When I first started to plan my Southeast Asia trip, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be packing all my stuff in a backpack. Midway through planning the trip, before booking my volunteer placement and plane tickets, I was sure I’d be using a rolling backpack. By the time everything was booked, and after reading about 8 million travel blogs, I knew that a real backpack for Southeast Asia was the only way to go.
I went through 4 options:
Osprey Porter 46L from REI
In November, I went to the SOHO REI store and asked the friendly sales reps which backpack they’d recommend for a 3 month Southeast Asia jaunt. They pointed me to the Porter as the only option worth considering for my type of trip (no hiking, lots of public transit). Despite its turtleish silhouette, I really loved the roominess and the structure of it. I tried it on with some weighted sandbags, and while the fit wasn’t quite there, I ordered it to be shipped to me in red at a fantastic sale price.
Once I got the Porter home, I gave it a test run by shoving a bunch of random crap from my room into its cavernous depths, including my million pound Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guidebook from the library. I could handle the weight while pacing my living room, but the straps were just not designed for my short torso and the lack of decent hip belt wasn’t going to cut it for my back. It’s an incredible, super lightweight bag, and while I am 5’6″, I highly recommend it for anyone who is less vertically challenged in the torso area.
E-Bags Motherlode Weekender Junior and E-tech Junior
I knew these bad boys weren’t going to fit the bill right out of the box. They look like regular rectangular suitcases, or over-sized kid’s backpacks. They are both super flat, and while they expand in depth, they are awkward and much smaller than the Porter, clocking in less than 40 L each. I bought the junior versions because my torso is short, but the size sacrifice was just too great, not to mention the complete lack of any support structure. These bags might be great as a secondary carry-on to a wheelie suitcase, but I don’t think these succeed as backpacker packs. Neither one was the right backpack for Southeast Asia.
Kelty Redwing 50 L
Ah the bag of my dreams!! While not 100% perfect, this bag has the right amount of space for a three month journey. I loved that it fit well on my back and wasn’t too tall that it hit my head, as many other backpacker packs do. The soft shell makes it smushable for stuffing under beds and buses, but the rigid back and support system make it sturdy and comfortable to wear. Since the pack unzips ALMOST all the way it is easy to get my packing cubes and other items in and out. There are a great amount of pockets for organizing and a lot of options to adjust the fit to your torso. I will write a more thorough review once I have lived with the bag for awhile, but after EXTENSIVE research this is definitely the bag for me and the one coming to Asia!