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Got Your Back? The NEW Backpack

A good travel backpack isn't going to be particularly couture; there will be no multitude of straps or attention-getting devices. It will be easy pack, easy to unpack, and not be murder on the shoulders or lower back.
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Carrying bag after bag of purchases on Rodeo Drive may actually be fairly fashionable, but do the same in the night markets of Marrakesh and there is the argument you could be tempting the wrong kind of attention. But be it in Morocco or Missouri, street robbery can happen anywhere and deep-six any vacation equally. While there is no foolproof way of make oneself unassailable to sticky fingers, there is merit to the adage of making yourself so difficult to rob that it simply isn't worth the effort.

You wanna go to those night markets! You wanna buy stuff! And even if you are in the safest place there is, you still have the issue of carrying it all. Here is where backpacks come in.

Keep in mind I am not talking about a book-bag, the utilitarian and somewhat shapeless, bulky thing you had in high school, but rather a close cousin that makes travel a lot easier. Backpacks have more than one virtue over the other standbys: Adjust them correctly and a backpack fits snug to the body while at the same time being out of the way. Your arms are free, your shoulders are relatively free, and you don't have to worry about it falling off or flopping from side to side; once it is on, it is on. And speaking of shoulders, by going over both, a backpack's weight is more evenly distributed (ask a women what a heavy purse slung across her "purse shoulder" feels like). More often than not, backpacks also have more space to pack things and still be convenient to carry and move around in, and can even double as part of your carry-on, a method of luggage I prefer.

And then there is the thievery issue: purses and satchels are easy to steal even if you are wearing them at the time. There are plenty of stories out there of both getting yanked off people either by some particularly fleet-footed thieves or more enterprising types that ply their work from the back of a motorbike. Sadly, most purses and satchels are not made with strength in mind. A good backpack, however, can take a few hard tugs and still come out none the worse for wear.

I asked around, did some research. A good travel backpack isn't going to be particularly couture; there will be no multitude of straps or attention-getting devices. It will be easy pack, easy to unpack, and not be murder on the shoulders or lower back. That actually narrows the field a lot:

Oakley
Say "Oakley" and you think sunglasses, but the company can dress you head to toe. And most of that can go into what is possibly the best-named backpack out there, the Kitchen Sink Backpack. Heavy-duty but with a cool "Star Trek" sleekness, this style-conscious option features a padded back and adjustable shoulder straps for comfort even with all-day wear, along with small side compartments for a hard-media player and a big inside one for a 17" laptop. Holding up to 34L, you can not only hit a few night markets, but probably a few department stores. Which leads to the metal clip technology as a theft-deterrent; this backpack hard to get into without the wearer knowing. And yes, it as a pocket for sunglasses (a few of which are made to take a few travel-related whacks and live to tell).

Herschel Supply
A bit more low-key, the Iona Backpack is an unpretentious, straightforward carrier holding up to 24L and best for destinations where blending in as much as possible is on your to-do list. A cinch top closure keeps your valuables in and the outside world at bay, while the contoured shoulder straps and reinforced base come together to create something you can get on and off easily and which can take a few heavy items without much fuss. The rectangular shape is also a plus--you can easily stow it in an overhead luggage bin.

Patagonia
Rough-and-tumble types swear by this maker, and for good reason--Patagonia is made to last. But you do have to get specific, as there are backpacks for everyday situations, mountain climbing, wet environments, travel, and lots of other site- and use-specific needs. For travel, the 32L-capacity Black Hole is a good bet. Its waterproof construction make it a smart choice for outdoorsy destinations, and the folding lid makes this backpack a lot bigger than it seems. The zippers run the pack's full length; easy access is a plus on those annoying occasions when airport security demands you unpack your luggage for inspection.

And it is not just as a piece of luggage where a backpack shines. David Perry, a fellow travel blogger, prefers them to carry his camera equipment since walking around with a camera case screams "tourist," and because a camera case has to be one of the most awkward things you sling over your shoulder. Instead, the camera case is what goes into the suitcase, and once he is on-site, the backpack takes over. He prefers backpacks with at least two interior compartments; one for the camera, and one for whatever he buys along the way. Another carry-on traveler, he tells me that unless something can pull double-duty, he rarely travels with it.

Now that technology is so portable, a backpack easily takes the place of a computer carrier, which usually does not have much room for anything else other than a computer. As a "personal item" in addition to your carry-on, a backpack affords more space for more of whatever it is you need on a trip.

Look at it this way: have a backpack on your back and it is is one less cross and one less monkey, two things no vacation needs.

*No payment or exchange was carried out with any of the above mentioned companies in mentioning their brands in this article.