Let me start by saying that it wasn’t that easy for me to find the right backpack and I made the process even harder by starting my search online instead of a physical store. I started by shopping online because I didn’t understand how much of a difference a quality backpack can make. That being said, I’m sure many pilgrims have walked the Camino with inexpensive packs and were just fine. Spending $200 on a backpack is a luxury that some may not have. Not having an expensive pack shouldn't prevent anyone from walking the Camino or going on any other pilgrimages.

After wasting my time with online shopping, I went into REI and tried many different packs. I narrowed down my favorite brands to Osprey, Gregory and Dueter. The next step for me was figuring out if a female pack was really that much better, or if it was just a sales gimmick. It turns out that female packs have narrower shoulder straps. To me that was the difference between feeling stiff and trapped by the shoulder straps and being able to move somewhat freely which was a lot more comfortable.

Then, I needed to figure out the size of the pack. I knew that I wanted a pack that would fit easily in the overhead compartment of airplanes and would, without a doubt, be airline compliant. That narrowed my search down even more to a pack with a 22in frame size, which puts the pack at around 35L max.  

So at this point, I knew I wanted a pack that was for women, at most 35L and with a frame that was at most 22in long. With a better understanding of what I was looking for, I tried the Osprey Sirrus 24 Women and 36 Women, the Gregory Sage 35 Women and the Dueter ACT Lite 45 +10L Women. Yes, the Dueter was larger than 35L because REI did not have the smaller Dueter ACT Lite 35 +10L Women in store.

Here’s what happened. I discarded the Gregory immediately because the back was too flat for my body. Then, I discarded the two Osprey Sirrus because their adjustment system did not help me getting the pack to sit in the correct position on my back. With the Sirrus packs, I felt the load entirely on my shoulders which was not desirable. At this point, I was left with the Dueter which sat perfectly on my back but was too big in size at 25in length. 

Based on how this larger pack felt, I ordered from REI the ACT Lite 35 +10SL. When it arrived, I went back to REI, the salesperson packed it with weights, and I walked the store with the pack on my back. The Dueter ACT Lite 35 + 10SL felt like a heavy glove hugging all the curves of my body. The major reason why this bag fit me so well, in my opinion, was the way the back is constructed. Dueter uses a back system they call Deuter Aircontact Lite System, which, in this pack, is paired with the Deuter SL Women’s Fit System. Both of these systems are explained on Dueter’s site, and in my opinion, helped achieve the perfect balance between comfort and utility.

Before leaving REI, one of the wonderful salespeople that was helping me throughout this process, asked for my cell phone and snapped a picture of packing instructions from inside a Gregory bag. She told me to pack my bag that way for a well balanced comfortable load. I left home for the airport with 8kg inside my pack that was packed neatly as she suggested. At the airport before my departure from the US, I removed from the bag and handed to my husband about 1 kg of luggage. This was easily accomplished because I had used large plastic freezer bags to organize my pack.

Along the Camino, I figured out that my backpack was perfectly fitted to my body when my hipbones started getting sore. The soreness went away pretty fast, but it was a good indication that I was carrying the weight on my hips where it was supposed to be and not on my shoulders like what happened with the Sirrus packs.

Lastly, as I mentioned before, I used large freezer bags to organize my pack. A dear pilgrim criticized me for having plastic bags inside my pack. She called me the most organized pilgrim she had ever seen in her many Caminos. To her, organizing my stuff inside of bags was completely bizarre. When she mentioned it (in the most caring and adorable way - she was not being mean) I felt totally awkward. Looking back though, I am glad I used the bags because it helped with packing and going through my stuff along the way and it also kept the inside of my pack pretty much clean.  


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