It’s 2019 and there are more travel backpacks on the market than ever before. That’s great for you because that means that backpack manufacturers are finally listening to travelers like us who want comfortable, functional, urban-friendly, and stylish travel backpacks.
We’ve personally tested over twenty of the most popular bags to bring you what we think are the best travel backpacks on the market (yes, we’re
What You’ll Find In This Guide: We’ll cover every feature & aspect that you’ll want to consider when choosing travel backpack that best suits your travel style and we’ll also suggest our favorite backpacks at every price-point.
Why We Love Travel Backpacks
Traveling with only a backpack gives you a freedom that you won’t experience with a suitcase. It’s a very zen-like way to travel that you won’t truly understand until you do it.
That’s because a backpack makes you think very carefully about what you bring becaue you’re physically limited to what you can actually fit in your bag. It makes you travel smarter. Sure, it might be tough at first but you really appreciate the light load once you’re on the road.
Traveling light allows you to easily navigate busy train stations, cobblestone streets, endless staircases, and everything else that gets thrown at you.
Furthermore, if you travel with a carry-on size backpack then you also won’t have to worry about expensive checked bag fees or the airlines losing your luggage.
Travel Backpacks 101: Everything You Need To Know
There are dozens of travel backpacks on the market. Some are amazing. Some are downright terrible. But there really isn’t one single backpack that is perfect for everyone since every traveler has different needs and requirements — for example, someone doing weekend trips will have different needs than someone doing a 12-month trip through Europe.
That’s why in this guide we’ll try to point out different features so you can choose which are most important to your travel style.
Travel Backpack Sizes
Backpacks are generally measured in liters (e.g. 30L, 45L, 50L, etc.). Be aware that companies measure volume differently so Brand A’s 35L might be different than Brand B’s 35L. Furthermore, bags come in different shapes and configurations so you shouldn’t judge size on liters alone.
As a general rule, the maximum legal carry-on (aka MLC) for a travel backpack is around 43-45 liters. But you’ll want to check airline requirements and actual bag dimensions since they do vary.
So what size travel backpack is best? It depends on your needs. But here are our thoughts on backpack sizes:
- 20L-30L: Backpacks under 30L would be considered too small for anyone doing a trip longer than a day or two. For reference, this standard Jansport Backpack is 25L.
- 30L-35L: There are a handful of travel backpacks in the 30L-35L range. In our opinion, these are still too small for most travelers. Bags in this range are best for minimalist travels. Example backpacks:
- 35L-40L: Backpacks in the 35L-40L start hitting that sweet spot for a lot of lightweight travelers. That said, you’ll still need to be selective about what you pack because there will still only be room for the essentials. Example Backpacks:
- 40L-45L: As mentioned before, 45L is about the largest your bag can be before it no longer considered “carry-on” size. But this is the size we recommend for most travelers since it gives you a little extra space. Example Backpacks:
- Over 45L: If you’re not concerned with sticking to carry-on requirements then you might want to consider backpacks in the 45L-55L range. There are some 55L-80L bags on the market but we suggest avoiding those as they become a little more difficult to lug around. Example Backpacks:
Note: Your trip length doesn’t necessarily correspond to backpack size. That’s because you’ll do laundry on longer trips so the amount you pack on a 5 day trip really isn’t different than packing for a 7-week trip.
Travel Backpacks Vs. Hiking Backpacks
As you look at backpacks you’ll start seeing two main styles — travel and hiking. We recommend travel backpacks but plenty of people use hiking-style bags. In this section, we’ll talk about the main differences between the two styles.
– Clamshell/Suitcase Opening vs Top Opening
The most obvious difference between the two styles is how the bag opens. Travel backpacks zip open like a suitcase and hiking backpacks have a single opening at the top (usually closed with a drawstring). So what does this mean?
Basically, travel backpacks are easier to pack/unpack — simply unzip it a suitcase and get whatever you need. Top-loading hiking backpacks are a pain to pack since you have to pull everything out if you need to access anything in the bag.
– Suspension System (Shoulder Straps, etc.)
The main benefit of hiking backpacks is that they’re more comfortable than travel backpacks because they’re designed to be worn for long periods of time (i.e. hiking mountains).
In general, hiking bags have a more advanced shoulder harness and hip belt and the bag is designed to sit closer to your body. But the design isn’t as practical for travel. That said, some people actually prefer comfort to practicality — it’s all personal preference.
That said, some travel bags have an advanced shoulder harness and hip belts but in general travel, bags can be less comfortable than hiking backpacks.
– Size & Layout
Travel backpacks tend to be
Hiking backpacks tend to be long and skinny so it’s harder to utilize the space in your bag as well as the boxier travel backpack. But, this shape is actually more comfortable since it keep the load tight against your back. So there is a trade off.
Hiking backpacks tend to be quite a bit lighter than travel backpacks because they’re usually just a single “tube” without any extra frills.
– Final Thoughts: Travel Vs. Hiking Backpacks
Despite a few shortcomings, we prefer travel style backpacks because they’re more practical for urban travel.
Travel backpacks also tend to be a little more stylish since most hiking style bags are brightly colored. That said, we see plenty of people using hiking backpacks so it’s really personal preference.
Suspension System (aka How Comfortable Is It?)
Your bag’s comfort is largely defined by its suspension system — i.e. the shoulder straps and hipbelt. Ok, it’s also defined by how much stuff you pack but a more advanced harness system lets you comfrotably carry more weight.
The image above shows the two most common shoulder strap styles. The Osprey Farpoint (left) is more of a hiking style harness and the Aer Travel Pack 2.0 (right) is a bit more of a traditional backpack style harness.
As you can see, the shoulder straps on the hiking style backpack (left) are positioned lower on the bag and curve up and around the shoulders. This style generally conforms to the shoulder so it keeps the bag from pulling away from your back.
On traditional backpacks (right) the shoulder straps don’t conform to your shoulders as well so the bag has a tendency to pull away from your back — which can put more strain on
That doesn’t mean traditional backpacks aren’t comfortable but they’re usually not as comfortable as hiking style harnesses — especially when you’re carrying a heavy load.
Some travel backpacks come with a hip belt — which helps distribute your bag’s weight to your hips from your shoulders. That said, many travelers forgo a hip belt on smaller bags because it helps keep things streamlined since the hip belt does add bulk. It’s personal preference but we feel it does make the backpack more comfortable if you’re a heavy packer.
You’ll also want to look at the amount of padding found on the shoulder straps because some bags have a ton and some have very little. It’s a balancing act since padding adds to the comfort of the bag but it also adds a lot of weight/bulk to the bag.
The Osprey Farpoint and Osprey Fairview (women’s version of the Osprey Farpoint) are travel backpacks but have hiking-style shoulder harness — it’s a solid mix of both worlds.
The Tortuga Outbreaker is another travel backpack that incorporates a more robust shoulder harness.
And the Kelty Redwing line is great for budget travelers.
Structure and Internal Frame
The best travel backpacks have a bit of rigidity/structure and this helps distribute the weight of the bag across your entire back and it helps keep the load tight against your body.
There are generally two ways bag manufacturers add structure: through a lightweight internal frame (i.e. internal poles) or through a large plastic sheet built into the back of the bag.
The lightweight internal frame provides more rigidity/stability but the plastic sheet method also works pretty well.
Proper Fit & Gender-Specific Backpacks
Most travel backpacks are unisex and only come in one size. This is generally fine for most people but there are a handful of backpacks that come in small, medium, and large size — which is nice if you’re shorter or taller than average.
So, if you really want your bag to be as comfortable as possible then you might want to look into backpacks that come in multiple size options.
Additionally, a few companies are starting to offer backpacks with female-specific designs — which usually means the shoulder straps are shaped to better fit female anatomy. Again, plenty of women have no issues with unisex backpacks so don’t worry too much if your perfect bag doesn’t have a “female” version.
Kelty Redwing 40, Osprey Fairview 40, & Osprey Fairview 55 are all women-specific backpacks.
The Tortuga Outbreaker has an adjustable torso and the Osprey Farpoint and Osprey Fairview come in multiple sizes (i.e. XS, SM, M & L).
Backpack Configuration & Layout
Most travel backpacks consist of one large compartment and then a handful of smaller pockets to help keep all your smaller stuff organized.
Bag makers have a tough job of striking a balance between organization and weight — i.e. more pockets = more bulk.
We tend to prefer more minimalist bags that just have a few well-thought-out pockets because some backpacks really go overboard with the organization.
We’ve found that one or two exterior pockets really come in handy when you’re traveling — especially a top exterior pocket for storing your phone, sunglasses, and other small things you access frequently.
You should also pay attention to the laptop compartment (assuming you’re traveling with a laptop or tablet). The most important thing is being able to access the laptop from the exterior of the bag — i.e you don’t need to unpack the bag to remove the laptop when going through
The location of the laptop compartment is also something to consider. Most bags put the compartment against your back — which helps keep the laptop protected and keep the weight against your back.
Some backpacks put the compartment in the front of the bag — which probably isn’t as safe and the distance from you back might add extra strain to your load.
Backpack Weight and Bulk
Most travel backpacks range from a lightweight 2.5 lbs to a honking 7 lbs+. Obviously, the heavier bags are physically bigger but they also tend to have more padding and pockets.
The super-light bags are physically smaller but they also cut back on padding, pockets, and might use less-durable fabric.
One important thing to remember is that most budget airlines are usually more concerned with the weight (and not the physical size) of your carry-on bags. For example, we scored a super cheap flight from NYC to Copenhagen on Norwegian Air and they charged people extra if their carry-on bag was over 22lbs (10kg). This is becoming much more common since bag fees are a huge money-maker for airlines.
So, with that in mind, a heavy backpack might force you to pack less if you’re trying to stay under any kind of weight limit.
Stowable Shoulder Straps & Hip Belt
While not a deal breaker, we really like it when travel backpacks have
First, this allows us to safely check the bag because you don’t have to worry about the shoulder straps being ripped off in baggage carousel conveyor belts.
And second, we like to stow away the straps before we board the plane so we can move through the narrow aisles and put the bag in the overhead compartment or under the seat with ease.
Just about every travel backpack is made out of some kind of synthetic material — usually nylon. Why nylon? Because it is lightweight and durable.
As you look at backpacks you’ll notice that manufacturers will throw all kinds of impressive sounding fabric names at you. For example:
- Osprey Farpoint: 210D Nylon Mini Hex Diamond Ripstop
- Osprey Porter: 420HD Nylon Packcloth
- GoRuck RE1: 1000D CORDURA®
- Tortuga Outbreaker: X-Pac Waterproof Sailcloth
- Aer Travel Pack 2: 1680D Cordura® Ballistic N
What does all this mean? Well, it’s partially marketing (I mean, they all sound pretty impressive). But it also gives you an idea of the thickness/weight/durability of the fabric.
The number — 210, 420, 1680 — conveys the thickness/weight of the fabric (higher=heavier) and the rest tells you what kind of fabric it is (Ripstop, CORDURA, Ballistic Nylon, etc.). But a high number doesn’t automatically mean it’s “better”
But honestly, I wouldn’t get too
Of all the things that can fail on a backpack, the zipper is probably the most common failure point. The gold standard of zipper manufactures is YKK so most of the best-quality bags use these. While it’s not a dealbreaker, we prefer bags that use YKK zippers.
Another nice feature that some bags offer
In our opinion, we’re not too concerned with having a backpack that is weather resistant — especially in Europe where it’s unlikely you’ll be caught in heavy downpours.
Yes, it’s nice when backpacks take steps to help keep the elements out but you should buy a cheap rain cover if you’re really worried about protecting your backpack from the rain (almost every bag has an accompanying rain cover that’s usually sold separately but some bags come with them).
Note: No bag is fully “waterproof” — but some are more water-resistant than others.
Style and Aesthetics
Travel backpacks come in multiple different styles — some are sleek and urban and others are full-on outdoorsy (and kinda ugly).
We’re usually not too concerned about what our bag looks like, but we understand that some travelers prefer a bag with urban-styling since those bags don’t scream “tourist”.
That said, the cooler looking backpacks tend to be less comfortable than hiking style backpacks — but there are a few strike a nice balance of form and function.
Unfortunately, well-made travel backpacks aren’t cheap and some are downright expensive. For a new backpack, expect to spend a minimum of around $140 but some bags cost $300+.
If you’re on a tight budget we suggest buying used (Craigslist, eBay, borrow your friend’s old bag) or checking out REI Garage for closeout deals on previous years models.
Fit Your Bag To Your Travel Style
One of the most important things to consider when buying a travel backpack is knowing your travel style because different bags are designed for different uses.
- If you plan on using both a backpack and a suitcase then your backpack can be smaller.
- If you’re doing business travel then you might want a bag that’s sleeker and a bit more stylish.
- If you’re just visiting one or two cities then you might not need a large backpack.
- Are you a barebones minimalist traveler? Look for a sleek and utilitarian backpack.
- Will you have easy access to a washer and dryer? Consider packing less and using a smaller backpack because you can wash your stuff halfway through.
- Are you traveling in the winter? A slightly bigger bag will let you carry those bulky items.
- Are you a fashionista with a lot of clothes but plan on using Uber/taxis as opposed to public transportation? Then go ahead and get a bigger backpack because you won’t be wearing it for long periods of time anyways.
- Are you visiting somewhere that requires you to wear your backpack for long periods of time? Then you might consider a hiking style backpack with an advanced shoulder harness system.
- Do you have a bad back? Then you might want a suitcase.
Our Picks For The Best Travel Backpacks
Alright! Let’s take a look at our list of the best travel backpacks on the market. The backpacks in this list range from around $100 to $300 so there are options at every price point.
Osprey Farpoint & Fairview— Great “Do-It-All” Travel Backpacks
The Osprey Farpoint and its female version, Osprey Fairview, are two of our favorite travel backpacks on the market and we’ve used them on many trips.
These backpacks do a nice job of combining the best features found in travel backpacks and hiking-style backpacks (i.e. an advanced shoulder harness system with a suitcase-style opening). Both bags also come in multiple liter sizes as well as different torso sizes — which means a better overall fit for you.
Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 40 Specs
- Size: 19.3H X 13.8W X 8D IN. (XS/S), 20H X 14W X 8D IN (S/M), 21H X 14W X 9D IN (M/L)
- Weight: 3.11 lbs
- Price: $160
Osprey Farpoint / Fairview 55 Specs
- Size: 22.8H X 13W X 11.8D IN (XS/S), 24H X 13W X 12D IN (S/M), 25H X 13W X 12D IN (M/L)
- Weight: 3.75 lbs
- Price: $180
What we like about the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview: First of all, these backpacks have a shoulder harness and hip-belt that are very close to what you’d find on a full-featured hiking-style backpack so it’s one of the most comfortable travel backpacks available.
These backpacks also come in multiple sizes (i.e. small, medium, large) — which is nice if you’re a little taller or shorter than most people. And, of course, the Fairview is designed specifically for women so that’s a solid bonus.
Quick Note: Other than the obvious size difference, the 55L and 40L are slightly different bags. The 55L is actually around 43L with a detachable 12L daypack. The 40L doesn’t have a daypack. There are a few other very small differences but that’s the main difference.
Osprey Porter — Great For Affordable Gear Hauling
The Osprey Porter series of travel backpacks is another super solid travel bag that lets you haul a lot of stuff at an affordable price— it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular travel backpacks.
Osprey Porter 30 Specs
Osprey Porter 46 Specs
Osprey Porter 65 Specs
What We Like About The Osprey Porter Series: While it’s not quite as comfortable as its Farpoint/Fairview cousin, in our testing we’ve found the Porter to be comfortable enough for city travel. That said, the Porter series excels as a purpose-built gear-hauling bag perfect for city hopping and urban travel. The Porter’s “turtle shell” shape allows you to maximize your packings space so you can fit an impressive amount of stuff in your bag.
The 46L version is our recommended size for most travelers since it meets (or comes close) to carry-on size. The 30L version is really only for minimalist travelers. In our opinion, the 65L version is probably too large for most people (unless you really need to carry a lot of stuff).
Tortuga Outbreaker — A Great Full-Featured Travel Backpack
The Tortuga Outbreaker is the most full-featured, do-everything, withstand-anything-you-throw-at-it travel backpack out there. It’s built like a tank and comes in 35L and 45L.
Outbreaker 35L Specs
- Size: 20.3″ x 12.9″ x 8.2”
- Weight: 4.6 lbs
- Price: $269 via Tortuga Backpacks
Outbreaker 45L Specs
- Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9”
- Weight: 5.1 lbs
- Price: $299 via Tortuga Backpacks
What We Like About The Tortuga Outbreaker: I think Tortuga’s idea when they built the Outbreaker was to make a travel backpack that includes everything a traveler would want in a backpack. Some might say they included too much but there is no denying that this is a super solid backpack.
The Outbreaker comes in two sizes — 35L and 45L. Trust us, you can fit a ton of stuff in the 45L version as it is designed to be the max size for a carry-on bag.
Tortuga Setout — A Great Minimalist But Spacious Travel Backpack
The Tortuga Setout (along with its little brother, the Setout Divide) was built specifically for carry-on and urban travel — and since its
Setout 45L Specs
- Size: 22” x 14” x 9”
- Weight: 3.3 lbs
- Price: $199 via Tortuga Backpacks
Setout Divide 26L-34L (Expandable) Specs
- Size: 20” x 13” x 8”
- Weight: 3.8 lbs
- Price: $179 via Tortuga Backpacks
What We Like About The Tortuga Setout: The Tortuga Setout is a travel backpack built specifically for modern, urban travel. Its 45L size and rectangular shape means you can carry a lot of stuff but it still complies with carry-on size regulations.
We also like the bag’s unassuming looks — it looks like a normal, albeit large backpack. And if you think 45L is a little too big then you should check out the Setout Divide as it is
Aer Travel Pack 2 — A Great Minimalist & Utilitarian Travel Backpack
Coming in at 33L, the Aer Travel Pack 2 is a minimalist travel backpack with a cool urban/utilitarian styling. This is a backpack for lightweight travelers who
Aer Travel Pack 2 Specs
- Size: 21.5″ x 13.5″ x 8.5″
- Weight: 3.7 lbs
- Price: $230 vis Aer SF
What We Like About The Aer Travel Pack 2: The Aer Travel Pack 2 was designed to be both cool looking and functional. And while it can hold a pretty good amount of stuff, its relatively small liter size means its better suited for minimalist travelers. It also a great backpack for travelers who use it in conjunction with a suitcase. This bag will easily meet any airlines carry-on size specifications (it will probably even fit under the seat).
The Aer is made from very sturdy materials and the fabric is heavy-duty. The shoulder straps have a pretty good amount of padding and they’re curved in a way to make them more comfortable.
Kelty Redwing — Great Bang-For-Your-Buck Backpack
The Kelty Redwing backpack tends to get overlooked — probably because it is marketed as a hiking backpack — but it is quietly one of our favorite travel backpacks. It’s essentiually a hybrid between a hiking and travel backpack so it’s very comfortable and easy to pack thanks to its quasi-suitcase opening. Plus, it comes in multiple liter sizes and a female-specific version.
Kelty Redwing 50 Specs
- Size: 26″ x 16″ x 12″
- Weight: 3 lbs 11 oz
- Price: $140
Kelty Redwing 44 Specs
- Size: 25″ x 15″ x 12″
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
- Price: $125
Kelty Redwing 32 Specs
Kelty Redwing 40 (Women’s) Specs
- Size: 23″ x 14″ x 12″
- Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
- Price: $125
What We Like About The Kelty Redwing: The Kelty Redwing gets a lot of things right — it has a very comfortable hiking-style harness, its lightweight, it’s front-loading, and it is one of the cheapest bags on the market. That said, it still looks like an outdoorsy backpack so it doesn’t have that sleek/urban styling that a lot of people like.
Osprey Atmos — Great Ultra-Comfortable Hiking Backpack
If comfort and capacity are most important to you then we highly suggest looking at the Osprey Atmos line of hiking backpacks. Sure, it is a top-loading backpack so it’s a pain to pack/unpack but its a joy to wear — it is designed to be worn for hours at a time.
By the way, the Osprey Aura is the female version of the Atmos.
Osprey Atmos/Aura 50 Specs
- Size: 28.35″ X 14.17″ X 14.17″ (XS), 30.71″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (S), 32.68″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (M), & 34.65″ X 14.96″ X 15.35″ (L)
- Weight: 4.21 lbs
- Price: $240
Osprey Atmos/Aura 65 Specs
- Size: 32.28″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (S), 34.25″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (M), & 36.22″ X 15.35″ X 16.14″ (L)
- Weight: 4.56 lbs
- Price: $270
What We Like About The Atmos/Aura Backpacks: The Atmos 50L was the first backpack I took to Europe
But since this bag is a hiking style backpack you’ll have to deal with it being a top-loader and it’s also too large to be “technically” carry-on bag (but I was still able to take mine on most planes so I’m sure times have changed).
Note: An even nicer (and more expensive) hiking backpack is the Osprey Aether. So if you have money to burn you might want to check it out.
eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender — Budget-Friendly Carry-On Backpack
The eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender is a max carry-on size backpack that’s purpose-built for city travel. It’s also cheaper than most travel backpacks at the max carry-on size range — but it also has a basic shoulder harness so it’s not as comfortable as other bags.
eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Specs
- Size: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
- Weight: 3 lbs, 15 oz
- Price: $140 (but it’s often on sale)
TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior
- Size: 19.5″ x 14″ x 9″
- Weight: 3 lbs, 5 oz
- Price: $130 (but it’s often on sale)
What We Like About The TLS Mother Lode Weekender: The best thing about the eBags Weekender is the price — it’s often on sale for $90-$110. This bag can hold a lot as it’s the max size for a carry-on. The build quality is very solid for the price. As mentioned, the shoulder straps are pretty basic so it’s not going to be super comfortable for extended carry — especially if it’s fully packed out.
There is also a slightly smaller version called the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Junior.
Tips For Packing Your Travel Backpack
Regardless of what kind of backpack you choose, we highly suggest using packing cubes. Trust us, these things will make living out of a backpack much easier.
We’ve already written up a guide to packing and using packing cubes so we think you should check it out.
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