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.
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.
Fall 2021 Update: removed the Tortuga Setout which is no longer in production; Tropicfeel Shell review coming soon
Key aspects to look for
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.
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.
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.
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
- Carry-on size
- Amazingly clever design filled with surprising features
- 35L expandable to 45L
- My top backpack if price is no concern
Cotopaxi Allpa 35 or 42
- Carry-on size
- Fresh and colorful design (black also available!)
- Fantastic internal organization (no packing cubes needed)
Osprey Farpoint 40
- 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 carry-on
- Amazing organizational features
- Opens up in two halves with laptop compartment in between
- 30L is a great medium size
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
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
- 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
- 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.
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:
TOP PICK for all-purpose carry-on travel pack
Price Starts at $200
- Fresh and colorful design
- Shoulder straps and raincover included
- Amazing internal organization (no packing cubes needed)
- The rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell is love-it-or-hate-it
The Cotopaxi Allpa is my top recommendation if you’re looking for that ‘just right’ balance between features and value. Starting at $200, it’s not as expensive as the professional backpacks like Peak Design’s, but it still comes with all the features you’ll need — whether it’s for a quick weekend trip or an epic adventure.
The Allpa immediately stands out with its range of funky Andean-inspired colors (the Cotopaxi brand is named after a volcano in Ecuador). There is also a black version if you prefer something a bit more understated.
There are two different sizes:
- Cotopaxi Allpa 35 is recommended for most travellers. It’s the best-selling option and it’s a bit more streamlined.
- Cotopaxi Allpa 42 is the version I reviewed. I travel a lot so I prefer bigger packs. I’m also quite tall so a bigger pack fits with my torso length. If you’re short, the 42 might be a bit large for you.
Both sizes are carry-on backpacks, though the 42 does push the limit of carry-on compliance.
The internal organization of this backpack is superb; it’s way better than the popular Osprey Farpoint 40. You likely won’t need packing cubes or additional accessories, as it already has to many pockets and sleeves. A rain cover is included as is a shoulder strap for duffel-style carry.
The Allpa has a clamshell design, providing easy access. One side features a big open compartment for clothing, the other side has three zipped cubes ideal for storing underwear, accessories, and so on. The Allpa has a very comfortable suspension system, with a height-adjustable hip belt that can also detach should you not need it. You can read more about the details in my full review.
I should mention that this pack doesn’t hold its shape when it’s empty, as it’s really designed to be a flexible/nimble adventure pack. The rubbery 1000D polyester outer shell can look a bit blobby when the pack is not full. However, this is mostly an aesthetic issue as this material is also very sturdy and fully rain-resistent.
The Allpa is the kind of pack that you can comfortably take on a backpacking trip, city-hopping through Europe, or any adventure big or small. You can compare the different Allpa versions here.
Osprey Farpoint 40
Perfect for backpacking and hosteling
- Lightweight & budget-priced
- Decent internal organization
- Comfortable suspension system (you can walk with it for hours)
- 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.
Nomatic 40L Travel Bag
TOP PICK for business travel backpack
Price $240 to $290
(Depending on accessories)
- 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
- 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, with a few caveats.
Firstly, the design is quite ridiculously clever and innovative. You’ll find more clever features on the Nomatic Travel Bag than almost any other backpack. This is even more true when you add 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 little bit cramped. This only happens if you overpack it, but sometimes I wished it was a bit less rigid.
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? Well, 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. Once you get into the habit of using the Nomatic as intended, 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 or digital nomads.
Pakt Travel Backpack
A 30L back perfect for minimalist travel
- 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
- 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.
Standard Luggage Co. Carry-On
- Suitcase-like design with color accents
- Loads of pockets and spaces
- Shoulder straps and raincover included
- 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.
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
Amazingly stylish and functional backpack for big trips
Price £250 / $345 / €285
- Super stylish design
- Very comfortable to wear; fully height adjustable
- Loads of space and pockets
- Integrated main pack + day pack system
- 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
- Adjustable suspension system (4 heights)
- Super comfortable trampoline-style back
- Integrated compression system
- 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.
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:
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.
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.
Good if you need extra space. Not everyone is a light packer so some will prefer these sizes despite the extra weight.
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:
- #1 Peak Design 45L — Best Premium Carry-On Backpack
- #2 Cotopaxi Allpa – Best All-Purpose Backpack (Carry-On)
- #3 Osprey Farpoint 40 — Best For Budget Backpacking (Men’s)
- #4 Osprey Fairview 40 — Best For Budget Backpacking (Women’s)
- #5 Nomatic Travel Bag — Best for Business / Digital Nomads
- #6 Standard Luggage — Best Suitcase-Style Backpack
- #7 Salkan Backpacker — Best For Epic Trips
- #8 Osprey Farpoint Trek 55 — Best Larger Travel Backpack
Other backpacks I reviewed:
- Osprey Porter 46
- eBags Mother Lode
- Tortuga Outbreaker
- AER Capsule Pack
- AER Travel Pack 2
- Boundary Supply Prima
- Cabon Zero 40L
- Osprey Farpoint 55
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