Finding suitable travel backpacks is a challenge. This is most especially true for those who travel often and have a long list of requirements to meet. That, plus hundreds of misleading advice on the net can make anyone confused on what to purchase.
So how does one make the right choice?
There are many things to consider when you’re out shopping for a travel backpack. First is where do you plan on using it. Are you the international traveler? The weekend getaway type? Or the adventurous backpacker who travels for weeks in search of life’s meaning? ‘Purpose’ is what makes our every purchase worth the penny. So that’s the first step, and then comes the features.
Backpack features to watch out for
- Front or top loading
Many large capacity travel bags come with an opening at the top where you put your items through, thus the name top loading. This allows easy stacking of clothes. There are also front-loading bags. If you want to skip awkwardly reaching through the bottom to dig out something, you will want this style. You just zip open the bag and everything will be within reach. A definite plus point on convenience.
- Laptop/gadget compartment
It is ALWAYS great to have a separate padded compartment for your gadgets. Who doesn’t bring along a laptop or tablet these days during long-term travel? If you don’t, you can still use the space for a favorite book, journal or planner.
- Water resistant
Nobody wants water seeping into your bag. The down side of using a backpack for traveling is that it is more exposed. When it rains, you can’t always guarantee there is a place to get shade from. So the best thing to do is to find a bag that’s waterproof and possibly, thermal proof as well.
The top three are the most basic features you need to consider. There are also others like padded waist straps. If you are keen on long-term hikes, you will want a bag that helps distribute the load throughout your body instead of just your shoulders. There are also built-in lock mechanisms that help in ensuring your stuff are safe and secure. If you’re big on security, keep this feature in mind as well.
Our Five Favorite Travel Backpacks
Each person has their own unique sense of style and travel purpose. We know one style cannot be in the favor of everyone. So we gathered a list of travel bags that we think meet all the right features and can be used in all types of travel.
The OSPREY backpack line is one of the most popular lines today due to their stylish and efficient designs. The Porter 46, for instance, is designed for general travel whether you’re on the road for a weekend trip or onboard in a plane for a week-long vacation.
At first glance, it would seem like a duffel bag that’s been upgraded to a backpack. It has standing padded walls and lots of side pockets. Very awesome for those who love to organize their stuff for easy access. With a stylish design and several color options, it’s a perfect go-to bag for city travel.
Some the features we think make this backpack standout are the multiple side pockets and organizers. It is also front-loading and has a laptop compartment. With a hard outer shell, it can protect the contents as well as maintain its form. Aside from the sophisticated design, the Osprey Porter 46 is very sturdy in construction. Its hard shell prevents major damages from impacts that you might encounter during walks in crowded streets. If you have many valuables, this is the best bag to use.
One take-away for us is the hard outer shell. It makes storing the bag a challenge since it takes up a lot of space. Another common complaint with this backpack is the thin harness. Because it is lightly supported, the bag does not work great for very heavy loads. It’s great for short trips, but you’ll need a second bag for longer ones.
The Red Cloud 90 has been a long-term leader for large capacity travel bags due to its PerfectFit suspension. It is designed to efficiently distribute the load by having a fully-adjustable suspension so that the bag can match your torso length. This makes carrying more fit and comfortable with unmatched stability.
It has a capacity of 90L (the largest bag in our list) and has many compartments for all your gadgets, utilities, supplies, and even food. The best part, it can also fit a hydration pack. This way you don’t need to carry around a water bottle and just sip through the pack with its built-in straw. You put less work and are also contributing to environment efforts.
The bag is an over-all pack that can fit all your clothes, utilities, tools, gadgets, and even a sleeping bag. The top lid can also be detached and converted into a sling pack for your essentials when you need to leave the rest of your stuff. The zippered side pockets are more secure to drawstring or open ones for small items. Moreover, it has space for a hydration pack in case you need one.
The only complaint we have about this bag is that it’s too big for 2-3 days of travel. It’s not very practical lugging around a giant bag when you’re only visiting the city for a day.
This very durable travel backpack is all you need to go on an adventure. It has multiple dedicated compartments for everything you need and a sturdy, solid outer shell to keep your stuff from being crushed.
The Thule Crossover is advertised to last up to 25 years of use. If you need a bag that can stand the test of time, this is the choice for you. It is not just for travel but also for school or overnight trips. An all-around backpack that can withstand all the challenges of wear and tear.
What we really like about the Crossover is the compartments. The bottom has space for your gadget’s power sources, chords, and wires. The top front pocket can fit immediate items like sunglasses and keys. The main compartment is very roomy for clothes and bulky items. It is a suitable bag for those who are keen on organization. The heat-proof and crush-proof features are also a plus when you expect to travel to tropical humid areas.
We found that the thick straps are a little stiff and hard to wear for some. If you are used to unzipping your bags while wearing it, opening the zippers might prove to be difficult. Since they are very secure and sturdy, you’ll almost always need two hands to unzip them.
This is the backpack for a hiking or camping trip. It has all the essential pockets and compartments plus extra space for all your basic needs. At 65L, it is a huge backpack that can fit up to 70lbs of load easily.
The Atmos is a very stylish bag with many comfort features for the modern traveler. It’s got an internal hydration reservoir of up to 3 liters, zippered pockets on the hip belt, thick compression straps and a fully-adjustable harness for the best fit.
The backpack is a beauty. It is the number one choice among women due to its style and easy-load design. Even when you’re carrying another person’s worth of weight, the suspension on the bag will make sure that you remain stable and comfortable. Apart from its great suspension system, it comes with an integrated rain cover to protect the bag from changing weather.
The Atmos is great for trips that require you to bring a lot of stuff. But when you only have a few shirts to carry, it’s best to use a smaller bag. Since the bag’s main body is not adjustable, it tends to look sluggish and formless when it’s not filled.
For those who are looking for a classic travel backpack that can fit all your gadgets and clothes without looking like a hunchback, then the VentureSafe is the answer.
It’s not just stylish, but also very secure. The backpack has 5 anti-theft features. One is the Roobar Locking System that secures all zippers into one central point. You can also lock the bag on a secure fixture when you need to leave it for a bit. It’s lightweight, slick, and has compartments for your Macbook and other gadgets. It makes a great bag for business trips, school or short international getaways.
We love the fact that this backpack gives you the utmost peace of mind while traveling. It’s anti-theft features like the eXoMesh Slashguard keeps your belongings protected. It’s not to say everywhere is unsafe, but it is always good to be vigilant. It has enough space for your essentials and guards it well no matter where you go.
If there’s anything we didn’t like about this backpack, it’s a small capacity. It can be a good choice if you’re planning a short trip. But, most international trips take longer and you end up needing another bag to fit the rest. At most, the bag can store your most important essentials to safeguard them. Another concern is the stainless steel components the bag has for protection. It adds significant weight so the bag might seem to be too heavy for some.
Your Travel Backpack Size Guide
If you’ve done your fair share of backpack shopping, you will notice that the sizes come in liters. Here’s how you can figure out which sizes to pick for your upcoming trip.
- 30L and below – suitable for day trips.
Unless you’re a minimalist, you’ll need at least 30L for a day of travel. This size is usually for those that need a day pack or looking for a commuter bag.
- 35L to 45L – a good travel size.
It’s a good balance of slick design and large luggage space. Moreover, it fits the maximum capacity for carry-on luggage on planes. This means you don’t need to worry about check-in fees. While it is an obvious choice for short trips, it can be used for extended ones as well.
- 50L to 65L – ideal when you need extra space.
Not everyone knows how to pack light and it’s better to have more than have less when you’re far away from home. You might be paying additional check-in fees, but it will be all worth it if you don’t need to coerce yourself into buying the essentials that just couldn’t fit.
- 70L and above – for the hardcore travelers.
Due to their large capacity, the only time you get to use backpacks like these is when you’re setting out for month-long sabbaticals and expeditions. Their advantage is that you can free up your hands while trekking in difficult terrain. If you really need to carry a lot of weight, consider dividing them into two bags.
Why are travel backpacks worth the investment?
Travel backpacks don’t come cheap for a reason. In fact, the best ones out there cost a fortune. It’s mainly due to the fact that you are not just getting a space for your clothes. You are paying for years of backpack engineering that only aims to make your trips more convenient. Consider them as an investment. You spend $150 to $300 and get a reliable travel backpack to use for the years to come.
If there is something we learned from frequent traveling, it’s that “you get what you pay for”. Think about the kinds of travels you have in plan. Take a good look at our list of features and figure out what matters most to you. Find a bag that meets your requirements and you will surely enjoy many awesome, unforgettable travels.