A Traveler’s Guide For The Top 10 Best Travel Backpacks
Backpacks are the ultimate travel companion. You can literally put everything you need on your back and go wherever you want, whenever you want. Personally, I never bring a suitcase - I find it incredibly limiting.
There is nothing more satisfying than getting off the plane in some new location, grabbing your trusty pack off the baggage carousel, and heading out into some great adventure. Even better, if you packed correctly and were able to carry on, you can beat the rest of your flight through customs. This will save you that long and nervous wait, hoping you don’t miss the ferry you already booked.
This guide is intended to help you choose the best travel backpack for your next adventure. Backpacks have come a long way in terms of their features, durability, and organizational capability and I am excited to share my favorites. These travel backpack reviews will ideally set you on the path to finding your ideal match.
I’ll give you a rundown of the best features any travel pack worth its straps should have. I will also include a comprehensive review of daypacks, wheeled backpacks, and non-hiking backpacks.
Personally, I’ve always been a budget-minded traveler, so I try to focus on packs you can carry on. Don’t worry, I include some larger options as well, but remember the importance of efficient packing when you travel. It’s amazing how much you can carry on an international flight.
Top Travel Backpack Comparison Table
Well, no use beating around the bush any longer. Here are some packs that I think, and sincerely hope, you will love.
40 + 20 (removable daypack)
Different Types Of Travel Backpacks
I will admit it: suitcases still have their place. They allow you to pack all you need, including bulky items without worrying too much about leaving some stuff behind because you just don’t have the space.
They fit well on the baggage carousel and on the baggage racks on an airport shuttle bus. And if you’re going from house to car to airport check-in to taxi to hotel then you really don’t have to worry too much about having to lug your case around with you. Plus, most have wheels which allow people to bring more than they otherwise could carry.
But that last point is why I don’t like them, and if you are reading this post, I think you’ll agree. I don’t want to carry more than I should or ask the cabby for assistance as I throw my back out heaving a 120 pound monstrosity into the back of a yellow taxi. It would ruin my trip to base my travels around some hotel room which will end up just storing all the things I really don’t need.
I want the freedom to explore.
I want the ability to pack up everything on a whim, hop on a bus, and wind up somewhere unexplored, somewhere vibrant, somewhere new.
In other words: I want a great travel backpack. Nay, I need one.
But everyone is different and there are many types of travel backpack, a few of which I will now talk about.
For me, the best backpacks to use as carry-ons fall in the 35 liters to 45 liters range. They are big enough to hold most of what you need to carry – laptop and tablet compartments are often included. They are also not too big to carry comfortably on your back if you’re walking around exploring a new city before getting to the night’s accommodations.
There is great variety in this category for fit, size, and shape of the bag so you will have many options. Typically, carry-on backpacks have a rigid internal frame which will help keep your gear consolidated.
They often open and pack like suitcases making it easy to arrange the precious stuff in your bag. Also, these carry-ons give you a variety of carrying options. They usually come with side and top handles as well as a shoulder strap you can use to carry to the bag while the backpack straps are neatly tucked away.
If your preferential mode of transportation is a plane, this might be a great pack for you. But don't forget to make sure it is a carry on approved size.
Daypacks For Travel
Typically, daypacks are backpacks with a capacity of between 20 and 40 liters. Personally, I find a 30L pack just about perfect. This type of pack is normally the smallest and lightest of travel backpacks available. To achieve lighter weights, often times daypacks may not have a normal internal frame.
Your daypack could quite easily become the best backpack you own if you don’t really plan on taking a lot of stuff with you on your trips. But hey, it is amazing what you can fit into a 40L pack!
Some larger backpacks come with a daypack as an accessory and often boast how easy it is to fold and store within the larger bag. Or you can make your own combination; for my longer trips, I always stuff a daypack inside my larger backpack.
Because you’ll probably be carrying your daypack around with you more than just using it as carry-on luggage, you should ensure you get one that fits snuggly on your back and that you can go for miles in it.
Packs in this category are meant for extended travel. They are typically over 45-50L liters and feature an internal frame to strengthen and give structure to the bag. This is critical, as it will help distribute a larger load onto your frame.
They also have a hip belt and chest strap which, along with the internal frame, helps to take the pressure of the weight of the bag off your shoulders and distribute the weight of more on your hips and lower body - a much stronger part of your body. They often times have packs designed specifically for women and men to really optimize comfort for each individual body shape. I am always impressed at how comfortable 40-50 pounds can be when carrying it correctly.
Travel backpacking backpacks tend to give you quite a few storage compartments and many will have specially padded sections for a laptop, tablet or other gadgets. Personally, I would want at least three smaller compartments apart from the main one and not more than five. That way I can tuck away items I don’t want getting lost among my other stuff and still find them easily when I need to.
Expert traveler tip: you can always organize the main compartment with stuff sacks or vacuum sealed bags. With the vacuum sealed bags, you don’t need to use a vacuum either - normally I just roll or press the air out myself.
Wheeled Backpacks For Travel
A backpack with wheels seems like the ultimate smart choice for your carry-on luggage or any traveler who is smaller or has back pain and doesn’t necessarily enjoy carrying everything with them at all times. We got you covered as well!
The versatility of these makes them a popular choice among the best traveling backpacks. It doesn’t take much effort to drag it along with you if you’re tired, just want to save your strength, or don’t want to get all sweaty.
You can tug them along behind you through the airport, hotel lobby, or on the sidewalk (as long as the pavement is smooth of course). But, depending on where your travels take you, a sidewalk or even a smooth road surface may not exist. Then, you can throw the backpack on and keep on truckin’.
The wheels and pulling frame will add some weight and volume to the bag. So, bear that in mind if your wheeled carry-on must be used for both towing and as a regular backpack. The extra weight will also limit how much of your own items you can carry along. Wheeled backpacks often have a daypack (either zippered on or tucked away) which you can opt to have on your back while you pull the larger pack along. I love this option.
A Closer Look At The 5 Top Travel Backpacks
Travel backpacks stand out from hiking packs in that they typically offer more organizational options. Another great feature is the convenience of panel loading instead of top loading. Top loading can be a pain particularly if you have a large pack with minimal compartments.
Our list of the top rated travel backpacks is based on how well they meet certain vital criteria. One important criterion is what travel backpack reviews have to say about them. This is a great opportunity to compare personal experience with that of a much larger sample size. I make sure to recommend bags that have plenty of outstanding reviews from satisfied customers.
Comfort of course is a big factor since these are backpacks are designed to be worn, and if you are traveling, they might be worn for many hours and many miles. Comfort isn’t just padding but also how well the pack distributes weight. A “hot spot” - a spot which the pack will painfully rub on you - can turn a great day of travel into an excruciating one. There is a proper way to adjust the backpack in order to conform to your body and keep you comfortable all day.
Finally, an often underappreciated characteristic of a backpack is how well you can organize it. This capability can really make a pack stand out and significantly improve your experience.
These first five bags give you all you need and then some extras to make your journey even sweeter. So, let’s jump in and have a look at the best of the best.
A truly outstanding backpack! The Osprey Farpoint 40 has all the features you could ask for whether you are on a short or extended trip. Osprey offers sizes for every size; they offer the bag in small/medium and medium/large sizes.
You would really have to over pack this bag to get turned back with it as your carry-on, which will make your next trip very easy. And it should hold everything you need, unless you are very opposed to laundromats and reusing a sweater. Many people have noted how absolutely comfortable the waist and shoulder straps (which can be tucked away).
Osprey Farpoint 40 backpacks have an external laptop compartment and full-length panel loading design. The bag stows easily due to its streamlined design and has a side handle for easy retrieval. Multiple internal pockets and external compression straps round out its features and add to the reason this pack get tops pick from many backpackers.
Okay, let’s switch from pricey to downright cheap. The Outlander comes without all the extras and just gives you a lightweight, strong, dependable bag to take your stuff along with you. The makers stand behind their backpack by offering a lifetime warranty.
It has multiple compartments including two side pockets made to fit either your water bottle or umbrella. It does not have a laptop compartment and is not really meant for transporting expensive digital equipment.
You can fold it up and it will easily fit into a side pocket of another bag. At 33 liters and just half a pound, it makes a great daypack or just a second bag to take along with you. Bar tacking (super strong stitching) reinforces this packs water resistant nylon fabric.
The Osprey brand carries quite a respected reputation and it’s no surprise two of their packs find their way onto our list. As a travel pack, it may certainly be difficult to carry this one on, but if you are going for a longer trip and need more gear, this may simply be what you need. Consider checking this one (don’t forget a backpack duffel bag to ensure the straps don’t get damaged during baggage handling).
The Porter is designed with Osprey’s expertise of how to keep the weight off your shoulders and evenly distributed around your torso. You can carry it for long periods without the discomfort you would normally expect from a bag of this size. The Osprey Porter 46 comes with a padded shoulder harness and a winged nylon hip belt that fit neatly and inconspicuously into a padded, zippered back panel.
Lockable zippers provide reassurance in terms of security and its sidewalls with foam padding ensure your stuff is protected and stabilized within the bag. You really got to try this pack out if you are looking for a larger backpack for your next trip!
Alright, let’s get the possibly bad news out of the way first before we concentrate on the good stuff (of which there is plenty). This bag weighs about 10.5 pounds (think a bit more than a gallon of milk) before you even put a pair of quick drying nylon socks in it! It’s not meant for people with a small frame or those among us who are not used to or don’t like lugging a good bit of weight around.
The good news is that the weight is warranted; the High Sierra AT3 is actually three bags in one. Of course, you can wheel it or carry the whole thing as a backpack, or you can detach the front portion (which becomes a daypack) for walking about and getting to know your new adventure spot. I assure you this is much lighter than 10.5lbs!
The large main compartment opens book-style and is and features internal compression straps to keep everything in place. The smaller daypack can take two water bottles at its sides and also has a zippered accessory pocket for the smaller items you wish to take along with you.
This might be the most versatile backpack on this list, and if versatility is what you need, this backpack is worth a try.
Now, let’s say you want a bag that will work as a legal-sized carry-on, taking everything but the kitchen sink and can still be carried as a backpack. Boom! Here’s the eBags TLS Mother Lode.
It’s affordably priced, comes with a lifetime guarantee, and is strong, durable and convenient. Reviews of this bag are certainly on the “very satisfied” to “supburb” end of the scale. The eBags TLS Mother Lode has multiple compartments including one for your laptop. It also has a full-expansion zipper to give you extra room if you need it.
Adding to all of that, most owners are happy that it’s water resistant in a light shower. I would recommend a rain cover to prepare yourself for a heavy downpour.
Padded for comfort, the eBags TLS Mother Lode weighs nearly 4 pounds empty but many travelers using it don’t seem to mind since they only carry it short point A to point B distances.
The Best Travel Packs To Round Out The Top 10
44 liter capacity
lightweight (1.5 pounds)
maximum carry-on size
high-strength, durable nylon
carrying handles, adjustable side straps and adjustable shoulder straps
multiple internal and external compartments
FlexVent injection-molded shoulder straps
PE foam for added comfort
padded air-mesh back panel with Spine Channel
PE sheet for extra back support
laptop sleeve, tablet sleeve
winged, stowable hip belt
removable sternum strap
top loading and panel loading
convenient carry handle
load lifters/stabilizers and hip belt stabilizer straps
sternum straps and waist buckle
LightBeam single aluminum stay and
dynamic AirFlow back panel
TSA-compliant laptop access (allows electronics to stay in the bag through security checks)
designated laptop and iPad compartments
maximum-sized carry-on bag
padded hip belt
main compartments have lockable zippers
padded laptop sleeve with lockable zipper
easy access to laptop at airport security
What To Look For In Travel Backpacks For Travelers
Backpacks are out there to meet whatever budget you have. You can find cheap packs that are durable (enough) and meet most of the other requirements. The best packs will invariably come from the best brands and for this you will be asked paid to pay a higher price. They give you quality and stand behind their products with respectable warranty periods.
If you just want a backpack to use for traveling every now and then, spending on one of these pricier models may not be necessary. If, however, you are looking for a long-term companion as you trek through foreign lands, then you in general get what you pay for, as they say. But I hope I showed you some great exceptions to this rule!
First of all the best bags should offer you multiple options on how to carry them (two being a minimum but up to four is great). This convenience cannot be overstated. You won’t always want you bag on you back. Being able to sling it over one shoulder or pull it out of the back of a cab or from an overhead compartment by a side handle really thwarts some of the minor frustrations that go travel.
Extreme care should be paid to the design of all the straps you will have to use to carry your bag. The ideal bag has sturdy straps for your shoulders and hips. Thick padding on these makes them more comfortable to bear especially with heavy loads. Chest straps are a great bonus feature for helping with even distribution of the weight.
Internal Compression Straps
These straps let you pack that last must have item and keep everything in place. You lay the bag flat to pack it, then hold it vertical to carry - knowing you won’t open your bag to find a jumbled mess is a great feeling.
Minimum External Straps
On the best traveling backpacks you aren’t distracted and downright infuriated by an excess of external straps. Plus, the straps that are there are easily tucked away when not in use. External straps are limited on daypacks, but should still allow you to strap on items like a towel, rain jacket, or sweater. Or at least allow you to attach your own karabiner for extra carry.
The best backpack for travel in this day and age bears in mind the need to stay connected and its design should take carrying different types of tech into consideration. Some packs really pull out all the stops with secure specialized padded compartments for each of your gadgets.
If you made it this far and are still unsure of what you want, check out this video. It shows some of the best features of the number one travel backpack on our list – the Osprey Farpoint 40.
A great travel backpack will be your best asset on your next adventure and I hope I have shared some great options for you. Just remember, think about what you will need, how long you will be gone, and what type of traveling you will be doing (and don’t over pack!). Then, make sure to find a backpack that is comfortable, organizes your stuff well, and is easy to pack and secure your gear.
Our review has laid out the absolute best travel backpacks for you. Whether you decide to go with the Osprey Farpoint 40 or another of our suggestions, you can rest assured you are getting a backpack that will be with you for more than just the ride on the plane! Any of these bags will help make your next voyage much more enjoyable.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com