If you’re wondering what type of backpack might be ideal for traveling in South America, then I have some perfect suggestions for you in this guide. I also keep an in-depth guide to the best backpacks overall, but here I will focus on the most suitable ones for South America.
The top picks here are based on my own experience of backpacking in South America on multiple trips (including a 1-year trip across the entire continent).
Whether you’re planning to travel through a specific country such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, or Brazil, or you are thinking of a bigger journey through South America, choosing the right luggage will ensure greater comfort and ease of travel.
Best pack size for South America
As many experienced travellers will tell you, the worst thing to do is to overpack!
If you choose a very big backpack, usually you somehow end up filling it completely, even if you don’t really need all that stuff. Choosing a more modest size can help prevent you from overpacking.
I normally advise packing light and choosing a backpack with a capacity of around 40 liters. Such bags are usually allowed as carry-on luggage and offer enough space if you’re a light packer. For certain regions in the world, such as South- or Southeast Asia, or summer travel in Europe, I consider a 40-liter backpack ideal.
If you are minimalist, this size can also work decently well for South America, but I think it can be nicer to go one size up when travelling in this continent.
A backpack with a capacity of around 55 liters will be a perfect size for travelling in South America.
A key reason for this is the climate. Not all of South America has a tropical climate where you can walk around in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. In the Andes mountains and in Patagonia, it actually gets very cold. Depending on the time of year, the regions further from the equator are also quite chilly. I spent time in Argentina in winter and was glad to have some wool, a winter hat, hiking boots, and other gear to keep me warm. This gear does require a bit of extra space.
Another reason is flying. You may be a bit less likely to fly in South America than to travel overland, simply because flights tend to be more expensive in this continent. (Low-cost airlines are not as well established as in Europe or North America.) That means limiting yourself to carry-on luggage to save money on check-in luggage allowance may be a bit less of a concern.
For these reasons, I think a 55-liter backpack, or perhaps a 40-liter plus a spacious daypack, will give you just a bit of extra packing space.
Even if you’ll travel for several months, I find it’s best to pack about 10 days’ worth of clothing maximum. It’s usually cheap to get laundry done in South America, so you can keep your packing weight down by not travelling with an enormous wardrobe.
Travel or hiking backpack?
Will you go backpacking or just travel budget-style in South America? Then I recommend a pack that’s more designed for adventure travel than for urban or air travel.
You’ll be well served by a backpack with a well-padded back, a full suspension system with all the necessary adjustment straps, and good protection against the weather (a rain cover can come in pretty handy).
This type of backpack will also work well on a hiking or trekking trip. South America is quite famous for its treks, such as the treks to Machu Picchu, Huaraz in northern Peru, the Lost City and El Cocuy treks in Colombia, and of course the famed trekking routes in Patagonia.
Even if you’re only a casual hiker, you might want to head to South America with a backpack that can at least be used for some hikes if necessary.
Based on these factors, here are several backpacks that are perfect for South America.
Best backpacks for South America
Osprey Farpoint 55 Trek
- Highly comfortable trampoline-style back panel
- Fully adjustable suspension system (4 heights)
- Included raincover, straps for tent/sleeping bag
- Perfect for wearing a long time
- No laptop or tablet compartment
- Not as many interior pockets as other backpacks
This enhanced edition of the hugely popular Farpoint/Fairview pack brings greatly improved comfort, more outdoors-ready features, and greater versatility for the adventure traveler.
The Osprey Farpoint 55 Trek is not carry-on size, but offers additional space for a longer trip or for storing hiking or camping gear. It supports any Osprey water bladder system for easy hydration while walking. Clips on the front and back let you attach an Osprey Daylite daypack (sold separately).
Why for South America? The extra packing space and rain-resistant exterior make it perfect for South America. It has a much more advanced back panel than the regular edition Farpoint. It can be easily used on hikes or treks—but it’s also just a lot more comfortable for travel. This is 100% the backpack I’ll take on my next trip to South America!
Cotopaxi Allpa 42
- Superb internal organization (no packing cubes needed)
- Adjust hip belt to your torso length
- Included rain cover
- Colorful design, sturdy exterior
- The rubbery 1000D polyester shell can be quite blobby
- At 4lb 3oz (1905g) it's a bit heavy
Carry-on compliant (on most airlines), this pack will open clamshell-style for quick access to all your gear. There are zipped organized compartments on each side of the Cotopaxi Allpa. The internal layout is so good, you may not need to use any other packing gear inside. A dedicated laptop compartment is also included.
A height-adjustable sternum strap, fully adjustable hip belt, load lifter straps, and a nicely padded back make this a good pack to wear for extended periods. The outer shell uses a thick durable material, though it doesn’t hold its shape when empty. It Allpa works best as a flexible bag for adventure trips.
Why for South America? The Allpa 42 is ideal if you’re a somewhat lighter packer while still having loads of space. It can be used for hikes or, in a pinch, a few days of trekking. Also, Cotopaxi’s llama logo and its name (derived from a volcano in Ecuador) are inspired by South America, so you’ll definitely be travelling in the appropriate style!
- 2-in-1 system includes main pack and daypack
- Stylish design; durable polyester but feels like canvas
- Fully height adjustable
- Loads of space and pockets
- Customizable colors/patches
- Premium price
The Salkan Backpacker is a 2-in-1 system designed for adventurers with a daypack and main pack that work together seamlessly. I love the design which, despite using very modern materials, feels retro and textured. It can be accessed from the top as well as from the side.
It has ample storage pockets, a laptop sleeve, and an intergated laundry bag. The Backpacker also has a highly padded waist strap and back panel, which is completely height adjustable, making it one of the more comfortable backpacks I’ve used. It’s easy to wear even for extended times, feeling almost like a trekking backpack.
The textured material looks amazing though it does need a bit more care than a smooth nylon backpack to avoid stains. It’s recommended to use the included rain cover when necessary.
Why for South America? The 2-in-1 system lets you pack in a modular way. Use the daypack for your day-to-day activities, then hook it onto the main pack when you’re moving to your next destination.
Osprey Atmos 65
- Designed to carry heavy loads on treks (or long-term travel)
- Extremely comfortable harness
- Includes lower sleeping bag / tent compartment
- Has top and side access, but no clamshell-style access
- At 2.3kg it's on the heavy side if used solely for travel
Designed mainly for multi-day treks, the Osprey Atmos 65 can also serve well as a travel backpack, especially for backpackers or overlanders on a longer trip. It can easily hold a tent, camping gear, as well as your travel gear. While still considered a ‘light’ trekking pack, it’s very big for a travel backpack.
It’s comfortable in warm weather thanks to the Anti-Gravity back system which maintains ventilation while also being extremely comfortable to wear even for long distances. An integrated raincover keeps it dry even in very adverse weather. It also includes a trekking pole attachment and a space for a water reservoir.
There is also the Osprey Aura 65 for women, which is the same backpack with some gender-specific tweaks.
Why for South America? This is the pack to get if you’ll spend significant time trekking through the Andes or Patagonia. If you’re not trekking then this size may be overkill, but it can be a good choice if you really need a very large backpack for traveling South America.
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