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If you’re a seasoned traveler, or ready to go on your first trip, choosing the best travel backpack can go a long way towards giving you the freedom of hands-free experiences. With so many on the market, it’s exciting for us that you can readily find comfortable, functional, and stylish travel backpacks.
Adventuring with a backpack instead of a suitcase or duffel opens you up to a world of possibilities. While a suitcase or duffel bag are ideal for some situations, they can limit you with where you can travel to, how your travel, and general costs.
Carry on travel backpacks eliminate the need for expensive checked bag charges, as well as the risk of lost luggage.
Since you’re restricted with how much you can fit in the backpack, it forces you to travel smarter. It’s something you can certainly get used to, and a lighter load allows you to maneuver through busy airports or stations, small streets, long stairs, and everything else. The right design will also take stress off your shoulders, back, and neck.
We’re here to help you find the best backpack for travel for your adventure style. Plus, stay tuned for our in-depth buyer’s guide and our answers to frequently asked questions.
Top 5 Things to Look for in a Travel Backpack
- Size & Weight – These are typically measured in litre capacity, but keep in mind that some brands do measure the capacities differently. In this case, look for the dimensions as well. In terms of carry-on travel, airlines are usually stricter on the weight of the pack than the size. You can find some bags that are lightweight, but the majority will be a little heavier than your average hiking pack, due to the added features.
- Weather Resistance – Most packs are made from synthetic textiles to withstand all the wear-and-tear from travelling. Nylon is probably the most common, as it’s lightweight and robust. Polyester or polycotton blends are also used a lot, but it really depends on personal preference. Take note of the zippers and openings, as if they’re not designed as waterproof, then the bag won’t be able to hold up against huge downpours.
- Style – Now, the aesthetics of the bag might not be of huge significance to some people, but I think you should think about whether you want something urban-friendly, sleek, modern, or completely outdoorsy and heavy-duty. If you don’t mind looking like a bit of a tourist, then go for it. But there are other options out there that look more like a traditional backpack if that’s what you’re going for.
- Straps – No matter where you’re travelling, you need to feel comfortable with something hanging off your back, so the straps are a huge component to take note of. The main shoulder straps should be well-cushioned, and a sternum belt and hip strap are hugely important. They remove a lot of the strain that a heavy load can give through providing a suspension system. You want a good, contoured fit on your body and no sagging.
- Organisation – The configuration of the pack will help you stay organised and keep things neat, so you know where all your valuables are at all times. Most consist of a big main compartment, plus a bunch of other pockets, pouches, and sections internally and externally. More pockets don’t necessarily mean it’s better though as it can weigh it down; it really depends on the layout.
10 Best Backpacks for Travel Reviewed
1. Nomatic 40L
Constructed with water-resistant tarpaulin, the design of this pack is like a hybrid of a suitcase and backpack in one. It is designed to fit the maximum size that is allowed on most standard airlines, plus it fits perfectly in the overhead compartments or even under the plane seat. When travelling with a larger suitcase, the back section has a massive panel that lets you slide it right over the handles of the suitcase so it can rest on top.
With robust tarpaulin for the materials, it’s a waterproof backpack and also scratch resistant. We love the multi-functionality of the carry options, as you can switch from backpack to duffel in seconds without dangling straps. All straps are also padded to add to the comfort. In terms of organisation, there are numerous pockets that help you separate different items, like your shoes, underwear, socks, and so on.
A full-perimeter zipper gives the widest opening possible for optimal packing and easy access. Even with the top and bottom pockets full, you can still pack the main section at full capacity. Not only is there a laptop pouch, but also a dedicated tablet one to keep them secure. Mesh, fleece-lined, and zippered pockets let you store electronics and other everyday valuables safely.
- Functional Backpack-Suitcase Hybrid Design
- 14” L x 9” W x 21”H Dimensions Meet International Carry-On Standards
- Separate Shoe & Undergarments Compartments
- RFID-Safe Pocket to Protect Credit Cards and Passports
2. Osprey Packs Farpoint 40
First up is one of the absolute best sellers on today’s market. It has a unisex back panel to accommodate to everyone, a hip belt, and a harness system. You can choose from a small/medium size, or medium/large size, depending on how much you need to travel with, much like the Osprey Daylite Packs. The main section can open clamshell style, which gives you better access to view and organize the contents.
Both versions feature a large zippered panel for access to the main compartment, a stowaway rear panel for protecting the harness and hip belt, and a padded laptop sleeve that is lockable. They also have 2 internal compression belts, which helps you pack more in one go. A the very top, you’ll find a heat-embossed slash pocket that is scratch-resistant – perfect for storing sunglasses or your phone. For security while travelling, you can lock the main zipper.
As well as the padded top side handles, single shoulder leash, and regular shoulder straps, the LightWire frame suspension system transfers heavy loads to the sternum and hip belts. This lets you travel for longer and more comfortably. Both sizes meet most airline carry-on requirements.
- Lockable Sliders on Main Compartment Area
- Stowaway Back Panel Creates Slimmer Profile
- Sternum, Waist, and Shoulder Strap Offer Multiple Carry Options
- Dual Interior Compression Belts to Organize Items
3. Osprey Packs Fairview 55 Women’s Travel Backpack
This model is dedicated to fit women with a contoured shape and rather slim form in terms of its horizontal length. The back paneling has a huge wide-mesh part, which keeps it ventilated and breathable. At just 2.3kg, it’s Osprey’s lightest pack yet.
Dual front and interior compression straps squeeze everything down for a slimmer profile. You can open it up like a suitcase, which helps view and change around the contents with ease. Much like the previous version, there is a large zippered main panel that is lockable, a rear stowaway pocket for the harness strap system, both chest and waist belts, and an anti-scratch top pocket.
Removable straps at the front allow you to attach a sleeping pad for camping. Another highlight is detachable day pack. It simply zips on and off and gives you the versatility to choose what kind of pack you need for different situation.
Made from 210D nylon with mini-hex diamond ripstop, it’s highly durable to withstand rough conditions. Other interesting features include an ID card holder, an internal keyring, and an emergency whistle on the chest belt.
- Ultra Lightweight 2.3kg
- Secure Zippered & Padded Laptop Pocket
- Zip-Off Day Pack with Locking System
- Removable Sleeping Pad Straps
4. eBags Professional Slim Travel Backpack
Next is this extremely organised model that is full of different pockets, waterproof pouches, and compartments. It has quite a slim profile with the rectangular shape, making it comfortable to wear over long periods. It’s a great choice for transporting a laptop or other devices. The laptop section is fully padded, with a fleece lining for extra protection.
Other than the main top entrance, the front panel has a clamshell opening. This lets you effortlessly and quickly access smaller items in their dedicated mesh pockets, like cards, cables, a small bottle, and pens. Inside the main section is separated into 2 parts, so you can store shoes. The front has a bottom small compartment, plus a stash pocket for your phone.
To pick it up in a cinch, there is a top padded handle. The back section is fully meshed, with large honeycomb patterns. For added comfort, the straps are wide to cover your whole shoulders, and they are adjustable. A chest buckle is also included.
- Fits Laptops up to 17” with Cushioned Fleece-Lined Sleeve
- Breathable Padded Mesh Back Panel
- Pass-Through Sleeves Can Attach to Luggage Handles
- Numerous Other Padded Tech Pockets
5. Osprey Packs Porter 46L
The next one from Osprey holds 46L for weekend adventures or short camping trips. A zippered top pocket gives you easy access to toiletries and liquids when you need to go through security at the airport. A large lockable front panel lets you reach the main compartment with its suitcase opening. Reinforced cord loops can be found on the sides to attach a day pack or dry bag.
A vertical zippered pocket is perfect for books and other documents. The straight jacket compression straps are the highlight for us, as they make the pack standout. Cushioned top and side handles let you pick it up in different ways.
To take your laptop or other electronic devices around, it has a dedicated pouch that is padded to prevent damage. In the same area is the stowaway harness, which is also evident in the Osprey Atmos Backpack. You can stow the shoulder straps away when not in use. These shoulder straps also have an emergency whistle on them for safety, plus large holed mesh for ultimate breathability. The hip belt is massive, which is great for taking off tons of pressure from a large load.
- Extra Wide Hip Belt Relieves Back Pressure
- Designed for Carry-On Travel
- Dedicated Laptop Sleeve to Protect Electronics
- Large Lowered Zippered Compartment for Separate Shoe Storage
6. Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack
Also named the Ash Camera Bag, this can be used to store professional cameras and all photography accessories. It’s a great size for day commuting, like a messenger bag, or overnight trips as it features a simple silhouette and monotone coloring. Depending on how you tighten the padded shoulder straps, there is some dangling, but only minimal.
The unique top MagLatch hardware lets you get inside rapidly, with dual access on the sides through 2 watertight zippers. These side compartments hold the dividers for camera accessories – you can configure them in any way you want. Inside you’ll find dedicated sleeves for your laptop, a tablet, or documents. You’ll also find several slip pouches to keep small items.
Made from 400D waterproof nylon, it’s a hard shell that keeps the contents well protected, perfect to use as a makeshift beach bag with this level of protection. The versatile tuck-away strap system lets you carry it in different ways. Some expandable pockets on the side let you store a bottle or tripods, plus the rear padding that lets your skin breathe. For bonus comfort, there is a stowable sternum belt that connects in a flash.
- Doubles as Camera Bag with Dedicated Camera Accessory Dividers
- Fits 15” Laptops Like MacBook Pro
- Axial Shoulder Straps Conform to Your Back
- Durable % Recycled 400D Nylon with DWR Shell
7. Samsonite Xenon 3.0 Travel Backpack
Next pick is a model from Samsonite, with a discreet profile that could suit many different uses. It’s simple and spacious enough to use for school or work with more than enough room for books, or it can be used for airline travel with heaps of other compartments.
In addition to the thick and comfy shoulder straps, there is a micro-injected top handle, which is cushioned underneath with a hard top to carry heavier loads. There doesn’t appear to be a sternum or waist belt, but there is a Smart Sleeve which allows the pack to sit on top of a suitcase attached to the handles.
After opening clamshell style, the front part has a big cushioned laptop sleeve with a detachable strip to keep it in place. You can also use this area for a tablet. On the front there are heaps of storage places, ranging from small pouches to much larger pockets, to store all kinds of essentials. On the side is a roomy pouch that’s big enough for large drink bottles or even an umbrella.
- Heavy-Duty 1680D Ballistic Weave Polyester Material
- Padded 13” Laptop Sleeve with Stability Strap
- Low-Profile Design with Back Luggage Handle Attachment
- Rear Air Channel System with Lumbar Support
8. Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Del Dia
The Tasra Backpack from Cotopaxi is such a fun pack with an exciting vibrant pattern that utilizes color blocking – I love it because it’s instantly recognizable. Made from a poly-cotton canvas blend, the shell is waterproof and durable. The materials are repurposed, which means that each bag is a one-of-a-kind. It’s also a lightweight fabric, so it won’t weigh you load down any further. The zippers aren’t watertight though, so I recommend a waterproof cover if you’re heading into intensely wet conditions.
A zipper that wraps the entirety of the perimeter allows the bag to open wide. This allows you to organise your belongings with ease. Front box pockets create a low shape, while still being spacious enough to pack a lot of items. The accessory buckles for the chest and hips are simple yet effective, with adjustable straps to help conform it to your body.
Tuck-away straps prevent any dangling parts, plus there are internal mesh storage sections for electronics and other small valuables. Inside there is also a laptop jacket that has padding to keep it secure, and it fits 15” computers.
- Rugged Poly-Cotton Waterproof Canvas Shell
- Super Vibrant and Noticeable Color-Blocking Design
- Sternum & Waist Buckles for Back Support
- Large Front Box Pockets & Wide Opening
9. Tortuga Setout 45L
Weighing in now, the Setout pack from Tortuga. It has a streamlined and organised feel to it, with a bare front panel except for a single horizontal zip. The front folds down for effortless access to smaller essentials, like your passport, phone, and you can hang your keys on the nylon loop.
While at the front it’s quite sleek, the back area is heavy-duty to take pressure off and prevent soreness. The sleekness does remind us of the AER Travel packs which are also a great alternative that fit carry on conditions.
The straps are very thick and cushioned, with huge honeycomb mesh that lets plenty of air flow through. The back-panel area has a unique construction with 2 separate pads that also have mesh. Comfort is further enhanced with a hefty hip belt that covers the entire waist area. In fact, it removes 80% of the bag’s weight combined with the chest buckle.
The interior area is designed like a suitcase with its front-loading style and open-layout main compartment. You can neatly pack clothes for about a week long trip, with mesh pockets on the top “door” or panel so you can pack electronics, belts, and undergarments separately.
- 900D Durable Polyester Construction
- Heavy-Duty Hip Cushioning Releases 80% of Pressure
- Laptop Sleeve 15” Capacity
- Suitcase-Style Clamshell Opening with Large Mesh Separators
10. RYU Quick Pack LUX
This next pick feels ultra-modern, with a super minimal design. It’s all-black, with a single top drop-front opening that lets you pack and reach the contents. Simply flip it back and forth in seconds. The straps and top hand loop are both rather thin, so I think this is ideal for day or weekend trips. Even though the shoulder straps are wide across, they are only slightly padded and may not provide comfort over long periods.
A sternum strap is soft and provides some added stability. Genuine leather parts, including the zip handles, create sophistication and also comfort. Inside you’ve got a devoted laptop or device pouch that keeps it shielded from other belongings, preventing scratches.
The body material is made from a polycotton blend, which is wax treated with a PU rear that is water repellent. The liner is made from 100% 840D nylon, which is highly durable and waterproof. This means you can store wet items without fear of the bag deteriorating.
- Strong 840D Nylon Build with Double-Sided PE Coating
- Padded Shoulder Straps with Chest Clasp
- Genuine Leather Straps & Flap
- Internal Secure Laptop Pocket
How to Pack a Travel Backpack
So, now you’ve got your bag, but where do you even start when it comes to packing the thing? While everyone packs their own way, there is a bit of a science to getting it right to make sure everything is well-ordered and easy to find.
- A light-colored interior lining can go a long way to find or pack belongings when you’re in dark environments.
- Pack the heaviest things closest to your back. This ensures that the heaviest items are closest to your core or center of gravity, so it will pull less on your shoulders.
- Try using different-colored packing cubes to separate your items. Also use them to keep dirty clothes away from clean ones. A shoe sack is also handy to keep everything else clean.
- DON’T OVERPACK! Or at least try not to. I like taking versatile basics, like neutral-colored clothing that can match up with each other, and then use accessories to differentiate the outfits.
- Pack your clothes and shoes in the main compartment. Electronics like chargers, cables, universal adapters, and so on, can go in zippered mesh pockets. Smaller valuables that you need easy access to can be put in front pockets or pouches. Toiletries can go either in the main section, or in the front compartment if you need them handy for airline security.
- Small tip: bring a microfiber towel. They are extremely lightweight and won’t take up as much room, plus they dry faster than regular ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Lock a Travel Backpack?
A travel padlock usually never goes wrong, and you can easily remove it with a key or combination lock. Make sure the backpack has lockable zippers first, otherwise you can’t attach the lock to anything. You could use zip ties as well if you’re in a pinch.
Wrap-around netting is also an option which hikers often use – it makes it almost impossible for thieves to easily open any pockets or zippers. Anti-theft backpacks are common, which come with hidden zippers or combination locks.
How Many Liters Do I Need for a Travel Backpack?
- 20-30L capacity is ideal for commuters or a 2-day trip, with just enough room for a laptop, papers, a change of clothes, and shoes.
- 40-50L is good for at least a few days, with more space for a few changes of clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and more accessories.
- 55L is the one of the most common sizes for longer trips, even for a month or so, like camping or backpacking.
- 70-95L is very heavy and should only be used for expeditions and if you’re accustomed to the weight.
What to Pack in My Travel Backpack?
This depends on where you’re going, but you should always bring the essentials. These include:
- ID, like your passport
- Portable charger
- Universal adapter
- Basic toiletries like toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and shower gel or bar of soap
Of course, you can add a few more things, like solid shampoo and conditioner (which helps avoid the liquids rule on planes), a razor, tweezers, sunscreen, bug repellent, perfume/cologne, etc, but this list gives you the absolute extreme basics.
The best thing is to take a weeks-worth of clothes, as you can usually do laundry, plus it leaves extra room for things you may buy on your trip. In terms of clothes, this is a basic list to follow:
- 3-4 different shirts
- 1 or 2 pairs of pants and 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of underwear for each day
- 3-4 pairs of socks
- Sweater or fleece jacket
- Rain jacket
- 2 pairs of shoes
- Scarf and beanie
Also, don’t forget to bring a first aid kit and any medicines if you have any.
Conclusion on Travel Backpacks
So, there you have it, the best backpacks for travel and some handy tips and tricks to give you the best foot forward when heading off on your adventure. On our list, we’ve featured top quality brands that offer some of the best and contemporary travel-specific features.
These are designed to make your experience as effortless as possible.
Remember: comfort and organisation are the 2 main things to look out for when choosing your own.