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Best Travel Backpack For Backpacking Abroad

A list of our favorite travel backpacks for backpacking Europe.

Product Reviews

Ahh, yes. Travel backpacks. I’m glad companies are finally starting to design backpacks specifically for travel. In the past, people traveling to Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and wherever else their spirits took them were forced to use normal hiking backpacks that were designed for all-day hikes in the wilderness. However, for city-hopping via train, plane, and bus, these backpacks fell short in the urban environment.

Reasons Why Traditional Hiking Backpacks Aren’t Ideal for Travel

On my first trip to Europe, I did a ton of research before I bought my backpack. I went to about five outdoor stores and visited dozens of websites before I finally decided on the Osprey Atmos 50. It was a great backpack. It was lightweight, comfortable, and it would have been amazing for taking long hikes in the backcountry. However, I wasn’t going to scale any mountains — I was going to Paris, London, Budapest, and Amsterdam. The bag worked fine for my trip, but after a few months of traveling with the bag, I became well aware of its shortcomings.

  • Getting to your stuff is a bit difficult with a top-loading backpack!
    Getting to your stuff is a bit difficult with a top-loading backpack!

    The main problem was gaining access to all my clothes and other stuff in the bag. That’s because hiking backpacks generally only open from the top, so trying to get to anything inside the bag requires you to unpack a lot of stuff first. It was a huge pain in the ass. When you’re hiking, a top-loading bag is perfect because you haul all your gear to a campsite and then unload it as you set up camp. But when you’re traveling, you don’t want to unload your entire bag every time you change locations. You want to open you bag, get whatever you need, and then be on your way.

  • Hiking backpacks are covered in all sorts of straps. These straps adjust the fit of the shoulder harness and hip belts, compress the bag’s load, hold ice picks, and hold a sleeping bag/sleeping pad. All these straps can get caught on things if you’re not careful. The biggest concern is if you check your bag at the airport because the straps can easily get caught on the luggage conveyor belt. If you’re lucky, it will only cause minor damage, but there is the possibility of the strap being ripped completely off the bag — which isn’t good.
  • Many hiking backpacks are long and narrow, which is good for keeping the stuff in the bag centered on your back, but it makes it difficult to pack. This is a feature you want when hiking for miles at a time, but it is a bit of a nuisance when traveling.
  • Finally, top-loading backpacks are closed with a drawstring, so they’re not exactly secure from nefarious hostel mates.

So What’s The Deal With Travel Backpacks?

So easy to pack!
So easy to pack!

The idea behind a travel backpack is simple: the backpack zips open like a normal suitcase — none of that top loading nonsense. This way you can easily access whatever you need without much hassle. Additionally, most travel backpacks don’t have all those extra straps and the suspension system (i.e. the shoulder straps and hip belt) can be stored away behind a zippered panel so it’s safe for transport in buses, planes, etc. So you’re probably thinking that this all sounds great… so what’s the catch. Well, travel backpacks are still relatively new, so they’re not as advanced as traditional hiking backpacks. Therefore, there are still a few drawbacks:

  • The suspension system: The shoulder straps on a travel backpack are not always as advanced as on a traditional hiking backpack – although it does depend on the backpack. Travel backpacks are designed to be worn for maybe an hour — assuming you don’t overload it. This should be plenty of time for most city-hopping trips where you’ll be using public transportation. However, you should think twice about buying a travel backpack if you plan on doing any long-distance hiking on your trip.
  • Hip belt: A lot of travel backpacks skimp on the hip belt — some don’t even have one. The problem here is that most of the weight of your backpack should actually fall on your hips — not your shoulders. Very few travel backpacks include a fully functional hip belt, so this is another reason you don’t want to wear this style of backpack for long. Again, it shouldn’t pose too much of an issue since you won’t be wearing the bag for an extended amount of time.
  • Zippers are the weak spot: The zipper will always be the weakest point in any bag — there is no getting around that. Generally, most major manufactures use heavy-duty zippers so you don’t have too worry too much about breaking one, but it is possible. Another concern is that traditional zippers aren’t waterproof. Nicer bags now come with waterproof zippers, but yours doesn’t have one, you may consider purchasing a rain cover for your bag.
  • Boxiness: Travel backpacks are a little more boxy than the average hiking backpack because they’re designed to be more like a suitcase. This is a minor complaint, but if you’re used to using a hiking pack, you might notice the difference.

Our Favorite Travel Backpacks

Sometimes you just gotta shove your bag in there to make it fit.
Sometimes you just gotta shove your bag in there to make it fit.

Each backpack listed below is designed for travel. Note about carry-on sizes: Each airline has their own rules about carry-on size limits, and they usually specify their maximum length x width x depth. It gets a little confusing because a backpack might be under on the width and depth but slightly over on the length. Most of these bags aren’t super rigid, so the sides will compress if you need to force your bag into one of those little size templates that airlines use. The airlines are usually much more strict about the weight of the bag. As a general rule, a 50L bag is about the max size for carry-on luggage, so I wouldn’t go over that size.

Osprey Farpoint

farpoint40
The Osprey Farpoint 40 (Amazon)

The Osprey Farpoint is a great travel backpack, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular packs. The Farpoint is available in three different sizes — 40L, 55L, and 70L. The Farpoint is one of the most fully-featured travel backpacks on the market; it incorporates many features that you’d find in a traditional hiking pack. Furthermore, it is priced fairly competitively, so it’s a pretty good deal. The 40L and the 55L are essentially the same backpack, but the 55L has a detachable day pack. Both backpacks are 40L, but the 55L model is 40L + 15L day pack. The 70L is a 55L backpack with a 15L day pack. It’s little confusing at first glance.

What We Like About The Osprey Farpoint

  • Real Suspension System: The Farpoint actually has a suspension system that you’d find in a hiking backpack, so this bag is a great option if you value comfort.
  • Comfortable Padded Hip Belt: The hip belt on the Farpoint is a legitimate hip belt that is fully padded and adjustable.
  • Different Sizes: Each model (40L, 55L, and 70L) comes in a Small/Medium or a Medium/Large size. This is great because someone who is 5’3″ will want a different backpack than someone who is 6’1″. Most travel backpacks don’t offer this feature.
  • Carry-on Size: Both the 40L and the 55L models are carry-on size (although, with the 55L, you might have to pack the detachable daypack into the bag because it could put you over the limit. It depends on the airline). The 70L might be too big to carry-on but you may be able to sneak it by.
  • Carry Handles: The Farpoint has two carry handles — one on the side and one on the top. It probably doesn’t seem like a huge deal now, but these come in super handy when you’re moving your bag around.
  • Fairly Lightweight: The 40L model weighs just under 3lbs, and the 55L weighs about 1lb more. These aren’t the lightest weight backpacks, but they’re far from the heaviest.
  • Zip Away Shoulder Straps and Hip Belt: All the shoulder straps and hip belts fold and can be zipped away for safe transportation.

Available on Amazon.

 Osprey Waypoint

Super nice shoulder straps and hip belt on the Waypoint.
Super nice shoulder straps and hip belt on the Waypoint (Amazon)

The Osprey Waypoint is the big brother of the Farpoint. It has a nicer suspension system and a few other advanced features. I’d venture to say that this is the most advanced travel backpack on the market. It comes in two sizes — 65L and 85L. Again, these bags come with a detachable 15L daypack so the main bags are actually 50L and 70L.

  • Real Suspension System: The Waypoint has an advanced, fully functional suspension system that you’d find in a quality hiking backpack. The torso length can also be adjusted to make it fit perfectly. This feature is rare in travel backpacks.
  • Male and Female Version: The Waypoint comes in a male and female version which helps ensure a proper fit for each gender.
  • Comfortable Padded Hip Belt: The hip belt on the Waypoint is fully padded and adjustable.
  • Different Sizes: Each model (65L and 85L) comes in Small, Medium, and Large.
  • Ventilated Back: The Waypoint has a mesh back that creates airflow between your back and the backpack. This helps stop your back from getting sweaty and nasty as you wear it.
  • Semi-carry-on Size: If the daypack is removed, the 65L will probably fit most airlines’ carry-on size requirements, but don’t pack it extremely full. You’ll have a pretty slim chance of getting the 85L on as a carry-on.
  • Carry Handles: The Waypoint has two carry handles — one on the side and one on the top. This is a great feature.
  • Zip-away Shoulder Straps and Hip Belt: All the shoulder straps and hip belts fold and can be zipped away for safe transportation.

The biggest downside to the Waypoint is the weight and the price. The 65L bag weights 5.5lbs — which is on the heavier side. The 65L is usually priced around $250, and the 85L costs around $280. Available on Amazon.

Osprey Porter

porter
The Porter is a nice budget-friendly option (Amazon)

The Osprey Porter is the little brother of Osprey’s travel backpack line. It has the most basic suspension system of the three Osprey backpacks, so it’s only suitable for basic point A to point B travel. The Porter comes in three sizes — 30L, 46L, and 65L. The Porter is streamlined, so there aren’t a bunch of extra straps hanging off the bag. The shoulder straps are pretty basic, and the hip belt is minimal. The straps and hip belt do zip away. The bag does come with a carry handle on the top and side. The Porter is fairly lightweight at 2.5lbs.

The Porter 46 costs around $100, so it is one of the least expensive options on the list. Available on Amazon.

REI Vagabond Tour 40

REIbag
The REI Vagabond is another solid budget-friendly option (REI)

The REI Vagabond Tour 40 is a nice travel backpack option for those on a budget. REI make quality bags, so don’t be put off because it’s a store brand. As the name implies, the backpack is 40L and it weighs in at a mere 2.5lbs. The shoulder straps are decent, but don’t expect too much padding. The hip belt is pretty minimal, so there’s not too much support. The bag is super streamlined and it has a few external pockets to carry odds and ends. The shoulder straps and hip belt can be hidden away, and the bag has two carry handles — but the handles are not padded which makes them kind of uncomfortable to use.

The REI Vagabond costs around $120. Available at REI.

Kelty Redwing and Kelty Flyway

The Kelty Redwing is hard to beat at its price-point.
The Kelty Redwing is hard to beat at its price point (Amazon)

The Kelty Redwing is one of the best-selling backpacks for a reason — it’s super comfortable, it has many advanced features, and it is affordable. The Kelty Flyway is very similar, but it has a few changes to make it more “travel-friendly.” Essentially, they are the same bag with a few small differences. Both bags have a great suspension system with well-padded shoulder straps and nice hip-belts. Additionally, they both have vented backs to help ward off a sweaty back. Both bags are panel-loading and they have a few exterior pockets. The main difference is that the Flyway comes with a cover to protect the shoulder straps and hip belt during transport, but the Redwing does not. The Flyway only comes in a 43L version, but the Redwing comes in a 44L and 50L version. It also comes in a female-specific 40L version. Both the Redwing and Flyway weigh a little over 3lbs, so they’re lightweight.

Another great thing about these bags is the price. The Redwing is officially listed for about $115-$125, and the Flyway is about $135. However, on Amazon you can usually find both bags for $90-$100 — which makes them an excellent value. Redwing available at Amazon and Flyway available at Amazon.

Tortuga Travel Backpack

The Tortuga is a solid bag but shoulder straps leave a little to be desired.

Up until this point, all the bags on this list have been manufactured by big companies. The Tortuga is different. It was started by a few friends who became frustrated with their backpacks when they traveled through Europe. That’s how the Tortuga was born. This backpack is designed with urban travel in mind, and it does a really solid job — I did a more in-depth review here. This panel-loading backpack comes in at 44L and weighs 3.65lbs. The bag’s material is sturdy, and the hip belt is substantially padded. For the price, the suspension system isn’t the best, but the shoulder straps have a decent amount of padding. This backpack does have two sturdy carry handles. The straps and hip belt do stow away, so that is always nice.

The bag costs about $200 and is available via the Tortuga Website.

Minaal Carry-on Backpack

Nice backpack but it ain't cheap.
Nice backpack, but it ain’t cheap.

The Minaal created quite a splash with its super successful Kickstarter campaign, so obviously people are interested in sleek and stylish carry-on backpacks. I haven’t gotten a chance to test it in person, but it looks to be a solid backpack, and it gets good reviews. It has a lot of the features you’d expect to see on a travel backpack — it’s streamlined, the straps can be stashed away, it has a rain cover, and it has solid carry handles on the side and top. It’s quite stylish and it won’t draw a lot of attention to itself, which is a good thing. The bag weighs just a little over 3lbs and is listed at 35L, so it’s a little smaller than other bags, but it utilizes its space well — it’s probably best for travelers who know how to pack smart. The Minaal has a basic hip belt, but it doesn’t have any padding, so it isn’t designed to support the weight of the bag.

The Minaal looks like a really nice bag, but priced at $300, it is one of the most expensive travel backpacks on the market. It is available at Minaal.com.

Patagonia Transport MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-on) 

No-nonsense bag.
The MLC is a no-nonsense bag that gets great reviews (eBags).

Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with outdoor gear knows about Patagonia because they make great quality products. So it’s no surprise that their Transport MLC (maximum legal carry-on) bag has gained a bit of a cult following. It’s basically a soft-sided suitcase with backpack straps (that can be hidden away). It also has a shoulder strap so you can carry it like a messenger bag — which is a really handy feature that most other bags don’t have. Of course it has side and top carry handles, too. The 45L Transport MLC is a sleek and minimalist travel backpack with no dangly exterior straps. It has urban styling so you won’t look out of place when you wear it in big cities. It doesn’t have a hip belt and the backpack straps are fairly basic, so it’s probably best for people who can pack light.

The Transport MLC is available at eBags.

Deuter Transit 50

The Deuter Transit Lots of features for a reasonable price.
The Deuter Transit has lots of features for a reasonable price (Amazon)

Deuter has been making outdoor gear for a long time over in Germany, but they’ve just recently started selling in the US. The Deuter Transit 50 is a great mix between a hiking backpack and a travel backpack. It has a quality suspension system, well-padded shoulder straps, and a nice hip belt — all of which can be stowed away. It also has a shoulder strap so the bag can be carried like a messenger bag. This is the only backpack like this to have a shoulder strap, so that’s a big plus. But wait, there’s more… the Transit 50 also has top and side carry handles. Another great (and fairly rare) feature is that the torso length for this backpack can be adjusted to fit torsos from 15.5″-22″. This is a huge feature because it means you can ensure a great fit. The Transit 50 is 50L, weighs a little over 4lbs, and has a detachable 15L daypack.

The Deuter Transit 50 is competitively priced around $180. It isn’t the cheapest, but you do get a lot of features for the price. Available via Amazon or REI.

Packing Cubes and Accessories

eaglecreekspectre3 If you want to take your organization to the next level, you should pick up a few packing cubes and packing folders. Packing cubes allow you to easily compartmentalize your clothes into different cubes so you can keep everything easily accessible. For long sleeve shirts and pants packing, folders work the best. There are multiple brands and sizes available, and I’ve always found the best price on Amazon.

Full Packing Lists

Don’t forget to check out our in-depth packing lists for traveling in Europe — we have a specific Packing List for Women and a Packing List for Men

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Product Reviews

  • Richelle

    Thanks so much for this! I was going to get a hiking backpack but after reading this, I’ll definitely be looking at these. Right now I have a Rick Steves travel backpack that is pretty old and it’s horrible. The straps have almost no padding and there are no hip straps. I’m so glad companies have come out with a good hybrid of all the benefits of a hiking backpack with the convenience of the old travel backpacks.

  • colleen

    eBags eTech 2.0 Weekender Convertible is a great bag, and comes in under $100. At time of post, it was listed for 79.99. I have had one for a while and have never been disappointed. eBags also carries some sweet packing cubes. I use both and never check bags.

    • +1, I’ve used eBags, and the Mother Lode TLS is also a great choice under $100.

    • mediabrainwash

      Yes but the strap system isn’t that good and often times you do not know for sure how far you are walking. If you walk far, it can hurt. I used a Kelty Redwing( I am pretty sure, it’s a hiking pack). The strap and compression system make all the difference in the world. 🙂

  • Rob

    When I was in college I went to Europe for the summer. Used a Gregory travel backpack with an internal system. The straps have a zip up cover to use it like a traditional soft suitcase. Twenty years later it is still my favorite suitcase!

  • Thomcat

    Also look to Jandd – I have their Barak with about 80 flying trips on it and it’s still “close to new”. Sort of similar to the Tortuga.

  • Salmanila

    I used the Osprey Porter 46L for a 2 week trip to Europe. What an amazing bag. I love that it packs like a normal suitcase and the stowaway backpack and waist straps were great for stashing the bag in overhead compartments on planes and trains. The only downside is that the shoulder straps aren’t very padded, so don’t expect to comfortably venture all day with it on your back. It’s fine for going from the train/plane to metro to hotel.

  • Tessa

    Also love my MEI Voyageur! A bit old school but has really served me well on my travels, fits so much, feels so light on thanks to internal frame and looks discreet(ish).

  • MissNewEnglandTravels

    I’d like to point out for most international travel the internal fame on the osprey farpoint 55 is too big for carry on luggage on most airlines which is disappointing.

  • Robert W.

    Like Tessa… a few posts below…. I also love my MEI Voyageur..with padded hip belt and shoulder straps that zip away.. .and also with a shoulder strap. They’ve been making them since the late 1970’s….. so they must be selling pretty well… Performed perfectly during four months in south east Asia for me…. and not much more than $125.00. I can’t understand why one or two MEI bags are not on this list…

  • Edelbo

    I love my 85L Osprey Ariel hiking pack. it has side zippers along with draw string top. I don’t have to empty the whole pack. It also has a hood that is detachable and can be used as a fanny pack/day pack. Also the problem of a hiking pack having all the extra straps getting caught in the convayer belt, a travel bag. Yes it takes a little room but I have found this huge extra bag useful. We have used it to take dirty clothes to wash as well as shopping for food. I am wondering why I never hear any travelers mention using space bags/american tourist roll vacuum sealing bags (for inside your pack/suitcase) I LOVE using them It keeps my clothes separate, dry and clean while giving me more room.

  • Tom

    After several disappointments, I have settled with Arc’teryx Veilance Backpack. Crazy expensive, but notzhing short of a m a z i n g! Ultralight, flexible, waterproof used for hiking, traveling, office, business.

  • Prakhar Gupta

    Wonderful article. Thank you so much for writing this. I am a first time traveller and don’t many folks who can guide me that well. This saved me a lot of money and hassle.

  • SFBurke

    I am surprised that the Eagle Creek packs are not mentioned. They have been making carry on sized packs with hideable shoulder straps for quite a while. I used one 25 years ago when traveling through Asia. Their new models look pretty good. My sense is that they are really designed for people who may need to cover a a mile or three while moving luggage and not so much true backpackers.

  • Julia

    Do any of these backpacks have a compartment to store a cell phone on the front strap for easy access? I saw one (can’t remember where) great option when traveling to readily take a photo or research directions without having to take the pack off…..

    • J. Coleman

      Julia – I believe that the Tortuga has a pocket on the hip belt that you can use to store smaller items like a phone.

  • I read the first version of this before my backpacking trip to Europe. I thought it was pretty helpful, but I actually ended up going with the Osprey Porter 46 for my 3 month trip. It was the perfect size for getting everything I needed and having it accessible, but also not hating my life while I carried it around all summer.

  • Mia Wood

    This blogpost was so helpful! x

  • Sahary

    I was a constant traveler, but now I’m a first time backpacker. The thing is that i’ve always over packed since i’ve always stayed at a hotel or home. Since you guys advice in taking a small backpack to reduce the chance of over packing. In that case, i bought a 40L kelty backpack for a 6 to 9 month (from December to may or august) trip around Europe, and I think there might be some camping involved (haven’t made my mind yet). Do you think I have a good chance of making it for so long with so little space?

    • savvybackpacker

      It all depends on how much you pack — but you should be fine. You may have to ship your winter coat/heavy clothes home once it gets warm. And you’ll probably buy new clothes for summer because it doesn’t make sense to haul around summer clothes for months.

  • Sahary

    I was a constant traveler, but now I’m a first time backpacker. The thing is that i’ve always over packed since i’ve always stayed at a hotel or home. Since you guys advice in taking a small backpack to reduce the chance of over packing. In that case, i bought a 40L kelty backpack for a 6 to 9 month (from December to may or august) trip around Europe, and I think there might be some camping involved (haven’t made my mind yet). Do you think I have a good chance of making it for so long with so little space?

  • leigh anne

    Im wondering if you have taken a look at the pacsafe, Venturesafe™ GII (W) anti-theft travel packs. They are front opening and they seem to have great suspension systems. they are a little pricey but I don’t know much else about them. Thanks

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