Friday, September 26, 2008

My Personal Quest: The perfect backpack

For years now, I've been searching for the perfect backpack. If there are any vices that Melody and I share, it would have to be bags. We have far too many backpacks, carry-on bags, suitcases, drag name it. Part of it is our job...the military means that you travel a lot. And, you tend to have specialized luggage such as duffel bags, rucksacks, helmet bags, aviator kit bags, smaller "assault packs", among others. I have at least one one of each, and own pretty much all of the requisite equipment to go to the field, including a helmet. In fact, I really don't have to go to get anything issued, as I have everything I need. Of course, since the last time I spent any time in the field, a lot of the equipment has, maybe I do need new stuff. Hmmm...something to think about.

I also have several different civilian models of backpack. Big ones for camping, medium ones that I used for traveling, specialized travel backpacks, smaller day-packs, and "in-between" sizes that barely fit in the overhead compartment.

For me, the ultimate pack is one that I could use as a carry on that is large enough to travel for several weeks. Much of that comes from just paring down to the essentials, and using what Tim Ferriss calls the "buy it there" mentality.

Essential Features

  • Lots of pockets (inside and out)
  • Compartmentalization (separate top and bottom sections)
  • External compression straps
  • Attachment points for additional straps
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Hip belt with pockets (for snacks, camera, iPod, etc)
  • "Security pocket" with key clip
  • Metal tab zippers that you can lock
  • Hydration bladder compatible
There were a couple of guys who traveled around the world for about 9 months with pretty much just one small-ish backpack each (a 28L Deuter if I recall). They cut their load by buying some pretty high quality and expensive things that were multi-use. They also culled their lives and sold everything they owned on EBay before they left to raise cash for the trip. A bit extreme perhaps for a family man to do...I'm pretty sure Melody would object. Still, it was interesting to see how they did it. Check them out at They're back now, and have been for a couple of months, but their archives are there, and it's interesting to see how they went about preparing for the trip.

So, have I found the perfect pack? Sort's a quest I really don't want to complete, as most of the fun is in the search itself. I have come pretty close. Here are my favorites (so far).

London Bridge Trading Company Medical Assault Pack:
Lots of pockets
Lockable tabs
Black color
Mesh back pocket
Zippered inside pockets (good security)
Central compartment is somewhat small, especially if using all the pockets inside
Shoulder straps don't fit too well
No functional waist belt
Poor load distribution
Military styling not ideal for traveling in foreign lands (invites suspicion)

Mizuno Diamante 25L:
Top Load
Two compartment
Good distribution of pockets (inside top flap, outside top flap, front, waist belt)
Excellent cushioning on straps
Excellent weight distribution

Too small to be a "one bag" bag
Lower pocket difficult to access when fully loaded

Karrimor Trail 35L:
Front load
Two compartment
Good pocket distribution including semi-concealed security pocket
Two pockets on waist belt
Decent cushioning on straps
Decent load distribution
Good size for carry-on
Karrimor (I've always wanted one, but hard to find in the US...)

Green color looks quasi-military
Separator between compartments is closed with a drawstring (lacks support for heavy loads)
Velcro fasteners on waist belt pockets (zippers are more secure)

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