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Choosing The Best Travel Backpack (Reviews & Tips)

The Best Travel Backpacks
How To Choose The Best Travel Backpack
BACKPACKING GEAR

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).

Travel Backpack Buyer’s Guide

Good Backpacks for Traveling
Tips for Choosing a Travel Backpack

Quick Answer: Best Travel Backpacks Of 2021

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 getting stricter 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.

Best Travel Backpack Reviews
Different Types of Travel Backpacks

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).

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!

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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.

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3. Nomatic Travel Bag – 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!

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4. Matador SEG42 – Lightest Travel Backpack

Weight: 2.4 LBS (1 KG)
Capacity: 42 Liters
Load Range: 30 LBS
Colors: Black
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price

Matador Travel Pack

The Matador SEG42 Travel Pack is the lightest backpack here, and built out for segmentation of your gear into different areas. It offers quick access to your stuff while you’re traveling.

This is the perfect one-bag travel backpack for those of us with OCD! Organize your gear by type or activity. A large clam-shell opening for storing dirty/wet clothes or shoes, multiple zippered compartments, plus a padded laptop pocket. The whole pack is water-resistant too.

PROS

  • Water-Resistant Material
  • Multiple Compartments
  • Front Loading
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • No hip-belt
  • Thin shoulder straps

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5. 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.

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Best Adventure Travel Backpacks

Travel Backpacks for Hiking
Climbing Mount Whitney with my Bora 50

Traveling carry-on only (aka One Bag) 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 that work 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.

The hip belt is well-padded with two easy access pockets. This is a backpack that can handle all kinds of different travel situations, including overnight hikes.

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 suitcase.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

Victorinox Suitcase – Yes, a suitcase! Now that I often travel with my family, plus camera gear, I can no longer live out of just a backpack. This travel suitcase is super lightweight with a locking zipper and a durable shell. Love it!

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 suitcase if I don’t need to check both. Works great for travel too.

Peak Design Travel Backpack – My amazing airplane carry-on camera & laptop backpack. I can also use this for day hikes with camera gear, but it has room for things like snacks, water, jacket, a full-size tripod, and more.

Matador Packable Tote – This is what I use as my airline approved “personal item”. Basically an over-designed, packable, water-resistant tote bag that zips shut. Perfect to carry the stuff you’ll use on the plane most!

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

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


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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 about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

deepanshi chaudhary

Monday 20th of September 2021

I have to say You've prepared it so well, creativity at it's peak.... thanks a lot for sharing this, keep posting

Nic liu

Thursday 1st of July 2021

Great detailed article. I ended up going with the Wandrd Prvke. I was also considering the Peak Design or Nomatic but i just couldn't resist the looks of the Prvke haha.

Will try the Peak Design next!

Martin

Tuesday 30th of March 2021

All too heavy. I just want one compartment, light weight, and a chest strap or belt strap. I don't understand why people want millions of confusing comparatments that add weight. Airline cabin bags are usually 7kg maximum, so why have bags that take up 1.5+ kg of that?

Mike Hill

Monday 11th of January 2021

Would you be able to advise me on a backpack for 3 week hiking trip in Slovenia?

I have an Osprey AG70 at present but ideally I would like a bag that has:

Full front access (not just a J zip as on my bag now) top entry aswell, raincover that can double as an air travel cover (and so cover whole bag for air travel) excellent suspension like my AG70. (I tried the Farpoint Trek 75 but the suspension after day 10 on a trip round the alps was really not up to it).

Is there such a bag? The Mammut Trion Spine looked good but not rain cover and no air cover. Unfortunately I have to fly and an air cover is invaluable to giving my bag a chance of arriving undamaged. Ideally the cover would double as rain cover so I do not have to carry two.

Any help/advice much appreciated.

Khandaker Shahriar Amin

Sunday 10th of January 2021

Hello I like Peak Design Travel Backpack and want to travel with one bag. But I can not decide to buy it, because Qatar Airways - Economy Class customers are allowed to carry one piece of hand baggage, not to exceed 7kg (15lb). Size 50x37x25cm (20x15x10in).

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