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Best Travel Backpacks (2017)

Size guide & recommended light and versatile travel backpacks

Best backpacks for travel, showing difference between trekking and carry-on backpack

Left: a trekking backpack. Right: a travel size backpack.

If you are trying to find the best backpack for travel, it can be difficult to find one that ticks all the boxes. 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 much better to go for something light and versatile or even carry-on size, as it’s important that it’s always comfortable to carry. In this guide I’ll try to help you make the best choice for you.

What I know about this: I go on trips very frequently and lived out of a backpack during my days as a nomad and round-the-world traveller. I’ve owned multiple backpacks over the years, and now I regularly review backpacks here and on my YouTube channel.

 

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, or even taking out ALL your stuff. Front-loading bags 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, these zipped compartments can also be used 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). Not a deal breaker, but nice to have. Carry-on travel backpacks let you save time and avoid many luggage fees.

Other nice-to-haves: lockable zippers (rings that let you attach a padlock or wire lock to prevent opportunistic theft), 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). 

 

Travel backpack size guide

Many sports and outdoors retailers will just try to sell you the biggest or most expensive packs, which aren’t always the most suitable. Novice travellers also often seriously overestimate how much space they will need (I know because I’ve been there!).

When you’re staying in hotels or hostels you won’t be needing lots of space to store things like a tent, camping gear, or sleeping bag. That means you can forget about all the trekking and mountaineering backpacks and go with something much more modestly sized. You’ll end up with less weight on your back, less hassle, and more freedom.

For an example of how much can fit in a smaller-size bag, check out the video below. It happens to be focused on packing for Southeast Asia, but you can pack in a similar way for traveling anywhere.

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. Good for shorter trips but equally fine for trips lasting many weeks or months. Particularly ideal if you’re travelling within one climate (i.e. no need to store lots of big bulky winter clothing). This size is often accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you time and money. While you need to be a bit of a minimalist traveler and know how to pack light, it can easily fit a week’s worth of clothing and any regular travel gear.
 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 (sports gear, etc.), or maybe if you can’t resist buying many souvenirs. Otherwise a 40 or 45L can be totally fine.
65-120 L NOPE. 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.

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 than that. 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 on this.

 

Best carry-on travel backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 40 TOP CHOICE

Osprey Farpoint 40, one of the best all-purpose travel backpacks

This is one of the most popular travel backpacks around and with good reason. The Farpoint 40 is lightweight, carry-on size, versatile, and it can fit a week’s worth of clothing and all your travel essentials. It’s a fantastic all-round travel backpack and arguably the best one you can get at this price.

You can use this bag for all kinds of trips, but it’s especially suited to backpacking and adventure travel. Unlike many other carry-on backpacks in this category, the Farpoint 40 actually has a full and proper suspension system. It’s very 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.

I’ve used this backpack for many years. While it’s not a trekking backpack per se, you can still easily use it for longer excursions and hikes if needed. I recently took it trekking in the Himalayas for a week and had no issues.

The only minor downside is that the main compartment doesn’t really have any side pockets or other ways to divide the contents, so I recommend buying some packing cubes to go with it (these ones will fit exactly and don’t cost much).

As of 2017 there’s also the Osprey Fairview 40, which is the same bag but with a women’s specific fit.

✔ Front-loading (woohoo!)
✔ Laptop & organizer compartment
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Detachable shoulder strap included
✔ Stow-away harness
✔ Carry handles
✔ Lockable zippers

What I don’t like:
✗ Ugly lime green interior (on some models)

Price: $160.00 view at amazon

 


 

Osprey Porter 46 (US only)

Osprey Porter 46 in teal colorThe Porter 46 is a great alternative to the Farpoint 40, and in some cases a superior choice. What are the differences? The Porter 46 is a duffel-style carry-on backpack with a few more pockets as well as a nice built-in travel organizer, which will be great if you carry a lot of gear or electronics. It also has padded walls that stand up (whereas the walls of the Farpoint 40 will fold in when not packed).

However, its harness is thinner and not as well-padded. This makes it less ideal for heavy loads or walking long distances. The Porter 46 is more suited for urban travel, while the Farpoint is a little better for backpacking and adventure travel.

It’s a mystery why Osprey Europe discontinued these. In the US they’ve just released a totally new version which I recommend over the older one. 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.

What I like about it:
✔ Front-loading
✔ Many side-pockets and a travel organizer
✔ Laptop compartment at the back (better balance!)
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Stow-away harness
✔ Carry handles
✔ Lockable zippers

What I don’t like:
✗ Harness not as good as Farpoint

Price: $140.00 view at amazon

 


 

eBags Mother Lode Convertible

eBags Mother Lode backpackOriginally designed and branded as a weekend bag, I think it can work well for longer trips as well. The major strong point of this carry-on backpack is the number of pockets and zipped compartments that can hold your travel gear. It simply has loads of spaces for you to store travel documents, toiletries, or your smartphone or laptop. The main compartment has a clever optional divider wall that can split this space in two equal halves.

One potential downside is the harness which is quite thin and basic, making it more geared towards urban and weekend travel. The back also isn’t padded, making this a backpack you’ll want to carry for shorter distances only. I tested this bag for several weeks and you can read my full review here.

✔ Front-loading
✔ 2 carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Lockable zippers

 Basic harness, no padded waist strap or padded back
✗ Colors and materials look a bit dated

Price: $200.00 $116.99   -42% view at amazon

 


 

REI Vagabond 40 (US only)

REI 40 backpackA good travel pack 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!)
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Lockable zippers

Not quite carry-on size, must be checked in (but you can try anyway)
✗ No laptop compartment

buy at REI Store

 


 

Best larger travel backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 55 TOP CHOICE

Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack (blue)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 for your gear, souvenirs, shoe collection etc. 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 travelled with this backpack extensively. You can 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, the main bag is just slightly over the carry-on limit)

Price: $160.00 view at amazon

 

 


 

Deuter Transit 50

Deuter 55 BackpackAnother 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. Still, it easily holds any other travel gear and is an excellent choice for any active traveller.

✔ Front-loading (actually not entirely, but it also has a separate bottom compartment giving easy access)
✔ Waist strap and chest strap
✔ Carry handles
✔ Inner compression straps
✔ Lockable zippers
✔ Detachable daypack

✗ No laptop compartment

Price: $178.00   -1% view 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. 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…

List of recommended backpacks

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 my blog.

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36 comments

  1. Nakisha William Reply October 7, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    My last trip to Bangladesh, I have used Osprey 40 liter backpack. The backpack is so much awesome for carrying traveling stuff. I so much happy to see that, you review this backpack.

    I like your organized stuff method. I will apply it later trip. Thanks

  2. Rick Reply September 26, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Wow, pretty indepth analysis of all these packs. You really did your homework.

  3. Teruyo Reply September 13, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Thank you for youe advice Marek with others traverers.
    I pray to my Heavenly Father to everyone joyful+safety+reasonable for trip !
    Have a blessed travel for you in peaceful of Christ Jesus !
    Halleluyah!

  4. Teruyo Reply July 30, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you brother Marek for your size guide and recommendations for backpacks! I will go to the Malaga of Spain from Finland by Air international Norwegian at Autumn in this year without anyone but with my Adonai Messiah Yahuah.
    My trip plan is from Torremolinos 2 nights→Fuengilola 1 night → Ronda 3 nights → El Chorro 3 nights → Alora 3 nights → Malaga 2 nights
    God bless you!

  5. Anne Betts Reply July 7, 2017 at 10:05 am

    For my last trip, I looked for a travel pack and packable daypack to meet the 7-kg carry-on allowance of regional carriers within Australia, New Zealand and SE Asia. After reading hundreds of reviews, I chose the Osprey Farpoint 40 and Osprey’s Ultralight Stuff Pack. The Farpoint in the S/M torso size is 38 litres and the surprisingly comfortable stuff pack is 18 litres. The best I could do was a packed weight of 8 kg and the size of the Farpoint is such that it didn’t attract undue attention and passed for carry on for all 9 flights. The Farpoint has a great harness and hip belt, making it very comfortable for walking and jumping on and off public transportation.

  6. 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

    • 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?

      • 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

    • 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.

  11. 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

    • Marek Reply September 12, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Tortuga will be updating their backpacks at the end of 2017 and so I’ve got an order in to review them when the newest model comes out… so stay tuned 🙂

  12. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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?”

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

    • 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.

  15. 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 🙂

  16. 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?

    • 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.

  17. 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!

    • Marek Reply January 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Thanks for sharing Maria!

  18. Lawrence Reply November 22, 2015 at 11:22 am

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

    • 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! 🙂

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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

        • 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.

  21. 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?

    • 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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