Backpack: top loading or front opening?
An endless debate, still raging, opposing two different opening systems: the front opening versus the top loading. The winner might be a third and relatively new comer, the hybrid or convertible or travel backpack. Have a look to my little explications and get started with my recommendations at the bottom.
Usage & Easy Access
The top-loading backpacks are great when you need to access your bag and search it through a few times per day because you need to unpack items to reach certain elements in the bottom for example. You can avoid this problematic using compartments (packing cubes, dry backs, plastic bags) and by packing smart putting the most used items on top for a quick access. If the rucksack has outside pockets, they can be of precious use, too.
The front-loading backpacks are much quicker to organize as you open them like you would open a suitcase: you have access to most of your items with no struggle. The main risk is to break the zip after a while, especially when travelling and transiting rough (train, airports, etc). In that case, you will have to get a new rucksack for the rest of your stay but this is unlikely.
Only few things can go wrong in a rucksack: the zips, the buckles, the seams and the fabric itself. The three last ones are common to both kinds so only the zips will have our attention here.
They rarely go wrong especially in today’s backpacks, some are hard duty and some are old zips but they usually all survive long and tough travel routines however, one thing is sure, if you do not have a zip, you can’t break it.
Nowadays, front-panel and top-loading rucksacks can be found in small and large volume.
Top loaders will usually extend for little or for a lot (a third sometimes), it can be a really important feature for some long term travellers however, the more you fill your top loader, the more you will fight with your pack to reach items in the bottom.
Front openers can handle high volumes quite well but you need to be extra careful as you can’t really extend them upwards and you need to make sure the zip will not be at risk.
An important side of travelling is how safe your belongings are, especially when you do not have them at sight. The top loading system is lacking a zip so you can’t really have a padlock to secure it whereas you will definitely be able to use a padlock on your front opening backpack. The question is: are your belonging safer when you use a padlock? I do not think so.
If you travel I would highly recommend a front-opening rucksack as you will pack and unpack constantly, it needs to be quick and easy.
If you are more of a hiker or climber, go for a top-loading backpack that you will pack smartly bearing in mind all we have listed here.
Personally, I went for the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85, it has a top opening (extensible +20L) and also a front panel zipped opening using 4 buckles for safety. I use the top opening very often as it’s quicker for the items on top, and I use the front opening to re-organise or to reach items I do not know the exact emplacement.
Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85
Extensible from 65L to 85L, comfortable padding and long durability. A bit heavy (2.7kg) but it’s worth it, especially with the new TFX 10. (Mine.)
Berghaus Men’s Jalan II 60+15
A reference for many backpackers, it has a detachable 10L daypack and a fully developed “Flow back system” for ventilation. Lighter than the Lowe Alpine, at 2.1kg.
Karrimor Global Tropic 65+15
Conceived for travellers, with many compartments and a harness easily zipped away in transit to avoid ripping bits off, this rucksack is an amazing partner on the road!
Osprey Kestrel 68
Available in two sizes, this is an amazing multi-purpose rucksack from a leading brand. Lightweight, loads of pockets, stylish and extremely comfortable.
The North Face Terra 65
A technical rucksack adapted to the life on the trail from The North Face, adjustable to torso length and cushy harness will make it a perfect companion.
Arc’teryx Nozone 55
A superlight reference for backpackers providing useful and ingenious features such as glove-friendly access and an extendible collar. For mountaineers!
A man. A poet. A traveller. Passionate about the human kind, the world and the words, he finds himself connecting them all, or at least trying. Born in Paris, lived in London and travelling around the world, he is a man belonging to nowhere, to no one. Living in the terror of being understood, he does not travel alone, loneliness follows him.