How To Choose The Best Travel Backpack

Backpacking Gear

As a professional world-traveling backpacker, I get a lot of emails asking about the best backpacks for travel. There are so many to choose from! Here’s my advice, plus tips for how to find your own.

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There’s something magical about traveling to new countries for the first time.

Getting lost in foreign cities, meeting cool people, breaking out of your comfort zone, discovering cultures different than your own, and having life-changing experiences.

Maybe you are planning your own backpacking adventure soon — South East Asia, Europe, or South America — and you need a good travel backpack to hold your stuff.

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

There’s no easy answer to this question. Different types of travelers will have different requirements and budgets.

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 go to a specific section if you want to skip around). Make sure to read all the way to the end for a chance to win your own free travel backpack!

My Travel Backpack Review Guide

We’ll get to the juicy stuff in a second (I promise!), but first, it’s important to understand what makes a backpack good for travel.

Why Listen To Me?

Experience! I’ve been backpacking around the world for the past 9 years as a professional travel blogger & photographer, visiting over 50 countries while living out of my bag. This guide is also completely independent, with no sponsored content.

Good Backpacks for Traveling

Tips For Choosing a Travel Backpack

How To Choose A Travel Backpack

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 duffle-bag strap which is a nice feature.

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.

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 overpack.

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 trekking 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

Osprey Farpoint 40 – Most 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 40‘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
  • Dayhike Friendly
CONS
  • Laptop compartment isn’t against your back
  • Bright green interior may put some people off

I still own an Osprey Farpoint 40, even though I no longer use it as my main travel backpack. It’s a great weekend bag for me that holds all the essentials, or everything most carry-on only hostel backpackers would want on a longer-term trip.

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Nomadic 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
Nomadic Bag Travel Backpack

The Nomadic 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 duffle 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
  • Expensive

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. Personally, I prefer a simpler design.

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Kelty Redwing 44 – Adventure Travel Daypack

Weight: 2.6 LBS (1.2 KG)
Capacity: 44 Liters
Load Range: 20-40 LBS
Colors: Green, Black, Blue
Best For: Carry-On Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Kelty Redwing Backpack for Traveling

If you want a carry-on travel backpack with a more sporty style, look no further than the Kelty Redwing 44. This is also the lightest backpack of the bunch because it was designed as a hiking daypack 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 Dayhikes
  • Comfortable Hip-Belt
CONS
  • Casual Appearance
  • Too Big For Some Airlines

This is a great backpack for travelers who hike a lot, and want something with a more adventurous look. But fully loaded, it might not quite meet some airline carry-on size restrictions. Usually you can get away with it though.

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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 look at the best backpacks for both travel AND hiking.

These backpacks have enough space to accommodate a sleeping bag, tent, and cooking equipment needed for typical trekking and overnight camping adventures.

Gregory Mountain Zulu 65 – Hiking Travel Backpack

Weight: 4.4 LBS (2 KG)
Capacity: 65 Liters
Load Range: 40-50 LBS
Colors: Grey, Green
Best For: Hiking & Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Gregory Mountain Zulu Hiking Backpack

The Gregory Mountain Zulu is a cross between a travel backpack and a hiking pack. Its crossflow 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 hipbelt 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
  • Sleepingbag Compartment
  • Extra Removable Daypack
  • Raincover Included
CONS
  • No Laptop Pocket
  • Not Carry-On Friendly

I own and travel occasionally with the 55-liter version of this pack. I use it for short overnight camping adventures that only last a few days. The front u-zip access is great to get at your gear quickly, and when empty it lays flat inside my rolling duffle bag.

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Osprey Atmos 65 – Lightweight Backpacking

Weight: 3.6 LBS (1.6 KG)
Capacity: 65 Liters
Load Range: 40-50 LBS
Colors: Grey, Red, Blue
Best For: Hiking & Travel
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Osprey Atmos 65 Backpack for Traveling

The Osprey Atmos 65 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
  • Integrated Raincover
  • Lightweight Design
CONS
  • Top-Loading Only
  • Too Big For Carry-On

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Arc’teryx Bora 50 – Adventure Travel Backpack

Weight: 4.7 LBS (2.1 KG)
Capacity: 65 Liters
Load Range: 50-60 LBS
Colors: Blue
Best For: Trekking & Backpacking
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Arc'teryx Bora Travel 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 so waterproof on its own that I usually don’t bring a rain cover with me.

PROS
  • Tough Rain Resistant Exterior
  • Crazy Comfortable Hip-Belt
  • Minimalist Design
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Not Many Pockets
  • Top-Loading Only

I also own the Bora, using it for longer backcountry adventures, or in winter weather situations, like summiting Mount Whitney solo via the mountaineer’s route last year. 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

Osprey Fairview 40 – Women’s Carry-On Backpack

Weight: 3.17 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 Travel Backpack

The Osprey Fairview 40 is basically the women’s version of the Farpoint 40 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
  • Dayhike Friendly
CONS
  • Laptop compartment isn’t against your back
  • Bright green interior may put some people off

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Gregory Mountain Deva 60 – Women’s Hiking Pack

Weight: 4.8 LBS (2.2 KG)
Capacity: 60 Liters
Load Range: 40-50 LBS
Colors: Plum, Green, Blue
Best For: Hiking Backpack
Price: Click Here For Latest Price
Gregory Mountain Deva Travel Backpack

The Gregory Mountain Deva is the female version of the Zulu. A cross between a travel backpack and a hiking pack. Its crossflow 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
  • Sleepingbag Compartment
  • Extra Removable Daypack
  • Raincover Included
CONS
  • No Laptop Pocket
  • Not Carry-On Friendly

Check Price On Amazon

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.

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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, and comfortable as the LowePro is for more adventurous outdoor activities.

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Travel Backpack or Suitcase?

Exploring Iceland with my Gregory Zulu 55

Backpack, Suitcase, Or Rolling Duffle?

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 base in Italy, 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 Personal 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 seperate compartment for hiking boots, and big wheels for dirt roads & cobblestones.

Gregory Zulu 55 Backpack – This lightweight, comfortable overnight trekking & travel backpack includes full front-zipper access to all my gear. It can also lie flat in my roller bag if I don’t need to check both.

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”. It’s basically an over-designed water resistant masculine tote bag that zips shut.

READ MORE: My Complete Travel Gear Guide

Backpack Giveaway

Win This Osprey Farpoint 40!

Win A Free Travel Backpack!

Congratulations! That was a long post, and to reward you for making it down this far, I’m giving one lucky reader a free travel backpack for their next trip.

Travel in style with one of the most popular backpacks for exploring the world these days, a carry-on friendly Osprey Farpoint 40L. This isn’t sponsored at all, I’ll purchase it for the winner myself.

OFFICIAL RULES

ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
The promotion is only open and offered to residents of the United States & Canada, due to strict laws regarding giveaways in different countries. I wish I could offer it to others, but legally speaking, it’s almost impossible to organize.

CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries and notified by email or social media on March 10th. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.

PRIZE:
The winner will receive a new Osprey Farpoint (or Fairview) 40L Backpack. The prize is shipped to the winner’s chosen address in the US or Canada. Customs fees are not included with the prize.

How To Enter Contest

Enter your name and email address below and follow the instructions.

You’ll have the option to earn extra contest entries (and more chances to win!) by completing certain tasks, like leaving a comment.

Have any questions about good travel backpacks? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.