Travel Gear: 40 liter backpack

Why a backpack, especially 40 liter backpack for one bag travel?

The number one thing is a backpack. A clamshell opening. 40L. Get something durable.
I have reasons for all of these things.

Advantages of a backpack

  • Easier to get around - If you need to run to catch a bus, you can do it. If you have a duffle bag, this prospect is much more difficult.
  • Hands free - You can grab a drink or food and not have to mess with your bag.
  • Active - If you want to bike, you can easily bike.

Why a clamshell opening for a travel backpack?

  • Look at everything at once - Compared to a typical top-opening backpack, with a clamshell opening, you can easily open it and look at everything at once. With a normal backpack, you need to dig to get things in the bottom.

  • Downside is that if you do open the bag, everything is visible. If you are on a train, it is easier to open a top opening backpacking and keep contents inside and discreet. With a clamshell, you can get around this limitation by having the things you likely need to access at the top of the bag (water bottle, jacket).

Why 40 liter size for a travel backpack?

Despite using smaller bags on many trips, I have not gotten my ideal size lower than 40 liters. Here's why:

  • Extra space - I pack enough stuff that i easily fit it all in 20L bag. 40L is quite large, but the space is so helpful. You can use it to bring back souvenirs and gifts. Without the extra space, you would need to bring a second bag.

  • Fits in all overheads - This size fits in overhead bins. Especially if you get a soft-sided bag. It would also fit underneath the chair, potentially, but it will take up all your space.

  • Alternative: One alternative is a duffle bag with backpack straps. It is nice to have the opening be against your back because it is better for security. The duffle is very nice because it is even easier to get at stuff, plus it is discreet. Duffle bags hold surprisingly much for the perceived size.

bag system for travel – one 40L bag, one small; for EDC – one 40L bag, or one small

airline bag sizes

ryan air carry on size is 20 liters
delta carry on size is 45 liters and one personal item like a laptop briefcase
spirit airlines personal item is 33 liters
spirit airlines carry on is 64 liters
sun country under seat item is 32 liters
sun country over head is 64 liters

28" L x 15" W x 14" H
Personal item (e.g., purse, small backpack, etc.): Dimensions must not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels.

Carry-on bag: Maximum of 22 x 18 x10 inches (56 x 46 x 25 cm) including handles and wheels. We may require that a carry-on bag travel as a checked bag if it cannot be safely stowed on a particular flight.

current bag

current bag is a patagonia black hole duffle at 40L
this is about the right size for me, given the stuff that i carry for the gym.
when i was carrying the backpack, it was getting tight

additionally, i like the design of a duffle bag. it is easier for me to access the stuff in there compared to a roll top.
i have a full zip open bag, and while i like it for onebag travel, for day to day, it is nicer to have the duffle.
the design of a duffle allows access to all the gear.
the problem with the full zips is that the gear spills out.
if i am sitting on a train, with my bag on my lap, i can open a duffle, dig around, and then get what i want to out. if i had a roll top i have to take stuff out or dig around to get to the stuff on the bottom. if i had a full zip bag, then basically the stuff all spills out.

i would like a leather carry all bag, that would be nice too.
i would want one with straps that were shorter. that way, i could use the straps as backpack straps occasionally.


40 liters for large things, everday carry
40 liters for one bag travel, especially to have stuff with extra room to bring back

15-20 liters for daily carry without gym equipment
maybe 18 liters.


there are actually only a few designs
you should distinguish between carry design and opening design. few people discuss this difference.

carry designs

  • strap over the shoulder - briefcase, small weights, stylish
  • messenger style - quick access, some like them in the city, i do not
  • backpack - i like this for the city, less stylish, but for biking and moving around, it can't be beat
  • duffle straps - hard during the winter because you need a hand out, more hands on, can carry, looks good to carry

these can obviously be combined, for example, some duffle bags can be worn on the shoulders, and also have a strap.

my preferred carry design is backpack or duffle. the strap over the shoulder seems weird to me because i can never get the bag to sit properly. messenger style would be appealing for quick access, for sure, but i do not like the distribution of weight. i solve -> mitigate the quick access issue of backpack with front pockets or jacket pockets.

use cases:
travel, day to day carry, large loads, biking - backpack
larger day to day carry, casual use - duffle

open designs

zip top backpack - think jansport
roll top backpack - open bucket that rolls down
duffle - u shaped zipper is more user friendly than the straight across zip
full zip - think GR1

my favorite is actually not on this list. it is the roll top, except instead of a roll, you just flap the top down and have cinch straps. that allows a lot of carry. you see so few of them made in a good size. i guess you could use a roll top in a similar way.

zip top - usually found on backpacks, i do not prefer these
roll top - i like the roll top for weather proofness (rain and snow), expandability, and security
duffle - u shaped openings allow access to everything without much movement
full zip - great for packing and unpacking because you can access everything quickly when you open it. however, it is more difficult to access discretely compared to other types, because you pretty much have to open the whole bag

day to day - roll top, duffle, avoid the full zip. roll top bags are fun because they are expandable, they are usually backpacks, and they are secure. they are not that quick to access, which you can mitigate with a jacket or other pockets. however, a messenger is fastest for quick access. then again, i rarely need quick access to everything large, mostly it is my phone, so i can put it in a pocket, jacket, or even bum bag.

travel - full zip, duffle, roll top in that order. the advantage of full zip is when you are constantly packing and unpacking. with a full zip you can access and put away the entire contents quickly. the disadvantage is that doing this discretely is difficult. if you are in a sketchy area, you pretty much have to open the entire contents for everyone to see.
a u shape duffle is a next best option. you have to dig around, but otherwise, they are nice.
i would use the roll top if it was, say, a biking focused trip because most of the roll tops are backpacks, or if i had a size limit that i could not get a larger bag in. that said, i have had no problem with getting an underpacked large backpack in.

bags i want

a leather or waxed canvas duffle - to be used for daily carry when i want to carry something with style. 40L is a great size for stuff. it is on the larger size for stylish carry, but great compromise. examples would be filson or frost river. -> specific is the filson 48 hr duffle or the medium carry on frost river, but the filson is better for me.

a nice roll top backpack - frost river arrowhead is the only option. there are two sizes, and i'd have to measure to see which one. however, after getting the duffle backpack, i am starting to see that i might not need it. there is something nice about the accessibility of the duffle for day to day. -> could also make one.

duffle backpack - patagonia black hole 40l is about perfect for this job. i have a bright green one. if it was black or more discreet that would be cool. but then again, bright green is fun. -> i have one, but black would be nicer

a smaller day bag - there are days when the 40l just seems too big. like if i am just running out to get a few groceries. a smaller roll top could be the answer there. 18-20l. -> i have a smaller backpack, the chrome delta or the patagonia sling

daily carry best types of bags

ironically, for small carry, i seem to prefer the backpack over a small duffle or briefcase. i like being able to wear a backpack and be hands free.

i have two nice briefcases, a filson and a duluth pack. the duluth pack one i actually bring to interviews, but it is too small for my daily carry needs. the filson, well, if it did not have so many dividers, i would probably be happier using it. ironically, it is easier to store papers, books, and notebooks vertically in an upright backpack. when i use the briefcase, everything kind of floats around.

use cases for myself

i have small daily carry days
i have large daily carry days
i have travel days

small carry - a smaller expandable rolltop or a smaller sized duffle. basically a smaller rolltop or a larger briefcase / smaller duffle. 18 liters. i have a briefcase. could get the frost river arrowhead. now i am leaning towards the filson 48 hr duffle.
large carry - just go with 40L duffle, if you can get it. i have the patagonia. i might stick with it. for biking during the summer, it just can't be beat. a stylish duffle, i actually already have one, but the straps are too long, and, well, whatever.
travel days - an entire category, but basically, two bags, a main bag and a packable day bag.
the backpack, i already have it. 40l full zip backpack.
packable day bag, i am working on. either the cinch backpack or a packable messenger. i would like a black briefcase style one or a black packable messenger. but not a canvas messenger bag...not packable enough. maybe a canvas messenger bag, dark color, with a cross strap? or a tote bag -> daylight briefcase, basically something that is packable and a black briefcase. i have the blue and black one and that gets called up most often during travel 🙂

frost river arrowhead
tom bihn briefcase
leather clutch folio - not enough space because has to be long, that is buying into a lifestyle of having important documents

You want stuff and security more than you want to vagabond around

You want stuff and security more than you want to vagabond around.

What are the things I really need in life?

Well, I mean there are basics that have been covered with something like Maslow\'s Hierarchy of Needs. Food, Shelter, Water. Social Connection.

The things I have for hobbies are important too:

like sports equipment

Eating and functioning:

like transportation pots, pans, cutlery clothes

So what is all the stuff that is in the house right now?

  • Clothes - too many clothes
  • Sports equipment - too many hobby clothes.

Out backpacking, I am having lots of fun, feel good and all I have are the things on my back. Food, Shelter, Water. I am with people that I love. And we are out doing things that are fun and fulfilling. I know what to do each day. I am getting healthy.

So why not do that everyday? Save up enough money and just move around, plenty of people are doing it.

But. You need a job.

You cannot do that everyday*. What I think people mean is that there are restrictions, like making money, having money for food, safety, etc. True, but that is really a money problem more than an impossibility problem. If you had a ton of money, you could do it, right? You could do, well whatever you wanted, right?

*You are right, you cannot just vagabond around all the time. But you can do it for a segment of time, and you could do it while making money through other means [LINK].

Okay, if in some magical world, you could have enough money to vagabond around, then yes, you could. But. Who can do that?

Well, realize that if what you REALLY wanted was to move around, then you could figure out a way to make money, and have money skills [LINK], and do that. I have met people who do that*.

  • A doctor that works for a beach resort.
  • A doctor that works in an "expensive" country 3 months of the year, then lives in a "cheap" country the rest of the year.
  • Random person who did contract jobs online for US companies while living in Asia in a high rise.

*maybe I should interview them sometime.

Yeah, BUT. That looks like it sucks.

I do not think it does. However, you may be away from your family. It is, however, possible.

My main point is actually that I do not think most people want to vagabond around.

You place your own restrictions on things. I think that people value stuff and security and being where they live, more than the ability to travel all the time. I mean it is pretty clear given the choices people make.

If you want it so bad, work for it. Work and figure out the path.

So what?

Well I think I just want people to admit it. I just want myself to admit it. I value working for this job, now, more than I would just moving around the world and living day to day and bumping around.

On social media there are all kinds of people and accounts of people traveling the world and making money off their accounts. While it looks glamorous, I admit, it must be a lot of work too. And potentially the work may be difficult.

If I really do want to travel, but have a job, what do I do now?

Be happy you have a job. It can give you the chance to save up, to gain skills, to figure out what you want.

I need you to stay awake, though.

Keep gaining skills, keep lowering expenses, keep figuring out what you like, keep moving towards independence, figure out who you are, learn, read, travel, figure out how to rest, what makes you happy, joyful, what you need to be safe, how to be safe, how to be happy, how to be yourself.

That is it? Just be happy I have a job? That seems unsatisfying.

Yes, just settling is unsatisfying.

Make sure. You Stay. Awake.

So when the time comes to pursue what you are \'meant\' to do. You have been preparing, you have been working, and You are ready.

Any last tips?

By doing the work, you create the right time.

plane entertainment

one time i flew to spain, and i only brought a pair of bluetooth earbuds. they fit great and i figured that i could charge them while i was on the flight too.

when i finally got to the 10+ hour flight, well, then i was stuck with a pair of earbuds that did not pair, no book, and an inflight magazine where the crossword had already been completed (incorrectly) by a previous seat tenant.

you should value redundancy. here's my list now:

Read more

future clothes and other low packing tips

here's an unusual move for me. i packed without using a packlist. unusual because i used to just pack and it was bad. then i got into a mode where i really thought about it and then tried to go really low. so low that i even had less clothes than i thought just because i expected to buy clothes while on vacation.

tips to get your clothing way low:
wash every night
wear wool
one pair of pants
one pair of shorts
one pair of shoes
wear mostly flip flops intead of shoes because now you need less socks

tips i have used to get my clothing low:
account for shopping - before a trip i make a minimal packing list. usually this consists of something like outlined here. on trips where i am expecting to purchase clothes, i work those 'future' clothes into the packing list. some common purchases are things like before i had nice boardshorts, i wanted to buy some while we were in hawaii. when we went to europe, i purchased a linen shirt. when we went to the philippines, i knew i would purchase a few t shirts.

wear mostly flip flops - when it works, it works. on casual trips to warm places that have casual dress code, flip flops are great. they pack down small and don't require socks. not needing socks means you can bring fewer pairs, or just go longer between wearing pairs.

universal wear - instead of bringing dress socks and athletic socks, bring one pair of wool socks that can do both? i don't know. i think this does not work that well.

make a packing list - the most basic tip, but you will see it is so important it is worth expressing. additionally, there is value in only packing for 3-4 days regardless of whether the trip length is longer. just do laundry. taking 2 actual weeks of clothes with you means that, well, by the end you are transporting mostly dirty clothes? easier to pack 3-4 days worth of clothes and do laundry twice. some clothes can be worn without washing in between, jeans for example.

how not to suck at travel packing – simple pack list for warm weather

here is everything i know. so far. about traveling. we travel for fun, to mix up the inputs you are receiving in order to increase creativity. for intelligent people, novelty can be very engaging. without some sort of plan, however, sometimes you can end up doing the same things you would do in Anywhere, America. Need help on choosing a location to travel?

My traveling is focused on more active things like biking, running, swimming. And centered a lot on walking and eating. I do not do much shopping.


shirt - running 2
shirt - nice 2 (combination long or short sleeve)
pants - 1
shorts - 1 go with convertible swim trunks
socks - 2-3 more in winter, less in summer with slippers
underwear - 2-3 quick dry is nice

jacket - task jacket. options: thin softshell as a blanket on plane or in really air conditioned hotel or airbnb. in winter full insulation, but this is a summer list. rain jacket if wet.

flex layer - ex. sweatshirt, flannel, extra swim trunks. if there is some specific activity you may be doing a lot of...ex. maybe another pair of running shorts?

plane items -
buff - good as an eye cover, extra insulation, headband

accessories - chargers, etc.

a jacket instead of a backpack for EDC travel

When traveling, one issue I have is storing small items. A jacket is usually one of those things I might store. However, I could also think of using the jacket as a way of storing things. I have a small softshell which I use this way.

It seems like instead of getting a small briefcase for use while traveling, I could just get a light jacket that is appropriate to use during the warmer climates. A blazer could be stylish, go into the evening, and be put into use like a woman's pareho, or to cover up valuables like a camera.

If warm, could put it on the ground to sit on while on a picnic too. Then again, if it is warm enough for a picnic, maybe I'm not wearing a blazer, but a small backpack. Or I could go light linen blazer. I guess I have a concentration on keeping things light when traveling during the summer, but during the fall and winter, more of a focus on a jacket and being prepared for weather.

Beach day? Bring a cheap, cross-body bag, that's fine. Spend your time, money, and effort on getting good at volleyball, working out, or organizing a beach trip with friends...something that will actually improve your experience on the beach vacation.

Just a thought.