Whether you’re looking to sell all your things and backpack your way through Europe or simply find an efficient way to carry everything you need on a short family vacation, there’s no more practical choice of luggage than a travel backpack. The best travel backpack is one that will fit comfortably while still providing you with enough space to load in all of the essentials, and that means that there’s no singular best travel backpack available. It’s really going to come down to what you need for your circumstances.
That’s why we’ve cast our net wide for our guide to the best travel backpacks of 2020. Our review list shines light on some of the top models, but we also provide the information you need to shop like a pro.
- 10 Best Travel Backpacks
- 1. SwissGear Travel Gear 1900 Scansmart
- 2. Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Men’s Travel Backpack
- 3. Outlander Ultra Lightweight Travel Backpack Daypack
- 4. Venture Pal Lightweight Durable Travel Backpack
- 5. OlarHike Hiking Travel Backpack
- 6. The North Face Borealis Men’s Backpack
- 7. Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Weekender Carry on Backpack
- 8. Herschel Supply Co. Little America Backpack
- 9. AmazonBasics Carry On Travel Backpack
- 10. Wowbox Canvas Backpack Vintage Leather Travel Rucksack
- Travel Backpack Buyer’s Guide
- The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Travel Backpack
- Organizational Design
- Security Features
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What Backpack Should I Buy for Travelling?
- What is the Best Backpack for Travelling on an Airplane?
- What is the Best Backpack to Travel in Europe With?
- How Big of a Travel Backpack Do I Need?
10 Best Travel Backpacks
If your vacation or business trip necessitates you stepping foot on a plane, one of the top luggage options is the Travel Gear 1900 by SwissGear. It's designed to comfortably accommodate the carry-on regulations of every major airline while still offering you an expansive 31 liters of space for carrying all of your important things. That includes a well cushioned pocket that can hold a laptop of up to 17 inches in size.
But where SwissGear has really outdone themselves is in the ingenuity of their design. The laptop compartment itself is easy access so you can quickly pass your way through TSA checkpoints with the least amount of fuss possible, and the main compartment can adjust to perfectly fit the needs of and traveler thanks to its organizational design. There are even two breathable side pockets for holding objects that are unwieldy or that need to be easily accessible.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Osprey backpacks get a lot of love in the serious backpacking community, and it's about more than just brand loyalty. Their luggage is universally tough and durable and has a tendency to sport a comfortable fit for travelers of any build. The Osprey Farpoint 40 is no exception. This traveling backpack has just about everything you'd want out of luggage you might want to take with you on vacation. The main compartment opens up wide to give you easy access to everything inside along with two internal compression straps to keep all of your belongings safe and secured.
And the Osprey Farpoint 40 is a travel model that's equally focused on keeping your things safe from potential thieves. Sturdy straps protect the wraparound zippers of the spacious main compartment, and there's a separate zippered slash pocket that's also heat embossed. Both the top and side pockets are generously padded for your comfort while traveling.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Looking for something a little more lightweight and compact than the traditional backpack for travel? The Outlander is one of the best backpacks we've found for less intensive urban travel. Available in a compact 20 liter model and a more generous 30 liter design, this backpack is designed to last. The materials are abrasion resistant from two angles, and it makes use of some very tough SBS metal zippers to keep everything inside safe and secure even on more rigorous adventures.
And despite its more diminutive size, Outlander hasn't neglected the pocket design. In addition to the main compartment, this backpack comes with two side pockets, two front zipper pockets, and one internal zippered pocket for your organizational needs. Best of all, the entire bag can fold into itself, so you can use this as a backpack bag for your main piece of carry-on luggage.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
You'd really have to look far and wide for a more inexpensive travel backpack than the Venture Pal, and you can be pretty much guaranteed that any comparable model wouldn't match its standards of excellence. This travel backpack manages to maintain an incredibly lightweight design while still sporting a tough build. The nylon from which it's constructed is both tear and water resistant, and the shoulder straps are constructed from a breathable mesh material for a more comfortable fit even during long and exhausting hikes.
This travel daypack may not be as compact or lightweight as the Venture Pal, but it does fold into itself, so it can match well as a backup bag for your more dedicated overseas backpack. The main compartment comes with a separator for easier organization and is additionally accompanied by two front pockets with zippers and two side pockets for water bottles or umbrellas.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
If you want a travel backpack that will work just as well for hiking excursions or navigating your college or high school campus, the OlarHike could be the best model for you. It's one of the cheapest backpacks for travel on our list, but it certainly isn't lacking in form or functionality. Its lightweight daypack design will feel comfortable even during longer journeys, and it employs a double layered bottom to make sure you can carry everything you need without running the risk of ripping or tearing.
And this is a backpack that ensures you always have everything you need right at your fingertips. It employs eight multi-purpose compartments, three of which possess their own sturdy zippers. This backpack weighs less than a pound and can fold back into itself for easy carrying. The mesh shoulder straps are further strengthened by sponge padding to reduce the weight on your body.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The North Face has long been one of the most respected go-to brands for backpackers and hikers, and this backpack is a best choice if you plan on scaling some mountains or hitting up some hiking trails during your travels. It's a tough bag that isn't too intimidating or overburdened for the traditional traveler, and it contains some great conveniences for long journeys out into the wild. There's a dedicated hydration port for holding a Camelbak bladder, and both the primary and secondary compartments contain the means for organizing your travel gear.
And every aspect of this backpack has been designed with the comfort of the traveler in mind. In that respect, it's one of the best models we've seen. The shoulder straps are injection molded with FlexVent materials and then further strengthened with PE foam. The back panel is constructed from padded air mesh material.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
With a design that looks like a briefcase with straps, the Hynes Eagle looks like no other travel backpack on the market. But the uniquely squared off design serves a practical rather than an aesthetic purpose. It allows Hynes to offer a near best in class capacity or almost 40 liters while still being capable of fitting into the overhead compartment or under the seat of every major airline, and it's a backpack tailor made for use with packing cubes.
Four compression straps and inner tie-down straps allow you to load in more things while still remaining compliant with carry-on regulations, and it also includes a dedicated front pocket with organizer pockets for easily reaching important items like your passport or laptop. The back straps sport a hideaway design, and they're further padded with comfortable air mesh. This may be capable of carrying a heavy load, but it includes a sternum strap for added stability.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Herschel Supply Co. has quickly become one of the trendiest backpack manufacturers in the world, but their stylish and quality backpack models are as great for travel as they are for showing off around town. That's not to say they're a conventional choice. In a shift away from the standard travel backpack design, the Herschel Supply Co. backpack features an open top flap. While that limits your organizational options, it does provide you with accessible and wide open space and makes it much easier to just reach into your backpack and get access to a commonly used item like a camera.
For that reason, we generally recommend this backpack as a daypack or for when you're looking to pack light. If that's your intent, you'll find a lot to love from this backpack. The magnetic snap closure holds firm but can be undone with a single hand.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The name might suggest that the AmazonBasics backpack is all about the basics, but it actually offers a decent set of features that makes it a great choice for international travel. The internal laptop sleeve is nicely cushioned and comes with its own zippers for keeping your computer safe and secure. And despite having a look that vaguely resembles a more traditional suitcase, it features a flexible design that's also incredibly lightweight.
There's also both a front and a front top pocket, a best choice if you have items like liquids, a passport, or keys that you need to have ready access to. While there are a number of different ways to wear this travel backpack, you also have the option of adjusting it considerably to suit your needs. The padded shoulder straps are detachable and can be tucked away in the back compartment, and the sternum strap is also removable.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
The high-quality canvas construction of the Wowbox helps it stand out significantly from the other travel backpacks on our list, but that stylish retro design isn't the only thing this travel model has going for it. This is a top loaded bag with extra pockets at the front and on either side, and solid leather clasps hold the top securely in place while you travel. A dedicated interior laptop pocket can hold computers up to 17 inches in size, and it's both well cushioned with shockproof padded foam.
And Wowbox has done a good job of making things accessible while still keeping your belongings secure. A secret back panel gives you ready access to your most important valuables, and the buckle itself employs a magnetic design to let you reach your things easily while making it more difficult for thieves to do the same.CLICK HERE FOR PRICE
Travel Backpack Buyer’s Guide
So it’s time to plan your next adventure, and you want to find the perfect backpack for traveling. While it may not seem like there’s a lot to consider, finding the best backpack for your particular excursion may not be as simple as it seems at first. Fortunately, you have HotRate to help you.
We’ll start by helping you understand the pros and cons of a travel backpack and provide you with alternative types of luggage to consider. Then we’ll go into greater detail about the features you should look for when shopping for a travel backpack. Finally, we’ll address some of the most common questions regarding backpack travel.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Travel Backpack
Backpacks certainly aren’t the most common choice of luggage for most travelers. Especially with international travel, you’re far more likely to see travelers wheeling around a suitcase than you are to see them with a backpack strapped over their shoulders. But a travel backpack comes with a distinct number of advantages that aren’t available in more traditional luggage.
Most of these advantages gravitate around the amount of mobility that comes from a backpack. If you want to travel off the beaten trail and explore urban environments with rickety cobblestone streets or find luggage that you can use for travel and hiking, a travel backpack is an exceptional choice. They can transfer from the carry-on compartment of a plane to the overgrown trails of a jungle with absolute ease, and they’re also more lightweight and maneuverable, making hem a perfect choice if you have to run to your terminal or try to catch up to a departing train.
A backpack also offers the best means to organize the things you plan to carry with you on your trip. A larger travel backpack will normally come with a ton of pockets, and these pockets often include organizational components you can use to more carefully compartmentalize important possessions like a camera, laptop, or passport. And accessing the things you need is usually as simple as swinging the backpack over your shoulder, unzipping the zippers, and rooting through the pockets.
When we start digging into the features sections below, we’ll outline some of the most common security features that appear in backpacks, but even if a travel backpack isn’t designed explicitly with security in mind, they’re generally easier to protect than other forms of luggage. Since a travel backpack is secured to your back, it’s much harder for a potential thief to wrench it free from you.
Finally, while you may be purchasing a backpack for travel, it can be used for a lot more than that. While most travelers are unlikely to dust off their suitcase for everyday use, you aren’t restricted to only using your backpack when you’re ready to board a plane. A good travel backpack can double just as easily as a backpack for the school, the gym, or even the office.
While we think the features and advantages of a travel style backpack make them a perfect choice for a wide variety of travelers, that doesn’t mean that they’re the only option around. And for many travelers, a backpack simply isn’t going to be the best choice for travel. Weigh the following options closely when you’re trying to decide on the best option to take with you on your adventure.
A rolling suitcase is the type of luggage you’re likely to see at the airport, and there’s a good reason for that. Without the stress of backpack straps weighing on your shoulders, rolling suitcases offer a more comfortable experience in a lot of instances. The fact that they feature wheels means they’re smooth to operate when you’re in a traditional city environment, but they can quickly become unwieldy if you’re going on a more off-road adventure. And while a rolling suitcase often comes with great organizational options and some of the best capacity around, the fact that they’re on the ground means you’re belongings aren’t readily accessible.
If you prioritize capacity over organization, a duffel bag could be the right choice for you. Their lack of a firm frame and general absence of secondary pockets means that you can load a lot into a duffel bag, and that makes them ideal if you want to simply toss a week’s worth of clothes in your pack and be on your way. But this type of travel bag doesn’t offer the same center of balance as a backpack, and it can quickly become a burden if your vacation features a lot of walking where you’ll need to carry your pack. They’re also generally too large to be used as a carry-on bag. If this seems like the ideal choice for your trip, be sure to check out our guide to the best duffel bags available in 2020.
Wheeled Duffel Bags
Wheeled duffels are something of an odd beast, combining the convenience of rolling wheels of a suitcase with the lack of structure and more spacious design of a traditional duffel. These types of travel bags aren’t going to be the right fit for everyone, but if you plan on carrying a lot of bulk camera gear on the road with you and intend to do your work in a primarily city-based environment, you may want to load your camera and equipment in one.
We left these types of travel packs off of our guide to the best travel backpacks of 2020, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your consideration. This type of bag can often be used as a carry-on backpack, and while they tend to be heavier than a traditional backpack, they can shift freely between being worn on your back and being rolled along on wheels.
One of the most important traits when looking for the best travel backpack is a model that’s comfortable to wear. And while a travel backpack is almost always going to be more comfortable than a suitcase or duffel, there’s a world of difference between the best comfort features and the worst.
The most critical comfort factor when seeking out a backpack for traveling is how good the shoulder straps feel. They’re going to carry the majority of the weight, so you want something that evenly distributes that weight and evenly distributes the weight across your body. The best thing to look for here is contoured straps. Rather than digging into your shoulders, these straps will form more naturally to the shape of your back.
Also keep in mind padding here. This is a careful line to walk. Too much padding in a shoulder strap will add more weight to your shoulder and cause you to more readily sweat, while poorly padded shoulder pads are going to feel raw and rough. A shoulder harness is a viable alternate to traditional shoulder straps but features more commonly in a hiking backpack. Meshed straps do a great job of providing you with the support you need while preventing overheating, and that’s a quality you should look for along the back panel of your travel backpack as well.
A common comfort feature of a travel backpack is the sternum strap. This gives you a better sense of balance while still maintaining the lightweight design of a smaller backpack, and it can be the best insurance available if you find yourself sprinting across the airport concourse to make your flight on time. Even if you aren’t in a hurry, a sternum strap can redistribute the backpack and make it seem more lightweight than it really is.
A travel backpack also often features an additional set of straps around the shoulder area. Known as stabilizer straps, these serve the useful purpose of lifting your backpack up and taking some of the weight off of your body. The best stabilizer straps should be situated at a 45 degree angle from the primary straps or harness for maximum efficiency.
Hip belts are one of those features that are a little more hit and miss. If you’re carrying a lot with you, having the extra level of support on your hips can help a lot, but these straps are generally more useful for hiking. If you plan on going on a long adventure in the woods, relying on a harness and hip belt can help you significantly, but if you’re just carrying a daypack with you, they’ll probably be overkill.
But the most important consideration for travel, and one often overlooked, is the quality of the adjustable straps. Women and men often have different body types, so it’s important to make sure that the strap can be adjusted to suit your unique build. Unless you’re planning to travel at the last minute, we recommend that you take the time to pack up your carry-on bag, secure the straps, close the zippers, and try it on before you commit to a particular travel backpack. Fortunately, Amazon offers one of the best online return policies around, so it shouldn’t be a big deal if you have the time and patience to spare.
While we love the look and feel of leather (and it may be a good choice if you want a fashionable travel bag that you don’t intend to put through a lot of wear and tear), it’s generally not the best fabric for a travel backpack. Instead, you should turn your attention more towards adventure backpacks constructed from nylon and polyester.
Both of these synthetic fabrics are very lightweight, and they offer some pretty similar advantages, but there are a few notable distinctions between them as well. Nylon and fabric are both easy to care for and generally pretty tough and resistant to damage, a major choice if you’re going on a more high intensity adventure. The big difference here is that nylon tends to be a little bit stronger, while the natural water resistance on polyester is better.
The durability of both nylon and polyester are measured by what’s known as a denier level. The denier level, often represented as a number simply followed by an upper case D, refers to how thick each individual strand of fabric is. A higher denier level is always going to be preferable, but more durable travel backpacks also tend to be heavier overall. A high denier backpack also features a coarser and rougher surface, while a low denier backpack features a softer and silkier feel.
If you’re going to travel somewhere with a high incidence of rain, you’ll want to pay attention to water resistance. While nylon and polyester both offer some level of water resistance naturally, there are many models that increase that resistance considerably. Some travel backpacks are also constructed from what’s known as ripstop fabric. The ripstop reinforcement process can be applied to either nylon or polyester, and it helps reduce the risk of ripping or tearing.
Finally, be sure to pay attention to the other elements of the bag. While there’s no unified methodology for measuring the quality of zippers or stitching, customer reviews can tell you a whole lot about how high-quality these components are, and that can mean the difference between a daypack that lasts months rather than one that lasts years.
One of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself when looking for the best travel backpack is how large of a model you need. If you’re looking to take your travel backpack with you on a plane and would rather not check it, your options are (fortunately or unfortunately) somewhat more limited. And the simple fact of the matter is that if you aren’t using your travel backpack as carry-on luggage, you’re probably better making use of a more dedicated piece of luggage for your checked bag.
The carry-on size for most airlines is fortunately standardized at dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches. A little math can tell you that the carry-on size amounts to 45 liters of storage. That’s not enough space to get extravagant with what you bring with you, but savvy packers who aren’t afraid to travel light can really get a lot out of 45 liters. Just keep in mind that the number, size, and positioning of the pockets will limit how much space you actually have, so be strategic with your shopping and your packing or you could end up having unused extra space or having to leave behind some clothes or other belongings. If you’re right on the limits of carry-on size, compression straps can help you eke by.
If you’re planning on traveling locally or getting around by car, bus, or train, you’ll have a bit more flexibility in terms of size, but we don’t recommend venturing too far out of the recommended carry-on size. That’s particularly true if you’re going to spend your travel experience doing a lot of hiking or wandering through urban environments with your backpack loaded down. The size and weight of your bag can affect your comfort and center of balance, and for that reason, we recommend a travel backpack between 35 and 45 liters in capacity for most travelers.
That said, depending on your needs, you can adjust your needs accordingly. A backpack that’s 65 liters or larger is perfect for long hiking trips because they allow you to carry all of your gear, but carrying them is a much more significant trial. We’ve excluded these heftier bags from this list, but if you want to adventure in the great outdoors, you can check out our more general guide to the best hiking backpacks for men in 2020. If you’re only traveling for a day or two and are okay with a lighter load, you may be fine with a lightweight 25 liter travel daypack.
Also bear in mind that airlines list a maximum weight capacity in addition to maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag, and they tend to be very strict with these specifications. Getting a lighter backpack can change that somewhat, but it won’t have a major impact on the weight. But before you leave for the airport, be sure to weigh pack your bag and weigh it to make sure it meets the established specifications of your airline.
You may also want to consider a backpack like the Outlander. They shrink down to negligible size, so you could conceivably fold them up and stuff them into your more traditional backpack. That gives you the option to carry a main pack for traveling while also having a perfect and more appropriately sized backpack for adventure at your travel destination.
A travel backpack can come in either a top-loading or front-loading design. the best choice for you is really going to come down to how you like to travel.
The Herschel Supply Co. backpack that features on our list is a great example of a top loading travel bag. You preferably want to find one that uses clasps to secure the top compartment rather than a drawstring. They usually include several exterior pockets that give you easy access to the things you most readily need, and they tend to be more flexible in size than those in front loading pockets. But the more you stuff items into those pockets, the less space you’ll have left over in the main compartment. The design fundamentals here make this type of travel bag very easy to pack.
A front loading travel bag resembles the type of backpack most of us wore to school. A zipper encloses the majority of the front of the bag, allowing you to open it all the way up and get ready access to everything inside. But unlike a top loading bag, you can’t just reach in and grab what you need. If you’re going to make use of a front loading travel bag, you may want to consider seeking out one that comes with a lock or purchasing your own lock to attach to it.
Almost any travel bag you find is going to come with a wealth of other pockets, but bear in mind that the more pockets you have, the more limited the storage capacity for the main compartment. Mesh water bottle pockets on the side of bags are pretty common, and they tend to give you more space without limiting the capacity of the main compartment.
If you’re going to travel with your laptop, we highly recommend that you get a backpack that includes a dedicated laptop sleeve. Look for a model that offers a padded interior. Having an interior zipper can also be hugely convenient. Most manufacturers will list the maximum size of a laptop that the inside sleeve will fit so you can know ahead of time whether or not it’s suitable for your computer.
Apart from that, the positioning, size, and design of pockets can vary pretty significantly between manufacturers. Many pockets come with organizers built in, so you can adjust them flexibly to match your particular needs. The primary advantage of pockets is that they allow you to compartmentalize the different items you’re traveling with and quickly access the ones you need as you travel. Consider the design before making a purchase, and try to test out a backpack before you commit to it completely.
If you’re worried about pickpockets or other thieves while you travel, the best protection you can get is investing in a top loaded backpack. This style is much harder for thieves to get into, but you don’t have to fret too much if you opt for a front loaded model instead. There are a number of locks you can get to keep your belongings secure. To keep things safe, you may want to also look into investing in a backpack made from ripstop nylon or polyester. These will prevent anyone from slashing open your bag and taking what’s inside.
While we’ve included a few travel bags under $25 on our list, the majority of high-quality backpacks fall in the range of anywhere from $100 to $200. The cheaper models we have listed are perfectly good for what they are, but if you plan on traveling regularly, a higher investment is likely to pay off in the long term. There are some great backpacks for over $300, and they usually come loaded down with some really cool features, but these are usually targeted more towards serious hikers rather than casual vacationers and backpackers.
As with almost anything, the best option for saving money is to have patience and shop around. The major holiday weekends often offer deep discounts on backpacks, and you can sign up for mailing lists or check the Amazon listings regularly to see when models go on sale. If you find a backpack you love on our list, and you have some time to spare, bookmark it and wait until the holiday season to score a great deal.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Backpack Should I Buy for Travelling?
There are too many factors to take into consideration to make a single recommendation for traveling. But all 10 of the backpacks on our list offer great performance for their price, and they cover a wide variety of price points. You can use our shopping guide to help you identify the factors that are important to you.
What is the Best Backpack for Travelling on an Airplane?
We love the Hynes Eagle due to its highly functional design. It simulates the feel of a suitcase with all the advantages that come from a carry-on backpack, and it happens to be a reasonably priced choice as well.
What is the Best Backpack to Travel in Europe With?
If you’re going to be in Europe for an extended period of time, you can’t go wrong with the North Face Borealis. Not only does it offer some of the largest storage volume around, but it also delivers a comfortable fit for people of different builds.
How Big of a Travel Backpack Do I Need?
For ordinary travel where you want to use your backpack as a carry-on, we suggest a backpack size of anywhere from 35 to 45 liters. But if you’re just going for a weekend, you may be fine with a day pack. If you’re planning on hiking extensively or staying out in the wild for an extended period of time, you should opt for a larger size backpack.
There’s a lot more to buying a good backpack than you might think at first, but don’t let the detailed guide and the extensive list of reviews intimidate you. There isn’t a single backpack on this list that isn’t worth your money. Take the time to consider your specific needs and review the important specs, and you’ll find the perfect model for you in no time at all.