How to Choose a Pack for Traveling

By Peter Landsiedel

Emily and I decided early on that we wanted to travel light. When I was 17, I convinced my parents to let me backpack around Europe for a few weeks with my good friend Linden (that’s a whole ‘nother story I’ll save for a later post). We had an absolute blast, but in my naiveté I brought way too much crap. I had a North Face 75 Liter pack that I filled to the brim with clothes and gear and camera equipment and stuff that I didn’t need, and never used. I won’t be making that mistake again. Traveling with the bare minimum does a number of wonderful things including, but not limited to:

  • Saving a significant amount of money on checked luggage fees
  • Lighter loads are easier to carry and will fatigue you less than a heavy pack
  • It’s easier to maneuver in crowds with a small pack
  • No more waiting at baggage claim for your luggage when you only have a check on
  • You don’t have to worry about losing your luggage if it’s always with you (ask me about that time Lufthansa lost *all* my luggage when I moved to Berlin in 2007)
  • It forces you to bring only the essentials (i.e. to live sturdily and spartan-like… to rout all that is not necessary)
  • It makes traveling by bus/car/train easier when you can slide your pack between your legs and not have to put it in an overhead bin or under the bus.

So what was important to me when buying a pack? My ideal pack needed to have the following attributes:

  • 38-44L (Most airlines carry on cutoff is 45L)
  • Under $325
  • Weighs less than 5lbs
  • Panel Loading (instead of top loading, like many backpacking packs)
  • Shouldn’t scream “MILITARY TACTICOOL”
  • Included Hip belt and sternum strap
  • Exceptionally Durable
  • TSA Carry On Compliant
  • Compression Straps
  • No Wheels
  • Must be able to comfortably carry ~30lbs.

As Emily can attest, I spent *months* looking for a pack. I went to every outdoor store in Helena and Great Falls trying packs on and inspecting lots of different bags. I narrowed the search down to five packs. All of these packs had different pros and cons and I compiled a list of them:


Pros: Exceptionally durable. Made in the US. Fully panel loading. Fantastic organization. Perfect size (40L)

Cons: Expensive ($395). No sternum or hip strap.Have to purchase those (and water bottle holder) separately. Isn’t made to carry weight on hips. Could be very very uncomfortable on long hikes. No compression straps.


Pros: Small, durable. Made in the US. Fully panel loading. Great Organization. Cheaper than GR2. MOLLE on front panel could be useful for a small pouch to gain some additional storage space.

Cons: Still expensive. No sternum or hip strap (or water bottle holder). No compression straps. Probably too Small.

Mystery Ranch 3DAP (33L)

Pros: Great organization, hip belt, chest strap. Bomb proof. Made in Montana (Bozeman!). Carry on compliant. Made to carry lots of weight. Outstanding reputation.

Cons: Expensive ($325). Maybe too military looking? Just a hair smaller than I’d like, at 33L.

Gregory Savant 48 (48L)

Pros: Great Price, good brand reputation, nearly the perfect size.

Cons: Durability is something I couldn’t find much info on. Hard to find, as it may have been discontinued, and I never actually got my hands on one.

Kelty RedWing 44 (44L)

Pros: Economical (~$150). Great size, good organization. Solid design. Felt comfortable on my shoulders.

Cons: I tried one on in Helena and it felt… cheap. Ruggedness is something that is probably a deal breaker. Handling it in person undermined my confidence in the materials used.

After hemming and hawing over which pack, I finally decided on the Mystery Ranch 3DAP in black.


It checked off all the boxes, except for size, and it was on the upper end of the price and weight spectrum. I ended up selling my Eberlestock GR2 Gunslinger to help offset the sticker shock. I’ve had the pack for a few months and used it on a few weekend trips to Billings and Bozeman with it. I love it. The materials and overall quality are top notch and I am very happy with it. Stuffing everything I think I need into the pack is going to be a challenge, but it will force me to pack light. I’ll provide a more detailed overview of the pack and its features, but for now I wanted to provide some insight into how I chose the pack I will live out of for 9 months.

If you’re interested in the pack Emily chose for the trip, see the Osprey Farpoint 55 and her reasoning in her post, “Women’s Carry-On Packing List for a Round the World Trip.”

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