For independent travellers, nothing beats donning a travel backpack and hitting the road. You want to be quick, mobile, and comfortable. And once you’ve ditched your big, bulky suitcase to strap on one of these best travel backpacks for men, you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Not sure where to start looking for a sleek and comfortable rucksack? Get started with this complete men’s travel backpack guide, including a buyer’s guide and everything you’ll every need to know about picking out your next backpacking luggage piece.
Recommended men’s travel backpacks
To help you choose the perfect rucksack, I’ve put together this list of the top men’s travel backpacks. I’ve focused on the smaller end of the spectrum. Most of these recommendations are small enough to use as carry-on luggage. Yet, they should still have enough space to get you through a quick 10-day to 2-week trip. (At least if you apply some basic minimalist travel packing techniques.)
In a rush? Here’s a quick summary of our recommendations…
Osprey Porter 46
Best Uses: Travel
Looking for a versatile men’s travel backpack? The Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack is one of the best choices you’ll find anywhere. The Osprey Porter 46 doubles as both a travel duffel bag and a backpack. It features easy stow-away shoulder straps and hip belt suspension.
The best part of the Osprey Porter 46 is its compact size. It’ll eliminate the need to check your baggage and allow you to skip out on the checked-bag fees. As long as you don’t overpack, this pack will fit comfortably on the overhead bins on most planes.
The biggest complaint with most backpacks is being unable to access your belongings quickly. Not so with this bag.
The Osprey Porter 46 loads via the front panel. It makes finding your stuff much easier than with a bigger top-loading backpack. It even adds an extra layer of organization. The panel has two internal zippered pockets, one fabric and one mesh.
The bag is also fitted with Osprey’s StraightJacket compression technology. With it, you can squish more in here than you thought possible. It’s perfect if you’ve overpacked slightly. It’ll let you squeeze in an extra few millimetres to stow your bag in an overhead bin.
Need extra room for things like noise-cancelling headphones, cell phones, or travel notebooks? The Osprey Porter 46 also includes four cord loops on the front panel. You can use them to attach the Osprey Daylite.
Who should buy the Osprey Porter 46
The Osprey Porter 46 is the perfect easy-to-handle and versatile luggage for quick trips between cities. If you ever find yourself needing to change trains quickly, for example, you’ll cherish the duffel bag option. It’s a well-constructed bag that’s the perfect compromise between function and portability.
Who should not buy the Osprey Porter 46
The Osprey Porter 46 isn’t ideal for carrying heavier loads over longer distances. For multi-day hikes, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The shoulder strap and hip-belt system just won’t cut it for traversing long distances by foot.
Shorter backpackers might also find the torso length a little long. On smaller frames, the hip-belt sits too low to be useful for weight distribution. The lack of a top compartment also makes it cumbersome to access your travel accessories. You can solve this by pairing it with Osprey Daylite or upgrading to the larger Osprey Porter 65.
Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack
Best Uses: Urban travel
At a quick glance, you might think the Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack is a simple carry-on.
That’s the brilliance of the design: It’s made to fit perfectly as a maximum-sized carry-on. The Tortuga Outbreaker will not only fit enough travel gear for a two-week backpacking trip but will slide easily into the overhead bin.
The dudes at Tortuga are dedicated backpackers themselves. And they know firsthand how annoying top-loading backpacks are.
That’s the first huge feature on the Tortuga Outbreaker.
The front-loading design allows you to get in and out in hurry. You don’t need to unpack the entire contents every time you want to get at something. Everything is accessible and neatly organized.
Let’s talk organization. The Tortuga Outbreaker is chock-loaded with zippered compartments. Keeping your travel gear tidy is a cinch. The exterior zippers are lockable with a TSA-approved lock. They’ll keep your stuff safe if you need to leave your bag unattended for whatever reason. You’ll also find a lockable padded laptop sleeve with room for up to a 17″ laptop. The Tortuga Outbreaker is perfect for working on the road.
The hip belt on the Tortuga Outbreaker is well-designed. It effectively transfers about 80% of the load to your centre of gravity. The updated design also adds in hip-belt pockets. In them, you can stash away your most used valuables like your cell phone or keys. There’s even an air mesh back padding to cool you down as you walk around.
Who should buy the Tortuga Outbreaker
Hate digging through an entire backpack to find something? The Tortuga Outbreaker will be perfect for you. As long as you don’t overpack, there should be more than enough room for a two-week backpacking trip. There are also plenty of zippered interior compartments to keep your stuff well organized.
Who should NOT buy the Tortuga Outbreaker
The new Tortuga Outbreakerpresents a big upgrade to the original Tortuga. It now features an adjustable suspension system. It fixed our only real gripe with the original design. The backpack is also designed to be carry-on-sized. It might not be suitable for travellers embarking on an extended backpacking trip.
Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack
Capacity: 35L (expands to 45L)
Best Uses: Urban travel
Tired of inflated checked luggage fees and bulky backpacks you need to wait for at baggage claims after a tiring flight? Then you’ll love travelling with the Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack.
This lean & innovative Canadian company has changed the minimalist travel game. Finally, veteran backpackers have the convenient backpack they wish existed years ago.
The brilliance of the Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack is that it’s sized to meet max airline cabin baggage requirements. With this bag, you’ll blaze through check-in. You’ll also arrive with fewer hassles, all while saving money on those pesky extra fees.
What makes this pack unique, though, is its 3-in-1 design. It’s a functional backpack with a detachable hip belt. It helps transfer weight from your shoulders to your lower body while carrying it. The Standard Luggage Carry-On can also be carried as a shoulder bag or suitcase. When not in use, the shoulder harness zips away into the back compartment to keep it from getting snagged.
One of the things you’ll immediately notice when you take a closer look is the build quality. The main components feature a high-tenacity 1680-denier ballistic nylon. It’s super durable and even water-resistant. (A full rain cover is also included should you find yourself in a more serious downpour.)
Travelling techies will love the padded laptop compartment. It’s a feature often missing in other backpacks. The detachable laptop/tablet sleeve is also a great feature to protect your electronics.
On top of that, there’s plenty of organizational capabilities here. The bag has two external pockets and three internal pockets. Combine that with the optional set of hanging modular packing cubes and internal compression straps. You’ll stuff more gear into this luggage than you ever thought possible.
Who should buy the Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack
The Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack will appeal to many travellers. City-hoppers on a time-crunch will appreciate this pack most though.
The 35-litre capacity is perfect for trips up to a week long. With minimalist packing and plans to do laundry, you can even squeeze two or more weeks in. (Although its capacity is listed at 35L, the pack features a full-length expansion zipper. It’ll give you an extra 10 litres of space should you need it.)
The 3-in-1 design is also great if rushing between train platforms or using busy public transportation routes is in the cards.
Who should NOT buy the Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack
If you’re a long-term traveller seeking to fit all your possessions into one bag, this won’t be the pack for you. Although it’s a top pick for short carry-on-only trips (especially by air), long-term travellers will need more capacity.
Likewise, for carrying a heavy load over a long distance, you’ll want to look elsewhere. The suspension system of Standard’s flagship product was designed with the urban traveller in mind. It’s made to be quick and light. Hikers would be better served with something like the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L . It’s specifically designed for hauling heavier gear over more difficult terrains.
Osprey Farpoint 40
Best Uses: Travel, backpacking
Want to spend a couple weeks in Europe or take a quick weekend road trip? The Osprey Farpoint 40 is the perfect combination of size, portability, and comfort. It shares many features with the Osprey Porter 46. The Farpoint throws in a couple extras to appeal to a different backpacker crowd though.
Like the Porter 46, you can use the Osprey Farpoint 40 as either a duffel-style travel bag or a backpack. You can use either the side handle or zippered stow-away hip belt and shoulder harness system to carry it. (Walking with the Osprey Farpoint 40 in backpack mode is more comfortable than carrying it though.)
The shoulder straps are well padded, but even better, the hip belt transfers the load superbly. The mesh on the shoulder harness, hip belt, and back panel even keeps you cool on longer walks or in warmer weather. This extra cooling feature also reduces chafing when you’ve loaded your bag to the max.
For organizing your load, the Osprey Farpoint 40 offers a handful of zippered pockets, 2 interior and 1 exterior. The exterior pocket is, unfortunately, not ideal. You may find yourself needing to pick up a daypack to carry your travel accessories.
The best part about this bag is the front access. The front zippered access to the main panel is lockable, and keeps your gear safe if checked in. (You’ll need a TSA-approved lock to avoid airport security delays.)
To round it all off, the Osprey Farpoint 40 fits as carry-on luggage on most airlines. If you happen to overpack, the dual compression straps can help you squeeze out a few extra centimetres to fit the load into a tight overhead bin.
Who should buy the Osprey Farpoint 40
The Osprey Farpoint 40 is a great backpack for just about any independent traveller. The comfortable shoulder harness and hip belt system make it ideal for longer walks between bus or train stations and hotels. Although the Farpoint 40 is one of the smallest backpacks on this list, you should have more than enough room for a typical two-week trip abroad.
Who should NOT buy the Osprey Farpoint 40
Hikers on longer, multi-day treks will need a bag with more room for gear. There’s no built-in daypack attachment. If you carry a lot of travel accessories, you may find it cumbersome to haul around an extra daypack strapped to your front.
Travellers who love an organized backpack may also find the bag’s organization lacking. There aren’t enough interior pockets to separate their clothing and accessories. You can solve the dilemma by investing in some packing cubes. As an added bonus, they’ll also maximize the space in your backpack.
Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack
Capacity: 35L / 40L
Best Uses: Urban travel, short trips
Seeking something a little sleeker & more compact for your travels? Look no further than the brand-new Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack.
This innovative pack was designed for time-crunched city-to-city travellers. Available in either 35L or 45L, it squeezes in as a carry-on on most airlines with a hip style all to its own.
The best feature of the Tortuga Setout is its vast organizational capabilities. Its front-loading main compartment is a huge bonus if you’ve ever been flustered in the past by digging through a pesky top-loader. The Setout also delivers three additional zippered compartments.
For your travel essentials, you’ll find a small front zippered stash pocket. The full-sized front compartment is also chock-loaded with robust pockets. They’ll accommodate cards, keys, itineraries, pens, money—and just about anything else you can throw at it!
Another fantastic addition to the Tortuga Setout is the padded laptop pocket. Located behind the main compartment, it’s got enough room for up to a 17″ laptop.
And unlike most other bags, Tortuga throws two sizeable pockets into the laptop pouch. They’re perfect for accessories like power cords, headphones, power banks, or external hard drives. This alone puts this pack atop the leaderboard for travelling tech-lovers.
Who should buy the Tortuga Setout
With its smaller size and organizational features, the Tortuga Setout is most suited for travellers on shorter trips. A week or less is its sweet spot. (Or up to two weeks if you’re a committed minimalist packer.)
The backpack’s modern design is also better suited for urban rather than backwoods travel.
Who should NOT buy the Tortuga Setout
Given its limited carry-on size of 35 or 45 litres, the Setout isn’t a good choice for long-term backpacking. To cut down on weight, the pack also lacks an adjustable suspension system. The size fits best on men with torsos between 17″ and 19″. Taller travellers would be better served by Tortuga’s height-adjustable Outbreaker Travel Backpack.
REI Co-op Ruckpack 40
Best Uses: Travel, backpacking
When your travels take you from the city to the backwoods, there’s hardly a better choice than the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40. This top men’s backpack draws inspiration from the company’s long-standing outdoors tradition. It’s loaded with features that’ll appeal to both your refined and rugged sides.
At the backbone of the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 is a fully-featured suspension system with all the bells and whistles. It’s equipped with ventilated air mesh padded shoulder straps and hip-belt. You’ll also enjoy a robust back panel and compression straps to keep your gear stable. The rucksack is equally suited for longer hikes or walking around an airport.
For urban travellers, the full-zip design of the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 is key. It makes it easy to access all your gear and stay organized. The top-loading designs of hiking packs can’t compete. Extra features like a laptop sleeve and lockable zipper further bolster its rep with city-hoppers. With its 40L capacity, it’s even small enough to use as carry-on luggage on most airlines.
And it doesn’t stop there. For active travellers, the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 delivers several other great features. Hikers will love the trekking pole attachments and daisy chain for lashing on extra gear. When not in use, you can tuck them away to keep that fresh urban look.
Who should buy the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40
With its slick look and versatility, the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 is one of the best choices for standard backpacking trips. The full-zippered design succeeds where so many hiking backpacks fail. And for the price level, durability, and comfort, it’s hard to beat.
Who should NOT buy the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40
Although the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 is a great companion for city-hopping, it’s got limited “active” features. For the outdoorsman, there are better choices out there. With the hidden daisy chain, trekking poles attachments, and hydration compatibility, it’ll work in a pinch. But for lashing on a ton of gear for a serious hike or a climb, you should look to other more technical options like the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L.
Kelty Redwing 44
Best Uses: Travel, hiking
Whether you want to hit the trail or zip off to Southeast Asia, the Kelty Redwing 44 could become your new luggage of choice.
The Redwing 44 has a simple design that blends in well in urban environments. If you’re looking for a travel backpack that doesn’t look like camping gear, this one’s it.
At the surface, the Kelty Redwing 44 appears to lack bells and whistles. But they’ve added features where they matter. The Redwing 44 is supported by a LightBeam lightweight aluminum stay. It’s also fitted with a high-density polyethylene (HPDE) frame sheet. In tandem, the stay and frame help transfer loads effectively.
For comfort, the Kelty Redwing 44 gets high praise. The well-padded shoulder straps, dual foam hip belt, and lumbar support are a hit. They work together with the frame to balance the load to your centre of gravity.
There’s often a trade-off between extra foam padding and heat generation. The Dynamic AirFlow system on the back panel solves the problem and keeps you cool while wearing it.
The Kelty Redwing 44 is excellent for organizing your travel gear. The pack features several compartments. They include two zippered flow-through side pockets, a zippered stash pocket, a front pocket, and a top pocket. You can use the Redwing 44 as either a top- or front-loading backpack via a full-access U-shaped zipper.
Who should buy the Kelty Redwing 44
Most backpackers would dig the Kelty Redwing 44. Even hikers on shorter multi-day trips could use this pack. The Redwing 44 is also hydration compatible. You should be able to carry a 3-litre hydration bladder, no problem. If you travel frequently on airlines that charge for checked baggage, the Redwing 44 will also save you a ton of cash. You can stow it in the overhead bins on most airplanes.
Who should not buy the Kelty Redwing 44
The Kelty Redwing 44 isn’t the best choice if you need to check your baggage. The shoulder straps don’t tuck in, and the hip belt is not removable without first removing the aluminum stay. (A far better option here would be the brilliant Tortuga Setout.)
The zippers on the Redwing 44 are also not lockable. If you need to protect your valuables while leaving your bag alone, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
For travel to rainy destinations, be aware that the Kelty Redwing 44 is not waterproof. It will get soaked in heavy rain. Picking up some dry bags wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack
Best Uses: Travel, backpacking
The Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack was designed with the urban traveller in mind. It’s one of the smartest luggage companions for your next backpacking adventure. From its ergonomic & convenient front-loading design to its robust materials, this rucksack delivers. It’s got the quality and features you need to make your travel as easy as possible.
The Eagle Creek Global Companion draws its strength from a well-designed suspension system. The shoulder straps are not only well-padded but feature moisture-wicking technology. It’ll help keep you cool as you roam the streets. You’ll also love the comfortable hip-belt. It does a fantastic job of transferring the backpack’s weight to your centre of gravity. For your convenience, there’s even a zippered pocket on it to hold essentials like your mobile phone.
Where the Eagle Creek Global Companion really shines is how it organizes the space. The main compartment opens up via a book-style front zipper for easy access. Additional split zippers inside help you better organize your stuff into separate meshed areas. The padded laptop sleeve is accessible in two locations. It’s perfect for anyone needing to hammer out work on the road.
Who should buy the Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack
City-hopping backpackers will get the most out of the Eagle Creek Global Companion. The enhanced space, innovative design, and excellent organization get high praise. The pack is one of the most convenient choices here. Security features like the central zipper lock point are also good to have around. They’ll give you a little peace of mind when tossing your bag unattended on planes and buses.
Who should NOT buy the Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack
The Eagle Creek Global Companion is better suited for air and bus travel than trekking. The pack lacks external gear loops and hydration compatibility. It’s also fitted with minimal compression technology. Despite the included rain cover, outdoorsmen, climbers, and hikers should look elsewhere.
Gregory Zulu 55
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking
To break away from the hiking backpack scene, the Gregory Zulu 55 busted open its classic design to reinvent it for the modern traveller. Their upgrades added better lumbar support to the more comfortable CrossFlo suspension system. Now, this top men’s rucksack spars with the best of ’em.
Whether your travels take you to the cities or the backwoods, the Gregory Zulu 55 has all the features you’d want. To start, it’s decked out with trekking pole attachments, gear loops, and strong compression straps. At first glance, this rucksack might strike you as a traditional technical pack. Looks are deceiving. It’s also fitted a U-zippered front access panel, dual stretch side pockets, and dual-zippered hip belt. This isn’t just a hiking pack. It’s one that’s serious about keeping the faith of ordinary backpackers, too.
Who should buy the Gregory Zulu 55
On the fence about where your travels will take you? You’ll love the versatility of the Gregory Zulu 55. It’s convenient enough for short trips to places like Asia or Europe. But it also holds onto enough “technical” features for camping or hiking trips.
Who should NOT buy the Gregory Zulu 55
If you spend most of your time in the backwoods, you’ll find better alternatives than the Gregory Zulu 55. With the lack of a laptop sleeve, urban travellers will also do better elsewhere. The 55L capacity is great for stuff in more of your gear. But it also puts the Gregory Zulu 55 over the threshold to use as carry-on luggage for air travel.
Patagonia Ascensionist 40L Pack
Best Uses: Climbing, multi-day hikes
Do your travels often take you into the backwoods? There’s hardly a more faithful companion than the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L Pack. Staying true to the Patagonia spirit, the luggage was designed with climbers and mountaineers in mind. This lightweight backpack is both feature-rich and durable. And there’s enough swagger here to withstand the toughest of travel conditions.
The Patagonia Ascensionist 40L takes comfort seriously. It’s fitted with a robust suspension system. At its heart is a high-density foam back panel. It provides the strength needed to shore up heavy loads. Also add compression straps, padded shoulder straps, load lifters, and a comfortable hip-belt to the mix. You’ll find that the Ascensionist does a fine job of transferring the load to your centre of gravity.
Where the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L really gets top marks is for its technical abilities. You’ll find four rows of daisy chains. You can use them to lash on extra gear like ice axes, rope, camping equipment, or helmets. The compression straps are also strong enough to latch on bigger items like skis for serious backcountry exploration.
Who should buy the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L
If your travel plans often include peak-bagging or multi-day hikes, the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L is a great choice. It’ll become one of your most trusted pieces of travel gear. The lightweight, yet tear-resistant, CORDURA® ripstop nylon/polyester blend is robust. It’ll stand up to the elements as well as any pack among these top rucksacks for men.
Who should NOT buy the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L
As much as you’ll love the quality of the build, the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L is not the best choice for everyday backpackers. The spindrift collar opens wider than most other hiking packs. But in the end, it’s still a top-loading backpack. It’s far less convenient for average travellers than a front-loading pack like the Osprey Porter 46 or Kelty Redwing 44.
The North Face Terra 50
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking
When people say never mess with a classic, they clearly aren’t referring to The North Face Terra 50. As much as it often proves a disaster, redesigning this popular backpack was a hit. It created a design far more suited for modern travel than its predecessor.
With soaring excess baggage fees, you likely often challenge yourself to go lighter. And that’s just what The North Face Terra 50 has done. The design moving away from its bulkier old iteration. The new Terra 50 features a slimmed-down lighter design with a better suspension system for comfort. The padded shoulder harness and hip-belt fit better along the body than ever before. It uses air mesh and a vertical back channel to keep you cooler while you carry your load.
Who should buy The North Face Terra 50
Anyone looking to lighten the load on a multi-day hike should give the The North Face Terra 50 a chance. Its sweet spot is in its comfort and gear storage options. On top of the more than 7 pockets to organize your gear, there’s a zippered sleeping bag compartment. You’ll also find six lashing points to hang extra equipment. Hydration compatibility gives it another thumbs up for serious hikers.
Who should NOT buy The North Face Terra 50
As comfortable as the suspension is, for regular backpacking trips it’s not optimal. When you’re skipping from place to place, the top-loading design is a bit of a drag. The lack of a laptop compartment and security features all but eliminates The North Face Terra 50 for urban adventurers.
TETON Sports Talus 2700 Hiking Backpack
Best Uses: Hiking
The sportiest contender of the bunch is the TETON Sport Talus 2700 Backpack. This bag is small enough to use as a carry-on on most planes but large enough for a two-week trip. (As long as you don’t overpack, of course.)
The TETON Sport Talus 2700 includes several features adventurous travellers will dig. Throughout the pack, you’ll find daisy chains, gear loops, ties, and compression straps. They’ll allow you to attach all the gear you’ll need for an epic adventure. Not only is the TETON Sport Talus 2700 water repellant, it also comes with a backpacking tarp poncho. It doubles as an emergency shelter in rough weather conditions.
Unlike many hiking backpacks, the main compartment is easily accessed through a zippered entrance. It’s not a full front-loading backpack, but it won’t be as big of a pain as a top-loading drawstring compartment.
The pack gets its strength from the dual lightweight aluminum stays. For its weight, 3.2 lbs without the tarp poncho, the TETON Sport Talus 2700 is surprisingly strong. Weight distribution is carried through a dual-wishbone waist belt. For extra comfort tweaks, the back panel adjusts to different torso heights. It also includes padded lumbar support.
Who should buy the TETON Sports Talus 2700
Adventure travellers are the target for the TETON Sports Talus 2700. Planning to deck your luggage out with backwoods gear like hiking shoes, rope, ice axes, or climbing poles? This is your best choice in the under 50L market.
Who should not buy the TETON Sports Talus 2700
General backpackers might find the TETON Sports Talus 2700 to be overkill for their needs. Go with something simpler. The Tortuga Outbreaker or the Standard Luggage Carry-On Backpack suit independent travellers better. Taller travellers should also stay away from this pack. The hip belt is better suited for shorter torsos (15-20″).
- Tortuga Setout (The Urban Explorer): No other option blends in better in the city than this streamlined and well-organized favourite.
- Standard Luggage Carry-On (The Jetsetter): Spend more time in airport lounges than your local Starbucks? There’s hardly a more convenient choice than this innovative bag. Its 35-litre capacity (expandable to 45L) fits within airline regulations as cabin baggage. The pack also offers a unique 3-in-1 design built for speed. It allows you to carry the luggage as a shoulder bag, suitcase, or backpack.
- Osprey Farpoint 40 (The Classic Backpacker): A fully-featured rucksack that does everything it’s meant to do. Never a bad choice.
- Tortuga Outbreaker (The City Hopper): The compact size of this carry-on-sized backpack makes it the perfect companion for frequent movement. Whether you’re hopping on buses, trains or planes, consider the Outbreaker.
- Osprey Porter 46 (The Minimalist): The awesome front-loading backpack design is the easiest way to pack light and stay organized on your trip.
- Tortuga Outbreaker (The Digital Nomad): The security features and big laptop sleeve make this the ultimate pack for working on the road.
- TETON Sports Talus 2700 (The Adventurer): Getting outdoors is simple with this fully-featured hiking backpack by your side. Add-ons like an emergency tarp and gear loops put it in a league of its own for outdoorsmen among these top picks.
How to choose a men’s travel backpack: A buyer’s guide
Choosing the perfect men’s backpack isn’t as easy as picking out a suitcase. Your choice has a lot riding on it. It’s not just a matter of size and style. Even more important is comfort and function.
Your backpack almost becomes part of you.
Yes, it sounds a little dramatic. But it’s not far from the truth. A proper-fitting backpack will be your most trusted travel companion. Without it, you risk spending your travels focused on the pain in your shoulders or back. (Surely, you’d rather enjoy your next favourite destination instead, no?)
Besides choosing a travel backpack that suits your style, there are three major considerations:
While style, size, and features matter, your first concern should be: How well does the backpack fit? Even if the bag is sleek and has the right size and every feature you’d ever want, it’s useless if it’s uncomfortable. Here’s what to watch out for:
- Hip belt: The hip belt suspension, when properly adjusted, should sit, well,… on your hips! This is extremely important. Backpacks for travelling are designed to carry heavy loads away from the shoulders and towards your centre of gravity. If the hip belt is too high or too low, the load won’t carry properly. When secured, there should be a three- to six-inch gap between the padded sides of the hip belt.
- Torso length: Most important for finding a proper fitting backpack is to match your torso length with the optimal length for the backpack. To find your torso length, measure the distance between the C7 vertebra and the top of your hips. (The C7 is the bone on your spine that sticks out between your shoulder blades.)
- Shoulder straps: While wearing your rucksack, you’ll also need to ensure the shoulder straps fit well. For maximum comfort, the shoulder straps should extend about two to three inches past your armpit. The shoulder padding should conform to your shoulder shape.
- Load-lifter straps: Important but often misused, load-lifter straps help you adjust the shoulder load to transfer to the hips. The load-lifter straps should form a 45º angle between the shoulder strap and backpack. If the angle is off, you’ll need to try out a different size.
- Back panel: There’s a trade-off on the back panel between comfort and how many gallons of sweat you’re going to soak it with. You’ll want to stay away from cheap models that add a ton of padding without an airflow system. Air mesh foam will keep your back drier.
When we talk about backpack volume, what we mean is size. Volumes are expressed in litres (L) and range anywhere between 15L and 85L.
After years of backpacking, it’s become clear to me that bigger isn’t always better. In the following list, I’ve focused on backpacks below 50L. For basic two-week backpacking trips, this is an optimum backpack size.
Many may disagree, but packing less truly simplifies your travels and makes them more enjoyable. (If you haven’t tried it yet, check out this guide to minimalist travel packing).
What you’ll find for features won’t vary much between the best travel backpacks. It’s more a matter of preference than a hard & fast rule on what to look for. Here are a few features you’ll want to research:
- Main compartment access: Most backpacks for travel will either be front-loading or top-loading. Front-loading backpacks are more convenient. With a front-loader, it’s easier to organize our essential travel gear and access the compartment.
- Stow-away suspension: Some backpacks offer a way to conceal the shoulder straps and hip belt. If you’re planning on using your backpack as checked luggage, a stow-away system is a good idea. It will save the straps from getting caught in conveyor belts and breaking.
- Zippered pockets: How many zippered internal and external pockets you’ll need will depend on how much travel gear you want to carry. Some backpacks offer more separate compartments than others. Look for lockable zippers to protect your stuff from thieves.
- Water resistance: If you expect to get caught in downpours, you’ll want to check how water-resistant the bag is. Even without waterproofing, most bag manufacturers offer separate waterproof backpack covers.
- Gear loops and compression straps: To keep your travel gear secure, you’ll want to look for a pack with good compression straps. Adventurers with more gear than the average traveller will want to look for an option with plenty of gear loops or daisy chains. They’ll help to strap on all your accessories externally.
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