How to Choose a Round the World Backpack - 4 Decisions to Guide You

When I started looking at backpacks, I knew that top-loading packs were not an option for me. I used a top-loading pack during my 500 mile Camino de Santiago hike and learned that I did not want a top-loader. Read about my review of my Camino pack, the Osprey Kyte 35L here.
I knew that everything I would carry for a year needed to go in this bag, so it was a decision that would matter more than most. So, how do you even chose which bag to carry your life around in for a year? Follow these simple decisions to find the bag that is best for you!

Decision 1 - Top-Loading vs. Front-Loading.

Top-loading bags open only from the top with either a zipper a drawstring and a clip. These are typical for hiking and camping when you need to carry a heavy load over long distances.
Front-loading bags more closely resemble a suitcase where you zip all the way around. These are typically used for long term travel when organizing and re-packing are easy and hassle free.

My Decision: I eliminated top-loaders from the pool of packs early on, which narrowed my options down quite a bit. So front loading it was. Since I will be traveling long term, I wanted a bag that opened as closely to a suitcase as possible. I want to be able to open my bag, look around, and easily take one thing out without having to remove everything just to get something from the bottom.

Decision 2 - Size.

Most blogs suggest anywhere between a 40-65L bag for a round the world trip. Size depends mostly on two things: weather and lifestyle. Ask yourself: Will you travel in colder climates? If yes, your clothes will naturally take up more space. Will you travel with lots of equipment? If yes, you will want to have the space for it to be safely stored. Do you plan to hike frequently and carry everything with you? If yes, then a small minimalist lifestyle may be the way to go.

My Decision: Over packing has been a growth area of mine over the past year, or maybe my entire life. I always over pack, but this time had to be different. We are traveling mostly in what should be spring/summer weather so I won't need too many layers. I won't have more than my small laptop, camera and phone, and although we will be hiking, we will probably do multiple day hikes with just a day pack or a company with carriers for any longer hikes. Although I would consider myself minimalist for only bringing one bag (no matter the size) I still want to look good and have a variety of outfits for various occasions. I decided to aim for something around 50-55L total. Whether or not I buy a separate day pack is still up in the air.

Decision 3 - Removable Day Pack vs. One Bag.

Most tong term travelers have to decide if they want everything they bring to fit inside one bag, or if they want a smaller bag to bring with them to use for day trips and to have close by while in transit.

My Decision: I researched and read and then researched some more and decided that I wanted a bag with a removable day pack. If I wanted, I could zip it up to be one big bag, or I could detach the smaller bag and use it on its own. I liked that on travel days I would be able to put all of my essentials into it and have them at my feet on a bus/train or plane while my main pack would fit in the overhead or under a bus. I wouldn't have to worry about my valuables getting lost or stolen. I bought the Osprey Women's Fairview 55L Travel Bag. The bag hit all of my requirements: it had a suitcase-like front-loading zipper and it was 55L with a detachable day pack. We don't have any REI's in Baton Rouge and the outdoor sports stores that we did have were very limited in stock (mostly top-loading bags) so I opted to amazon prime a bag and try it on at home. This brings me to decision 4.

Decision 4 - Comfort.

When the bag is packed full, is it comfortable or do you feel like you are toppling over because it is too heavy? Do the straps rub your skin and itch? Can you easily adjust the torso and waist straps to be a perfect fit? Are the materials breathable or are you sweating just trying it on?

My Decision: After my Osprey Women's Fairview 55L came in, I loaded it up and tried it on. I tried it on with the day pack zipped on and separately by wearing the day pack on my front side. When I had the day pack zipped on, the pack felt heavy and my balance was all off. When I had the day pack detached, but put it on my front side, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. I realized that if I was going to buy a day pack, it may as well be one I like, not one that came with the bag and was convenient when it zippered on (since I didn't like the fit once it was attached and a full pack).
I'm thankful for Amazon prime and free returns, because without an REI close by, I was able to easily return the Osprey hassle free. I was in Dallas for Christmas visiting my husband's family and of course we spent half a day at REI and tried on every back pack under the sun. I'm tiny, and most XS bags (even with adjustable back AND waist straps) did not fit snug enough on my waist. I had them completely tightened and it still wasn't right. I tried on a few kids' bags, which actually fit pretty comfortably, but I wasn't loving any of them because they were top loading. If you have a tiny frame though (I'm 120 lbs and have a 25' waist) and are looking for a top-loading bag, check out the kids backpack section. I know it seems silly, but they were comfortable and fit way better than even many women's XS bags. If I chose one, it would be this:

Gregory Wander 50L Youth
It's a top-loading bag, comes with a super lightweight removable day pack, adjustable sizing, and front zip compartments on the waist strap.

So, What did I choose?

Decision 5 - Like husband, like wife. You married him for his good taste.

Enter the Kelty Redwing 50L.
My husband was trying on a pack that he immediately loved and I jokingly said we should get matching packs. They didn't have the women's pack in stock and it would not have fared well for me if I tried to get the exact same one, but I wasn't sold on anything else and I wasn't about to settle. Amazon Prime - and I had the Kelty Redwing Women's 50L two days later.

This pack fit all of what I decided I needed in a bag and so much more. Front-loading, 50L, one bag with all the right features, comfortable and perfectly adjustable to my frame.
Before I returned my Osprey, I took some pictures for a comparison series. The biggest difference is the Kelty is slightly taller and has better weight distribution, while the Osprey is thicker and shorter since the day pack zips on and off the front. The Kelty packs so much better and I could not recommend it more. For comparison purposes, I loaded the bags up as equally as I could and they weighed the same amount.

Why I LOVE the Kelty Women's Redwing 50L and suggest that you buy it here.

1. Front-Loading - The large U shaped zipper makes it extremely easy to take things in and out of your bag while staying organized.

2. Fit and Size -The bag uses Kelty's PerfectFIT™ suspension, which basically means that the entire back of the pack is adjustable on the go, which means you can easily adjust it while you are wearing it, yet it stays snug. The waist straps fit and the bag is cut for a women's body! This is a huge win for me since I have a small frame.The 50L is also the perfect size for me. I may get a day pack along the way, but for now my husband and I are going to share his.

3. Feels like Heaven - I'm not sure if any 25 lb bag can actually feel like heaven, but this bag comes dangerous close. The compression straps and design of the bag distribute the weight evenly and a loaded pack is sturdy as can be.

4. Padded Sleeves - In the main pack there is a padded laptop sleeve and in the front organizer pocket there is a padded sleeve that fit a small tablet. The back inside laptop sleeve also doubles as a hydration pack sleeve.

5. Organization - The front organizer pocket has open slots and extra space to keep things like tickets and guidebooks. There are two large zip pockets on the side where I keep my sneakers, chacos, and or UE Boom 2 speaker. The top of the pack has a good size zipper pocket and the sides have two mesh pockets that are perfect for a water bottle and even double with the two side zip pockets as a place to store trekking poles.
6. Front Stash Pocket - This is perfect for me to throw things like my scarf or sweatshirt in if I am on the go and need quick access. It also has a closure hook to keep things secure.

7. Straps - The straps in this bag are in all the right places. There is one large handle strap on the front so you can easily grab your bag, and two large straps on the bottom to attach a sleeping mat.

Improvements Wish List

No good review is complete without flaws or things you wish the item had. There are two things that I think would improve this bag: if it included a fly away rain cover, and if the waist belt had two small pockets on the outside. These are two features I used often in my previous pack and would enhance the usability of the Kelty. Even without them though, this bag is by far the best and I love traveling with it.
And Jesse and I did end up with matching bags. Here are a few more pictures just for fun. This was our first world trip purchase so we obviously celebrated and it was a big deal!

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