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

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. There are some affiliate links, which may give me a small commission if you make a purchase, but I don’t do any type of influencer marketing. These reviews are just my real opinions after actually using them.

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, smart, and convenient, not something that will bog you down. But in some cases, you may need something a bit bigger.

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 think are the best travel backpacks in 2019.

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), as you’ll want a bag that is always 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. 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: Choosing the Best Travel Backpack

Tortuga Setout

Best all-purpose
budget backpack

  • Available in 35L and 45L
  • Excellent organizer compartments
  • Great quality + value
Peak Design 45L Backpack

Best premium
travel backpack

  • Amazingly clever & thoughtful design
  • Weather-sealed zippers
  • 35L but expands to 45L
Osprey Farpoint 40
  • Simple organizer compartments
  • Light but durable
  • Ideal for backpacking / staying in hostels
Osprey Porter 46
  • Sturdy protective shell
  • Better organization than Farpoint
  • But slightly exceeds carry-on size limit
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag

Best for business travel

  • Shoe compartment & shirt folder
  • Works well together with rolled luggage
  • Plethora of optional accessoiries
Standard Luggage Co. Carry-On
  • Fresh and colorful design
  • Shoulder straps and raincover included
  • Loads of pockets and spaces
Osprey Farpoint 55
  • Like the Farpoint 40, but with a removable 15 liter daypack
  • Can clip the daypack to the front, zip it to the main pack, or use separately
Osprey Atmos 65

Best for trekking & backpacking

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

What size backpack for travelling

Before we help you choose the best travel backpack for you, let’s stop for a moment to think about how big a pack you might need.

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. 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.

In my guide to packing light, I show you exactly how I pack my carry-on bag. It’s easier than you might 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 bulky adventure travel gear. You’ll end up with less weight on your back, more freedom of movement, and much less hassle. You might still want to combine this with a smaller daypack, which you can usually take onto flights as your additional personal item.

Best carry-on travel backpacks

Tortuga Setout

TOP PICK for all-purpose travel pack (ships to US only)

Price $199

(note: ships to US only)

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Zippers are weather-resistant but not rubber sealed

The Tortuga Setout is a high-quality, lightweight, and attractively priced backpack, making it my go-to recommendation. The 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 into more adventurous situations (e.g. travel in Asia) and been super happy with it.

As of 2019 there are several Setout editions. The 35L and 45L versions have a larger capacity while staying within carry-on size limits. 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 share certain features. Firstly, the clamshell design will give you easy 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. On the new 2019 editions, you’ll even find load lifter straps. (You can ignore any old reviews that say it doesn’t have one.)

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 turning the Setout into a duffel bag if needed. Despite all these features, the Setout weighs only about 2kg or 4.6lbs, making it lighter than many other packs.

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.

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 heavier and bulkier. In the ‘advanced’ backpack category, I think the Peak Design and Nomatic bags are better than the Outbreaker.

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!

If you don’t mind spending just a bit more, then Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack is the backpack to look at first. I just think it blows other premium backpacks out of the water — even the much-hyped Minaals or Outbreakers.

Sure, if you’re a budget traveler then this bag may be overkill. But if you’re a serious or frequent traveler, then I highly recommend it.

Honestly, I think this bag is pretty 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. (No, I have not been paid to say this.)

Carrying the Peak Design 45 on a trip to Italy

I like that the design is thoughtful and restrained. Other high-end backpacks that I’ve used have tacked on too many features, leading to overly tight spaces, too heavy materials, or just too many extraneous elements. But not so with the Peak Design backpack, where every clever feature is truly there for a reason. It’s still lightweight and easy to access.

Despite its sturdy 400D nylon shell, which holds its shape when unloaded, this backpack weighs just 2.05 kg (4.5 lb). Its default capacity is 35L, staying well within any airline carry-on size limits. But if you need just a bit of extra space, you can expand it to 45L (by unzipping an expansion area), truly making this an all-purpose travel bag.

Using packing cubes with the Peak Design 45L

Peak Design travel accessories

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 and fit the backpack perfectly. You can read my full review here.

 

Osprey Farpoint 40

Perfect for backpacking and hosteling

Price $160

Pros

  • Front-loading (woo!)
  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Laptop & organizer compartment
  • Detachable shoulder strap included
  • Lockable zippers
  • Lightweight & budget priced

Cons

  • Not as many organizational features as other bags
  • 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 do think it’s an ideal backpack for traveling on a budget — I myself once took one on a 2-year round-the-world backpacking trip and loved it.

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. Otherwise, I’d have gone with an Osprey Atmos 65.)

Organizer and laptop pockets of the Osprey Farpoint 40

Many travel packs come with just a flimsy harness, but not so with the Farpoint 40. 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.

One downside is that it doesn’t have quite as many organizational features as, for example, 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. But at this lower price point, maybe you can’t really complain so much.

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

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

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.

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. 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? I do like the bells and whistles, but usually prefer a less compartmentalized design.

Still, this backpack was clearly created with digital nomads and business travelers clearly in mind. These are also the travelers who can carefully hone their packing methods over time — and get the most out of all those bells and whistles.

Nomatic 40L travel backpack internal organizing

Features like the shirt organizer (keeps your shirts wrinkle free) and the shoe compartment are perfect for business travelers. The bag pairs really well with a rolling suitcase with a pass-through sleeve, and the laundry bag is just a great hotel-room accessory.

Note that the updated version launched in September 2019 no longer has the triangle pattern on the outside and it has a slightly different heather gray interior fabric. I personally like these changes as it makes the bag a bit more inconspicuous and the design more timeless.

 

Standard Luggage Co. Carry-On

Fully featured carry-on (with a different style)

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.

Aer Travel Pack 2

Great all-purpose travel bag

Price $230

Pros

  • Loads of storage spaces Detachable waist belt (sold separately)
  • Sturdy material but easy access
  • Separate shoe compartment

Cons

  • Laptop compartment has no “hammock”
  • At 33L it’s not maximum carry-on size

The Aer Travel Pack 2 has a capacity of 33L, which 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.

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 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.

Best larger travel backpacks

Osprey Farpoint 55

TOP PICK for medium-sized travel bag

Price $180

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Too big for carry-on
  • Back panel of the daypack is completely flat

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 it if you don’t want to go for full minimalism and need a bit of extra 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.

I’ve travelled with this backpack extensively and you can read my full review of the Farpoint 55.

Size comparison between the Osprey Farpoint 55 and Osprey Farpoint 40

Left: the Farpoint 55 main backpack plus daypack (zipped off).
Right: the Farpoint 40.

 

Osprey Atmos 65

TOP PICK for campers, trekkers & backpackers

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. 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). Keep in mind though that this is a top-loading backpack, unlike any others mentioned previously on this page, so access is more limited.

The reason I recommend the Osprey Atmos 65 is that it has a good balance between carrying capacity and weight. It’s also way more comfortable to wear than any carry-on.

There are other hiking backpacks like the Osprey Aether 70, but they have much heavier frames. That’s good for carrying tons of heavy camping or climbing gear, but for the average hiker or backpacker, I think the lighter 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 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 excluded bags like the Cabin Zero which look nice and are inexpensive, but lack the features needed for serious travel.

I chose to list the backpacks above as they all have neat features and would be ideally suited for frequent travellers.

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.

Quick answer: Best travel backpack overview

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

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