How to Pick a Bag

by Col Forbin October 11, 2017

An investment in Merino wool clothing to shrink your packing list down to a carryon is a travel game changer. Merino wool T-shirts, underwear and socks will drastically reduce all those bulky essentials down to a few key pieces.

That said, an equally wise investment for the minimalist traveler is a  versatile backpack that is designed for travel. There are a lot of options out there, so we’ve created this helpful guide to get you started.

Start by determining the size of bag you will need.

Picking a size  really depends on your packing habits, and travel plans. If you apply the principles of Unbound Merino to minimize your packing, you can stick to a smaller travel backpack that you’ll be able to carry-on or even stow under the seat on an airplane.

Look for something that is no more than 40L. The bag that’s right for you will fit everything you need, have extra room left over just in case, and will feel comfortable on your body.

You really won’t know how comfortable a bag is until it’s fully loaded. So make sure you’re buying it from a retailer that accepts exchanges and  refunds. A quality travel and outdoor outfitting retailer will have some weights that let you see what your future bag will will feel like when it’s stuffed.  This should give you a clear indication if your new bag will keep you comfortable when on the move abroad.

Here are some features to look for:



This feature means the bag opens up just like a suitcase. This will have a huge impact on accessing your things and keeping your bag consistently organized while on the move. A traditional top loading bag will have you digging through your stuff every time you need something.


The ideal bag will have more than just one large compartment. This will help you get to your stuff quicker and keep things organized and seperated.


Look for something that isn’t two wide and doesn’t have too many straps or buckles hanging off it. This will keep you from bumping into people when in cramped buses and airports,  and unwanted snags.


Having easy access to your things while on the move is critical. Avoid a bag that will require you to take it off and open the entire thing up just to access your most frequently used items. Look for extra compartments that you can access easily while still wearing the bag.


Most quality bags will display their “D” Rating. The higher the D rating,, the better and more durable the material.  Also, inspect the bag’s stitching, and zippers. Both should feel rugged and tough. If a brand offers a full guarantee of the bag, you’ll know you’re getting a quality product.  


This is the part of the bag that will be in contact with your bag whenever you’re on the move. Although thick foam padding might seem idle, this will likely make you hot and sweaty. Look for a back panel that allows for airflow and doesn’t press up entirely against your back.


This is where you can keep your most frequently needed items when traveling. Itineraries, phone, sunglasses, boarding passes. You’ll want this at the ready and separate from all of your other stuff.


For most travel needs, your backpack will not need to be totally waterproof. However, some water resistance is ideal just in case you’re caught in the rain.


Each compartment has two zippers that can be locked together.


This will let you use carabiners to attach extra load to your bag. You won’t always need them, but it makes the bag a lot more versatile.


This is a standard feature on most travel bags these days, but look for a compartment that will keep your computer secure, separated from your stuff and easily accessible.


Traveling ultralight is the name of the game, but sometimes you might need to pack a little extra, or you’ll want to bring something back. An expansion gusset will let you find that extra room necessary should the need arise.


A really long warranty is always a good indicator of quality and gear that will stand up to punishment.


With the basics out of the way, here are a few things we recommend you avoid:



When shopping for a bag, specifically at camping supply stores, you’ll come across a lot of tall hiking backpacks that load from a big opening at the top. These are way more popular than a panel-loader. Avoid them. These make accessing your things very difficult – you’ll literally need to unpack the entire thing just get a pair of pants from the bottom. By the end of your trip, your bag will be an unorganized disaster. Skip the headache and always go with a panel loader.


A new trend to hit the travel bag market is bags that are overloaded with features and compartments. At the end of the day, these bags are trying to predict a variety of needs and situations. In our opinion, the features will get very complicated to manage and are not very adaptable.


Opt for a bag that is understated to avoid drawing attention to yourself. There’s no reason to advertise that you have something of value on you at all times.


Same goes for colors. Not only will a brightly colored bag attract more unwanted attention – it will be more prone to scuffs.


Look for a bag that is no wider than your body. This will make sure you’re not bumping into stuff when on the move in tight conditions like a bus in New Delhi or a crowded night market.


              Col Forbin
Col Forbin


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