Best Travel Backpacks

Find the best size and features for regular, backpacking, or RTW travel


Best backpacks for travel or hikingLeft: a trekking backpack. Right: a travel size backpack.

If you are trying to find the best backpack for travel it is easy to be led astray. Many retailers and websites simply won’t give you the right advice! They will often try to sell you the biggest and most expensive backpack, not the lightest or smartest one.

If you travel frequently or planning to go on a big trip, it’s actually much better to go for something light and versatile, and this guide can help you make the best choice for you…

Question: will you go trekking?

If your answer to this question is no, you almost certainly do not need a huge towering backpack. These massive backpacks are usually intended for trekking or mountaineering, but they’re complete overkill if such activities are not the main focus of your travels.

When you’re just staying in hotels or hostels, you won’t need lots of space to store things like a tent, camping gear, or sleeping bag. That means you can go for something smaller and lighter. A smaller bag means fewer check-ins at airports, less hassle, less weight on your back, and more freedom. 

Features to look for

  • A front loading compartment (because you will love this!). Many backpacks are top-loading, with a drawstring to close it at the top. This sucks. It means having to dig around awkwardly to get something from the bottom, or even taking out ALL your stuff. Front-loading bags are much nicer: you just zip them open face down, and you can instantly reach everything. Super convenient.
  • Waist strap. Using a waist strap distributes the load around your whole body instead of just your shoulders. Essential for frequent travel as it avoids sore shoulders and bad backs.
  • Laptop/tablet compartment. A separate padded compartment keeps your electronics secure, and makes it easy to take them out for security screenings at airports. Not bringing a laptop or tablet? You can use this for storing books, your travel journal, folded clothes, and many other things!
  • Rain resistant. You don’t want water to leak into your bag. Make sure it’s weather sealed or includes a rain cover.
  • Carry-on sized (if possible). Not a deal breaker, but nice to have. A bag with a volume content of under 45L will typically be accepted as carry-on luggage (though it depends on the exact dimensions). Having carry-on only lets you save time and avoid many luggage fees.

Some other nice-to-haves include: lockable zippers (they have rings on them that you can put a padlock on to prevent opportunistic theft), a secret compartment (for your passport or bank cards), carry handles (for when you’re not wearing it on your back), compression straps (helps you pack more and organize better), and a detachable daypack that you can use while you’re out and about or sightseeing. 

Travel backpack size chart

Backpack sizes are typically expressed in liters (i.e. the volume they can contain). You’ll notice backpacks often have this number in their product name.

 15-30 L Too small unless you’re going on a weekend trip, or you’re truly super minimalist.
 40-45 L Woohoo! The happy sweet spot for travel. Good for shorter trips but equally fine for long-term backpacking, RTW or gap year travel, particularly if you’re travelling within one fairly consistent climate (i.e. you don’t need to store lots of big bulky winter clothing). This size is often accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you time and money.
Companies might tell you this is a ‘weekend bag’ only, hoping to sell you something more expensive, but don’t be fooled! These can be great all-rounders.
 45-60 L Perfect if you need just a bit of extra space. Consider this size if you will travel through various climates, if you’re bringing additional equipment, or maybe if you can’t resist buying larger souvenirs. Otherwise a 40 or 45L can be totally fine.
65-120 L NOPE. NEIN. This is for trekking / camping / mountaineering only. If you use these for travel, you’re very likely to overpack and curse your backpack repeatedly. The internal metal support frames often already weigh several kilos. For most travellers this is overkill.

By the way, smaller 40L bags can appear a lot smaller than they actually are! It’s a bit of an optical illusion. In product photos they’re often shown not fully loaded, making them seem feeble when they are much more buff in reality.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a light packer. For example, I recommend packing no more than around 7 to 10 days worth of clothes. I believe it’s much better to wash your clothes from time to time than to carry a big wardrobe around everywhere. Read my guide to packing light for more info.

Best travel backpacks

There actually aren’t a lot of good travel backpacks out there. Many of them are top-loading, or too big, or don’t have the right features. After researching for ages, I found the following stand above the crowd (and one of these is now my current backpack!).

Osprey Farpoint 40

farpoint40Osprey mainly makes trekking backpacks, but they have a couple of ones designed especially for travel. The Farpoint 40 fits as carry-on luggage and has all the right features. Believe it or not, this can fit a week’s worth of clothing and all your travel essentials. I’ve used this size bag in combination with a foldable ultralight daypack which easily fits into a pocket when not in use.

What I like about it:
✔ Front-loading (woohoo!)
✔ Carry-on size
✔ Laptop compartment
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Lockable zippers

buy at amazon

Osprey Farpoint 55

farpoint50I love the versatility of the Farpoint 55. You can zip away all the straps and carry it as a regular bag, you can leave the daypack on it or zip it off, you can even connect the daypack onto the main bag so that it hangs on your front, dividing the load more evenly. It really feels like one integrated system. I recommend this backpack if you don’t want to go for full minimalism and need just that extra bit of space for your shoe collection / camera lenses / souvenirs / etc. This is the backpack I currently travel with. You can also read my full review of the Farpoint 55.


✔ All the same features as the Farpoint 40
✔ Plus a removable 15L Daypack
 Too big for carry-on
(officially it’s slightly over the carry-on limit… though it’ll still often be accepted)

buy at amazon

 
 

 


 

REI Vagabond 40

rei40A good travel bag by US camping & hiking brand REI. It’s got a few downsides that make me like other bags a little better (for instance, I like having a laptop compartment), but I think it’s still a great travel bag.

✔ Front-loading (nice!)
Not quite carry-on size, must be checked in (but you can try anyway)
✗ No laptop compartment
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Lockable zippers

buy at REI

 

Deuter Transit 50

deuterAnother great travel backpack sold by German manufacturer Deuter. It is in many ways similar to the Farpoint 55, though doesn’t have a laptop compartment.

✔ Front-loading (actually not entirely, but it also has a separate bottom compartment giving easy access)
Not carry-on size, must be checked in (though after detaching the daypack you might be able to squeeze it in)
✗ No laptop compartment
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Lockable zippers
✔ Detachable daypack

buy at amazon

 

Osprey Meridian 60

I’m including this here as an example of a different type of hybrid backpack. It offers lots of space, while also having wheels much like a suitcase.

meridianThere are pros and cons: the wheels and steel frame add a lot of weight (the bag when empty already weighs 3,5 kilos) and hybrid backpacks also tend to be pricey (typically costing about twice as much). However, they can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. I have not used one of these hybrids but they can clearly be a versatile option, usable both for backpacking situations and for city travel.

✔ Front-loading
Not carry-on size, must be checked in
✔ Padded laptop compartment
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Wheels
✔ Removable 20L daypack

buy at amazon

 

What about other backpacks?

There are a lot of backpacks out there, but many I just chose not to list for various reasons.

For example, North Face has a nice Terra 50 rucksack, but it’s annoyingly top-loading. All the Berghaus, Vango, Lifeventure, and JanSport bags are as well (as far as I know!) and they also often lack useful travel features. I chose to list the backpacks above as they all have neat features and would be ideally suited for frequent travellers or for backpacking/RTW travel.

Why it’s worth the investment

A good backpack is an investment that pays off easily. Spend somewhere in the range of $150 / €120 / £100 and you can likely enjoy using this bag for a long time to come.

You get what you pay for, which is something I had to learn. I once bought a cheaper backpack by Mountain Warehouse (a UK store) and it fell apart two months into my trip (Mountain Warehouse has awful products… not just their backpacks are bad. Avoid!). I had to replace it when I was in Vietnam and still had several months left to travel. I got a (possibly fake) North Face backpack in Hanoi and it too died on me soon, with the shoulder straps quickly tearing apart. In hindsight I should have gotten something proper from the start…

P.S. No brand endorsements here – all opinions are strictly my own. The Amazon links give me some commission (at no extra cost to you) which helps me fund the blog.

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34 comments

  1. Comment by Sheila

    Sheila Reply March 11, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    I notice that everyone casually accepts the words ‘carry on size’ as if that was a universal given.
    I am perhaps more aware of the sometimes huge variation because AirNZ has a 7kg (118cm 46″ LWH total) carry on limit which means checked in unless you are super good at this lightweight thing

    • Comment by Kin

      Kin Reply March 20, 2017 at 10:09 am

      I did 2 weeks Sydney & NZ South Island in spring with a 35l North Face Terra, weighed 10kg (had to check in at CHC). Looking to upgrade to a panel loader because top loading makes hell of noise when packing in a hostel at 7am!!! Aer, Slicks & Minaal looking real good. Anyone thoughts on these brands?

      • Comment by Robert

        Robert Reply March 31, 2017 at 8:57 am

        I used to travel with the MEI Voyageur, and then the Tortuga, both are great bags, and max size for carry-on. I easily traveled for four months on two south east Asia trips. Once with my MEI Voyageur, and a second trip with my Tortuga. Now I recently bought the even smaller 35 litre Minaal, with the waist belt attachment, and can’t be happier. Being 65 now, I simply don’t want to shoulder a heavy loaded bag anymore. Travelling lite, with a bag I don’t have to check, even makes me feel freer. I can live out of my Minaal for months and months. Even years if I wish. Have safe travels.

  2. Comment by Lisa Schofield

    Lisa Schofield Reply January 8, 2017 at 9:27 am

    To me, best backpack for traveling is Osprey Farpoint 55 because of its features. I always love backpacks with high capacity. It is extremely useful for long day traveling. I don’t really like the color but the cost if fine. Recommended for any new backpacker.

  3. Comment by Richard Remick

    Richard Remick Reply November 16, 2016 at 3:32 am

    The Osprey Farpoint 55 was the perfect backpack for my 3 week trip to Prague and Munich for Ocktoberfest. Thanks for the advice Marek.

  4. Comment by Denise

    Denise Reply November 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    How about Lowe Alpine backpacks?

  5. Comment by John

    John Reply October 28, 2016 at 3:35 am

    Anyone have any thoughts on the Eagle Creek Systems Go Duffel Pack 60L? Need a new pack and am not sure between this and something like the Osprey Farpoint, but not sure how I feel about the detachable day pack.

  6. Comment by Rachel

    Rachel Reply September 27, 2016 at 11:39 am

    I’m looking at getting the Osprey Farpoint 55 but am concerned in case I try to get it through as hand luggage and fail! Would I get charged in countries around South East Asia or be sent to check in my bag and miss my flight etc? I was thinking that if the large part counted as my hand luggage then the small rucksack as the carry-on?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply September 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      The main bag is a little bigger than the usual maximum carry-on size. That said, I’ve not had problems using it as carry-on. Of course there are no guarantees and different airlines have different allowances, but I’d say you should be able to get away with it at least most of the time.

      If it’s a big source of worries, the Farpoint 40 will definitely work as carry-on as it’s within the size limits.

  7. Comment by Anne Betts

    Anne Betts Reply September 16, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    Great post, Marek. I especially like the size chart, and your easy-to-scan list of positives and negatives on the various travel bags. Have you tracked down a Tortuga yet? if so, I’d be interested in your comments. I’m keen to see the specifications on the V3 updated model coming out soon. I travel with the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible at 54 litres (expandable to 60). I’d like to go a little smaller, and get a bag with a decent hip belt. The Tortuga might be it.
    Anne Betts recently posted…MacGyver kit for travellersMy Profile

  8. Comment by amanda

    amanda Reply September 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    okay, i find some travel backpacks to not feel so good when walking. I had Osprey 40 lt but got rid of it for hiking back. mine as bottom compartment for sleeping bags but i use it for tshirts and underwear and what i will need in the next hostel. middle is for jeans. the brain area is for soaps and adapters and tooth brush. outside pockets medicine, bandages, little items i may need. I do not think travel backpacks are always better.

  9. Comment by Alok

    Alok Reply August 29, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Guys, I am planning for a trip to south east Asia for one and a half months. Obviously I need to carry lots of stuff for such a long time. I am not able to understand which kind of backpack will be suitable for such a long trip. Any suggestion folks?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply August 30, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      Get a good travel backpack of 40L or so. The climate in Southeast Asia is quite consistently tropical so it’s easy to pack light. You don’t need a bigger bag because you’re travelling longer, this is actually a misconception! 🙂 Just take what you need for 7 to 10 days and do laundry when needed (it’s cheap and easy to do this in SEA).

      You might benefit from reading my post on how to pack or my book which deals a lot with how to pack for a longer trip.

    • Comment by Robert

      Robert Reply March 31, 2017 at 9:09 am

      No, you do not need to carry lots of stuff. I pack the same whether I go for two weeks in northern Ontario, Canada, or for four months in south east Asia. My present bag for travel is only a 35 litre Minaal. My previous bags were both carry on size. About 45 litre, and I’ve learned how to go even smaller and lighter.
      Why would you need more??? Every item you take, you should ask yourself, “Am I really going to use this enough to justify having it take up room and weight, carrying it around on my back everywhere I go for a month or longer?”

  10. Comment by Brad

    Brad Reply July 31, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    I have tried many bags to travel with and nothing has come close to the Pacsafe bags, strong, safe and stylish, my laptop, phone all very safe, incredible features you don’t find on other bags.

  11. Comment by Jayson

    Jayson Reply July 27, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    I am heading to Guatemala for a 2-week backpacking trip this August. More often than not I will be staying in hostels, but there is a good chance I will be hiking and camping (max 3 nights). Not too much extra gear: hammock w/ mosquito net and rain cover, hiking shoes, water proof jacket, maybe a few other various items. Would you still recommend a travel pack vs. a trekking pack?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply August 13, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      I would probably buy your gear for the situations you need it in most. You could go either way, but it sounds like you’ll be camping pretty light so a travel backpack could work just fine.

  12. Comment by Foo

    Foo Reply May 16, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    In my defence it wasn’t so heavy, but i’m definitely down sizing with your recommendations. I remember when you took this picture of our bags! Fun memories to be had 🙂

  13. Comment by Josie

    Josie Reply April 3, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Hi Marek,
    I just wanted to say I was inspired by your more minimalist approach to backpacking, and have taken your advice & purchased an Farpoint 40 pack for my upcoming RTW trip. Having tried it out, I’m so impressed by how much you can fit in it & yet it still feels super light. Happy travels indeed 🙂

  14. Comment by Dan

    Dan Reply January 5, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Hi Marek,

    Recently picked up the Osprey Ozone 46, how do you think it compares to the Farpoint 40?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply January 8, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      The Osprey Ozone line is mainly wheeled luggage (not backpacks). I believe there’s also an Ozone branded backpack that’s only sold in the US which is possibly the one you have (I haven’t seen this bag as I’m Europe based). I believe it was originally intended for attaching to wheeled luggage. I imagine the Ozone 46 is just as capable as the Farpoint 40, just designed from a different starting point.

  15. Comment by João Leitão

    João Leitão Reply January 2, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Hey Marek. I always travel with my 30 liters 14€ backpack. I do carry pc, cameras, lots of clothes, big towel, hammock, flip-flops and a bunch of unnecessary stuff I end up not using. I always carry it like this, doesn’t matter if I’m on the road for 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year or even 2 years – I took it on my RTW trip… I always carry the same amount of stuff… bye!
    João Leitão recently posted…Visited Countries Map Maker – Create your Travel MapMy Profile

  16. Comment by Maria

    Maria Reply January 1, 2016 at 1:26 am

    I’m no ultra minimalist but my Stratos 34 litre backpack works like a magic while I travel the world. All my toiletries are Lush solids so packs to a small space (probably even smaller than most men have it). All excess baggage is just putting a strain on the journey and anything more than mid-30 litres would not allow me to see the world as I best could. Then again, I don’t carry a laptop or too many clothes and my fujix100 is smaller than a dslr. This just as a comment to those who wonder whether a 30 something backpack is enough. It surely is!

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply January 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Thanks for sharing Maria!

  17. Comment by Lawrence

    Lawrence Reply November 22, 2015 at 11:22 am

    For a slim body built person, is a 30L enough to pack everything?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply December 19, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      I would like to say yes, and I actually have a friend who backpacked all over Europe with a 30L. I think it takes a very minimalistic approach to packing though (for instance no electronics, or only 1 pair of footwear, etc.). Personally I’d go one step bigger, but if you can pull it off I’d say go for it! 🙂

  18. Comment by Lewis

    Lewis Reply October 12, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I went with the Farpoint 40 initially but ended up returning it for the 55, which was my original choice. I really dislike the front laptop compartment on the 40. It seems badly designed and takes away valuable space from the main compartment.

    I need a permanent daypack (rather than a packable one) and don’t mind checking the main bag, so the Farpoint 55 suits me fine.

  19. Comment by Stephanie

    Stephanie Reply October 11, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Is this the only bag you have with you or do you also have a bag for electronics?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply October 12, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Depends on the trip. If I’m travelling for many months, I also have a 15L daypack.

      • Comment by Michael

        Michael Reply November 29, 2015 at 6:36 pm

        Hey where do you carry your secondary 15L backpack if you already have a 40L on your back? Thanks

        • Comment by Marek

          Marek Reply November 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

          I either carry it by the handle or over one shoulder, keeping in mind that the secondary bag is of course meant to be very light. Currently I actually just fit everything into my 40L, and have a foldable daysack for use only during sightseeing or hiking.

  20. Comment by Che

    Che Reply October 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Marek,

    The Tortuga backpack might also meet what you are looking for; basically these two guys hated their backpacks and they built their own. It gets pretty good reviews, I was planning on getting one for my RTW trip, have you heard anything good or bad about it?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply October 5, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      I saw some of the reviews of the Tortuga backpack. They seem to squeeze every last inch out of the carry-on baggage allowance which is cool. The other ones listed here I’ve been able to actually try and see in real life, but not the tortuga one yet. Trying to track one down, so I can maybe add it here later!

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