Name a bag, and I’ve bought it. Ebags. Osprey. Patagonia. Cotopaxi. Baboon. I go for function over fashion. While it’s trendy to find the cutest bag to throw over your arm – after running from terminal to terminal on a short connection, having a backpack instead of a large, albeit cute, bag is going to make life so much easier.
My North Face Recon backpack that I bought years ago, has stood the test of time. This backpack is the perfect personal item.
This backpack is the perfect personal item for carry-on-only travel, hands down.
Here I am going to tell you what I love about it, why a backpack as a personal item makes sense, and how to pick the best bag for you!
Why use a backpack as a personal item?
There are several reasons I use a backpack. The top two reasons? It’s practical, and it’s comfortable.
Comfort: I carry 15-20 pounds of gear in my backpack. Since I travel carry-on only most of the time, half of what I bring on a trip is in my personal item. Having a backpack evenly distributes the weight across my back and shoulders. With the addition of the chest strap and hip strap, even when I am carrying a heavy pack long distances – ever run from one side of O’Hare to the other? – I can manage the weight much easier than with a duffel or tote.
Practicality: Backpacks, by their very design, are set up to organize your items. My former mother-in-law once told me: Everything has a place. Simply put everything back in its place. Easier said than done. But it’s the golden rule for travel. If you create a system that works and replicate it every trip, things go so much smoother. While I do change things by trip, and I certainly continue to experiment with the best systems, how I pack my backpack has remained consistent for a few years, with one new change, which you can see in the video!
How to pick the right backpack as a personal item:
Comfort is key! Here is what I look for in a backpack – and what I love about the Recon.
Straps: Straps should have good padding; what I like about the Recon is the CURVED straps. The top of the strap near the shoulder is around 3” across. The straps taper down to 2”, making it much more comfortable near your chest (breasts). I have had so many backpacks that dug in and were so uncomfortable.
Padded back and venting: My pack is heavy! A nicely padded back keeps my equipment, such as my laptops, cords and camera gear, from digging into my back. The venting keeps me from completely overheating when moving around a warmer climate.
Laptop protection: I always have at least one laptop, sometimes two! I have a work-issued laptop that I carry when I am traveling and working. I also have my personal Macbook for my Journey Here work. Having a bag that is specifically designed with a laptop sleeve that doesn’t allow the laptop to hit the ground is key. I have accidentally dropped my bag so many times with my laptop in it and, thankfully, never damaged it! However, this prevents the bag from standing upright on its own.
Organization: If you watch the video, you’ll see that I have a favorite pocket. It’s at the top front of the bag. This stash pocket is designed with a lined interior to keep your sunglasses from scratching, and that is great. But I use it for so much! It’s great to stash anything I want quick access to without digging through the rest of the bag. On the plane, I can easier access this, and often it continents: earbuds, chapstick, ibuprofen, mints, my phone, small wallet etc.
I like having compartments. Each compartment has its own use. The middle compartment is big enough to hold my camera bag, my large toiletry bag and my purse.
But won’t I look like a tourist using a backpack as a personal item?
First: you probably already do. Secondly, depending on where you are traveling to, backpacks might be quite common. I have never felt out of place with my backpack on my back. What’s more important is maintaining good backpack etiquette.
What is backpack etiquette?
This is your list of do’s and don’ts!
Do: Wear it on your front in crowded spaces like subways or trains. This keeps you from accidentally bumping other passengers and also allows you to keep a close eye on your pockets.
Keep your pockets zipped and use a lock on them if you are going to be in an area at risk for pickpockets. – I can not tell you how many people I see walking around airports with their bags unzipped.
Don’t: Your backpack does not get a seat. It is not a person. On subways, trains, in restaurants, on benches and seats, it stays on your lap, on your body or on the floor. The end.
How I use my backpack as a personal item:
My backpack gets my items from one place to another. I do not use it when I am out exploring. I carry a smaller, lighter backpack when I am out touring and taking photos. I have used this one for several years, and it holds an astronomical amount of items and is pick-pocket proof.
If I am biking or hiking, I use my Eddie Bauer Stowaway backpack. It’s super packable and lightweight.
If I am going to dinner or not using my good camera, I carry my small Portland Leather purse.
For me, using a backpack as my personal item makes sense from a comfort and practical standpoint!
If you decide to start using a backpack as a personal item, do your research and try several styles and types. Wear them around in your home packed to the max to get an idea of what it feels l,ike and continue to search until you find the perfect bag. For me, it’s the North Face Racon Bag.
Want to see exactly how I pack it? You can watch that on our YouTube channel!
Nitty gritty details
For reference, I am 5’2” and the backpack is 19” x 13” x 7”
What I carry in my backpack as a carry-on:
Front pocket: Hat/lightweight hoodie
Top Handle: Racon Headphones
Top pocket: glasses, sunglasses, ibuprofen, chapstick or lipstick, mints, passport, phone, earbuds. (not all of those at the same time, pick 5)
Laptop sleeve: 2 MacBook Air, power cord
Middle compartment: Camera bag with Fuji AX-7 and two lenses, Insta360 camera. Toiletry bag: makeup, liquids, microfiber towel and washcloth, hair wrap, hair brush, hair ties, Q-tips, cotton balls, tweezers, a small amount of medications, bandaids, blister strips, nail clippers
Watch the video to learn how I pack it!
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