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How to choose the right travel backpack – Millet Khumbu 65+ review

I hate shopping, particularly due to one reason – there is just too many options. Picturing myself coming into an outdoor store with hundreds of backpacks to choose from makes me give up before even trying. Let the 8+ pieces I have owned so far be a true testament to how difficult it was for me to make the right choice. On the other hand, I remember shops with just a few pieces for sale, however I was never lucky enough to match my expectations with the poor selection either. So, how to choose the right backpack, when it comes to the point of no return?

porter's load

porter’s load

Usually, I would settle for internet resources first, checking reviews, user experiences, asking around for a piece of advice. I kind of enjoy this part, not having to spend days searching department stores around town, just passing by the time at work browsing the web. After some time I would eventually come to a narrow selection of a few items, when there is no other option but to go out into the field of sales sharks, offering you whatever they think you might buy. On top of everything, being from a small town there are rarely the items of my preference available for sale, so I often get back to the beginning.

Many times I found myself searching a store for an item of need while coming out with one I have had no intention of buying. The same happened with my current backpack. None of the well established strategies of mine had been put in place. Instead, the most feared factor came to rescue – the salesman. This time, however, it was a person of knowledge, obviously a traveller himself. His advice was straightforward, with no hesitation he reached for Millet Khumbu.

Long years after the purchase I remember clearly how the seller persuaded me. He said: “Once a guy came in and told me how someone stole his backpack. He was very determined, picked the same Millet Khumbu, saying he would never want another anymore.” Whether it was a true story I cannot but doubt. However, thinking of the bag going through years of travel in SE Asia with no major defects, I begin to feel the same way about it. Not only does it serve as the best travelling bag I have ever owned, it also made me realize what details are important to keep in mind when making the selection. Not that I need it now, but it might save some time for you guys, still looking.

So here are the few things to look for in a solid travelling backpack (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. The material – for me, there is no compromise here. I would not chose any other than Cordura, or one of comparable durability. Many great companies use their own materials, some of them good, some not so much. Too many times have I seen the special fabrics torn by the famous “care” of airport baggage handlers. The Cordura on Khumbu holds firm, though. Nowadays they changed to using “Kodura”, which, judging by the name, is similar.
  2. Number of external compartments – one of the most important features for a traveller. Some might argue the more you have the more difficult it is to find stuff. Not true! It does not take that long to dedicate compartments to particular things, and once you do, it is just so much easier to reach.
  3. Number of internal compartments – I have never seen more than two, and that is what I would go for. A single one is just not convenient enough to reach your equipment. If you find one with the option to open the whole front or back side, all the better for you.
  4. Shoulder straps – take a good look at them. They need to be soft enough while keeping strong and durable to withstand heavy load. The buckles attaching the straps to the backpack tend to break, or the knitting might get loose, so take a good look at that too. This is where Khumbu does not excel – I had to attach the straps one buckle higher up the backpack, as the lower ones begun to unweave. The good thing is, they have an extra set of buckles for a bigger man/woman, but it is just not so comfortable to use now. Anyway, this happened after about 5 years of use, and it is not beyond repair.
  5. Waist-belt – also very important for long journeys. As with the shoulder straps, there are two attributes to look for: durability and comfort. While Khumbu features durable enough waist-belt, one buckle have just recently broken on mine. It does not prevent it from usage, however it does not serve the purpose perfectly. Also, the feel could be improved, as it’s made a bit on the strong and tough side, which could cause abrasions and bruises on your waist after couple of days of extensive use. One more thing to look for is the size, which might not fit slim people well. Sometimes I get an impression the waist-belts are made for people with elephant-sized bellies.
  6. Carry system – in my opinion, this is just big words for no use. All the companies tend to give their carry system technologies very fancy names, while the only thing you need to look for is adjustable size. However ventilated, you will sweat and your back will get soaking wet after couple of hours. So, do not give any credit to the “special air flow” systems of whatever kind – I have never seen one that stood up to its fancy name. Khumbu features so called “Tubular Carry Back” system, which holds well and is fully adjustable in height. It tends to loosen up, but that is not a big issue. A welcome improvement would be a flexibility to the sides, which I have seen on one other backpack (I think this was Black diamond), and found it to be very useful. Also, the “Tubular” system tends to be a bit hard on your back after a few years of use.
  7. Upper lid flap – some smaller volume backpacks tend to have the them fixed tight, which is not so convenient in case you pack your bag full. It is worth to look for an adjustable, if not fully removable one. Khumbu has the latter, even though I don’t think you could use the flap as a smaller backpack for shorter trips.
  8. Rain cover – not essential, however very useful as a minor scratch and tear protection. When it comes to a heavy rain, though, it fails its purpose. In any case, it is good to have one.
  9. Size – backpack is not like shoes. You can buy it without trying. However, it is important to check the length of your back, especially if there is no possibility for carry system length adjustment. You do not want your backpack preventing you to look up for some falling stones ;).
  10. Volume – while this is really individual, I would recommend the 55+10. The volume is usable for both a week-long treks as well as a year-long travel. In addition, there is still enough space for presents (remember never to pack full when you go abroad!).
  11. Weigh – when it comes for trekking, every gram counts. Millet says the new Khumbu weight 2.3kg. I am not sure whether they have reduced it in the new model, or it is just a feeling, but mine sure feels heavy as hell. Anyway it is a good thing to check – you certainly don’t want to go over 3kg.
  12. Overall durability – Corduda does a great job. Khumbu has made it through some tough trips all over SE Asia, including trekking in Nepal, with no scratches, tears cannot even be spoken of. Much of the credit here goes to the rain cover I have been using at all times.

Keeping up the quality of merchandise has, unfortunately, become a rare commodity nowadays. If there is a product which lasts, I believe it deserves to be highlighted, so that the companies realize this is the right direction to go. Even though Millet Khumbu is not perfect, I would choose the backpack again. In fact, as soon as the one I have breaks, it has a VIP position in my selection within other models on the market.

Lastly, I would like to point out Millet has not requested this review nor have they given me any form of incentive for writing it. It is a genuine and honest review of a long time user, who has been disappointed with too many products used so far. Here are some pictures of my sturdy companion after 7 years of travel:

Millet Khumbu

Millet Khumbu

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One comment on “How to choose the right travel backpack – Millet Khumbu 65+ review

  1. Katka
    June 29, 2013

    Very extensive review, wow!

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This entry was posted on June 24, 2013 by in How-to, Product review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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