If you are trying to find the best backpack for travel, it can be challenging to find one that ticks all the boxes. Many retailers and websites just won’t give you the right advice! They will often try to sell you the biggest and most expensive backpack, not the lightest, smartest, or most convenient.
If you travel frequently or if you’re planning a big trip, then it’s often better to go for something light and versatile (and possibly carry-on size), as you’ll want a bag that is always comfortable to carry. In this guide, I will share with you what I believe are some of the top travel backpacks for traveling anywhere. Whether you’re going on a holiday, a backpacking trip, or you need a backpack for your business travels, I’ve got you covered.
This guide was last updated in September 2018 with new reviews of the Aer Travel Pack 2, Nomatic Backpack, and Osprey Atmos 65.
What I know about this
I’m a frequent traveler and a former full-time nomad. I’ve owned many different backpacks and now regularly review backpacks. This guide is fully independent, so no sponsored content. Oh, aaaand… unlike many other blogs I actually physically own and review these products!
Key features to look for
- 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. Super convenient.
- Waist strap. Using a waist strap distributes the load around your whole body instead of just your shoulders. It’s essential for frequent travel as it helps avoid 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! Make sure it’s weather sealed or includes a rain cover.
- Carry-on sized (if possible). It might not a deal breaker for everyone, but carry-on size lets you save time and avoid additional luggage fees on some airlines.
Other nice-to-haves: lockable zippers (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: The Best Travel Backpacks
|Tortuga Setout||View on Tortuga|
|Osprey Farpoint 40||View on Amazon|
|Osprey Porter 46 (US only)||View on Amazon|
|Aer Travel Pack 2||View on Aer|
|Nomatic 40L Travel Bag||View on Nomatic|
|Pacsafe Venturesafe X40||View on Amazon|
|Osprey Farpoint 55||View on Amazon|
|Osprey Atmos 65||View on Amazon|
Travel backpack size guide
Before we look at some recommended backpacks, let’s stop for a moment to think about how big a backpack you might need.
Backpack sizes are typically expressed in liters (i.e., the volume they can contain). You’ll notice that backpacks 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.|
|40-45 L||A happy sweet spot! Good for shorter trips but equally fine for trips lasting many weeks or months (that is, if you know how to pack light). Best if you’re traveling within one climate and don’t need lots of bulky winter clothing. This size is usually accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you time and check-in fees when flying.|
|50-65 L||Great if you need extra space. Not everyone is a light packer so some will prefer these sizes despite the extra weight. Consider this if you need to pack more clothing, have additional items to store (e.g. sports gear), or often buy many gifts or souvenirs. It’s also an ideal size if you’re backpacking and need to store a tent or sleeping bag.|
|70-120L||NOPE. Only for the most hardcore trekking and camping expeditions. The internal support frames often already weigh several kilos. This is overkill for most travelers.|
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a light packer. For example, I typically pack no more than around 7 to 10 days worth of clothes, even if I’m traveling for much longer. I believe it’s much better to wash your clothes from time to time than to carry a huge travel wardrobe around everywhere. Read my guide to packing light for much more on this.
For an example of how much can fit in a smaller-size bag, have a look at the video below. It happens to be focused on packing for Southeast Asia, but you can pack in a roughly similar way for traveling anywhere.
If you’re staying in hotels, apartments, or hostels, I generally do recommend a 40L or so carry-on size bag. You’ll end up with less weight on your back, more freedom to move, and much less hassle. Though you might want to combine this with a smaller daypack, which you can usually take these onto flights as your additional personal item.
Best carry-on travel backpacks
👍 TOP PICK for all-purpose travel bag
- Maximum carry-on size
- Front-loading (woohoo!)
- Excellent organizer compartments
- Laptop compartment at the back (good for load balance)
- Adjustable waist & chest straps
- Harness can be stowed and waist belt detached
- Zippers are weather-resistant but not rubber sealed
Price: $199 view at tortuga (note: available in US only)
Just launched in 2018, the Tortuga Setout is my new top pick for best carry-on size travel backpack. I love it and it’s my personal go-to bag. It’s versatile and easy to recommend for any type of trip. If you’re using it mainly for urban or air travel, then that’s great! But if you want to take this on a backpacking adventure, then it’s quite suited for that as well.
This big 45-liter backpack gives you the maximum carry-on capacity on most airlines. Meanwhile, its clamshell design gives you easy suitcase-style access to all your stuff. The harness has wide straps making it very comfortable, while the back panel comes with proper padding and ventilation space.
The hip belt is nicely cushioned and has two zipped pockets, which is a handy feature normally reserved for trekking bags. For a traveler, that just means having two quick-access pockets whenever you’re on the move.
Don’t need that hip belt? Then you can detach the whole thing! The entire harness is entirely stowable as well, essentially letting you turn the Setout into a duffel bag if needed. I love the flexibility and I think this is one of those rare backpacks that you could easily take on a weekend trip, holiday, backpacking trip, or even on a business trip. The heathered grey exterior and off-white interior look rather stylish but don’t draw too much attention, so this bag will blend in easily no matter what sort of trip you’re going on.
By the way…
- The Setout Divide is a smaller 26L version that can expand to 34L. That makes it usable as a daypack or commuter bag. I tried it out and I like it a lot, and it can be a better pick for shorter or weekend trips.
- The Tortuga Outbreaker is a more professional-grade backpack that costs $100 more. It has amazing weather-resistance and a suspension system that you can adjust completely to your torso height, but it’s also about 1kg or 2lbs heavier. For this reason I still recommend the Setout.
Osprey Farpoint 40
Great for backpacking and hosteling
- Front-loading (woo!)
- Comfortable suspension system
- Laptop & organizer compartment
- Detachable shoulder strap included
- Stow-away harness
- Lockable zippers
- Lightweight & budget priced
- Not as many organizational features as other bags
- Ugly green interior (on some versions)
Price: $160 view at amazon
The Farpoint 40 is a great choice for world travelers looking for a light and budget-friendly bag. It’s hugely popular in the backpacking scene and I see them all the time in hostels around the world. I myself took one on a 2-year round-the-world backpacking trip.
Many travel backpacks come with just a flimsy little harness, but not so with the Farpoint 40. It’s super comfortable to wear 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 fully along your entire back. All this makes it a great pack to carry for longer stretches of time if needed.
It’s not a trekking backpack, but it’s comfortable enough to take on an occasional hike. I even took it trekking in the Himalayas for a week and had no issues. (Mind you, I was staying in guesthouses, so I didn’t carry a tent or sleeping bag. For that it’s simply too small, and you should go with an Osprey Atmos 65 instead.)
It’s a great pack, though it doesn’t quite have as many organizational features as the Tortuga Setout or Osprey Porter 46. I also wish the laptop compartment was placed at the back, where it’s more secure and better balances the weight. While maybe not a perfect bag for a one-bag enthusiast or urban explorer, the Farpoint 40 is a somewhat sportier bag that’s excellent for budget traveling and backpacking.
As of 2017, there’s also the Osprey Fairview 40, which is the exact same bag but with a women’s specific fit and a different color.
Osprey Porter 46 (US only)
Not quite as comfy, but has better organization
- Excellent side-pockets and travel organizer
- Laptop compartment at the back
- Stow-away harness
- Stiff outer shell protects your stuff
- Harness more easily stowable… but also simpler and not as padded
- Not quite as easy to squeeze into tight storage spaces
Price: $140 view at amazon
The Porter 46 is an interesting alternative to the Farpoint 40 that’s available only in North America. 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.
I think the Porter 46 is more suited for urban/general travel, while the Farpoint is 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.
The newest version came out in 2017 which I strongly recommend over the older one which is still sold occasionally. You can tell by the logo: if it’s a monochrome outline, it’s the new version. If there’s an oval badge around it, it’s the old version. You can read my full review here.
Aer Travel Pack 2
Great all-purpose travel bag (at smaller size)
- Loads of storage spaces
- Detachable waist belt (sold separately)
- Sturdy material but easy access
- Separate shoe compartment
- At 33L it also works as a large daypack or everyday pack
- At 33L it’s not maximum carry-on size
- Laptop compartment has no “hammock”
Price: $230 view at aer
The Aer Travel Pack 2 is a bit smaller than the other backpacks mentioned in this roundup. If you are going on a big trip, I would still recommend getting a maximum carry-on size bag such as the Tortuga Setout. But for a shorter trip or if you’re a minimal packer, the 33 liters of the Aer Travel Pack 2 might be the perfect size for you. Not too big, not too small.
In fact, some of you might find this bag’s size more versatile. After all, maximum carry-on bags are awkward to use as daily carry or daypacks (as they’re simply too big), but this is not an issue with the Aer Travel Pack.
I think this is a really solid and capable backpack. It’s well-designed, has plenty of storage spaces, and a great minimalist look. The material feels a bit more rugged than the Tortuga Setout but not so super stiff as the Nomatic backpack, which I think offers a nice balance between durability and weight. With weather resistant material and zippers, you can also be assured that your stuff will stay dry. A shoe compartment at the bottom and is a clever addition, sharing space with the main compartment.
I have only very minor quibbles: for example, it would be nice if the laptop compartment had a little hammock sleeve, so that the device won’t touch the ground. The harness is comfortable enough, but other backpacks in this list have more padding or more adjustment straps.
But all in all, if you’re looking for a small to mid-size bag, then the Aer Travel Pack 2 is an excellent choice. I reviewed the new 2.0 edition launched in Summer 2018, which has a number of tweaks and improvements over the first edition.
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag
👍 TOP PICK for business travel
- Extremely clever features
- Highly weather resistant material
- Plethora of optional accessoiries
- Pass-through sleeve for attaching to rolled luggage
- Also works as a duffel
- A tad over-engineered (you have to use everything exactly as intended)
- Too high-tech and pricey for just a holiday
Price: $240 to $290 view at nomatic
The Nomatic travel bag is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that promised to create the most functional backpack ever. It got a ton of pre-release buzz and so I ordered one to try it for myself.
And yep, it is ridiculously clever and innovative. You’ll find way more packing features on the Nomatic Travel Bag than virtually any other backpack. You can even pimp it with optional accessories like a laundry bag, shirt organizer, toiletry bag, and vacuum compression bag — all designed to work as one integrated system.
I do have two pitpicks though. One is that while the exterior is very sturdy and wonderfully weather-sealed, it’s also very stiff. This can make the space inside feel just a bit cramped. Access to the main compartment is also a bit unusual, in that the zippers are on the back panel (behind the shoulder straps). This takes a bit of getting used to.
You could also argue that the Nomatic bag could be a bit too tricked out at times. I mean, do you really need a separate book pocket or even an underwear compartment? Personally I do like all the clever bells and whistles, but I can see how someone might wish for a slightly less compartmentalized design.
This bag is probably overkill for just a holiday. But I think business travelers — who often carefully hone their packing methods over time — can get the most out of the Nomatic Travel Bag. With the added accessories it’s the perfect hotel/city backpack, thanks to the shirt organizer that keeps shirts wrinkle-free, the laundry bag (which you can hang on your hotel room door), the shoe compartment, compression bag, and so on. A pass-through sleeve will let you easily attach this backpack to rolled luggage as well. If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll be able to really use this bag as intended.
While it’s maybe not the first choice for those who want a simple and affordable bag, it’s an excellent choice for business travelers and digital nomads.
Pacsafe Venturesafe X40
Best security features
- Fully featured harness
- Rain cover included
- Advanced security features like slash-proof webbing
- A little pricey for this type of backpack
- Do you need this much security?
Price: $250 view at amazon
Pacsafe has long made a name for itself with travel security products such as money belts, passport wallets, and portable locks. They also make backpacks with a focus on anti-theft features.
The X40 is a lightweight carry-on bag with a comfortable harness that’s comparable to the Farpoint 40. I like that it has a back panel mesh as well as wide waist straps that also have zipped pockets in them, which is a handy feature typically only seen on trekking backpacks. Safety features include slash-proof webbing, lockable D-rings, a smart zipper lock for the main compartment, and an included padlock. The built-in rain cover is a nice plus, as is the removable internal divider (can be used to separate clean and dirty gear, among other uses).
Best larger travel backpacks
Osprey Farpoint 55
👍 TOP PICK for medium-sized travel bag
- All the same features as the Farpoint 40
- PLUS a removable 15 liter daypack
- Can clip the daypack to the front, zip it to the main pack, or use separately
- Too big for carry-on
- Back panel of the daypack is completely flat
Price: $180 view at amazon
I love the versatility of the Farpoint 55. It’s essentially two travel packs combined into one integrated system. You can leave the detachable daypack on or off, you can clip the daypack onto the main bag for a ‘turtle shell’ carry mode, and you even can zip away all the straps and carry it as a regular bag.
I recommend this backpack if you don’t want to go for full minimalism and need just that extra bit of space. Multiple pockets and pouches on the daypack provide easy access to smaller items, though as with the other Osprey packs I do also recommend getting some packing cubes to help you organize the main compartment.
I’ve traveled with this backpack extensively and you can read my full review of the Farpoint 55.
Osprey Atmos 65
👍 TOP PICK for campers, trekkers & backpackers
- Fantastic suspension system with fully adjustable torso length
- Very comfortable and highly padded back panel
- Integrated raincover
- Sleeping bag compartment and sleeping pad straps
- Contents not as easy to reach as with clamshell style travel bags
- Not the best pick for minimal/light travelers
Price: $170 view at amazon
This is the backpack to get if your trip will involve any camping or extended trekking. It’s also a fine choice if you’re a backpacker staying in hostels but you want something a bit bigger than a carry-on (or maybe you just want to go for that traditional backpacker look).
The reason I recommend the Osprey Atmos 65 is that it has a good balance between carry capacity and weight. It’s also ridiculously comfortable to wear. Now, there are plenty of other trekking backpacks such as the Osprey Aether 70 that have much heavier frames designed to carry heavier loads. Those are cool if you’re, say, going to be trekking for weeks on end, or you’re carrying tons of heavy mountaineering gear. But for the average backpacker or hiker, I think the Atmos 65 is the better pick.
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 specific fit.
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 the Terra 50 rucksack, but it’s annoyingly top-loading. All the Berghaus, Vango, Lifeventure, and JanSport bags are as well, and they also lack many useful features. I used to list the eBags Motherload and Deuter 55 here, but I now think other bags are better.
I chose to list the backpacks above as they all have neat features and would be ideally suited for frequent travelers.
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 Aisa. 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.
Best travel backpack in 2018 comparison table
Finally, a quick comparison of all the backpacks mentioned in this post. The prices are approximate as color choices and sizes can affect this.
|Osprey Farpoint 40||Carry-on||40L||$160|
|Osprey Fairview 40||Carry-on (women)||40L||$160|
|Osprey Porter 46||Carry-on/duffel||46L||$140|
|Aer Travel Pack 2||Carry-on (small)||33L||$230|
|Nomatic Travel Bag||Carry-on (business)||40L||$240|
|Pacsafe Venturesafe X40||Carry-on||40L||$249|
|Osprey Farpoint 55||Mid-size||40L + 15L||$180|
|Osprey Atmos 65||Trekking||65L||$170|
|Osprey Aura 65||Trekking (women)||65L||$170|
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