Travel Pack, Accessories, and Anecdotes

We took a trip to Iceland, Scotland, and England in September of 2016 for about three weeks. This was our first time travelling overseas, and about double the duration of our standard domestic holidays. Our goals were to do everything via a travel pack for the following reasons:

Transportation entry/egress: a single article of luggage would be easier to manage during the transition states for tight means of transport like airplanes and trains. Keeping belongings closed to us during transportation allowed us to keep much more in the actual pack and increase our physical allotment of space by only acquiring items when necessary. Both airplanes and trains have pretty tight allocated stowage areas that are loosely tied to your ticketing, so being able to go from movement to stowing quickly was important. Later we found that people in the countries we visited were generally respectful of the seat-to-stowage relationship, where in America there are many who stow their belongings in the first available space regardless of their actual seating.

Easier movement on foot: travel days typically involve planes, trains, and automobiles, and for us there were some cities we would only see during our transition through on a travel day. We wanted to be able to move comfortably on foot after leaving an automobile and experience as much of the city as we could on the way to, say, a train depot. Maximizing travel days for us meant adding interesting cities to the list of things we’d actually experienced, rather than trying to coordinate much closer drop off locations and experiencing the city less intimately.

Emotional burden of packing: a single volume was less emotionally daunting to pack, sometimes daily, as we transitioned sleeping locations. Our aim was to reduce the sting of packing up your life the same morning that you’d likely have some travel anxieties, in hopes that it would allow you to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the things you’d see during transition.

Pack

We had to set some criteria for what we wanted to achieve with our packs, this was our shortlist:

  • Full horizontal access, rather than conventional top access. We wanted to be able to open the pack like a traditional suitcase, primarily because we felt it reduced the emotional burden of packing to be able to interact with the entire volume easily.
  • Some level of suspension, to make it more comfortable to be on foot.
  • A Hip Belt, which might be considered by many to be a part of suspension, but we found several packs that had some suspension and didn’t have a hip belt.
  • Straps as a zipper secondary, because zippers will be the weakest part of any pack, having straps integrated to compress where the load would be on the zippers would provide us a good backup.
  • Compliance with expected travel volumes, because checking your pack means you’re probably gonna have a damaged pack.

We looked at a bunch of blog posts, and the savvy backpacker was the most helpful resource. One thing they pointed out is that the travel pack market is actually quite new, so the products available are less advanced than their conventional pack counterparts. We live near several outdoor equipment places, which was lucky because they seemed to only carry a slice of each brands options. From the list enumerated on the savvy backpacker we narrowed down to brands that we could have physical access to in stores for examination:

Of which we immediately eliminated the Arc’Teryx and REI due to both the bagfeel, as well as hearing repeatedly that Osprey had the best product warranty stance out of any of the manufactures. From there we quickly eliminated the Waypoint because 80L is a significantly large volume, more than we would every want to populate and carry on our backs. This left the Farpoint 55 and the Porter 46, we liked both of them, but it was easy to see that the Farpoint had a superior suspension system as well as the distinct advantage of being able to fold the entire suspension system away for easier stowing. Another significant benefit was the inclusion of a day pack that could be securely fastened to the overall pack, which was surprisingly important when talking with airline attendants (more later). Although there are a lot of packs to choose from, there is really only a small amount of travel packs. And, it appears that Osprey has the market currently cornered.

We chose to purchase from REI in particular because it felt like laying on a secondary warranty to the manufactures provided warranty. REI is well known to stand behind the products they sell, and having a large organization with many physical locations provided a better chance of achieving a replacement in a shorter amount of time.

Accessories

We were going to pretty safe places, culturally and economically, so if we had neglected to bring something we could always purchase it in route. The idea was that we would pack light, however as anyone who has taken their first spin overseas will likely attest to, we did not achieve the lightness we desired. 55L plus a day pack gave us plenty of space to fill. A good goal for packing is to ensure you’ve got 10-20% of the total pack volume available prior to leaving. This will make for easier re-packing when you’ve got dirty clothes, as well as the opportunity to pick up clothing or other things along the way. This 10-20% idea, with the Farpoint, is for the pack itself and not the day pack.

We occupied about 10-15% of the bag volume initially with what we felt like was an insurance for checking out luggage, via the Osprey Airporter travel cover. This turned out to be unnecessary for our trip, as we were able to carry on the packs for each leg of the journey.

I purchased mostly new clothing for our trip. The three things that were surprisingly valuable picks from a packing and comfort perspective were the Orvis Long-Sleeved Open-Air Caster which is easily tolerable on a warm day, but provides enough wind blocking on a cool day to be a very versatile shirt. ExOfficio Give-N-Go underwear pack very densely, wash very easily, and are surprisingly comfortable for those fifteen to twenty thousand step days. And, although the shirt was for men, and the underwear is made for men and women, Tieks shoes are for women but fold up surprisingly small to make a mention.

We extensively used Eagle Creek specter packing cubes, which made layout of the bag interior a lot more sane. We each carried two extra packing cubes for unanticipated things we wanted to chamber up within the bag, these immediately were used for items that were either dirty or had not dried from washing prior to needing to depart.

We also used the Eagle Creek power adapter with an Anker power strip. A single set of these was enough for the two of us. Anker power packs are incredibly valuable. We had two power packs on us and they were drained on a daily basis. Phones are incredibly capable now, ours worked in every country without issues, but we relied on them for communication and navigation extensively.

We took our camera within the day pack by using the Crumpler Haven which fit very snugly within the smaller pack. This made it so that the day pack connected to the pack was far larger than would fit within airline overhead allocation, but the haven is quite easy to pull out and then has all of your delicate optics and electronics in one padded volume.

Anecdotes

We flew with WOW Air, Ryanair, and trained with ScotRail and the London Underground. Our flights were accommodating but tight for the packs as long as you had little to no material in the day pack portion. It was surprisingly important for the desk attendants at the air carriers to see that through the attachment of the pack and day pack we had only “one bag”. This was a big deal because otherwise you’d have to send one of the bags into checked luggage, and very likely it would be damaged by the handlers. I don’t know how long the length (63 cm) of the Farpoint will be accommodated. Generally domestic flights in the United States I’ve never had problems, but the carriers overseas seem to have much more stringing maximum size requirements.

WOW Air even gives you a nice tag when you’re initially leaving the United States. In hindsight we would have likely kept these on to minimize arguments with future desk attendants. Upgrading on flights was well worth the cost. Many people take flights for the absolute lowest cost possible, sometimes paying ~$16 was the difference between the back of the plane and the front of the plane. Our intent with upgrades was primarily to seek out getting onto the plane before other people so that we had access to storage allocations above our seats. Comfort was a secondary objective, and realistically all long duration flights are uncomfortable.

We also prepaid the luggage costs for both carry on and check. Most European carriers don’t have the same allowance for personal items as what we’re used to domestically, so prepaying saved us time and money at check in. It might sound preposterous to pay for both carry on, as well as checked, but the cost of those combined charges was usually quite close to that you would be charged by the desk attendant when you lost the argument for taking your pack onto the flight. We felt that every time we got into a bit of a scuffle, the desk attendant seeing that we had prepaid for all potential classifications of luggage was likely a beneficial social factor for us when we needed to argue about not wanting to check out packs.

Other Lessons:

  • The next trip I will pack even lighter. It’s an artifact of where you plan to stay, but by design we were never more than three or four days out from a washing machine. Taking 3+1 days of clothing is more than sufficient.
  • I’d consider an even smaller pack, but quite like the way that you can have an attached day pack with this bag.
  • I’d carry slightly less toiletries, but my wife would take little to no makeup and reduce some of her other supplies. Things like soap are quickly used up, and the cost of purchasing things in theater compared to the carrying burden is negligible.

All in all, traveling with a ‘travel pack’ was a much better experience than luggage of any other kind. I’ve used the same pack for all of my domestic trips and been happy for the ease of packing for less than three weeks, as well as the practice of trying to pack even lighter.