If you're planning on travelling for more than a couple of weeks, as a backpacker, then buying a pack that suits you and your specific travel needs is a critical decision. A well-made, sturdy backpack isn't going to be cheap but – and I can't emphasise this enough – it's going to be money well spent. When you invest in a decent piece of gear, it's going to be like a great friendship – it will hold up in good times and bad, and it won't disintegrate after the odd run-in. So whatever it takes, find the money to purchase something that fits your specific needs, feels comfortable and is designed to accommodate your specific preferences.
I bought my first backpack – a Berghaus - at the age of 21, and it cost a week's salary. At the time, I was in shock. But it lasted me 10 years, and in that decade I was on the road all the time- Latin America, Southern Africa, Australia, and the Far East. I can honestly say it was the greatest investment I made in my twenties, and for that reason I'm recommending the brand here.
Berghaus was founded in the UK. Its packs are nicely styled, modern and made of good quality materials, with comfortable straps. In particular, they have a 'Freeflow' model which makes walking in heat much easier (due to an airflow space between the pack and the wearer's back). Berghaus also sell packs tailored specifically for women (take heed all your females) with padded straps and a pre-curved hip belts. There most up-to-date modeal comes in a “tropical midnight purple” colour, which I find very attractive.
The other brand I have to recommend is Eagle Creek. Established in the 1970's, in California, they market themselves as relentless innovators, selling quality products that stand the test of long-term travel. And having used one of their packs for over 12 years now, I'd have to agree.
I purchased a 'World Traveller for Women' pack back in 2001 and it's still going strong! It's been through Eastern Africa, China, the Middle East, across the United States and all around Europe...not to mention three separate trips across India. They've since updated the product but it's still fantastic. It's called “Womens Deviate” and comes in a rather bright orange and a paler blue...look at the link here...
What I particularly like about this pack is that it's built with a detachable day pack, a hip belt that's comfortable and designed specifically for women and – this is really good - a safety whistle, should you ever find yourself in trouble and need to draw immediate attention to yourself. As for colours, it comes in bright orange, a palish blue and the classic black. It's beautifully crafted and because of my own excellent experience with its predecessor, I'm confident in recommending it.
Bottom line – there are a lot of great brands out there but these are the two I've used and they haven't let me down. Their packs aren't cheap but you have to look at this kind of purchase as an investment – if it lasts you ten years, you're looking at $30 a year or so...cheap at half the price. And, if like me, you're going to be doing some hardcore travel – trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas, walking in rain forests, hitching through dusty roads in Africa – you're going to want a pack that doesn't fall to bits when it's thrown on a truck or gets soaked in a monsoon downpour.
Trust me – it's a big investment but I doubt you'll regret it.