You can’t deny it: there’s something special about travelling with a backpack. Carry-on luggage and wheeled suitcases have their place, but there’s no rawer and more intimate feeling than hitting the open road strapped into your favourite rucksack.
The problem is: Where do you start looking? There’s been a veritable explosion of women’s travel backpacks slamming the marketplace in the past several years. Designs are always getting lighter, more convenient, and more comfortable; finding the best one to carry your most essential travel gear for your next big trip can be like trying to hit the bullseye on moving a target!
To help you out, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to the best travel backpacks for women of 2018. Besides our top 10 picks, we’ve also included a quick buyer’s guide to help your figure out what to look for in a backpack.
Table of Contents
- Best travel backpacks for women of 2018: Our 10 top recommendations
- The North Face Women’s Terra 40 Travel Backpack
- Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
- High Sierra Women’s Summit 40 Hiking Backpack
- REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40
- Osprey Women’s Kyte 46 Travel Backpack
- Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 Travel Backpack
- REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 65
- Osprey Women’s Sirrus 36 Travel Backpack
- Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL Hiking Backpack
- Gregory Amber 60 Travel Backpack
- Older women’s backpacks for travel (2017 and before)
- How to choose a women’s travel backpack: A buyers’ guide
- Summary: The best travel backpacks for women of 2018
Best travel backpacks for women of 2018: Our 10 top recommendations
You’ll find women’s travel backpacks in all shapes and sizes. Of course, that’s not to say that all are the right choice for your next trip.
As minimalist travellers, we’re a little biased towards the smaller end of the spectrum for backpacks. There’s no doubt you’ll find some excellent backpacks by top manufacturers in the 55-65L range; we just feel they are often unnecessarily bulky and large for the shorter trips that the majority of backpackers make.
With this in mind, we’ve selected women’s backpacks that are not just high quality but support fast and convenient travel. Most of our top picks linger in the 40-50L range, our admittedly-biased sweet spot for short-term travel abroad. We’re confident that all of these choices will be faithful companions in helping you trounce from point A to point B with as little hassle as possible. Let’s take a look, shall we?
In a rush? Here are the best women’s travel backpacks of 2018 compared…
The North Face Women’s Terra 40 Travel Backpack
Planning to dig into the backcountry on your trip? The North Face Women’s Terra 40 is one of the best women’s travel backpacks for the job. The North Face retools this 40L backpack every couple years, and its latest update is the lightest and leanest yet.
What you’ll love most about The North Face Terra 40 is that it’s designed specifically for women, not unisex. The backpack works especially well on smaller women who often find it difficult to find packs that distribute weight correctly to the hip belt.
With 40L of space in the main compartment, there’s more than enough room for a weekend trip and even up to a two-week backpacking trip if you limit your packing. The new The North Face Women’s Terra 40 improves the comfort of the old design, narrowing the harness and lining the hip belt with a soft air mesh to cool you down. The back panel redesign also adds a channel that improves air circulation and reduced sweating.
For outdoorswomen, the North Face Terra 40 also offers 6 lashing points to strap on extra gear for camping, hiking or mountaineering. The backpack is also hydration compatible with enough room for a large (about 30L) hydration bladder for longer treks.
The biggest downside of this bag is that it’s top-loading. For general backpacking, top-loading backpacks are less convenient than front-loading and more difficult to organize. There are, however, 7 pockets and a sleeping bag compartment, so it’s certainly less of a pain to stay organized with The North Face Terra 40 than other top-loading backpacks.
- versatile backpack that’s good for travel, trekking and mountaineering
- plenty of pockets for organization
- comfortable hip-belt and back panel
- top-loading design makes it harder to access belongings quickly
- slightly too large to use as carry-on
Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
There’s a reason why the Osprey Porter 46 has attained a huge fan following over the past few years. And we have to admit: we’re huge fans of the Porter 46, too. (Not just for women, but also for the dudes.)
First things first, the Porter 46 features a flexible and convertible design that morphs seamlessly between a travel duffel bag for quick exits, or a backpack—featuring a padded belt, adjustable shoulder straps and sternum strap—for longer hauls. This feature alone puts this backpack into a league of its own!
What really sticks this among our favourite picks is that the Osprey Porter 46 is a front-loading backpack. Stowing away your gear and keeping it all organized is an unbelievable cinch with this backpack. For digital nomads or other itinerant workers, the back-panel laptop sleeve is perfect for keeping your work at hand. With 46 litres of capacity and a design that fits as a carry-on on most airlines, there’s a massive convenience factor present with this awesome bag.
- Front-loading design for easy access
- Convertible between backpack and duffel bag
- Carry-on sized
- Non-traditional look for backpack
High Sierra Women’s Summit 40 Hiking Backpack
For the price, it’s hard to find anything much better than the High Sierra Women’s Summit 40. First time backpackers will love the “classic” backpack features available on this compact, yet spacious, bag.
The main compartment, holding approximately 40L, is top-loading with a drawstring closure with a rainproof top lid. Although front-loading bags are generally more convenient, the Summit 40 has several pockets to organize your clothing and gear.
Like most of the best women’s backpacks, the High Sierra Women’s Summit 40 has a comfortable foam back panel with airflow provisions to keep you cool on longer journeys or on warmer days.
Both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are lined with High Sierra’s HEX-VENT mesh padding. Although the HEX-VENT mesh does a good job of cooling down the straps, it’s been known to cause chafing on bare skin. Depending on how the backpack fits, wearing with a tank top could be uncomfortable for you.
- plenty of pockets for organization
- good airflow on back panel to reduce sweating
- top-loading design is a pain for getting to your stuff quickly
- mesh on shoulder pads can cause chafing
- designed for petite women with shorter torsos
REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40
For urban adventurers, there’s hardly a better backpack than the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40. Designed to keep you insanely organized, this versatile pack features a full-zip design that crushes others in in accessibility and convenience. (And, yes, that absolutely means no more rustling around to reach those pesky socks at the bottom of your bag!)
Even if extras like a laptop sleeve and a stow-away harness system sway the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40 clearly towards ordinary travellers, REI doesn’t stray far from its adventurous reputation. Hikers will love swapping out their laptop for a 3L hydration sleeve and strapping on some trekking-pole to the hidden gear attachments for an epic day or two on the trails. There’s even a rain cover for when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
What’s perhaps best about the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40 is its suspension system. At its heart is a supportive back panel that’s built upon the same principles as REI’s hiking backpacks and padded with ventilated mesh for comfort and better airflow. The straps and hip belt are designed specifically for women, curving around the chest and adjusted for shorter torso lengths and different hip sizes.
- Full-zip design for excellent organization
- Female-friendly suspension system
- Awesome value
- Limited capacity (40L)
- Too big to use as carry-on on some airlines
Osprey Women’s Kyte 46 Travel Backpack
With a trail-friendly design, intelligent detailing and a load range from 20-45 lbs, the Osprey Women’s Kyte 46 is a versatile and nifty backpack, suitable for a range of uses and activities. It comes with a wide mouth access to the main compartment, so you can grab anything you want without wasting too much time rummaging.
The Airscape back panel is a boon for those hot and humid days when you can’t let the sun and heat deter your love for the trail. With its durable exterior fabric, the pack is unfazed when thrown onto buses, trains or baggage claims.
There is a built-in rain cover too, reliably protecting of your belongings from the rain. A barrage of pockets spread throughout the Osprey Women’s Kyte 46 means you’ll be able to organize your stuff like a pro. To help distribute weight within, the backpack features a unique internal hammock.
The only deal-breaker is the lid. It’s not adjustable, so if you load the top section in excess, it can rub against the back of your head uncomfortably.
Despite one or two minor flaws, the Osprey Kyte 46L is a solid choice for most female backpackers. It accommodates everything you need and maintains its integrity in the face of abrasion and bad weather.
- Durable exterior
- Plenty of pockets for organization
- Built-in rain cover
- Inconvenient lid
Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 Travel Backpack
The Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 is hands down one of the most popular travel backpacks among young women. The top-loading design makes it easy to stuff a ton of items in a crammed space while the bag’s many different compartments give you better opportunities for organization than traditional backpacks.
The suspension system on the Redwing 40 is cutting-edge, and one of the best performers on our list for distributing pressure to the hips. There’s a U-zip as well, providing convenient access to the primary compartment and the electronics sleeve. Since the bag is supported via Air Mesh straps, it allows for a comfortable use even when you have walked for miles at a stretch.
Overall, the Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 is suitable for women looking for a moderately-sized bag at a moderate price. It’s large enough to accommodate your stuff for a short backpacking trip yet small enough to carry without discomfort. And the fact that it’s hydration pack compatible makes it ideal for long day hikes.
- Excellent suspension system
- Easy gear access via U-zip
- Hydration compatible
- Smaller capacity is better for shorter trips
REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 65
If comfort and capacity are top of mind, then strapping on the REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 65 will put a huge smile on your face on your next adventure. This pack draws its strength from its tactical load-handing capabilities, designed to help you carry heaps of gear for extended periods of time with little fatigue or discomfort.
Nearly every element of the Traverse 65’s suspension system shoots above industry norms. Accompanying the usual well-padded shoulder straps is a 3D-contoured hip belt that’s built with sculpted foam for comfort and equipped with REI’s ActivMotion technology for more stable movement over uneven surfaces.
Combined with REI UpLift™ Compression, a technology that brings your pack’s load closer to your centre of gravity, this pack’s suspension is a tour-de-force of stability and balance.
Despite its appearance and load-carrying features, the REI Co-op Women’s Traverse 65 isn’t just for hikers. The pack is somewhat of a hybrid, boasting both a top-loading panel for the outdoors crowds and a convenient front J-zip for more run-of-the-mill travellers.
The only major drawback of the Traverse 65 is its size. At 65-litres this women’s backpack is hardly a minimalist’s dream. But if you’re planning to both hit the trails and the streets of your new favourite city, there’s hardly a more versatile choice out there!
- Spectacular load-carrying capabilities
- Extra features for outdoorswomen
- Too big for carry-on
- Limited colour choices
Osprey Women’s Sirrus 36 Travel Backpack
With a revamped design, fresh upgrade, and a robust set of features, the Osprey Sirrus 36 has all your travel needs covered. The most noticeable quality is the side-zippered entrance design, which allows easier access to the contents of the main compartment as opposed to the U-shaped front design.
A seamless mesh on the harness, hip belt and back helps you trek endlessly in the hot weather without getting sweaty and smelly. The adjustable torso length, ergonomic shoulder straps, narrower harness and angled hip belt all add up to a female-friendly design and proves that Osprey is a brand that lives up to its claims. Included as well is rain cover to protect your belongings from bad weather.
Other than being one of the smaller contenders on our list, it’s hard to find many faults with the Osprey Sirrus 36. We’d be hard pressed to not recommend it to women looking for a compact and feature-rich backpack that will grow with them. Tons of bonus features, an appealing, stow-on-the-go design and availability of dynamic color choices make this is a must for every women looking to embrace the wilderness with unbridled joy.
- Side-zippered entrance provides quick access
- Mesh harness
- Adjustable suspension system
- Limited capacity
Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL Hiking Backpack
With a lightweight structure and its patented AirComfort Lite back system, the Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL is built to cater to both the petite form and adventure needs of a woman.
At the apex is the pack’s excellent suspension system. It’s fully adjustable to a variety of frames and features load-stabilizer straps that balance your gear as you trek though different terrains. The AirComfort Lite is a breezy feature guaranteed to keep you cool and dry even after miles of walking in erratic weather.
In addition to the main top-loading compartment, the pack comes with a small zippered sleeping bag pouch on the bottom. Even when you’re just using the Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL for travel instead of camping, stuffing in extra items on the go is a breeze.
A moderate 45L capacity (plus hydration compatibility) makes the Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL most apt for weekend trips and short-term backpacking trips. It’s especially suitable for women who hate bulky old-fashioned packs and prefer to keep it stylish on the trail.
- Superb suspension system
- Stylish classic hiking backpack look
- No interior side pockets (mesh pockets only)
- Limited capacity for longer trips
Gregory Amber 60 Travel Backpack
The Gregory Amber 60 is a lighter, smaller and more versatile sibling of the Amber 70. The top-loading design gives you access to components in the main compartment. An outer zip pocket stores the rain cover for timely safety from bad weather, or, on pleasant days, doubles as accessory storage space.
Features like the trekking pole attachment, side pockets and dual hip-belt pockets and bottom compression help you survive and stay organized when you’re miles away from home. The combination hydration sleeve works well for unscheduled day trips and long journeys.
Although it’s lightweight, the Gregory Amber 60 lacks mesh ventilation for the back. Wearing the backpack in extreme heat or over extended journeys without frequent breaks will leave you feeling sticky and unpleasant.
Overall, the Gregory Amber 60 is a trail-friendly backpack that hits the sweet spot for women looking for more capacity to tackle extended trips yet keep their pack light enough to allow for a comfortable journey.
- Large 60L capacity
- Rain cover included
- No back ventilation
Older women’s backpacks for travel (2017 and before)
Sadly, not all rucksacks make the cut from year-to-year. Here are few oldies but goodies that have been discontinued. You might still be able to find these used or on clearance.
Kelty Women’s Catalyst 46 Travel Backpack
Featuring the one-size-fits-all structure, the Kelty Women’s Catalyst 46 sports a female-friendly design that shines with angled shoulder straps and a conical waist-belt that finely distributes pressure throughout the spine and hips.
Apart from a customized fit, the Catalyst 46 offers a lightweight and comfortable feel during hot, sultry days. It’s a mid-sized backpack, best suited for a shorter-term trip rather than an extended travel break.
The PerfectFIT suspension system makes it easier to achieve an accurate on-body adjustment. Simply locate the straps near your lower spine and pull them downwards for a quick, more comfortable fit. It also comes with load lifter straps to help further alleviate stress on your shoulders and prevent chafing. The integrated spindrift collar enables you to carry more gear and secures the bag’s contents.
All in all, the Kelty Women’s Catalyst 46 is perfect for women looking for a moderately-sized backpack with a solid feature set. The backpack’s comfort & support is perfect for both day hikes and short backpacking tours.
- Excellent suspension system
- Well-ventilated back panel
- Minimal pockets for organization
Boreas Lost Coast 60 Backpack
The Borreas Lost Coast 60 is a technical backpack that combines alpine design elements with an ultralight structure for functional and streamlined use.
Although it’s heavier than other lightweight backpacks here, the suspension system and the plastic frame can be removed to bring down the weight to three pounds without compromising too much on the overall functionality of the backpack.
Additionally, the Borreas Lost Coast 60 offers a rich ton of storage options, including both open and closed storage for arranging your gear in a manner that best suits your needs. The presence of elevated side pockets make the pack less prone to abrasion while the comfortable lumbar pad helps to provide better load-to-hip weight distribution.
Just keep in mind that sizing on the Lost Coast 60 runs small. If your waist and torso measurements don’t match the specs, you’re better off avoiding it altogether. Other than that, there is little to be wary about this backpack. It’s a durable product with clever detailing to make your travel memorable for happy reasons only!
- Large 60L storage capacity
- Most suitable for shorter torsos and smaller waists
How to choose a women’s travel backpack: A buyers’ guide
There’s a huge difference between picking out regular carry-on luggage or a suitcase and choosing the perfect women’s backpack. Unlike most other types of luggage, it’s not just about style.
The best travel backpacks are less a piece of luggage than an extension of you; it’s not always a one-size-fits-all scenario. Some backpacks with fit some women better than it will fit others. Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer for what’s the best women’s travel backpack!
While you’re shopping for your new backpack, here are a few big things you’ll want to look at:
More important than anything is how the backpack fits. Even if the bag is the most stylish and hippest travel accessory of the year, it means very little if it’s ill-fitting and uncomfortable to wear. Here are the major components you’ll need to know about regarding fit:
Perhaps the most important piece of a backpack is the hip belt component of the suspension system. Many people wearing backpacks for the first time ignore this all-important feature, resting the entire load fatiguingly onto the top of the shoulders.
What the hip belt does is transfers the pack’s heavy load from your shoulders onto the hips at your centre of gravity. To do its trick though, the hip belt needs to sit at the right spot on your body and form a three- to six-inch gap between the padded belt section when fully secured.
Not every hip belt and backpack will suit every body. Some are made for smaller frames, others for bigger frames. This is actually one of the main reasons why we most often wholeheartedly recommend backpacks designed for females rather than unisex models!
Like the hip belt, not all backpacks are created equal in regards to torso length. Although most women’s backpacks are made specifically with small torso lengths in mind, some will be better suited for you than others.
Your torso length is measured by taking the distance between your C7 vertabrae (the protruding bone on your spine between your shoulder blades) and the top of your pelvis. Whenever you can, be sure to match your torso length with those listed in the bag specifications. On more expensive models, there’s often a torso length adjustment that allows you to fully customize the rucksack to your back.
An often overlooked feature on backpacks, load-lifter straps don’t look like much. But these small straps— linking the backpack to the shoulder harness—are a vital part of the suspension system.
When choosing a backpack, you’ll want to make certain that the load lifter straps are long enough to do their job of transferring the load to the hip belt. To use them properly, you’ll need to loosen them to the point where a 45˚angle forms between your shoulder straps and the top of the backpack. If the angle is significantly off, you’ll need to either adjust the torso length or find a different backpack that provides a better fit for your frame.
Another oft-ignored or misinterpreted part of a backpack is the back panel. To the untrained spectator it would appear that more padding is better, right?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. While a more heavily padded back panel will give you a cushier feeling as your wear the backpack, over longer periods of time the thick foam you’ll find on less expensive models will cause you to sweat and possibly chafe.
Better than normal foam is when back panels include an air mesh ventilation system. This allows sweat vapours to escape and keep you drier.
When choosing your backpack, you want to be sure to match up the volume to your intended use. A two-week adventure in Europe will require a different approach than a two-month trek through the Andes.
Some may lean towards the bigger-is-better camp; if you’ve got a little extra space, no big deal, right? Our personal preference, however, is to go as small with your backpack as your trip will allow.
Why? We’ve always been fans of minimalist travel, that is, hauling around the least amount of gear needed for maximum comfort. It’s better to be quicker and more agile than to pack a backpack to the brim with things that you, frankly, don’t need for your trip.
Most of the women’s backpacks we’ve chosen here fall between 40L and 60L. We really feel that this is the sweet spot for most trip with many of our personal favourites leaning towards the smaller end of the spectrum. With some minimalist travel packing techniques, 40L is usually plenty of room to jam all your gear in for a typical two-week vacation. Plus, there’s an added bonus: many 40L bags can be safely stowed in overhead bins to avoid checked baggage fees.
Besides volume and fit, there’s a number of features that you’ll find swirling around our picks. Here are some to look out for:
Main compartment access
Backpacks usually fall into one of two categories: front-loading or top-loading. More and more, travellers are opting for more convenient front-loading backpacks. It’s far easier to access and to organize your belongings when you aren’t digging through the entire bag to find them.
We’ve included both types in our guide, but you’ll find that we recommend front-loading backpacks like the Osprey Porter 46 over other models when the main use is travel rather than hiking.
Although not an overly common feature, you may want to check whether your backpack has the ability to conceal the suspension system. For carry-on-sized backpacks, this isn’t much of a concern; it becomes more imperative when your bag is constantly being tossed onto baggage claims and conveyor belts. The ability to stash away the suspension system will ensure that your buckles and straps don’t get caught and damaged in transit.
It all comes down to preference when you’re looking at the number of pockets on a backpack. If you plan to carry lots of gear that you’ll need to frequently access from the exterior, you’ll want to look for bags that offer things like hip-belt pockets or zippered side pockets.
Lockable zippers are another feature that you should look out for, especially if you’re travelling to destinations where petty theft is a problem.
Some bags are better than others when it comes to water resistance. In especially wet destinations, you’ll want to verify that the bag will suffer through some inclement weather without drenching your stuff. When in doubt, most bags offer rain covers—either included or purchased separately—for extra protection in the worst weather.
Gear loops & compression straps
If you’re planning to do any outdoor activities, you’ll want to look into a backpack that offers gear loops or daisy chains. These allow you hang extra travel gear like hiking poles, pots, pans, and tactical flashlights externally on the bag to expand its carrying capacity.
Compression straps, on the other hand, help maximize the gear you’re carrying inside the backpack. When you’ve overpacked the bag, compression straps can be tightened to squeeze the bag into smaller spaces or to redistribute the load closer to your center of gravity.
Summary: The best travel backpacks for women of 2018
Still can’t choose which women’s backpack is best for you? Here are a couple final thoughts:
- Looking for a great all-around travel backpack? Our hearts go out to the Osprey Porter 46 for its convenient front-loading design.
- Need something a little bigger for a longer trip? For its versatility and lightweight, the Gregory Amber 60 is our top pick in the 50-60L category.
- Need to look good while keeping cool? For walking over longer distances with a backpack, the amazing cooling prowess of the AirComfort Lite system on the Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 SL gets our nod. And you’ll even look great in it!
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