Travel Gear: Luggage

For our upcoming trip to Italy, Marcus and I will be trying out a new (for us) style of travelling: backpacking. In the past, we have done full checked luggage including large garment bags when we went on our Cruise. We have gone with standard carry-on-with-wheels. Lastly, we’ve done some short weekend trips carrying everything for the both of us in one rolling carry-on. That last one was an awesome trip to Minneapolis with some friends, one of whom packed an entire suitcase of potential outfits for a three-day weekend. I truly sympathized!

I’ve always had issues with picking outfits, just ask Marcus how long it takes me and I’m sure you’ll get an eye roll. For Italy, I wanted to do things differently. We can’t afford a ‘lavish’ vacation where we stay in 4-star hotels and dine in expensive restaurants. Research brought me to one of my favorite sites: The ladies there gave me an incredible amount of new perspective on travel; starting with how to pack.

When you are budget travelling, that can mean a few things. For us, it means we will stay in hostels, where having less stuff is always a bonus. Having always previously packed things into a suitcase, I started to see how less luggage could mean a ton more freedom. Enter the backpack.

In Madison we have a few brick and mortar stores to shop for travel gear. REI and Fontana Sports both carry packs for pretty much any purpose. Research has been a major boredom kicker for me lately and I have accumulated a pretty impressive list for what I am looking for in a pack. Since we are planning to travel to other parts of the world, it’s a good idea that we plan for the less friendly places we might visit later while we look for the perfect packs.


We will be taking our packs as carry-ons, which does restrict the size. The ease of not having to check, pay for, and the retrieve luggage is very appealing to me. We need to be able to meet the restriction size of 22″ x 14″ x 9″. We also want to make sure that the fully packed bag isn’t going to be cumbersome and heavy in the event that we need to walk a long distance carrying them. For myself, I’m looking at a pack around 35Liters and Marcus might do 40L. One thing I have learned is that stores selling packs will have sand bags that you can put in the pack to see how it feels loaded. Sales people are incredibly helpful for this and they can also help determine if the fit is correct.

Ease of Use

Most of the bags I’ve looked at are top loading. This would mean that in the event you may need, say, that pair of shoes at the bottom of your bag, you need to either make a huge mess digging around the bag, or take everything out and then end up still making a mess as you shove everything back in the bag. Not my idea of orderly. Front loading packs appear to be so much easier! Unzip the front and everything is laid out and easy to find, just like a regular suitcase. Brilliant! Packs with this option are much harder to find but they are out there.

Some of the Bells and Whistles

  • Camelback ready- Marcus hasn’t decided yet if this is something he needs. I’ll be skipping this feature
  • Locking zippers-Safety!
  • Neutral color- don’t want to draw unwanted attention with a vibrant color, like hot pink.

 So What Did We Get??

2014-02-05 08.41.04I chose the Osprey Kestrel 32L. I have a short torso, so this one feels in fit more like a traditional backpack. I tried larger packs but they seem to sit too low on my hips. My Kestrel is front loading, has nicely padded shoulder straps, a few small pockets, a rain cover, and it’s red. Not the most unassuming color, but I actually like it!

We learned that you actually get fitted for a pack with this plastic size thing. Can’t thank the salesman at Fontana Sports enough for how helpful and candid he was with us about packing, travel, and really anything we had questions about.

Marcus chose a more unique pack that is reminiscent of traditional carry-on luggage. The 2014-02-05 08.41.41Osprey Porter 46L is made for the very purpose we intend on using it for! It is the larger and more boxy size but with a front load, tons of inside pockets, and a very sturdy backpack construction. This one doesn’t come with a rain cover, but we can always buy one (or use a garbage bag?) later.


Purchasing our packs is more of a milestone in my planning than it might be for other people. We are starting to accumulate the things we will use for travel, and as our pile of gear increases it signifies to me that the trip is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon. I always love having things to look forward to and this trip is no exception! One more giant piece to check off from our planning list!


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