Choosing The Best Travel Backpack (Reviews & Tips)

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Peak Design Travel Backpack

Matt’s Top Choice

The Peak Design Travel Backpack is perfect for carry-on travelers who don’t want to check bags.


Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack

2nd Best Choice

The Osprey Farpoint has comfortable suspension and a simple layout for your gear.


Gregory Zulu Hiking Backpack

3rd Best Choice

The Gregory Zulu is a great travel backpack that also works for hiking & camping adventures.


As a professional backpacker, I get many questions about what’s the best travel backpack. There are so many to choose from! Here’s what I would pick, and why.

There’s something magical about traveling to new countries while living out of a backpack. I’ve been doing it for 10-years now, going through my share of travel backpacks in the process.

Getting lost in foreign cities, meeting new people, breaking out of your comfort zone, discovering different cultures, and having life-changing travel experiences is just part of backpacking.

Maybe you’re planning your own backpacking adventure soon — to South East Asia, Europe, or South America — and you need a good travel backpack to hold your clothing & gear.

But what’s the best travel backpack to take on your next adventure?

My goal with this backpack buyer’s guide is to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices that are out there — and pick the top travel backpack for traveling anywhere. Whether you’re traveling for 2-weeks or 2-months.

Here’s everything we’re going to cover (feel free to click to a specific section if you want to skip around).

Ultimate Travel Backpack Buyers Guide For 2021

Good Backpacks for Traveling
Tips For Choosing a Travel Backpack

Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks

1. Peak Design Travel Backpack – Matt’s Top Pick

Weight: 4.5 LBS (2 KG)
Capacity: 30-45 Liters
Load Range: 20-40 LBS
Colors: Black, Sage
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Peak Design Travel Backpack

The best designed backpack I’ve tested so far, the Peak Design Travel Backpack has loads of space, makes it easy to access your gear, and the quality is fantastic. It’s designed with packing cubes in mind, and minimizes the number of extra pockets located around the bag.

You can adjust the size of the bag from 30L to 45L depending on your travel needs. Backpack straps can all be hidden super fast, which is awesome. Another key feature is the ability to add a camera-specific packing cube that can keep your equipment safe, which is nice for photographers.

PROS

  • Front-Loading
  • Zippered Divider
  • Lifetime Guarantee!
  • Side Access
  • Fast Stow-Away Straps

CONS

  • Slightly Heavier Than Others
  • Sternum Strap Easy To Lose

EDITOR’S NOTE: I own this, as well as Peak Design’s Everyday Camera Backpack. I’m a big fan of their products because they’re designed really well, the bags are durable, and guaranteed for life!


2. Osprey Farpoint 40 – Popular Travel Backpack

Weight: 3.17 LBS (1.4 KG)
Capacity: 40 Liters
Load Range: 20-40 LBS
Colors: Grey, Red, Blue
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack

Probably the most popular carry-on travel backpack right now for GAP year travelers and hostel enthusiasts. The Osprey Farpoint’s front-loading design is super easy to use and holds a lot of gear. But the big draw is how comfortable it is due to a really good suspension system and straps.

The straps can be stowed-away with a zipper, turning this backpack into a streamlined travel bag with a padded carry-handle. The comfortable hip-belt makes it work well for day-hikes, and it’s not as “boxy” looking as other digital nomad backpacks. You can take it on a hike and not look out of place.

PROS

  • Front-Loading
  • Lockable Zippers
  • Stow Away Straps
  • Hiking Friendly

CONS

  • Oddly Placed Laptop Compartment
  • Bright Green Interior

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Osprey Farpoint is a great weekend bag that holds all the essentials, or everything most experienced carry-on only type travelers would want on a longer-term trip.


3. Nomatic Travel Bag 40 – Digital Nomad Friendly

Weight: 4 LBS (1.8 KG)
Capacity: 40 Liters
Load Range: 20-40 LBS
Colors: Black
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Nomatic Travel Bag

The Nomatic Travel Bag was created after a very successful Kickstarter aimed at minimalist digital nomad types who work while they travel. It’s full of design features that cater to this special demographic.

From a dedicated underwear pocket to power cord management, this carry-on backpack has thought of everything a millennial business traveler could ever want. It converts into a duffel bag and has a dedicated laptop pocket. It also easily attaches to a rolling suitcase.

PROS

  • Water-Resistant Material
  • Detachable Hip Belt
  • Front Loading

CONS

  • Some Gimmicky Features
  • Boxy Looking Design

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re a hardcore digital nomad or minimalist traveler, you’ll absolutely love the borderline OCD attention to detail put into this travel backpack. They have a pocket for everything you can think of!


4. Kelty Redwing 36 – Adventure Travel Daypack

Weight: 2.9 LBS (1.3 KG)
Capacity: 36 Liters
Load Range: 20-30 LBS
Colors: Black, Blue, Tan
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Kelty Redwing Travel Backpack

If you want a carry-on travel backpack with a more sporty style, look no further than the Kelty Redwing. This is also the lightest backpack of the bunch because it was designed as a hiking day-pack and overnight travel bag.

However you can cram a lot of travel gear inside, the perfect size for people who only travel with one bag. There are plenty of compartments for organizing your stuff. The hybrid U-zipper design is both top-loading and front-loading, allowing easy access inside.

PROS

  • Hybrid Front & Top Loading
  • Very Lightweight
  • Great For Day Hikes
  • Comfortable Hip-Belt

CONS

  • Casual Appearance
  • No Laptop Compartment
  • Hip-Belt Can’t Be Removed or Stashed

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a great backpack for travelers who hike a lot, and want something with an adventurous look. Kelty recently updated the design so it fits carry-on bag requirements.


Best Travel Backpacks For Hiking

Travel Backpacks for Hiking
Climbing Mount Whitney with my Bora 50

Traveling carry-on only isn’t for everyone. Maybe you are not an expert traveler yet, and need more space for your clothing. Or you prefer more adventure travel, hiking, and camping than the average backpacker.

Then you may want to check out the best backpack options for both travel AND hiking.

The backpacks listed below have enough space to accommodate a sleeping bag, tent, and cooking equipment needed for typical trekking and overnight camping adventures, as well as your travel gear.

1. Gregory Mountain Zulu 55 – Hiking Travel Backpack

Weight: 3.5 LBS (1.6 KG)
Capacity: 55 Liters
Load Range: 40 LBS
Colors: Green, Blue
Best For: Hiking & Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Gregory Zulu Hiking Backpack

The Gregory Mountain Zulu is a cross between a travel backpack and a hiking pack. Its cross-flow suspension system is wonderful at distributing your gear weight, with plenty of airflow to keep your back cool. Along with a traditional top-loading pull cord, the backpack also boasts a U-shaped front access zipper which is handy for travel.

Hidden inside the pack you’ll find a removable lightweight “summit bag” that can act as a daypack for shorter adventures, like going to the beach or walking around town. The hip belt is well-padded with two easy access pockets. This is a backpack that can handle all kinds of different travel situations.

PROS

  • Front Loading Access
  • Sleeping Bag Compartment
  • Raincover Included
  • Comfortable Hip-Belt

CONS

  • No Laptop Pocket
  • Not Carry-On Friendly

EDITOR’S NOTE: I own and occasionally travel with this pack. I use it for short overnight camping adventures that only last a few days. The front u-zip access helps reach your gear quickly, and when empty it lays flat inside my rolling duffel bag.


2. Osprey Atmos 50 – Comfortable Backpacking

Weight: 4.2 LBS (1.9 KG)
Capacity: 50 Liters
Load Range: 40 LBS
Colors: Grey, Red, Blue
Best For: Hiking & Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Osprey Atmos Backpack

The Osprey Atmos 50 is the perfect travel backpack for people who prefer more traditional overnight trekking or camping trips. Its best feature is the super comfortable AntiGravity suspension system that helps distribute the load on your body.

Additional handy features include a large front stretch mesh pocket, integrated rain cover, and a very lightweight design compared to other hiking backpacks. If you’re going to be embarking on a lot of adventure travel with equipment like a sleeping bag, hammock, or tent, this is a great bag.

PROS

  • Great Suspension System
  • Raincover Included
  • Comfortable Hip-Belt
  • Sleeping Bag Compartment

CONS

  • Top-Loading Only
  • Not Carry-On Friendly

3. Arc’teryx Bora 50 – Adventure Travel Backpack

Weight: 4.7 LBS (2.1 KG)
Capacity: 50 Liters
Load Range: 50-60 LBS
Colors: Blue
Best For: Trekking & Backpacking
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Arcteryx Bora Backpack

I’m a big fan of Arc’teryx outdoor gear. While it’s expensive, their attention to detail is unrivaled. The Arc’teryx Bora 50 is no exception. It’s a true adventure backpack for traveling in the backcountry. The coolest features are a composite frame and crazy comfortable hipbelt suspension system.

This backpack remains comfortable even with a lot of heavy gear. The pack itself isn’t very light, but the innovative floating hipbelt makes up for this in that it carries weight on your hips far better than others. Also, the fabric is already so waterproof that I don’t pack a rain cover.

PROS

  • Tough Rain Resistant Exterior
  • Crazy Comfortable Hip-Belt
  • Minimalist Design

CONS

  • Top-Loading Only
  • Not Many Pockets
  • Expensive

EDITOR’S NOTE: I own the Bora, preferring it for longer backcountry adventures, or for winter overnights, like when I climbed Mount Whitney solo. It’s extremely rugged and very comfortable. A technical hiking pack more than a travel one.


Top Travel Backpacks For Women

1. Osprey Fairview 40 – Women’s Carry-On Backpack

Weight: 3.2 LBS (1.4 KG)
Capacity: 40 Liters
Load Range: 30-40 LBS
Colors: Grey, Olive
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Osprey Fairview Backpack

The Osprey Fairview 40 is basically the women’s version of the Farpoint travel backpack. Great for GAP year travelers and hostel enthusiasts. Its front-loading design is easy to use and holds a lot of gear, with a comfortable (and stow-away) suspension system.

The women’s version comes in a few different colors and a slightly different female-friendly fit.

PROS

  • Front-Loading
  • Lockable Zippers
  • Stow Away Straps
  • Hiking Friendly

CONS

  • Oddly Placed Laptop Compartment
  • Bright Green Interior

2. Gregory Jade 53 – Women’s Hiking Pack

Weight: 3.4 LBS (1.5 KG)
Capacity: 53 Liters
Load Range: 40 LBS
Colors: Grey, Teal
Best For: Hiking & Travel Backpack
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Gregory Jade Hiking Backpack

The Gregory Jade is the female version of the Zulu. A cross between a travel backpack and a hiking pack. Its cross-flow suspension system is great for distributing your gear, with plenty of airflow to keep your back cool.

Plus that handy U-shaped front access zipper which is perfect for travel. The women’s version comes in a few different colors and a slightly different female-friendly fit.

PROS

  • Front Loading Access
  • Sleeping Bag Compartment
  • Raincover Included
  • Comfortable Hip-Belt

CONS

  • No Laptop Pocket
  • Not Carry-On Friendly

Best Camera Backpacks For Traveling

Camera Backpacks for Traveling
Great Camera Backpacks for Travel

So, what if you travel with a ton of camera equipment like me? Multiple cameras, lenses, a drone, etc. You may want a photography backpack.

To pack that expensive gear safely and securely, I prefer traveling with a dedicated carry-on friendly camera backpack and check a separate bag with my clothing and adventure gear.

LowePro Whistler 350 – Extreme Camera Backpack

Weight: 5.6 LBS (2.5 KG)
Capacity: 30 Liters
Load Range: 30-40 LBS
Colors: Grey
Best For: Adventure Photographers
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
LowePro Whistler Camera Backpack

The LowePro Whistler 350 has been my favorite travel camera backpack for years now! The special TPU coating can take a lot of abuse from the elements, and a large easy-to-use zipper allows you to open the camera compartment quickly, even with gloves on. The newer versions have a laptop pocket too.

It holds a deceptively large amount of gear, and I regularly carry it on airplanes loaded down with 30-40 lbs (don’t tell the airlines!). There’s a large front pocket to pack your lunch, a jacket, or even avalanche equipment. External gear straps can hold snowshoes, a snowboard, skis, your tripod, or anything you need.

PROS
  • Great Water Resistance
  • Holds Adventure Gear
  • Carry-On Friendly
  • Quick & Easy Access
CONS
  • Side Pocket Is Small
  • Expensive
  • One Color Option
This thing is a beast. My complete camera kit fits in here including the main camera, a backup camera, multiple lenses, my drone, and all the accessories. Plus a laptop for flying. A wonderful camera backpack for day-long hikes too.

Peak Design Everyday 30 – Travel Camera Backpack

Weight: 3.4 LBS (1.5 KG)
Capacity: 30 Liters
Load Range: 30 LBS
Colors: Black, Grey
Best For: Travel Photographers
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Everyday Camera Backpack for Travel

The Peak Design Everyday Backpack is a popular walk-around camera bag that’s great for lugging your camera equipment around cities, for day hikes, or as a carry-on camera backpack. The material looks great but is pretty weather resistant too.

It has three points of entry into the bag. From the top, as well as two side flaps for easy access to your camera gear without needing to remove the backpack completely. The MagLatch system leaves part of the bag open on the sides, because there’s no drawstring closure.

PROS
  • Good Looking
  • Fast Camera Access
  • Lightweight
CONS
  • Hipbelt Is Minimal
  • Straps Are Thin
  • Top Doesn’t Close Fully
While Peak Design makes a very stylish camera bag, it’s not quite as versatile & rugged as the LowePro is for more adventurous outdoor activities. It’s wonderful for city travel though!

Best Travel Backpack Reviews
Different Types of Travel Backpacks

Important Travel Backpack Features

WEIGHT – Obviously you want the lightest travel backpack you can find that’s also comfortable, because this will save your body from fatigue. The materials a backpack is made of can also affect its weight, and super light-weight fabrics can increase the price.

SIZE & CAPACITY – Backpack sizes are usually quoted in liters of volume they can hold. Generally, 15-30 liters is considered a daypack, 30-40 liters is big enough for a weekend trip or carry-on only travel, and 50-65 liters is for those who need extra clothing or gear.

FRONT LOADING – Hiking backpacks are usually top-loading, meaning you need to dig through them from the top to find your stuff. Travel-friendly backpacks are front-loading, so they zip open more like a suitcase and it’s easy to locate gear quickly.

STRAP TYPES – A padded waist strap distributes the weight of your backpack on your core, instead of just your shoulders. This helps avoid sore shoulders and back pain, especially when wearing it for long periods of time. Some travel backpacks also have padded grab-handles or a duffel-bag strap which is nice.

GEAR POCKETS – This is subjective, and everyone is different, but I prefer a minimal amount of pockets on my travel backpack. Some important ones include a quick-access pocket for things like keys, passport, sunglasses, etc. I also love when there’s a laptop pocket, and one for my filtered water bottle.

ZIPPERS – I prefer large, easy to use zippers on a backpack. Bonus points if they’re lockable zippers, specifically designed to be secured with a small luggage lock.

PROPER FIT – You could have the best travel backpack available, but if it doesn’t fit right, you’ll be miserable. Your torso length is more important than your height. Here’s a great backpack fitting guide.

LOOKS – Some travel backpacks are built wider than they are tall, making them look kind of “boxy” compared to hiking backpacks. It isn’t always flattering. But it’s ultimately up to you how important looks are.

WEATHER RESISTANCE – The material a backpack is made of can determine how weather-resistant it is. Some backpacks need a special rain-cover, others have rain-resistance built right in. You don’t want your gear getting wet!

CARRY-ON FRIENDLY – Airlines are starting to get much more strict about the size and weight of your carry-on bag. As a general rule, I wouldn’t try to bring anything larger than a 45L travel backpack for carry-on luggage to be safe.

What Kind Of Traveler Are You?

When choosing a travel backpack, it’s important to have a general idea about how you plan to use it. Generally, I split backpackers up into three different categories.

If you’re a light packer, you can actually fit quite a bit of stuff into a 40L carry-on backpack. However, if you lug around a lot of camera gear, camping equipment, or clothing — you’ll want a larger backpack to check under the plane.

Carry-On Backpackers

Carry-on backpackers prefer to travel carry-on only and hate checking bags at airports. They primarily visit cities on the “backpacker trail” with decent travel infrastructure like hostels, hotels, transportation etc. They might embark on the occasional day hike, but don’t need their own camping gear.

GAP Year Travelers

Gap year backpackers are students taking a year off to travel before university, or maybe recent college graduates traveling through Southeast Asia or Europe before starting their professional careers. Many are first-time travelers — inexperienced with packing light. They often need to check a bag because they tend to over-pack.

Adventure Travelers

Adventure travelers spend a lot of time in the mountains, deserts, and jungles. Maybe they like to hitchhike, and prefer visiting more remote destinations where they may not have a roof to sleep under. They pack their own multi-day backpacking and camping equipment to survive outside in the backcountry.

The travel backpack you choose from the guide below will depend on what kind of traveler you are (or think you’re going to be).

Travel Backpack or Suitcase?
Backpacking in Italy with my Gregory Zulu 55

Backpack, Suitcase, or Rolling Duffel

Traveling with a backpack allows you to get around hands-free using Google maps or buying train tickets, not to mention climbing stairs or tackling dirt roads is so much easier than with your typical rolling suitcase.

But it really depends on your travel style.

While I initially began my nomadic career with a backpack, as I’ve grown older, I now prefer a rolling duffel bag for most trips. It’s especially handy for traveling in cities and less tiring when walking on concrete.

I own a few travel backpacks but only use them for specific situations, like weekend-trips, or overnight trekking.

Now that I have a home base, I store these other bags away. But if you’re a vagabond living out of your backpack full time, you don’t have that luxury.

My Current Favorite Travel Bags

North Face Rolling Thunder – My current favorite travel bag with plenty of room, heavy-duty lockable zippers and a waterproof shell. A separate compartment for hiking boots, and big wheels for dirt roads & cobblestones.

Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack – While not the best hiking backpack out there, it’s lightweight and includes front-zipper access to gear. And more importantly, can lie flat in my roller bag if I don’t need to check both. Works great for travel too.

Lowepro Whistler 350 – My amazing carry-on camera & laptop backpack. I use this for day hikes with camera gear, but it has room for things like snacks, water, jacket, full-size tripod, snowboard, trekking poles, etc.

Arc’Teryx Granville 18 Tote – This is what I use as my airline approved “personal item”. Basically an over-designed water resistant tote bag that zips shut.

READ MORE: Best Travel Gear For Your Next Trip

What's the Best Travel Backpack?
What’s the Best Travel Backpack?

FAQ: Top Travel Backpack Questions

What’s The Best Backpack For Traveling Europe?

If you’re planning a backpacking trip though Europe, and want to know which bag to get, it will depend on the type of traveler you are. For carry-on only travel, I’d recommend the Osprey Farpoint 40. If you need more space and don’t mind checking your backpack below the airplane, I’d recommend the Gregory Zulu 55 or 65 Liter.

What Size Backpack Should I Get?

This really comes down to how much stuff you plan to bring, and how long you’ll be traveling. If you’re a first-time traveler, even with all the research & planning, you’ll probably pack too much! I generally recommend a 50-liter backpack for international travel. Maybe 65-liters if you plan to bring a bunch of camping gear too.

How Do You Pack A Travel Backpack?

Great question! I’m planning to put together a video showing how I pack my travel backpack, but until then, basically you want to make use of packing cubes to keep organized. Put the heavy stuff at the bottom, and near your back.

Happy travels, and let me know which backpack you decide to go with! ★


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Learn how to choose the best backpack for traveling. A travel backpack review guide.
Learn how to choose the best backpack for traveling. A travel backpack review guide.

READ MORE BACKPACKING TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on the best travel backpacks! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Have any questions about travel backpacks? What luggage do you travel with?

Drop me a message in the comments below!

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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