On Buying a Bag: The Agony of Luggage

Backpack Buying!

I AM STOOD in Beer Gonzo, in Earlesdon, Coventry. It is by far and away one of the best UK beer shops that I have ever been in, and I am struggling to keep my composure due to the sheer ecstasy of choice before my eyes. An attractively laid out bottle selection informs me that the beer of the week is called Shnoodlepip and contains pink pepper, passion fruit and hibiscus. I am in heaven.

Unfortunately, I have just bought seven bottles of beer at the off license down the road, thinking at the time that they had a great selection and I should take advantage.  Wandering amongst the aisles of the new bigger, better Beer Gonzo, I berate myself for my stupidity, and then buy three more bottles, telling myself that one is for my father-in-law (we’re in Coventry for his 60th birthday: we later share it at lunch) and the other is for my wife (she doesn’t like beer, but I keep trying): so in reality I’m only buying one more bottle for myself.

Later, BK-C confronts me. “Dave, you’ve bought nine bottles of beer, how on earth are we going to get them home?” She points out that we are travelling by train and without a suitcase between us. I point out that one of the bottles is actually technically hers, so it’s a shared problem. She leaves the room, inexplicably exasperated.

IN GENERAL, I am reluctant to visit shops and then chronically indecisive when I do. This leads to either zero purchases when I actually need something or, as in Beer Gonzo, impulsive purchases that I later regret (this is a lie: I will never regret buying beer). The saving for the Round the World Trip is going well.

So I try to offset the impulsive/indecisive dichotomy of shopping by doing Research. We are going to the Coventry Go Outdoor Store (a giant warehouse of outdoorsy stuff, akin to the USA’s REI stores) tomorrow, and I promise myself (as I have done for the past two weeks) that I’ll do some bag Research before we go.

IT’S 24 HOURS later and I am standing in the Go store. I have not done any Research, besides some hurried googling on my phone on the way here. This does not qualify as capital R research. It is BK-C’s idea that we have come here, she having been here two weeks previous and identified a contender for her RTW backpack. Now we sit in the middle of the rucksack aisle, surrounded by an orgy of luggage. It’s like we’re auditioning for QVC, as we zip up and unzip the various bits of luggage around us, demonstrating to each other advantages and disadvantages of each bag. This one has a better, more comfortable back. That one has a daysack attached. This one has side opening; that one has top opening but more pockets.

I still harbour ambitions to be featured in the John Lewis catalogue.

I harbour ambitions to be featured in the John Lewis catalogue. I’m still waiting for the phone call.

BK-C’s parents arrive, ostensibly to pick us up from the store, but in reality just so that we can QVC audition with an audience. We demonstrate what all the various buckles, straps, zips and pockets do on all of the bags. They nod appreciatively. After half an hour, they’re up to speed on the latest models, and the pros and cons of nylon vs polyester, top loading vs side loading. The Go store is a black hole where time mysteriously evaporates, like water out of a boiling pot.

IN THE END, it comes down to a choice of two bags. The Osprey Farpoint 70, or the Osprey Aether 70. The Farpoint is side opening, like a suitcase, and has a detachable daysack. The Aether is top loading but with an extra side opening zipper. It has no daysack but more pockets and feels a bit better on my back. I am crippled by indecision, and insist on trying on both backpacks in a number of different combinations, postulating a number of increasingly unlikely scenarios that we might find ourselves in over the coming year, to test how each bag would survive (“We’re caught in a typhoon and we’ve lost all our clothes, no, wait, I still have a baseball cap that only fits if I wear it backwards, the peak facing the top of back pack. And there’s a volcano erupting.”).

Ultimately, I am swayed by the Farpoint, for two reasons: 1) it has a daysack and the other one doesn’t and, 2) during my brief research in the car on the way to the store, it came out as the top bag for 2013 on OutdoorGearLab’s Travel Backpack test. Obviously at this point I haven’t cross-referenced that review with at least seven others, but it’s the best that I have to go on.

The Farpoint also happens to be the same bag that BK-C had previously identified for herself: unfortunately, now, as was the case two weeks ago, Go don’t have it in the small size so she doesn’t buy it. Yes, we are going to have the same bag as each other. We will be that couple. But I’d just like to state publicly: I bought mine first.

BACK AT BK-C’s sister’s house, I do some Research (yes, I know, why bother after I’ve bought it, but I can’t help myself.) I stumble across This Kentucky Girl’s devastatingly forensic review of why the Farpoint just hasn’t worked for her as bag on her RTW trip. She makes lots of very practical, reasonable points. I am devastated.

Suddenly it is time to catch the train back to London-town, and I hastily pack. The side opening pocket is great – so easy to pack stuff. I heft the thing onto my back. With nine glass bottles inside alongside all my other junk, it’s quite heavy. But now that extra weight that I didn’t have in the store makes it feel so much better on my back: it rests snugly on my hips, and carrying it is no bother at all. I stride out of the house, and leave Coventry feeling happy about my choice of bag.

Thank goodness I bought all that beer.

Beer reflections

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