A Backpack For Every Occasion

A Backpack For Every Occasion:
Melissa Rodway’s Travel Backpack Recommendations

I have never identified with the woman who is always coiffed and shellacked, fashionably dressed and accessorized at any given moment. I fall into that ‘other’ category. The category where I need a very good reason to wash my hair (work is rarely worthy), and where I dig through decades old clothing when it’s time to go out, instantly angry that there is nothing new and fun jumping out at me from my closet.

 My priorities have always remained elsewhere, preferring to spend time and money on experiences rather than things. Having said that, it has come to my attention that what I may lack in my wardrobe has been more than made up for in my collection of bags. 

“I have used a wheelie bag only once.”

While secretly scorning those alien women who have numerous clutches and purses that cost more than my rent, as it turns out, I am no different. I too have a closet full of bags. The difference is the type of bags. I have a backpack obsession. While other women coordinate purses with outfits, I coordinate backpacks with trips.

Melissa Rodway standing against a tree, wearing a brown backpack.
A game changer! The Osprey Fairview 40L Women’s Backpack.

I have used a wheelie bag only once. I borrowed it from a friend for a writing project in Mexico where I needed to look the part while staying at a luxury resort. I will admit it was a nice change, but this type of bag does not suit my style of travel. Nor does the luxury resort. Outside of this, I have always, and still continue, to travel with a backpack. I have the same Outbound backpack I took to Europe when I was 19 (and much too young to be gallivanting on my own without a Lonely Planet, travel insurance, friend or a plan – this was 1994, my friends). That bag does not even compare to what is out there today, with only one big compartment and two smaller pockets, but 26 years later, it is still in great shape and perfect for car camping and weekend getaways. (It is also so old that this model does not exist on the Internet).

I have my Asolo Women’s Navigator Elle 70-liter Travel Backpack which, over the past 17 years, has gone everywhere with me from Latin America to Asia to Europe. It is very much the traditional backpacker backpack with numerous compartments, a day pack and a fanny pack, and yes, I did strap the latter around my waist from time to time. It is built for long and big journeys, and is also still in great shape.

“While other women coordinate purses with outfits, I coordinate backpacks with trips.”

I use my Coleman Elate™ 8 Liter Hydration Backpack exclusively for cycling and x-country skiing as I do not like flailing around for my water bottle when I am in the zone. Take note that once your water bladder is filled, there is room for little else besides your keys, wallet, phone and sunscreen but it enables unencumbered movement. A few years ago, I hiked Mont Blanc and bought the Women’s MEC Mistral 40 Backpack specifically for this multi-day trek. It is teal and beautiful. You can still have nice things while clinging to the side of the Alps during a hail and lightning storm. I really like this bag. It suited my trekking needs being comfortable yet sturdy, and coming with the water bladder pouch and much needed rain protector. It may not appeal to those who struggle with minimalist packing. The layout of the compartments and pockets will quickly have you downsizing that pile which is not a bad thing when you are your own porter. If you are carrying a sleeping bag, it will need to be of the compact variety. I have a Patagonia Refugio 28L backpack that I use as a day bag for travel, single day hikes, showshoeing, city life, weekend jaunts and the gym. It has a lot of compartments as well as a pocket for my Camelbak which, if you are seeing a theme, is always a must for me. (I could not find my version of this bag as I have had it for a while, but this is the latest style).

“You can still have nice things while clinging to the Alps during a hail and lightning storm.”

I recently went to Europe with my partner, Sean, visiting four major cities and twelve small towns in sixteen days. As this was a whirlwind planes, trains, automobiles and buses type of adventure, we wanted to travel lightly, whip in and out of terminals, and not check any luggage. Alas, a new backpack was in order! After some research, I learned that I was not alone in my quest. There are tons of bags out there designed exactly for this purpose. No one wants to waste a single moment around the luggage carousel any more.  

I landed on the Women’s Osprey Fairview 40L backpack. From the get-go, this was a game changer for me. I absolutely LOVED it. It had more than ample space for my two weeks of clothing (granted, I am not a clothes horse, see opening paragraph), and in fact, I could have brought more. It was very light and  comfortable on my back and shoulders, which I appreciated during long walks to buses and apartments. With lots of compartments and a padded laptop pocket, I felt organized and could re-pack quickly, which is something we take for granted when living out of a bag and constantly on the move.

” We both agreed that we would never go back to checking bags again.”

Sean purchased the Patagonia Tres MLC® 45L. This looks more like a messenger bag that can be converted into a backpack. He too loved the ease, comfort and lighter weight compared to a traditional backpack. I think he also secretly liked the design, as it has a slightly more serious, professional vibe to it compared to what he has typically lugged around in the past. Just a guess. The best part was that both fit easily into all overhead storage compartments, cutting out the stress of checking and collecting bags. Better yet, that niggling fear of lost luggage wasn’t even a consideration. This was pure freedom. We both agreed that we would never go back to checking bags again. We could often be heard discussing our joy over these backpacks. Amazing what can put a spring in your step.

Although it may look different, I am not so dissimilar from that category of fashionistas. It seems we are all obsessed with having a variety of carrying options, regardless of what our individual needs are. For those adventurous souls, be assured that there are numerous bags out there designed for all types of travel, ensuring greater ease and freedom so that you can enjoy being on the road that much more. As for me, perhaps the leopard can change its spots. While on my most recent journey, I decided it was time to stop slinging my colourful woven Nepalese bag over my shoulder, trading it in for a funky leather purse that I found at London’s Camden Market. We come in many shapes, personalities and bags. We must not be afraid to embrace them all.

(Note: due to COVID-19, airlines may not permit cabin baggage. Please check with your carrier).

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