Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Taking a year off to travel is riddled by a long list of logistic hurdles. Outside of say having a career upon return, or where to go, is what to pack, and beyond that, what to put it all in. I don’t consider myself a very OCD person, but for the last few years I’ve put an obsessive amount of thought into how to pack a regulation size carryon bag that I can live out of for a full year in a variety of different climates, from everest base camp to the beaches of the Caribbean. Over the years I’ve tried a few different systems, had more losses than wins, so I’m hoping I’ve come up with a good hybrid approach. I thought I’d share some my philosophy on bag selection here, and try to write periodic reviews and critiques of it as I go. Hopefully six months from now I won’t take it all back.
There are so many bags on the market to choose from, big ones, tall ones, short ones, backpacks, rolling bags, duffel bags, rolling bags that change to backpacks, etc. The task can seem a bit overwhelming at first. I’ve read several different blogs and seen several opinions. The “backpacking” community seems to be pretty well set on sticking with the large camping backpack style bag for low profile world travel.
Up until this point I’ve gone both ways between rolly bags and backpacks. In Europe, and India I lugged around a giant bag on my back. Indeed, it was easier going up stairs, and walk down cobblestone streets, but 80% of the time I hated my aching hip sweat stained life with that thing. In SE Asia I elected for 60L Northface rolly bag. For the most part I loved it, of course when it came to walking it up a mountain, or through sand I was not the biggest fan, but overall for the type of traveling I did in SE Asia, which was mostly urban I hardly needed to pick it up off the ground.
So here I am years later facing a trip in which I expect to tackle every type of environment from miles on paved roads, to miles in jungles. This time around I’m going to try the hybrid approach. I went for a bag that is primarily a rolly bag, but also converts to a backpack if needed. After looking at literally every bag ever made in the genre I decided on the 60L Osprey convertible meridian bag.
It converts to a backpack, but unlike many bags in the series it has hip support straps instead of just shoulder straps. It also has a detachable day pack. There are a couple blogs out there reviewing long term travel with this bag that seem to have positive reviews, with the one down side that the day pack is not the best, and when attaching the day pack full to the main bag causes the whole thing to tumble over. So Liz and I decided to stick with the meridian, but get different backpacks instead. We wanted something that was small, but also big enough and comfortable enough to take on a 3-4 day hike while leaving the big bag behind. So enter the 33L Osprey stratos. I still left the daypack on the rolly bag, but kept it empty just to have a small bag to carry a few things around town in.
The two bags really seem to compliment each other well so far, the stratos is probably the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever worn, and I’m hoping will do quite well for some longer overnight treks. I also devised a way to strap it on top of the rolly bag so I can wheel the whole thing around town and not have anything on my back.
There are a couple possible downsides to this system. For one, the frame alone of the rolly bag takes up a good amount of space inside the bag when compared to say a minimalistic backpack. The rolly bag is also a bit heavier, but it’s still not weight on my back, so theres a trade I say. Even though the merridian has hip straps it’s clearly not as ergonomic as a pack specifically designed to be carried on your back, so longer hikes are probably not feasible. In the end though I elected this system because of the type of traveling we plan on doing. Yes I want to do some long hikes, but I don’t plan on brining my rolly bag on those, as my trip went in SE Asia for the large majority of the time a rolling bag will do just fine. For the 10% of the time that I’m not able to go wheeling down the road, the system can easily convert to one on the front and one on the back, for a short comfortable while.