Looking for the best travel backpack? This detailed buying guide covers the top travel backpacks in 2021 and how to choose the perfect one for you!
As a traveler, choosing the right travel backpack will be one of the most important gear decisions you’ll make. The right backpack should keep you comfortable and well ventilated, have adjustable straps to correctly place the load, be spacious with well thought out compartments, and be durable so that you can leave the sewing kit at home and head out on your adventure with peace of mind.
Taking these attributes into account, we’ve put together a list of the best travel backpacks on the market, with every need and budget accounted for.
Best Travel Backpacks of 2021 (Detailed Buying Guide)
Osprey Farpoint 70
A frontrunner in the backpack-manufacturing industry, Osprey is known for their high-quality bags that prioritize comfort and utilization. The Farpoint 70 has a LightWire frame suspension system that will transfer the load from your shoulders to your hips, a back panel ventilation system, lockable zippers, a detachable daypack, and internal compressions straps. Another key feature of the Farpoint is that it is front loading, meaning you can get to the main compartment without having to dig through your pack via the top.
While Osprey’s bags are on the pricier side, if you’re looking for a backpack that will last you years and keep you comfortable, this is definitely a recommended option.
Osprey Aura 50 L
One of the top-rated women’s travel backpacks, the Osprey Aura 50 features anti-gravity suspension technology to provide top-notch comfort and ventilation, has a unique shape that contours to the body, and features a removable floating lid.
The pack also features an additional front mesh pocket for added storage, trekking pole attachments, sleeping bag loops, and an easy to reach safety whistle.
Kelty Redwing 50
Built with the traveler in mind, the Kelty Redwing 50 is a highly rated mid-budget option that has a U-zipper design for top or panel loading, features to keep the load stable and well distributed, and a hydration pocket.
Whether you’re headed into the backcountry or on a city-hopping trip, the Kelty Redwing has features for you.
Deuter Aircontact Lite 50L+10
A super versatile pack, the Deuter Aircontact Lite is a lightweight option that features maximum ventilation and a focus on comfort. The ergonomic comfort hip foam pads give wearers a customizable fit, and the hip belts are easy to adjust to accommodate various loads.
The pack also has an extendable 10L collar for volume expansion, hiking pole attachment loops, compression straps, and a separate zippered bottom compartment.
Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45L or 65L
A backpack (and brand) with security in mind, the Pacsafe Venturesafe comes in either 45L or 65L and features interlocking zippers and stainless steel cables, slashproof stainless steel wire mesh woven into the fabric, and a Roobar Locking System.
Additionally, the pack has padded shoulder and waist straps, features an ergonomic aluminum frame, has spacious compartments for easy organizing, and an adjustable harness.
The North Face Terra 65L
Featuring a slim, light design, the North Face Terra backpack prioritizes comfort and load control, with the OPTIFIT harness system, that personalizes the fit between the pack and your body, being the key feature.
The pack also has an excellent ventilation system, side entry to the main compartments, and easy access pockets.
Osprey Kestrel 48L
Another great Osprey option, the Kestrel 48 is the perfect pack for multi-day treks. The pack features a zippered sleeping bag compartment, external sleeping pad straps, a suspension system for long-lasting comfort, main compartment side-zip access, an external hydration sleeve, and trekking pole attachments.
The pack also features an integrated rain cover, so you can keep your belongings safe and dry when exposed to the elements.
TETON Sports Scout 3400
One of the more budget-friendly options on the market, the TETON Sports Scout 3400 is a highly adjustable pack that features multi-position torso adjustment options, foam lumbar pads, and padded waist and shoulder straps. The adjustability of the pack makes it great for all sizes.
The pack also features a built-in rain cover, gear loops, and side and front compression straps.
Mountaintop 55L or 65L
Another very budget-friendly option, the Mountaintop 55/65 is a highly-rated pack featuring a 5L extension collar, water-resistant fabric, a rain cover, a sternum strap with emergency whistle attachment, a front sleeping bag compartment, and a torso length adjustment.
What to Look For in a Travel Backpack
Internal Support Frame
Without a support frame, your backpack would be a limp sack on your back, only keeping its shape due to its contents. Not only is this terrible for your back, but it also does nothing to keep your belongings secure. Always opt for a backpack with an internal support frame as this will give shape to your pack while keeping the contents in place and well structured.
There’s nothing worse than getting caught in the rain or having something splash onto your backpack and being without protection. I always look for water-resistant materials when choosing a backpack, and packs that come with rain covers are doubly handy.
A backpack with multiple compartments is a must for keeping your belongings organized. I always look for backpacks with a laptop sleeve and a compartment at the bottom of the pack to put shoes in — you don’t want those rumbling around with your clean clothes in your main compartment!
For me, front-loading backpacks are a must, as they contain a zipper at the front of the bag allowing for easy access to all of my belongings — keeping everything neat, organized, and within reach. With standard top-loading backpacks (which open like a garbage bag), you’ll find yourself digging around your whole bag when you need to get something in particular out of it, creating a mess and wasting time.
As with any quality backpack, the one you choose should be designed to put the brunt of the load on your hips and have adequate hip belt padding. You’ll also want the pack to have support and padding for your back (and make sure that the pack has great ventilation, or else prepared to get sweaty), as well as padding for your shoulders to keep the straps from digging into you.
Many backpacks on the market come with expansion options for a little extra room when you need it, such as when you go a little crazy on the souvenir shopping.
Women’s Versus Men’s Travel Backpacks
In choosing the perfect travel backpack, you may find that many are labeled as women’s or men’s, or that some are without those labels altogether. As a general rule, backpacks are made with flexibility for different body types in mind and have adjustable straps and padding for that reason.
That said, women’s travel backpacks tend to be shorter, smaller, and narrower than “men’s” or standard backpacks. They generally also have slightly more sculpted hip belts for women’s comfort and load distribution. While these features might be better catered for some people depending on their body type, my recommendation is to not get too caught up with gender specifics and pick a pack that has the features you’re looking for and is comfortable to wear.
Will my travel backpack fit as a carry-on?
While most airlines have their own specific requirements for carry-on luggage, you’ll generally be allowed to bring a 22″ x 14″ x 9″ bag with you onto the plane. That said, because each airline is different, research the airline you fly with the most and cater your bag to what their carry-on requirements are.
If you’re measuring your backpack in regards to volume, then it’s generally safe to say that any backpack under 45L is safe to take as carry-on.