The Best Travel Backpack Review

For our travel backpack review, we picked out a range of top-of-the-line full-size, framed backpacks; compressible daypacks; and carry-on backpacks. We used these packs for everyday around-town activities, adventures in the backcountry, and week-long trips. Through all this, we considered how they would hold up on the streets of London and in the jungles of Malaysia, backpacking through Europe or hitchiking through South America. After putting them to the test for three months, weíre ready to give you the low-down on which packs have the sweetest travel features, which ones are the most comfortable to carry, which ones cross over to backcountry use the best, and which ones will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

For more thoughts on how to pick a pack for traveling, scoot over to our buying advice article for even more discussion on travel packs vs. backpacking packs. See also our related review of travel duffel bags.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Amanda Fenn ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab April 20, 2013

Top Ranked Travel Backpacks Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Osprey Farpoint 55
Osprey Farpoint 55
Read the Review
Video video review
Kelty Redwing 50
Kelty Redwing 50
Read the Review
Video video review
Osprey Porter 46
Osprey Porter 46
Read the Review
REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22
REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack 26
Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack 26
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award    Top Pick Award   
Street Price $180
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $96 - $125
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Varies $70 - $100
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$30
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $55 - $110
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Pros Structured for increased comfort, tall, slim design, detachable day packDurable materials, lots of organization, relatively lightweight, affordableLegal carry-on size, sleek, lightweight, affordablePackable, lightweight, durable fabric, affordablePackable, light, comfortable shoulder, sternum, and hip straps
Cons Frame makes it too big for a carry-onShort, wide design decreases pack awareness, fewer travel featuresShort, wide design decreases pack awareness, fewer travel featuresUncomfortable shoulder straps, no hip/sternum strapsUncomfortably floppy, expensive, not very durable
Best Uses Adventure travel, light backcountry tripsAdventure travel, light backcountry tripsDoesn't cross-over to outdoor activities, minimalist hip beltExtra day pack while traveling, light hiking, around townExtra day pack while traveling, light hiking, around town
Date Reviewed Apr 20, 2013Apr 20, 2013Apr 20, 2013Apr 20, 2013Apr 20, 2013
Weighted Scores Osprey Farpoint 55 Kelty Redwing 50 Osprey Porter 46 REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22 Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack 26
Comfort - 20%
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Features - 25%
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Ease Of Packing - 20%
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Durability - 15%
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Weight - 20%
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Product Specs Osprey Farpoint 55 Kelty Redwing 50 Osprey Porter 46 REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22 Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack 26
Actual Weight 3 lbs, 14 oz 3 lbs, 3 oz 2 lbs, 5 oz 9.6 oz 10.7 oz
Dimensions (Packed out) Main: 25x13x9'' Day: 19x11.5x6 24x15x12'' 22x14x12'' In use: 18x10x8'' Compressed: 8x7x2'' In use: 22x12x10" Compressed: 8x6x4"
Different sizes? S/M and M/L S/M and M/L O/S O/S O/S
Volume Options 40L (no day pack), 55L, 70L (main pack: 40L, day pack: 15L) 44L, 50L, 40L women's version 46L, 65L 22L 26L
Waist Belt Type 1/2 inch padding 3/4 inch padding minimalist - webbing only none minimalist - webbing only
Sternum Strap Yes, whistle Yes Yes, whistle No Yes
Access Type Front loading, zips all the way open Front loading, doesn't zip all the way open Front loading, zips all the way open Top loading Top loading
Frame Type Lightwire alloy peripheral frame, stiff foam Single lightbeam aluminum stay, HDPE frame sheet Stiff foam none none
Legal Carry-on Size? No No Yes Yes Yes
Fabrics 210D x 330D Nylon Shadow Box, 420D HD nylon packcloth 420D Polyester Ball Shadow, 450D Polyester Oxford nylons 1680D ballistic nylon, 410HD nylon packcloth 210 D Double rip-stop nylon 210D and 40D double rip-stop nylon
Colors Red, black, blue Blue, black, red, tan, greenish-khaki Green, red, dark gray Gray, green, purple Blue, black, yellow
# of Pockets 4 zippered, 3 drop-in more than 12 3 zippered 2 drop-in, 1 zippered 2 drop-in, 2 zippered
Unique Features Detachable day pack; tall, slim design for increased pack awareness Many external pockets, single-beam frame Sleek, professional design; strait jacket compression straps Packable, full mesh pockets Packable, internal zipper pocket

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products

When to Choose a Travel Backpack
Purchasing a travel pack can be super exciting, not only because you get a new piece of gear, but also because it may mean that you have a sweet trip planned! 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 pack 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 pack, 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. You may also want to look at our duffle 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 pack the best bag for your next trip? It could be, but remember that just because youíre traveling doesnít 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 pack.

Criteria for Evaluation

Comfort
A travel pack that fits comfortably when weighted down with all your belongings is a sure-fire way to improve happiness and decrease frustration. Anyone thatís traveled knows that travel days can be some of the most tiring of the trip. Maybe youíre 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, make sure that your travel pack doesnít weigh you down by being ill-fitting or uncomfortable.

Throughout our testing process, we realized that some of the most suitable packs for backcountry travel like our Editorís Choice winner, the Osprey Farpoint were also the most comfortable. Generally, these were the packs with proper frames, well-padded hip belts, and load stabilizing straps. Within the framed packs, we leaned more towards the taller, slimmer Farpoint, since it moved better with our testersí bodies. In the comfort category we also paid close attention to the breathability of the shoulder straps and the air flow allowed behind the back. Our Best Buy winner, the Kelty Redwing featured a single-beam frame structure that encourages behind-the-back air flow, while our Top Pick, the REI Stuff Travel Daypack is designed with lightweight mesh shoulder straps. While itís 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 youíve packed it up and taken it for a spin.

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These packs range significantly in fit and comfort, here is an idea of how they may fit. Amanda is 125 pounds, 56, and has a torso height of 17.5 inches. (L to R): Porter, Rincon, Farpoint, Redwing, Patagonia Travel Pack, REI Stuff Daypack.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

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An idea of what these packs look like on someone bigger: Skiy is 63, 180 pounds, and has a 20.5-inch torso. (L to R): Porter, Rincon, Farpoint, Redwing, Patagonia Travel Pack, REI Stuff Daypack.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Finally, keep in mind that comfort is even more paramount if youíre taking your pack on a mid-trip backcountry adventure. While we would take the Farpoint and the Redwing on shorter backpacking trips, if youíre planning a longer multi-night excursion into the wild, you may want to consider a backpacking backpack and a compressible daypack like the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack 26. Our main tester has traveled to more than 25 countries with her trusty Mountainsmith backpacking pack, which has allowed her to bust out some mad backcountry treks mid-trip.

Functionality and Features
We quickly discovered that each of our test 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 packís travel-specific featuresÖand there were lots of really cool features. These travel packs had everything from lockable zippers to detachable daypacks and pick pocket-safe stash pouches.

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A close-up of the packs locking zippers and centralized reinforced point in the fabric. The Rincons day pack also has lockable zippers, but requires a slimmer lock.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

Hereís the quick-and-dirty: we reviewed two backpacks that we would also take on three-day backcountry adventures (the Editorís Choice: Osprey Farpoint and the Best Buy: the Kelty Redwing); two conveniently compressible daypacks for hiking or city exploration (Patagonia and Top Pick REI packs); and two full-size packs that meet the legal carry-on requirements that perform well in city-to-city travel (Osprey Porter and Eagle Creek Rincon 65). Both the Farpoint and Rincon 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 feature of folding up into their own lids for easy transport. Ultimately, since weíre outdoor gear reviewers, we took all this function into consideration and then we asked if we could take each pack comfortably into the backcountry. If the answer was no, we knocked off a point or two in functionality.

Still scratching your head on how functionality affects your travel pack choice? Our Buying Advice Guide offers some great tips on helping you identify how you plan to use your pack and then choosing a bag that will meet your specific needs.

Ease of Packing and Unpacking
Itís that moment where youíre 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 canít get your jacket out without unloading all the undies into the rapidly forming puddles beside you. We know that feeling and we dread it (I mean, muddy undies are little extreme, but you get the idea). So, short of being total genius packers, we decided to keep our eyes peeled for the easiest to pack and unpack travel packs we could find.

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Will it fit? We packed up for a five-day ski trip to Crested Butte. Were ready for cold weather, fun nights out, and plenty of shredding.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

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The Farpoints internal compression straps keep our nicer clothes cinched down in place, while we get ready to stuff the ski pants and jacket in over top.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

All our stuff for a five-day ski trip fits. Plus, this pack is easy to...
All our stuff for a five-day ski trip fits. Plus, this pack is easy to pack thanks to its long zipper, which exposes practically the entire inside of the pack. The only thing that would make it easier was if the side walls had a little more structure.
Credit: Amanda Fenn

We found that some front-loading packs like our Editorís 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 Eagle Creek Rincon stop at about ĺ 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 bagís pockets and whether or not it had internal compression straps to keep contents in place, which both the Farpoint and the Rincon did. Weíll also note here that both the daypacks are 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.

Durability
When youíre investing in a pack, itís always good to know that itís going to last. This is especially true if youíre prepping for a gap-year type of trip where youíre 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 Eagle Creek Rincon and the Osprey Porter and the least durable fabrics were, not surprisingly, on the lightweight compressible daypacks. We also considered zipper durability and found that the Eagle Creek Rincon had a much less burly zipper than the Osprey Farpoint and Kelty Redwing. Finally, we checked out the packs for any wear and tear over the course of the review.

Weight
Pack weight is an important consideration when youíre attempting to meet airline requirements, or simply looking at the possibility of lugging your stuff around. The travel packs we reviewed range significantly in weight, with the non-framed daypacks being the lightest at less than 12 ounces. The heaviest packs were framed packs with higher denier-rated fabrics like the Eagle Creek Rincon. We thought that the Editorís 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 doesnít have a frame, it turned out to be the lightest of the full-size packs.

Editors' Choice Award: Osprey Farpoint 55
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The Osprey Farpoint has bottom cinch straps that were perfect for a pillow and yoga mat. The strait jacket compression straps not only keep the detachable day pack in place, but also give us a place to strap on last minute additions, like an extra pair of
Credit: Amanda Fenn
Throughout the entirety of this review, one pack stood out above the rest: the Osprey Farpoint 55. This travel pack has numerous functional features and is quite comfortable to carry. We thought that the Farpointís detachable daypack was extremely convenient and we liked how it strapped easily onto the back of the pack. The main pack also has buckles on its front shoulder straps that allow you to clip the daypack onto the front of the main pack and carry it kangaroo-style for added security or ease of access. On its own, we found the zip-off daypack ideal for hours of museum wandering or hours of mountainous hiking. This pack was also one of the easiest to pack and unpack with its full-length font-loading zipper. Finally, and most importantly, we loved that we could leave the daypack in the hostel locker and take off on a three-night wilderness trek. Overall, there was no question that the Osprey Farpoint would be the Editorís Choice winner for this review.

Top Pick Award for Compressible Daypack: REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22
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Although its top-loading design didnt make it super easy to pack and unpack, this 22-liter pack held everything we needed for the day.
Credit: Madison Murphy
Day packs are critical for traveling, so when we found the REI Stuff Travel Daypack 22, we were thrilled. Earning the Top Pick award for a travel daypack's unique purpose, this compressible little pack folds up into its own lid, barely taking up more space in your luggage than a tank top. At 22 liters, it was the perfect size for everything we imagined needing in a variety of different day trip scenarios. It will hold a towel, book, and sunblock for the beach; you can use it to carry a lunch, an extra jacket, water, and a first aid kit on a five-mile hike; or it will hold your wallet, guidebook, and a spare scarf for a trip to the market (plus it will have left-over space for all those souvenirs). While it doesnít have every feature weíd love to see in a daypack, the REI Stuff Travel Pack is quick drying, has two mesh pockets, and fits comfortably with reasonable loads. Priced at just $30, this pack also offers great value.

Best Buy Award: Kelty Redwing 50
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Peeking into the Redwings mid-sized pouch, you can see its internal organization system.
Credit: Amanda Fenn
We chose the full-sized Kelty Redwing 50 as our Best Buy for this review. At just $120, itís the least expensive framed pack in the review and performs well as both a travel pack and a backpacking pack on shorter backcountry trips. This pack is ideal if youíre thinking about heading out on a three-day mid-trip trek. The Redwing does not come with a detachable daypack, but it has several external pockets and gear loops for easy organization and access to important items. Ultimately, we didnít think the Redwing was quite as comfortable as the Farpoint, but at $60 less, itís a great deal, especially if you already have a daypack that you love.

Amanda Fenn
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