Looking for the best backpack for travel? Then it can be challenging to find one that ticks all the boxes!

A good travel backpack has to be comfortable, easy to organize, and durable as well.

I’ve been traveling regularly for 8 years now, so I know from experience what to look for in a backpack. I’ve also been reviewing TONS of backpacks over past several years — and will share with you my favorites here.

Latest Updates: added the Farpoint 55 Trek, Cotopaxi Allpa 42 and Aer Capsule Pack Max.

If you’re in a hurry, check out my top choice

Tortuga Setout

View at Tortuga

By the way, there are no sponsorships on this page, though there are affiliate links that may give me a commission if you make a purchase. All these reviews are my real opinions after actually using them.

Whether you’re looking for a cheap backpack for low-budget travel, or a premium backpack for your business travels, I’ll share with you what I believe to be the best travel backpacks for 2020.

Some of the best travel backpacks that I've reviewed

Key features to look for

If you travel often or planning a big trip, then it’s often better to go for a lightweight and versatile pack (and possibly carry-on size). It’ll be more comfortable to carry.

Aside from this, there are a few features worth keeping an eye on:

  • Front-loading (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. Bags with a clamshell design are much nicer: you just zip them open face down, with everything within instant reach.
  • Waist strap. Using a waist strap distributes the load around your whole body instead of just your shoulders. It’s essential for avoiding sore shoulders and bad backs.
  • Laptop compartment. A separate padded compartment keeps your electronics secure. Of course, you can also use these zipped compartments for books, your travel journal, or many other things.
  • Rain resistant. You don’t want water to leak into your bag! I always look at whether it’s weather-sealed or includes a rain cover.

Other nice-to-haves: lockable zippers (O-rings that let you attach a padlock or wire lock to prevent opportunistic theft), good carry handles (for when you’re not wearing it on your back) and internal or external compression straps (helps you pack more and organize better).

Quick Overview: Choosing the Best Travel Backpack

Tortuga Setout

Best all-purpose
budget backpack

  • Excellent organizer compartments
  • Great quality + value
  • My go-to mid-price recommendation
Peak Design 45L Backpack

Best premium
travel backpack

  • Amazingly clever design filled with surprising features
  • 35L but expands to 45L
  • My top backpack if price is no concern
Osprey Farpoint 40

Good for backpackers

  • Ideal for backpacking & staying in hostels
  • Only basic features, but it's light and inexpensive
Aer Capsule Pack
  • Great for city travel & one-bag travelers
  • Minimalist design with large main compartment
  • A really solid carry-on that I like a lot
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

Best for business travel

  • Shoe compartment & shirt folder
  • Works well together with rolled luggage
  • Plethora of optional accessoiries for hotel & business travel
Osprey Porter 46
  • A popular bag that's sturdier and better organized than the Osprey Farpoint
  • But exceeds carry-on size limit & straps not as comfortable
Cotopaxi Allpa 42

Colorful, ideal
for backpackers

  • Fresh and colorful design
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included
  • Amazing internal organization (no packing cubes needed)
Standard Luggage Carry-On
  • A carry-on with a more classic suitcase-like design
  • Loads of pockets and spaces
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included
Osprey Farpoint 55 Trek

Ideal for long-term & RTW travel

  • Like a premium version of the original Farpoint
  • More space, adjustable suspension system, comfortable trampoline-style back & integrated rain cover
Osprey Atmos 65

Best for trekking

  • Fantastic suspension system with fully adjustable torso length
  • Very comfortable and highly padded back panel
  • Integrated raincover

What size backpack for traveling

While many retailers will often push you the biggest or most expensive backpacks, I think carry-on size backpacks are often ideal for most trips. It’s better to have something light and convenient, not something that will bog you down. Carry-on size also lets you save time and avoid additional luggage fees on some airlines.

In some cases you may, of course, need something a bit bigger.

Backpack sizes are typically expressed in liters (i.e., the volume they can contain). You’ll notice that travel packs sometimes have this number in their product name. Thinking in liters might not be totally intuitive, so here are my 2 cents on some of the common sizes:

15-30 L

Too small unless you’re going on a weekend trip, or you’re super minimalist. This size is usually for day-packs or commuter bags.

35-45 L

A happy sweet spot! Perfect for shorter trips but equally for trips lasting many weeks or months (if you know how to pack light). Ideal for traveling within one climate and don’t need to pack for every type of weather. This size is usually accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you time and check-in fees when flying.

50-65 L

Good if you need extra space. Not everyone is a light packer so some will prefer these sizes despite the extra weight.

70-120 L

NOPE. Only for trekking and camping expeditions. The internal support frames often already weigh several kilos. This is overkill for most travelers. But if you need to store a tent and other gear, this might be the size for you.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a light packer. In my guide to packing light, I show you exactly how I pack my carry-on bag.

Carry-ons (around 40 liters) are often the best backpacks for traveling — at least, if you’re staying in hotels, apartments, or hostels and don’t need to bring any bulky gear. You’ll end up with less weight on your back, more freedom of movement, and much less hassle.

Best carry-on travel backpacks

Tortuga Setout

TOP PICK for all-purpose travel pack

Price $199

(note: ships to US only)

Pros

  • Maximum carry-on size
  • Excellent organizer compartments
  • Laptop compartment at the back (good for load balance)
  • Harness can be stowed and waist belt detached

Cons

  • Zippers are weather-resistant but not rubber sealed
  • While lightweight, the pack doesn't hold its shape when empty

The Tortuga Setout is a high-quality and attractively priced backpack, making it my go-to recommendation. Despite loads of features, the Setout weighs only about 2kg or 4.6lbs, making it lighter than many other packs.

Its design is quite versatile, making it equally suited to globe-trotting journeys and shorter trips. The main target market is urban/air travel, but I’ve also taken this bag on more adventurous trips (e.g. travel in Asia) where it served me well. For budget travel or backpacking, I like the Setout more than the popular Osprey Farpoint.

As of 2019, there are several Setout editions. The 35L and 45L versions have a large carry-on size. The Setout Divide is a more compact 26L size, but it can expand up to 34L.

Front compartment of the Tortuga Setout 45

All versions have a clamshell design, giving you easy access to all your stuff. The harness has wide comfortable straps, while the back panel comes with proper padding and ventilation space. The latest editions even have load lifter straps (they were missing from the launch versions).

The hip belt is nicely cushioned and has two zipped pockets for quick access. Don’t need that hip belt? Then you can detach the whole thing! The entire harness is entirely stowable as well, turning the Setout into a duffel bag if needed.

Me showing the hip belt pockets of the Tortuga Setout 45

The Tortuga Setout currently retails for $199 (via Tortuga’s online shop). Note that Tortuga doesn’t ship internationally, so if you’re not in the US you may want to scroll further and consider other backpacks instead.

By the way, tortuga also sells the Outbreaker, which is aimed at professional travelers. It has increased weather-resistance and its harness can be fully adjusted to your height, but it’s also quite a bit heavier and bulkier. For premium bags, I prefer the Peak Design Travel Backpack.

Peak Design Travel Backpack

TOP PICK for premium carry-on travel bag

Price $299

Pros

  • Incredible design, full of beautiful touches
  • Highly versatile (35L expands to 45L)
  • Great materials & holds its shape

Cons

  • I can't think of anything!

This bag may be overkill for budget travelers. But if you don’t mind spending a bit more, then I think Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack is simply the best you can get.

Honestly, it’s close to perfect. Using it just feels good. All the little touches — like the magnetic pouches, hidden straps, and clever storage spaces — create a totally fluid experience.

Carrying the Peak Design 45 on a trip to Italy

I love that the design is thoughtful and restrained. Other backpacks may tack on too many features, leading to overly tight spaces, too heavy materials, or just too many extraneous elements. Not so with the Peak Design backpack, which is loaded with features but remains lightweight and easy to access.

Its sturdy 400D nylon shell holds its shape when unloaded. The default capacity is 35L, staying well within any airline carry-on size limits, but it can expand to up to 45L.

Using packing cubes with the Peak Design 45L

To get the most out of this backpack, I recommend getting the Peak Design accessories. The toiletry bag, electronics pouch, and packing cubes are just as thoughtfully designed. You can read my full review here.

 

Osprey Farpoint 40

Perfect for backpacking and hosteling

Price $160

Pros

  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Laptop (at the front) & organizer compartment
  • Lockable zippers
  • Lightweight & budget-priced

Cons

  • Not many organizational features
  • Ugly green interior (on some versions)

The Farpoint 40 is hugely popular in the backpacking scene. I see them constantly in hostels around the world. I myself once took one on a 2-year round-the-world backpacking trip and was glad to have it with.

That said, I’ve since tried many other backpacks, and I think the Farpoint has become a bit outdated. Certain things other bags do better: for example, the laptop compartment is not very strategically placed and there aren’t any clever storage spaces in the main compartment.

Still, it’s probably the most reliable and well-priced pack you can get for a backpacking trip.

Organizer and laptop pockets of the Osprey Farpoint 40

One thing about the Farpoint is as good as ever: it’s super comfortable thanks to a padded back panel, well-padded shoulder straps, and a full-size hip belt. Six different adjustment straps make it easy to distribute the weight along your entire back. Osprey normally makes trekking bags and you can tell by how nice the harness is.

There’s also the Osprey Fairview 40, which has a women’s specific fit. If you’re going to travel a long time (e.g. a gap year or round-the-world trip) and don’t need your pack to be carry-on sized, consider the Osprey Farpoint Trek. It’s a newer design with some interesting improvements.

Aer Capsule Pack

Great all-purpose travel bag (35 or 40 liters)

Price $250

Pros

  • Versatile carry-on with loads of space
  • One of my favorite organizer compartments
  • Can also be carried briefcase or duffel-style

Cons

  • Main compartment zipper is a tad stiff

Aer has been making fantastic backpacks for many years now. I previously featured here their Aer Travel Pack 2, which is a great carry-on size backpack for business travel or holidays. But now they have the Aer Capsule Pack, which I like even more for its well-considered and minimalistic design. It’s available in a 35 and 40-liter size.

The Capsule Pack is notable for its rugged and durable 1680D Cordura nylon exterior, which holds its shape even when it’s empty. All the zippers are weather-resistant and the pack has all the features you’d expect from a premium bag. You can wear it as a backpack, or detach and stow the harness and use it in duffel- or briefcase mode.

I think it’s great for business travel, but it can really be used for any type of trip. If you think the Aer Travel Pack or the Nomatic Travel Pack end up slice-and-dicing the space a bit too much (e.g. with separate shoe compartments and such), then the Capsule Pack might be more your thing. While it has a laptop compartment, travel organizer, and so on, the main compartment is left very open for you to use however you see fit. You can read my full review here.

Osprey Porter 46

A bit less comfy than Farpoint, but better organization

Price $140

Pros

  • Excellent side-pockets and travel organizer
  • Front-loading
  • Laptop compartment at the back
  • Stow-away harness
  • Stiff outer shell protects your stuff

Cons

  • Harness more easily stowable… but also simpler and not as padded
  • Not quite as easy to squeeze into tight storage spaces

The Porter 46 is an interesting alternative to the Farpoint 40. It seems designed from a different starting point; the Farpoint 40 feels almost like a down-sized trekking bag made suitable for general travel, while the Porter 46 feels like a duffel bag that got upgraded to a backpack.

It has padded walls that stand up, whereas the walls of the Farpoint 40 will fold in when not packed. It has more side-pockets and a better built-in travel organizer. But also its harness is thinner and not as well-padded, making it less ideal for heavier loads or walking long distances. It’s basically more of a city bag.

Organizer sleeves of the Osprey Porter 46 travel backpack

I think the Porter 46 is more suited for urban/general travel, while the Farpoint is perhaps better for adventure travel. The Porter 46’s frame is slightly clunky and wide and it isn’t quite as comfortable on your back, but it’s a lot easier to store your stuff inside and feels more versatile. It also does a better job of carrying a laptop. You can read my full review here.

Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

TOP PICK for business travel backpack

Price $240 to $290

depending on accessories

Pros

  • Extremely clever features
  • Highly weather resistant material
  • Plethora of optional accessories
  • Pass-through sleeve for attaching to rolled luggage
  • Also works as a duffel

Cons

  • A bit over-engineered at times (you have to use everything exactly as intended)
  • Too high-tech and pricey for just a casual holiday

This backpack is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that promised to create the most functional backpack ever.

And yep, it is ridiculously clever and innovative. You’ll find more packing features on the Nomatic Travel Bag than almost any other backpack. You can even pimp it with accessories like a laundry bag, shirt organizer, toiletry bag, and vacuum compression bag — all designed to work as one integrated system.

The suspension system of the Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

I do have two nitpicks. One is that while the exterior is sturdy and weather-sealed, it’s also quite stiff. This can make it feel just a bit cramped.

It might also be bit too tricked out at times. I mean, do you really need a separate book pocket or even an underwear compartment? I do like all the bells and whistles, but not everyone might need these features.

Still, this is an amazing backpack clearly created with professional travelers in mind. Features like the shirt organizer (keeps your shirts wrinkle-free) and the shoe compartment are perfect for business travelers and digital nomads. The bag pairs well with a rolling suitcase with a pass-through sleeve, and the laundry bag is a great hotel-room accessory.

 

Cotopaxi Allpa 42

A fully featured carry-on with wonderful colors

Price $220

Pros

  • Fresh and colorful design
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included
  • Amazing internal organization (no packing cubes needed)

Cons

  • The rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell is love-it-or-hate-it

This carry-on bag is notable in particular for its funky Andean-inspired colors and design. While there is an all-black version available, it’s the colorful versions that really stand out. It’s a great choice for anyone going on a backpacking adventure overseas.

One downside is the rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell, which can look a bit blobby when the pack is not fully filled up. This is mostly an aesthetic issue, but some may wish this bag held its shape a bit more.

However, the internal organization of this backpack is amazing; it’s way better than the popular Farpoint 40 and I even prefer it to the Tortuga Setout and other packs like it. You won’t need packing cubes or additional accessories with the Allpa, as its design has all the pockets and sleeves you would want, including a laptop compartment. A rain cover is included as is a shoulder strap for duffel-style carry.

Another great feature is the hip belt, which can be entirely detached and adjusted based on your height.

The 42-liter size is maximum carry-on and recommended for big trips. For shorter trips or a sleeker design, consider the Allpa 35. You can also read my full review here.

Standard Luggage Co. Carry-On

Price $179

Pros

  • Fresh design with color accents
  • Loads of pockets and spaces
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included

Cons

  • Raincover a bit difficult to put on

This carry-on bag by Canadian manufacturer Standard Luggage Co. can be used either as a backpack or duffel using the included shoulder strap. It has some great design touches that make it stand out, which is a key reason for me including it here. I like the color accents, which can be switched between orange and blue (both colors are included).

Standard Luggage Co. travel backpack

The suspension system is deliberately kept simple to make it fully stowable, though it does include an adjustable sternum strap, two padded straps, and a nicely padded back. This makes it suitable for any type of trip.

This pack has loads of storage spaces. Most notable is the laptop compartment, which is better than I’ve seen in most other backpacks. You can put your precious laptop inside a protective sleeve, which in turn is held vertically by two straps, and this harness, in turn, sits securely inside the back compartment.

Best larger travel backpacks

Osprey Farpoint Trek 55

TOP PICK for long-term travel

Price $219

Pros

  • Adjustable suspension system (4 heights)
  • Insanely comfortable trampoline-style back
  • Included raincover, straps for tent/sleeping bag
  • Integrated compression system

Cons

  • No padded laptop compartment
  • No integrated travel organizer

The Farpoint Trek 55(not to be confused with the regular Farpoint 55) is my new favorite mid-size bag. Unlike what the name suggests, it is not just for trekking. In fact, I’d like to think of it as an upgraded version of the Farpoint series that’s ideal for long-term overland travel.

This bag is perfect if you’ll be going on a big overland trip or planning a round-the-world trip. The additional space compared to a carry-on is great if you have to pack for multiple climates.

It’s also ready for the outdoors, with an integrated rain cover included, and a much more comfortable back system. The suspension system can also be fully adjusted to your torso height, making it much more comfortable than the regular Farpoint.

I would love to take the Farpoint 55 Trek on the South America backpacking trail, where you travel mostly overland and where you also might go on the occasional trek, such as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. While I think carry-on size is nicer if you’re traveling through one climate type or region, this bag is ideal for round-the-world or gap year travel when you may need to pack more gear. The only thing it lacks is a padded laptop compartment.

You can easily adjust the backpack to your torso height

I prefer the Farpoint Trek 55 over the normal Farpoint 55. The latter has a detachable daypack, but this daypack is not so comfortable to wear. In practice, I also rarely ended up zipping the two bags together. The 55 Trek can still be combined with a compatible daypack, such as the Osprey Daylite Travel. You can read more in my full review.

By the way, besides the Farpoint Trek 55, there is also the women’s specific version, the Fairview Trek 50.

 

Osprey Atmos 65

TOP PICK for campers & trekkers

Price $170

Pros

  • Fantastic suspension system with fully adjustable torso length
  • Very comfortable and highly padded back panel
  • Integrated raincover
  • Sleeping bag compartment and sleeping pad straps

Cons

  • Contents not as easy to reach as with clamshell style travel bags
  • Not the best pick for minimalist or carry-on travellers

This is the backpack to get if your trip will involve any camping or trekking. Keep in mind though that this is a top-loading backpack, unlike any others mentioned previously on this page, so access is more limited in favor of comfort for long durations.

There are trekking backpacks with heavier frames, but I recommend the Osprey Atmos 65 as it has a good balance between carrying capacity and weight. It has a trekking pole attachment and while a water reservoir isn’t included, you can buy one separately. There is also the Osprey Aura 65, which is the same backpack but with a women’s fit.

Why it’s worth the investment

A good backpack is an investment that pays off over time. 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 just two months into my trip to Southeast Asia. I had to replace it when I was in Vietnam and still had many months left to travel. I got a knock-off North Face backpack in Hanoi, and it too died on me soon, with the shoulder straps tearing apart. In hindsight, I should have gotten something proper from the start.

Quick answer: Best travel backpack overview

Finally, a quick comparison of all the top backpacks mentioned in this post.


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