Best Backpack for Thailand | How to Pick a Backpack for Thailand

best backpack for Thailand

How do you pick the best backpack for Thailand? A travel backpack is essential for traveling in Thailand, but what features should it have? What size should it be? 

When I backpacked along the Banana Pancake Trail years ago, I used a small shoulder bag.  It was definitely more practical than a roller suitcase for moving along the sometimes sandy and usually potholed roads. Unfortunately,  it was incredibly cumbersome to lug around on motorbikes and I’d pray it wouldn’t fall out from between the drivers legs as we ripped through the chaotic traffic. Even worse, it left me counting my steps as it pulled my entire body to one side.  If you travel with a backpack you’ll breeze over the potholed or dirt roads, jump on and off motorbikes, and do it all without killing your back!  

What features should you be looking for in the best travel backpack for Thailand?  What are the deal breakers and what could be considered optional ? Our Khmer Explorer Travel Set was built to be the best backpack for Thailand or epic adventures across the Banana Pancake Trail. That said, this post will help you make an informed decision in choosing the best backpack for your trip to Thailand. So let’s dive in! 

How big of a backpack do you need for Thailand?

Most people backpacking Thailand seem to like traveling with backpacks 35L – 70L in size. There’s a large minimalist mob out there that seems intent on convincing the world that if it’s not a carry-on (typically under 40L) you’re doing something wrong. In my opinion, that’s completely false. Yes, it’s nice to avoid picking up a bag at the luggage carousel, but it’s really annoying having to be forced to be hyper aware of accidentally exceeding your liquid quota, accidentally packing your favorite swiss-army knife, or meeting the strict weight restriction  issues you inevitably run into with checking a carry-on backpack. Additionally, I didn’t even mention the annoyance of fighting with everyone on the plane for an overhead bin spot!

Perhaps most importantly, everyone values items on their packing lists differently! For some, it may be worth it to pack a couple nice clothes and a fancier pair shoes for a night out at Skybar in Bangkok, or have the space to bring their own scuba mask, or room for their camera case for their mirrorless camera and a couple lenses. 

I’ve traveled with both a 30L pack and a 60L pack in Thailand, both worked great. Ultimately, traveling with this 60L pack,  allowed me not to won’t worry about having space for that extra Chang Beer tank top 😉 and I was under no obligation to fill it to the brim. I also find it much more enjoyable to have an emptier pack then one that is bursting at the seams. 

What features should a travel backpack for Thailand have?

There are a couple key features to look for when choosing the best backpack for traveling in Thailand. 

organization inside the best backpack for thailand travel

Impeccable organization

This should be your number one priority when choosing a travel backpack for Thailand!  In fact it was this reason that led us to start this company and build the best front-loading backpack. When traveling in Thailand, you’ll consistently see disheveled looking backpackers on street corners or at bus stations frantically unloading their lives belonging from a top-loading hiking backpack. Your life doesn’t have to be like this! The right travel backpack should open like a suitcase, have tons of pockets and provide you with complete access to everything inside. It should provide a spot for keeping dirty gear or shoes separate, and packing cubes are always a plus! We even put a secret pocket into our backpack for those times that you need to stash a small valuable like your bank card or passport. Take it from me, there is nothing worse than scrambling to pack for an early morning bus after a late night out with too many Chang! Make this process as easy as possible with a pack that focuses on organization.

Weatherproof

If you get stuck in a tropical downpour in Thailand it will leave you drenched. If you pick the right backpack your stuff doesn’t have to join you. Any good travel backpack should be weatherproof and utilize a coated fabric to help water bead off and keep your stuff dry. It’s not waterproof, meaning you can’t drop it off the party boat and expect your stuff to stay dry, but it will keep everything dry even in a monsoon downpour. Ensure the backpack has a PU coated fabric or something similar. 

travel backpack with locking zippers for thailand

Theft resistant

Thailand is a safe country to travel in and you can feel incredibly relaxed here. Unfortunately, minor theft and pickpocketing can be common. Ensure you pick a travel backpack that offers lockable zippers and put your locks on when you leave your room or during any transit days to keep unwanted hands out. 

Ergonomic and height adjustable

If you’re sitting on the back of a motorbike or walking for a kilometer or two in the equatorial heat, comfort and adjustability go a long way. Plus, not everyone is the same height or shape making it absolutely critical you can adjust a backpack to your height and torso size. Hiking backpacks get used so often because they’re comfortable to carry. Fortunately a good travel backpack can do the same thing, without forcing you to carry your gear in an organization-less potato sack. 

I actually field tested our Khmer Explorer Travel Set as a hiking backpack on a 75 km journey on Canada’s rugged West Coast Trail. It was comfortable even with 60 lbs in it, proving the point that a good travel backpack can be the best of both worlds. 

Stowable hip belt

A robust hip belt takes the majority of the weight off your shoulders and back, making your pack more comfortable to carry. I know, you don’t see runway models wearing backpacks with hip belts, but they’re incredible to have for the times your shoulders and back get a bit sore. Plus, some travel backpacks provide a small hip belt pocket for phone storage and let you stow the hipbelt away and completely out of sight when you wish! 

Optional features to consider in a backpack for Thailand

Depending on your personal preferences these features may also be worth considering

laptop bag

Laptop storage

If you plan on traveling with a laptop and only using one bag this may be a feature that you consider.   Personally, I often prefer to use a small daypack for my laptop or use a laptop sleeve with a shoulder strap

Water bottle holder

Generally, I don’t find it essential to have my bottle instantly accessible at all times, but if you do this may be a feature you look for in a travel pack. Another option would be to consider a multi-functional approach – using a detachable bottle holder that can also act as bottle sling like our Bottle Sling Bundle

That sums it up! Hopefully this was helpful in narrowing down your search for the best backpack for your trip to Thailand. Drop me a line in the comments below if you have any questions about choosing the perfect backpack! 

Happy travels! 

10 Ways the Khmer Explorer Travel Set Will Improve Your Next Trip

Travel Backpack Khmer Explorer

At first thought your travel backpack may seem like a small detail required for your next incredible adventure. While it may seem insignificant, the wrong backpack or luggage can waste your time, cost you money, and hold you back from having the trip of a lifetime. We built the Khmer Explorer Travel Set after years of struggling to find a full-size travel backpack that was large enough for gear intensive adventures, but also had features designed specifically for adventure travel. The Khmer Explorer will transform your life on the road. You’ll  spend more time focusing on the fun parts of travel like meeting new friends, experiencing new cultures, and learning more about yourself. Here are 10 ways the Khmer Explorer Travel Set will improve your next epic adventure.

1. Get (and stay) organized with the integrated packing system.

Packing cubes are essential. They keep your gear separated, allow for the compression of larger items, and prevent your stuff from spreading out everywhere when you get to your destination. Unfortunately, most packing cubes weren’t designed for your backpack and force you to pack around them.  The Khmer Explorer’s packing system was built to integrate seamlessly into the back compartment of your pack. No more fussing to fit everything in.  Keep your shirts, shorts, and pants neatly rolled and pull the packing cubes out when you arrive at your destination. Effortlessly lay them back in when you’re ready to go. Yes, organization can be this easy (not to mention beautiful!).

Our Front Loading Backpack

2. Separate your wet gear and dirty clothes.

Sometimes you have to pack up in a rush to catch a flight, bus, or train. Maybe your swimsuit hasn’t dried, or maybe your shoes are smelling a little worse for wear… Regardless, the last thing you want is clean-dirty cross contamination! The Khmer Explorer’s integrated packing system features a removable shoe/wet gear bag is the perfect solution. Use it for carrying your shoes, muddy boots, dirty laundry, or wet towel and keep your fresh stuff, fresh.

3. Access all of your gear at any time.

Before we built the Khmer Explorer we travelled for years with top-loading backpacks and experienced firsthand the frustration of digging to the very bottom of them to unearth a clean t-shirt (sometimes after becoming the unfortunate victim of a bird sky bombing…). That’s why the Khmer Explorer has two easy-access clamshell compartments to give you full access to any item you packed, no matter where you are. 

lay flat clamshell design travel backpack

4. Enjoy the comfort of a hiking backpack without the drawbacks of a hiking backpack.

Hiking packs are great. They were built for carrying big loads over long distances and varying terrain. Sadly they leave something to be desired for organizing a travel wardrobe. The 60L Khmer Explorer uses an ergonomic hiking suspension system to keep you comfortable on the road. Fully height adjustable, the harness adapts to fit all body types and sizes comfortably. Plus, the integrated (and concealable) hip belt is bolstered and padded to take up to 80% of the weight off of your shoulders. This means you can stop fearing long walks and focus on the incredible adventures you’re having.

5. Carry all of your travel gear no matter the adventure.

At 60L in size, the Khmer Explorer was designed to carry everything you need for your next adventure. Whether you’re planning to hike the Inca Trail and need room for your hiking boots and sleeping bag, or you’re planning a 6-month SE Asia adventure and need room for all of your best beachwear and full moon party shirts, the Khmer Explorer has room for it all. No matter how epic the trip. 

6. Keep your gear dry, even in a downpour.

Travel is constantly unpredictable. So is the weather. The Khmer Explorer is fully weatherproof and both the exterior kodra nylon and interior packcloth materials have been twice coated (PU2X) for extra anti-water power. So whether it’s monsoon season or a flash downpour, you can rest assured your gear will stay dry even when you don’t (unless you have an umbrella that is…).

7. The flexibility for any type of trip.

The Khmer Explorer was built to adapt to adventures. Whether you’re going camping in Canada, trekking in Nepal, becoming a yoga teacher in Indonesia, or sensory overloading in India, this pack was designed to be flexible. Stuff it to the brim or use the compression straps to make it smaller for less gear intensive adventures. Travellers have used their Khmer Explorer Travel Sets on a week-long hike across the West Coast Trail, a weekend trip in New York City, a 10-month epic around the world, and a yoga retreat in Bali. The biggest question is where will you explore?

8. Support children's education, while you get your global education.

We believe that education has the power to change the world. And travel is an investment in your global education. We believe in taking this a step further. That’s why every Khmer Explorer supports the education of a child in the developing country of Cambodia by providing 2 meals a day at school for a year. The name of the student you helped go to school is embroidered to the left strap of your pack as a symbol of your ability to make the world a better place.

Banana Backpacks Embroidered Strap

9. Keep the bad guys out.

Part of travel is growing through discomfort. Having stuff stolen is a bit too far on the discomfort scale. That’s why we’ve built in several features to give you the peace of mind you need when you’re on the road. Both exterior pockets feature lockable YKK zippers to keep unwanted hands out. You’ll even find a secret stash pocket hidden in the main compartment that happens to be the perfect size for your passport, credit card, or emergency cash.

10. Built to last for years of adventure.

Your bag is your home away from home and should last for years of adventure. The Khmer Explorer was built using premium 500D kodra nylon and YKK zippers to make sure that’s the case. We’re so confident that this bag will last that we stand behind it with a lifetime guarantee. If you have a problem with your Explorer, contact us and we’ll make it right. 

Carry-On Travel Backpacks | Facts & Fiction​​

Ahhh carry-on backpacks. Who needs professional baggage handlers when you can lug all of your stuff in a carry-on bag  across the vast expanse of a massive airport with only the assistance of numerous moving sidewalks? My legs hurt just thinking about it!

Ok, I’m being a touch dramatic…

There is certainly a time and a place when carry-on is the best solution. I did my first 5 month trip around SE Asia with only a 30L shoulder bag filled with a couple of tank tops, t-shirts, a pair of flip flops, and a couple pairs of shorts. That said, aside from a little bit of walking and some diving, I spent the bulk of the time getting acquainted with the local beer of choice and lounging on the beach. Not really too gear intensive of an adventure.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, carry-on has now become a solution that is labelled as one-trip-fits-all. Even worse, angry corners of the internet travel community seem to proclaim anything but carry-on makes you some form of a lesser traveller. They get together to spread alternative facts across the travel blogging world, all while sporting red hats bearing the slogan “make luggage great again”… Riding a populist wave, these groups leave a trail of hatred and malice in their wake, by shunning everything non-carry-on and all clothing not made exclusively from Merino wool…

Ok, maybe I’m being a touch dramatic again.

Let’s just say the carry-on only crowd are a passionate lot and there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to the idea that you gotta be travelling carry-on. That’s why I’ve put together this list of reasons why the carry-on solution is not the be-all end-all solution to travel backpacks. I confess that some of the time carry-on is the optimal solution. However, it does not constitute the “last luggage solution you’ll ever need”. On a long journey, a carry-on bag can easily be a nuisance in its own right. Here are a few reasons (both comical and serious) to think twice before joining the alt-luggage community and swearing allegiance to the carry-on no matter the circumstance.

It’s selfish.

Many of the blogs and articles advocating a one-bag solution and carry-on only will tell you to wear your bulkiest items on the plane. This allows you to pack everything else in your bag (and fit it in). This is perfect for your fellow passengers who will either get to sit next to a derivative of the Michelin Man or try to move your coat, boots, 5 sweaters etc. from the overhead to make room for their personal item.

loaded up with carry on

You have to do all the work:

On most international flights your carry-on luggage is included free of charge. That’s so nice of the airline to give away another freebie on top of booze, airplane food, and mini pretzels! Not quite. You’ve paid for your checked baggage in the cost of your ticket, but have decided you’d like to try out a career as a baggage handler instead of leaving it to the pros.

Security sucks:

Instead of 1 or 2 bag trays, you get to pick through your bag for all of your liquids and gels and then cause a logjam as you wait for your 8 trays to come rolling through and proceed to practice your best repacking time in front of 100 people.

Carry-On Standards vary country to country:

You know your favourite toenail clippers? The ones that have been passed down through your family from generation to generation. They trimmed your grandma’s cuticles and now they’re trimming yours. In some countries, they might be carry-on approved (Canada allows small knives up to 6cm), but in other countries, you’ll be saying a teary goodbye to your strange family heirloom as the big bad security guy scolds you for your naivety (don’t even think about a small knife in the US).

It’s disrespectful to the memory of Anthony Bourdain.

The late and great Anthony Bourdain was quoted as saying  “I check my luggage. I hate the people struggling to cram their luggage in an overhead bin, so I don’t want to be one of those people.” Enough said right there…

Most of the concern of lost/delayed luggage is fear-mongering.

I’ve taken hundreds of flights over the course of my life and have never lost a bag or even had delayed luggage. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you face less than a 1% chance that a major airline will misplace your bags. Furthermore, delayed baggage is also quite rare. The best thing? If you have a travel credit card you’ll typically have insurance for delayed luggage – turning an unfortunate situation into a blessing and a new wardrobe!  If you’re still terrified of losing a bag, follow these tips from The Points Guy to help mitigate the 1% risk…

Carry on is not always free. Sometimes it’s even more expensive.

“Stop paying for a checked bag” the Facebook and Google Ads scream! That does sound nice… but is it true? Yes and no. In the U.S. and Canada, the majority of domestic carriers will charge you for checking, but not for carry-on. For international? The first checked is typically free so no benefit to carry on. What about ultra-discount carriers? This is where it gets a little murkier. In Canada, both Flair and Swoop charge more for carry-on than for checked (for both checked baggage is $5-20 dollars cheaper depending on the time it was purchased). In the US, Frontier charges the same for either ($30-$60 – it’s $5 cheaper for checked if purchased in advance). 

It’s nice to be free of your bag or backpack for a few hours.

When you travel, your bag is like your child. Like most parents, you love it dearly and always wonder if it’s okay. Sometimes though you need a rest, and it’s important to have a bit of “you” time. Checking your bag gives you that time! If you’ve ever walked around the expanses of Heathrow, Hong Kong International, Narita, or Dubai you’ll appreciate the feeling of freedom and Buzz-Aldrin-like weightlessness that checked luggage affords.   

You’re cheating the weigh-in and hoping you don’t get busted.

With a carry-on bag, you’re like a boxer or UFC fighter trying to drop down a class to fight a different opponent. Sure you may look like you meet the guidelines (you can fit your bag in those weird metal bag measurers), but when that smiling baggage attendant asks you to place your bag on the scale, you’re left with a sinking feeling. Then the weigh-in comes and you’ve blown your weight restriction out of the water. You’re left scrambling at the check-in desk to find a plastic bag to haul your in-flight essentials before bidding adieu to your “one-bag” as it journeys down towards the checked baggage hell you so feared.

If you don’t believe how easy this weight barrier is to cross, check out this fun infographic I built of a purely hypothetical, yet realistic, carry-on packing list (I even weighed each item myself :)….). Note that China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Cathay Pacific (among many other major airlines) restrict carry-on bag weight to 7kg (yes, I’ve been busted before).

It is (often) worse for the environment.

There’s been a huge push by the carry-on travel community to flaunt the idea that carry-on only is the answer to travel’s environmental impact, and maybe even the solution to climate change as a whole…. Who needs the Paris Accord, when you can carry-on!  Yes, I’ll confess that the potential for weight reduction can be beneficial for reducing jet fuel consumption, but this argument completely disregards the numerous incredibly harmful effects of carry-on only. Weight reduction benefits are easily offset by travel-sized containers and the purchasing of inexpensive items abroad on a use and dispose basis. I recently chatted with a traveler who bragged about her 25L bag, only to add the caveat that anything she doesn’t have or can’t carry she buys there and throws away. Environmentally friendly? I think not.   

Now that I’ve finished my transition to pariah of the online travel community by encouraging you to consider checking a bag, I’ll say this as a closing remark, I have no issue with traveling light and I have packed and traveled quite comfortably out of a 25L bag. That said, there are plenty of times and plenty of trips when traveling with a larger bag like our 60L Khmer Explorer Travel Set simply makes more sense (you had the option of stopping reading before the product plug…)!

Happy travels friends!

-MF