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Best travel backpacks

Image shows a woman smiling, carrying one of the best travel backpacks.
(Image credit: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty Images.)

The best travel backpacks range from the sightseeing-friendly, street stylish bag that works for commuting to the office, to rough and tough packs that are happiest when hiking, biking, and backcountry camping. Wherever your next trip will take you, having a reliable bag that’s comfortable to wear and has the capacity for all your travel essentials is key. 

When choosing a backpack, think about the different ways you will use your bag – does it need to take you from beach to bar during a low-key vacation, or will it be your trusted partner on an adventure through the wilderness? Also consider how you are reaching your destination, as some bags are a suitable size for use as a carry-on bag on a plane and can be easily stowed beneath a seat or in an overhead locker. Others can be folded away when not in use or packed down to fit in a suitcase. Some models even feature a handle, similar to one you would find on a wheeled suitcase, to make rolling through the airport a breeze.

With options for every price range and all types of travelers, we’ve gathered 10 of the best travel backpacks to help you make the right choice.

The best travel backpacks

1. North Face Borealis Backpack

Image shows the North Face Borealis Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

North Face Borealis Backpack

The best backpack for everyday use.

Specifications

Capacity: 28 liters
Dimensions: 30.5 x 16.5 x 49.5 cm
Waterproof: No
Weight: 2 lbs 5 oz

Reasons to buy

+
FlexVent suspension system certified by the American Chiropractic Association
+
Laptop compartment

Reasons to avoid

-
Not waterproof
-
Less space for longer expeditions

A relatively compact bag that will take you from the office to the trail, via city landmarks and sightseeing spots, the North Face Borealis backpack is a much-loved pack among keen travelers. Its versatility means you won’t need a separate bag for everyday life, as it can easily adapt to any activity at home or away.

The front of the pack features a bungee-compression system complete with clips which offers versatile organization options, while two external water bottle pockets ensure you stay well hydrated during any adventure. One side also has a quick-draw smartphone access point for capturing those must-have travel snaps or checking the map.

One major plus point of this bag is the FlexVent suspension system, which is certified by the American Chiropractic Association and has a rounded back panel, articulated shoulder straps, and comfortable stitch lines. As well as reducing aches and pains while out and about, this also helps ensure any existing back problems won’t flare up during your trip. A sternum strap keeps the bag level while moving and a removable waist belt helps it adapt from hikes to more leisurely adventures.

Inside, you’ll find a front compartment for organizing everyday essentials, including secure zip pockets and a padded tablet sleeve. In addition, a separate protective laptop compartment means you can keep your tech with you while travelling and makes this bag great for commuting to the office. The large main compartment has plenty of capacity for books and binders, meaning the Borealis is a popular backpack for students too.


2. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor

Image shows the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor

The best backpack for backpackers.

Specifications

Capacity: 40 liters, up to 60 liters
Dimensions: 70 x 28 x 25.4 cm
Waterproof: No
Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz with S/M waist belt, 2 lbs 10 oz with M/L belt

Reasons to buy

+
Expandable capacity
+
Choice of torso and waist sizes

Reasons to avoid

-
Not waterproof
-
Large pack less suitable for city exploration

Made for multi-day hikes, backcountry exploration, or backpacking adventures, the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor is a serious backpack for serious travelers. The 40-liter capacity can be increased by expanding the horizontal gussets to gain an extra 15 to 20 liters of cargo space, so you can pack all the essentials for a longer trip or cinch in the bag when carrying a lighter load.

This bag has pockets galore, including two stretch mesh side pockets for quick access items, two hydration pockets on the shoulders to hold your H2O, and zippered hip belt pockets for a wallet or passport. The lid also has a small stash pocket which is perfect for snacks, and all of this in a lightweight design which means you can pack heavy without worrying about the weight.

The Y-Flex suspension ensures that the backpack sits comfortably on your shoulders, back, and hips, spreading the load so you can hike harder and further. For maximum comfort, the bag also comes in a choice of either small/medium or medium/large torso and waist sizes, so you can find a fit that suits your body type to minimize any aches and pains.

At the higher end of the price range, this backpack isn’t cheap, but it does come with a lifetime warranty plus the capacity and rugged design you need for many years of adventuring. This is a bag that won’t let you down – however many miles you’re planning to rack up this vacation.


3. Columbia Unisex OutDry Ex 40L Duffel Bag

Image shows the Columbia Unisex OutDry Duffel Bag.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Columbia Unisex OutDry Ex 40L Duffel Bag

The best backpack for wet conditions.

Specifications

Capacity: 40 liters
Dimensions: 53.6 x 31 x 31 cm
Waterproof: Yes
Weight: 1 lbs 9 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile
+
Waterproof

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks external and internal pockets
-
Cumbersome to carry as a duffel when full

Designed to keep gear secure and dry in even the dampest conditions, the Columbia Unisex OutDry Ex 40L duffel bag features OutDry Extreme waterproof technology that can handle whatever the weather has to throw at it. Tough watertight materials also mean that the bag is easy to wipe clean, so you don’t have to worry about putting in on the ground, either at the airport or in the great outdoors.

Sealed external seams ensure that your kit stays dry in any storm, while the duffel’s versatile design means it can also be worn as a backpack when on the go. This also means the bag is equally at home out on the trail or at the gym, and reviewers also recommend it as ideal for golf, hunting, fishing, camping, or casual wear. 

The haul handles make it a great choice as a carry-on bag when you’re traveling by air, while the padded shoulder straps can be converted into a single over-the-shoulder strap if preferred. Lash points allow you to carry water bottles, lanyards, or carabiners on the outside of the bag, although it does lack internal and external pockets that can be handy on the road.

When the trip’s over, the duffel packs down into a removable interior accessory pocket, ready for stowing under the bed or in a closet until adventure calls again.


4. Matein Wheeled Backpack

Image shows the Matein Wheeled Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Matein Wheeled Backpack

The best backpack for business trips.

Specifications

Capacity: 36 liters
Dimensions: 49.78 x 33.02 x 23.11cm
Waterproof: Water-resistant
Weight: 4.8 lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Has wheels
+
Multiple pockets

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited color options
-
Not ideal for all-day wear

Easy to wheel through airports and stations, the Matein Wheeled backpack combines the best of a carry-on suitcase and a rucksack. With the option to roll the backpack using the telescopic handle, which is adjustable to two heights, the bag can also be worn on the shoulders when you reach your destination, with the handle neatly zipped away out of sight. The bag is also designed so the handle doesn’t protrude into your back when worn, making it more comfortable to carry.

Great as an overnight bag, it features a main clothing compartment that can accommodate an outfit change and personal items, plus a laptop and tablet pocket that will keep your tech safely stowed away. A quick access pocket is handy for paperwork and your passport, and this variety of storage options means the bag is ideal for business trips. Its unfussy, non-outdoorsy design means it won’t look out of place in a meeting room either. 

When in transit, the double zippers can be locked for added security, while bottom padding and corner guards protect the bag when it’s placed on the ground. A side pocket can hold a water bottle or travel coffee mug when on the go.

For the price, this bag is a great choice for business travelers who want a smart, easy to transport bag that offers plenty of storage for essentials. It’s also a more cost-effective option than buying a separate suitcase and backpack for those on a budget.


5. Osprey Daylite Plus Backpack 

Image shows Osprey Daylite Plus Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Osprey Daylite Plus Backpack

The best backpack to travel on a budget.

Specifications

Capacity: 20 liters
Dimensions: 48 x 28 x2 4cm
Waterproof: Water-resistant
Weight: 1.32 lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
Laptop and tablet sleeve

Reasons to avoid

-
No separate model adapted to women's physiology
-
Not fully waterproof

Made for hiking, biking, and anytime you need a lightweight pack for your travel essentials, the Osprey Daylite Plus backpack will keep you organized while on the go. At an excellent price point, this is a bag you won’t feel precious about chucking in an overhead locker or stuffing under a plane seat, yet its durable bluesign-approved fabrics and GRS-certified recycled polyester mean it is also built to last.

A padded laptop and tablet sleeve makes this a handy pack for those long-haul journeys or work trips, while stretch mesh side pockets can accommodate water bottles for days out and about. For longer hikes or more extreme adventuring, the internal hydration sleeve can accommodate any Osprey Reservoir, making it easy to stay topped up with H2O. 

A sternum strap holds the bag steady while you move and comes with an emergency whistle for attracting attention in the wilderness or when you need assistance. A webbing hipbelt also adds stability and can be removed for more casual trips. The AirScape backpanel keeps you cool when temperatures rise and foam ridges offer improved comfort and fit, however long it’s on your back.

Simply pop your passport or bus ticket in the zipped front pocket and you’re ready to go – looking stylish too thanks to a choice of classic and bright colorways. And when the bag isn’t in use, its lightweight design means it can be easily packed away in a suitcase until you’re set to head out again.


6. Away The Everywhere Backpack

Image shows the Away Travel Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Away The Everywhere Backpack

The best backpack for city breaks.

Specifications

Capacity: 20 liters
Dimensions: 30.48 x 14.98 x 44.95cm
Waterproof: Water-resistant
Weight: 2.45 lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Hidden passport pocket
+
Packs flat in any suitcase

Reasons to avoid

-
No water bottle pocket
-
On the expensive side

With a clamshell opening that makes it easy to see what’s inside, Away The Everywhere backpack is a smart choice for business travel, city breaks, or trips to the office. The external secure front zip pocket is perfect for tickets or travel passes, while a hidden zip pocket on the back is ideal for safely stowing a passport.

For digital nomads, it features a padded zip laptop compartment that can safely hold up to a 15” laptop, which is secured with a magnetic locking zipper. A nice touch is a nifty trolley sleeve that allows the bag to be connected to the handle of a suitcase so you can glide with ease through airports and stations. The downside is that this is only compatible with Away branded suitcases, which means extra expense on top of an already fairly hefty price tag.

However, a streamlined design means the bag does pack down flat for stowing in a suitcase when not in use, which is useful if you’re not planning to move far from the pool or bar once you reach your destination. 

Its padded shoulder straps ensure this bag is comfortable to carry while sightseeing, but it may be less suitable for hitting the hiking trails. The water-resistant nylon is probably better suited to a quick dash between cafes or from taxi to hotel during vacations, rather than a heavy downpour out in the wilderness. But for the traveler who wants to look the part while exploring a new city or boarding their next plane, this bag is a good option – if a little pricey. 


7. Pacsafe metrosafe backpack

Image shows the Pacsafe metrosafe backback.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Pacsafe metrosafe backpack

The best backpack for public transport.

Specifications

Capacity: 15 liters
Dimensions: 42 x 29.5 x 13 cm
Waterproof: Water-resistant
Weight: 1 lb 9 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Made from recycled materials
+
Anti-theft design

Reasons to avoid

-
Modest capacity
-
A little expensive

Designed to keep valuables safe during your trip, the Pacsafe Metrosafe backpack is ideal for public transport, plane trips, or busy tourist spots. It also scores highly on organization, with multiple pockets to store everything from water bottles to pens and passports. The bag is water-resistant too, so you won’t need to worry about getting caught in a shower while exploring your destination.

The main thing this backpack offers is peace of mind – with lockable zips, cut-resistant materials with built-in stainless steel wire to prevent slashing, and an anchor strap that can be secured around a fixed object so your bag remains safe while you stop for lunch. A RFID-blocking pocket also protects credit cards and passport from being scanned, preventing scams that could derail your travel plans. 

The multitude of internal pockets include a padded laptop sleeve that can hold a model up to 13”, essential for business trips. Another plus is that, as well as protecting your belongings, this product also protects the planet. Made from recycled fishing nets and other discarded nylon, it reduces ocean plastic, so you can stay safe on vacation while doing your bit for aquatic life too.

Its smaller capacity of 15 liters means this isn’t a pack for multi-day hikes or camping trips, but does make it compact enough for a busy subway car or stowing beneath a seat. Another downside is the slightly higher price, however the wealth of security features make this a great investment for the safety-conscious traveler.


8. Madewell Lorimer Backpack

Image shows the Madewell Lorimer Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Madewell Lorimer Backpack

The best premium travel backpack.

Specifications

Dimensions: 39.37 x 27.94 x 13 cm
Waterproof: No

Reasons to buy

+
Real Italian leather
+
Smart rather than sporty design

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
No laptop sleeve

Crafted from Italian leather, the Madewell Lorimer backpack is for the fashion-forward traveler. The leather is vegetable-tanned, giving it its rich color, and specially washed to create its distinctive patina. The result is a bag that already looks like your loyal favorite backpack and will only get better with time.

Interior front and back pockets are handy for organizing your travel essentials, however for a bag that wouldn’t look out of place on a business trip, it could do with a laptop sleeve to win extra points. The exterior pocket is useful for a passport or ticket and has a clean, unfussy design that suits the sleek look of the backpack. It’s this classic styling that makes the bag perfect for transitioning from plane to market, beach to bar and means you won’t mind using it for everyday wear as well as on vacation.

The backpack can be customized with a second strap too (sold separately), which can be easily clipped on to offer the option of wearing the bag crossbody. 

The price of this bag means it is an investment piece that you’ll want to take good care of, but the quality leather means it will stand up to many years of use. If buying as a gift or as a special treat before your trip, the bag can also be personalized with up to three characters, stamped large or small in a choice of colors – perfect for adding initials to this premium piece.


9. Zomake Lightweight Foldable Backpack

Image shows the Zomake Lightweight Foldable Backpack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Zomake Lightweight Foldable Backpack

The best backpack for packing in a suitcase.

Specifications

Capacity: 20 liters
Dimensions: 41.91 x 18.03 x 29.97cm
Waterproof: Water-resistant
Weight: 8.8 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Packs away
+
Super lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Not fully waterproof
-
No laptop sleeve

Great when you need an extra bag handy or you can’t carry a lot of weight, the Zomake Lightweight Foldable backpack can be easily packed away into a suitcase or bigger rucksack. Weighing in at less than 9 oz, it sits lightly on the shoulders and is suitable for younger travelers to carry too, perfect if someone is taking their own backpack on vacation for the first time.

A small pouch inside the bag turns inside out, allowing you to fold the backpack into the middle and roll it into the pouch. Once folded away, the bag can be neatly stowed in your carry-on or case, making it an ideal backup bag or handy for souvenir shopping trips.

Although not waterproof, so not ideal for long spells in the wilderness, the bag is water-resistant, so a quick shower while exploring the sights won’t be a problem. A mesh pocket on the side can hold a water bottle for on-the-go hydration, and a carrying loop on the top of the bag is useful when moving between modes of transport. 

A front zippered pouch can keep frequently used items close at hand, while the main compartment is spacious. It lacks a laptop sleeve and multiple internal pockets, but for the price you can’t complain. For less than twenty dollars, you can buy a lightweight, packable bag that is ideal for sightseeing and discovering new places, plus a vast array of color options mean you can find one to match your style.


10. Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack

Image shows the Seat to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack.

(Image credit: Amazon.)

Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack

The best backpack for water-based adventures.

Specifications

Capacity: 35 liters
Dimensions: 33.02 x 20.32 x 71.12cm
Waterproof: Yes
Weight: 20.3 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Waterproof
+
Strong and durable

Reasons to avoid

-
No internal or external pockets
-
Not city-break friendly

As the name suggests, the Sea To Summit Hydraulic dry pack is here for all your ocean or mountain-based adventures, with no need to worry about a bad weather forecast. Made from heavy-duty TPU laminated fabric with RF welded construction for permanently sealed waterproof seams, it offers superior strength in even extreme conditions, so you can be as rough and tough as you like.

Like a traditional dry bag, it has an interlocking roll-top fastening that ensures your kit stays dry and lets you compress the size of the pack to fit the contents, as well as an oval base that prevents the bag from rolling away when it is set down in a boat or on dry land. Popular with those who enjoy paddle sports, fishing, or wild camping, the 35-liter model can accommodate a larger tent and paddle gear, while 20-liter and 65-liter options are also available.

It lacks external or internal pockets, but as this is a bag for rugged travel, rather than city breaks, that’s not a huge problem. With heavy, long-term use in mind, it does feature a Field Repair Buckle, which can be easily replaced should it become damaged, so your gear won’t get wet.

The comfortable harness lets you transport your kit on your back until you reach the adventure spot, and can then be easily removed so the bag can be easily stowed in a vessel. If your itinerary features water, weather, and the wilderness, this backpack is the perfect partner for your trip.

What to look out for in a travel backpack

When shopping for a travel backpack, it’s important to consider the type of trip you’re taking. Do you need something waterproof and rugged that can handle adventures in the wilderness, or a bag that is stylish enough for business trips and city breaks? Budget is important too, especially if you want some spending money left over for souvenirs, but as we’ve explored, there are plenty of options at every price point.

Frequent travelers might be keener to splash the cash on a premium bag that they can feel confident will last for many years of vacations. Meanwhile, if you want a secondary or backup bag that can be easily packed into a suitcase, look for a budget-friendly model that has a lightweight design.

Another way to ensure you get great value for money when buying a travel backpack is to pick a product that won’t look out of place in your day-to-day activities too. Whether hitting the gym, heading to the office, or stocking up at the supermarket, a good travel backpack has the capacity and storage options to double-up as an everyday bag, with water-resistant or waterproof materials another plus if the weather isn’t always beach-worthy.

Whichever travel backpack you choose, it will hopefully join you on some truly unforgettable trips, and help ensure you always have the vacation essentials you need close at hand.

Hayley Francis is a freelance writer based in the UK with an interest in travel, culture, and the great outdoors. When not busy writing for a variety of clients, she can be found planning her next trip or hiking a new trail.