May 23, 2024

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2023

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2023

Whether weekend road-tripping or jet-setting around the world, you’re going to need a pack to toss over your shoulder. Here are the best travel backpacks for every adventure.

There are a lot of great travel backpacks out there, but not all of them are created equal. A travel pack needs to be comfortable to carry, easy to organize, and durable enough to withstand being toted from place to place.

From hitting the road for the weekend to spending months traveling abroad, we’ve put a lot of backpacks through the wringer. And while there isn’t a single pack that suits every traveler, we’ve highlighted a variety of designs and price points to help you find the perfect travel backpack.

Choosing a travel backpack can be a dizzying experience. Deciding on what matters to you will greatly steer your purchase. Are you jet-setting from here to Madrid this week, and then Honduras next week? Need a bag to kick around on a work trip? Visiting a National Park?

For all your travel pack questions, consult our buyer’s guide, where we’ve laid bare all the essentials. Compare each of the packs using our handy comparison chart, and if you’ve still got questions, check out our FAQ section.

Feel free to scroll through all of our recommendations, or jump to the category you’re interested in:

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2023

Best Overall Travel Backpack: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

Perfect is a dirty word in product design, but we’re about stumped when it comes to drumming up a quibble about the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L ($300). This redeye-ready clamshell design is made to the highest of standards.

It’s made of quality materials, utilizing aluminum hardware and a burly 400-denier nylon canvas — and it easily ticks all our boxes for the best overall travel backpack.

The interior of the bag is split into two compartments: a larger main area for storing the majority of your kit and a secondary sleeve at the front of the bag with five zippered pockets. The main pocket also sports a foam-padded laptop sleeve and three more pockets.

One of the more impressive aspects we discovered along the bag’s inaugural leg from Seattle to Anchorage was how easily the straps of the Travel Backpack stow away into the bag. Two foam panels on the back of the bag flip away to secure them and then close with a magnetic closure. Very slick.

Then there are the little details. An ID-size sleeve on the back panel provides all the information should your bag get separated from you. Zipper pulls thread through one another to keep what’s yours safe. And a collapsible system adjusts the bag from a full 45 L to 35 L.

In our review, there’s little about the Peak Design pack that misses the mark. The company leans heavily toward the camera-toting travelers among us, but the 45L Travel Backpack makes no compromises and works just as well for any user group. The high price is undeniable, but for the scope of the travel pack, it’s a buy-once-cry-once purchase we would make again.

Also available in a 30L size, the range of Travel Backpacks from Peak Design are so well-thought-out that you can practically see the cogs turning in their creators’ heads. We think they make the best travel backpacks on the market.

  • Capacity: 45 L (collapses to 35 L)
  • Weight: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Dimensions: 22″ x 13″ x 9.5″ standard, 22″ x 13″ x 11″ expanded
  • Compartment access: Back panel clamshell design with #10 zipper
  • Material: Weatherproof 100% recycled 400-denier nylon canvas shell, 900-denier waterproof bottom
  • Compresses down to maximum airline carry-on size, then expands once you’ve hit your destination
  • Burly construction
  • No details are overlooked in the design
  • Price
  • No internal fastening straps

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Peak Design

Best Budget Travel Backpack: Dakine Campus 33L Backpack

DAKINE Campus L 33L Travel Backpack

Even at the regular price of $75, this pack is a great deal. And considering you can grab one on sale for $56, it’s a must-have budget travel backpack.

It has everything you need to keep your travels organized, without getting too big or complicated. It has a padded laptop sleeve, a fleece-lined top pocket to keep your sunglasses safe, and an organizer pocket perfect for pens, a phone, and easy-access essentials. We love pockets, and this backpack has plenty.

And if that weren’t enough, it also has an insulated cooler pocket to keep your snacks fresh on the go, plus double side pockets keep drinks handy. We found the straps comfortable during long travel days. Be sure to use the sternum strap when carrying a heavy load for the best fit.

While this bag does excellent at travel, it isn’t quite what the bag was designed for, and thus it’s missing a few travel niceties like a compression system or the ability to pack away the straps. We didn’t find that we missed them desperately, but it would have been nice to have had in a few instances.

If you’re looking for a sub-$100 backpack (under $60 during the sale!) that does it all, then the Dakine Campus Backpack is for you. It comes in a variety of colors and is also available in a 25L capacity.

  • Capacity: 33 L
  • Weight: 1 lb., 10.6 oz.
  • Dimensions: 20.5″ x 13″ x 8″
  • Compartment access: Top-access zippered design
  • Material: Depending on print type, can be 600-denier recycled polyester, 420-denier recycled nylon, 630-denier recycled nylon, or 1,200-denier recycled polyester
  • Cheap price
  • Available in many different fabric prints
  • Unique insulated cooler pocket
  • Not many travel-specific features
  • Straps don’t pack away

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Backcountry

Best Carrying Travel Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40 & Fairview 40 Travel Packs

Osprey Farpoint 40 & Fairview 40 Travel Packs

No stranger to producing supremely comfortable suspension systems, Osprey injected a good bit of its tech into the Farpoint and Fairview packs ($185), which both sport LightWire frames, load lifters, and breathable framesheet and suspension straps. Our Farpoint pack was easily the best load carrier of any we tested and a close contender for the best travel backpack overall.

Far beyond what any of the other travel packs offer, the pack even allows you to adjust the torso length — unheard of in the typical travel pack. Newly updated, these packs have been tweaked to ride the line between traditional backpacks and functional luggage, a claim we can substantiate.

The 40L capacity is just about the sweet spot for domestic carry-on luggage limits, and these packs make good use of the space. We could easily pack away a long weekend’s worth of travel essentials into the bag with a little space to spare.

Whereas many other travel packs stash straps away into the body of the pack, the Farpoint and Fairview move in the opposite direction with a deployable strap cover that neatly seals in the suspension for safekeeping when checked. This produces a clean profile that’s ready to be slung around.

The interior of the pack is rather spartan, incorporating only one zippered pocket, a laptop sleeve, and two internal compression straps. We would have rather seen a bit more organizational features involved, but for those who stuff more than pack, the Farpoint and Fairview may very well punch the ticket.

One foot on the platform and one on the trail, these packs from Osprey will get you where you’re going and carry a trip’s worth of kit with ease.

  • Capacity: 40 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 7.6 oz.
  • Dimensions: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
  • Compartment access: Zippered back panel clamshell design
  • Material: Bluesign-approved 450-denier recycled polyester
  • Supreme suspension system offers the best carry of any pack we tried
  • External compression straps limit the volume well
  • Comfortably padded grab handles
  • Not much internal organization

Check Fairpoint Price at REICheck Fairview Price at REI

Best Organization in a Travel Backpack: Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack

Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack

Aiming to do more with less, the Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack ($150) proposes a future free of packing cubes and splits up the bag for you, making the organization of your travel pack a breeze.

The full 30 L of volume is shared among the four segments (4 L, 6 L, 8 L, 12 L) and trades volume between the full clamshell compartment and the segments. Each of these segments is accessible via its own water-resistant zippers and can be collapsed as your needs change.

We found organizing by clothing type made the most sense in our own packing, but you could even pack based on the day of the week or the use. The clamshell-accessed main compartment was ideal for holding larger items like spare shoes or quarantining spent outfits.

Known for its overbuilt but lightweight bags, Matador didn’t spare the SEG30, utilizing 420D nylon in the pack body, as well as 100D Robic Dynatec weave on the interior. It should be noted this travel backpack doesn’t have any kind of frame and will rely on being packed well to carry correctly.

Our testers felt this bag excelled as a travel bag you might deploy once you’ve hit your destination, as it packs away into larger bags so well. Unfortunately, however, the shoulder straps don’t pack away into the bag itself, so you’ll have to wrangle them into place to keep things tidy.

No matter what you’re up to, everything has got a spot to live in the SEG30. Need a bit more space? Matador offers the SEG42 ($200) for that.

  • Capacity: 30 L
  • Weight: 1 lb., 8.4 oz.
  • Dimensions: 18.5″ x 9.5″ x 9.5″
  • Compartment access: Full clamshell interior, additional front zippered access
  • Material: 420-denier nylon exterior, 100-denier Robic Dynatec interior
  • Excellent storage organization options
  • High-quality, strong, and lightweight construction
  • No frame to speak of
  • Shoulder straps don’t pack away

Check Price at REICheck Price at Matador

Best Roller Bag Compatibility: Deuter AViANT Carry-On 36L — Men’s & Women’s

Deuter AViANT Carry On 36L Backpack

This bag is built for frequent flyers. Part backpack, part briefcase, it manages to do it all remarkably well. One of the standout features is the “trolley tunnel,” which allows the pack to slide onto your rolling suitcase. Pair this with a sleek roller (like the Away Carry-On) and you’ll look like a pro gliding effortlessly through the busy terminal.

You can carry the AViANT ($159) on your back or stash the straps and carry it with side briefcase handles. The full-length zipper makes packing easy, as you can open it completely. The padded laptop case keeps your electronics safe and opens quickly so you can breeze through security. There are even extra pockets to keep your documents, pens, and other small essentials at hand.

Our largest issues with these bags come from the suspensions, which — while comfortable and available in both a men’s and women’s fit — have a few unfortunate faults. For one, there is no hip belt to speak of, which we certainly missed with a pack of this size. Second was the shoulder strap attachment system, which ties into the pack body with side-release buckles. These don’t inspire the most confidence in such an important connection point.

We’ve overstuffed the AViANT on multiday coast-to-coast trips and never had a problem with the zipper snagging. Overall, we think this durable chameleon of a pack is a must-have for anyone who regularly spends time at the airport.

  • Capacity: 36 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 21.6″ x 13.3″ x 9″
  • Compartment access: Zippered back panel clamshell design
  • Material: 600-denier polyester, 420-denier polyamide
  • Available in both men’s and women’s fit
  • Back panel is comfortable, and doubles as a luggage handle pass-through
  • Foam is used in external construction to give the bag structure
  • No hip belt
  • Shoulder straps attach to the bag with side-release buckles

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best Shoulder Bag: Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L

Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L

Looking to squeeze out every last liter of allowed space? Patagonia named this pack in honor of the cause — the Black Hole Maximum Legal Carry-On 45L ($239). This bag can be carried in a number of different ways, but we found it shined during travel as a shoulder bag.

Borrowing fabric from Patagonia’s line of burly Black Hole Duffels, the MLC 45L is made for the long haul. The 900-denier polyester ripstop is coated in a TPU laminate and feels ready to take on the surliest baggage carrier. We certainly felt no remorse in tossing the bag around.

At 45 L, the MLC is certainly right at the cusp of the maximum allowed size, but thankfully that space is well divided up inside the pack. Inside the main clamshell-accessed compartment is a blizzard of zippers and mesh pockets and dividers, and anything we tossed inside was well-stabilized.

Because there isn’t much of a frame to speak of, the Black Hole MLC doesn’t carry the best when slung over both shoulders and can sag when not entirely full. But over a shoulder with the included shoulder strap this pack feels great and can be easily accessed on the go. There is also a rear sleeve to slip the bag over a roller bag handle.

On top of all this, we greatly appreciated that the Black Hole MLC 45L is made with 100% recycled body fabric, lining, and webbing. Perfect for grabbing and going, this pack is ready to move.

  • Capacity: 45 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 10.3 oz.
  • Dimensions: 22.8″ x 8.6″ x 14.5″
  • Compartment access: Back panel zippered clamshell design
  • Material: 900-denier recycled polyester ripstop with a TPU laminate
  • Multiple ways to carry the pack
  • Many different storage and internal organization options
  • Burly external fabric
  • Doesn’t carry the best as a backpack
  • No hipbelt

Check Price at REICheck Price at Patagonia

Best Climbing Adventure Pack: Mountain Hardwear Redeye 45 Travel Pack

Mountain Hardwear Redeye 45 Travel Pack

Knocking out our previous winner for Climbing Adventure Pack, the Mountain Hardwear Redeye 45 Travel Pack ($180) hit all the marks for what we’re looking for in a travel pack for long climbing excursions.

Styled after climbing packs and haul bags, the Redeye keeps a clean profile inside and out and provides access to the internal 45 L of space via either a full back panel clamshell or an additional top entry. Grown onto the outside is a full-length panel concealing a number of mesh pockets as well as a single water bottle pocket opposite.

We broke in our Redeye with a quick alpine climb in Washington’s granite playground of Washington Pass, where it shouldered a load of climbing kit with aplomb. The rear clamshell design is ideal for fishing out bits of gear as you rack up, and the back panel provided enough cushion to avoid feeling any protruding cam lobes.

Not just a climbing pack, however, the Redeye comes with a number of smart travel features that makes splitting time a cinch. A 15-inch padded laptop sleeve will fit most computers on the market, and the suspension straps are fully stowable, although it wasn’t the most seamless execution we’ve seen.

You probably won’t want to haul it up your next off-width chimney, but a full day of travel in search of one is absolutely on the menu for the Redeye 45.

  • Capacity: 45 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 2.1 oz.
  • Dimensions: 24″ x 15″ x 12″
  • Compartment access: Back panel zippered clamshell design, additional top entry
  • Material: 500-denier CORDURA nylon
  • Burly 500-denier CORDURA nylon construction
  • Front and rear grab handles make loading easy
  • Cylinder shape won’t be the most space-efficient
  • Strap storage isn’t the most compact

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Mountain Hardwear

Best of the Rest

Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack

Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack

This pack ($170) will change the way you travel. It’s sleek, durable, and able to fit an incredible amount of stuff in a small space. The zippered mesh pockets keep clothes organized. And the compression straps maximize what you can pack.

The tough polyester and nylon construction can take a beating without any signs of wear. And we appreciate that the externally accessed, padded laptop sleeve makes pulling out your electronics at security checkpoints a breeze. There’s also a small outer compartment to keep essentials at hand.

You can completely tuck away the backpack straps and carry the pack like a briefcase, or wear it comfortably as a backpack. We’ve stuffed this pack to the gills countless times and have never had a problem with the zippers. Light rain showers or spills roll right off the TPU-coated exterior, but for legit rainstorms, just pull out the included rain cover.

The Allpa also comes in 35L, 42L, 50L, and 70L capacities. As our editor noted in the 42L review, “Building on its fun and functional ethos, Cotopaxi beefs up its bestselling product. The Allpa Travel Pack earns big points for clever design, clean aesthetic, and a surprising number of handy — and hidden — features.”

Yes, the Cotopaxi Allpa packs are an investment, but anyone who travels regularly will find it a worthy one. These powerhouse travel backpacks are sturdy, versatile, and built to last.

  • Capacity: 28 L
  • Weight: 3 lbs., 4 oz.
  • Dimensions: 19″ x 12″ x 9″
  • Compartment access: Zippered clamshell design
  • Material: TPU-coated 1,000-denier polyester, 840-denier nylon paneling
  • Burly exterior material holds up for the long run
  • Plenty of zippered mesh storage pockets
  • On the heavier side
  • TPU-coated nylon can feel grabby

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L
Dodge Baggage Fees With the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L: Review
The Cotopaxi Allpa’s $190 sticker price may seem high for a carry-on piece. But a clever combination of design, organization, and features may actually save travelers money on baggage fees in the long run. Read more…

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Refined and clean-looking, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($235) is a high-end travel backpack we just can’t stop staring at. It just looks that good. Made of burly textiles and zippers, this pack was built to stand the test of tough travel and come out shining on the other side.

The Synapse 25 is the larger version of Tom Bihn’s Synapse 19, a popular backpack made for daily carry. The bump in volume is appreciated in this travel-oriented version and is doled out in one large compartment as well as a set of pockets on the front of the pack.

We found all the pockets easily accessible, save for the side wing pockets. While these were excellent for the organization of smaller bits and bobs, the openings were a bit awkward to jump into.

Topped off by a cushioned suspension (the foam is a half-inch of EV50), this travel backpack didn’t weigh us down on long days of travel when fully packed. And when we wanted to go light, even the webbing hip belt was removable.

Along with being carry-on compliant, the Synapse is also one of the few bags on our list that are compact enough to fit under most airline seats without hogging too much precious legroom.

  • Capacity: 25 L
  • Weight: 1 lb., 13 oz.
  • Dimensions: 13.4″ x 20″ x 9.1″
  • Compartment access: Zippered top access
  • Material: 400-denier Halcyon, 420-denier nylon ripstop
  • Many different fabrics and color schemes available
  • Built to last design and materials
  • Removable webbing hip belt
  • Suspension doesn’t pack away
  • Side wing pockets are a little awkward to access

Check Price at REI

Mammut Seon Transporter 26L

Mammut Transporter 26L Backpack

For all the hardworking, die-hard climbers out there, this pack ($150) is for you. With room for rock gear and work gear, this is the perfect workhorse to carry all of your essentials.

It’s the first backpack we’ve seen that has two separate labeled compartments. One is labeled “Work” and holds a laptop, charging devices, a notepad, and other electronics. The other is labeled “Climb” and easily holds your harness, climbing shoes, chalk bag, and climbing clothes. It’s the dream carry-on luggage for anyone planning an epic rock-filled vacation.

And if you don’t happen to be a climber, don’t sweat it — the Seon Transporter also works great for organizing clothes. Or use it hiking, exploring, biking around town, and working. We did wish the pack straps stowed into the pack for better airline travel use.

We packed it up for the weekend and were able to fit a pair of running shoes, clothes for 3 days, and a laptop. Whether traveling for the ultimate work/climb adventure, hitting up the climbing gym after work, or simply keeping the essentials organized, this pack is a winner.

  • Capacity: 25 L
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 2.8 oz.
  • Dimensions: 7″ x 18.5″ x 12.2″
  • Compartment access: Zipper clamshell design
  • Material: 100% polyamide
  • Get your priorities straight with separate compartments for work and climb
  • Lighter weight
  • Slick styling
  • Maybe a bit niche for most users
  • Straps don’t store into the pack body

Check Price at Backcountry

Patagonia Black Hole 25L Backpack

Patagonia Black Hole 25L Backpack

This backpack ($149) is a rugged classic. The 300-denier ripstop nylon outer has TPU laminate for extra durability. Add in the DWR coating, and your gear is sure to stay safe and dry. We’ve long been a fan of the entire Black Hole line, and that’s doubly true now that it’s made from recycled materials.

The side mesh pockets are great for water bottles. And the back laptop sleeve is TSA-approved because you can open it flat. The organizational pockets inside and on top fit all of your little essentials, making them easy to find. The signature Black Hole gear loops are also great for tying on extra gear or wet clothes that need drying.

One thing that the majority of our testers asked for with this pack was a hip belt, which it unfortunately lacks. Without it, the load can feel a bit unsettled on our backs, and a bit of stability would go a long way on this pack.

We’ve been using a Black Hole backpack for years now, and it still doesn’t show any signs of wear or tear. For durability, it’s one of the best travel backpacks you’ll find.

  • Capacity: 25 L
  • Weight: 1 lb., 6.9 oz.
  • Dimensions: 22″ x 10.5″ x 5.5″
  • Compartment access: Zippered top access
  • Material: 300-denier recycled polyester ripstop with a TPU laminate
  • Heavy-duty outer fabric
  • Cheaper price

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Patagonia Black Hole
10 Million Plastic Bottles: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Now 100% Recycled
Spacious, dependable, and tough as nails, Patagonia Black Hole bags and duffels are favorites of adventure-seekers worldwide. And now Patagonia makes the whole line with recycled materials. Read more…

Osprey Packs Nebula 32 Daypack

Osprey Packs Nebula 32 Daypack

When it comes to backpacks, Osprey has put in the time — and it shows. The Nebula 32 ($130) feels like it’s all the brand’s most popular packs morphed into one. Most of all, we love how it seamlessly goes from city streets to trails.

This backpack can do it all, whether you’re hauling your laptop and books around town; water, food, and layers on an easy hike; or all of the above and then some for a weekend away.

The internal storage pockets are great for organizing all of your things for easy access. And while the Nebula 32 is top-loading, the main pocket opens up wide enough so you won’t have to unload everything to get to the one thing you want at the bottom. The sternum strap and hip belt are comfortable as well, especially when carrying a heavy load.

Overall, the Nebula 32 won’t disappoint if you make it your go-to travel backpack.

  • Capacity: 32 L
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 1.7 oz.
  • Dimensions: 19.2″ x 12.2″ x 11.4″
  • Compartment access: Top-zippered access
  • Material: 420-denier recycled nylon
  • TSA-compliant laptop sleeve
  • Many options for organization
  • Water bottle pockets fit 32 oz. bottles
  • Need to release two buckles in order to unzip main pocket all the way

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Travel Backpack Comparison Chart

Travel Backpack Capacity Weight Dimensions Compartment Access Price
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L 45 L 4 lbs., 8 oz. 22″ x 13 ” x 9.5″ standard, 22″ x 13″ x 11″ expanded Back panel clamshell design with #10 zipper $300
Osprey Farpoint & Fairview 40 40 L 3 lbs., 7.6 oz. 22″ x 14″ x 9″ Zippered back panel clamshell design $185
Dakine Campus 33L Backpack 33 L 1 lb., 10.6 oz. 20.5″ x 13″ x 8″ Top-access zippered design $75
Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack 30 L 1 lb., 8.4 oz. 18.5″ x 9.5″ x 9.5″ Full clamshell interior, additional front zippered access $150
Deuter AViANT Carry-On 36L 36 L 3 lbs. 21.6″ x 13.3″ x 9″ Zippered back panel clamshell design $180
Patagonia Black Hole MCL 45L 45 L 3 lbs., 10.3 oz. 22.8″ x 8.6″ x 14.5″ Back panel zippered clamshell design $239
Mountain Hardwear Redeye 45 Travel Pack 45 L 3 lbs., 2.1 oz. 24″ x 15″ x 12″ Back panel zippered clamshell design, additional top entry $180
Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack 28 L 3 lbs., 4 oz. 19″ x 12″ x 9″ Zippered clamshell design $170
Tom Bihn Synapse 25 25 L 1 lb., 13 oz. 13.4″ x 20″ x 9.1″ Zippered top access $235
Mammut Seon Transporter 26L 26 L 2 lbs., 2.8 oz. 7 in. x 18.5 in. x 12.2 in. Zipper clamshell design $150
Patagonia Black Hole 25L 25 L 1 lb., 6.9 oz. 22 in. x 10.5 in. x 5.5 in. Zippered top access $149
Osprey Nebula 32 Daypack 32 L 2 lbs., 1.7 oz. 19.2 in. x 12.2 in. x 11.4 in. Top-zippered access $130

Why You Should Trust Us

The staff of GearJunkie is a hot-footed bunch, restlessly plodding across the country or globe in search of adventure and whatever else comes our way. And we have a lot of stuff, which necessitates having a travel bag or four in the stable.

Surely any old bindle will do in carrying your kit around, but having a travel backpack that is dialed into the needs of travel can make a stressful situation into a manageable one. We’ve been testing travel backpacks since 2019 and have put the market slice through the wringer on thousands of miles to travel to weed out the best of the best.

In testing, we looked for a number of features in our travel backpacks, including overall capacity, carry style, durability, and style. It’s important to think about how you’ll use your travel pack, and as such, every pack on our list is carry-on compliant for the worst-case scenario.

We know no trip will be like the next, so we took a broad swath of the travel backpacks on the market in order to create a list that will suit many different travelers. Packs in hand, over our shoulders, or on our backs, we hit the four corners and tested the best travel backpacks of 2023.

Curious about what we pack in our travel backpacks? We’ve penned up a list for both domestic and international trips.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Travel Backpack


Finding the right size pack for you depends on a few things. First, where are you going and how long do you plan to stay? Winter travel often comes with more gear, so you’ll need to pack extra layers. And longer trips could mean the need for a larger bag.

That said, your personal packing style will be the most important factor. We know minimalists who happily travel for months with only a single backpack in tow and others who want the largest travel backpack possible in addition to a totally stuffed duffel bag. One isn’t better than the other, but knowing your style is helpful when choosing.

In general, we’ve found that something in the 28L to 45L range is ideal for comfort and packability. Many packs will also offer a compression system to allow you to limit the overall volume of the backpack. We’ve seen many different ways to accomplish this, but the most effective by far were the button snaps and expanding zipper of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L.

Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
While we favor the 40L versions of Osprey’s Farpoint and Fairview packs for their carry-on-ability, the packs are also available in a number of different volumes; (photo/Nick Belcaster)


What good would a bag be if you couldn’t get into it? From a simple drawstring to a thicket of Velcro and zippers, there are plenty of ways to keep your bag closed while you’re on the go, but not every one will be amenable to travel.

Peak Design Travel Backpack Clamshell Access
The broad clamshell design of the opening on the Peak Design Travel Backpack makes packing and quick access a breeze; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Most travel backpacks will use a clamshell-style design that opens up the backpack like a suitcase, allowing you to pack intentionally as opposed to stuffing things in. Oftentimes an internal strap system will help keep your items contained while you’re on the move.

In addition to a rear entry, some backpacks will offer additional entry points through the top or front of the pack. This can be helpful when you need to quickly retrieve something like a passport from your bag, without the need to totally spill the contents.

Mountain Hardware Redeye Travel Backpack Clamshell Packing
While the access of the Mountain Hardwear Redeye was intended for rifling around with climbing gear, we found it amenable to many different loads, like this packraft; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Carrying Options

There are plenty of ways to lug your kit to your boarding gate, but not all of them will be comfortable for everything. Over-shoulder backpack straps can support a good bit of weight but typically will need some type of frame to truly be supportive.

A shoulder strap travel backpack, like the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L, can be slung across your body and provide a great amount of accessibility on the go. Don’t expect to carry too much weight this way, however.

And then there’s the classic suitcase style, easily towed anywhere. It’s good to note many travel backpacks will have stowable straps to better streamline the pack for a trip through an X-ray machine or stowed under a seat. The strap storage design of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L impressed us most of all, utilizing magnetic closure flaps to pack away the shoulder and hip straps neatly.

Traveling with a roller bag? Buying a travel backpack like the Deuter AViANT Carry-On 36L with an integrated handle tunnel can make zooming through an airport a breeze. Just saddle your roller bag with the backpack and go.

Patagonia MCL 45L Travel Backpack Carry Options
Slung over your shoulder or carried briefcase-style, the Patagonia MCL 45 is easy to toss around while on the run; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Pockets & Organization

There’s an organizational saying: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” And we couldn’t agree more. Keeping track of everything while you travel is key for organization. And while more pockets always seem better, there is a threshold where having too many simply becomes more places to misplace things. Instead, we recommend packs with three to six pockets.

The Cotopaxi Allpa has an ingenious inner organization system complete with large zipping “pockets.” It has just enough space to find room for everything but not so many compartments that you’ll be hunting all day for your misplaced passport.

Bringing along a laptop is a necessary evil for some travelers, and having an incorporated laptop sleeve in your travel backpack can keep it safe during travel. Most laptop sleeves will be padded with some type of foam and nestle in close to the back for maximum protection. In order to be TSA-compliant, a laptop sleeve will need to fold entirely flat away from the pack in order to be scanned.

Because flying with liquids over 3.4 ounces is prohibited in the U.S., carrying all of these items in a separate toiletry bag can make your foray into the screening line a breeze. Many of the packs on our list incorporate many external pockets where such a bag could be stashed and produced when needed.

Matador SEG30 Travel Backpack Storage Options
The multi-tiered organization of the Matador SEG30 was easily the most organized in our testing. There’s a spot for everything! (photo/Nick Belcaster)


Travel luggage takes a beating, so durability is a top concern. Luckily, gear manufacturers realize this and are making increasingly burly yet portable packs. The fan-favorite Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L pack is made with a 900-denier ripstop nylon outer with a TPU laminate for extra durability. It’s nearly indestructible, water-resistant, and versatile.

If you’re traveling somewhere with inclement weather or if your pack needs to double as a climbing bag or hiking pack, durability is extra important. And it’s worth paying more for a backpack that is water-resistant.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Travel Backpack
Available in a large number of color schemes and fabrics on a rolling production basis, the Tom Bihn Synapse is built burly with 400-denier+ fabrics and #8 and #10 YKK zippers; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Space Efficiency & Carry-On Compliance

Astute observers will note many of the packs in our review sport a rectangular shape, which is certainly due to designers aspiring to create a more space-efficient pack. This isn’t to say that more shapely packs won’t make it happen, but when you’re struggling to make every liter of space count, maximizing dimensions matters.

Carry-on luggage is any bag that you plan on bringing into an airplane and storing in the overhead bins. Because space is limited, airlines dictate the maximum size any carry-on can be. In the U.S., the most common size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, or 45 linear inches (length + width + height). However, this is just a rough guideline; some airlines differ from these dimensions, and you should refer to their information directly.

In general, these dimensions provide a travel backpack with around 40-45 L of internal volume, so buying a pack that’s as close to that as possible will provide the most space allowed. Many of the packs on our list have the ability to compress down to a smaller size, such as the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L.


What Is the Best Travel Backpack?

Our team unanimously agrees that the best travel backpack is the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L. It’s extremely durable, and it offers plenty of organizational pockets. And the clamshell opening makes packing a breeze.

What Size Bag Do I Need for Traveling?

The best size bag for traveling depends largely on your travel itinerary and mode of transport. The Cotopaxi Allpa packs range from 28 L to 42 L.

The 28L option makes for a compact and comfortable backpack that easily fits in overhead airplane compartments. The 42L option is a bit more like carrying a duffel bag on your back, but it still manages to fit in overhead compartments. It’s a great option for maximizing carry-on capacity in backpack form.

Is It Better to Travel With a Backpack or Suitcase?

While both have their place in travel, a backpack can offer some advantages over a suitcase. Since they’re much more portable, backpacks can be brought to many more places where a suitcase won’t work. Suitcases can be your large load carriers, but a good travel backpack gives you the freedom to strike out on daily adventures.

Is a Backpack Considered a Carry-On?

Travel backpacks absolutely can be carry-on luggage, given they meet the size requirements. In the U.S., the most common maximum size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, or 45 linear inches (length + width + height). But this is only a common size, and different airlines will have different specifics. Consult with your airline specifically to determine what they allow.

What Is the Most Comfortable Travel Backpack?

While different body types will find different travel packs comfortable, we can all agree that a good support system and ample foam make for a comfortable carry. In our own testing, we found the Osprey Farpoint 40 and Fairview 40 Travel Packs were by far the most comfortable due to their plush suspension systems.

What Size Backpack Can Fit Under an Airplane Seat?

Because many different airlines operate a slate of different planes, there isn’t a standard under-seat luggage size, although there is an average: 16 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches. Some airlines allow personal items larger than this, but you should consult with their customer service for specifics.

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