In this post, I’m sharing advice on what are the best travel backpacks for traveling, whether your trip is a few weeks away or a round-the-world adventure.
Over the past 15 years, our mode of transport has fluctuated between flights, buses, ferries, road trips, hitchhiking, cycling, walking, you name it.
Before we had kids, Caz and I lived in Asia, Ireland, and the USA and traveled extensively in those regions as backpackers, including our biggest adventure, our 5-month trip in East Africa – our travel backpacks contained everything we owned at the time!
Whilst we rarely travel with a backpack these days, as most of our travels are family road trips or short getaways and we simply use our suitcases, our blog readership is quite broad so I wanted to provide a helpful resource that narrows down your choice for buying the best travel backpack!
Choosing the best travel backpack for your needs is an important decision.
You’ve saved up your hard-earned money and you’ll possibly be living out your backpack for many months or years, and the more research you do the more overwhelmed you probably feel.
For this post, I thought back to our years of traveling with a backpack and did a ton of recent research online via Google and digesting endless Amazon backpack reviews to come up with a shortlist of the best backpacks for travel to hopefully save you some time.
Before we get into my list of suggested travel backpacks, here are some important tips you need to keep in mind when deciding what brand and features are right for your travel backpack!
You can click the below links to jump ahead at any time, although I do recommend you read this entire post so you don’t miss any important tips!
Ultimate Guide on How to Choose a Travel Backpack
If you’re like us, you’ll be traveling via many different means and you want a quality backpack brand that’s going to last and is practical for all travel occasions!
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your backpack whilst you get on and off public transport, climb stairs, navigate airports, stand in queues, walk city blocks or down dusty roads in Africa looking for your accommodation.
Your backpack will become your new best friend carrying your gear, so there are some important considerations.
Researching what are the best travel backpacks are is time-consuming. With so many options between different backpack brands, price points, and features it’s hard to know where to start and what is best for you?
The main things you want to keep in mind is having a backpack for travel that:
- Fits your body shape and height
- Has good weight distribution
- Can carry and protect your belongings
- Is functional and comfortable to carry
- Is easy to pack and unpack
- Meets your budget
Consider your physical fitness
If you’re not used to walking around with a backpack, it will be added pressure on your shoulders and lower back so you want a bag that fits your body style and height properly.
Don’t assume that just because one of your friends loves their backpack, or a blogger suggests a particular backpack, that it will be right for you. We are all built differently and have different travel gear requirements to carry!
And make sure that you get the correct bag for your sex. Travel backpacks for women are designed to fit, you guessed it, women! They are not necessarily smaller but manufacturers consider that women generally have a shorter torso and wider hips.
If you are a tall female, like Caz, or have broader shoulders and slim hips you might be better off with a male backpack.
What is the Best Size for a Travel Backpack?
Travel backpacks come in a wide range of sizes, typically expressed in liters (the volume).
Even before we had kids, traveling as light as possible is the way to go for us, not only to keep our backs from getting injured but for avoiding those baggage fees! And if you’re like us now and dragging young kids around airports as well as dragging your luggage, how much your bag weighs is an issue.
So not only do you need to consider how much gear you pack inside your backpack but the actual weight of your possessions.
It’s no secret airlines are getting tougher on weight limits so you want to make sure the size of your backpack can hold everything you need safely and securely and under the weight limit – we can all do without the excess baggage fees!
And carry-on backpack limits gets confusing, depending on where you are flying, the size of the airplane, the carrier, and whether you travel domestic or international.
Generally, the carry-on backpack maximum capacity is 45 liters, but please check directly with your favored airline of choice.
If you go too big on size for your travel backpack, you’ll have a tendency to fill the space and carrying too much gear around the world gets tiring real quick and is not good for the health of your back – we found ourselves de-cluttering and throwing away stuff we didn’t need on a constant basis.
If you go too small with your travel backpack size, each time you move accommodation you’ll be wrestling with your gear and bag to make it all fit, which gets annoying.
So what size do you need for a travel backpack?
It really comes down to your travel style and needs:
- Type of transportation (flights, buses, road trips etc)
- Type of accommodation (hotels, apartments, guesthouses, camping etc)
- Backpacker or flashpacker
- Packing habits – some people can pack for a month in a carry-on.
- Destinations and seasons
What is your travel style?
Yes, size is important, but there is no one bag that’s perfect for everyone and all occasions!
Are you considering a 12-month round-the-world trip or taking a gap year? Are you planning to backpack Europe for two months, spend three weeks island hopping in Thailand, a month in Australia, or to go away on weekend camping trips?
Are you a backpacker whose only focus is on the traveling, or are you a digital nomad who’s also planning to work on the road as you move around? Will you be carrying a computer bag and/or camera bag that you need to factor in the full weight?
Can you rough it and get by with few possessions, or are you the type who needs to take their whole wardrobe with them?
The problem is, you might not know what your future holds. Maybe you’re planning your first trip to Europe for a few weeks. What happens if you catch the travel bug and next thing you know you have grand plans of a two-year sabbatical around the world?
Think about buying a quality travel backpack that will last you several years, like one the brands listed below.
How much travel gear do you really need to pack?
Many budget backpackers stick to the 30-55 liter range to avoid excess baggage fees and travel as light as possible. If you want to travel and live a more minimalist lifestyle, perhaps choosing a smaller backpack which forces you to downsize and cut back on possessions is for you.
Personally, I wouldn’t go over the 60-litre mark on year-long trips, and that’s coming from someone who travels with a lot of tech gear and gadgets (computers and camera equipment).
Remember, several backpacks come with a main bag and a day pack attached. For example, a 50L backpack can come with a zip-off daypack that adds another 15 liters.
Also, ask yourself if you prefer to check your luggage in or carry on so it doesn’t get lost or damaged? As I mentioned in my suitcases article, I used to work for Delta Airlines as a baggage handler so I’ve seen first-hand how your travel luggage is handled behind the scenes. They can get kicked, dragged, stood on, and left out in the rain.
You really don’t need to pack more than seven days worth of clothes, and then do laundry. Consider bringing neutral tone clothes you can mix and match and wearing layers.
Is a Front loading or top loading backpack better?
Besides choosing the size, another major factor to consider when choosing travel backpacks is how you will access your bag.
Do you want front loading or top loading backpack? And so you don’t get confused, front loading is sometimes called panel loading. Either way, it means how will you get things in and out of your backpack.
Front-loading backpacks have a zipper that goes all around the front. You can unzip, peel off the front piece and your backpack’s belongings are laid out in front of you like the insides of a suitcase, making it so easy to find things.
They also seem to have greater support for your back and sit more comfortably. You can zip a daypack to the front as well, which you are really going to need for those short, yes you guessed it, day trips.
So consider a bag that has a U-zip system where the zipper goes around three sides of the bag. If you will be packing and unpacking frequently you definitely want to consider a front loader.
Top loading backpacks open up at the top only making it harder to access all your gear and tend to be narrower and taller.
After initially traveling with a top loader backpack, we detest them now. You do your best to dip down into the cavernous depths of your pack, only to have to empty the whole thing out because your long-sleeved shirt that you need to wear into the temple is shoved right down the bottom.
If you get a top loader, definitely consider getting packing cubes.
We soon changed to a front-loading backpack.
Benefits of front loading backpacks:
- Quicker and easier to pack and unpack.
- You have a larger opening and don’t have to dig from the top down to get to contents on the bottom or pull everything out all the time which gets frustrating.
- Can have several access points (top, front, bottom, side)
- Front loading backpacks tend to be a little shorter (best for shorter torsos)
- Have zipper closures while most top loading backpacks have drawstrings.
- You can typically lock the zippers together for some peace of mind.
Other important travel backpack features
Besides the size and whether you would prefer a front or top loading pack, consider these important features when shopping for your travel backpack:
- Padded shoulder straps – it goes without saying, but the better quality padded shoulder straps will make a world of difference to your comfort when carrying your bag.
- Padded hip strap – for comfort and for spreading the weight so your shoulders and back don’t carry the full load of your pack.
- Waist strap – again, helpful for those with weak shoulders and backs as it distributes the weight around your whole body.
- Sternum strap – our bags had this small mid-chest strap that connected between the two shoulder straps. Again this helps keep your bag stable and distributes the weight evenly.
- Cords for sleeping bags and tents – during our 5-month backpacking trip in Africa we carried a tent and sleeping bags and having cords to attach these to was priceless.
- Camera and laptop protection – if you’re a blogger like us or a digital nomad, some backpacks have separate padded compartments that keep your laptop secure.
- Elasticized water bottle pockets – not all drink bottles are the same size so pockets that expand and contract to keep your bottle secure are priceless!
- Hipbelt pockets – having a few external pockets can be handy for those smaller items you need frequent and quick access to like phones and snacks etc.
- Water resistant material – make sure the material of your bag is weather resistant or it comes with a rain coat for those times it’s getting loaded onto a plane in wet weather or you are walking around in the rain. Good quality bags come with better quality material that also dries quickly.
- Carry handles – top and side handles are good for when you’re not wearing it on your back and makes carrying your bag more ergonomic.
- Internal compression straps – like in a suitcase they help you pack more tightly and keep your gear in place when the bag is upright.
- Zip off day pack – a small detachable day pack that you can zip off your main bag is helpful for day trips and can add more liters to your overall packing capacity.
- Multiple compartments – instead of one main area in your bag, having multiple compartments to separate your belongings is helpful, much like the practicalities of using packing cubes.
- Ventilation – some backpacks come with a back panel made of suspended mesh (a trampoline-like design) that’s breathable and provides separation between your back and bag to prevent your back from sweating against your bag.
- Torso Length – adjustable torso allows the travel backpack to fit a large variety of sizes.depending on the manufacturer, some backpacks are available in several sizes from extra small to large and fit a range of torso lengths.
- Dimensions – if you’re looking for a carry-on backpack, don’t forget to check the dimensions to make sure they work with your favorite airline’s carry-on restrictions.
10 Best Travel Backpacks for Traveling
In no particular order, here is a list of 10 of the best travel backpacks for travel. And “best” is a relative term, of course. I’m sure there’s one on my list you disagree with, and I’m sure I’ve left a couple off the list.
From my research, the same brands seem to get mentioned over and over as the most popular backpacks and best backpack brands.
Do you own any of these travel backpacks? Can you recommend others? Please share in the comments at the bottom.
- Fixed, unisex back panel
- Hip belt and harness system can easily be stowed away when traveling/li>
- Daypack conveniently attaches to the main harness of the pack to provide easy access to gear
- Sleeping pad straps allow for quick, external gear attachment
- Designed to handle loads up to 50 pounds.
- -shaped front access.
- Top-loading main compartment
- Access from the bottom or the top/li>
- Side-belt pockets
- This backpack comes in three sizes.
- Top Loading
- Zippered side pockets, front pocket w/ organization
- Hex Mesh back panel
- Sternum strap, Load lifter strap
- Size:26 x 16 x 12 in, Weight 3 lbs 11 oz, Volume 50 L, Torso Size 15.5 – 21 in
- Backpack-style shoulder harness
- Padded hip belt
- Zip-front panel provides wide-open access to contents
- Inner compression straps
- Side pocket can hold a water bottle
- Adjustable harness
- Compression straps
- Dual zippered front panel pockets
- Sleeping bag compartment
- Adjustable harness
- Compression straps
- Dual zippered front panel pockets
- Five exterior zippered pockets and three slip pockets
- Strong mesh panel that rests on your back
- Top-loading main compartment with quick-draw top closure
- Full-body front U-zipper access
- Lightweight construction
- Back ventilation system
- Maximum-sized carry-on bag measuring 22 x 14 x 9
- Front-opening, like a suitcase
- padded hip belt
- lockable zippers
- padded laptop sleeve fits up to 17″ computers
This backpack has now been retired by Tortuga. Their new Tortuga Setout carry on backpack is the replacement
- Front J-zip provides quick access to main compartment
- Adjustable shoulder strap height is also
- Padded hip belt
- Outstanding load carrying comfort
- Most-funded bag in Kickstarter history
- Built for international carry-on rules
- 4 point harness adjustment system
- Lie flat open system
Have trouble packing your underwear? Check out this awesome travel underwear organizer
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Can you add to this list of the best travel backpacks for traveling? Would love to hear any thoughts in the comments below.