Best Travel Backpack Buying Guide (What to Look For & Avoid)

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Travel backpacks have become the number one choice among adventurers. Whether you are planning a two-week vacation to Greece or a 2-month trip across Asia the comfort and mobility offered by travel backpacks can’t be beaten. Finding the best travel backpack for your trip is mission-critical.

They have become a symbol for the new generation of wanderers and allow you to easily get off the beaten path no matter your destination. 

Backpacks take the stress out of lugging your necessities through the airports, streets and back roads. Manufacturers have made them more organized, durable and comfortable to wear for extended lengths of time and you can now get them in almost any shape and size.

With that being said, it can be hard to narrow down what features effectively and efficiently suite your travel needs. What materials should you be looking for? What is the difference between front loading and top loading? What size constraints are there for a carry-on? 

In this article, we will help guide you through what to look for when shopping for the best travel backpack for you. 

Top Travel Backpacks for Men & Women:

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION 
Best Travel BackpackWomen's Osprey Porter 46 Backpack
-46 L Capacity
-Front load design for easy access
-Converts between backpack and duffel bag
-Carry on sized
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Best Travel BackpacksWomen's Nomatic Travel Backpack/Duffel
-40 L Capacity
-RFID safe pockets
-Hidden money pocket
-Weather resistant material
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Best Travel BackpacksWomen's Kelty Redwing 40
-40 L Capacity
-Excellent Suspension System
-Hydration compatible
-Easy access via U-zip
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Best Travel BackpacksMen's Osprey Atmos
-65 L Capacity
-Anti-gravity suspension system
-Several pocket options inside and out
-Zippered hip belt pockets
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Best Travel BackpacksMen's Kelty Redwing 44
-44 L Capacity
-Well padded shoulder straps
-Dynamic AirFlow system to keep your back cool
-Hydration compatible
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Best Travel BackpacksMen's The North Face Terra 50
-50 L Capacity
-Anti-gravity suspension system
-Hydration compatible
-Sleeping bag compartment
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Quick Answer: The Best Travel Backpack


Tips for Choosing the Best Travel Backpack

David Stock hiking in Kyrgyzstan - Best Travel Backpack

Size Considerations

There is something about human nature that tends to make us overpack when we plan a trip. There are so many potential situations to consider that we tend to pack for all of them stuffing our luggage to the brim with things we will never use.

This is where backpacks can be helpful. They force you to change your mindset and minimize the necessities simply because you don’t want to have to carry the extra weight. 

The size of a travel backpack is quantified by the liters of volume they can hold. The sizes generally range from 15 liters to 65 liters. It can be difficult to think about what you can fit into this range of sizes but here are a few tips. 15-30-liter backpacks are the perfect size for a day trip.

You will be able to fit an extra set of clothing, maybe a pair of shoes and a few other essentials. 30-45-liter backpacks are almost always acceptable for carry-on. These can be used for weekend trips or even longer trips for the ultralight traveler.

They aren’t too bulky and if packed properly, are not likely to become cumbersome even if you have to carry them all day. 

50-65-liter backpacks are made more for those that not only need to carry clothing and hygiene essentials but also extra gear. For example, if you are traveling but also plan to do a lot of hiking and camping, this may be the perfect size for you. 

David Stock on a wooden longboat in Darien, Panama

Front Loading v. Top Loading 

Top loading backpacks are probably what you are most familiar with. Think of your grade school Jansport where all of your books fit through the top hole into one main compartment. These types of backpacks are not ideal for traveling.

The reason for this is that they are much more difficult to organize and usually require you to empty out the contents when looking for an item that may have slipped to the bottom of the pack. 

Front loading is where backpacks meet the convenience of typical luggage. These allow you to zip open the face of your pack to access your content. These generally have multiple compartments and zippers to help organize and allow you to quickly and easily grab what you need. 

David Stock walking the streets in Stockholm

Getting the Fit Right

It is essential that you try on your backpack prior to purchasing it. This gives you the opportunity to see how the backpack sits on your frame, where it may rub, and how tall it is.

You don’t want a backpack that when full will loom over your head forcing you to hunch over as you walk. Many outdoor outfitters will also give you the option to weigh down the backpack in the store, so you can tell how the weight will be distributed while you carry.

There are a few universal features that will give you the perfect fit and maximum comfort out of any travel backpack you choose. 

Hiker in the Amazon Jungle

Think About Straps

The straps of the best travel backpack are going to come with a certain amount of padding to prevent the material from digging into your skin and causing blisters overtime.

However, these are not the only straps you should be looking for. 

Straps that clip and the waist and the chest will give you better weight distribution, taking the pressure off your shoulders and back and evenly placing it over your entire torso.

A padded hip belt will also keep the materials from digging into your waist and causing unnecessary discomfort. 

Lina Stock hiking in Kyrgyzstan - Best Travel Backpack

Internal vs. External frame

Many backpacks have made the switch from external to internal frames and with good reason. This is because external frames tend to be extremely rigid and uncomfortable due to the aluminum stays or bars that press against your back.

When deciding on a travel backpack it is always best to go with an internal frame even if it costs a bit extra. 

Lina Stock in Asheville, North Carolina

Additional Features to Consider

  • Water resistance: You can’t always predict the weather, so it is best to have a backpack that has received a waterproofing treatment to protect your belongings. Another great option is getting a backpack that comes with a rain cover. These are elastic and can cover your entire pack in case of a downpour. 
  • Ventilation: Even in cooler temperatures you can get sweaty carrying a backpack around town, especially where the pack lays on your back. To minimize this discomfort, look for travel backpacks with mesh ventilation that helps to keep direct contact away from your skin. 
  • Lockable zippers: The majority of thefts are due to convenience. Lockable zippers deter wandering hands from making a quick grab for your belongings especially on subways, in airports or on trains. 
  • Multiple compartments: Multiple compartments offer you a way to break up and organize your belongings making them easier to find and quicker to grab. 
  • Multiple external pockets: External pockets give you quick access to some of your most used items like your wallet, passport, keys, etc. Having easy to reach side pockets or back pockets will help you to grab these things easily without having to remove your backpack. You don’t want to be in line at the airport and have to take off and open up your entire bag because you forgot your phone inside. 
  • Convertible: A convertible backpack has the ability to transform from normal carry to a rolling suitcase when the need arises. The wheels and handle will add to the overall weight of the pack, but these can be useful for those that find themselves wanting the best of both worlds. 
  • Removable day pack: If you plan on taking day trips but returning to your lodgings in the evening a removable day pack is a great option. You can cut weight, carrying only the essentials during the day then strap it back on to your pack when its time to move locations. 
  • Laptop compartment: Even when traveling we never want to be too far away from technology. A laptop compartment will allow you to securely stow away your electronics in a padded zippered pocket to prevent damage. These are usually found on the front or back panel of a travel backpack. 

Best Travel Backpack Recommendations

Osprey Porter Backpack - Best Travel Backpack

Osprey Porter 46 Backpack

The Porter Series has set the standard for deluxe duffels. With padded sidewalls, convenient organization and a substantial suspension for backpack-style carry that disappears when checking bags.

The Porter 46 backpack brings a relocated and dedicated zippered laptop and tablet pocket and functional storage options for items both big and small with multiple access points. When a duffel isn’t enough and backpacking bags are too much, the Porter is the answer.

Specs:

  • Large panel lockable zip access to the main compartment
  • Cord loops to attach a daypack
  • D-rings to attach to shoulder strap
  • Stowaway Harness and Hipbelt
  • Nylon/Foam Backpanel
  • Capacity: 46 L
  • Weight: 3.4lbs

Buy your Osprey Porter 46 today! 


Nomatic Travel Backpack/Duffel

Nomatic Travel Backpack/Duffel

The Nomatic travel backpack was designed by digital nomads for digital nomads. This water-resistant 40liter bag comes TSA Checkpoint compliant in addition to a built-in laptop sleeve, multiple external pockets, and even its own laundry bag.

Front straps even allow this backpack to be easily transported as a duffel when you need to give your shoulders a break. It has a sleek design that can easily be transferred from work to the road and has over 20 features that make it the most functional travel bag ever. 

Specs: 

  • Frontloading 
  • Lockable zippers 
  • Detachable waist straps 
  • RFID protected external pocket
  • Removable laundry bag
  • 100% waterproof tarpaulin material and exterior zippers
  • Weight 4.55lbs
  • Capacity 40 liters

Buy your Nomatic Travel Backpack today! 


Kelty Redwing Backpack

Kelty Redwing 40

The Redwing 40 is the perfect size for quick getaways, whether on the trail or in the air. Hybrid-loading U-zipper design works as both a top loader and a panel loader, allowing easy access to all your gear.

An additional stash pocket on the front of the pack makes it easy to tuck away a jacket or hoodie, and inside we’ve updated the organizers for maps, electronics, pens, and other travel essentials. The hydration sleeve is a dual-use pocket that can carry a laptop without worries. 

Specs:

  • Single LightBeam aluminum stay
  • Dynamic AirFlow back panel
  • Dual Side pockets
  • Front stash pocket
  • Dual-use Laptop/Hydration Sleeve
  • Key fob
  • Removable waist belt
  • Capacity: 39 L
  • Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz

Buy your Kelty Redwing 40 today! 


Osprey Atmos Travel Backpack

Osprey Atmos 

The Atmos is one of the best-fitting, most ventilated and comfortable packs ever made for traditional backpacking trips up to a week or more in duration.

The innovative AntiGravity suspension makes it feel like you’re carrying less weight and seamlessly wraps around your body, which means you’ll enjoy every mile more than ever. 

Specs:

  • AntiGravity suspension
  • Internal hydration reservoir sleeve
  • Dual upper and lower compression straps
  • Zippered hip-belt pockets
  • Fit on the Fly hip belt
  • Capacity: 65 L
  • Weight: 4.56 lbs

Buy your Osprey Atmos today! 


Kelty Redwing Backpack

Kelty Redwing 44

Hybrid-loading U-zipper design works as both a top loader and a panel loader, allowing easy access to all your gear. An additional stash pocket on the front of the pack makes it easy to tuck away a jacket or hoodie, and inside we’ve updated the organizers for maps, electronics, pens, and other travel essentials.

The hydration sleeve is a dual-use pocket that can carry a laptop without worries. LightBeam™ single aluminum stay and Dynamic AirFlow back panel keep your load stable and comfortable. 

Specs:

  • Top stash pockets
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Hide-away Daisy Chain and Handle
  • HDPE frame sheet
  • Hex mesh back panel
  • Load lifter straps
  • Single LightBeam aluminum stay
  • Capacity: 44 L
  • Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz

Buy your Kelty Redwing 44 today! 


North Face Terra Travel Backpack

The North Face Terra 50

The North Face Terra 50-liter pack has a user-friendly design that’s slimmer, lighter and completely retooled for managing large loads comfortably during multi-day backcountry excursions. A variety of well-placed pockets improve access to trail essentials.

This versatile, mid-sized outdoor do-it-all technical backpack offers a super-comfortable suspension system and enough volume for multiple days out. 

Specs:

  • Vertical channel provides ventilation
  • Padded shoulder harness
  • Load spreading hip-belt
  • Capacity: 50 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs 13.3 oz

Buy your North Face Terra 50 today! 


David Stock in the Amazon Rainforest

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
  • Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw – Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.

More on Travel Gear:

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TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES

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Travel Gear & Packing: Check out our packing lists and travel gear guide to ensure you're bringing the right items on your trip.

Book Your Flight: Ready to fly? We use Skyscanner to compare prices and book flights. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap flights.

Find A Car Rental:We use Discover Cars to compare car prices, find deals and book rentals.

Book Your Hotel: Compare prices and book with our custom-built hotel search engine. You should also check out our tips for finding cheap accommodation.

Find Vacation Rentals: Search vacation rentals & apartments on VRBO for the best prices and options.

Protect Your Trip:Don’t forget your travel insurance! Protect your investment and yourself. Read Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

If you need more help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Step by Step Trip Planning Guide where we break down our process for getting the trip planning process right every single time.


About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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2 thoughts on “Best Travel Backpack Buying Guide (What to Look For & Avoid)”

  1. I would just get the cheapest one, and never too big, or you will automatically fill it with stuff that you don’t need.

    I actually just use my father’s old backpack, and I always see people with that fancy new gear slowing down or quitting a hike because they put too much emphasis and trust in equipment.

    But if you do buy a new backpack, I would go for a color that’s not popular. It helps to spot your backpack at the airport or bus stations and to not lose sight of it. And never in camouflage, because it’s so silly to lose your backpack in the jungle and not find it anymore!

    Reply
    • Everyone has different opinions on gear but at some point, in everyone’s travels, you’re going to have a new bag. Having new gear is not a reflection of people’s skills.

      Reply

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