The Best Travel Backpack Review
We know one thing for sure, everyone here at OutdoorGearLab is obsessed with traveling and finding the best travel backpack is high on our list! If you seek adventure across borders or if you simply travel domestically, these packs have the features you need to maximize your experience. The products in this review range from small daypacks that fit into their own pocket to huge load haulers giving plenty of room for extra souvenirs. For three months, we traveled, climbed, skied, and hiked, all while assessing each pack's comfort, features, packability, durability, and weight. Our goal was simple: test ten of the best travel backpacks on the market and find the best one.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Travel Backpack
Osprey Farpoint 55
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22
Top Pick for Extended Travel
Deuter Quantum 70 + 10
Top Pick for Versatility
Eagle Creek Deviate 60
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Analysis and Test Results
Purchasing a travel backpack can be super exciting, not only because you get a new piece of gear, but also because it probably means that you have a sweet trip in the near future! Before you begin your pack hunt, start by thinking through how you hope to use your new bag. Will it be primarily for business trips? Are you planning a mega, year-long, round-the-world adventure? Do you see yourself using this bag for hiking and other outdoor activities or solely for city-to-city travel? Once you've determined how you want to use the pack, consider whether a travel backpack is the best option for you. Keep in mind that a backpacking backpack can double really well as a backpack for traveling. Even though it may not have as many travel-specific features as a travel backpack, a backpacking pack will definitely hold and transport all your stuff, which is the most basic point, right?
In many cases, backpacking packs will allow you to tote around heavier loads more comfortably; however, not all backpacking packs have the special features that make travel packs appealing, especially since they are often more difficult to pack and unpack. You may also want to look at our duffel bag review, since many of these pieces have backpack-style shoulder straps for easy carrying. Ultimately, our reviewers discovered that the travel packs in this review have many useful, well-designed features that help make travel even simpler. Can you live without them? Absolutely. Is a travel backpack the best bag for your next trip? It could be, but remember that just because you're traveling doesn't mean that you need a travel-specific pack. It may turn out that a backpacking pack would better suit your needs. Read on as we talk about some of the awesome reasons you might want a travel backpack.
Types of Travel Backpacks
The Personal Item
Looking for something to hold your essentials beneath the seatback in front of you? Generally speaking, bags smaller than 9" x 10" x 17" fit into this category. These bags are usually smaller than 25 liters in volume. Personal item sized packs like the Tumi Alpha Bravo Cannon have enough volume to hold a laptop, power supply, extra jacket, book, toiletry bag, and tablet. This bag makes an excellent personal item
If you travel light and want to simplify your travel, carry-on sized backpacks are a terrific choice. For many airlines, these bags must be less than 22" x 14" x 9" or less than 45 cumulative inches. Typically these bags will be less than 45 liters in size. If you can pack light, you can easily travel for weeks in a bag this small. If love bringing bulky items like hair dryers or 4 pairs of shoes, you may need to supplement a carry-on sized bag with something bigger. The Eagle Creek Deviate 60 fits in this category when the brain and daypack are removed. Our lead tester for this review spent two weeks traveling in Peru with a sub-40 liter pack and a small personal item pack. He felt this was the perfect amount of space for lightweight adventure backpacking.
The Checked Bag
If you love carrying extras of everything, or you're traveling for long periods of time, you'll want a pack greater than 50 liters in size. The largest pack in this review is the Deuter Quantum 70 + 10 and it holds a whopping 90 liters when the detachable daypack is utilized. Be sure to check the weight of your checked bags before you leave home. Bags that weigh over 50 lbs will likely be subject to oversized baggage fees.
Alternatives to Travel Backpacks
There are a few alternatives that we examine below: duffel bags, carry-on bags, daypacks and laptop backpacks. If you are looking for a bigger pack to take into the backcountry then check out our reviews of The Best Backpacking Backpack and The Best Women's Backpacking Backpack.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel is more tear and scuff resistant, lightweight and compressible than a travel backpack. Duffel bags with side compression straps are very versatile and can be compressed to meet overhead bin requirements or expanded to make packing easier. Cost in another factor: most duffel bags are relatively inexpensive. That said, even duffle bags with the best carrying straps are not that comfortable for more than an hour on your back. See our full Duffel Bag Review.
Carry-on luggage Review.
Travel Checklist, we whittle it down to just the essentials and rarely carry more. One pair of really good shoes, one pair of jeans, etc etc. When you pack like that, you can use a daypack that fits under the airplane, bus or taxi seat. Focus on the travel, not on the luggage logistics. That said, for a really long trip or one that goes through very cold climates, you might NEED the extra space of a travel backpack. Or you just love to bring a lot of stuff. That's fair. See our Daypack Review.
Patagonia Arbor on his mission to see The New 7 Wonders of The World in 13 days. The video of that adventure is below. See our complete Laptop Backpack Review.
Uses for Travel packs
The demands of traveling are as varied as the places you can go! Below we go through several uses for travel packs and make specific recommendations.
Replacement for Luggage
Travel packs can be a great alternative to traditional rolling luggage. The ability to carry all your stuff on your back means that you can stay hands free while navigating through tight crowds or use your hands to carry something else like a messenger bag or a guitar. Walking with a pack on your shoulders is also easier than toting a rolling bag behind you if you frequently head off the beaten track or use public transport.. Its also much easier to steal luggage out of someone's hands than a pack on one's back. The Osprey Farpoint 55, our Editors' Choice winner is the best travel pack if you're looking for a luggage replacement. It is super easy to pack and has internal compression straps to keep your clothing pressed flat. The PacSafe VentureSafe is another great luggage alternative and has a main compartment nearly 20 liters bigger than the Farpoint. If you're convinced that you need a backpack that can also roll, be sure to check out the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22 and the Osprey Meridian 22 in our carry-on luggage review.
International Backpacking or Trekking
Backpacks have long been a favorite item of international backpackers. If you're planning a trip across South America, Europe, Asia or anywhere in between, buying a dedicated travel backpack rather than a backcountry backpacking backpack makes a lot of sense. Backpacking backpacks typically aren't as easy to get into and don't come with the nifty features that help streamline the hustle and bustle of traveling. The Deuter Quantum 70, our Top Pick for Extended Travel, is a great pack for international trekking because it has ample space for all your stuff, has a daypack that clips to the outside, and has an included travel duffel/rain fly. The Eagle Creek Deviate 60, our Top Pick for Outdoor Versatility, is another great option that's 30 liters smaller than the Quantum but shares many of the same travel features.
Quick Weekend Trips
If your idea of a travel backpack is a companion to your travel luggage that you can carry on the plane, then the TUMI Alpha Bravo Cannon and Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack are tough to beat. You're especially sure to love the Alpha Bravo, with its luggage handle sleeve, durable outer material, identification tag, laptop compartment, and excellent pocket configuration. The main compartment holds 23 liters, making it just big enough for a change of clothes, but not so big that it's unwieldy when you take it to a coffee shop or business meeting. Our laptop backpack and daypack reviews also include a number of backpacks that work well for traveling.
Domestic Road Trips
Maybe you don't have plans to travel the globe but want to venture across the country. You don't need all the fancy features of packs designed for air travel but you still want a pack that's pretty easy to get into and can hold a lot of stuff. You'll also want a pack that's pretty durable so that you don't have to worry about it when you cram it into the back of your friend's Camry. Travel packs like the Kelty Redwing 50 are great for travels like this because they are relatively easy to get into, work really well for hiking and backpacking, and they're much cheaper than packs with extra features that you don't need.
A Daypack for All Occasions
When thinking about travel packs, it's also important to remember that you'll need something to transport your stuff while you're out exploring. Some of the packs that we reviewed come with detachable daypacks, but another option is to purchase a compressible daypack that packs down into its own pocket. These packs are super nice because you can bring them along without a second thought. Perhaps you already have luggage or a larger travel backpack but want a small daypack that you can tuck away until you need it. Packs like the REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22 fill this niche perfectly. At just 10 oz, this pack is light enough and packs down small enough that you'll never notice it until you're ready to explore the city. For just $30, we can't think of many reasons not to buy this little pack. When not using it as a daypack, we found this little pack super useful as a stuff sack to keep all our stuff organized.
Accessories & Organization Tips
If you are looking for a convenient place to carry your digital camera or other small electronic device, check out the Osprey UL Camera Case and GrabBag. It attaches easily to the outside of your backpack allowing you quick access to your camera whenever you need it.
Hopefully you won't be stuck outside in bad weather with your travel backpack. But just in case, you might be interested in a rain cover. The Osprey Rain Cover and the Kelty Rain Cover will both fit well and keep your pack dry in unexpected rain. Keep in mind, however, that several of the models we tested come with a rain fly included!
If you're traveling abroad, you'll probably want to pick up a passport holder like the Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt or the Lewis N. Clark Neck Stash. These both have space for your passport and extra money. Even if you keep your passport close at hand, we still recommend taking a photo of your passport or making two photocopies. Be sure that a friend or family member has one of these copies so they can get it to you in case of passport theft or loss.
Although we have a whole article on How to Pack Luggage Like a Pro, there are a few other packing accessories that can help make packing your travel pack a breeze.
Packing cubes like the Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube Set and the TravelWise Packing Cube System are designed to help keep your clothes neat, organized, and often wrinkle-free. When we travel, we like to think of these as the dresser drawers of our suitcase or backpack. Since these have structured walls, they are more ideal for front or panel-loading style packs like the Osprey Farpoint.
Compression bags can help you save space and stay organized; however, these will not often keep your items wrinkle free. That said, they're better suited than packing cubes to helping you stay organized in a top-loading or other hard-to-pack backpacks. For a durable option that will likely help you save a little more space consider the Samsonite Compression Bag Kit. Or for a less expensive option (and our preferred method of travel), a box of two-gallon Ziploc bags also works well. If you're more on the hunt for a bag to compress your sleeping bag, down coat, or other gear, be sure to check out the sleeping bag stuff sack review.
Mesh bags are perfect for holding all the travel junk that you're not quite sure what to do with (these are especially useful for extended trips). Headlamp you'll need for a trek next week? Junk bag. Extra set of headphones? Junk bag. Tylenol and IBUProfen? Junk bag. We recommend choosing mesh because it's simply easier to find your items. Two options include the Eagle Creek Pack-It Sac Set and the Outdoor Research Mesh Ditty Sack.
Criteria for Evaluation
A travel backpack that fits comfortably when weighed down with all your belongings is a sure-fire way to improve happiness and decrease frustration. Anyone who's traveled knows that travel days can be some of the most tiring of the trip. Maybe you're on a shoestring budget and your travel day requires going from hostel to boat dock to bus station to airport or maybe you rented a charming Parisian apartment on the 7th floor, only to find that the stairs are your only option. In either case, you'll sure wish that you had invested the time to find a backpack that fits and is comfortable.
Throughout our testing process, we realized that some of the most suitable travel backpackpacks for backcountry travel, like our Top Pick winner, the Deuter Quantum 70 + 10, were also the most comfortable. Generally, these were the packs with full suspension frames, well-padded hip belts, and load stabilizing straps. For comfort, we liked the Quantum the best because it has the most robust hipbelt and shoulder straps. We used it on a four day backpacking trip and were quite impressed. In the comfort category, we also paid close attention to the breathability of the shoulder straps and the air flow allowed behind the back.
The Editors' Choice winning Osprey Farpoint 55 has breathable mesh along the back to help keep you cool, while our Best Buy, the REI Stuff Travel Daypack is designed with lightweight mesh shoulder straps. While it's definitely important to keep all this in mind, remember to consider first and foremost how a pack fits your body and how it feels once you've packed it up and taken it for a spin. The Pacsafe VentureSafe 65 has a super adjustable back panel that allows travelers of varying back lengths to achieve a precise fit.
Finally, keep in mind that comfort is even more paramount if you're taking your pack on a mid-trip backcountry adventure. While we would take the Farpoint on shorter backpacking trips, if you're planning a longer multi-night excursion into the wild, you may want to consider a pack like the Eagle Creek Deviate 60, which is quite comfortable and would be a perfect pack for outdoor overnights or even climbing trips. Alternatively, you could pair a backpacking backpack with a lightweight daypack like the REI Stuff Travel for a super versatile combo that we've used around the globe. Typically, backpacking backpacks will work better in the outdoors, so if you plan on embarking on spontaneous backcountry overnights, this combo could be your ideal setup. Our main editor has traveled to more than 25 countries with her trusty Mountainsmith backpacking pack, which has allowed her to adventure out on several backcountry treks mid-trip.
We quickly discovered that each of our test travel packs had different strengths and weaknesses in different travel scenarios. So, to measure function, we first considered what the pack was designed to do: Is it just a daypack? Is it a backpack that meets the legal carry-on requirements? Then we thought about its versatility: This daypack is handy, but can I compress it to fit in the luggage I already have? I know this bag is carry-on sized, but will it perform in the backcountry? From there, we took into account each pack's travel-specific features…and there were lots of really cool features. These travel packs had everything from lockable zippers to detachable daypacks and pick pocket-safe stash pouches.
We first assessed how well these bags would work for city-to-city travel, but we also considered how well it would each pack's ability to work for other purposes (backpacking, rock climbing, carrying school books, etc.). Some of the packs can fit as a carry-on, some can be personal items, and some only work as checked bags. The Farpoint, Quantum, and Deviate earned extra functionality points for their zip-off daypacks. The daypacks also earned top marks since they both fulfill a critical travel need and offer the convenient features like being able to stuff into its own pocket or keep a laptop safe.
Further, we assessed the extra nifty features that some of the competitors brought to the table. For example, the Pacsafe VentureSafe that has uber unique security features such as slash-proof fabric, locking zippers, and a security cable. Some bags have super cool ways of protecting the shoulder straps from the wear and tear of travel. The Quantum and Deviate both have separate duffels that you can put the pack into while other bags like the Farpoint, VentureSafe, and Vagabond Tour have zip-up panels that protect the shoulder straps during travel. Other features that we loved include whistles, laptop sleeves, hydration capability, carry handles, and compression straps.
In this video, we really put the Pacsafe's features to the test!
Still scratching your head on how features should affect your travel pack choice? Our Buying Advice Guide offers some great tips to help you identify how you plan to use your pack and then choosing a bag that will meet your specific needs.
Ease of Packing & Unpacking
You can imagine that moment when you're standing at the bus stop on a dirt road in Costa Rica and it starts to downpour, and then you realize that your rain jacket is snugly packed away underneath all your dirty underwear at the very bottom of your pack. And then you realize you can't get your jacket out without unloading all the undies into the rapidly forming puddles beside you. Or, that moment when you're racing against time and reach the long line at security and, just before its your turn, you realize that the 12 oz bottle of shampoo at the bottom of your bag is critically over the 3.4 oz limit and must be removed and discarded pronto in order to avoid extra scrutiny from zealous TSA agents. We know the frantic and stressed feelings these types of travel situations produce and we dread them. Since we're often rushed and fall short of achieving genius status packing jobs, we decided to keep our eyes peeled for the easiest to pack and unpack travel packs we could find.
For tips on packing, check out our article on How to Pack Luggage Like a Pro
We found that some front-loading packs like our Editors' Choice winner, have panels that zip all the way down, exposing the entire contents of the pack, making it easy to access that rain jacket in emergencies. On the other hand, the zippers on front-loading packs like the Kelty Redwing and Deuter Quantum stop at about 3/4 of the way down. Additionally, we learned that bags with more structured walls, like the Osprey Porter 46 are easier to pack up. Within this category we also considered each bag's pockets and whether or not it had internal compression straps to keep contents in place, which both the Farpoint and the Deviate did.
Further, we practiced packing each backpack with the same exact stuff to see which were easier to use and keep our clothes pressed flat. Some packs that are smaller by stated volume made up the difference by their ability to have stuff strapped on the sides, at the bottom, or on top. The Deviate is an excellent example of a pack that has an internal volume that is less than other packs (45 liters in the main compartment), but was able to fit everything we needed thanks to compression straps that allowed us to lash items to the exterior of the pack. We'll also note here that the REI daypack we tested is top loading and a bit harder to pack and unpack; however, this also means that it is harder to accidentally drop something out of them.
We didn't assess storage capacity as a metric, since we tested a range of different sized packs; however, be sure to check out our individual reviews for photos of how much each pack will hold.
When you're investing in a pack, it's always good to know that it's going to last. This is especially true if you're prepping for a gap-year type of trip where you're going to be on the road for quite a while. We looked up the denier (or D) ratings for each of the bags in this review. The higher the denier rating, the more the dense the fibers, which generally translates to stronger fabric. The only exception is when comparing denier ratings on different types of fabrics, for example 420D nylon is significantly stronger than a polyester fabric with the same rating. All the packs in this review are comprised of various types of nylon, except the Kelty Redwing, which is made of 420D and 450D Polyester. The packs with the most durable fabrics were the TUMI Alpha Bravo Cannon and the Osprey Porter and the least durable fabrics were, not surprisingly, on the lightweight compressible daypack. If a pack came with an all enclosing duffel or zip up sleeve, we looked at how well it would protect the bag from rowdy luggage handlers. We also considered zipper durability and found that the REI Vagabond Tour 40 had a much less burly zipper than the Osprey Farpoint or Pacsafe VentureSafe. Finally, we packed each bag with the same items, threw them around, and scraped them against a very sharp rock. We combined our results from this test with other wear that was observed throughout the course of the review.
Pack weight is an important consideration when you're attempting to meet airline requirements, or simply looking at the inevitability of lugging your stuff around. The travel packs we reviewed range significantly in weight and volume. Because the packs we tested range in volume, we didn't think it was fair to compare the weights of each without accounting for their volume. We compared each pack's weight-to-volume ratio and reported the weight (in ounces) of each pack per liter that it holds. The Best Buy winner REI Stuff Travel was the clear winner earning a 10/10 for weight. Relative to this pack, most of the other packs came in around the 4/10 mark with several scoring lower than 3 and one scoring a 5. The heaviest packs were framed packs with higher denier-rated fabrics like the Deuter Quantum, but these often had decent weight-to-volume ratios. We thought that the Editors' Choice winning Osprey Farpoint balances comfort and durability without being too heavy. The Redwing also saves on weight, since it has a single-beam frame and no detachable daypack. Surprisingly, the Osprey Porter has the most durable fabric in the review, but since it doesn't have a frame, it turned out to be the lightest of the full-size packs.
If you are planning a trip and in need of the best backpack to carry you through your travels, this is the review for you. Our expansive research covers the different types of packs for traveling on the market today, in hopes of helping you narrow down the options and find the backpack that fits your needs. From comfort and fit to functionality and features specific to traveling, we tested it all. If you are still in need of tips on how to identify the pack that meets your specific needs, check out our Buying Advice article.
— Jeremy Bauman & Amanda Fenn
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