Looking for the best backpack for travel? Then it can be challenging to find one that ticks all the boxes!
A good travel backpack has to be comfortable, easy to organize, and durable as well.
I’ve been traveling for 8 years, so I know from experience what to look for in a backpack. I’ve also been reviewing TONS of backpacks over the last four years — and will share with you my favorites here.
Quick Overview:Choosing the Best Travel Backpack in 2020
- Available in 35L and 45L
- Excellent organizer compartments
- Great quality + value
WHAT SIZE BACKPACK FOR TRAVELING
While many retailers will often push you the biggest or most expensive backpacks, I think carry-on size backpacks are often ideal for most trips. It’s better to have something light and convenient, not something that will bog you down. Carry-on size also lets you save time and avoid additional luggage fees on some airlines.
In some cases you may, of course, need something a bit bigger.
Backpack sizes are typically expressed in liters (i.e., the volume they can contain). You’ll notice that travel packs sometimes have this number in their product name. Thinking in liters might not be totally intuitive, so here are my 2 cents on some of the common sizes:
Too small unless you’re going on a weekend trip, or you’re super minimalist. This size is usually for day-packs or commuter bags.
A happy sweet spot! Perfect for shorter trips but equally for trips lasting many weeks or months (if you know how to pack light). Ideal for traveling within one climate and don’t need to pack for every type of weather. This size is usually accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you time and check-in fees when flying.
Good if you need extra space. Not everyone is a light packer so some will prefer these sizes despite the extra weight.
NOPE. Only for trekking and camping expeditions. The internal support frames often already weigh several kilos. This is overkill for most travelers. But if you need to store a tent and other gear, this might be the size for you.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a light packer. In my guide to packing light, I show you exactly how I pack my carry-on bag.
Carry-ons (around 40 liters) are often the best backpacks for traveling — at least, if you’re staying in hotels, apartments, or hostels and don’t need to bring any bulky gear. You’ll end up with less weight on your back, more freedom of movement, and much less hassle.
BEST CARRY-ON TRAVEL BACKPACKS
TOP PICK for all-purpose travel pack
- Maximum carry-on size
- Front-loading (woohoo!)
- Excellent organizer compartments
- Laptop compartment at the back (good for load balance)
- Adjustable waist & chest straps
- Harness can be stowed and waist belt detached
- Zippers are weather-resistant but not rubber sealed
The Tortuga Setout is a high-quality, lightweight, and attractively priced backpack, making it my go-to recommendation. The design is quite versatile, making it equally suited to globe-trotting journeys and shorter trips. The main target market is urban/air travel, but I’ve also taken this bag into more adventurous situations (e.g. travel in Asia) and been super happy with it.
As of 2019 there are several Setout editions. The 35L and 45L versions have a larger capacity while staying within carry-on size limits. The Setout Divide is a more compact 26L size, but it can expand up to 34L.
All versions share certain features. Firstly, the clamshell design will give you easy access to all your stuff. The harness has wide straps making it very comfortable, while the back panel comes with proper padding and ventilation space. On the new 2019 editions, you’ll even find load lifter straps. (You can ignore any old reviews that say it doesn’t have one.)
The hip belt is nicely cushioned and has two zipped pockets, which is a handy feature normally reserved for trekking bags. For a traveler, that just means having two quick-access pockets whenever you’re on the move.
Don’t need that hip belt? Then you can detach the whole thing! The entire harness is entirely stowable as well, essentially turning the Setout into a duffel bag if needed. Despite all these features, the Setout weighs only about 2kg or 4.6lbs, making it lighter than many other packs.
The Tortuga Setout currently retails for $199 (via Tortuga’s online shop). Note that Tortuga doesn’t ship internationally, so if you’re not in the US you may want to scroll further and consider other backpacks instead.
Tortuga also sells the Outbreaker, which is aimed at professional travelers. It has increased weather-resistance and its harness can be fully adjusted to your height, but it’s also heavier and bulkier. In the ‘advanced’ backpack category, I think the Peak Design and Nomatic bags are better than the Outbreaker.
TOP PICK for premium carry-on travel bag
- Incredible design, full of beautiful touches
- Highly versatile (35L expands to 45L)
- Great materials & holds its shape
- I can’t think of anything!
This bag may be overkill for budget travelers (if you are, have a look at the Tortuga Setout or Osprey Farpoint) but if you don’t mind spending a bit more, then I think Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack is simply the best you can get.
Honestly, it’s close to perfect. Using it just feels good. All the little touches — like the magnetic pouches, hidden straps, and clever storage spaces — create a totally fluid experience.
I love that the design is thoughtful and restrained. Other backpacks I’ve reviewed tacked on too many features, leading to overly tight spaces, too heavy materials, or just too many extraneous elements. But not so with the Peak Design backpack, which has loads of features but is still lightweight and easy to access.
Despite its sturdy 400D nylon shell, which holds its shape when unloaded, this backpack weighs just 2.05 kg (4.5 lb). Its default capacity is 35L, staying well within any airline carry-on size limits. But if you need just a bit of extra space, you can expand it to 45L (by unzipping an expansion area), truly making this an all-purpose travel bag.
To get the most out of this backpack, I recommend getting the Peak Design accessories. The toiletry bag, electronics pouch, and packing cubes are just as thoughtfully designed and fit the backpack perfectly. You can read my full review here.
Perfect for backpacking and hosteling
- Front-loading (woo!)
- Comfortable suspension system
- Laptop & organizer compartment
- Detachable shoulder strap included
- Lockable zippers
- Lightweight & budget priced
- Not as many organizational features as other bags
- Ugly green interior (on some versions)
The Farpoint 40 is hugely popular in the backpacking scene. I see them constantly in hostels around the world. I do think it’s an ideal backpack for traveling on a budget — I myself once took one on a 2-year round-the-world backpacking trip and loved it.
I even took it trekking in the Himalayas for a week and had no issues. (Mind you, I was staying in guesthouses, so I didn’t carry a tent or sleeping bag. Otherwise, I’d have gone with an Osprey Atmos 65.)
Many travel packs come with just a flimsy harness, but not so with the Farpoint 40. It’s super comfortable thanks to a padded back panel, well-padded shoulder straps, and a full-size hip belt. Six different adjustment straps make it easy to distribute the weight along your entire back.
One downside is that it doesn’t have quite as many organizational features as, for example, the Tortuga Setout or Osprey Porter 46. I also wish the laptop compartment was placed at the back, where it’s more secure and better balances the weight. But at this lower price point, maybe you can’t really complain so much.
There’s also the Osprey Fairview 40, which is the exact same bag but with a women’s specific fit and a different color.
A bit less comfy than Farpoint, but better organization
- Excellent side-pockets and travel organizer
- Laptop compartment at the back
- Stow-away harness
- Stiff outer shell protects your stuff
- Harness more easily stowable… but also simpler and not as padded
- Not quite as easy to squeeze into tight storage spaces
The Porter 46 is an interesting alternative to the Farpoint 40. It seems designed from a different starting point; the Farpoint 40 feels almost like a down-sized trekking bag made suitable for general travel, while the Porter 46 feels like a duffel bag that got upgraded to a backpack.
It has padded walls that stand up, whereas the walls of the Farpoint 40 will fold in when not packed. It has more side-pockets and a better built-in travel organizer. But also its harness is thinner and not as well-padded, making it less ideal for heavier loads or walking long distances. It’s basically more of a city bag.
I think the Porter 46 is more suited for urban/general travel, while the Farpoint is perhaps better for adventure travel. The Porter 46’s frame is slightly clunky and wide and it isn’t quite as comfortable on your back, but it’s a lot easier to store your stuff inside and feels more versatile. It also does a better job of carrying a laptop. You can read my full review here.
Quick answer: Best travel backpack overview
Finally, a quick comparison of all the top backpacks mentioned in this post.
- #1 Tortuga Setout — Best Travel Backpack Overall (Carry-On)
- #2 Peak Design 45L — Best Premium Carry-On Backpack
- #3 Osprey Farpoint 40 — Best For Budget Backpacking (Men’s)
- #4 Osprey Fairview 40 — Best For Budget Backpacking (Women’s)
- #5 Osprey Porter 46 — Best Duffel-Style Carry-On Backpack
- #6 Nomatic Travel Bag — Best for Business / Digital Nomads
- #7 Osprey Farpoint Trek 55 — Best Larger Travel Backpack
- #8 Osprey Atmos 65 — Best Travel / Trekking Backpack (Men’s)
- #9 Osprey Aura 65 — Best Travel / Trekking Backpack (Women’s)
- #10 Tortuga Setout Divide — Best Laptop + Travel Backpack