Mature Female Hikers Backpack Hero

December 15, 2022

Our Ultimate Guide to Packs and Packing

- By Jules Torti

Continue reading Our Ultimate Guide to Packs and Packing

Baggage. We all have it. But is it the right fit for your next trip? Cue up the scene from Wild when Reese Witherspoon topples over in an attempt to shoulder the weight of her backpack for the first time.

Maybe you’re travelling to a destination that is more “slackpacking” than “backpacking.” There will be porters and bellhops who will take your bag and some baksheesh (tip) with a smile. It will magically and effortlessly reappear in your hotel room. But, what about the rest of the time? The to and fro? That’s on you, baby!

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that travelling with carry-on only is the most efficient and reliable way to go. I’m guessing that rocket scientists actually do this when they board their rockets.

Keep in mind, there are a dozen women and just as much luggage to play Jenga with and if you’re on a small, small ship, you don’t want to be sleeping in a bunk with your too-big bag. Some trips will require that you repack (Peru Explorer, Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu, Sacred Japan and Patagonia Hiking Adventure) for a few nights. Duffle bags or dry bags will be provided, but you will be downsizing (*porterage of personal gear on the Inca Trail comes with a strict maximum weight of 6kg/13lbs including your Thermarest and sleeping bag). While camping in Torres del Paine National Park, you will be provided with a 5L dry bag for necessities )while your main luggage remains secure until your return. If you are boarding a small ship for the entire duration of your trip you can actually unpack for more than one night! Many Wild Women trips involve being on the move and having a roller bag or a backpack that suits your habits can be paramount. It’s going to be stuffed in the back of a safari truck, stacked on in a luggage cart and bounced in and out of boats, possibly in the rain

Now, to the guts of it all. Do you want a duffle bag, roller bag or backpack?


Ask yourself these questions:

  • 1. Will my shoulders and elbows be happy lifting and lugging around a duffle bag?
  • 2. What kind of terrain will I encounter in my destination? Will it be easier to put a backpack on my shoulders instead of rolling a bag across cobblestone or loose gravel?
  • 3. Ergonomically, with a backpack, will your back be happy with all that weight? Insert sweating here too. After queuing up in line for 45 minutes, are you going to be happy? Newer packs will have ventilation features 
  • 4. What will be most manageable for you to carry up and down stairs?
  • 5. Can you borrow one from a friend or family member to test-drive?

Weighing Your Options

Duffle bags: They provide lots of packing real estate–but things can also go missing unless you are hyper-organized or choose to use packing cubes. They can be cumbersome to lug but are easy to squash into an overhead bin.

Roller bags: These make transit through airports a breeze. But, be mindful of your elbows if you’re pulling them. Try pushing the roller bag upright, at your side, or mixing it up. Hard-sided roller bags can be limited while a soft-sided roller offers less rigid space.

Backpacks: You can be hands-free and walk around the airport with a coffee AND hold your passport without shifting weight and bags around (and slopping above-mentioned coffee). Depending on the type of pack, items can be buried at the bottom but many designs have quick-access pockets for in-demand items. Keep this in mind with daypacks as well. Bags that have two zippered compartments allow you to keep in-demand items in one area (snacks, SPF, hat) and just-in-case items (rain kit, sunglass case) separate. 

Day packs: Do you want to have your water bottle on the exterior, tucked into a pocket that you can easily slide your bottle in and out of? Alternatively, you can choose a Camelbak style pack (with a straw attached to a built-in bladder that you can refill). 

Backpacks are definitely not one-size-fits-all. We recommend visiting your local outdoor outfitter and trying ALL of them on. Ordering one online may be convenient but how a pack fits and sits is unique to your body type and the brand. Osprey and Arc’teryx are Wild Women staff favourites and we cheerlead the non-profits and communities they support. Whatever you choose, don’t overlook the value of investing in a pack cover as well. Some will be built-in to the bottom of the pack, ready to unzip and pull snugly over your pack in a drizzle. You can purchase generic ones or brand-specific covers that can be cinched over your pack. Keep this in mind: too big or too small easily translates to too wet!

Our Community Engagement Manager, Cline’s backpack of choice: a 46 L Osprey Porter. Below, a snoop inside her pack for the India Horseback Riding Tour!

Your Homework

Click here for a helpful tutorial  from REI on how to choose a backpack and determine what size, features and capacity are best for you. Do you know where the “brain” of the backpack is? You’ll find out!

This link from Mountain Equipment Company (MEC) will walk you through the versatility and limitations of certain packs and backpacks as well. There’s lots to consider. Do you want hip belt pockets so you can access your phone or lip balm? Do you want a hydration port (that supports using an internal water bladder) or water bottle sleeve? 

Osprey has a playful interactive tool to help you determine your ultimate pack too, just choose the icons that match your needs to be paired with your best fit here. The company is deeply-steeped in community involvement and is partnered with Outdoor Afro and the Pacific Links Foundation, an organization that provides educational opportunities for sex trafficking survivors in Vietnam. This video clip highlights Osprey’s giant support of women in the outdoors. 

Both REI and MEC have their own pack lines which are typically more affordably priced than giants like Patagonia and Osprey. Cotopaxi, famous for its rainbow-coloured options, is a fun, sustainably-geared brand with a climate neutral-commitment and admirable Gear for Good program. You can trade in any used Cotopaxi gear for a gift card or have it repaired by Marge the Mama Llama. Patagonia also had a solid return, repair or replacement program. They also have a Recrafted (clothes made from other clothes), Seconds and (Im)Perfectly Patched Worn Wear initiative. Check out the Worn Wear gear page for pre-loved packs!

Wild Women’s Facebook community and private trip pages are the best place to compare notes with your fellow travellers. Just ask, “Who are you wearing?” Our women love to help each other out with ideas, hacks and packing suggestions. You’ll hear from women who have just returned from the trip you’re going on with ground zero intel!

Hacks From our Smart + Savvy Wild Women Community

We asked our Wild Women community about their own travel hacks – thank you for your everyone’s input!

  • If you sleep with one eye open, no doubt the little blue, green or red light on the TV or AC will be burning right into your retina. Andrea G’s hot tip? Use a Band-Aid to cover up the offensive light and enjoy some actual shut-eye.
  • Marla B. posted, “This might seem obvious, but I always like to pack…space…for a special remembrance. I sometimes intentionally plan to give away my things to make room too.”
  • Dawn W. shared her affection for travel cubes and a near mishap. “I was on the Ultimate Morocco trip this year and packed everything in travel bags (cubes) inside my large duffle bag. The zipper on the duffle bag failed, opening about 8 inches on the flight home and amazingly, I didn’t lose anything. The travel bags were big enough they didn’t come through the opening. I also used a luggage strap which stopped the opening from expanding any larger….lucky me! Had all contents been ‘loose’ who knows what would have been lost? The travel bags also are extremely helpful in keeping everything organized making it easy to find what you want.”
  • Julie L. seconded the brilliance and streamline beauty of travel cubes. And, leaving some S P A C E.
  • This packing post also attracted one of Wild Women Expeditions’ much-loved Galápagos Islands guides, “Lulu.” She highly recommends “a bag of maple candies, this will open many doors.” Lulu is an unapologetic fan of Canada’s maple candies, so, if you are Canadian and Galápagos-bound, you’ve been told!
  • Shari W. suggested a paper clip which dumbfounded me. I thought she was alluding to the story of how a Montreal guy started with a red paperclip and ended up with a house after 14 trades. You can read the paper clip story here. Cline O. said she always carries a paper clip in her wallet because (wait for it) “I use it to swap out SIM cards everywhere I go.”
  • Marlene L. chirped in with this savvy idea: “Small amounts of creams can go inside contact lens cases.” (*Not with your lenses, of course, because then you’ll have to pack something else to remedy that issue!)
  • Jennifer M. always uses an adjustable strap to help compress her bag and suggests filling the inside of your packed shoes with stuff to double-down on space.
  • Tanya G. suggested plastic vacuum storage bags to compress clothes and a power bar if you’re travelling with your phone to alleviate any draining battery anxiety!
  • Valerie D. swears by a sarong. They are so versatile–you can use them for an impromptu picnic blanket, a hammock, salad colander or coffee filter if need be.
  • Karen H. offered what is perhaps the most sage and perennial advice: “Pack light. The end.” 
Remember, we have your back, and backpack!

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