It’s very important to ensure you have the right gear before setting off on a trip overseas. While I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a fortune on clothing and gadgets, I believe that your luggage is something you should spend time choosing and potentially splash out on. Especially as a long-term backpacker, you will be carrying your belongings over huge distances in total and you need to make sure you’ll be comfortable.
I use a Berghaus Jalan backpack and it’s great for the majority of my gear, but I find that it’s always useful to have a multi-purpose day bag that I can also keep with me as hand luggage on flights and to store my most valuable possessions when the majority of my things are stored in a luggage compartment elsewhere.
When I was in South America, I had a great shoulder bag made by Samsonite with removable padded compartments to hide my DSLR camera. The last thing I wanted was for people to be able to tell that I was carrying an expensive piece of electronic equipment and this bag disguised it well. Sadly, it was swiped from beneath a restaurant table one month into my trip in Colombia – you can never be too careful!
Since then, I have found it incredibly difficult to find a replacement travel bag that fulfilled the same criteria – durable, comfortable and spacious, with separate compartments for the usual items a traveller needs. That was until the people at Blacks asked me to review the North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag.
Having checked out the specs on their website, I said yes immediately. It looked like the perfect replacement. I recently tested it out on a trip to the Northern Territory in Australia:
This bag has so many great features. The adjustable shoulder strap padding is incredibly comfortable, even when you fill its 20-litre capacity with heavy items. It also slides along the shoulder strap to accommodate both left and right handers. There’s a padded 15″ laptop sleeve at the back and a separate sleeve for a tablet or kindle. On the outside at the back is a pass-through panel to enable you to slip your bag over luggage handles – just don’t confuse it for another compartment and shove documents down there, as I did once! Inside, there’s a multitude of fleece-lined pockets for your water bottle, electronics or other items. There are even small loops for pens.
The zippers on the bag are water resistant and the external material is phthalate free fabric, which prevents rain water from permeating. The external structure is very rigid, meaning that you can be pretty careless, bashing against things or throwing your bag down, without damaging the items inside.
This particular (medium) model comes in four different colours. Any of them would suit either sex. It’s very well made and its exceptional high quality is reflected in the design and overall appearance.
The dimensions are 38.5 cm x 13 cm x 32 cm, meaning it will easily pass airport hand luggage checks and can fit in overhead luggage spaces and lockers as well as being small enough to sleep with on your lap on long-distance night buses or to carry around on day trips.
The Base Camp Messenger bag has a discreet back panel zip pocket for important documents, as well as a front zip compartment for easy access when you’re on the move. There’s a U-lock holder underneath the flap and the outside has reflective panels for greater visibility in low light. The outside flap has both velcro and buckle closures, securing your items inside. There is even an adjustable hip/waist belt if you’re feeling particularly over-protective!
I love this product. It has everything I need in a travel bag and would also double up very well for general use. The manufacturers clearly put a lot of thought into developing a product with loads of great features that can provide excellent protection for your belongings while being both comfortable to carry and stylish. It’s incredible how many alternatives on the market don’t come close to meeting some of these specifications.