Trying to find the best travel backpack for you based on your budget? Then you’ve come to the right page!

I’ve been a professional traveler for almost 10 years now, so I know from experience what to look for in a travel backpack. I’ve done hands-on reviews of tons of backpacks — and I’ll share my absolute favorites here.

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

Peak Design 45L

View at Peak Design

Of course, it can be challenging to find a travel backpack that ticks all the right boxes. It must be comfortable, easy to organize, and durable as well.

Depending on what type of traveler you are, some criteria may also be more important to you than others. A business traveler won’t have the same needs as a budget backpacker, after all. That’s why I always try to keep different users in mind.

Whether you’re looking for a cheap backpack for low-budget travel, or a premium backpack for your business travels, read on for the best travel backpacks for 2021.

All reviews here are my own after actually using the products. Some of the links are affiliate links with which I may earn a commission.

Summer 2021 Update: added the Salkan Backpacker and Pakt Travel Backpack

Key aspects to look for

Weight

Weight is always a key factor for backpack comfort. For carry-on backpacks, any extra weight will also eat into your precious luggage allowance. Less weight can mean being able to pack more.

Comfort

The back panel, waist and shoulder straps, padding, and carry handles are some of the other key aspects affecting comfort. Some premium backpacks allow you to adjust the suspension system to your torso height.

Usability

Clamshell designs are typically more usable as they give immediate suitcase-like access to your main compartment. Some backpacks also just feel better to use, which can be thanks to sensible pocket placement, better accessibility, or useful features like lockable zippers or compression straps.

Durability

The materials can make all the difference in whether a pack stands the test of time, as well as its degree of weather resistance. Some adventure-focused backpacks come with separate rain covers.

Quick Overview: Choosing the Best Travel Backpack

Peak Design 45L Backpack

Best premium
travel backpack

  • Carry-on size
  • Amazingly clever design filled with surprising features
  • 35L expandable to 45L
  • My top backpack if price is no concern
Tortuga Setout

Best all-purpose
budget backpack

  • Carry-on size
  • Excellent organizer compartments
  • Great quality + value
  • My go-to mid-price recommendation
Osprey Farpoint 40

Perfect for backpackers (hostels)

  • Carry-on size
  • Ideal for backpacking & staying in hostels
  • Basic features, but it's light, affordable and durable
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

Best for business travel

  • Carry-on size
  • Shoe compartment & shirt folder
  • Works seamlessly together with rolled luggage
  • Plethora of optional accessoiries for hotel & business travel
Pakt Travel Backpack 30L

Best smaller/mid-size carry-on

  • Amazing organizational features
  • Opens up in two halves with laptop compartment in between
  • 30L is a great medium size
Salkan Backpacker

Most stylish adventure backpack

  • 2-in-1 system (main pack + detachable daypack)
  • Water-resistent polyester that feels like canvas fabric
  • Height-adjustable harnass
  • Ideal for gap years, RTW travel, backpacking & adventuring
Cotopaxi Allpa 42
  • Carry-on size
  • Fresh and colorful design - check it out if you like this style!
  • Fantastic internal organization (no packing cubes needed)
Standard Luggage Carry-On
  • Carry-on size
  • A carry-on pack with a classic suitcase-like style
  • Lots 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
  • Adjustable suspension system, comfortable trampoline-style back & integrated rain cover
  • Perfect for long term travel and/or trekking

Best carry-on travel backpacks

These backpacks you can take on board most airlines without having to check them in. Even if you’re not flying, they are a great medium size.

Peak Design Travel Backpack

TOP PICK for premium carry-on travel bag

Price $299

Pros

  • Versatile; carry-on size (35L) but can expand to 45L
  • Incredible design full of beautiful touches
  • Weatherproof materials & zippers
  • Lightweight yet sturdy, holds its shape

Cons

  • I can't think of anything!

Honestly, Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack is close to perfect. Using it just feels good. If price is not your only concern and you just want the best, then this is my top recommendation.

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

Some backpacks tack on too many features, leading to too heavy materials, overly cramped spaces, or just too many extraneous elements. Not so with Peak Design’s backpack, which is thoughtful and restrained.

Despite having a ton of functionality, this pack remains lightweight and easy to access.

Its sturdy 400D nylon shell holds its shape when unloaded. The default carry capacity is 35L, staying well within any airline carry-on size limits, but it can expand to 45L. This makes it a versatile pack suitable for many types of trips.

To get the most out of this backpack, I recommend getting the Peak Design accessories. In particular, the toiletry bag, electronics pouch, and packing cubes are cleverly designed and fit the backpack perfectly.

This has been my main backpack for 2 years in my work as a full-time travel blogger, and its durability has not let me down.

Want to know more? Read my full review here.

Or watch my video review:

 

Tortuga Setout

TOP PICK for all-purpose carry-on travel pack

Price $179 - $199

(Only ships to US)

Pros

  • Excellent organizer compartments
  • Harness can be stowed and waist belt detached
  • Great affordable price

Cons

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

The Tortuga Setout is marketed as a backpack that is “just right”, and I think that description is, well, just right.

The Setout sits between the pro-grade backpacks (like the Peak Design or Tortuga Outbreaker) and some of the backpacks on the lower end of the market. It’s my favorite medium option, offering value for money and great functionality.

There are several Setout editions:

The 35L Setout is the standard size and is fully carry-on compliant. I think it’s great for trips up to a week.

The 45L Setout is a chonky one; it’s the maximum possible carry-on size backpack. It feels like the most spacious of any carry-on I’ve used, probably in part due to the lightweight material and unpartitioned main compartment.

Finally, the Setout Divide is a more compact 26L size, but it can expand up to 34L. It’s more like a day pack that can double as a weekend bag.

Since there are already enough photos of me on this page, here’s my girlfriend showing off the 35L Setout on a trip to Italy:

All Setout versions have a clamshell design, giving you easy access to all your belongings. The harness has wide and comfortable straps, while the back panel comes with proper padding and ventilation space. The latest editions have load lifter straps. All this ensures a high degree of comfort.

There is a well-padded hip belt included, but if you don’t need it, you can detach it. The entire harness is stowable as well, turning the Setout into a duffel bag if needed.

Lightweight and minimalistic, and yet fully-featured, the Setout is a versatile backpack that’s great for city trips and longer journeys alike.

 

Osprey Farpoint 40

Perfect for backpacking and hosteling

Pros

  • Lightweight & budget-priced
  • Decent internal organization
  • Comfortable suspension system (you can walk with it for hours)

Cons

  • Not many organizational features
  • Ugly green interior on some versions
  • Front laptop placement not ideal for load balancing

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

There are a few things other bags do better: for example, the laptop compartment is not super strategically placed and the main compartment lacks clever storage spaces.

Basically, it’s not going to hit you over the head with the latest and greatest in backpack gadgetry. But… you can’t beat the Farpoint 40’s combination of price and reliability.

This is an amazing backpack for any budget traveler. For example, if you’re planning to backpack around Southeast Asia or hostel-hop around Europe for the summer, you can’t go wrong with the Farpoint 40.

Besides affordability, the best aspect of the Farpoint is comfort. Thanks to a padded back panel, well-padded shoulder straps, and a full-size hip belt, it’s just great to wear. Six different adjustment straps make it easy to distribute the weight along your entire back.

Osprey mostly makes trekking bags and some of this expertise has clearly made it into the Farpoint line of travel backpacks.

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 more recent design with several improvements, though it also costs a bit more and isn’t carry-on size.

What about the Osprey Porter 46? It’s a similar pack, but it exceeds carry-on limits and its shoulder straps aren’t as comfortable. While not my favorite, you can check out my Porter 46 review.

 

Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

TOP PICK for business travel backpack

Price $240 to $290

(Depending on accessories)

Pros

  • Many clever features and add-on accessories
  • Highly weather resistant material
  • Flexibility: can expand from 20 to 30L, also works as duffel or on top of rolled luggage

Cons

  • A bit over-engineered (a few features may be a bit gimmicky)

Nomatic promised to create the most functional backpack ever — and I believe they succeeded.

The design is quite ridiculously clever and innovative. You’ll find more clever features on the Nomatic Travel Bag than almost any other backpack.

Even more so when you add on accessories like the laundry bag, shirt organizer, toiletry bag, and vacuum compression bag — which are all designed to work as one integrated system.

Just two nitpicks. One is that although the exterior is sturdy and weather-sealed, its stiffness can also make it a tiny bit cramped. This only happens if you overpack it though.

Also, I think this backpack is probably best for frequent travelers who can make the best use of its detailed features. Do you truly need a separate book pocket or an underwear compartment? Maybe you do.

I think business travelers who are on the road often can make particularly good use of all the bag’s clever elements and get into the habit of using them. Once you have your own ‘system’ to use the Nomatic, it becomes amazing.

Thoughtful touches such as the shirt organizer (which keeps your shirts wrinkle-free), the shoe compartment are really made for professional travelers. The laundry bag is a great hotel-room accessory and the Nomatic 40L pairs very well with a rolling suitcase with a pass-through sleeve. This makes it my top recommendation for business travelers.

 

Pakt Travel Backpack

A 30L back perfect for minimalist travel

Price $299

Pros

  • Amazing internal organization
  • Many unique features (waterproof compartment, secret pouch, waist strap can become a sling bag)
  • Highly comfortable
  • Waist strap doubles as sling bag

Cons

  • 30L size may be a bit small for very long trips
  • Doesn't easily fit big shoes

At 30 liters, the Pakt Travel Backpack is smaller than the 40 to 45-liter backpacks mentioned so far. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a more elegant size.

The Pakt will fit within virtually all carry-on restrictions, even the more stringent airlines in Europe.

Most clamshell backpacks offer one deep main storage compartment. The Pakt takes a different tack by dividing this space into two halves. Sandwiched between them is the laptop compartment. I think this makes perfect sense for both security and comfort.

Due to the split main compartment, it won’t as easily fit big boots or tall hiking shoes. However, this layout makes it way easier to keep your items organized. You can use packing cubes with the Pakt but you can certainly go without them too.

In terms of comfort, access, and organization this is my favorite 30L size backpack.

For more, read my full review of the Pakt Travel Backpack.

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, but it works great as a weekend bag too.

One minor 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.

That said, the internal organization of this backpack is superb; it’s way better than the popular Farpoint 40 and I might even say it’s a little better on this specific point than the Tortuga Setout.

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

The tarp-like outer material, while sturdy, is probably the love-it-or-hate-it aspect. However, if durability is important to you and you like the colorful style, then this might well be your backpack. I love that Cotopaxi is bold enough to stray from the usual black or grey backpack designs. If you’re drawn to their colorful designs, I highly recommend them!

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

  • Suitcase-like design with color accents
  • Loads of pockets and spaces
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included

Cons

  • Raincover a bit difficult to put on

The cool thing about this carry-on backpack by Canadian manufacturer Standard Luggage Co. is that it has a suitcase-like design. I include it here because its appearance is so different from other backpacks.

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.

Standard Luggage Co. travel backpack

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

Salkan Backpacker

Amazingly stylish and functional backpack for big trips

Price £250 / $345 / €285

Pros

  • Super stylish design
  • Very comfortable to wear; fully height adjustable
  • Loads of space and pockets
  • Integrated main pack + day pack system

Cons

  • A bit on the heavy side (less ideal for carry-on travel)

This pack has two very cool tricks up its sleeve.

Firstly, it looks and feels utterly like a retro canvas backpack, yet it’s made of a durable and rain-resistant polyester that emulates this look. It’s not just a stylish backpack but one you can take on any adventure and in any weather.

Secondly, the Salkan Backpacker is a 2-in-1 system, with a daypack and main pack that work seamlessly together. You can buy just the daypack or the main pack, or you can buy them together for a lower price.

I was skeptical at first of this debut from a new UK manufacturer, but when it reviewed it in-depth, it blew me away. I predict you’ll be hearing more about this backpack as word gets around.

It’s not carry-on size, so it’s less ideal for weekend trips or short-haul travel. However, the large space and features make it perfect for any globe-trotting adventure.

The main pack is 45 liters (expandable up to 55) and the day pack is 20 liters. This is exactly the pack I’d want to have with me for, say, backpacking Asia or city-hopping around Europe. It offers ample space, lots of storage options, and it looks great too!

It may cost a bit more than comparable backpacks such as those by Osprey, but it sports some amazing looks and has every feature you’d need on a big trip. Better yet, Salkan now has a customized backpack designer, letting you mix-and-match different colors and straps.

 

Osprey Farpoint Trek 55

Price $219

Pros

  • Adjustable suspension system (4 heights)
  • Super comfortable trampoline-style back
  • Integrated compression system

Cons

  • No padded laptop compartment

The Farpoint Trek 55 (not to be confused with the regular Farpoint 55) is a fantastic larger backpack. Its key advantage is back comfort, especially when wearing it for longer periods of time.

Unlike what the name suggests, it is not just for trekking. That’s definitely one intended use, but I think it also happens to be ideal for long-term overland travel or round-the-world trip. You can basically think of it as an upgraded version of the Farpoint series.

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.

What I like most is that the suspension system can also be fully adjusted to your torso height, making it much more comfortable than the regular Farpoint. If you’re not of average height (like me) this can make a huge difference.

The only thing it lacks is a padded laptop compartment, but it’s ideal for travel adventurers who don’t carry such large electronics. (A tablet will still fit in the organizer compartment.)

I’ve traveled around with this pack but also went trekking with it for 5 days, and it definitely passed the test in both modes of use. If you’re looking for a backpack that works well in both travel and trekking situations, then this is it.

You can read more in my full review.

You can easily adjust the backpack to your torso height

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

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 or pounds. 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.

I think 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.

Finally, all the top backpacks in this guide:

Other backpacks I reviewed:


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