Our Best & Favorite Travel Backpacks – Carry On And Full Size -Review
Your most essential tool when traveling and going outdoors is usually the bag you carry because of all the important things that go in it -- like, say, your laptop, your clothes, and all the other necessities for your journey.
That being said, we’ve taken the liberty of putting together the top choices in categories of Best Value, Cheapest, Best in Class, etc.
How to Choose Between Front Loading Vs Side Loading Backpacks?
The vast majority of backpacks out there are top loading, which simply means that the backpack is opened from the top with a zipper and your stuff is packed in. From your elementary school backpacks to the most recent hiking pack you purchased, top loading backpacks are certainly the most common design out there.
In recent years, however, several, outdoor manufacturers have begun to release side loading backpacks and top loading packs as an alternative to more traditional top loaders. These backpacks tend to offer a few advantages, including making it easier to pack and offering improved security. Because the entire front part or side part of the backpack opens, it tends to be more like a suitcase than a backpack. Furthermore, these packs are also generally more secure as it possible to attach a simple padlock along the zipper encasing.
On the downside, these packs usually do not have a frame and tend to be a bit more uncomfortable, especially for lightweight people who are looking for a pack that offers maximum support.
Top Picks for Backpacking In Europe
It’s easier than you think to bring the wrong bag on your backpacking trip around Europe.
Airlines hand out big fines for oversized or overweight baggage and getting one with a comfortable fit is very important. Trust me when I say you’ll be thankful for getting a comfy one when you’ve been trekking around cobbled streets for hours looking for a cheap hostel.
For your Euro travel bag, these are the two main things to consider.
The size and the weight.
You don’t want it so big that it becomes crazily heavy and tears into your shoulders but you also want to be able to fit all your stuff in it and not be left without things you vitally need.
We’ve already made a list of the top 10 best travel backpacks for the EU. They meet airline restrictions, are comfortable to carry for long periods of time and look cool too.
If you want a bag that won’t let you down, chosen by travelers for travelers have a look at our article here for more information on the topic.
Protect Your Stuff from Getting Stolen
When you are out in the middle of the wilderness, coming across another human being is one of your least concerns. Chances are that you are more concerned about coming face to face with a bear or a pack of coyotes. While that can certainly be scary, you know that those bears or coyotes are most likely interested in getting at the jar of peanut butter in your pack and not stealing your wallet or smartphone.
When travelling, however, your travel backpack is your lifeline, literally holding everything you own. Keeping your stuff safe from pickpockets (or shall we say “pick-packs”) should be a priority for every backpacker and world traveller. Finding a pack that incorporates essential anti-theft features will offer increased peace of mind, meaning that you can take a snooze on that cross country train trip across India without using your pack as a makeshift pillow.
Anti Theft packs should include features such as material that is cut-proof, secret pockets, hidden zipper enclosures, and a simple way to add a padlock to keep your pack impenetrable. You can read our post about not getting your stuff taken to discover the best anti theft backpacks on the market.
Should You Get A Detachable Daypack?
Getting a detachable daypack is always an amazing idea. It is really nice to be able to carry around a fairly small bag or check in your larger bag when flying. We suggest you check our article here to find a list of some awesome products we put together.
Some of the advantages of a daypack:
- Easy to carry around. Great for just poking around town in your new destination.
- If you have children, you can throw "kid stuff" in there during your trip.
- If you buy something, you can throw it in the pack, and not have to head home. It kinda sucks having to head back to the hotel to drop something off before going out to dinner or something.
Asia / SEA
Traveling around south east Asia with all your belongings on your back is something many travelers dream of.
The reality, however, can be slightly different from the dream. You’re shoulders ache as you try and squeeze through the narrow and packed streets. You knock some goods off a street vendors table and have to pay for it. Then you realize someone’s gone into your bag and stolen your wallet.
When going around Asia there are three qualities that you really want to make sure your bag has.
Imagine you’re making a transformation from a human into a tortoise. This will be your shell, always with you and always on your back. You want to make sure it’s a good fit, or you’ll learn to hate it and even learn to hate your trip.
Lots of streets in Asia are narrow winding paths crammed full of vendors trying to hawk their wares. Not only does having a big pack on your back make you stand out it can also really get in the way. There’s nothing worse than trying to squeeze through packed areas and hitting people with your bag. Luckily it’s easy to avoid, pack a bit smarter and bring a smaller pack.
Inner zips, hidden zips, and pockets.
People specialize in and base their whole career on catching tourists unawares and stealing their belongings. Whether this is by slitting the bottom of your bag open and emptying the contents, or subtly unzipping a pocket when you’re pressed together in a crowd, it’s never a nice realization that your stuff has disappeared.
Get a bag where you can keep your valuables inside, hidden and safe. Don’t take your eyes off your bag in a public place, stay alert and you’ll be fine!
Highest Quality For Women
Unfortunately, the best travel backpacks are designed with men in mind, they’re built for a males body and women’s needs are often overlooked.
If you’re looking for a women’s bag it can be much harder to find one that’s good quality and a good fit compared to when shopping for a man.
Luckily, although they’re not nearly as common, there are some brands out there who have designed bags especially with women’s needs in mind. Women have wider hips and narrower torsos and it’s worth getting a bag that has been designed for this body type.
A good fit is going to increase comfort drastically and reduce the stress put on your muscles. This can be a real game changer, especially if you’re planning on carrying heavy loads or trekking long distances.
Just as with any bag there are other things you need to look for too. Durability, size, the price and what features it has are all important. Most people agree the more separate compartments the better, you can keep your stuff organized more easily and don’t have to unpack the entire contents to find one item.
Finding a reliable brand that makes backpacks for women and makes them well isn’t a quick process.
Luckily we’ve already done the research for you.
We’ve found and reviewed 7 of the best travel backpacks for women currently on the market. Give it a read here - 7 Best Travel Backpack for Women Reviewed
All Around Pick for Carry Ons
Airlines are notorious for losing baggage or sending it halfway around the world by accident. This can be a real nightmare if you’ve got valuables or important documents that you can’t afford to lose in there.
That’s why it’s always best to have an under seat backpack that you can bring on the plane with you and keep anything important in. That way you know you won’t lose it.
It’s best to get a 20-21 inch carry on and not one any bigger as this is the normally the maximum size that airlines let you bring onboard. This might sound small but if you get one that’s well designed it’ll easily fit your laptop and other important documents inside.
With these kinds of bags, it’s definitely worth not skimping on the cost.
If you spend a bit extra and get one of the better laptop bags you’ll get one with much more padding and more features than the cheaper ones have. This’ll keep your gadgets much safer and reduces the risk of you opening your bag to find a broken screen inside.
The top business backpacks will have compartments for your laptop, your stationery, and your documents.
If you want a look at some of the best flight approved ones out there and can’t be bothered to spend hours searching around just check out the article we wrote. It’s got five of the top carry on bags available based on price value, quality and quality their features and is definitely worth checking out - What Is The Best Carry On Backpack? A Guide For True Travelers
Day Pack Anyone?
Another great option for a carry-on or if you need a bag to do "daily stuff" while traveling, we suggest you see our post about daypacks. Some of them are really neat and are even waterproof. Best of all, they are typically super small, they can easily fit into a larger bag you have to check in before a flight.
When you are checking out a new place it is really nice to be "hands-free" and just throw all your stuff into a bag. For instance, if you buy something, chuck it in your pack, you do not have to go back to the hotel/hostal and still be able to hit the bar later.
It is also great for families, if you have a hungry kid, it is nice to be able to reach into your bag and get a healthy snack to feed your younglings.
Durable & Sturdy Hiking Backpacks For Travel
Hiking is a pretty magical experience, out in the wilderness being at one with the nature. But when your shoulders are stinging and your bag is weighing you down it does take away the magic somewhat.
The best way to ensure comfort when on long hikes is by using either an internal or external frame. Each has its own factors which make them superior to the other but both make carrying heavy loads much easier and reduce muscle stress by keeping weight well distributed.
So which one should you go for?
Here’s a quick overview of the benefits of each -
The pack is kept tight against your back. This keeps your center of gravity in a natural position making it easier to stay balanced when scrambling around.
Packs that use an internal frame tend to have quite a large capacity inside them. This means you don’t have to worry about extra bits attached to the side falling off when going through the bush.
Shoulder straps are easily adjustable so they are a great fit for everyone no matter what your height is.
If you’re thinking of flying this is the one to go for. It’s much more compact than an external frame is.
However, like most things, there are some downsides to an internal frame too…
Using this type of pack can result in a pretty sweaty back because of how they fit to your back so tightly. Be prepared for sweat patches!
Although they tend to be considered superior to outer frames they are much more expensive and will cost at least a couple hundred dollars.
They also make it much harder to add additional equipment to the outside of your pack in an accessible and secure way.
- See our compete article that has goes deep in this topic.
- The pack is kept away from your back, increasing ventilation and stopping your back from dripping with sweat.
- These tend to be more suitable for hiking but less suitable for scrambling. This is because your weight is kept higher, causing your center of gravity to shift. This makes it easier to walk in an upright position but harder to walk bent over.
- You can attach bits of gear to the outside frame very easily. This can be super handy if you want something that you can grab quickly. Remember it’s out in the elements if it’s strapped there though so anything fragile keeps inside!
- They also tend to have way more extra little pockets you can use to keep your gear organized. Pretty handy so that you don’t have to root through the entire contents when looking for one small bit of kit.
- Cheaper! We all love saving money and these tend to be about half the cost of internal frames which is pretty sweet.
Of course, they have some drawbacks too -
- Shoulder straps are much harder to adjust meaning the height range which they are suitable for is much less.
- They are much bulkier. This extra size can make transporting them a real pain, especially on planes.
Whether you go for an internal or external frame is really down to personal preference as one most definitely isn’t better than the other.
What’s important is that whichever you go for you get a pack that’s sturdy and not going to break on you. If you’re thinking of getting a long distance hiking pack I’d really advise not going for unbranded cheap knockoffs as they just break and don’t tend to last long at all.
We’ve already reviewed some of the best that are out there so if you want to find some real gems just head over to that article - Tested & Proven: Best Backpacks for Hiking Reviewed
Lightweight Packs for Maximum Freedom
When packing for your next trip, chances are that you will most likely add to your pack several items that you will not ever use. Some gear experts estimate that close to 25% of backpack weight is dedicated to items that are seldom or even never used. Minimalist backpackers, on the other hand, try to get by with the absolute minimum amount of gear possible. Even if you are not ready to ditch your tent for a lightweight tarp, limiting the amount of weight in your pack while either traveling, hiking or backpacking is a great way to conserve energy, make travel easier, and learn the art of doing without all the extra stuff that society tells us we absolutely need.
Ultralight backpacks are one strategy to help you cut down on the total amount of weight your are carrying with you, thus helping you stay fresh as you hit the travel trail. You can read an excellent article about the best ultralight backpacks here in order to find the best options for your next around the world trip.
Great Packs for Short / Overnight & Weekend Trips
If you’re heading out on a short getaway you don't want a huge oversized bag weighing you down. Catching on branches and bumping into trees is not ideal.
You want something compact and lightweight but that still has a large enough capacity to store all your stuff in. That’s what makes the best weekend pack, one that gets the balance between compatibility and capacity just right.
The first thing you need to work out is whether to go for a small or medium-sized pack.
How big a bag you actually get depends on what your needs are. How much stuff do you normally bring with you on trips?
Other good features to look for are zip compartments, to keep your stuff organized and safe, and how many compartments it has in general.
You also don’t want to have to buy a new bag every year and this is all too common with some of the dodgy ones out there. Buy from a reputable brand that has lots of reviews and you’ll save yourself a heap of money in the long run.
Long Term Travel & Extended Trips
(Nomads & Vagabonds Only)
Whether you are cruising around SEA or getting ready to study abroad, choosing what to bring on a long trip is quite a different process than just throwing some stuff together for a short weekend.
It’s vital you get a backpack that’ll last your trip as replacing it on the way can be tricky and expensive.
So you’ve found a bag that looks durable, is big enough and you’re ready to dive in and get it. Don’t rush. This is going to be with you for months and months, it’s going to have everything you own in it, and you would never believe how attached you’re going to become to each other.
I’ve been long term traveling for a few years now and had the same pack the entire time. It’s been through everything I’ve been through and has memories etched all over it. The point is to pick a bag you already like the look of and your love will just grow and grow.
Comfort is also important and adjustable shoulder and waist straps are needed for this. Large backpacks for traveling can get tiresome on your shoulders and body. Everything you own being in one place means a lot of weight in one place. Make sure to pick one that’s known for being comfortable, it makes a hell of a difference.
Overseas travel is one of the best ways to see the world and experience new things. Get yourself a nice bag and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.
Should you get a Waist Strap?
When it comes to skipping out on a solid pack, one thing you should always try and get is a waist strap, in this article, we show you what you need and why it's really great. In short, the main benefit is for a long-term trip. If you are hiking up a hill in Thailand, it's really nice to have the additional support. It's funny how a strap can really make the difference and save your lower back from pain or throwing it out.
Ultimate Backpack That Opens Like A Suitcase
We put together an awesome post about wheeled backpacks. If you don't want to lug around a super heavy pack, we suggest you give it a gander.
Their is nothing worse than going for a trip, not checking luggage, being super tired and having to carry around a super duper heavy bag. This is where our wheeled friends come in, pulling these bad boys around the airport is always a good feeling. Let's face it, sometimes you are tired and don't want to feel like Conan pushing the wheel of pain.
Plus, most of them open up from the side, allowing you to more easily pack for a short trip.
Only recently have backpacks started to be designed with long distance traveling in mind. Before people would have to just use hiking backpacks even if they were going on a long trip and for many reasons, these were not ideal. Suitcase style backpacks bring the ease of access that a suitcase has without having to commit to wheel it around everywhere.
With normal backpacks, you often can’t get to your stuff at the bottom unless you unpack everything that’s in there. This can be a real pain if you're traveling around a lot and need to access your stuff frequently. Luckily, however, this is completely avoided with a clamshell backpack. By using a side loading instead of top loading system you can easily and quickly unzip the side, grab what you need and zip it back up, simple.
The best side loading backpacks still, unfortunately, have some flaws. Unlike hiking bags, they aren’t designed to be worn for long periods of time. The shoulder straps aren’t as well padded and they often don’t even have a waist strap. This means weight won’t be distributed as well on your body and if you're carrying it for longer than about an hour it’s going to start to hurt.
But, if your traveling from place to place by public transport or car these are ideal. If you're on the move often and aren’t going to be trekking around with your bag too much this is what you want.
What about Duffel Bags?
Backpacks certainly command the attention of most people when it comes to choosing a comfortable and practical way to carry your gear while on the road. While backpacks do offer numerous advantages, the classic duffel bag should not be relegated to oblivion Here is a decent read about some of the best carry on duffel bags on the market today.
One of the most obvious advantages of duffel bags over backpacks is that they are naturally suited to carrying larger objects. The simple one compartment and zipper might be preferable to people who can never seem to remember which of the 10 pockets on your backpack is holding their wallet and keys.
Obviously, carrying duffel bags for long distances will quickly get tiring. However, if you need a simple, practical way to carry your stuff between the airport and the hotel, duffel bags certainly fit the bill.
A couple of years ago during a backpacking trip through southeast Asia, my decade-old pack companion decided to finally give up his ghost. The shoulder straps, which had been resewn several times, finally breathed their last breath. Short on time, I headed into the local market to pick out a replacement pack that would hold my stuff and low me to get back on the travel path. After two days of hiking through the cloud-covered mountains of southern Vietnam, however, I noticed a strange, acute pain in my back. After a week, the pain got so intense that I actually had to call off a planned excursion into neighboring Laos in order to rest and recuperate.
It was not hard to make the connection between the shoddy market backpack and my sudden back pain. According to Harvard Medical School, a good pack should not hang more than a few inches below the waist. The lower the pack, the more weight on the shoulders (and back). The pack that I was using was hanging near my thighs, and the cheap shoulder straps quickly led to severe back problems.
Finding a pack that offers true and meaningful back support is a primary concern, and a lesson that I learned the hard way.
Best Value - For The Bargain Obsessed
In addition, the backpack’s rugged 600D polyester material is durable enough to withstand the rigors of life in the wilderness. There’s enough storage for camping gear and or storing a laptop in what the company calls a hydration sleeve. All this for well under 100 bucks isn’t bad at all!
Cheapest - Most Effective Bag For Those With Limited Funds
This Mountaintop 50L is only cheap in price, not in quality. This daypack offers some pretty solid features, including numerous stretchy pockets, an expandable collar, a big zippered front pocket, six compression straps, and hydration system.
As for the body, the bag has a sternum strap with emergency whistle buckle, padded and breathable mesh back panel for cushioned comfort and air circulation along your back. If you check most credible sites, you would see how this 50L bag is one of the top rated travel backpacks. All this acclaim for a fraction of the cost of most popular bags is pretty good for those strapped for cash.
Best in Class - For Ballers Without A Budget
Osprey makes some of the top travel backpacks on the market. So to no surprise, the Waypoint pack does the company great justice with its awesome suspension system and other advanced features. Firstly, the bag is crazy versatile, as it comes in two sizes — 65L and 85L. However, these bags come with a detachable 15L daypack so the main bags are actually 50L and 70L.
This daypack is worth your investment.Throw in a ventilated back, big compartment with fairly large side pockets, carry handles, and zip-away shoulder straps and hipbelt - you have one hell of a bag. Most aficionados or hiking enthusiasts should give you the head nod of approval for this one.
Best Bag For NoMads And Travelers
The Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack is definitely worthy of being that one bag that all nomads and travelers should have. If you check any one of the many lists that have travel backpack reviews, you will be sure to find this on it. The ACT Lite models are good-looking, light, yet reliable companions on any tour.
Not to mention, its twin lid buckles, spacious stretch side pockets and front compartment provide more options to store all your stuff and for adding some extra weight. This pack also comes with an optional flap that you can zip to section of the bottom area from the rest of the backpack for better organization of your stuff.
This bag is also great for hiking as it’s even hydration compatible like other packs seen on the market. Fore more information about the best hiking backpacks available on the market today, check out our in-depth guide that features Hiking Backpacks. Looking for an ultralight backpack for your next trip? We also created this great post to help you find the best one for your travel needs.
Best Looking - Most Swagged Out For You Fashion Conscious Types
It’s always a hectic time when the date fast approaches for you to go on your trip. So getting things together is the first order of business. Traveling to a different city or doing some moderate hiking doesn’t require the most durable of bag.
That being said, you want a bag that can hold its own and look good while doing so. For this reason, we think the Patagonia Black Hole 25L is easily one of the most stylish looking and durable best travel packs on the market right now.
This bag has a lot of compartments and interior drop-in organizer pockets that will help you fit all your needs. It has the great modern look most people love but with a little flare, due to it’s shiny patent leather material. This bag quietly boasts luxury fashion.
Top Travel Backpack Brands
It’s remarkable how much the industry continues to innovate when creating traveling backpacks. Although some great companies have been consistent in doing this for a long time, there are new kids on the block who are just as impressive.
As a result, customers benefit from the continued technological advances in today’s cutting-edge equipment. For this reason, customers are fortunate enough to be given a slew of backpack options that benefit the needs of a world traveler or the common city dweller.
Patagonia - Hola Sweet Lookin’ Bags
Patagonia beginnings came from a tiny region of south america, next to Argentina and Chile. Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's founder, got his start as a 14 year old climber in 1953.
Then he and his friends grew a love for repelling down cliffs, which began to lead into selling Chouinard gear in 1965. Since then, the company has evolved over the years, priding itself with offering all its great products at 100% organic cotton since 1996.
The North Face - Everyone's Doing’ it..
The North Face began as a San Francisco-based climbing equipment retail store, founded in 1966 by Douglas Tompkins and his then-wife, Susie Tompkins. However, in 1968, It was bought by Kenneth "Hap" Klopp.
The idea of The North Face originated after a hiking trip on the Eagle Mountain in Minnesota. The company has been around for more than 50 years after its humble grand opening.
Today, The North Face delivers an extensive line of great performance apparel, equipment, and footwear. It’s an iconic brand. You really can’t mention hiking equipment without uttering their name.
JanSport - Old Faithful
JanSport was founded in 1967 in Seattle, Washington, USA by Murray Pletz, his wife Janis "Jan" Lewis (for whom the company is named), and his father Norman Pletz. JanSport innovated with a panel-loading daypack, unlike traditional top-loading packs.
As as result, their great innovation is now seen with just about every other equipment company on the market. Not to mention, many of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s can remember people wearing their stylish colorful backpacks and fanny packs.
That’s why they’re a great trendsetter with so many stylish line of bags seen today.
Timbuk2 - AKA The Scum Bags….
Timbuk2 has a pretty unique story. The bag maker began in 1989 under the absurd name Scumbags, until it was later changed in 1990 to Timbuk2 Designs.
The company was inspired by the old-fashioned messenger bags first developed in New York for telephone lineman back in the 50’s.
As a result, for now 20+ years, Timbuk2 has been a pioneer that’s been trailblazing the way for innovative bags with stylish designs for streetwear. They’ve been doing this all by popularizing the messenger bag as an urban fashion accessory.
Hey Hipsters! Get This One!
Herschel Supply Co. is the new kids on the block we talked about. This company has been around for less than a decade (beginning in 2009), but has already become one of the best travel backpack designers in the industry.
HSC was created by brothers Jamie and Lyndon Cormack, and they adopted the name of the town where three generations of their family grew up. The company is based in Vancouver, Canada.
These bags and packs are all about style, if you want something trendy, this is for you.
Wondering about which popular products are better?
There are literally dozens of different outdoor manufacturers producing different travel backpacks and a whole host of other apparently essential travel gear. To the untrained eye, many of these backpacks, hiking shoes, tents, water bottles, etc., might appear pretty similar. From the pictures on their website, it can be hard to discover any sort of noticeable difference between two competing popular products.
However, when heading out to the wilderness for a two-week solo backpacking excursion, there can be a major difference between as 30 liter pack and a 36 liter pack. Learning how to properly size the volume of the pack you need could be the difference between taking along the pair of bulky binoculars that allow you to spy on a grizzly bear and her cubs from a safe difference or not. Thus, finding detailed reviews and comparisons of the most popular outdoor products and gear should be a priority for every serious hiker, biker, and outdoor junkie.
Here are some fun picks:
Packing and choosing the best travel backpack is never easy, and it’s imperative to have an idea of what the best traveling backpacks are before you set out for your journey. We suggest just going with your guy, get this out of the way and focus on your upcoming trip. I’m going to leave you with a final question that should help you decide what to do…
Do you want durability or fashion? (A bit of both?) Comment down below and let us know your thoughts!