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How to pack for a European getaway: Backpacks

CHIC SAVVY TRAVELS

If you’re planning to backpack your way across Europe (or any continent, for that matter), it’s tempting to haul all the comforts of home with you. In this excerpt from The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, you’ll learn how to find the right backpack and why it’s so important to take less, not more (from a bigger risk of getting robbed to bigger sweat stains) — plus, take the backpack test before you go.

Why take less? For starters, it’s going to be a lot cheaper. And that’s not just the cost of the gear itself. As of 2006, many airlines began charging crazy fees for excess baggage, while at the same time lowering the standard baggage weight allowance. (British Airways’ limit, for example, dropped from 32kg to 23kg.)

Photo Credit: iStock

The pros of a large pack may seem tempting: You have more clothes for the right occasion, plenty of toothpaste, and a few creature comforts from home. The cons are perhaps less obvious, but very much worth noting:

A bigger risk of getting robbed — you’re easier to spot, have more stuff to steal, and it’s harder to run away.

Bigger locker fees — it’s harder to walk around with a large pack so you’re more desperate to find a place to leave all your stuff, and you’ll need a bigger, more expensive locker each time.

Big sweat stains — the more odour you emit, the more often you have to wash. Spend five minutes walking in summer weather with an eight-kilo pack on your back and five minutes with a 20-kilo pack and you can see for yourself.

Transport problems — it’s more difficult to run for a train or bus (and you will have to run at some point), and it’s harder to lift the pack over your head into a luggage rack without disturbing the people around you.

Picking a pack

A standard suitcase or duffel bag won’t serve you well for a journey with this much carrying involved, unless you’re up for the challenge or don’t mind having your arms lengthened to the point that your knuckles drag on the ground. A rolling suitcase is a popular option for many, but those little wheels weren’t built to contend with European cobblestones.

There are now a number of packs that have both wheels and backpacking straps. For urban travel, these can work extremely well. If you’re planning on doing a good deal of hiking, however, the extra weight of the wheels coupled with a less flexible plastic suspension isn’t worth it. At the risk of sounding like a drill sergeant, if you can’t carry it, you don’t need it.

Photo Credit: iStock

Newton’s law for backpacks would have read something like this: No matter what size pack you bring along, you’ll always manage to fill it. Therefore, the single best thing you can do is start by buying a small rucksack: 40 to 55 litres — slightly bigger than your average day bag. Once you do this, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. The stuff you don’t need simply won’t fit in.

But be forewarned: That’s not likely to be the advice you’ll get from the travel shop assistants. Just remember where they’re coming from — the bigger the pack, the more it costs and the more stuff they can sell you to put in it.

A pack is not the place to try to save money. Take an internal-frame model for support. Couple that with a major brand name (you don’t want it coming apart at the seams) and you’re looking at prices in the range of $100 to $200. There are a few bells and whistles that are nice to have, but be selective. If you’re going to forgo the wheeled pack, your best bet is likely to be the rucksacks used by climbers. They keep the gear closer to your torso for a fuller range of motion and better balance.

When looking for a backpack:
• You’d do well to skip the zip-off daypack; they don’t make the best bags and, when attached, tend to unbalance the main pack and keep your valuables furthest from your body.
• Packs that extend wide with side pockets make it extremely difficult when you’re getting on and off trains and buses.
• Packs that extend straight back (such as those with attached packs) force you to lean forward to counter the weight.
• There should be some kind of alternative opening that allows you quick access to the inside or bottom of the pack for things like a rain jacket or first-aid kit.
• Make sure there are compression straps on the outside (usually the sides) to keep the stuff inside from jiggling about while you walk and to make the pack smaller.
• Look for a top compartment that’s completely detachable, because if you can raise and lower that you can stuff things under it more easily, like a rain jacket during a hike or a damp towel on the way back from the beach. If you need to carry a bag of souvenirs to the post office, for example, the pack can “grow” to accommodate the extra gear temporarily.

The backpack test:
• You should be able to pack it in five minutes.
• You should be able to easily lift it over your head and you should be able to wear it for two hours without suffering minor back spasms.
• Someone (maybe even you) is going to sit on your pack, step on it or drop it at some point, so toss it across the room and then step on it — you may as well get it over and done with now.
• Don’t pack breakables — or make sure you pack them well.

• Even if the odds are that your pack won’t get stolen, prepare as if it will — leave your mother’s pearls, your snakeskin cowboy boots and your collector’s edition silver-plated backgammon set at home.

The most important feature is that it fits comfortably. This is not something you should buy over the Internet, unless you’ve tried it on first. The waist strap should not dig into your hips and the straps should be easily adjustable when you’re on the move. Sometimes, there’s one strap that’s meant to be sized to the wearer, and it’s not that simple to find or adjust. Have the salesperson do it for you.

Every pack feels great when there’s nothing in it. Drop something heavy in before you try it out. (Good shops have weighted inserts for this very purpose.) There are now a number of special packs for women that are worth checking out, especially if you have a more curvy or petite body type. These packs feature narrower shoulder straps, a shorter frame, and a pack mounted lower on the frame.

Click here to read more: How to pack for a European getaway: Clothes

Copyright @ 2012 Rough Guides


Date Added: February 1, 2012 | Comments (0)

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