With all of the options out there, finding the best travel backpack can be difficult. In an ideal world, any bag you pick would allow you to bring all of the gear you want, but the truth is that trade-offs must be made. The bigger the pack, the more stuff you can bring, but the more it will weigh. It will also be more cumbersome to carry for long distances. On the flip side, if your pack is too small, you may not be able to fit all of the essential gear you need for your trip.
We can’t tell you how much you’ll need to pack for your next adventure, but we have put together a list of the top travel backpacks in every size, and for every type of traveler. Whether you are going on a two-day hiking excursion or a three-month trip across South East Asia, you’ll find the best travel backpacks for your needs here. We’ve ranked them based on capacity, durability, price, comfort, and how well they can keep your gear organized.
Let’s dive in.
The North Face Jester is an affordable, yet convenient travel backpack that is ideal for short excursions or as a carry-on. There are two main pockets, complete with a padded laptop or tablet sleeve, and two mesh side pockets for smaller items and bottles of water. An elastic bungee cord allows for you to lash on some external gear that you want easy access too, like a flashlight, beach towel, or small travel speaker.
The streamlined design makes it easy to travel through crowded areas while wearing it, yet it is still large enough to hold a weekend’s worth of clothing. Those who are picky and about the look and style of their packs will appreciate that it comes in 25 different color options.
To keep you cool, there is a padded air-mesh back panel with an open spine channel for optimum airflow. When combined with the well-padded shoulder straps, it provides a comfortable, yet snug and supportive feel. There is also a sternum strap for those times you want a little extra stability.
- Sternum clip has an integrated emergency whistle
- Sturdy, padded top handle makes for easy lifting when fully loaded
- Backed by North Face’s impressive lifetime warranty
- For most, it won’t be large enough to act as their sole piece of luggage
- Zippers get stuck periodically
If the Direct Action Ghost Tactical looks to you like something straight off a military base, that’s because it was originally designed for the military and law enforcement use. You can certainly rest easy that this durable backpack will never fail during your travels. It’s made from 500 denier Cordura, which makes it abrasion and water resistant.
The interior is packed with tons of organizational pockets ranging from big to small, including pen, flashlight, and pocket knife slots. Along the front is a low-profile, laser-cut MOLLE system that you can use to strap on all types of additional gear, plus there is is a completely separated exterior pack lashed on with shock cords. You can stuff everything from helmets to rain jackets between the two packs and it will all stay firmly in place through your travels.
While it is a bit heavier than most other packs on this list, you’ll never have to worry about it splitting from being overloaded, so feel free to pack it with as much stuff as you can carry.
If you need a high-quality travel backpack that can fit a lot of gear and won’t break the bank, the Cabin Max Metz is probably just what you are looking for. At 44 liters, yet still built to meet international carry-on dimensions, it’s big enough to store all of your gear, so you won’t be stuck paying for checked baggage fees when you fly on those budget airlines.
It’s also designed with a water-resistant exterior to keep all your belongings safe and dry if you get caught in an unexpected downpour. What makes this one a little different than some of the others is its convenient panel-loading design, which means it opens like a suitcase for easier packing and unpacking. This also means you’ll never find yourself in a situation where you need to pull everything out of your pack to find a specific item that has worked its way down to the bottom.
In addition to a range of colors, it also comes in some really unique designs, like ocean, emoji, flag, and photo postcard.
- Extremely lightweight, at just 1.5 pounds
- Compression straps to pack it down tighter
- Material stands up well to constant use
- Doesn’t have a stabilizing chest strap
- Top handle isn’t super durable
- Looks a little boxy when fully packed
If you’ve got an extreme adventure planned and you are worried about your gear getting wet, the Cor Board Racks Roll-Top can help. It is a 40-liter, fully waterproof dry bag that floats if dropped in the water. Whether you are traveling through a tropical region in the rainy season or spending some time island hopping, there is no better way to protect your sensitive electronics and other travel gear from water damage.
Unlike most other dry bags, it has tons of padding on the back panel and shoulder straps, and features stabilizing chest and hip straps. This means it is comfortable to carry, even when fully loaded to capacity.
The front of the backpack has highly reflective patches to ensure you are visible at night. Just make sure to be careful when putting things in the front zip pocket, as it is just water resistant and not fully waterproof like the main compartment.
- Dedicated laptop sleeve
- Top and side clips to keep it securely closed
- Makes a great gift for boaters and fishermen
- Shoulder straps may rip if constantly overloaded
- Only available in two colors
Osprey packs are meant to be functional, yet minimal in design and aesthetics, and the Osprey Farpoint 55 travel backpack is no different. Its zippers reach far down on either side so that you have easy access to a large portion of the interior, and the shoulder straps and hip belt can be stowed away in a zippered compartment when not in use.
There are dual front mesh water bottle holders and dual front compression straps that you can use to pull all of your gear a little tighter. Not only does this help ensure you gear stays right where you packed it within the bag, but it also helps to loosen up the water bottle holders, making it easier to slide bottles in and out.
If the 55 liter version isn’t large enough for you, or it is too big, it also comes in 40, 70 and 80 liter models. For women, Osprey makes the Fairview series, which has pretty much all of the same features, but only comes in 40, 50, and 70 liter models.
To make the thing even more versatile, it comes with a zip off daypack for those short day time adventures. Both packs have lockable sliders on the zippers for extra security.
- Well-padded top and side grab handles
- Dual internal compression straps
- Large interior mesh pocket
- Could use a few more organizational pockets
- Hard to attach the daypack when the main pack is fully loaded
Kelty has been making outdoor adventure gear since 1952, so they know a thing or two about making a great travel backpack, and the Kelty Redwing 44 certainly lives up to their brand’s reputation. This thing is durable enough to stand up to any abuse you throw at it during your travels. In fact, the owner of WanderGoGo once dragged the 32-liter version behind his motorcycle for a couple of hundred feet and it sustained only minimal damage.
If you live by the motto “A place for everything and everything in its place,” then this is definitely the pack for you. It features two zippered side pockets, two mesh side pockets, a zippered front pocket, a stretch front pouch, a hydration bladder compartment, and a top stash pocket. There are also pass-through slots behind the side pockets for walking poles or tripods.
Running down the padded back panel is an aluminum stay that helps to keep the load stable and transfers a lot of the weight to the hip belt. This makes it effortless to carry for long distances, even when loaded to capacity.
- Functions as a top-loader and a panel-loader
- Hide-away Daisy chain handle
- Adjustable to a range of torso sizes
- Doesn’t have a built-in rain cover
- Cannot hide the shoulder straps
So, there you have it! These are the best travel backpacks we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in 2017. If you — or anyone you know — is looking for a reliable and comfortable pack to travel with, any one of these models would suffice. Just consider how much you like to pack and what extra features are important to you before making your purchase.