last you for years to come. I personally like to buy products for life.
You might think stressing over a backpack is silly. Why not go to a local retail store and simply get a cheap one, right? Well, the problem is that a travel backpack is nothing like a school backpack (which is mostly what you will find at your local stores). I’m essentially bringing everything I need in one backpack for months on end.
One of my main goals is not to look like a tourist. I’m fully aware of locals who prey on tourists. Whenever they look up at that huge goofy backpack, which is actually intended for hiking and camping, all they see is opportunity. I’m not saying everybody is like this, but most natives are. They know you don’t know your way around town and that you’re still trying to figure out the conversion rate. It’s easy money and they see no shame in it.
You never really want to give the “I’m a tourist” vibe to the locals. You should never wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, or show off your expensive gadgets. You should try to fit in and not draw any attention to yourself. Apart from the way you dress, your backpack should be low-key.
For most airlines, the biggest carry-on size is 45 liters. Anything bigger than that completely defeats the entire purpose of traveling lightly. Many digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and backpackers tend to only bring items that are absolutely essential. Their backpacks are mainly used for holding all of their gear (camera, laptop, cords, headphones, e-reader, etc.), clothes (t-shirts, pant, shorts, socks, underwear, shoes, jackets, etc.), and toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, floss, etc.).
Since your backpack will be with you almost all the time, you should strongly consider spending a bit more money for higher quality. Your backpack should be comfortable, low profile, have different features, be big enough to fit all of your things, made out of strong materials, and basically be free of nonsense.
Based on my research for the past 3 weeks, I managed to narrow my choices down to five backpacks. I’ve read tons of articles on this subject, scrolled endlessly through different travel forums, and read tons of reviews on Amazon. I tend to trust people who put their money where their mouth is. So without further ado, here’s my list of the best backpacks for those of us who are running around the world.
Red Oxx Sky Train
This backpack is 38 liters, so you have more than plenty of space for your possessions. It offers tie down straps for your clothing so you won’t have to deal with crumpled and gross looking clothes. It also has a great variety of ways to carry it. It can be rolled like a suitcase, carried like a messenger bag or held on tight like a backpack so you’ll be able to use your hands while you’re on the go. The best part about this bag is that it’s completely handmade, which means you know it’s high quality.
- Designed AND made in the USA
- 38 Liters
- Weather resistant (NOT waterproof)
- Comes in 12 different colors
- Fabric: 1000 weight urethane coated, Dupont certified Cordura Nylon
- All seams are double stitched and bound
- Dual claw-style 360-degree backpack straps swivel clips
- “No Bull” Unconditional Lifetime Warranty
Tortuga V2 Backpack
First and foremost, I would like to inform you that this backpack is currently sold out. Its estimated in-stock date is May, 2014. If you’re not leaving soon, I would strongly advice you to wait until it becomes available.
Tortuga is a world-leader in travel bags. This bag offers everything you need while you’re traveling. Think about this, a bag that you do not need to check (saving you money and time), a bag that you don’t need to fully unpack to get what you need (saving you time), and a bag that can actually carry everything you need. It’s basically a boss.
- 44 Liters.
- Lockable zippers.
- 4 Exterior pockets.
- Fits computers up to 17″.
- Padded shoulder straps, padded hip belt, and chest strap.
Synapse 25 by Tom Bihn
When you’re looking for a backpack, let’s face it. The style of the pack has to match yours. The design of the Synapse 25 is aesthetically pleasing and looks like a regular student backpack. Tricking people into thinking you’re student is way better than looking like a tourist.
There are plenty of other reasons to love this bag. It’s one of the most lightweight bags that you’ll find on the market today, it’s actually under two pounds (1 lb 11 oz). You can add extra compartment and accessories when you checkout, so that will obviously add more weight to it. Another great feature that I love is that it has a place to keep your water bottle (gotta stay hydrated), and it doesn’t dig into your back while you’re walking around.
- Made in USA.
- Ultra-lightweight (Less than 2 pounds).
- Tough Duraflex and Nexus buckles.
- Closed-cell foam back.
- 25 Liters.
REI Vagabond 40 Pack
If you’re looking for the perfect backpack that covers all of your needs, you may not have to look any further than the REI Vegabond. This backpack comes in two different colors, red and black. Every pocket, including your water bottle pocket, can be fully zipped so nothing will ever get lost. This backpack also offers 36L of space. The only downside is that this backpack does not have a laptop compartment (I know for most people, that ‘s a deal breaker).
- 36.5 Liters.
- Padded hipbelt.
- Top and side handles.
- REI 100% satisfaction guarantee.
I’m going to catch a lot of flack for saying this, but I think it’s true. If Apple were to design backpacks, the GR 1 and 2 would be the results. This backpack will never let you down. It offers an incredible amount of storage space, while still being small enough to use as your carry on. Let’s face it, none of us like big bulky bags that are hard to carry around, and this is the perfect solution.
The GR1 and GR2 both have a sexy design, can withstand over 400 lbs of stress, and have a lifetime guarantee. Unlike other companies GoRuck will not ask you for a receipt or date of purchase, they recognize their own products. I’m not making this up, check out their website.
If you fear the price, consider the 5.11 Rush 24. It offers many of the same great features for less than half of the price!
- 40 Liters.
- Built in the USA.
- Highly water resistant but not technically waterproof.
- High stress points are strength tested at over 400 lbs.
- Made of military-grade, highly water resistant materials.
GR1: Buy $295
GR2: Buy $395
There is only one affiliate link in this article, which is the 5.11 Rush backpack. Why am I telling you this? Because my goal isn’t to make money off of you, it’s to help you find a great backpack. I wasted a great portion of my time last month trying to find the best backpacks. And if this information saves you time and perhaps makes your life easier, then that makes me happy.
I hope this article has helped you narrow down your choices. Good luck!