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Published Feb 22, 2023 10:04 AM
Great travel backpacks are the ones you can take anywhere. They’re ideal for international travel, commuting, outdoor adventures, and more. The more uses and applications it has, the better. Even though that’s how I categorize the best of the best when it comes to travel backpacks, the categories below help break down a few of our top picks for packs that best fit those specific qualities.
When looking at travel backpacks, it is important to remember that while one or two on our list are suitable for backpacking, others are better equipped to be used for air travel, commuting, or paddling. The type of travel you do, your packing style, and the gear you need also influence the size and type of pack necessary. We rounded up and tested some of the best travel backpacks on the market—here are my favorites.
How We Made Our Picks
In reviewing and recommending the best travel backpacks, additional research was collected to narrow down possible selections once the categories were chosen. The packs that made the list were individually tested by the writer or reviewed by someone the writer trusts to give an honest opinion and testimonial. Other things such as company-specific research, industry knowledge of products and product design, verified customer reviews, and interviews with other users contributed to which packs made the list.
When choosing the best travel backpacks, specific aspects such as functionality, sustainability, versatility, and durability were all a priority.
The Best Travel Backpacks: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Exped Radical 45
- Material: 210D ripstop nylon, PU coating
- Capacity: 45L
- Weight: 1lb 8.7oz
- Dimensions: 25.2 x 13.4 x 9.1in
- Bluesign Approved materials
- Some materials are recycled/repurposed
- Converts into a duffle bag
- Theft resistant design
- Compresses down well
- Really only has one large compartment (like a duffle bag)
If you are in the market for a travel backpack that can double as a backpack for hiking, climbing, or other outdoor sports, then the Exped Radical 45 is worth considering. It has a unique yet simple design that provides a high level of comfort and versatility. It features one large opening comparable to a duffle bag and two smaller zip pockets on the sides. When worn as a backpack, the zipper sits on your back, providing a sleek look and making the bag more theft-resistant when traveling through crowded areas.
While it feels the most functional and is easiest to carry (in my opinion) as a backpack, you can turn it into a duffle bag. This feature may be ideal for people that want to use it as a gym bag or for a weekend trip to the cabin. The bag’s materials seem durable, especially with the ripstop nylon as the primary fabric. However, without a longer testing period, I cannot say how durable the materials are quite yet.
Overall, this bag is a minimalist traveler’s dream. It allows you to not only take it on a plane easily, but with one large compartment, it is also great for sports like rock climbing. The adjustability and versatility of the bag provide a design suitable for various uses. With the duffle-like zip opening, many will enjoy how easy it is to pack and unpack.
Best for Air Travel: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
- Material: Nylon
- Capacity: 45L
- Weight: 2 lbs 8 oz
- Dimensions: 22 x 13 x 11 in
- Lifetime guarantee
- Versatile expansion and compression features
- International carry on approved
- Shoulder straps don’t have enough adjustability and may be uncomfortable for anyone with a larger build
The Peak Design Travel Backpack is essentially the swiss army knife of travel backpacks. It features a space for anything you may need while you travel. When it is expanded to the largest size, it is 45L, and even at that size, it is internationally carry-on approved for all airlines. If you need a smaller bag or didn’t pack much for your trip, you can compress it down to be as small as 30L.
You can also purchase the Peak Design organizational cubes for additional organizational bliss. Although it has a classic backpack design, it is easy to access specific items with the dual access design and zippers on the bag’s front, sides, and back. The only downside we found with this bag is that it won’t be comfortable for people with a larger build or broad shoulders. The shoulder straps don’t have as much adjustability as we’d hoped. Otherwise, this stellar travel backpack is ideal for frequent air travelers or daily commuters.
Best for Commuting: Nomatic Travel Pack
- Material: polyester with polyurethane coating
- Capacity: 30L
- Weight: 4 lbs
- Dimensions: 6 x 12 x 18.5 in
- Also available in a 14L size
- Water resistant materials
- A variety of compartments to stay organized
- Carrying technology was highly considered in the design
Similar in design and quality to the Peak Design pack, the Nomatic Travel Pack is ideal for air travel and commuting. The stand out for commuting is the water-resistant design and technology-forward design. It has a quality protective area for laptops and a front compartment that makes it easy to keep other items organized that you may need easy access to throughout the day.
Since many commuters may not need a full 40L pack daily, having the compression and expansion options is nice. When compressed, the pack is around 30L in capacity, which is more than enough for a trip to the office. When it comes to organization and versatility, this is a stand-out bag as well. It can zip open like a suitcase, so if you plan to use it for travel and daily wear, it is an excellent choice.
Although it seems to be a decent quality bag, the only major complaint we have is that it should have a more inclusive lifetime warranty for the price. The water-resistant coating does wear off over time, and the exterior is prone to scratches. For the price, you are getting a very versatile and functional travel backpack, but we did expect a better warranty system at that price point.
Best Large: Gregory Baltoro
- Material: Nylon
- Capacity: 72L / 75L / 78L
- Weight: 4.96 lbs
- Dimensions: 28.78 x 19.37 x 9.65 in
- Large capacity
- Gregory repair policy
- Durable construction
- Good organizational features
- Capacity may be too large for some people’s needs
Travelers that need a pack that can carry them from place to place for months on end may be in the market for a higher-capacity bag like the Gregory Baltoro. The Gregory Baltoro is the men’s version of their Deva pack designed for women. Both packs offer a large carrying capacity which is great for extended trips or winter adventures.
It is essential to have a comfortable and functional design when carrying so much weight. All Gregory packs, but especially this size, distributes weight quite well when packed and sized appropriately. Along with ample interior storage, this design also features ten exterior pockets and has an integrated day pack. While this pack is quite fitting for this category, it still may be too big for some travelers. If this sizing is too large, consider other Gregory packs closer to 55-65L.
Best Waterproof: Matador Freerain22
- Material: Nylon
- Capacity: 22L
- Weight: 10.6 oz
- Dimensions: 19.5 x 10.5 x 7in
- Fully waterproof design
- Rolltop closure
- Packs down small
- Good adjustability
This small, lightweight waterproof pack is ideal for day hikes and to bring along in your luggage during any vacation. It packs down small when it is empty, so you can put it in a larger backpack or suitcase without worrying about adding too much extra weight or taking up too much space. While it is smaller than most other options on our list, with a capacity of just 22L, it is still a very functional design with several compartments to keep you organized.
The fully waterproof design is primarily why this bag was chosen for this category. While there are several other waterproof backpacks on the market, we liked the versatility and durability this bag offers. The rolltop access isn’t necessarily ideal for packing and unpacking items, but it does provide a very secure seal to ensure that all items stay dry. For the price, this is a quality product that is accurately portrayed in their marketing and performs well in all weather conditions.
Best Budget: Coowoz Travel Backpack
- Material: Polyester
- Capacity: 3-5 days
- Weight: 2.2 lbs
- Dimensions: 12.6 x 7.87 x 16.53 in
- Affordable price
- Good organization
- Available in several colors
- Works as a carry-on for most airlines
- Not the most durable or comfortable option
If you are on a tight budget but want a bag that has a similar design and functionality to that of the Peak Design or Nomatic travel backpacks, then the Coowoz Travel Backpack is a decent option. Bear in mind that while this bag will work okay as a travel backpack, the construction is not as reliable or as durable. It does not specify the exact capacity of the backpack, but it should be suitable for the average person’s 3-5 day trip. This bag is ideal for travelers on a weekend trip or who want to pack only a carry-on for a short vacation.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Travel Backpacks
Like any other piece of gear, the best travel backpacks are highly dependent on your intended use. Do you need a backpack for your daily commute on the train or by bicycle? Do you want a pack to use as you backpack through Europe? Or do you want a backpack that’s the perfect size as a carry-on for all of your flights?
As you narrow down your potential uses for the pack, you can start thinking about some of the other design features you deem necessary. For example, a fully waterproof design may be the best option if you want a pack that works for paddling. However, if you are using the pack for air travel, you may want the benefits of carrying a backpack but choose one with the functionality and storage of a suitcase.
Versatility and Design
The versatility of the backpack also depends on its intended use. Do you want a backpack that works for air travel and outdoor adventures? Something as simple as an Osprey daypack can work for both situations.
Then, as mentioned before, frequent air travelers are likely to favor designs that have nice padded straps but with a more functional packing design. So instead of having to pack and unpack from the top like most backpacks, it may open all the way up more similar to a suitcase.
Since the idea of a travel backpack means that you’re on the go, a lightweight design is a must. Even with ultralight backpacks, you want the materials to last a long time. Look at the quality of things that wear out quickly, such as the zippers, mesh, and straps. Consider if the company has a repair policy or warranty of any kind. Knowing how to do simple repairs on commonly damaged parts of a backpack will come in handy if you travel often, so you can fix the backpack while you’re on the move.
The comfort of the pack can also be determined by the design of the pack itself. If it is a larger backpack, does it have a hip belt to help distribute the weight for longer treks or standing in lines? Even if you’re just walking around a city, after 5+ city blocks, you’ll be glad you chose a backpack design that focuses on comfort.
Other design features that are worth mentioning include the compartments and openings. Are there separate compartments for a computer, a water bladder, or even to separate wet and dirty clothing items? Knowing your needs in terms of organization and packing style will help you narrow down the options.
Size and Functionality
To determine the size of the bag, you also need to consider the length of the trip and the type of trip. If you are a more minimalist packer, you may get away with using a 40L bag for a week-long trek. If you are looking for a travel backpack that will function for months of international travel, something closer to 65L may be best.
For bags larger than 40L, it is important to note that they are too large to be used as carry-on luggage on most airlines. So, you’ll need to check the backpack. If you’re primarily traveling on buses and trains, this may also be a consideration so you’re not carrying multiple bags.
Some travel backpacks have components that can be removed or added to change the size. This is an excellent feature if you want a travel backpack with more versatility.
Q: Is 45L enough for a travel backpack?
Yes, for most travelers, this is a large enough backpack. A 45L backpack is generally the largest size most US airlines allow as a carry-on, so unless you’re checking luggage, this is the size you want. An even safer size backpack is 35L to ensure all airlines will accept it as a carry-on bag.
Q: Are all travel backpacks waterproof?
No, not all travel backpacks are waterproof. Look at product specifications to see what materials and coatings the fabric has. If the pack is waterproof, the company will likely specify it in the description. It is more likely that the pack is water resistant, and you will need to carry a rain cover.
Q: Will a 40L backpack fit under the seat in a plane?
On most planes, no, a 40L backpack will not fit under the seat of an aircraft, and it is too large to count as a carry-on item. A 40L backpack is better to be used as a carry-on item than a personal item while flying.
Q: Is it better to travel with a backpack or a suitcase?
That depends on the trip and your personal preferences while flying. Some travelers prefer using a backpack because it is easier to carry around in airports and cities but can be more challenging to pack and unpack. A suitcase is often easier to pack, and if it has the right design, it is still very easy to get around. Ultimately, it is up to you and what you’re comfortable with during your trip.
Q: What size backpack do I need for a 5-day trip?
For the average person, anything 40L and above should suffice. Some travelers need more items due to their trip type, whereas others can pack more minimally. For backpacking treks, some hikers use packs as large as 65-70L for a week-long trip, especially in colder weather. The time of year, type of trip, and style of packing will all influence your needs in terms to pack size.
Where should I store my travel backpack?
It is best to store any travel or outdoor backpack in a temperature-controlled, low-humidity environment away from sunlight. They should be unpacked and kept away from other hazards, such as rodents and moisture. Hanging the pack in a closet is an excellent way to prevent bending or damage to certain components and keep them off the floor.
The Best Travel Backpacks: Final Thoughts
The best travel backpacks differ from person to person and trip to trip. Choosing the right pack for you can take some time, but we suggest looking into backpacks that offer a high level of versatility and durability. That way, you can get the most out of your purchase. Whether you need a travel pack for your next international trip or a backpack for outdoor recreation, we are certain you will find the perfect pack for you either here or within one of our other product roundups.