Most of us imagine backpackers solely as roving youngsters, partying their way from city to city on a daily budget that would hardly cover a cup of Starbucks back home. This really isn’t the case!
Backpacking knows no age limit. Think of moving from a suitcase to a backpack as a step forward, not backwards. Of course, other luggage has its place. But 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 a sleek comfortable backpack, you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Not sure where to start looking for men’s travel backpacks? Here’s a guide to the best travel backpacks for men in 2017 including a quick buyer’s guide on what to look for in your travel backpack.
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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 the comfort and function.
Your backpack almost becomes part of you.
I’m sorry if that 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 pain in your shoulders or back instead of enjoying your next favourite destination.
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 the every feature you’d ever want, it’s entirely 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 as backpacks are designed to carry heavy load 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 vertabrae (the bone on your spine that sticks out between your shoulders blades) and the top of your hips.
- Shoulder straps: When you’re wearing your backpack, the shoulder straps should extend about two the three inches past your armpit for maximum comfort. The shoulder padding should, as much as possible, conform to your shoulder shape.
- Load-lifter straps: These small straps help you adjust the shoulder load to transfer to the hips. The load-lifter straps should form a 45˚ 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 your backpack with. You’ll want to stay away from cheap models that add a ton of padding without an airflow system. Air mesh foam keeps your back drier.
When we talk about backpack volume what we really mean is size. Backpack volumes are expressed in litres (L) and range anywhere between 15L and 85L.
What’s become clear to me after years of backpacking is that bigger isn’t always better. You’ll notice in the following list of the best travel backpacks for men, I’ve focused on backpacks below 50L. For basic two-week backpacking trips, I feel this is the optimum backpack size. Some may not agree with me, but I feel that 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 backpacks. Truthfully, it’s more of a matter of preference than a hard and fast rule on what to look for. Here are a few features you’ll want to research:
- Main compartment access: Most backpacks will either be front-loading or top-loading. Front-loading tends to be more convenient as it’s easier to organize 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 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 waterproof backpack covers separately.
- Gear loops and compression straps: To keep your travel gear secure, you’ll want to look for a backpack with good compression straps. For adventurers with more gear than the average traveller, you’ll want to look for a backpack with plenty of gear loops or daisy chains to strap on all your accessories externally.
The best travel backpacks for men 2017
To help you in picking out your perfect travel backpack, I’ve put together a list of the best travel backpacks for men in 2017. For now, I’ve focused on the smaller end of the spectrum, recommending backpacks that are small enough to use as carry-on luggage yet should have enough space to get you through a quick 10-day to 2-week trip with some minimalist travel packing techniques. Let’s take a look…
Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
If you’re 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 with easy stow-away shoulder straps and hip belt suspension.
The best part of the Osprey Porter 46 is its compact size, eliminating the need to check your baggage and allowing you skip out on the checked-bag fees. As long as you don’t overpack, the backpack will fit comfortably on the overhead bins on most planes.
One of my biggest complaints with most backpacks is being unable to access your belongings quickly. Not so with this bag. The Osprey Porter 46 loads on the front panel, making finding your stuff much easier than with a bigger top-loading backpack. It even adds an extra layer of organization with two internal zippered pockets, one fabric and one mesh.
With Osprey’s StraightJacket compression technology, you can squish more into the backpack than you thought possible. It’s perfect if you’ve slightly overpacked and need to squeeze in an extra few millimetres to stow your bag in an overhead bin.
If you need a little extra room for things like noise-cancelling headphones, cell phones or travel notebooks, the Osprey Porter 46 includes four cord loops on the front panel to attach the Osprey Daylite Backpack.
Who should buy the Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
The Osprey Porter 46 is perfect if you’re looking for an easy-to-handle and versatile backpack for quick trips between cities. If you ever find yourself needing to change trains quickly, for example, you’ll absolutely 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 Travel Backpack
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 frame, the hip-belt sits too low to be useful for weight distribution. Unless you also have the accompanying Osprey Daylite Backpack, the lack of a top compartment (available on the larger Osprey Porter 65), will make it cumbersome to access oft-needed travel accessories.
Kelty Redwing 44 Travel Backpack
Whether you want to hit the trail or zip off to Southeast Asia, the Kelty Redwing 44 Travel Backpack could become your new luggage of choice. The Redwing 44 has a simple design that’s 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.
Even if at the surface the Kelty Redwing 44 appears to lack bells and whistles, they’ve added features where they matter. The Redwing 44 is supported by a LightBeam lightweight aluminum stay and high-density polyethylene (HPDE) frame sheet that transfer loads effectively.
For comfort, the Kelty Redwing 44 gets high praise. The well-padded shoulder straps, dual foam hip belt, and lumbar support, 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, helping keep you cool while wearing the backpack.
The Kelty Redwing 44 is excellent for organizing your travel gear. The pack features several compartments including 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 Backpack
Most backpackers would dig the Kelty Redwing 44. Even hikers on shorter multi-day trips could use this backpack. The Redwing 44 is 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 easily stow it in the overhead bins on most airplanes.
Who should not buy the Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack
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.
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.
Tortuga Travel Backpack
At a quick glance, you might think the Tortuga Travel Backpack is a simple carry-on. That’s the brilliance of the design: It’s a backpack made to fit perfectly as a maximum-sized carry-on. The Tortuga Travel Backpack 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 know firsthand how annoying top-loading backpacks are. That’s the first huge feature on the Tortuga Travel Backpack. The front-loading design allows you to get in and out of your backpack 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.
Speaking of organization, the Tortuga Travel Backpack is chock-loaded with zippered compartments to keep your travel gear tidy. The exterior zippers are lockable with a TSA-approved lock keeping your stuff safe if you need to leave your bag unattended for whatever reason. A lockable padded laptop sleeve, with room for up to a 17″ laptop, makes the Tortuga Travel Backpack perfect for working on the road.
The hip belt on the Tortuga Travel Backpack is well-designed, transferring most of the load to your centre of gravity. There’s even an air mesh back padding to cool you down as you walk around with the backpack.
Who should buy the Tortuga Travel Backpack
If you’re anything like me and hate digging through an entire backpack to find something, the Tortuga Travel Backpack 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.
Who should not buy the Tortuga Travel Backpack
Unfortunately, the suspension system on the Tortuga isn’t adjustable. The hip belt won’t transfer the load effectively on travellers smaller frames. Tortuga recommends the bag for those with a 18-22″ torso.
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
Whether you want to spend a couple weeks in Europe or take a quick weekend road trip, the Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack is a nearly perfect combination of size, portability and comfort. It shares many features with the Osprey Porter 46, but with a couple extras thrown in that appeal to a slightly different backpacker crowd.
Like the Porter 46, you can use the Osprey Farpoint 40 as either a duffel-style travel bag or a backpack using the side handle or zippered stow-away hip belt and shoulder harness system. Walking with Osprey Farpoint 40 in backpack mode is, however, more comfortable than carrying it. 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 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 Travel Backpack
The Osprey Farpoint 40 is overall 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 Travel Backpack
Hikers on longer, multi-day treks will probably need to find something 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 there aren’t enough interior pockets to separate their clothings and accessories. This is easily solved with investing in some packing cubes with the added bonus of maximizing the space in your backpack.
TETON Sports Talus 2700 Backpack
The sportiest contender of the bunch is the TETON Sport Talus 2700 Backpack. Like all the other backpacks listed, 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.
The TETON Sport Talus 2700 includes several features that more adventurous travellers will dig. Throughout the pack, you’ll find daisy chains, gear loops, tie and compression straps that 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 porcho that can double as an emergency shelter in rough weather conditions.
Unlike many hiking backpacks, the main compartment is easily accessed through a zippered entrance. Although it’s not fully front-loading, it won’t be as big of a pain as a top-loading drawstring compartment.
The backpack 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 and includes an padded lumbar support.
Who should buy the TETON Sports Talus 2700 Backpack
Adventure travellers are the target for the TETON Sports Talus 2700. If you’re planning to deck your backpack 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 Backpack
General backpackers might find the TETON Sports Talus 2700 to be overkill for their needs. Something simpler like the Tortuga or Redwing 44 would suit most independent travellers better. Taller travellers should also stay away from this pack as the hip belt is better suited for shorter torsos (15-20″).
Verdict: The best travel backpacks for men 2017
Whichever of these men’s travel backpacks you choose, you’ll be making a great choice. Some work better for certain travellers than others. Let’s make it a little easier for you. Here are my recommendations:
- The Adventurer: TETON Sports Talus 2700
- The Urban Explorer: Kelty Redwing 44
- The Classic Backpacker: Osprey Farpoint 40
- The City Hopper: Tortuga Travel Backpack
- The Minimalist: Osprey Porter 46
- The Digital Nomad: Tortuga Travel Backpack