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How to Choose a Good Backpack

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Travel tips 101: Pick the perfect backpack!

So, you’ve decided to make like a turtle and practically carry your life on your back? This guide will give you tips from travellers who have backpacked around New Zealand, so know how important it is to get the perfect backpack. There are certain specifications to look out for when picking a backpack for comfort, security, durability and practicality. That’s why we go through the ins and outs on how to choose a good backpack in this article.

Once you have a decent backpack, that’s another “load” off your mind, as you won’t need to think about buying a new one for a very long time. And once you’ve chosen the perfect backpack, fill it up with good stuff by following our advice in The Ultimate Packing List for an Extended Trip in New Zealand.

Which backpack?!

This simple guide will go through the following aspects for choosing a backpack:

  • How to choose a size
  • What features does a good backpack have?
  • How much to spend on a backpack.
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How to choose a size

There are two factors you need to consider when picking a size:

  • Torso length
  • Capacity
Torso Length

For torso length, measure from shoulders to hips in inches (the measurement backpack manufacturers often use). The shoulder strap to the hip belt needs to fit comfortably. Backpacks usually list the torso length range in their specification. It is also a good idea to try backpacks on in a store.


For capacity, manufacturers usually measure capacity in litres. Backpackers travelling New Zealand for a few months choose a backpack somewhere between 40 and 80 litres. Again it’s best to go in-store to see the size of the backpack for yourself. You don’t want something ridiculously big that you will topple over.


What features does a good backpack have?

Water-resistant material

It’s good to have at least semi-water resistant material so your clothes don’t get wet. In New Zealand, there can be spontaneous downpours, so get a backpack with a pull-out waterproof cover.


There’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to find things in your backpack. To make thing easier, get a backpack with lots of compartments.

To distribute weight evenly on your back, so it feels more comfortable, pack the heavier items in the middle closest to your back. Some backpacks come with a smaller detachable day-pack, so you don’t look like a backpack sandwich by carrying a day pack on your front as well. See what to pack in your backpack in our ultimate packing guide.

Tip: pack clothes into plastic bags to keep them separate, organised and easier to find. (For more packing hacks, check out 18 Backpacker Hacks That Everyone Should Know).

Back support frame

You can either get internal frames, which are support rods built into the backpack, or an external one, which is usually an arched plastic frame sheet. The latter gives a backpack suspension making it more comfortable to when walking with the backpack. It also allows air to get down your back, so you don’t have to get too sweaty.

Padded hip belt and shoulder straps

Where you will feel most pressure is the hips and shoulders so these parts should be heavily padded and adjustable.

Lockable zips

Not that anyone is likely to break into your backpack while in a hostel, but it’s always smart to lock your bag when going to the airport. Make sure each compartment has two zips to padlock together.


How much to spend on a backpack

A good backpack is something you are going to want to invest in. Any serious backpacker needs something comfortable and durable to make their trip easier. Once you have bought a good quality one, taking into consideration all the points discussed in this article, there is no need to think about buying another backpack again!

Be prepared to spend the equivalent to NZ$220 to NZ$350 (obviously, you will want to buy this backpack before you leave to come to New Zealand). Some big brands will charge as much as NZ$600 but don’t be obscene. These backpacks aren’t made of gold.

Want more from packing?

We have more packing advice here:

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