Best Travel Backpacks: 15 Stellar Picks for Men & Women

Maybe I’m a little biased, but I can’t think of a better piece of luggage for independent travel than a solid travel backpack. I’ve travelled with just about everything from wheeled carry-on luggage to massive 29″ spinner suitcases that I shamefully once overpacked. Still, I keep returning to my trusty ol’ rucksack.

Thing have fortunately improved since I first hopped abroad. No longer are we stuck with heavy, inconvenient top-loading sacks designed for the hiking trail.

Today’s best travel backpacks are anything but that: They’re lightweight, durable, and decked out with brag-worthy features like full-zip front panels, lockable zippers, padded laptop sleeves, RFID-blocking pockets, and even wheels!

Not sure where to start your search? Here’s a complete guide to the best travel backpacks for 2021 including a travel backpack buyers’ guide that will help you sort through everything you’ll need to make your decision.

Best carry-on travel backpacks of 2021: Top 3 recommendations

I love travelling light, so forgive me if covering carry-on backpacks first seems a little odd. I know that packing light isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a god-send.

As more and more airlines start to charge for checked baggage, the demand for smaller luggage will only increase. Plus, there’s the added bonus of putting less strain on your body. Win-win, wouldn’t you say?

But make no mistake: these carry-on backpacks aren’t just here for their size.

The features and build-quality of these picks would place them among the best travel backpacks regardless of their smaller stature. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best carry-on travel backpacks…

Product Capacity More Info
Osprey Porter 46 46L
Tortuga Outbreak Travel Backpack Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack 45L
Osprey Farpoint 40 40L

Osprey Porter 46

Capacity: 46L

Best Uses: Travel

We’re callin’ it early. With the Osprey Porter 46 in the mix, it’s hard for many others to compete for the title of best travel backpack. If you’ve ever fuddled about with a good ol’ hiking backpack, pulling out all your clothes out from a drawstring enclosure, you’ll instantly recognize exactly why this travel pack is something special.

The key to the success of the Osprey Porter 46 was in completely rethinking backpacks. Sensing the frustration of travellers, Osprey combined the agility of a rucksack with the convenience of a suitcase to create a front-loading design that allows you to easily access your clothing and belongings—without the hassle of digging to the bottom through a small opening.

Besides the convenient design, the Osprey Porter 46 also features an excellent suspension system. With the padded hip-belt and adjustable shoulder harness with a sternum strap, your load stays centered and steady as you move from destination to destination. They’ve even included a side handle that lets you quickly grab and carry the pack like a travel duffel bag. It’s like having two bags in one!

More than anything, you’ll love that the Osprey Porter 46 is small enough to use as a carry-on with most airlines as long as you don’t overpack. For airplane travel, there’s a lockable laptop sleeve on the backpack to keep your most valuable travel gear close at hand.

Pros

  • Easy access through front-loading compartment
  • Doubles as both a backpack and duffel bag
  • Sized for carry-on

Cons

  • Suspension system not designed for carrying over long distances
  • Limited external storage space

Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack

Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack

Capacity: 45L

Best Uses: Urban travel

Travelling by airplane is never easier than when you’ve got the Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack by your side. This innovative backpack is designed to organize and store all your essential gear for a quick backpacking trip while still passing for a carry-on on your favourite airline.

Like all of the best backpacks for travel, the Tortuga Travel Backpack ditches the passé top-loading design for a convenient front-loading panel. Getting in and out of the bag for a change of clothes or to grab a book is simple and care-free. Gone are the hassles of rustling through your entire wardrobe to find a certain shirt or pair of pants.

One of the best features of the Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack is that it’s designed with the needs of the modern traveller in mind. There’s a lockable 17″ laptop sleeve as well as lockable external zippers to keep thieves at bay.

The suspension system of the original Tortuga Travel Backpack was the one place that this backpack once lacks. It wasn’t adjustable, and fit best on travellers with 18″ to 22″ torsos.

The new and improved Tortuga Outbreaker Backpacker fixes that problem. Now, the backpack’s suspension is fully adjustable. When you hit the sweet spot for your neight, the suspension works remarkably well, transferring about 80% of the bag’s weight to the robust hip belt. The air mesh back panel is a nice feature as well, keeping your back cool as your traverse through the streets of your new favourite city.

Pros

  • Convenient front-loading design
  • Lockable zippers
  • Lockable 17″ padded laptop sleeve

Cons

  • Premium price point

Osprey Farpoint 40

Capacity: 40L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

Even if it didn’t top out this list of the best carry-on backpacks, the Osprey Farpoint 40 should be close to first in mind for nearly any backpacker looking to lighten up their load. In terms of features, there’s not much separating the Farpoint 40 and its direct competitors. The suspension system, however, wins it some points in comfort—even if only overtaking the Tortuga and Porter 46 by a slight margin.

Like Osprey’s other top carry-on backpack, the Farpoint 40 doubles as both a travel duffel bag and a rucksack. It’s in backpack mode though that this pack really shines. The straps are well-padded and lined with air mesh to keep you cool while wandering in warmer climes.

When comparing other smaller travel backpacks, you’ll notice how the Farpoint 40 transfers the load to the hip belt better for a wider variety of torso sizes than other similarly-sized packs like the Tortuga or Porter 46.

What you’ll love most about the Osprey Farpoint 40 is its organizational abilities. All your gear is accessible via a front-loading panel with lockable zippers for safety.

Inside, there are two pockets to compartmentalize your clothing while the outside features one small zippered pocket. Although it’ll fit a few small travel accessories, for anything more substantial you’ll have to carry a separate daypack (no attachment possible).

Pros

  • Front-loading design to easily access belongings
  • Comfortable suspension system

Cons

  • Minimal space in exterior pocket
  • No daypack attachment

Best men’s travel backpacks of 2021: Top 3 recommendations

If you’re looking for something a little bigger, don’t fret. There’s a backpack to suit nearly every traveller, whether you’re packing for a one-week or a two-month trip.

Although hiking rucksacks are a far more common sight along backpackers’ trails, these men’s travel backpacks are more suitable for ordinary travellers thanks to their front-loading or full-zip design. Here are some of the best travel backpacks for men

Product Capacity More Info
Kelty Redwing 50 50L
REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 40L
Eagle Creek Global Companion 68L

Kelty Redwing 50

Capacity: 50L

Best Uses: Travel, hiking

A rare hybrid that’s both a city-slicker and outdoorsman, the Kelty Redwing 50 is one of the most versatile travel backpacks you’ll find anywhere. This innovative design draws you in with familiarity and wonder, acting as both a classic top-loading and convenient front-loading backpack with its easy-access U-zipper design.

The suspension system of the Kelty Redwing 50 centres around its LightBeam™ stay, built from a lightweight aluminum. Where the Kelty Redwing 50 truly shines is when wearing it for extending periods of time thanks to its Perfect Fit suspension system.

Not only are loads transferred well towards the centre of gravity, the Dynamic AirFlow backpanel uses a special mesh to cool you down while wearing the pack. The well-padded air mesh shoulder straps & hip belt add to your comfort.

For organizing your essential travel gear, the Kelty Redwing 50 has plenty of options including two zippered side-pockets and a front pocket with organizers to stash away passport holders, maps, pens, and other travel accessories. To squeeze a couple extra millimetres from your backpack or to stow extra gear externally, the Redwing 50 features large side compression straps.

Pros

  • U-zipper main panel access
  • Excellent adjustable PerfectFit suspension system
  • Two side pockets and one front pocket with organizers

Cons

  • Too large for carry-on
  • U-zipper doesn’t open all the way
  • Not suitable for smaller torso sizes

REI Co-op Men’s Ruckpack 40

REI Co-op Men's Ruckpack 40

Capacity: 40L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

From the city to the hiking trails, you won’t find a much better companion than the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40. The streamlined design of this men’s backpack is unpretentious and elegant despite its ability to duke it out in rugged conditions.

The value of the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 goes well beyond its reasonable price point. You’ll absolutely love the suspension system on this comfortable rucksack.

It features everything you’ll ever need to stay comfortable from air mesh shoulder straps & hip belt and to a sturdy back panel and load lifters & compression straps.

Unlike your typical hiking backpack, the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 opens up wide with a convenient full-zip design. That means no more rustling through your entire pack to find your stuff. The modern traveller will also love the 15″ laptop sleeve (doubling as a hydration sleeve for more active travellers) and the lockable zippers.

Pros

  • Excellent value
  • Full-zip design for easy access
  • Comfortable suspension system

Cons

  • Suspension not adjustable
  • Laptop sleeve only 15″

Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack

Eagle Creek Global Companion

Capacity: 68L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

Urban travellers can’t get enough of the Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack. With a capacity of 68L, it’s one of the biggest travel backpacks on this list. But even in spite of my love for smaller travel gear, the space on this pack is so well thought out, it would seem criminal to not include it.

You’ll immediately notice that the Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack shares a front-loading design along with our other favourites. With one quick zip, you can easily access all of your clothing without the hassle of rooting through your bag blindly.

The organizational components—from the interior meshed pockets to the padded laptop sleeve—gets everything in the right place so you’re never fumbling around to find your stuff.

The suspension system on the Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack is equally convenient. Its features a comfortable well-padded hip belt that transfers the pack’s weight admirably to your centre of gravity.

The shoulder straps are equally airy and comfy. They’re even moisture-wicking, an awesome feature when you’re ripping through the streets or the trails on a warm summer day.

Pros

  • Excellent organizational capabilities
  • Good storage capacity
  • Central lock point and lockable zippers for security

Cons

  • No external gear loops
  • Not hydration compatible
  • Minimal compression technology

Best women’s travel backpacks of 2021: Top 3 recommendations

Truthfully, there isn’t a massive difference between women’s backpacks and the others we’ve featured so far. Many of the models already covered could be a good choice for most women.

That being said, for some women, the female-friendly designs of the following backpacks could be much more comfortable. The biggest difference lies in the suspension system.

The shoulder harnesses and hip belts for women’s travel backpacks are usually curved slightly to better fit the female figure. You’ll also find that these backpacks are more suitable to smaller torso sizes than their male equivalents.

In any case, here’s are a few of the top choices for the best travel backpacks for women

Product Capacity More Info
Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 40L
Osprey Women’s Fairview 55 55L
REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40 40L

Kelty Women’s Redwing 40

Capacity: 40L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

Like its counterpart men’s backpack, the Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 grasps the attention of intrepid travellers with a unique hybrid design. Although the Redwing 40 shares a similar top-loading style with classic drawstring hiking bags, its large U-zipper and zipper-split main compartment offers easier access and better organization than standard traditional backpacks.

In terms of comfort, the Kelty Redwing 40 is one of the top performers among women’s travel backpacks. The suspension system, centring around the ultralight LightBeam aluminum stay, redistributes the weight down to the hip belt remarkably for excellent stability on the streets and trail.

All of the main suspension components—back panel, shoulder straps, and hip belt—are well padded and lined with a light air mesh that increases air flow to keep you cool in warmer temperatures. (No more sweating and chafing!)

You’ll love all the extra room that the Kelty Redwing 40 throws at you outside the main compartment. The updated model adds better organization to the front accessories pocket, giving you more room to store travel essentials like passports and maps.

Toss in an additional two side pockets, a laptop/hydration sleeve, a front stuff-it pocket, and a quick-access lid pocket and you’ll see how there’s more than enough space in the Kelty Redwing 40 for all your small gadgets and gear.

Pros

  • Excellent suspension system
  • Front U-zipper gives easy access to main compartment
  • Laptop/hydration sleeve

Cons

  • Most suitable for shorter trips

Osprey Women’s Fairview 55

Capacity: 55L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

Taking its cue from the Farpoint 40 with an extra 15L of capacity, the Osprey Women’s Fairview 55 is the perfect choice when you need to carry a little more gear. Like its smaller sibling, the Fairview 55 impresses with a comfortable and robust suspension system fitted especially for women and designed for longer wear.

The secret to the suspension of the Osprey Fairview 55 is the Lightwire frame that ensures the load is spread evenly to the padded hip belt. All of the suspension system surfaces—from the shoulder harness to the back panel—are lined with a comfortable air mesh that cools you down while wearing the pack. The entire suspension system zips into a seamless panel to avoid getting buckles caught in conveyor belt or broken in transit.

Like most of our favourite women’s backpacks, the Osprey Women’s Fairview 55 ditches the inconvenient old-school top-loading design for a front-loading panel that allows unfettered access to the roomy main compartment.

And as if all that space weren’t enough, the Osprey Fairview includes a detachable daypack. It adds storage space while giving you the freedom to keep your most important travel gear close as you roam the city streets.

Pros

  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Convenient front-loading design
  • Detachable daypack

Cons

  • Too big for carry-on

REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40

Capacity: 40L

Best Uses: Travel, backpacking

It’s possible that no women’s backpack provides better value than the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40. This bag does everything that backpacks twice its price do with comparable quality.

REI’s reputation as an adventure outfitter isn’t lost on the design of the Ruckpack 40. At the core of this backpack is a superb suspension system that takes its cue from the company’s backwoods collection.

What’s awesome is that REI’s adapted the design to women, featuring a curved shoulder harness and a hip belt that’s more well-suited to female frames.

Unlike the company’s more technical packs, the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40 will put a smile on your face with its full-zip design that makes getting in and out of the backpack a cinch. There’s plenty of storage space, too, including a back panel that doubles as a 15″ laptop or hydration sleeve.

For air travel, there’s hardly a more convenient women’s backpack out there. The harness and hip belt of the REI Co-op Women’s Ruckpack 40 conceal neatly into a zippered back panel during transport. It’s also carry-on-sized on most airlines, and features lockable zippers to keep your gear safe when your bag’s out of sight.

Pros

  • Excellent value
  • Convenient full-zip design
  • Fits as carry-on on most airlines

Cons

  • Limited storage capacity for longer trips
  • Limited attachment options for external gear

Best wheeled travel backpacks of 2021: Top 3 recommendations

You wouldn’t be alone in wondering whether you could get a break from your backpack. Not everyone love always being on the hook for keeping a heavy load balancing on your shoulders, hips, and spine.

Fortunately, there’s a compromise.

Wheeled backpacks are becoming more common, and are a great alternative to a straight-up classic rucksack. When it’s time to move with speed, these little dudes will convert into a fully-functioning backpack with a simple unzipping. Just as easily, you can stash away the straps, and withdraw the handle for a smooth and painless ride.

Get started shopping with some of these best wheeled backpacks

Product Capacity More Info
Osprey Sojourn 80L 80L
Eagle Creek Expanse Convertible 29 78L
Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L 50L

Osprey Sojourn 80

Capacity: 80L

Length: 28″

Best Uses: Travel

Merging the packability of a suitcase and the convenience of a backpack isn’t impossible when you’ve got the Osprey Sojourn 80L by your side. This rugged piece of hybrid luggage features both a full suspension system and a beefy high-rolling chassis that takes on city streets and airports with ease.

If you thought that backpacks were the workhorses of the travel world, the Osprey Sojourn 80L might surprise you. Lined with a 1680-denier ballistic nylon fabric, the Sojourn can take on harsh smacks from airport conveyor belts and big bumps in under-bus storage without a scratch. Even the 420-denier colour accents on this wheeled rucksack are stronger than the main body of many of the best travel backpacks!

What really puts the Osprey Sojourn 80L into a league of its own among rolling backpacks is its suspension system. While the bag still shows its sweet spot in wheeling mode, there’s a fully adjustable harness, compression straps and hip belt, a feature that most of the cheaper wheeled backpacks lack.

All of the components of the suspension—the back panel, removable hip belt and shoulder straps—use an air mesh padding for better airflow. This is especially important if you’re wearing the pack in hotter places like Central America or Southeast Asia.

When you’ll really love the Osprey Sojourn 80L though is in wheeling-mode. The HighRoad Chassis is built solidly and is set high enough to roll over most urban surfaces with ease.

Pros

  • Durable 1680D nylon fabric
  • Better suspension than most wheeled backpacks
  • HighRoad Chassis with excellent clearance

Cons

  • Doesn’t fit as carry-on
  • Premium price point

Eagle Creek Expanse Convertible 29

Capacity: 78L

Length: 29″

Best Uses: Travel

Along with Osprey, Eagle Creek is one of the forerunners in the premium backpacker luggage market. And, as usual, they’ve hit the nail on the head with the Eagle Creek Expanse Convertible 29.

What’s awesome about the Expanse Convertible 29 is that the suspension system, unlike some wheeled backpacks, is fully functioning. The shoulder harness isn’t just sewed on to say it’s there. It’s fully adjustable for comfort on a wide array of torso sizes.

To distribute the weight properly to your centre of gravity, there’s a fully-padded hip belt. All of the suspension components also feature an air mesh lining to keep you cool on warmer travel days. When not in use, simply zip them up, extract the handle, and be on your merry way.

When you’re rollin’ with theEagle Creek Expanse Convertible 29, you won’t need to worry about running out of space. With a 78L capacity, there’s more than enough room to jam in enough for your vacation.

Internal and external compression straps help tighten the bag’s profile both for better storage and better weight distribution when used as a backpack. For security, the main compartment and front pouch can be locked via the convenient Central Lock Point.

Durability, as you’d expect from Eagle Creek, is another feature that didn’t get thrown to the wayside. The Eagle Creek Expanse Convertible 29 uses a scuff-resistant Bi-Tech™ Armor Lite fabric. Planes, trains and automobiles got nothing on its robust polyester exterior. You’ll even find the wheels to be tough, handling terrains that would thwart most rolling rucksacks in their tracks.

Pros

  • Bi-Tech™ Armor Lite that both robust and scuff-resistant
  • Comfortable & adjustable suspension system
  • Excellent value

Cons

  • Too large for carry-on

Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L

Capacity: 50L

Length: 22″

Best Uses: Travel

Rollin’ in as the smallest of our best wheeled backpacks for travel, the Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L delivers everything you need to make your independent travels a cinch. Whether you decide to wheel your bag around or strap it on your backpack, this hybrid luggage proves its versatility as soon as you hit the pavement.

Unlike some of the “value” competitors, the Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L dishes out a excellent suspension system with a full stow-away shoulder harness and hip belt.

Likewise, you’ll love popping the bag into rolling-mode. Thanks to the lightweight aluminum frame, ABS backplate & Highroad LT Chassis, the Ozone can handle anything you can throw at it. Even the wheels are built tough, featuring sealed bearings that keep dirt out for a smooth ride.

In terms of storage space, the Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L drops in as the smallest wheeled backpack here. That’s not to say it’s small.

With some minimalist packing techniques, the bag’s main compartment features more than enough space for up to a two-week trip. On top of that, the Ozone Convertible 50L throws in a relatively spacious detachable daypack with enough room for a laptop, warm sweater, rain jacket, and other travel essentials.

The biggest drawback of the Osprey Ozone Convertible 50L is that it’s not quite as robust as either the Eagle Creek Expanse of Osprey Sojourn. It’s hardly a problem considering this bag meets the carry-on size requirements for most airlines, and doesn’t need to endure the luggage-smashing capabilities of airport conveyor belts.

Pros

  • Full suspension system including hip belt
  • Carry-on size for most airlines
  • Detachable daypack included

Cons

  • Less robust face fabric than other choices

Best travel daypacks of 2021: Top 3 recommendations

Need something a little smaller? Walking about town with your travel backpack can be a huge hassle. Picking up one of these daypacks will help you move around quicker while keeping all of your essential travel gear by your side. Get your search launched with these best travel daypacks

Daypack Capacity More Info
Osprey Daylite Plus 20L
Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 15L
Burton Tinder Pack 25L

Osprey Daylite Plus

Capacity: 20L

Best Uses: Travel, hiking

For value, there aren’t many daypacks that can take on the Osprey Daylite Plus. This small backpack is among the best all-around performers you’ll find anywhere, whether on the backs of dedicated trekkers in Asia or urban adventurers in Europe.

The lower price point betrays the build quality of the Osprey Daylite Plus. Fitted with ripstop nylon, this daypack is durable enough for the backcountry yet still sleek enough for the city.

The harness is comfortable, too, featuring an air mesh padded back panel and shoulder straps. For extra comfort, you can easily stabilize your load using the nylon hip belt and sternum strap.

Within the main compartment of the Osprey Daylite Plus there’s room to store extra gear like a rain jacket, sweater, snacks, and water bottles. There’s even an interior hydration-compatible pocket that doubles as a laptop sleeve to meet the needs of digital nomads and hikers alike.

Pros

  • Good value
  • Durable material

Cons

  • Limited interior storage space
  • Limited external lashing options

Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350

Capacity: 15L

Best Uses: Travel

Sojourning with all the latest tech, you’ll be able to put your mind at ease as you drop your gear into the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350. This backpack is designed with the urban traveller in mind, and prides itself on its innovative design that thwarts would-be thieves and scammers dead in their tracks.

Among the most important anti-theft features of the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 is its eXomesh Slashguard fabric and Carrysafe Slashguard shoulder straps. Armed with this lightweight wire mesh, it’s impossible for thieves to knife through your bag to grab your goodies. Rounding out the security features are lockable security zippers and a RFID-blocker to protect information on your biometric passport, bank cards or key cards.

Although it’s not one of the biggest daypacks out there, you’ll find plenty of room in the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 for the usual travel essentials. The interior is padded and includes organizational features for your cards, smartphone, and other small accessories, as well as as 13″ laptop sleeve.

Pros

  • State-of-the-art security features
  • RFID-blocking pocket

Cons

  • Limited storage capacity (15L)

Burton Tinder Pack

Capacity: 25L

Best Uses: Travel

The hip retro styling of the Burton Tinder Pack is bound to turn some heads as you ply the streets of your favourite city. Designed with casual usage in mind, this backpack stands out among the top daypacks not so much for its features, but for its unique design aesthetic.

For travellers, there’s plenty of room in this cool 25L pack, more than enough to cram in your hiking shoes, rain jackets, and other travel essentials on your trip. An interior padded laptop sleeve keeps your most fragile gear safe from damage.

While you’ll love how the Burton Tinder Pack looks on your back, the appeal is more suited to urban adventures than the backwoods. The daypack lacks hydration compatibility or even exterior water bottle pockets. Serious hikers will want to look elsewhere.

Pros

  • Unique retro styling
  • Good capacity in main compartment

Cons

  • Limited exterior storage
  • No exterior side pockets
  • Not suitable for outdoor adventures

How to choose the perfect travel backpack: A buyer’s guide

So, you’ve decided to buy a travel backpack? Wise choice, my friend.

I can truly say with gusto that a comfortable travel backpack is a traveller’s best companion. If you skip the critical step of buying one that’s well-suited to your body type and needs, you’ll expend more energy and curse the day you decided that strapping on a travel backpack was a good idea.

Best Travel Backpacks: Adventure

When you’re looking at the best travel backpacks, here are a few elements to keep in mind:

Fit

Before you even think about choosing a travel backpack, you’ll need to look at the fit. The snazziest rucksack in the world, decked out with all the bells and whistles, won’t do you much good if it doesn’t fit your body! Here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Hip belt: You may not realize it, but the hip belt is one of the most important features on a backpack’s suspension system. In cahoots with the back panel, frame, and load lifters, the hip belt takes the brunt of the pack’s weight. The hip belt should be well-padded, preferably with an air mesh for cooling comfort, and sit around the pelvic bone. You’ll want to pick a hip belt size that leaves a three- to six-inch gap between the padded sides of the hip belt when snug.
  • Torso length: Not all backpacks are made for all bodies. The torso length is one of the most important components and what enables you to find a backpack that’s comfortable for your body. To check you torso width, you’ll need to measure the distance between the C7 vertebra (the pertruding bone at the bottom of your neck between your shoulder blades) and the top of your hips. Most of the best travel backpacks come with adjustable harnesses that allow you to fine tune the torso length for better comfort.

  • Shoulder straps: You’ll want to find a backpack with shoulder straps that anchor to the pack about one to two inches above the shoulder. The padded section of the strap should also extend about two to three inches downward past your arm pit. Besides looking for shoulder straps with comfortable air mesh padding, consider the contours. Women’s backpacks, for example, feature contoured shoulder straps to conform to female figures.
  • Load-lifter straps: These small straps are an integral part of a bag’s suspension system, helping to transfer the load from the shoulder straps to the hips where it’s more comfortably carried. When loosened up, there should be a 45º angle between the top of the shoulder straps and the load-lifter strap’s anchor point near the lid.
  • Back panel: You might think that more foam on the back panel equals more comfort. That’s not really the case. Low-end backpack models still toss on heaps of foam without adequate ventilation, leaving you a sweaty mess. Always look for foam back panels that feature an air mesh ventilation system to keep you dry and reduce sweating & chafing.
  • Compression straps: You may think that compression straps are just for attaching more gear or packing your stuff down. Their function is, surprisingly, more important than that. Well-made compression straps are designed to bring the load closer to your centre of gravity to allow for better weight distribution onto the hip. Tighten them on long journeys to feel the difference.

Capacity

Whether you’ll need luggage for a weekender or a two-week backpacking trip will determine what capacity you’ll need. Backpack volumes are measured in litres (L), ranging anywhere from 15L daypacks to colossal 85L hiking packs.

One thing that’s almost always certain is that you probably need less space than you think.

Backpack Main Compartment Access

Not to rant, but the big mistake I see with newer backpackers is carrying way too much gear. (I know because I’ve done it. Many times.)

You’ll notice in most of my recommendations, I err on the side of smaller backpacks, usually under 50L. What I love about this size is that most 40-50L packs fit as carry-on luggage on most airlines. Plus, when you’re limited in space, you tend to be forced to pack smarter, which makes it easier to travel from point A to point B.

(If you think that 40-50L is too small, you can of course always pick up a larger pack like the Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG or the Osprey Women’s Aura 65 AG.)

Features

When prodding through a list of travel backpacks you’ll notice that there isn’t a whole lot of variety when it comes to features. Many of the differences between packs surface with build quality rather than with new-fangled features. That being said, here are a few extras you’ll might want to look out for:

  • Main compartment access: What separates the best travel backpacks from others, in my humble opinion, is the access point. After fiddling around with top-loading drawstring backpacks for most of my travel career, I can’t help but recommend newer front-loading or full-zip models. Much more convenient for travellers, front-loading main compartments help ease the pain of organizing and finding your clothes when jolting between cities.
  • Stow-away suspension: If you’re planning on checking your bag, you might want to consider a backpack with a zippered panel to stow away the shoulder straps and hip belt. Backpack straps and clips are easily damaged on airport conveyor belts; protect them whenever you can.
  • Zippered pockets: For quick access to all your essentials, you might want to find a bag with a good number of external pockets. Small extras like zippered hip belt pockets are nice to have for an extra dash of organization.

  • Security features: Compared to older backpacks, you’ll find tons of security upgrades on today’s top models. Lockable zippers with central lock points are a great addition if you’re planning to check in your luggage or wear it on your back in crowded places. Even more high-tech are bags like the Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350, featuring a lightweight wire mesh throughout to stop “slash-and-run” thefts and RFID-blocking technology to protect sensitive data from your e-passport, credit cards, and access cards.
  • Water resistance: You likely won’t have much luck finding travel backpacks that are truly water-resistant. Some of the best hiking backpacks would be a better fit for that. Most companies, however, offer waterproof backpack bags that fit specific models. (If you’re lucky, your backpack of choice may even have one built-in.)
  • Gear loops: Since most of these best travel backpacks are geared towards travellers, not many feature extensive gear loops or daisy chains. If you’re planning to strap on a ton of external gear like ice axes and trekking poles for more adventurous pursuits, you should consider picking up a hiking backpack instead.
Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. Join Ryan as he explores the world two to three weeks at a time from his home base of Canada with Treksplorer's independent and unsponsored mid-range luxury travel guides including itineraries, things to do, where to stay, when to visit, and hiking & walking trails.

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