At first glance, all travel packs look very much the same.
They look the same because we, the customer, are a rather conservative bunch really. A travel-pack may have some revolutionary features, but if it looks like it came from outer space, nobody will buy it. (remember the Pontiac Aztek?)
So when you toodle down to your nearest purveyor of travel packs, you will then notice that all the travel packs look the same. Some cost many hundreds of dollars; some can be had for less than US$100. What are they thinking?
The companies that make stuff work backwards.
They know that their customer is willing to pay “X-amount” for a product, because they know you. Through market research, they know how much you spend, what the competition charges for a similar item and whether or not these are selling well for the competition. Through experience, insider leaks, industrial espionage, educated guesses and dumb luck they know what sort of profit margin the product is expected to get and if there is a chance of cutting some costs through better sourcing, better quantities, better distribution, better designers, better marketing, etc. If they cannot achieve this, (and still sell it for the target price) then they have to cut corners.
If you don’t watch it, you get screwed.
Any backpack company can make whatever you want. But by the time it is designed and built, put onto a container ship, passed Customs, ship to their warehouse, marketed, advertised and sold at your neighborhood dealer, are you still willing to pay for it?
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If you are willing to pay (pulling a figure out of the air) US$400 at retail, then that same item will be sold to your dealer for approximately $200-$220. The manufacturer still has to make a profit, and if they have been paying close attention they will be able to get the product for $100. That same $100 has to cover design, materials, construction, delivery, a warranty, a fulltime staff of people who make it all happen, advertisements in Outside magazine and well-placed banner ads on Travelgearblog.
For my admittedly lame example, I made up a phony price point for a $400 pack. But in real life, a typical, better-than-average travel pack costs much less. The Eagle Creek Continental Journey has a MSRP of only $200. That means that they are selling these to the dealer for roughly half of that amount, and their actual costs are roughly a ¼ of that amount.
The Eagle Creek line makes very good travel packs. Good designs, good quality, a lifetime warranty, you cannot go wrong with their products.
But what about travel packs that cost less? The Serratus Orion Travel Pack (an excellent pack) is sold for only $260. Canadian! That is only about US$177 at the time of this writing. Still, it is an excellent product. When these price points are determined, the product has to be made and sold for roughly ¼ of the amount that it will be sold at in the store. Something has to give, and that ‘something’ is quality.
There are many packs out there that are not worth buying, but to the untrained eye, they look as good as the others. Novice backpackers, especially students on a meager income are easy prey to the absolute junk that is sold to the unwary person looking for a deal.
One Australian company makes some very popular backpacks that seem to be always on sale. How do they manage this feat?
They can do this because they use inferior fabric, poor quality foam in the hipbelts, and their packs last maybe one trip. For their products, you don’t have to pay much, but you certainly don’t get much.
Warning: Don’t waste money on a cheap pack.