backpacking: yay or nay?

the-romantic-the-winoWe have a confession to make: up until our recent adventure, we had never actually done the whole “backpacking” thing. Surprising, right?

Ehh… not really, for those that know us. Both of us have a chronic over-packing issue (though we’re trying our hardest to improve this in the new year), which means traveling with just a backpack always seemed out of the question. Even if we stick to carry-ons only, a regular suitcase always seemed to fit more–with the added bonus of not tipping us over as we made our way up escalators.

When we realized that we’d be traveling via train, plane, or automobile everyday in Switzerland and Ireland, we had to start re-thinking the rolling suitcase ritual. Dragging a suitcase through every train station in the Lake Geneva region just didn’t sound appealing–ahthankyou, plethora of cobblestones throughout Europe. And so, after much deliberation, we decided we’d give backpacking a try.

It took many packing attempts and required some balance training, but we both managed to fit everything we needed into two sturdy–and perfectly sized!–packs. We present to you our very scientific pros and cons after our first attempt at backpacking:


The “Nays”

1. They’re (pardon our French) fucking heavy. No, seriously–they are. This could be due to our first-timer ignorance, but the first day of lugging around our packs was borderline miserable. The trip from Manhattan to JFK airport was so tortuous that we were sure we’d abandon the backpacking idea before we even touched down in Europe. And before you get all uppity, no, we didn’t overpack. Our repeating of outfits over 7 days is a testament to such nonsense. We blame all the wool.

2. Packing space is…limited. We’re not total prima donnas, but we require the basic necessities to look our best. A lot of our normal traveling items didn’t make the cut when it came time to pack our backpack. Looking at you, extra shoes and…well, that’s pretty much it.

3. You have to pack and repack EVERY DAY. Packing in a backpack meant that every morning we were reorganizing our clothes and repacking. Though, come to think of it, this may also have been because we were moving from place to place almost every day… soo… carry on, then.


The “Yays”

1. Convenient as hell. As always, carrying on a bag eliminates the added wait time when you arrive at your destination. But, more importantly: as anticipated, trekking uphill through Verbier in the snow or making our way up and down the cobblestoned hills of Lausanne… well, we’re pretty sure lugging suitcases would have been the death of us.

2. Our cool factor went way up. There’s just something about the look of a backpack that makes a traveler seem way more legit. Even though our trip only spanned 7 days, we could confirm that we were “backpacking through Europe” whenever people asked–and they asked a lot. After all, it was technically true.

3. It seriously limited our shopping sprees. Ok, so we have some willpower issues when it comes to spending. WHATEVER. We will say that the thought of adding anything extra to lug around made us shop wisely and carefully consider how much we actually need the entire winter line at Top Shop.

4. Burn off that raclette/fondue dinner combo! It was like carrying a third grader on our backs for seven days straight, so we can only assume it kept off the extra pounds that most certainly would have awaited us if we were daintily pulling our regular old suitcases along.


The Details

1. The Kelty Redwing 2650 – Though we’re backpacker newbies, the hubs relied on his for the three months he spent living on the French Riviera and has used it for every trip abroad since. It’s about a billion years old but has certainly stood the test of time, so he happily lent it to the wino for our excursion. Likes: front zip opening makes it easy to pack and unpack–which we did MUCH of over our week-long adventure. Dislikes: it’s more squat than it is tall, so balance seemed to be a little bit more difficult for our dear wino.

2. The Osprey Kestrel 48 – The hubs has been persuading the romantic to get a backpack of her own for years (apparently he doesn’t like wearing a pack AND pulling the rolling suitcase when she gets tired) (wimp), so it was time. Likes: though the front zip was preferable, the backpack opens from the top and bottom. This wouldn’t be that exciting, but if you mix this with the use of packing cubes, the heavens open and angels sing. Fact. Dislikes: definitely smaller than the Kelty. This isn’t really a real negative, because that was the point after a run-in with carrying on the Kelty on Spirit Airlines back in May, but still. Growing up is hard, guys.

Despite the nays, we’re officially converted to backpack enthusiasts. We’re sure to learn a few packing tips as we further immerse ourselves into the backpacker life, but for now, the soreness is worth it for the convenience. (Ok, fine, and the cool points). Also, sorry, Kelty. The romantic came home ready to convince the hubs to trade in his old standard for a manlier version of her new favorite travel accessory. The wino, on the other hand, is still in the market and seeking recommendations.

So, travelers. Tips? Advice? General questions? We always like to hear from people who sit firmly on the “OH HELLLLLLL NO” side of the backpacking line, so please! Chime in.


the romantic & the wino




  1. December 28, 2012 / 13:44

    It definitely limits what you buy on the road! We seriously bought nothing after 2 months through Europe, because neither of us wanted to carry it around. When we went, I had a backpack and Brian ended up last-minute switching to a rolling suitcase because of back problems – the rolling ended up being fine! He had to carry it up stairs at some points, but it wasn’t too bad.
    Christina recently posted..Journey to the Top of Europe – Part OneMy Profile

  2. Britany Robinson
    December 28, 2012 / 13:57

    The packing and unpacking part is the worst, but having a front loading pack definitely helps. My backpacking partner was ready to toss hers off a tuk tuk after weeks of completely taking apart her top loading version, just to find socks or something.

    Other than that, I’m all for them! And yes, mostly because they look cool. 🙂
    Britany Robinson recently posted..Mongol Rally Finishers Dave and Deb on Turning a Team into FamilyMy Profile

    • December 28, 2012 / 14:00

      haha yeah, luckily the osprey is top and bottom loading, so it wasn’t too bad… but front loading is definitely more convenient.

      i also didn’t realize how serious the names are?! redwing vs. kestrel just sounds so aggressive.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..backpacking: yay or nay?My Profile

  3. Britany Robinson
    December 28, 2012 / 17:36

    They’re like motorized rickshaws that they drive in Asia and I think in South America too. They should really have them in NYC. Aaaand I think I just came up with a business endeavor for LTs and SOTC for when I come back!
    Britany Robinson recently posted..Mongol Rally Finishers Dave and Deb on Turning a Team into FamilyMy Profile

    • December 30, 2012 / 14:24

      after just wearing our packs to get from point a to point b, we give you major props for wearing one on a big hike!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..backpacking: yay or nay?My Profile

  4. December 30, 2012 / 11:31

    Haha, this is so true! I used a backpack in Africa, but luckily it was in the truck most of the time, so I didn’t need to really carry it around. When I did have to carry it, I was not a happy camper.

    The shopping thing is also true, but that didn’t stop me. In fact, when I met up with Jeff at the end, we had to buy a duffel bag to fit all of the stuff we had accumulated, and this was on top of me getting rid of the majority of my clothes. After camping, it just wasn’t worth trekking them home.

    I think I’ll stick with backpacking, but not for every trip. 🙂
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Looking Back on Resolutions Made.My Profile

    • December 30, 2012 / 14:26

      yeah, there are times where we’re sure we won’t want a backpack, but looking back, there are definitely a few trips where they would have been way more ideal!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..backpacking: yay or nay?My Profile

  5. December 30, 2012 / 17:48

    I have heard many good things about the Osprey…not surprised it was liked! The backpack is also a great way to limit the shopping spree…but there is a solution! I generally pack a second bag…not rocket science where this one is going! As the movements wind down, I can collect the items I am looking for and voila…second suitcase, or shuffle of hand luggage to avoid extra freight charges! I spent 3 months walking the Camino this fall – needless to say…shopping was on a must need now basis. I wasn’t hauling any extra weight each day! When it was all said and done, with only 2 weeks left in Europe…SHOPPING SPREE!!! Had to buy a new suitcase and paid a few extra fees, but it was worth it for the amazing clothing haul that came home with me! Oh yeah…and the extra shoes! What can I say…it is a weakness!
    The best thing…you can decide yay or nay on each trip! Happy travels ladies!
    Anita Mac recently posted..Top 5 Travel Experiences from 2012My Profile

    • December 31, 2012 / 13:40

      yess, lots of people have recommended the second bag, but we thought we were safer with limitations. someday we’ll have the space AND the budget. and ideally a man named jeeves to follow us around and carry our shit.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..backpacking: yay or nay?My Profile

  6. December 31, 2012 / 13:25

    a lovely debate indeed.
    for the “nays” – number 3 is not true… you can get a backpack that opens completely and you can get what you need without moving all your items…

    for the “yeahs” – cooler, well that is a matter opinion… i might think so, well, i think it makes one a tad more adventurous 😉 but your friends across the pond – the luxurious with a swiss bank account – maybe not.

    overall – I say Yeah and Nay… I use both types, and depending on the trip I select my suitcase or backpack.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    ps – I own an Osprey.
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted..Sunset Sunday – Looking back at the Sunsets of 2012My Profile

    • December 31, 2012 / 13:34

      hmm #3 must just be a case of practice makes perfect? don’t think the bags were problem, which means it must be us hahaha

      looks like osprey wins again!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..backpacking: yay or nay?My Profile

  7. December 31, 2012 / 20:24

    When I spent three months backpacking SE Asia, I finally broke down and found a post office and mailed a box full of extra clothes and souvenirs back home. It was not as expensive as I thought it would be and not that difficult.

    As heavy as the backpack can be, it does not seem to be on the back all that much. I did do a couple of quarter mile stretches from hotel to hotel or hostel, but most times I was just carrying it to a cab or train or bus.

    I want to get a backpack that has zippers at the bottom so you can conveniently get to stuff without taking everything out. My current backpack you have to completely unpack if you want the thing at the bottom.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Training and coverage of the 2013 American Birkebeiner MarathonMy Profile

    • January 2, 2013 / 09:00

      we thought about mailing things back if we found something we really loved, but it wasn’t necessary after seven days. can see how that would change after three months, though!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..rtw rookie: booking your airfareMy Profile

  8. January 1, 2013 / 14:30

    ok. don’t tell anyone BUT i’ve done the whole backpacking thing once upon a time. while you make excellent arguments about ease & train travel, having been reminded of this first hand in Italy with Leah, yeah…i’m just not a backpacker. i’m that glam girl with the giant roller bag you laugh at. what can i say? i need options & i like to look good. besides, my next investment is a pack mule in the form of a strapping young man! 😉
    lola recently controversial musings for 2012My Profile

  9. January 1, 2013 / 19:41

    Yeah, not happening. I do carry a backpack when I travel, but it’s to carry my computer, cameras, cords, and stuff I need on the plane. I still will carry a suitcase, despite the pain in the ass it was to lug onto Italian trains. Oh well. Like Lola said, I need options and I’m willing to have a little back pain for that privilege.
    Leah Travels recently posted..12 Favorite Posts from 2012My Profile

  10. Jacqui M
    January 2, 2013 / 04:14

    I love my backpack. Hubby and I have been using backpacks for years but lately I am finding that I need something smaller. With such a large pack I tend to fill it with useless things just becuase I have the space. I think the time has come to finally ditch ole’ faithful and downsize! x
    Jacqui M recently posted..Jacqui’s Ultimate Bucket ListMy Profile

    • January 2, 2013 / 09:04

      yeah, the weight was a doozy, but for all our whining, we got used to it eventually. i imagine if you’re traveling for a long time, you’d build up the back muscles that we are clearly lacking.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..rtw rookie: booking your airfareMy Profile

  11. January 3, 2013 / 13:52

    I lived out of my LL Bean back pack (super hardcore– I know) while in Istanbul for a week. It had top load and side load features, which seriously helped in grabbing stuff at the bottom. I think that *when* I do a longer trip, I’d invest in one that is sized for me in-store (I ordered mine online). Kudos to you ladies for trying this out for the first time! I really should consider this for Paris…
    Natalie @ In Natalie’s Shoes recently posted..2012 HighlightsMy Profile

  12. January 4, 2013 / 06:39

    You’re so right with this post girls – personally, I can’t stand the packing/unpacking part. However, when I travelled to Mexico I found a clever rucksack from Gelert that zips all the way around and opens back like a suitcase. Saved a lot of time and stress! 🙂
    Fiona recently posted..A Very International Christmas TreeMy Profile

  13. March 12, 2013 / 19:40

    Keep up the great work. I really love it. I will definitely visit regularly.

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