The 21 Best Travel Backpacks for Backpacking in 2019

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The right travel backpack will make your backpacking trip much more enjoyable. For many of you, this may be the first backpack you’ll ever purchase and on top of that there is a good chance you’re going to live out of it for a couple of weeks, months or even years for your backpacking trip. The great thing about durable backpacks is that they last for years, so whatever you decide to purchase now will be an investment at first, but will last.

That being said since it will last you so long you want to make sure you make the right purchase decision. If you have plans to city-hop around the world you need a bag that can move as fast as you do. If you plan to go hiking you need something that will live up to the natural elements you will face. If you are somewhere in between those categories – don’t worry – there’s a travel rucksack for you.

Finding that best travel backpack can be tough with a plethora of options available on the market. On our first backpacking trip around Europe, we used traditional hiking packs but found them to be a pain and not suited for our style of travel.

Since then we’ve managed to accumulate a collection of various packs for our different travel styles. That means we have one backpack for hiking in North America and another pack for city hopping between Prague and Lisbon. There’s a travel backpack out there for everyone, and now we are going to help you find yours!


Table Of Contents

Best Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

We’re going to get right into our favorite travel backpacks for backpacking trips. If you’re curious to understand the different models more in-depth head down to the bottom where I talk about the various attributes, what makes a good travel backpack, and how to make sure you purchase a good travel backpack for your trip.

When it comes to backpacks there are three main types and each comes with its pros and cons. The three general styles of the backpack are top-loading, panel loading, and non-traditional backpacks. I’m breaking down this blog post into the best men’s travel backpacks, best women’s travel backpacks, and best unisex travel backpacks. There are more female travel backpacks specifically listed because it can be important for women to analyze their body and what they need in terms of shape and support.


Best Men’s Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

Osprey Atmos 65 AG Men’s – Best Osprey Backpack for Men

This is the pack that Cameron carries and one of the best Osprey backpacks on the market. It’s large size works well for those who will visit the wide range of climates while backpacking. The suspension system in the bag is also top of the line, and he has yet to find a back that sits better on his back. His largest complaint is it’s a rather odd shape, weight, and inability to stand up on its own due to an internal backpack frame.

However, it is rugged and carries heavy weight effortlessly. He also chose this pack also for a number of long-term treks on our journey around the world, something I would not feel comfortable with a small travel pack. Backpacker Magazine even gave it the 2015 Editors choice for the best multiday backpack. This travel backpack is great for those that are traveling, but planning on still using their backpack for more active adventures.

Weight: 4 lbs. 9 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (100D x 630D)
Capacities: 50, 65L
Pros: Amazing Suspension System. Strong Construction. Reliable.
Cons: Top Load Access. Does Not Sit Upright.

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Gregory Baltoro – Best Internal Frame Backpack

This pack may not be as fancy as the Atmos and their antigravity system, but it has some great features to give Osprey a run for the money. Things such as a removable daypack, a weatherproof pocket for electronics, pivoting belt, integrated rain cover, and u-zip pockets that give easy access to the body of the pack make this pack a great choice. Gregory is a great company that stands behind their gear and their products hold up very well.

Weight: 4 lbs 7 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (210D)
Capacities: 65L
Pros: Strong Construction. Suspension System, Internal Frame Backpack.
Cons: Top Load Access. Price. Heavy

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Best Women’s Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

Osprey Aura AG – Best Osprey Backpack for Women


Osprey Packs

Have I mentioned I love Osprey packs? With the antigravity system, the Osprey Aura feels absolutely great on your back for extreme comfort and fit all day. This is another top loading backpack that is specifically made for women making it one of the best travel backpacks for women on this list. Designed for the traditional backpacker or those on a hiking adventure you can’t really go wrong with the Aura.

Almost the whole back panel is made out of lightweight mesh for ventilation. I love how the harness can be fine-tuned for any sized woman. This pack has so many compartments for organization, included space at the bottom for a sleeping bag should you need it while backpacking. The top compartment can be completely removed if you don’t need which is great for airline travel.

Weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz.
Fabric: Denier Nylon
Capacities: 65L
Pros: lightweight mesh ventilation, lightwire frame, many pockets for organization
Cons: Only toploading

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Deuter Aircontact Lite 45+ 10 SL Pack – Best Camping Backpack

A great pack option for the more adventurous woman who loves traveling, but also using the backpack for hiking and camping as well.. This pack has a comfortable fit, solid construction, internal frame, and a multilayer hip belt. We’ve picked a handful bags that are well suited for women and this is another great option.

Weight: 3 lbs. 12 0z.
Fabric: Poly 600D
Capacities: 55L, 65L, 75L
Pros: Strong Construction. Suspension System, Internal Frame. Lightweight. Hydration Pack.
Cons: Top Load Access. Price.

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REI Traverse – Best Rucksack for Travelling

If I were looking for the best overall women’s travel backpack the Traverse would be my pick. This is one of the latest packs from REI and is great for camping, hiking, and general travel. The Traverse comes in two different colors and is one of the first backpacks I’ve seen come in light pink, or what they call “Peppercorn.”

The REI UpLift™ Compression technology pulls the Traverse pack load upwards and inwards. This makes the load closer to your center of gravity, improving balance and making it easier to hike with a heavier load. The functionality is great with an adjustable torso section, padded straps and a pivoting hip belt that moves independently from the pack. All users note how comfortable this pack is to wear and that the Traverse has great lumbar support.

As with many REI packs the Traverse has a lot of compartments to store items in and stay organized, but without zippers and straps hanging all over the place.

Weight: 4 lbs. 11 oz.
Fabric: Ripstop Nylon
Capacities: 35L, 65L
Pros: All around backpack for both hiking and travel, sturdy hip belt, removable totp lip
Cons: Narrow shoulder straps

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Kelty Women’s Redwing Backpack – Best Outdoor Backpack for Women

The Kelty Redwing 40 is a women’s pack specifically designed with a women’s frame in mind and a great all around travel backpack for backpacking. It can be accessed from the side or top of the pack providing easy access to your belongings wherever they are located. This Kelty bag uses the LightBeam™ single aluminum stay and Dynamic AirFlow panel which stabilizes your load and helps keep you comfortable and balanced.

The back sleeve can either be used for a travel laptop (or for a bladder), which is great if you work while traveling. A great feature is the removable waist belt, which we use when we are flying and don’t want to risk our bags getting ruined in transit.

Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
Fabric: Denier polyester
Capacities: 40L
Pros: Removable waist belt, easy access side, can be used as a carry on
Cons: no hip belt pockets

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Kathmandu Altai – Best Womens Hiking Backpack for Short Trips

Kathmandu Altai

I just got the Kathmandu Altai and absolutely love it. The 50L pack is perfect for a short trip abroad, overnight hike in the wilderness, or a two week trip around Europe (which I just did with it). The pack doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it doesn’t need many. It serves a great durable purpose to carry your belongings comfortably. The waistband is completely adjustable for all shapes and sizes and features a new breathable harness.

The top loading panel has a security pocket with a key clip under the top lid, and there are numerous pockets on the sides for easier organization. The Altai also has adjustable straps on the bottom on the pack to hold your sleeping bag for any hikes as well as small pockets on the hip belts to store things like keys or chapstick. While this pack may be a bit too basic for long term backpacking, I recently carried it with me on a short trip to Ecuador and found it perfect for under a month.

Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Fabric: Polyester
Capacities: 50L
Pros: Breathable harness, pouch for bladder, lightweight
Cons: Only top loading, no padding on shoulder straps

 

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Best Unisex Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

Osprey Farpoint – Best Travel Backpack for Europe

The Osprey Farpoint is the bag I have had for years and would recommend to anybody. It’s a unisex bag, but I still find it one of the best Osprey backpacks for women and great for men as well. It’s definitely the best travel backpack for Europe and traveling around the world on this list.

The Farpoint has become the golden standard for travel backpacks. The backpack is referred to as front loader meaning it opens similar to a suitcase for easy access. It’s pretty lightweight, features a removable daypack, zip-away suspension, and a side handle to top it off. The side handle of the bag is an added bonus, making it easy to grab out of an overhead bin and carry it off of a plane. Most backpacks are built for hiking, but with the Osprey you get a travel-specific bag.

The only drawback of the pack is the less comfortable suspension and its unisex design which means it is not ideal for every woman or every man. It also really lacks any proper organization compartments and instead has one big open space. However, the portability makes it an awesome choice for the best women’s travel backpack or men’s travel backpack. The front load and the ability to keep your clothes folded is awesome. The 40L is great for carry on luggage while the 55L and 70 liter backpack are good for long-term trips. Since the Farpoint really doesn’t have anything to organize with I would highly suggest pairing this bag with packing cubes.

Weight: 3 lbs. 14.4 oz.
Fabric: 210-denier ripstop nylon/600-denier
Capacities: 40L, 55L, 70L
Pros: Lightweight, manageable, removable daypack
Cons: Few pockets for organization, standard unisex design

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REI Co-op Flash Pack – Best Lightweight Hiking Backpack

We love to shop at REI and love their gear. It’s often a great value and we’ve used their backpacks for years. The Co-Op Flash Pack is one of the best lightweight hiking backpacks on the market. If you plan on hiking with your backpack this is your bag!

It’s made out of ripstop nylon and is a great 45 L trekking backpack for both men and women. With 45L it’s manageable for a gear-heavy day hike, an overnight trip, or a minimalist multi-day trek. The REI compression technology helps keep your belongings up and in to help your balance, stability, and posture while hiking. Its super lightweight frame is great and where the bag saves a few ounces.

There are attachment loops on the front to allow ice axes, poles, and other tools to be stored as well as snappable water bottle pockets on the hip belt. The mesh back panel allows for airflow keeping you cooler when walking in the sun and the removable top lid offers customizable pack volume. We think this pack is perfect for those on a long weekend hiking trip in the mountains or on cross-country trails and has even been named the “Best Women’s Fit” backpack by Backpacker Magazine.

Weight: 2 lbs. 12 oz.
Fabric: Nylon (420D)
Capacities: 45L
Pros: Lightweight, manageable, nice features
Cons: Too small for any longer than three days

Men’s Version on REIWomen’s Version on REI


Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest – Best Ultralight Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 - Best Hiking Backpacks

The Hyperlite Southwest is easily one of my favorite unisex packs on the market and one of the best ultralight backpacks in the world. The material in this bag has allowed for weight previously not seen. It’s a impressively strong, super lightweight, and close to waterproof backpack. Hyperlite Mountain Gear specializes in building outdoor gear with this special material called Dyneema Composite Fabric. Their backpack line comes in a number of sizes, but the 3400 is their middle of road backpack with 55L of storage.

If you’re big on buying American made this company is based and manufactures in Maine, so that’s a big bonus point. The higher price point may deter some, but it comes with the territory of buying top of the line materials. If you do purchase expect these packs to last for years of heavy usage. After purchase, you’ll see that this will easily be the best hiking backpack you own.

Weight: 2 lbs. 0.6 oz.
Fabric: Dyneema
Capacities: 40, 55, 70L
Pros: Lightweight and water resistant
Cons: No organization features, strictly for hiking

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Osprey Porter – Best Everyday Backpack

You’re probably noticing a theme by now, but we love Osprey backpacks for travel in Europe and all around the world. The pack is well constructed and leaves plenty of room for all of your clothes. The bag is lightweight and easy to throw off your back when you hop on a bus or train.

The only problem with this bag is it’s not as robust so those who like to walk or cover distance the backpack will get uncomfortable. That being said it’s one of the cheapest Osprey backpacks you can buy which means you have more budget for your backpacking trip.

My recommendation for this pack is the 46L size, but if you want a bit more space the 65L should have more than enough room to pack for a trip around the world.

Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
Fabric: Nylon 420D
Capacities: 30L, 46L, 65L
Pros: Organization Pockets. Osprey Suspension. Laptop sleeve. Compression Tech. Structure Sidewalls. Multiple Sizes. Great Value.
Cons: Ugly. Questionable Carry On.

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Topo Designs Travel Bag – Best Urban Backpack

Topo Designs - Travel Backpack

Topo Designs launched their latest pack the Travel Bag and it’s a slam dunk for European and business like travel. In terms of style it is the best looking backpack on this entire list. The interior features double zipper U-entry, one large compartment, a medium sized compartment, two small pockets, and two mesh pockets. The exterior features a rear laptop sleeve, a front compartment with organization and U-entry, a vertical pocket with organization, and exterior loops.

The exterior is a heavy duty nylon and the bag uses robust zippers that are the best we’ve seen on a travel backpack, albeit a bit clunky. When it comes to support the it has side handles on both sides of the backpack, a detachable shoulder strap, and backpack straps with a hip belt and chest strap. The support and straps are detachable and can be stored inside a zippered compartment for travel.

It’s a decent size at 40L and should be enough to for minimalistic travelers in one season for multiple weeks. If you’re an adventure seeker and like to hike, the support system is lacking when compared to top loading packs. The colors and style is also better suited for younger travelers, but it all depends on your style they offer a black if you prefer a more neutral bag we have the olive color pictured above.

All together this is would be my vote for the best travel backpack for Europe and I’ll be reaching for it on my next short trip. It’s loaded with features, space, and has a lifetime guarantee.

Weight: 3 lbs. 1o oz.
Fabric: 1000D nylon, 400D nylon pack cloth, 210D nylon pack cloth liner
Capacities: 30L & 40L
Pros: Organization Pockets. Multiple Compartments Laptop sleeve. Multiple Carry Points. Carry On Friendly. Style. Heavy Zippers. Theft Deterrent Zipper Loop.
Cons: Smaller Size. Style. No Water Bottle Holder. Price.

Topo Designs Travel Bag


REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Pack – Best Carry On Backpack

REI Rucksack 40 - Best Travel Backpack Europe

Osprey had a monopoly on the travel backpack market for far too long. However, many backpack manufacturers have caught on and begun developing backpacks suited for the growing trend of travelers. We have transitioned from hiking packs to purpose-built travel backpacks within a few years. We’re longtime fans of REI and love the products they produce.

This pack is loaded with features the Farpoint lacks. Highlights include a more robust suspension system that allows for an impromptu hike in the mountains or up to the top of the local hill. I love the addition of a laptop sleeve, hydration reservoir, rain cover, and straps for trekking poles. All together it’s a nice backpack that blur the line as to which category it belongs.

To top it all off the pack has a lie flat feature with a large zip opening for easy access to all of your belongings. This is the travel bag for those who want to blend city hopping and adventure travel all in one bag.

Weight: 4 lbs. 3 oz.
Fabric: Nylon 210D
Capacities: 40L
Pros: Best Suspension System. Hiking Pack Features. REI Guarantee. U Shape Open. Frame. Compression Straps. Carry On Compliant. Zip Away Straps.
Cons: Heavy. Hiking/Travel.

REI Co-op Rucksack


Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack – Best Travel Backpack Carry On

Totuga Setout Backpack

Companies have caught on to the demands of travelers these days. The idea of a hiking backpack to travel around the world is going out of style now we have purpose built travel bags — we’re stoked and own five travel specific bags including the Setout! Tortuga was on of the first bag companies to catch on to the trend and start producing travel specific bags.

It’s been one of my favorite bags I’ve ever carried and it’s been wonderful with our snowboard season as dealing with a snowboard bag is already a pain in the butt. The bag is about 40 liters in size with a front loading compartment, a front sleeve with organization, and rear laptop sleeve.

The compartments are well thought out with room for my socks, toiletries, electronics, and essentials. The bags highlights for me include a padded laptop sleeve, detachable straps if you decide to check the bag, and the convenient side handle. The straps on the Setout are also the robust and comfortable straps of all the travel backpacks we tested.

It is a great backpack, but I should mention that for only $30 Topo Designs Travel Bag delivers a more robust bag loaded with features and a better design. That being said it does have a water bottle holder that the Topo Designs Travel Bag lacks, a crucial element in the way you use a pack.

Weight: 4 lbs.
Fabric: Nylon 900D
Capacities: 40L
Pros: Laptop Sleeve. Multiple Compartments. Superb Suspension. Stow Away Straps. Side Handle. Water Bottle Holder. Quality. Lockable Zippers.
Cons: Difficult to Access Front and Rear Sleeves. Heavy. Style.

Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack


Eagle Creek Global Companion 40L Backpack – Best Travel Daypack

This is a great backpack from Eagle Creek. They’ve specialized in travel products for a while now and are a huge name in the game. The bag has a plethora of pockets and even a special one for shoes in the bottom of the bag.

It’s another great version of a clamshell-style backpack which provides easy access to your luggage. Other features include lockable zippers and a rain cover for bad weather.

Weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Fabric: Poly 450 & 600D
Capacities: 40L
Pros: Laptop Sleeve. Multiple Compartments. Rain Cover. Clam Shell Open.
Cons: Ugly. Useless Front Pockets (Too Small. Lacks Side Handle. Permanent Straps.

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Teton Sports Scout 3400 – Best Cheap Travel Backpack

The Teton Sports Scout is a cheap travel backpack in price but durable enough for men, women, and even children. The internal frame makes the Teton an excellent choice for camping and hiking. Even though this pack is well under $100 it still has sturdy zippers, open-cell foam lumbar pad support, and extra padded waist and shoulder straps.

There are loops for your ski poles. Although this pack is not waterproof it comes with an integrated rain fly for when you get caught in a downpour. There is no bladder included, but there are side holsters to place your water bottles while trekking. In our opinion, this pack is one of the best packs you can get for your money. It might not be the right fit for serious hikers, but those just getting their toes wet will love its affordability.

Weight: 4 lbs. 8oz.
Capacities: 55L
Pros: Affordable. Features. Price.
Cons: Cheap Feel. Suspension.

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Timbuk2 WanderPack – Best Stylish BackpackTimbuk2 Wander Pack - Best Travel Backpacks Europe

This is a stylish multi-use backpack. The sleek exterior is a nice touch and does a good job at fighting stains and moisture. It’s a well-designed bag that does a wonderful job as a functional travel pack.

I’d recommend it for anyone who cares about the looks of their pack and intends to travel around cities. It could even be used on business travel if it doesn’t require a suit and tie. With a padded rear sleeve designed for up to a 15″ laptop, you can travel in confidence as a digital nomad.

It has a number of drawbacks such as a lack of hip-belt, lackluster straps, and outdoor features. It’s wonderful because of its ability to fit in overhead bins and makes a great carry-on backpack.

Additional stand-out features include the side straps for compression and the various compartments that help with organization. If you combine this bag with packing cubes to protect your clothes you could have a well laid out backpack perfect for a stylish traveler who doesn’t want to look like a “backpacker.”

Other reviews do mention that Timbuk2 runs with some quality issues and the zippers on our pack seem to catch when we pull despite the tough look. It may look like a rough and tumble backpack like the duffel bags from Patagonia and Dakine below, but I wouldn’t expect it to hold up to their quality.

Weight: 3 lbs. 11 oz.
Fabric: Nylon 420D
Capacities: 40L
Pros:  Style. Price. Laptop Sleeve. Exterior Material. Exterior Compression Straps.
Cons: Quality. Zippers. Suspension. No Chest Straps.

Timbuk2 Wander Pack


Best Non Traditional Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

Patagonia Black Hole 25L – Best Carry on Backpack for International Travel

First things first, this pack is made by Patagonia which is one of our favorite brands! Patagonia makes great quality gear and garments and we continue to buy more of their products. Patagonia’s Black Hole is everything I have come to love about the company. It features a ripstop polyester that is a water-resistant TPU laminate which makes it waterproof and super tough. The look of it is a sleek and heavy-duty bag built for adventure.

This is a small travel backpack ideal for day trips or short travel weekends, granted they do make larger versions.  An inner padded pocket is located on the inside to hold a laptop so it makes for a great bag in the city or out hiking in the woods. Another great feature is the daisy chain loops that allow for the attachment of things such as a skateboard, yoga mat, or climbing gear. This daypack is a slam dunk, but some might not like the laminate look. Also, it lacks compartments in the interior for the organization of your clothing or gear.

Weight: 1 lbs. 8 oz.
Fabric: 450-denier polyester ripstop with a TPU-film laminate
Capacities: 25L
Pros:water-resistant TPU laminate, laptop padded pocket
Cons: Not many inside pockets

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Dakine Ranger Duffel Bag – Best Duffel Bag

Dakine Ranger

This is a pretty similar bag to the Patagonia Black Hole. It has a heavy duty exterior that is water resistant with enough handles to sling the bag around. It comes with a lifetime guarantee and in some pretty attractive colors. I have the ginger color and have loved the pack for all of my more adventurous trips.

It is lightweight and features straps that connect for an over the shoulder bag or backpack. The top opens wide with two J zippers allowing you to access all your stuff in the main compartment. The interior also includes a few internal mesh pockets for organization.

I’ve also used the pack as a secondary bag since it can pack up into a small exterior pocket which can be carried in a larger suitcase. So, while in Italy we had our suitcases, but pulled the water resistant backpack for some island hopping and left the suitcase on the mainland.

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eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender – Best Overnight Backpack

Is this a convertible bag? I’m throwing it into the realm of front-loading. It claims to have a lifetime guarantee, has a great organization system, glowing reviews, and it’s carry on friendly.

This is another viable option for those looking for a no-fuss bag and to escape the inconveniences of traditional suitcases or a large hiking bag.

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Osprey Ozone Convertible – Best Travel Backpack with Wheels

This bag has a hefty price tag on it and is a newcomer on the scene, but it looks very promising. Similar build to the Farpoint, with the added addition of a more compact frame and a pullout handle with wheels.

It may not be for every European or old city traveler because wheels and cobbeled streets don’t mix well. But if you don’t like to carry your pack at all times this is easily one of the best travel backpacks with wheels on the market.

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Styles Of Travel Backpacks for Backpacking

When it comes to backpacks there are three main types and each comes with its pros and cons. The three general styles of the backpack are top-loading, panel loading, and non-traditional backpacks. Let’s take a look at all three to weigh their various advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to pick the right style to have the best travel backpack for you.

best travel backpacks


Panel Loading Travel Backpacks:

Panel-loading backpacks are purpose-built for the traveler on the go and are a great option. Their design is similar to a traditional suitcase. They fully unzip giving easy access to your stuff. They have a sleek design without all the straps that are likely to get hung up, making it easy to throw them in an overhead compartment or under a bus.

Many of these packs are often designed to meet checked baggage standards. These packs are quickly becoming the traveler’s favorite bag. They’re very well adapted for transitioning between urban environments making them one of the best backpacks for Europe.

Pros of Panel  Loading Backpacks:
  • Size, not having to worry about having to check your bag is a big plus. The majority of these packs come in a size designed to be carry-on friendly.
  • Easy access, with a compartment that fully opens to give you access to your clothes and whatever else you carry. This is the big one, making packing and unpacking a breeze.
  • Side handles, this may seem like such a small thing, but as a frequent traveler, I can attest it is not. A side handle makes hopping on off public transportation, running through the airport, or just carrying your pack around much easier. You do not need to worry about clubbing that woman behind on the subway with your massive pack on.
  • Compartmented, these packs have more compartments built in so you can organize your stuff much better.
Cons of Panel Loading Backpacks:
  • Comfort, the design of these packs is both a positive and negative much like the top-loading packs. In order to keep a low profile, the back straps are often thinner and not as comfortable. Ouch.
  • Zippers, the biggest weak point on panel loading packs is the use of a zipper as the main way to access your goods, meaning they run the risk of breaking over time. Especially on a particularly rough trip.
  • Weight distribution, these packs are similar in shape to a suitcase and not exactly good for long distances on your back. The ergonomics and weight distribution just aren’t there.

Top-Loading Travel Backpacks:

These are generally the most common backpack used by travelers in Europe. However, it may not be the most convenient. It is slim lined and very comfortable for those long treks.

The problem, or strength, lies in the fact that these backpacks were not created for those traveling the world, but those on multiday hikes with their packs on all day. This leads to a durable pack that is lightweight, comfortable, and waterproof.

Pros of Top-loading backpacks:
  • Durable: A decent top-loading pack is designed to withstand the elements.
  • Drawstring opening: These packs are designed to last and to be waterproof. So things like zippers aren’t used.
  • Comfort: These packs are built for comfort on long hikes and are made for the adventurous. Meaning long walks when moving locations are easier.
  • Flexibility: These packs are probably the most versatile since they are purpose built for multi-day hike trips that allow for you to bounce between urban and natural landscapes.
  • Waterproof: Another reason to love the design of a top-loading pack is the waterproof capabilities.
Cons of top loading backpacks:
  • Packing: The top-loading feature can make packing and unpacking a pain. Meaning if something is at the bottom of your pack, you better start digging.
  • Checked baggage: These bad boys can be large and often can’t fit in overheads meaning you get hit with additional baggage fees.
  • Straps: The straps hang all over the place. They might be helpful for hiking the Rockies, but not so helpful when throwing under a coach bus.
  • Awkward: They’re designed for riding on your back, not for waiting on a metro platform. My top-loading pack is wonderful on my back, but due to its shape cannot stand upright on its own.
  • Sore thumb: With a top loading pack on there is almost no chance of looking like a local. You’re pretty much pegged for being a tourist right off the get-go, which can be a nuisance.

Non-Traditional Travel Backpacks

This is a wide range of packs some purpose-built for travel while others like duffel bags are purpose-built for a different task. I love duffel bags for shorter trips and they have established themselves as favorites for adventure sports enthusiasts. These packs are extremely varied since no real design seems to reign supreme different companies have different styles.

It really depends on individual comfort when it comes to determining which bag is right for you. I’ve seen a few interesting designs that may work well for a traveler who’s on the go with short weekend trips. I personally don’t see a ton of practicality extending beyond that. For me, a traditional bag, or duffel bag are far more stylish and just as practical, but to each their own.

Pros of Non Traditional Backpacks:
  • Size, not having to worry about having to check your bag is a big plus. The majority of these packs come in a size designed to be carry-on friendly.
  • Easy access, with a compartment that fully opens to give you access to your clothes and whatever else you carry. This is the big one, making packing and unpacking a breeze.
  • Side handles, this may seem like such a small thing, but as a frequent traveler, I can attest it is not. A side handle makes hopping on off public transportation, running through the airport, or just carrying your pack around much easier. You do not need to worry about clubbing that woman behind on the subway with your massive pack on.
  • Compartmented, these packs have more compartments built in so you can organize your stuff much better.
Cons of Panel Loading Backpacks:
  • Comfort, the design of these packs is both a positive and negative much like the top-loading packs. In order to keep a low profile, the back straps are often thinner and not as comfortable. Ouch.
  • Zippers, the biggest weak point on panel loading packs is the use of a zipper as the main way to access your goods, meaning they run the risk of breaking over time. Especially on a particularly rough trip.
  • Weight distribution, these packs are similar in shape to a suitcase and not exactly good for long distances on your back. The ergonomics and weight distribution just aren’t there.

Which travel backpack style is for you?

Deciding on the pack style really comes down to what kind of traveler you are. It depends on what you’re looking to do and where you’re going. Some need a heavy-duty bag, while others need comfort, and then you have the slower moving travelers. If you need help purchasing the backpack read how we save money for travel.

There really is no way to go wrong with what is your world travel backpack. It’s all about personal preference and where you are in life. As a twenty-five-year-old guy, outdoor activities are very appealing to me, not to mention I feel I have a strong back so carrying around a top-loading pack was my choice.

So what suits you? I’ve broken down each pack and who they may appeal to, there’s no right or wrong here though (maybe hiking the alps with a convertible pack isn’t a good idea, but anyone doing that knows that already).

  • Top-Loading: Adventure enthusiast. Hiking. Likes to walk and hitch-hike. Long haul.
  • Panel-loading: Quick moving. Mostly moving from city to city or town to town. Long haul.
  • Convertible: Going with the flow isn’t your style. You need something that addresses your travel needs like a digital nomad.

Travel Backpacks

How to Choose a Good Travel Backpack?

Price

The first thing to think about when it comes to picking a great backpack is your budget. Good quality backpacks are expensive, but you also don’t want to blow your entire budget on a backpack. However, if you invest in one of the best backpacks on the market chances are it will stand the test of time. I’ve had my Osprey Farpoint for five years and counting, and my REI backpack for even longer. Many companies like REI, Osprey, and The North Face will offer to repair your products if there are defects.

Comfort

Like with anything, make sure that the backpack you choose is comfortable on your back. You should be able to wear it comfortably for at least an hour. When buying online it’s a good idea to check the return policy in case the backpack does not fit you the way you would like.

Design

A travel backpacks design capability is crucial. A good backpack doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of bells and whistles. Make sure you narrow down if you want a top loading backpack or front loading, and check for any extra straps, harnesses, zippers, and clips you may or may not want and need.

Material 

Make sure you pick a travel backpack that is made out of good material. Most backpacks are made out of either Ripstop Nylon or Dyneema. Dyneema is generally more expensive since it is lighter, but both are extremely durable.

Volume/Frame/Weight

Determine everything you will want to carry in your backpack for that will determine the volume bag you buy. A good starting point is 40-50L. You’ll want to choose a relatively lightweight backpack since you will be hiking with it for long treks. A backpack can easily be your heaviest piece of gear so choosing something lightweight could make all the difference for your comfort. And finally, choose a frame that serves its purpose for what you need. If you are carrying a lighter load then a lightweight frame is a great option, same goes for the opposite.

Trip Length

It’s important to consider your trip length when picking a travel backpack. There are great day backpacks on this list that are great for just that – a day. While others can serve you for traveling for a week, a month, or even years.

The ideal backpack size for traveling longer term is somewhere around 60 liters. Anything smaller than that is for short extended jaunts if you have plans to travel for several weeks you’ll have a tough time with a pack smaller than 60 liters.

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Elements of a good travel backpack

Main compartment

You’ll want to make sure that the main compartment of your backpack is large enough to carry all of your belongings while still having easy access. Store the heavier things at the bottom of your bag so that the weight is closer to your back. Additional compartments are good for storage of small items or valuables like your passport.

Hip Belt

A good hip belt is essential for any travel backpack especially for women. In case you haven’t heard women have hips and putting your pack weight on your hips helps take the pressure off your back, so you will want a good, well-cushioned hip belt that is sturdy to help do that.

Shoulder straps

Along with the hip belt, your shoulder straps carry a lot of the weight of your pack. Thick and comfortable padding will keep your shoulders from hurting after a long days hike or walk through a city.

Water bottle holders and hydration ports

Hydration ports are great for those long hot days. If you aren’t using the hydration ports or a bladder you will want at least one water bottle holder to hold your liquid.

Waterproof

We look for bags that are waterproof or have a rain fly in case your stuck in a rainstorm. Nothing is worse than wet gear.

Cushioned back

A well cushioned back panel can make the difference between having a backache or not.

Trekking pole/ice picking loops

If you’ll be doing any hiking during your travels these are great little additions to any bag that can really optimize your comfort and free your hands if you use poles or ice picks on hikes.

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