If you’re planning a trip, a backpack might be in your future. There are hundreds of backpacks out there, each claiming to be perfect for your travel needs. How do you choose the right one? We’ll take a look at what to look for in a travel carry-on and run down our list of some that should work well for you.
Why is a Travel Backpack Better Than a Suitcase?
Whether you’re taking a weekend trip to another city or a six-month hiking trek, a travel backpack is the one piece of luggage that can do it all. It’s versatile, lightweight and durable.
Most backpacks fit into the standard airline size for carry-on bins. This makes them a great choice for easy travel since you don’t have to pay to check your luggage and don’t have to wait at the baggage claim to pick it up. A backpack gives you enormous freedom and flexibility, and those are great benefits when you’re traveling.
A backpack is also a good choice if the only traveling you’re currently doing is on your daily commute to work. It’s a lot easier to carry your laptop, documents, and wallet in a backpack if you’re traveling by bus or commuter rail.
What Should You Look for in a Travel Backpack?
You want a backpack that can stand up to the rough handling it’s going to get as you carry it through airports, buses, mountain trails and more. A backpack should be sturdy, durable and waterproof. Look for the following features that make it a perfect travel companion.
- Expandable space.
- Sturdy construction.
- Ergonomic design.
- Quality stitching.
- Ability to protect your items.
In this video, travel blogger Nomadic Matt explains the basics of selecting the features and price of a good travel backpack.
Will a Travel Backpack Hold Enough?
It will if you pack the right things and organize your backpack correctly. If you’re using a backpack to travel, you’re probably planning to travel light anyway. You may be planning a hiking trip or you may just want to avoid paying luggage fees. Using a backpack means that you’re trading convenience and ease of motion for a limited wardrobe.
The key to making a travel backpack work for you is to pack intelligently. Think about the activities you’re planning to do during your travels. Remember to pack basic items that can adapt to various situations. Think about layering and getting several uses out of each item.
Here’s a great video from the Pack Hacker, who explains how to pack as lightly as possible, even for an extended trip. Some of these tips, like using packing cubes to organize your backpack, are really interesting. This guy spent two years living out of one backpack, so these tips come from real experience.
What Size Backpack Do You Need?
Choosing a backpack starts with choosing the size that you’ll need. Backpacks are measured and sold according to their liter size, which can be confusing if you’re not used to thinking of them that way.
This video shows you exactly how much stuff fits into each liter size. It’s a great visual guide that will take the guesswork out of your backpack buying.
On the Andrew Uncharted blog, author and traveler Andrew makes a key point about sizes: “Important note for carry-on bags: The limit for a carry-on backpack is 45 liters on most major airlines. Keep this in mind when choosing your bag. You wouldn’t want to buy a large bag…and find out you can’t take it on the plane!”
Top 10 Best Travel Backpacks
Now that you know how to shop for a backpack and how to fill it up correctly, you can start looking at some of the better backpacks available for travel. This list contains highly-rated backpacks that you can find on Amazon.
Osprey is a trusted name in backpacks, and this model offers all the durability and convenience you need to make any trip easier. The backpack comes with a detachable daypack that comes in super-handy for day excursions from your hotel. It has locking sliders and a detachable laptop sleeve. The stowaway back panel can be used to stash the harness and other parts if you choose to put the backpack through as checked luggage.
Pros: The backpack is designed to hold a lot of gear while remaining lightweight and comfortable to carry. The panels, pockets and detachable daypack make it extremely versatile and easy to use.
Cons: Reviewers had mixed results taking this on as carry-on luggage. Some reported that it was perfect on most airlines, while others said they had trouble with smaller airlines.
At exactly 40 liters, you won’t have any problems carrying this on most airlines. It’s designed specifically for an easy fit in most overhead bins and under-seat areas. This backpack has padded, adjustable straps that make it comfortable to carry even when it’s packed full. A zip-up panel hides the straps to make it fit more easily into bins.
Pros: This backpack is perfectly sized for air travel. It is extremely well-made, with sturdy stitching and quality hardware. It is comfortable and easy to use.
Cons: Some reviewers found that it was not as adjustable as it was advertised to be. Others said they would have liked more or bigger outside pockets.
Timbuk2 started as a company that designed carry-on backpacks for bike messengers, and their products have stayed true to that sleek, urban style that’s also highly practical. This backpack features several quick-access external pockets, a compact size that’s expandable and a dedicated laptop pocket.
Pros: The backpack looks small but the expandable space is surprisingly roomy. Most users were surprised at the amount of stuff they could put into this backpack. It’s also a stylish backpack that would be at home in any environment.
Cons: Users complained that the security hooks on the front panel made for a useless, unnecessary step every time they had to reach into the pocket.
Get the ultimate in versatility with a backpack that converts to a rolling duffel bag, carry-on or wheeled backpack. Hypath says that you can carry this eight different ways. It fits in most standard airline carry-on compartments no matter how you configure or carry it.
The Hypath comes with a detachable daypack that you can use for day trips or scouting trips. It’s well-made with sturdy stitching and top-quality accessories.
Pros: The amazing versatility of this bag set makes it ideal for any kind of travel. You can use the rolling function when you’re at the airport or another indoor area and then switch to backpack mode when you’re in transit. It’s well-made, roomy and designed to get you in and out of the airplane quickly.
Cons: Some reviewers felt that the Hypath was not as durable as other bags designed for long, rugged travel.
This award-winning, a convertible backpack is already set up with several compartments that make organizing your clothes and electronics a breeze. You can use it as a small suitcase or as a backpack. It’s compact, sturdy and surprisingly roomy.
It has the capacity to expand slightly when necessary. It has locked rings, a front-compartment organizer for your personal documents and a mesh lining. It also comes in your choice of stylish colors.
Pros: This is a versatile, good-looking backpack that is easy to pack and suitable for almost any traveler’s needs. The color choices are a nice feature.
Cons: It’s more a backpack-style suitcase than a backpack that you could take hiking or trekking.
This is a well-made backpack that can take lots of wear and tear. The backpack features a laptop panel designed to make quick work of security screenings. It has plentiful pockets and two adjustable belts. The backpack has lockable zippers and an overall design that gives you quick, easy access to your items.
Pros: The Gregory is lightweight and comfortable to carry. You will find it a breeze to slip on and off.
Cons: This is a small backpack. It may not be a good choice if you’re taking a long trip.
This backpack stands out for its advanced security features. The compartments have RFID-blocking card and passport slots. RFID-blocking technology prevents identify thieves from scanning your personal information. Each panel has a slash-resistant steel mesh panel. Steel cables in the straps and locking straps add to the safety.
Pros: The safety features will help protect you against identity thieves, pickpockets, and bag thieves. It’s great if you want that extra peace of mind while you’re on the go.
Cons: At 32 liters, this is not a huge backpack. If you can fit what you need in it, you’ll find it useful and practical.
This roomy backpack lets you pack what you need while keeping its sleek, compact shape. It features a stowaway shoulder harness, lockable laptop and tablet sleeve, padded sidewalls and numerous compartments to make organization easy. This backpack will take you through any kind of terrain for any length of time.
Pros: The organization, ease of use and spacious size make this a great choice for long trips. You’ll have quick access to whatever you need while using this.
Cons: The larger size may not fit in all airline carry-on bins. Some reviewers felt the backpack was not that comfortable for long journeys.
The convertible backpack from Standard Luggage is designed for travelers who have a lot of ground to cover and don’t want to be slowed down. The bright orange accents make this distinctive-looking backpack easy to spot.
This backpack can be worn as a backpack, shoulder bag or duffel. It features ergonomic design in the straps, a ventilated mesh panel, and easy-access front pockets. This backpack expands from 35 to 45 liters.
Pros: The versatile design and rugged finishes make this a great choice for travel to different environments. The expandable size is handy, although keep in mind that the fully-expanded size might turn it into checked luggage.
Cons: Some reviewers found that it was uncomfortable to carry when packed to capacity. Others felt that it was not that durable.
This backpack is based on a design first created for the 1995 Mountain Biking Word Cup team. It’s been updated with laptop and tablet sleeves, spacious cargo size and many interior compartments including a hanging pocket and sunglass holder.
This is a no-nonsense backpack that’s securely stitched and extremely durable. You can use this for day hikes, daily commuting or a year of travel. It comes in your choice of great-looking colors.
Pros: This is a spacious, durable and well-made backpack. It is roomy and well-organized but still able to fit into most airline carry-on bins. If it’s not packed full, it can also slide into the airline under-seat area.
Cons: One or two reviewers said that this backpack feels a little bulky for its size. This made it uncomfortable for use as a biking backpack.
Other Items You Might Need
TravelWise Packing Cube System. This packing cube set comes in a variety of colors. It has five packing cubes of varying sizes that will make it easy to organize your carry-on backpack.
GOX Ultra Light 5-Piece Packing Cubes. This set is designed to be lightweight, making it a good choice for backpacks and duffel bags.
Grab Your Backpack and Go
Now that you know how to choose a backpack and how to pack it, there’s nothing stopping you. It’s time to get started on your next travel adventure.